Musings on Christianity 13

Musings on Christianity 13

How Can I Hold My Faith In Times of Sorrow?

I was barely in junior high when my family was divorced. My biological father did something terrible. He was abusive in several senses. His verbal insults to me were cruel. Name calling and slapping were common things. He’d flick middle and ring finger at my lips for speaking against him. He did more, and he did worse, but the worst thing he did wasn’t to me, so it isn’t for me to speak about.

What he did broke my family for a very long time. I wish I could tell you we moved away, and everything got better, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of love and laughter, but it seemed those times were interrupted with abuse that struck generation after generation. From the time I was a boy until now, I felt like a failure as a man because I couldn’t protect my family from the harm that came their way.

I constantly wondered why. You see, I have always believed in God. So I constantly asked why did this happen? Then came 2013. Yet another member of my family faced an abusive past. To say I was struggling at work would be a drastic understatement. It felt as if I couldn’t do anything right.

I spoke to a coworker a few times that I was tempted to even deny God’s existence, but I couldn’t. I knew he was there. I just couldn’t understand why I felt such pain. I couldn’t understand why I felt such helplessness.

A lot of things started happening then. In that conversation with my coworker, I said that I understood there was a reason, I just didn’t know what it was.

This is a brief story on the truth that there is a reason. His plan is perfect.

It started, with a dog. My sister Rosa and I spent pretty much every evening together with her daughter watching television. I’d hang out with my niece while she worked on an online college course. I let her dogs out, and realized at nine or ten at night that one dog was gone. The time I had with my sister and niece was perhaps the only place I had at that point in my life where I truly felt I was “right.” I felt as though I was competent. I felt as though every decision I made wasn’t some sort of epic failure, and then I lost my sister’s dog.

I told her, “I’m going to find her.” I wandered around in the rain, calling out her name, and, in between calling her, praying. “God, please reunite Rosa with her dog.” I was careful with the prayer. I wasn’t looking for God necessarily to make me look good. Instead, I was just asking God to reunite a person with her beloved pet. For perhaps a few hours I searched. The rain pounded me, but I held onto my faith. I desperately needed to see something.

Then I heard a voice, “You’re looking for that little white dog aren’t you?”

Standing outside in the pouring rain was a man smoking a cigarette. I wasn’t even sure how he was doing it. This was a real man. My sister knew him. They’d spoken. But there he was standing outside in the rain at that moment, at that time. So I called that little white dog the Miracle Dog.

In a lifetime filled with the abuse of so many people I loved, that little answered prayer (we found the dog a few minutes later) was this sip of water when I had felt like I was dying of thirst.

Perhaps you’re wondering how that one little thing could make up for at least four different instances of abuse in my family? Readers, that was a preview. It was God showing me, “Look how carefully I place people. Look how minute the details of my plans are.”

You see, he had to put me in a house I really didn’t have any business being in. He had to place me with a family that didn’t need to accept me. Rosa isn’t my sister by blood. We adopted each other. There wasn’t really a reason. It just happened. But there I was. Then he had to have a lost dog. I think the rain might have been just a flash of dramatic effect, but who am I to question God. Then he placed that guy outside at that exact moment just when I looked in that exact area to tell me something he’d briefly noticed hours before.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways,” Romans 11:33.

The Bible is full of these stories of faith paying off. The birth of Isaac. Abraham’s testing with Isaac. But the one that sticks out to me the most, the story that I affiliate a bit more with now than I had previously, is the story of Joseph in Genesis. He was sold to slavery, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, forgotten in prison, and then, just when it was time, made the second most powerful man in Egypt.

There really are several stories of what some may call coincidence, and one might feel the Bible can have those because it was written to give faith. I’m not actually ready to present my case for why the Bible is real, though there are several books out there that address that question. All I need you to see is that the Bible has these stories. But I’d never thought in all my days that something like that would happen for me.

But that was just a dog. I mean, you keep looking long enough and you’ll find anything, right? Right! But why? Why keep looking. Why not give up? I had something to hold onto. Christ. It’s hard to explain the concept to you. There is no physical thing keeping me from denying Christ. Nothing is stoping me from turning away or letting him go. Nothing physical at least. Any non-believer could say, “Oh, just watch. If his life gets bad enough, he’ll turn away.”

Again, I was tempted. But that silly dog was the exact amount of encouragement I needed to begin a journey that strengthened me for even stronger trails, particularly the death of my mother.

But today is about how meticulous God’s plan is. Here I was, a man who was surrounded by horrid examples of what a father was, constantly feeling like he was failing his nieces and nephew. Here I was, a man helping to raise children that were never his. “Why!?” I wondered.

Then I met Julie, and then I met my sons. Three wonderful boys who fill my life with love and joy, and they needed me. I wrote that correctly. They didn’t need someone. They needed me! This isn’t arrogance. You see, my sons are struggling with their own feelings of loss and confusion. They’re struggling with a divorce of their own and trying to understand. I lived a life where I saw so many perfect examples of the worst a father could be, but I was also shown so many wonderful examples of what a father should be. The man who raised me. The comic shop owner who literally caught me trying to steal from him, and then forgave me, and then allowed me to take care of his shop when he went to get lunch. 

I met those boys and saw their need, and never felt more certain that I’d perfectly understood a very important verse of the Bible.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” Genesis 50:20

God’s plan is perfect. In that moment I realized that every trial I faced and every hardship I encountered wasn’t necessarily punishment. I was unworked metal that needed forging for His use.

I was custom forged to be the father my sons so desperately wanted and needed, and now, looking back, I wouldn’t wish those I love to go through what they faced, for it was far harder than my own struggles, but if I could go through it alone, if I had to feel that pain again, I’d do it in a heartbeat if it would make me a fraction of a better father than the clumsy, well-meaning man I am now.

When we hold onto our faith, when we trust in His plan, in time, in His time, we understand why. The incident with the Miracle Dog was years before I met Julie, but God knew I needed just the smallest bit of light. I needed to find a stupid dog lost in the rain. I needed to see His perfect plan in that moment, just to get me by for a few more years until I could truly get it.

I have to tell you that not every suffering is made to forge you, but it can. It can prepare you. It can sanctify you. It can focus you. It can rebuke you. When you endure that suffering and maintain your faith, that comfort does a lot. But when you come out of the other side of the trial, I can tell you the blessings are far greater than the suffering was painful. One hug from my sons, and all of that pain and abuse just melted away. One smile from my sons, and I feel like the most blessed man in the world. One “I love you” from my sons, and I feel like the most loved man on earth.

And to think, it almost never happened. I could have chosen what many called, the wiser path. I could have stayed in the Navy. I could have gotten back into the Navy when I learned I’d been selected to be promoted to chief petty officer. I might have stayed in if the job at DINFOS wasn’t available. You see, even there is the meticulous work of our God. I wanted a job there as a civilian, but there weren’t any openings, not until a dear friend of mine got promoted, right when my time in the Navy was ending.

When we focus on all the bad that happens to us, we will only ever see our suffering. This is how we become convinced we’re alone. We’re looking at the punishment rather than our offense, or we’re looking at the fire rather than the blacksmith. But when you choose to focus on God, no matter what, you see the hope. At least, I did.

It might take hours, while you’re looking for a little dog in the rain. It might take years, while you’re working on getting a book published. It might take decades, while you’re looking at abuse and hate and hoping you’d get the chance to show love and compassion. The time it takes forges you. And when it all comes together, it’s more wonderful than you could imagine.

I’m still alive, so my trials aren’t over. I’ve had this time of joy in my life, and I mean to enjoy it. I mean to praise God for every minute of it. In times of need he is there. In times of plenty, He is there. Those times of need are when I know, after these days I’ve had, I can lean on Him harder. He is the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

For our panel: What else does suffering do for us? What other value might there be in holding on to Christ?  How, can we hold on to Christ when we feel lost? Would you be willing to share a story in which you felt lost, and holding onto Christ helped you? How does holding on to Christ help us in the moment of suffering, before the relief comes?

Sonnets For My Savior 46

Sonnets For My Savior 46

What You Seek

Cry for those who turn from God to seek wealth.
Lament for those who prefer the respect of man over the Son’s sacrifice.
Mourn over those who think the things of this world lead to health.
Wail for those who cast aside God for the sake of any vice.

Listen for God’s call.
Respond when it comes.
Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all.
But it is to Him you must run.

God may grant an unrepentant child his earthly desires,
but those rewards are all the child will obtain.
When death comes, all that waits is a lake of fire.
The child has traded a moment of pleasure for an eternity of pain.

Think carefully about thing things you look for.
All the worldly things are filthy rags; God’s love is more.

 


 

Keep It

When the moon is gone, and the sky is black,
let me keep my faith in You.
When enemies surround me, and they are ready to attack,
let me keep my faith in You.

Should death be near, I shall not be afraid,
for I only pass through death to life unending.
Let me look upon Your grace having not strayed.
Help me hold to You with a trust unbending.

You created the Earth.
What could it do that You can’t control?
You power is the only power that holds worth.
Your grace is the only thing that can make a broken man whole.

When trials come to test our faith in You.
Let us endure the trail, keep our faith, and glorify You.

 


 

The Servant

He toils away through the night,
unsure of when his master will return.
He does as he knows is good and right,
and the master’s joy is what he will earn.

The manager is wise and faithful.
He’s determined to be ready.
The plates are clean as is the table.
His actions are trustworthy and steady.

When the master returns, the servant will be blessed,
for the servant was loyal and steadfast.
The humble servant passed the test,
so his gift is sure to last.

Christ will return when we least expect.
Display for Him how well His house has been kept.

 


 

Courage

The Lord our God is with me.
I shall be strong and of good courage.
Though enemies may surround me,
I shall not be discouraged. 

Wherever I may go,
He is my strength and my shield.
I stand firm because I know
none can match the power He wields.

What can the created do
against the might of the creator?
No matter the trials I go through,
I seek wisdom if I seek His favor.

I never have reason to fear
if I have faith in my God and keep Him near. 

 


 

Neighbor

Bleeding on the side of the road,
he’s beaten and broken.
They pass by as if they don’t know.
They pass by as if he hadn’t spoken.

Self-occupied and distracted,
they ignore others even when they have the means to assist.
Uncaring of how they have acted,
they’ve blinded themselves to the opportunity they’ve missed.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Have compassion on them and offer them care.
Follow Christ and let go of yourself.
If you would receive, why do you refuse to share?

Treat your neighbors with love and kindness.
This is the fruit of a life of righteousness.

 


 

Trials

Let us face our trials with you on our minds.
Let us turn to you for strength.
Let us praise you all the more in trying times.
Let us hold fast to you no matter the trial’s length.

For you are our refuge.
You are our foundation.
You are our relief from aches many or few.
Glorifying you is appropriate in any situation.

Let us keep our faith in You.
You are our rock and our salvation.
Let our trust in Your will and glorify You.
Let us hold tight to You and resist temptation. 

We can not know how many trials may come;
May each cup pass, but regardless, Your will be done.

 


 

Weeds

They climb up from the soil,
choking the flowers that should bloom.
Though the sower did toil,
the weeds gave the seeds no room.

How the sower is saddened to see his seeds whither and die.
What wonderful things they could have been!
From the sower’s hands, the weeds did pry,
the life of the seeds and the plants within.

Be not the weed that chokes the seeds.
Let the flowers grow.
If you would be one who leads,
lead them to the sun and its eternal glow.

Seeds grow and become the sower’s crops and harvests earned,
but all that can be done with weeds is to be collected and burned.

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 8

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 8

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

Trust With Burdens

 

Today I find myself thinking of Moses. This was a man who literally sat and spoke with God. The thing with him though was from that moment on the burning bush, he was a man who tended to want to explain why he couldn’t.

God told Moses to help his people. Moses gave a list of reasons why he couldn’t. The funny thing is, while it’s one thing to know yourself, would you have any doubt if you knew God wanted you to do something?

For Moses, it was leading the Israelites to the promised land. For others, it might be something else. None of us have the benefit of a burning bush or singing angels these days.

In my mind, the task is to help my family through this ordeal.

What helps me? Faith in Jesus. Seriously, I don’t know how I’m going to pull of half of the things I think I need to. But I know anything is possible through Christ, and I know that if God wants something to happen, it happens.

Previously, I spoke about my sister. I’d mentioned she was struggling to balance her children, her life, and caring for our mother. We spoke on the phone about it.

It’s hard to think about what others feel or think when we’re focused on our labors. I feel this in a lot of areas. It’s easy to think no one is doing anything when no one is helping you. That’s not actually the case. They may indeed not be helping you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have reasons for what they’re doing.  Alternatively, when someone is working on something, it’s easy to forget how hard it is. Have you ever decided not to look at something or worry about something because it wasn’t your job? It’d be nice to think a portion of that is born of the trust one has in the other to do the job, but isn’t it possible that person might just be grateful it’s not something they have to do?

My sister felt the toll of two-and-a-half weeks of care for our mother who has cancer. We spoke about how hard she was working. We spoke about what the rest of the family was doing. As I’d mentioned, my family isn’t prone to supportive action in crisis. But how do I help my sister and keep things from losing focus?

Even in that moment on the phone, I felt nervous. I worried this might be one of those moments where our family complains about one another or lashes out.

Here I was wondering what would have happened differently if Moses had simply said, “Yes, Sir.”

That thought gave me a bit of clarity. I could be mad. I could sympathize with this person or that person. None of that conversation would have resolved the issue. Instead, I put my eyes on what I felt mattered most.

What does my mother need? Sure, that’s easy for me to ask seeing as though I’m pretty powerless to do anything on the other side of the country.  Then again, that didn’t mean I couldn’t be supportive or offer a different viewpoint.

My first need was to put the focus not on who wasn’t doing what and who was, but instead focusing on what needs to be done.

My sister felt responsible for a few complications that came up during the week.  She was tired. She was stressed.

“I’m just one person, and I can only do so much,” she said.

“Lucky for us God is infinite, and he can do anything,” I replied.

We talked about what options were available to ease some of the tension. Once I knew what all the issues were and the obstacles, I offered what help I could: Money. I’m not rich. I’m not even as stable as I was before I published my first book.

“Can I afford it? No, but God will take care of it.”

Low and behold, a few days later the family has a new plan that gives my older sister a break and helps my mom get care and help when she needs it. How much did it cost? Nothing. Of all the plans and things I considered options, the thing that’s happening doesn’t cost my family anything (at least not that I know of).  I’m not sure if the explanation is protected by some sort of agreement, so I can’t offer it here, but that doesn’t matter. The point  is, when you trust in God, things work out.

I don’t think everything’s settled.  For starters, my mom still has cancer. But the more I trust in God, the less I even have to do. It’s kind of ridiculous lately how true that is. A few chapters back, I gave my formula, and I think it still holds true. We mortals have to put in the work. If we do so, and we keep our faith in Christ, it’ll work out. I think it’s all the easier when you’re doing God’s will.

That’s a touchy subject to be honest. For now, I just feel confident that when one is doing God’s will, whatever that may be, it’s pretty simple if you trust that God is with you.

I remember somewhere in 1 Chronicles (also in Kings if I remember correctly), David was threatened by enemies. He asked God, “Should I attack them? Will you deliver them into my hands?”  God replied, “Attack them, and I will deliver them to you.”

Man I’d like to be able to converse with God on that level. I’d do it for pretty much everything. “God, should I have Raisin Brain?”  “No, have Fruit Loops.”  (No intended recommendation is made here. It’s just a metaphor.)

We don’t have that sort of luxury, but every now and again, we feel a moment, a calling. I say when you feel that, go with it.

 


 

Questions and Revelations

Does this mean if something is hard we should stop because it’s not God’s will?

How the heck should I know? I mean, it might be a trial God wants me to learn from. It might be the right thing, but the time might be wrong. Or, I could be going against God’s wishes, and he’s trying to dissuade me. All of these are possibilities. I just don’t know.

I do trust that if God absolutely didn’t want me to do something he’d either stop me by closing that door, or hold me accountable when I do it.

How do you know you’re doing God’s will?

I don’t. I sure hope I am though. In some things, I’ve felt called. On the phone that day, I felt frustrated and angry because of my own powerlessness.  Imagine how my sister felt? We could have lamented on all the things we couldn’t do or couldn’t face. I realized, however, that was an opportunity to praise God for his limitless power. It didn’t obligate him to do anything, but I swear to you all I felt something telling me to stop making it about what we couldn’t do and start driving the conversation toward God and His grace. I’m normally someone who wants to talk about a problem, as if doing so will make the problem regret existing. In this case, I felt a calm I don’t typically feel. It felt right. Praise, don’t fret. Pray, don’t dwell. It’s much easier said than done, but when you do it, it works.

Does that mean you’re never worried?

Oh if only you knew me better. I worry (or at least I’m know to worry) so much. I wonder how many people have noticed a change. I’ll say this much, my boss mentioned it to me. I confessed my feelings aren’t nearly as clear as my actions have been of late, but it felt truly wonderful to have him recognize I’m handling this well.

My mind is constantly working through things. What needs to happen? How difficult is it? What could go wrong? What can I do to prevent this?

If I’m 1,000,000,000 times closer to God than I was when this started, I (and all of us) still have an infinite number of miles to grow. We’ll never approach his grace and virtue. I think each time I accept a situation for what it is and trust God to help me through, I’m a little better.

Like Moses, there’s still a lot to actually do. But if you trust in the Lord to help you through it, the work becomes easier.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt