Seeing redemption in my world

In my small group (or D-group as they are affectionately known here), we take turns telling a “Redemption Story”.

Sounds cheesy?

I thought so.

But, this is my third year here and I actually really like that part. Because it isn’t just a hokey “I was bad and then I got to know Jesus and now I am good” sort of thing that you hear on TV. It is more like saying because I am in Christ, I am being convicted of my sin. Things are happening and changing and they are really subtle or really big and I want to share about it, so the others in the group know and can pray for me and be encouraged by what is happening.

The thing is, nobody is perfect. And no human on this Earth is without sin. It breaks my heart to see how high and mighty we all get with ourselves from time to time. It is easy to get caught up in comparing yourself up higher than others or down lower than others.  It also kills me to see the hurt that comes from it.  That isn’t real love or grace.

Sometimes, it is nice to step back and identify areas that you are struggling in or that you have struggled in and see what is happening. It is okay to be a work in progress. It is okay to feel like you aren’t making progress, because at least you know there is a problem and can seek help. Because it isn’t about the past. It is about the present. What is happening right now.

I think that makes it more relevant. I think it, for me, makes redemption more real, more tangible.  It frames it in a way my concrete mind likes to see it.

There has been this Classic Crime song stuck in my head called “Glass Houses.” For me, it illustrates that struggle to identify those areas that we ignore or don’t even realize are there and how judgemental and hurtful we can be of others. It also points out how things fall apart when we start “playing God” with ourselves and others. How hypocritical we can be.

I’ll admit that I am broken. That I have all kinds of faults and flaws and that sin is in all kinds of little places in my life. I’m thankful that God is working that out in me day by day. And that he stuck me in a community that pushes that along without throwing stones.

Waiting, Anticipation, Hope and Gifts

‘Tis the season of anticipation.

Anticipation of holidays, anticipation of time with family and friends, of presents and for some of us, for anticipation of a celebration of the birth of our Saviour.

Anticipation is a part of waiting. Waiting can be hard. But, sometimes the wait is well worth it.

Look at the Jewish people in the Bible before Jesus’s time. They waited a long time for a Saviour. So long that some had given up hope and many had ideas of how He should look or be.

And of course, in the way God only can do, Jesus came in an unexpected fashion. In a way that defies our human expectations. I think that is so cool.

Sometimes God makes our lives like that. The things we anticipate, that we long for sometimes come in ways that we don’t fully look for or expect. I think it is a good lesson when I look at the way the world is headed or when things aren’t going according to plan. God’s plans sometimes get a bit weird or outside our expectations.

I think anticipation and hope is a form of worship. As we look forward to the Christmas season, I see hope in all kinds of ways, and really if our hope is in the right place and our anticipation is looking forward to celebrating well, it is a good thing.

Our life has recently had some moments where our anticipation and waiting turned into a more discouraging time. As we waited and hoped for a baby to come into and stay in our lives, we began to learn what hoping and trusting looks like when things start to fall away from what we anticipated, when pain keeps creeping in. Sure, we trusted, but I can relate to those who started to think otherwise when waiting on God to do something big. Who let bitterness and distrust sneak in. Because it can be easier to let that happen sometimes. Even though so many awesome things happen every day.

But, cool stuff happens when God is involved. I found out about “the Creature” the day before Patrick’s birthday. I told him as a part of his birthday present. Because after this long waiting, news of a baby really is a birthday present. “The Creature” is due just a few days before my birthday. Pretty cool.

I was thankful for the nausea, for the fatigue. Because that meant something was happening. It was affirming what we had been waiting for. That being said, I then started hoping for it to stop, but continued to (oddly enough) thank God everyday for the barfing (but confirming that it could stop anytime).

Laying in bed one night praying, I came to the realization that so many people had been praying for us, for a maybe baby and how lucky we are to have so many people in our lives who support us and intervene for us. It blew my mind how this was planned by God and seemed so intentional now, even though for so long it just seemed like we were forgotten.

We had our first (and only) ultrasound so far just a couple days before what should have been Elim’s due date. Seeing a flickering heart and a tiny human at a point when my heart was breaking was a big gift in and of itself.

On Friday, we got to hear “the Creature’s” heartbeat galloping along. Merry Christmas. There really still is a tiny human in there who will eventually come out.

So the anticipation continues. For this child, probably for others and all kinds of other things.  And I know it will persist the rest of my life.

The wait was worth it. I see that now. I see the trust that grew from that wait, the witness that it was and the growth we experienced. We learned practical lessons about suffering well and waiting well. In retrospect, I’m glad for the wait. It has taught me about how to love others in the midst of waits.  I think it is helping me to celebrate well.

Sometimes the best gifts come in ways that weren’t planned or expected in our human put-things-in-a-box way. Sometimes our anticipation makes things even better. Although my baby pales in comparison to the epic beauty of the Christmas story, I can see how lessons in waiting and hoping and not putting God into my human realm box can parallel the story and make me get how big it really is to an even greater.

What is one thing?

What is one thing you can’t live without? That thing that would send you into a downward spiral if you lost it? That thing you need for your life to feel fulfilled?

Think about it for a minute.

That was a question we’ve been discussing in church and D-group the last couple of weeks. It makes my head hurt and yet has opened my eyes to how I perceive my reality.

My first instinct was Patrick. I can’t live without my husband.

But, I can live without my husband.

My second instinct was children. I want children. Living children.

But, I can live without children.

The list goes on… My family, my friends, my career, my home, my health.

Losing any of those things could send me on a downward spiral.

What does that say about me? What does that say about my faith?

Life goes on despite monumentous loss. We survive these things that we often can’t even fathom. I see people dealing with these things every day. How do we do it? How do I do it?

I know some people say strength and fortitude and a positive attitude.

I am talking about deeper purpose and something bigger than just getting through.

I know some people will disagree, but that something is Jesus. And maybe I am hum drum, but I don’t feel like I can find meaning in all of life and things without Him.

The passage we were looking at is John 6. It is a long sucker, but the cool part is that John is really intentional in his writing. He doesn’t include irrelevant details and generally stuff goes together to kind of show some bigger point about Jesus. He wrote the book, so that people would believe, so that makes sense.

This is the loaves and fishes chapter. It is also the walking on water and calming the seas passage.

I have seriously heard those stories a thousand times, so what is the big deal?

Well, check this out…

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone wholooks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” –John 6:25-40 ESV

It is kind of a ridiculous conversation. Jesus kind of talks in riddles (Is that blasphemous of me to say? I mean he really does kind of say stuff that comes off as bizarre and people don’t get him…) and the people He is teaching struggle with getting the point. Heck, even the disciples get kind of weirded out.

But this is what it is getting at (I am not that clever, this is what others say it is getting at and it makes sense to me)…

Jesus is enough.

Love the giver and not the gifts. You aren’t sustained (really) by things and relationships and all that stuff. In the end, even the thing you most want to cling to and think will make you complete won’t.

In essence, you can’t take it with you when you go. But when you go, you’re going to want Him on your side.

I like concrete things, so this is tough to process. How do I make Jesus enough. How do I stop being satisfied in stuff and people and start being satisfied in Him? How do I stop trying to fix and control things, but know that it is all completed through Him for His glory?

That isn’t something I just do.

In our conversations over the last little bit, our group has discussed that it is a tough thing to put into practice. It starts with having the desire (just like kicking or starting any habit, you need to want to start).

I’ve got that.

Action starts with awareness.

I have come to realize what I prioritize. What I think will fill me up and keep me content.

I am trying to remember that that satisfaction, although very real, is short lived and not complete. And that there is much more out there than having a happy marriage (although it is super important for a bunch of reasons).

Having real purpose and deep seated peace and joy is bigger than stuff. It is bigger than comfort. Sometimes we have to suffer well and know we aren’t alone in this.

Being sustained by Christ alone isn’t simple. It isn’t intuitive. And it is definitely by standards of our culture weird. But that’s okay (and I need to remember that).

A Good Father Gives Good Gifts

A good father gives good gifts.

This is a concept that I don’t struggle with. At leat not the statement itself.

I was fortunate to grow up with an awesome Dad who provided for my needs and many of my wants. So, the fact that God would do that too, doesn’t stretch my imagination too far.

And yet it does.

I was talking about this with some friends from church last week and it has been coming up in the study I am doing this Lent season.

God gives good gifts. Tons and tons of them.

For some people, that alone is tough to process because they grew up in environments where that doesn’t seem plausible. Where their loved ones didn’t provide good gifts, so the concept that God would is tough to grasp.

For me, it is tough to process because that is a lot of gifts. And those gifts don’t always seem good.

The thing is, that sometimes we are so needy that we miss out on the real gifts. And we miss out on the biggest gift of all, Jesus.

In church a couple weeks ago, we were talking about how we really shouldn’t be giving God ultimatums. Because ultimatum faith is not faith at all. The concept that we will believe if we see a sign. We will believe if good things happen. That our faith is based on our day to day experience only. That can’t be the case. There needs to be trust. Our reality needs to be changed.

Realistically, there have already been signs. The whole water into wine thing… A sign that God provides the best for his people. The whole healings and miracles chunk of time, again, sign of provision, sign of who He is, etc.

Should that be enough?

I mean, there is a place for seeking signs.  It happens in the Bible.  But, in our discussion it was that people sought signs in faith that God would respond.  And it wasn’t an I’ll do this if you do that kind of sign.  It was a seeking evidence for God’s will sort of thing.  And even then, if  you get down to it, often, it was more of a confirmation because the human was doubtful than a necessity.

I am an empirical person, so I admit that it is tough for me sometimes, as I am sure some of you reading this think I am bat crazy. But, I have read around the manuscripts and the origins of the documents and have drawn conclusions that God and Jesus make sense to me.  And that those gifts are good gifts.  And that the changes in me are good gifts that couldn’t be because of me alone.

The reading I have been doing asked the question last week that also kind of followed along with something we were discussing at church.

How would the presence of God be more satisfying to you than answers from God? –Huag and Walker (2013)

Agh. That is a tough one.

I would love to say that I am super holy and that the presence of God is always satisfying without answers.

I would be lying.

Realistically, I know the statement is true. The presence of God is comfort and peace and joy, but it just isn’t simple and happy go lucky butterflies and rainbows.

Answers are tangible. They are the evidence for an empirical mind. And I want answers because I like being worldy brand happy. I want my career to be perfect, I want my family and friends to be happy and healthy, I don’t want to worry about money or housing and I want to have kids. The thing is answers aren’t always what we think they should be and answers will only satisfy me for so long.

I have been struggling with answers. It is tough sometimes to remember that an all knowing, loving God is present when you are hurting and longing for something you can’t have.

It brings me back to ultimatum faith.

Belief because I got what I wanted and acts of faith because I want something. Or disbelief because I can’t have something. That when bad stuff happens, God must be judging us and we aren’t good enough.

It just doesn’t work long term. In fact, it can get to be soul crushing.

I have been learning, especially over the last year or so about valuing the presence of God even when things aren’t going right, when I’m not happy, when things are tough and when loss happens. I have lots of gifts. More than I can ever count. More than I realize I even have. My last couple years have been emotional roller coasters.  But, I feel best in the presence of God because that is better than the stuff I have here in the long run. Sometimes the best gift is no gift at all. Just time and love.

I am striving to switch my perspective. To value the presence over the gifts all the time, not just when it is easy or when things are going terribly or awesomely. Kind of like we should enjoy time with our loved ones, not what they give us.

Presence of God is more permanent than answers. Sure, it is more fluffy sounding, but really it is more hearty.

A good father gives good gifts.

I am thankful for that. I like my gifts. But really, in order to be a good father and give good gifts, being around is key, otherwise you can’t know what to give when. You need to know who you are gifting to.

And that is why I prefer the presence of God. Even if I like the gifts.

Breaking The Sound Of Silence

This week’s writing challenge with the Daily Post is called “The Sound of Silence.”

I am choosing to approach the topic from the perspective of breaking the silence on a topic.  One that I have been very reluctant to talk about on here, with most of my friends or family and until recently, God.  And yet, I have been toying with a post on the topic for ages (I did kind of address the issue a bit here).

My silence comes from a place of privacy.  Because people don’t need to know all of my business.

But moreso it comes from a place of shame and jealousy, both of which are sin.

In our current small group, we share what we call redemption stories – stories of how God is redeeming our lives for Him.  This was the topic of my redemption story.

Fertility issues and pregnancy loss are getting more attention these days.  But, still they are little talked about.  Even in medicine.

Although before the last year I could tell you that it is not worth investigating the absence of conception with couples having appropriately timed intercourse until they have been at it for a year (if they are under 35).  I also could have told you that it is very common for pregnancy to end in miscarriage, sometimes even before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Then, I lived it.

The plan was always to have a baby in my PGY2 year.  It is the best year in my program to do this.  More flexibility, you aren’t into the swing of being “on service” all that stuff.

My plan failed.

Because it was my plan.  Not God’s plan.  Not even Patrick’s plan (although he was game for it, he was cool with kids before I was).  The best laid plans can fall apart.  And mine did.

We have existed through month after month of disappointment.  I didn’t know I could experience such disappointment.  It seems not that long ago that we were first married and pregnancy seemed one of the worst things that could happen.

I would sit and church and hear about our all loving and knowing God and how He only wants good in my life and I would wonder where my good was.  I would hear baby announcements and be happy and crushed all at the same time.  I would politely smile and answer an obligatory some day when people would ask when we were having kids.

I know all the textbook answers (okay, not all of them, I haven’t done any obstetrics outside of LMCC studying since Med 3).   I know that I have some family history of fertility struggles.  I also know that there is likely nothing wrong with me to cause this “delay” (it doesn’t change my thinking that there is 50 times per day).

I know miscarriages are common.  That didn’t change the hearbreak I felt when I realized that I had a chemical pregnancy and that my body clearly did not want to house that tiny collection of cells for whatever reason.

I felt alone and defective.

And really, I wasn’t.

I mean, lots of people go through this.  Tons.  In fact, it is perfectly normal to not have a kid first go around, or second or even tenth.  It is also perfectly normal to lose a pregnancy.  It is our body’s amazing way of cleaning up genetic mistakes.

Heck, even Sarah in the Bible had these kinds of struggles and she ended up being huge in history.

By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.  Hebrews 11:11

I have friends and a family who I could have shared this with, but I chose to keep it a secret.  I tried to keep much of this grief from Patrick too, but that is nearly impossible.

I did this partly because I am selfish and human and wanted to keep my pain just for me.  Partly because I was angry at God.  And mostly because I blamed myself and felt mind boggling shame.

I’d love to say that one day a light turned on and I felt better about it.  But really, that would be a lie.

God has been working me through it.

I have met people in different phases of the journey.  They are great encouragements.  One person said to me that really, we shouldn’t be ashamed.  It isn’t our story.  It is God’s story.  And He isn’t ashamed. We just don’t see the whole picture.

I have heard someone say that shame is often the devil trying to draw you away from God.  Or that shame is a form of selfishness.  For me, it acted as both.  Shame and selfishness begets more shame and selfishness.  It is a vicious cycle that can draw you away from all kinds of good.  When you get caught up in it, you can only see your own hurt and not the good and rational in the world.

In church, we talked about the difference between fundamental joy and joy that we derive from other things.  I am generally a joyful person.  I find great joy in God and in simple things in life.  In Jesus, we have fundamental joy.  I still felt that joy, but felt like a piece was starting to be missing. I was trying to (and still am much of the time) derive joy from something I didn’t have.  That isn’t fair to me or God.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  -Romans 15:13

I hate the cliché when people say you need to be satisfied in God before thing X will come about.  But, I think this has been a huge lesson in that.  Especially as someone who has had a pretty darn good life, I have come to realize that I need to be satisfied in God in the times where I feel crummy or am unhappy, not just when stuff is going well.

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.  -Isaiah 58:11

I have been reminded countless times that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  It doesn’t always feel like that, but in conversation with a friend this past weekend, I was reminded that the human body is amazing creation that we often just take for granted.  It made me remember that includes my body, so maybe I shouldn’t give it such a hard time.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  -Psalm 139: 13-16

But more importantly, I am coming to realize that this situation is because of our fallen world and that God is still in it with me.

God is still working me through my sin around these struggles and my shame both when coming to Him and telling others.  But, at least I talk to Him about it now instead of just stewing to myself in my head.

Also, I see purpose in the whole thing.  My growth both emotionally and spiritually has been slow, but significant. I now have a new empathy for people without kids or coping with loss.  I have learned a boatload about what people deal with trying to conceive that could one day help friends or patients.

And one day, maybe soon, we will have a kid and that will be super cool and awesome and I can tell this story and show how huge God was in all of it.  Because really, that is what it is all about (cue musical interlude).

I am a work in progress.  That is what makes us human.

I just hope that this glimpse of my humanness, this break of silence will make a difference for someone else caught up in the web of shame, guilt and worry.  It was a big step for me, at least.

Coffee and Jesus

I acquired this image from demelzainwonderland.wordpress.com (check her blog out!!).

Well, this about sums up a day in my life.

Recently, I have been struggling a lot with this balance.  

I am trying to cut back on the coffee.  I have acknowledged that quitting smoking is difficult and if it is anything like cutting back coffee when in medicine, I can at least better imagine how tough it must be.  I am not a HUGE coffee drinker.  I was a maybe two cup per day person… Three if social circumstances required.  But, trying to keep it down to one cup per day is mind blowing for me.  Physically it isn’t too bad.  But, the habit of having coffee and the social aspect is terrible.

In medicine, there is sometimes free coffee at rounds.  And when we want to teach, we often teach “over coffee.”  And one of the best ways to sneak off the floor for a few minutes is to volunteer to go get coffee.  Plus, the cafeteria at my hospital stops selling all but Tim’s coffee after 2.  Which means you are limited to Tim’s decaf, which, in my opinion tastes more like cigarette butts than their real coffee.

In my social life, I have a number of friends who are equally coffee addicts.  Or it is just the main socially acceptable beverage to socialize over.

So, the coffee balance is a struggle.  But coffee is good.  So, that is okay.

Then, there is a whole Jesus thing.  Well, not a thing.  Person.  Deity.  All that.

I have found the whole lot of Jesus thing hard.  

Not because He isn’t always around.  But because I don’t always want Him around.

And at least half the people reading think I am crazy.  And that is fine.

Back to my point…

I have really been struggling with the battle between being legalistic and going through the motions versus genuine faith.  A lot of my recent everything has been one the going through the motions side of things.  I can give a million excuses.  I have been tired, and sad about a bunch of things and stressed about a bunch of somewhat related things.  And I just haven’t wanted to give myself up.   

I feel like I got past some of that stuff, but then I got caught in the what I have to do trap.  I kept thinking that I needed to do certain things to be faithful.  That what I did “spiritually” affected my outcome in everything. 

The problem was that I took the focus off God and had it on me.  That isn’t cool.

We talked about that in church this week.  There was a name for it.  I forgot the name of it.  The concept of being faithful for what you will escape because of it.  I can’t remember, but really, I guess that isn’t important.

What is important is God.  And that was something I was reminded of.

Look at Joseph hanging out in prison and when he gets his chance to shine in front of Pharoh, he throws the emphasis and the credit back to God.  Like he should.  

The goal is to be worshipful.  Not to be self-fulfilled.  

I need to work on that.  But, the first step is admitting it is an issue and asking God to give me better intentions.  

But yes, coffee and Jesus.  Key elements for survival.

The Satisfaction of a List: I suck at meditating

Today’s prompt for the Daily Post is one I can never resist… “The Satisfaction of a List.”  Like the prompt states, I can’t resist the power of a good list.  There is just something about list-making that I find inherently satisfying.

This list is a bit of a silly one, although it is something that I discovered just this weekend.  I was volunteering/observing at a cancer retreat this weekend, which was an amazing experience both personally and for my professional future.  I plan to write a bit more about my general experience another day.

The list that I am writing is a top 6 list of the reasons why I suck at meditating.  A big chunk of the retreat was learning relaxation techniques and how to meditate, etcetra.  It was cool.  I liked the bits of yoga and qi gong we did.  The meditation, not so much.

  1. I am a poor relaxer.  This would probably actually make for grounds for me to take up meditation, but the problem is that  they tell me to relax and I either almost doze off or I start making mental check lists.  They say this is okay and that you should acknowledge it and go back to concentrating on your breathing.  But it is hard.

    Image from i.chzbgr.com.

  2. I have poor posture.  Why is this related?  Well, you see, most of the meditation we did were sitting meditations.  And that involves sitting at the edge of your seat with proper posture.  Half way through every session I started to get a pain in my right back (thank you slight scoliosis and North American culture induced poor posture) and then I would try to shift quietly but shifting does not fix it.  Not that the laying or standing ones were much better, but the sitting ones were the worst.

    Image from barkhamofficefurniture.co.uk.

  3. I have authority issues.  This comes off as weird because I love rules and such, but I still hate when people tell me to do something that is optional and not always logical.  For instance, telling me to breathe into my pelvis or picture my loving light filling my heart in the middle of my chest does not make practical sense, nor does it sound like something I want to do.  I then get all stubborn in my head and annoyed and, well, that kind of dulls the whole experience.

    Me during the meditation when told to relax and clear my mind. Image from buzzlol.com.

  4. As much as I believe in holistic medicine some of the imagery and such seemed hokey to me and I couldn’t get past that.  I tried being open minded, and I know that visualization is valuable to so many people, but for me it just felt silly.

    My attempt at open-mindedness. Image from catholibertariandotcom.wordpress.com.

  5. Doing things like concentrating on my breathing or bum in the seat or what have you make me feel like I am hyperventilating or uncomfortable.  Please stop drawing my attention to them.  At one point, I was convinced my lungs would implode.

    Going through my head whilst concentrating on breathing. Image from education.com.

  6. I am childish.  Some things make me giggle.  And in a quiet room where everyone is seeming to be listening and doing intently, it is really hard to stifle the odd snicker.  And stifling the snicker makes you want to do it more.

    Image from erichufschmid.net.

Again, I must re-iterate that I had a great experience at this retreat overall.  I just didn’t love the meditation.  Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.  And my experience should not belittle that some people derive great benefit from meditation and that I may at some point in my life.   It is very life changing for some people to have that means of relaxation and stress reduction.  You can change neural pathways, alter your stress response and better your self awareness and coping… I get it.  But, right now to me, it just felt like something I did not want to do and something that I am not good at.

In the Mundane

Last Sunday in church, we were wrapping up a series on 1 Corinthians.  I have written about the series or related topics a few other times on here (refer to this, this and this)

Something (well, three verses in particular) struck me in the last service.  Right in the face (of note, face has been my word of the day today).  They are (I learned because it was pointed out) both imperative statements.  Things to do because of our victory through Jesus.  Things to do to demonstrate our faith and serve our Lord.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable.  Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.  1 Corinthians 15:58.

AND…

Be on guard.  Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous.  Be strong.  And do everything with love.  1 Corinthians 16:13-14.

Besides this being yet another chunk where the Bible tells you what to do or not do, what does this really have to do with anything?  Why did this bit strike me?

I like practical things.  I get annoyed when people ask superficial questions that are answered directly in the passage.  I get annoyed at discussions about the differences in wording in a certain passage or why something might not mean what it looks like.  I am not saying I hate really getting into the meat of something, but I hate when people seem to miss out on something obviously there or try to look for something that probably is not.

Sometimes, when people look for practical applications in the Bible, I get annoyed.  The whole thing is practical.  That is the point.

But these imperatives really bring out the practical.  They are succinct, blunt and basically say how we need to behave.  I like that.

But what I liked even more was something the pastor drew attention to.  Something I know but something I struggle with.  Something that is said in the verses, but is not always obvious on a surface level.

These things are ways of being faithful.  Of living out faith.  And the cool part is that being faithful does not simply consist of the big stuff.  The healings and giving big gifts and doing the obvious.  Being faithful to Jesus also happens in the mundane.

The pastor actually used the word “mundane.”  I was glad he did.  That made it make sense to me.  And I totally see it in these verses.  That nothing you do for the Lord is useless.  That standing firm, being strong and courageous is not just in the giant scary times but even in the every day average times.  But, had he not used the word mundane, I am not sure I would have picked up on how big these verses are.

I sometimes feel trapped in the mundane.

I work an average of 60-70 hours per week. Like most jobs, sometimes things are very routine and can be full of going through the motions (I know, this is totally shocking after the exciting world of medicine I paint on here).  I am fortunate that there is much variety, every disease process can do something a bit different and, thankfully, people are so unique things do not seem monotonous.  But, there is still a ton of paperwork to plow through, meetings to sit in on and all that good stuff.  Plus, I have the whole school/studying side.  I love to learn.  But, sometimes reading books and journal articles, preparing presentations and all that good stuff in your “spare” time gets aggravating.

Plus, I am still a wife.  And I want to be a good wife.  The kind that keeps a clean house, cooks proper meals and such.  Laundry never ends.  The house gets messy as soon as it looks clean.  Cooking a good meal one day is awesome, but you still need to eat the day after that.

Some days I feel trapped in a work, cook, study sleep cycle.  I feel like I am doing nothing “great” for God.  In fact, I just feel like I am spinning my wheels.

But that is where the whole mundane thing comes in.

I know my life is not boring by any means.  But, monotony does set in (but when yo switch rotations every four weeks, it can’t linger too long).  Sometimes, I feel like I am just going through the motions.  That most of what I do makes no difference.

I have heard over and over again that “whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than men.” (Colossians 3:23)  But, I forget.  And these verses reminded me.

But the mundane bit is what struck me.  I tell myself I know it is everything, but really when I read “do,” I think of employment, like when we ask people, “What do you do?” meaning what is your vocation.

It blows my mind that when I am serving others in ways like navigating laundry heaps, making my husband supper or studying to be a better doctor that I am serving the Lord.

I have to admit that I don’t always do this stuff in love.  That I am not always thinking about God when I do it.  Sometimes, I am resenting the person who gave me the assignment, or my husband for being messy or my friend for being needy.  That really isn’t how or why I should do these things.  It doesn’t say I have to always “want” to do them, but I do need to adjust my focus… God and love.  Such is a life of serving God.

I found myself this afternoon wasting time staring at our tax return and being bitter about the work I have to get done.  And then I remembered this passage.  The whole mundane thing.  That these things do matter and do have purpose.  That when I do them in love and with a serving attitude they are serving God.

That is pretty cool.

Does it make me enjoy them more?

Not that much.  But maybe a little because trying to be enthusiastic, loving and Christ focused helps.

And then there is the whole be strong, firm, etc. chunk.  I just like hearing them.  I like the reminders.  I need the reminders.  I feel like I have been waffling on this stuff lately because things have been overwhelming and busy.  I think you need to be on guard for things that deceive, that you need to be strong, not just in times of trouble, but in good times too, that being firm in your faith can help these thing along.  And that this combination can make the mundane seem maybe a bit less mundane.

I feel like all of this calls for a song that basically says what I just said to wrap things up…

I don’t care, but it’s cool: Thoughts and feelings about a new pope

I was asked by one of my lovely readers and BFFs to write about my thoughts on a particular topic… The new Pope.

You see, I grew up Roman Catholic… Roman Catholic of the Acadian  subcontext.  I did the whole catechism thing… I was baptized, first communioned, first confessioned and confirmed.  Then, some might say, I went astray while others may argue I saw the light.  I just like to say I grew up and developed a personal relationship with Jesus and felt that much of the legalism, politics and extreme focus on tradition did not fit in the context or requirements  belief in Christ or Christianity as a whole. I stopped attending the Catholic church.  I stopped identifying myself as “Catholic” and opted for “Christian.”  This was and still is at times a HUGE struggle for me.

Despite that, I do admire Catholicism for its trueness to history and tradition.  I do believe people who practice the Catholic faith can believe in Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him.  I think that some people can miss out on that with all of the focus on Saints and other figureheads like Popes.  Just  like some people miss out on that by debating doctrinal subtleties, focusing on speaking in tongues as the only marker of being truly saved or wrestling with snakes being a sign of true faith.  Sometimes all of the hoopla takes away from Jesus and God who should be the center and I think sometimes that leads people astray, which makes me sad.

My family is still overall very Catholic.  And I respect that.  Because they believe the important stuff and the other stuff is not and should not be central.  I know they think I am odd in some ways.  But, everyone is odd in some way.  I still feel at home when I go to Mass because of the familiarity.   But, I am honest in that I won’t participate in things like praying for the dead or going to confession and such. Those aren’t important to the main message… Jesus.

Because of the tradition I grew up in, my friend wanted to know what I thought about the new Pope.

In simple terms: I don’t care, but it’s cool.

I can elaborate…

One of the biggest things that I find difficult is when people mount people above others and particularly above God.  It drives me crazy when people think the world revolves around their awesome pastor or when someone is afraid to tick off the priest.  Yes, these are knowledgeable people, but they are not God.  And they will never be God or like God.  They don’t answer prayers.  They can pray on our behalf (aka intercession), but they don’t fix stuff for us.  For a lot of the world, the Pope is like a superstar… For some, even a superhero.  They worship him.  They believe what he says above what the Word of God says.  Remember that commandment “thou shalt have nod Gods before me.”?  I am pretty sure that included the Pope.

It is a big deal to become a Pope.  There are a million requirements including being a man, being a cardinal (which takes a long time and a lot of accomplishment as it is), being able to speak a ton of languages, being an all around good person and then being picked.  I get that it is a big deal.  I think it is awesome buddy is the new Pope.  That is basically like being the president of the Catholic church.  Good for him.

I don’t follow many current events, but I couldn’t help but hear about this one.  It didn’t mean I was intrigued or interested.  I was as uninterested as I generally am.  I know much of the world was waiting with baited breath, but to me the most interesting piece was that they actually came to a decision so soon… Usually it takes way longer.

It sounds heartless, but I don’t care because it is just another guy, in just another election of sorts.  Kind of like how I really don’t care who the president of Norway is (random selection… I don’t have something against Norway) or about whatever Will and Kate are up to this week.  Good for him.  Interesting historic moment.  But, I can go on with my day.

People say I should care because Catholicism is a big part of the world today.  That a new Pope might change things.  Both are kind of true, but really, I will believe it when I see it.  We all might change things if we make an impact.

From a person who grew up Catholic, I guess I was more interested than some because I learned a bit about how it works growing up.  I explained the whole conclave thing to Patrick.  How the Pope is pretty much a superstar.  How everything is maintained so carefully and selectively there isn’t a whole lot of room for change.  He also heard an interview with a professor who confirmed these things.  But, beyond a curiosity about what country buddy would be from and what name he would pick, I was quite aware little is likely to be different.

Unless I see change, I don’t really think it will happen.  Partly because history repeats itself.  Partly because people are resistant.  And thus getting a new Pope from a new place doesn’t change things to me.  It is the same Catholic church until proven otherwise.

I also must share that it drive me nuts that we pay this much attention to the choosing of a random guy (okay, not random) and how it impacts “the church” and “the world,” but we can’t talk about faith without offending someone and that the news doesn’t address issues that are more local or of more relevance.

Now that I sound like an apathetic jerk, there are some reasons why I think the whole new Pope thing is cool.

Change is good.  First of all, other buddy having the balls to retire is awesome.  That alone is a huge change from the whole pope until you die thing.  Way to actually ensure you have someone who wants to be there and is well enough to do it running the church.  Having someone younger can mean changes, even if they are just small and sometimes those changes are beneficial.

I am not saying there will be big changes.  The way people move up in the ranks and such is definitely not always by being outside the box.  But, there are many good things the Catholic church does and having a fresh person in charge is good.  I am sure it will still be bad for women to take birth control, but maybe some more of a push for charity will happen.

I think it is cool things happened so quickly.  We get so caught up in this stuff where we can access information.  I was impressed at how the thing was handled.

I love that the Catholic church stands firm to tradition.  I don’t always agree with their methods, but they stick to their guns despite societal pressures and despite what the world thinks or judges.  That takes guts and gumption and strong belief in a system.  I find the tradition of picking Popes and the hierarchy odd, but I also find it fascinating that it all works even in this day and age.  Patrick heard in one interview with a professor who is a specialist on the subject that the Cardinals really don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of the process or the new Pope.  Because that really isn’t what matters at all in the process.  I liked that.

It is cool that the new Pope is from Argentina and that he does sound like a really awesome guy having done a bunch of charity work and such.  Sometimes, it seems that by the time people get that high up in anything, not just the church, they give up on the little people and focus on things like administration or politics, but according to what I’ve read, he was still going out to the streets and reaching out to people.  That makes him a winner in my books.

His new name is Pope Francis I.  Way to be unique instead of being the 15th of a generic name.  Yes, I am not pro-saint and I don’t get why he can’t keep his real name, but if you are going to have to get a new one, why not pick a unique one!

As I said earlier, it is a big accomplishment to become a Pope.  So, even though it really isn’t anything overwhelmingly thrilling to me, I do think it is neat to see this happen.

As a member of the greater Christian community, I believe God is working through the Catholic church and that He can do great things through this new Pope and the changes that are happening.  That is exciting!

So, although I am not overly interested in it, I must confess, the whole Pope thing is something I am not a big fan of.  However, I have to say, the news is kind of cool and has great potential.

I know not everyone will share my perspective.  I would love to hear what you think about the whole new Pope thing!  Just please don’t eat my face.  And if I offended you, this is just my opinion on an issue the world is talking about coming from a person who has lived on a few sides of the argument.  I am not out to be malicious.  Just to share and have a conversation.

Lenting

It is Lent again!

Last year, I wrote a big blurb about my grappling with the whole to lent or not to lent debate.

I ended up lenting.  I did the 40 days of water project to raise money for wells and HIV/Hepatitis testing in Uganda.

The experience was a struggle, to say the least.  I had caffeine withdrawals.  I learned what it was like to live without.  I ended up raising something like 150 dollars in beverages I didn’t drink (it is disturbing how much we spend on fluids).  Yes, it was worthwhile on a fundraising standpoint.  On a bonus front, I also lost about 10lbs due to the decreased calorie consumption that resulted (not that it really stayed off or anything).  And maybe it did deepen my walk with God… Maybe.  Its not like I prayed every time I got a coffee craving.

So, when this time of year came around again, I was kind of puzzled yet again.

I don’t think I have to lent.  There is nothing in the Bible that says to lent (and I know lent is not a verb, but it is fun to pretend it is one).  And I definitely don’t think I HAVE to give something up.  I know it is to remember the time that Jesus was out in the desert without food or drink.  But, the principle of the season from what I gather is to also become closer to God.  And sometimes adding on is better.  Or at least knowing that what you give up is being replaced with something that makes you closer to God (like giving up Facebook to spend more time with family/reading the Bible).

When I wrote my post about Lent last year, people shared with me their plans to give things up, but even more than that, to take things up.  And I found that really cool.

Does that mean I don’t think people should give things up?

No.  It just means I think we need a reason beyond “because that is what we do” and beyond some of our secret motives like to show you are devout or holy or just to lose a few extra pounds (I thought it… And I bet you may have too).

I really liked doing the water thing.  With my schedule and such, it would be a big sacrifice.  And honestly, after evaluating it, as nice as it is, I wouldn’t be doing it with the right motivation and, honestly, it would not go well.  That being said, I still recommend it to others (check out the 40 Days of Water page here)!

This year, I want to make a positive change.  I want to walk closely with God.  I want to do something that makes me different as a person, not just change an eating habit or my time management.

So, I have decided to make some attitude changes.

Like many women, I like to complain about people and gossip and all of that touching stuff.   I want to stop doing that.  My sunny disposition has a big mean streak, although I think many people do.

I know that may not be realistic.  It is not likely I am going to stop gossiping and complaining and such.  It should be possible, but on my own strength it definitely is not.

But, it is something to work on, something to be mindful of.

The plan is to keep my people bashing to a minimum.  If it is constructive.  If it is something I would say to their face, then I can say it elsewhere.  But, if it would be hurtful, or if it is not useful, then I shouldn’t say it.  It is a good rule of thumb in life.  And, to be honest, I don’t always use it.

In Sunday school this week, we talked about striving to apply theology in practical ways.  One of the things we addressed was the use of our words.  How we address others, what we choose to discuss and such.  I was feeling really convicted about this.

Further to that, I want to try to be less worried about what other people think of me.  To not get offended by petty disagreements or unsolicited advice.  To grin, bear it, pray about it and get over it.

Many of my lovely followers provided me with that advice and much encouragement last week after I posted this and it was so appreciated.  It reminded me that I am who I am and that I can’t get beaten down by people.  In fact, it is more harmful to both myself and others when I do.  Instead, I need to forgive, pray for the person and move on with things.  Sometimes when I feel hurt by stuff, it is because it hurt my ego.  And really, that isn’t what it is all about.  I need to remember who/what it is all about.

How convenient that it is the time of year where making these sorts of changes is encouraged more than others?

This mission will bring me closer to God because, well, without Him, I am not going to pull it off.  In fact, I still probably won’t pull it off because I am human and flawed (and so are people I know).

But, this is something for the long term.  Not something I will kick when Easter hits (at least, I really shouldn’t).  It won’t be a perfect change, because as I said, I am human, but movement towards change is a good thing.

So, I guess I can say I am lenting again.  Even if it isn’t in the conventional sense of the word.  Plus, then, I can have my coffee.

I think it is one of those theological grey areas.  Jesus didn’t do it.  The Bible doesn’t lay it out.  But, it can be a valuable part of some people’s faith walks.  So, I am yet again giving it a whirl.

Are you lenting this year?  What do you do for the Lenten season?  Why?