Life can be quite overwhelming. So much so that days blur into one another, memories become hazy, and everything barely makes a connection. I, for one, can fully attest to the fact that I often get caught up in the whirlwind. While studying for finals, I literally forgot what day of the week it was and missed an appointment I had to make. So lost was I in the task at hand that nothing else seemed to matter. If that’s how bad I got with the days of the week, you can then make the conjecture as to how I’d gotten with everything else including my spiritual welfare.

Things consume us and we get sidetracked from the path we must tread to reach Him. We all stray for one reason or another. I know I do. And because I do, I take great comfort in the following verse from Psalm 119: “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.” It is a short admission–I have strayed like a lost sheep coupled with a prayer–Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. It seems like such a counter-intuitive thing to ask of God. “I have strayed so come find me” as opposed to “I have strayed and shall return.” But God makes it easy for us… as long as we do not forget His commands, when we stray He will seek us out and encircle us in His loving arms. All we have to do is ask and remember. We must remember His commands and inscribe them on our hearts so that way when the world begins to spin at a pace that knocks us off the path, when we cry out “Seek your servant” He will come speedily. We all get sidetracked sometimes, but God is ever-faithful and hears the cries of His children.

My mind has been plagued by “What if?”s lately. What if this hadn’t happened? What if I had not said this? What if? What if? WHAT IF?

We are told to not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about it’s own things; sufficient for the day is its own troubles. We aren’t told anything about worrying about yesterday and wondering what things would be like if it had been different. But something about this thought process strikes me as wrong and flawed. There is something quite contrary to the notion that we are to always be in positive action that clashes with a mind caught in the past and what has happened.

There is also something that reeks of ingratitude about it. In the prayer of thanksgiving, we give thanks for every condition, in any condition, and concerning every condition. But a thought process devoted to wondering what if the past had been different does not give thanks for the past conditions. It is the very essence of ingratitude. It is defiantly telling God, “I may say I trust in Your will and that all that You do for me is done for the best, but I still think I could have worked it out better.”

This thought process also robs us of our ability to rejoice, and we are told to rejoice always. When caught in what has been and what could have been, there is no room left to rejoice in the present moment. There is no room to give thanks for now. There is no room to live.

There may not be an express warning about getting lost in the “What if?”s of yesterday (that I know of, if you have any please share) but the very thought process contradicts several of the commands we are given. I cannot submit my present will to Him if I cannot accept His past will for me. Time to leave “What if?” in the past.

“Verily, verily I say unto you, today you shall be with me in paradise,” came the proclamation.
Yet, I cannot remember where I came from.
But I know I desperately wish to return.
It is cold and dark here and the roof has sprung a leak.

I seem to have run into a small problem lately. Like the majority of girls and women out there, I have my arsenal of beauty products that I keep at the ready. Out of these products there are some that are used quite often and on a regular basis, like my facial lotion or my face wash. Within the past few months, I ventured out into the retail world at different times to restock on some of my basics, and each time I would come back empty-handed. The answer from the store clerk was the same each time I asked for something, “Sorry miss, it’s been discontinued.” I would go home, sorely disappointed and mourning the loss of my dependable product that has been a part of my life for a good amount of time.

I was telling a friend of my recent dilemma over lunch and she simply laughed out loud and said, “Your life has been discontinued.” I too had to laugh at that, because it was such an extreme statement. No, my life had not been discontinued, but calling the discontinuation of various products a “dilemma” was just as dramatic of a statement. My dilemma is no dilemma at all. I will simply find replacement products, which will most likely be even better than the ones I had been loyal to for so long.

And so the same can be said for all things in life. We have things that we deem to be essential and necessary to us and our lives and we are devastated when they’re taken away in one manner or another. We get angry and yell things out toward the heavens like “Why, oh God, why?” God must be punishing us for taking away the things we’ve deemed good. But that could not be farther from the truth.

When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” and we truly mean it, then we trust that all things done in our lives and all things that happen are done for goodness. God may take away something seemingly good to us and it may hurt and the loss may be hard but He is only making room for what is even better. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Entry written on Sunday, April 20, 2008…

“On my Knees”

On a most ridiculous trip up and down the turnpike with my honorary roommate (we kept missing our exit somehow and drove up and down the state of New Jersey for a good 2 hours) I became very well acquainted with Carrie Underwood’s new CD. Now, she’s not an artist I’d go out of my way to listen to but that was the CD in the car so I had very little say in the matter. I discovered a few things. I actually kind of like her music, her lyrics are hilarious (see the song “Last Name”) and she’s actually got some profound phrases mixed in with all the country verve.

In the song “Flat on the Floor” she belts about a heartbreak and tells the man that he can’t live without her and so on and so forth, but in between the “baby, baby, baby, baby tell me why you gotta make me, make me, make me, make me cry?” and “baby, baby, baby, baby tell me how you think you’re gonna live without my love now?” she does say one thing that sticks with me…

“You can’t knock me off my feet when I’m already on my knees…”

It’s an expression of something most people have felt before in one way or another–the feeling that nothing worse can be done to you because the worst has already happened. It is simultaneously a cry of pain and a challenge to the oncoming aggressor. At once she tells him “look at how much you’ve hurt me, I’m on my knees in pain” and challenges him to do his worst because she’s in a position of utmost stability and security. She puts it simply, the easiest way to thwart a foe coming to knock you off your feet is to get on your knees and pray.

The image of the broken woman on her knees reads as a vision of prayer. And once it becomes a vision of prayer, the broken woman becomes harder than a diamond and more resilient than steel. The position of sorrow and submission transforms into that of joy and power all because prayer can move mountains, part seas, and it might just be the only thing that can mend a broken heart.

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It is when we finally learn to kneel in prayer, when we have come to the understanding of the fact that we are weak, we cannot mend our own aches and pains, we cannot move mountains or change the world on our own, we cannot live with our pride that keeps us stiff and upright before men, that we can truly lift up our hearts to the Lord and call upon His name. When I mention kneeling in prayer, I do not mean it figuratively only, but the literal act of kneeling before the Lord when we pray. Bring yourself lower to the ground when praying, lift up your heart to the heavens, and soon you will find your whole being transported upward to the heavens, close enough for you to kiss the sky.

                                            

P.S. – Ok, so Carrie Underwood doesn’t actually say anything about prayer in her song, but I still see it that way…

… for all that’s been lost. A prayer for the aftermath…

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Currently listening to: “All will be Forgotten” by Holly Brook

An answer for our darkest times…

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Disappointment and dashed hopes are inevitable in this world. Not everything is perfect. Not everything will go “according to plan.” Sorrow will follow; that is a given.

As crazy as it may sound, it those moments of sorrow and grief, sadness deep enough for me to cry off my waterproof mascara, that I ultimately cherish the most. Yes, the feelings are awful but if it were not for the moments of sorrow that put my waterproof Diorshow to shame, I would not be able to lift up my heart to the Lord and cry out with David the prophet and the king when he said,

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble;
My eyes waste away with grief,
Yes, my soul and my body!
For my life is spent with grief,
And my years with sighing;
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away…
…I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind;
I am like a broken vessel.
For I hear the slander of many;
Fear is on every side;
While they take counsel together against me,
They scheme to take away my life.
But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’” (Psalm 31:9-10, 12-14)

It is moments like these that make me determined to shake the ground and the earth with my prayers–to make it resonate with the sound of my cries. It is moments like these that bring to light my shortcomings and my faults. Why must my prayers be earth-shaking only when I feel sorrow? When all is well, why am I content to simply throw up my dues to my Creator and Savior without the same focus or fire?

I cling to God in times of adversity, I literally place Him in a death grip and refuse to let go. So why does my grasp loosen when the storm has passed overheard and the sun starts to emerge?

It is safe for you dear reader to assume that I am going through a bit of a rough time at the moment. Today, just a few hours ago, I was having it out with God and asking Him why He didn’t answer the prayers I had sent up to Him months ago asking Him to not allow anything to begin that would ultimately end in sorrow. I have had much loss and grief in my life over the past two years and my frail heart could not stand anymore. So I prayed and pleaded, asking to be spared from any more situations that would bring about more sadness. But I do not have His wisdom, and I trust it far more than I would even dream of trusting my own. I stand here, months after I had made that request, with fresh tears in my eyes, and yet I thank Him from the very core of my being.

If it were not for this sorrow, would I be lifting up heart to Him as much as I am now? Would I know the depth of His comfort and how He can ease a soul in despair? Would I have become aware of my shortcomings in the manner I hold onto Him everyday?

You see, the point is for me to cry out and lift my heart up to Him in the same manner as I do now in sorrow when I am happy, content, ecstatic, ambivalent, ordinary, tired, energetic, lackadaisical, at a loss for words, entirely verbose, when nothing is happening and when everything is happening–at every moment of every day until the last moment of my very last day.

And that is how I am refined. This is how we are all refined.

“I will bring [them] through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is my people,’ And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)

If He places me in the fire, my soul will rejoice. I will emerge a finer grade of gold, more worthy to be called His daughter, more worthy of His salvation. Far more worthy to lift up my eyes and heart to the heavens and say “The Lord is my God.”

“I am not at ease, neither am I quiet, neither have I rest; But trouble cometh.” (Job 3:26)

Today has not really been my day and neither was yesterday. Or the day before that… or the week before that, the month before that, the year before that… Life and the world have generally pummeled me for the past two years or so. Just when one not so pleasant experience or event ends another begins (all of varying magnitudes, of course.)

I am not interested in recounting what happened when and where and with whom. Most of the details are hazy now anyhow. Instead, I want to focus on my reactions to everything, because after all, they say you really know a person’s true colors once the individual is placed in some sort of adversity.

My reaction to the adversity that kick-started my two rocky years was one of sorrow and fear… and one of rocky faith. At first I prayed and clung to God with all my might hoping and wishing and praying that He’d answer my prayers and resolve things the way I wanted. After all, He did say “ask and it shall be given to you”–at least that was my reasoning at the time. When things did not go the way I had hoped and prayed for my faith took a sharp nosedive. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe anymore. I just didn’t understand why God would let bad things happen. But bad things have been happening the world over since the beginning of time… my question was actually, “Why would God let something bad happen to me and the people in my life? I love God and I go to church and I pray, therefore I must be immune, right?”

It became clear then that my faith and belief was far shallower than I thought, but it would take some time for me to reach that realization. At first I was angry with God and all that I believed, then I was exceptionally sad, and finally I hit apathy. All the while, I still went to church and prayed and read the Bible but I had a bone to pick with my Redeemer. Things were not getting better; if anything, things were simply getting worse and worse.

I decided to switch gears at that point. Maybe I was praying for the wrong things. Instead of praying for bad things to stop happening maybe I should just pray for good things to happen. So I prayed. I wasn’t particular… anything good would have sufficed. Maybe I was going to take the LSAT and score a 180 and turn out to be the legal prodigy of the century. Maybe a great guy was going to come along and sweep me off my feet (I’ve since stopped holding my breath for that. I don’t think I was made for sweeping.)

The world-shattering great thing I kept praying for wasn’t happening. Yes, good things did happen, but not of the magnitude I was hoping for.

I had it all wrong.

It was then that I began to search for the pattern in my prayers, in what drove my faith and I was sorely disappointed when I found out what motivated me—THINGS. I wanted bad things to stop happening, good things to happen, things, things, things.

You would think that I would have felt enlightened and begun to work on rebuilding my relationship with God at that point, but I had to go through one more step before I got there. I became even sadder then. I was downright deplorable. God gave me salvation, grace, love, and life and all I wanted was for him to give me stuff. I was a spoiled little brat. I remember crying a lot during this stage. It was almost an unconscious attempt to purge myself of all my mistakes and misconceptions through my tears.

After that I found myself empty of everything, of all thoughts and conceptions of faith, religion, God. And I began to rebuild, to reconceptualize, and to just breach the surface of understanding. God gave us salvation, love, and grace. That is more than enough. Things don’t matter. The focus must always be on the One who loves you. Things will come and go, but He and His love will always remain.

Things haven’t gotten much easier. There are still bumps in the road. But I am loved by Love Himself. So come what may… let the world rage against me, I’ll sing with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”