Praise The God Who Takes Away

It is rare to find a person who praises God when they don’t get something they are asking for, and maybe even more rare to find a person who praises God when they get the opposite.

I often have a hard time believing God is for me no matter the circumstances.

It is easier to believe that He is out to get me, or that He has forgotten about me all together. It is a victim mentality.

I had a moment like this earlier this year. Ally and I had just gotten married and moved to Florida, far away from her family in Oregon. It was a long move and a difficult transition. One day she confided in me that she would really regret if anything happened to her dad while we were living so far away. She even uttered the words, “heart attack.”

As a husband, my first instinct was to calm her anxiety.

Yes, it’s difficult to move far away from family, but a heart attack was out of the question. Her dad was healthy. Her fear was unwarranted. Nothing like that was going to happen to her family.

So it came as a major surprise when Ally called me at work a couple weeks later, hardly able to breathe as she tried to explain what had happened.

“My sister… (GASP)… just called… (GASP)… my dad… (GASP)… (LONG PAUSE).. had a heart attack.”

It felt like a cruel joke. This had been her biggest fear, and it had come true. This is one of those moments when you want to become resentful of God, that he would subject you to something like this. But God was inviting Ally and I into something. Something far more beautiful than understanding.

He was inviting us to trust.

For the first time in my life I felt the Lord calling me to praise Him in the midst of trail. I was afraid to bring it up as we were driving home from my office that day. I felt like it would come across as really insensitive, but I just couldn’t shake it. God was speaking something to me, and I needed to share it with Ally.

I looked over at her, and said, “Lets praise God in the midst of this situation. He is in control, and I believe He is for us even though we don’t understand right now.”

I am not even sure I believed what I was saying it as I said it, but something about it felt right.

In Matthew 8 Jesus is on a boat with his disciples in the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a storm comes and shakes the boat so violently that waves come over the side. The disciples are freaking out, and Jesus is taking a nap at the bottom of the boat. The disciples come and wake Jesus up, begging him to save them. Jesus gets up, calms the storm and asks the disciples why they had no faith.

I have heard this passage taught at church my whole life, and it went something like this:

Life is full of storms, if you just ask Jesus to calm your storm He will. Why wouldn’t he after all? He is our personal savior, saving us from all of life’s problems.

But if this is our theology, when dads have heart attacks and we lose our jobs and people die in car accidents, we wonder what happened to our personal savior. It would have been really easy to feel like this with Steve in the hospital. We were in the midst of a storm. Why wasn’t Jesus calming it?

I think something is missing from the teaching of this passage I’ve always heard:

Jesus didn’t just rebuke the waves, and calm them. He also rebuked the lack of faith in His disciples.

I often wonder if what Jesus wanted was for his disciples to come to the bottom of the boat, curl up, and take a nap with him. Then, he wouldn’t have needed to calm the storm.

I think Jesus wanted the disciples to trust in the midst of the storm, not after the storm. And I think he wants the same from us today in the face of heart-attacks and the unknown of every day life.

He is inviting us to trust Him in the midst of all the storms of life. He has us. He is for our good, even when the waves are crashing over the side of the boat and we don’t understand.

We are all Prodigals and there is a good father waiting for our hearts to come back home.

Do you believe that?

[photo: Lorenzo Sernicola, Creative Commons]

Finding My Way Back

A writer who struggles to speak her mind. Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it?  But that’s exactly what I was.

After the death of my second unborn child, something broke inside my soul, much like a rusty faucet handle that had had enough of the daily routine of twisting and turning. My heart was broken. I was so badly bruised that my emotions struggled to figure out whether to cry or just settle, cold and damp, in the pit of my stomach.

Yes, I knew in theory that walking with God is not an exemption from personal tragedy and devastation, but I couldn’t understand what I’d done so wrong to deserve having two beautiful babies taken from me in immediate succession of each other. Though I also knew that my ‘record of goodness’ was immaterial to the issue at hand, I couldn’t help but reach for my list anyway—haven’t I been a ‘good’ Christian, fundamental in my beliefs, stringent in my religious practices, and uncompromising in my worship?

Quite unsuspectingly, I had stepped into the darkest days of my spiritual journey.

To everyone around me, I had self-soothed. I showed no signs of depression or lingering grief. I had quickly pulled on my ‘resilient faith’ hat, and without hesitation, I returned to my usual routines. All seemed well, except for the sad, little secret that only I knew:

I had stopped praying.

Sure, I prayed a little, interceded for others a little, but I never really allowed myself to venture down the deep hallways of prayer. No, not quite like I used to. I avoided my secret times with God gingerly. I was afraid to get too close, too transparent to His gaze. What if He stared straight pass my words into my heart? I’m sure He’d read my thoughts and knew exactly what I was hiding. There was no need to let Him know how severely let down I felt.

No tears. No signs of grief. Lock it up and move on, I’d tell myself.

I dressed up in church clothes Sunday after hymn-filled Sunday and denied the gaping cavity in my heart the desperate release it sought. All the time thinking, “What am I supposed to do now that I’ve been denied something so definitively feminine, so basically essential to my womanhood?”

For two solid years, I maintained the game. I continued to hide, and God continued to wait. Until one day I came face-to-face with Him and found myself trapped in His love. It was the day my husband asked if I wanted us to “try again.” He didn’t have to say more, I knew exactly what those two words meant. I broke like an avalanche cascading down the mountainside fortress of survival I’d built for myself. And right there, standing transfixed, I wept.

The problem, I admitted through bulbous tears and shallow breaths, was that I didn’t know how to speak my mind. I’ve always been told that I have an issue with avoidance. I hate confrontation and am even less skilled in ‘saying it like it is’ speech. I often let the moment pass without saying what needs to be said.

But not this time.

My prayer started as a quiet sob, then graduated to a wail, my chest heaving and words spilling out in no specific order.

“Why?”

“I’m sorry”

“But…how come?”

“I’m afraid…”

On and on I cried, until finally His voice broke through my emotional uproar.

I felt His comfort as He ministered to my brokenness, and suddenly I felt like a child again. It was as though I was in Sunday school, learning about how Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us. I heard the Bible stories in my head again as though it was my very first time, and they were powerful.

Yes, Jesus could heal!

Yes, Jesus knew my pain!

Yes, Jesus would make me better!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

These were the simple confessions that jumped from my spirit

—and reverberated in my mind as I prayed without reservation. I had found my way back, after walking through deep darkness, grief, and disappointment.

This whole time, He was right there waiting to receive me.

My prodigal story isn’t about a life of drugs and parties, but it’s no less abandonment and rejection of the Father than if it was. My story is about a woman who stumbled from the Master’s hand because she felt unsure of His love. And like a good Father, He came running.

 

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Kerri-Ann Haye-Donawa is a freelance writer and editor who is passionate about the word of God and how it is translated in our everyday lives. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada. You can find her on Twitter  at @KHayeDonawa and on Facebook.com/kerriann.haye.

[photo: mathteacher...falling in love with Fall, Creative Commons]

Confessions of a Harlot

Laughing and full of anticipation, we climb into their silver minivan, pushing car seats around to make room for our two adult bodies. The hour ride to the restaurant is filled with the chatter of old friends catching up: how business is going, developmental stages of kids, relationships built and relationships severed.

And that’s when he says it, just kind of casually, talking about a young lady with whom we were all well acquainted:

“Yeah, her brother-in-law doesn’t trust her with men. Says she has the ‘spirit of a harlot.’”

The words hit me like a sucker punch.

But I swallow down the rage I want to spew in his face and calmly challenge, “What is that supposed to mean?”

He details deeds done and favors given. He tries to be discreet, but my experience fills in all the gaps that propriety leaves out. I don’t know if it is the sultry air in the van, or the hills and turns through which we keep weaving, or if it’s something else, but all of a sudden I’m shaking and about to puke.

We pull up to a stop light on the edge of town, and I have heard enough. With a voice a bit unsteadier than I’d like, thinking of this young lady and the newness of the path she has been trying to walk, I declare:

“If she has the ‘spirit of a harlot,’ then so do I.”

No one says anything for a minute. My husband throws me a glance, but I don’t look back at him. Our friends in the front seats shift uncomfortably. I sound like a caged animal with a wound re-opened and the shock of my words comes only because of the raw honesty they contain. I mean, what elder’s wife tosses out a statement like that with such passion? Don’t I know there are times and places for these kind of confessions, but for crying out loud, not on the way to Panera Bread?

Finally he answers, grace on his lips this time, “Yeah, well, I know what you mean. I don’t like it either.”

Looking back now, I think I probably could have said it a little more sweetly.

But the Gospel of a God who makes friends with sinners just tears through my lips sometimes with a violence I can hardly control.  It’s hard to treat scandalous Grace glibly when it’s such a personal matter.

Because it has been many years and miles, but don’t let my well-manicured appearance fool you. Yes, I ride on the arm of a church leader. Yes, I have seven kids in tow when I go to Wal-Mart. Yes, we home-school and milk goats and make our own bread.

But those things define me less than where I’ve been.

I’ve known the coarse life of a harlot. The virginity lost in a swarthy public bathroom. The touch of strangers in places too intimate to mention. The rooms lit only by candles, full of palpable smoke, suggestive graffiti, and guitar riffs of Darkness.

Oh, how I remember the Darkness.

And I’ve known favors done for power and the backseats of many cars and church vans. I’ve carried illegal substances into youth group and taught my little sister the ropes of survival in the night. And if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, at the ripe old age of 13, I would have squinted my eyes as a challenge, raised my eyebrows, and haughtily said, “A prostitute.” And then watched your face to see the reaction.

This is the identity I have known, for I chose it.

I have no excuse, as many do, of absentee parents or early molestation. My upper-middle class life, in church every Sunday and Wednesday from the week after I was born, it taught me of a loving God and kissing Mama’s face goodnight and playing backyard catch with Dad. I made the grades at school and was a first draft pick in popularity kickball. I prayed a sinner’s prayer and signed a True Love Waits commitment card.

But what is it about the Darkness that draws us?

I didn’t know that a little taste of second-grade touching and a few rounds of spin-the-bottle would make me an addict so fast. I guess the Darknesss can do that. It calls to our own Darkness and makes promises in the name of pleasure and power.

What I didn’t know at 13 was that there was a greater Power. The power of Love.

I finally met Him at 16, already scarred and angry, sick of fighting and lying and hiding.

It was then that the One who had been with me in the bathroom and with me in the backseat and with me all the wild nights and empty mornings, it was then that His Love broke through.

And this harlot let down her hair and cried on His feet, the feet which bore the scars of her shame.

In the years after that, a slow healing took place.

Wounds grew together ever so gradually, sealing my self-infliction with time and the warmth of Love. Often, the bleeding ache of all I had done weighed heavily on me with guilt, perpetuated by haunting, illicit dreams.

And this, I believe, is where the young lady we discussed that evening in the minivan was.

Maybe it was my own past welling up inside me that compelled me to answer for this girl. Maybe it was the cheerleader within, rooting for the underdog.

Or maybe it was Jesus, the One who has a thing for the shady, broken and used.

Maybe it was the healing voice of Light dispelling Darkness.

 

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Kelli Woodford hopes never to recover from the Mighty Mercy she has been shown.  Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace (http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/).

[photo: TerryJohnston, Creative Commons]

When God Is Just a Back-Up Plan

In six months’ time, I will graduate. With the last months of college life coming to a close, I have been bombarded with future-talk from every corner of my life. From my parents. From my friends. From my mentors. From my juniors.

All of them are asking me the same question, “What do you want to do after graduation?”

To tell you the truth, I have no idea. Do I pray about it? Yes… when I remember.

Being a true Gen Y-er living in this crazy, busy, and noisy world, I’ve realised that I have a very short attention span. Five minutes into a lecture, I have already decided whether or not I will listen for the next 50 minutes. Instead of listening, I scan through articles, click on interesting headlines, ignore the others. I multitask, not because I’m good at it, but because I need to be constantly engaged in what I’m doing.

But the number one problem in the world is message overload.

Everyone is trying, begging, fighting, and pleading to get just ten seconds of our attention, promising a valuable product, service, or information in return. And God is fighting for attention along with all of these other inputs. Unfortunately, God never promotes Himself, posts an ad, or sends a reminder when I’m inside the virtual world.

I let myself get distracted, tending to the noise and notifications, and by the end of the day I have no energy left to tend to God. Bedtime prayer quickly morphs into a rapid, one-minute thank you, I’m sorry, blessings please, Amen.

God is often my back-up plan, instead of Planner of My Life.

Why do I always come to Him last instead of first? Maybe because I know He will always be there. Maybe because I believe that He will never leave me no matter what. Maybe because I know that if all else fails, He will never fail.

As a devoted media student, it is my responsibility to know what’s going on with the world. If you don’t know yet, 100 percent of us are paid to read everything. When we don’t know about something, we find out. We ask questions. We seek experts.

But at the end of the day I realize that there will always be one more bit of information to absorb. What’s the consequence of missing one? Nothing. And yet most of us never miss a single update from our friends on Facebook.

Sometimes I wonder if technology is to blame.

What is it about the virtual world – about Facebook, Twitter, 9GAG, YouTube, or even online magazines that hook us to the point of abandoning everything else? Why do we consciously sit in front of our computers for six hours after school or work every day, knowing that it isn’t doing anything for our personal growth?

It is so easy to miss a week’s worth of devotion to God when we live our lives that way, chasing after information.

Our technology does influence our actions, I believe, but the real cause lies with our own priorities and values.

If consulting God first is not in our calendar, even without the virtual world, consulting God will not be the first thing that comes to our mind. We will simply find other things to tend first.

I am learning that if I want to make my future a priority, if I want to pray without distraction and discern His will, it is time I remove the distractions.

So when another person asks me about what I want to do after graduation, I’ll probably still say that I have no idea. But this time I’ll say it with confidence because I know God will unfold my path one step at a time. Because I’ve been praying about it. Because I’m learning to come to Him first.

 

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Marcella Purnama is a final-year psychology and media and communication student at the University of Melbourne. She is a writer, a columnist, a blogger, and a lover of life. She blogs at MarcellaPurnama.com, and you can follow her on twitter @marcellapurnama.

[photo: sobodda, Creative Commons]

My Home is in His Arms

As I sat in the living room of my grandmother’s old Mississippi home, my eyes veered back and forth from the television set to the shock on my parents’ faces. Images depicted neighborhoods and communities submerged underwater, and my family couldn’t help but wonder if our home was still standing.

I removed myself from the rest of the family and escaped into my grandmother’s bedroom.

Crying, I collapsed onto the bed.

In this moment, my 15-year-old mind first comprehended the extremity of what was taking place. It was August 29, 2005 — the day that Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore, and the day that the Collins family learned the true meaning of hope.

It was a normal Saturday afternoon for my family, until we received news that a mandatory evacuation order had been issued for our community in South Louisiana. We thought nothing of it — hurricanes and tropical storms were common in our area, and we were used to evacuating during hurricane season. Nonetheless, we packed three days’ worth of belongings and left. What we didn’t know was that we would be away from our home for over two months.

My family and I lived in North Mississippi until it was deemed safe by city officials to return home. But should we return, and did we want to? We knew that our lives would never be the same as they were before the storm.
Our decision led us back to Louisiana, where we found that our house had been flooded with over seven feet of water. All of our belongings were covered in mold, and our house was unlivable.

Everything I had known up until now was no more.

We were distraught and discouraged; we felt hopeless. Over the next weeks, my family of five was separated, as various friends opened their spare rooms to us. Though we were thankful for any place to stay, this was the hardest part of the entire experience — being separated from the ones we loved most during a time of such great hardship.

Friends and strangers came together to rebuild our community, and people from across the country extended a helping hand. The thought of moving away, farther north, crossed our minds — but we could never leave the beloved community where we had invested so much of ourselves, and that had shown such kindness to us.

After a total of nine months, we finalized the sale of what was left of our old house and we purchased a house across town. The process of restoration and healing continued and now, six years later, I know that a greater measure of God’s goodness was ultimately made known to our little community.

We found the true meaning of hope in things unseen as we learned of the marvelous plan that God had for each of us.

During this time, my family was never lacking. We never went hungry and there wasn’t one night that we weren’t given pillows to rest our weary heads. God’s goodness never ceased, and His love continues to fill our hearts to this day.
Hurricane Katrina left a mark on my heart that may never be erased. This mark symbolizes the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ, and it symbolizes the restorative power that is in His name.

My home will forever be in the arms of my great Father.

 

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Rachel Collins is a lover of coffee, crafting and creativity. Born and raised in New Orleans, she ventured up to the state of Missouri a few years back and decided to stick around. On a normal day you may find her sipping on a latte at a local coffee shop, but on other days you will find her eagerly living (and writing) to see the wrong things made right in the world

[photo: au_tiger01, Creative Commons]