Category Archives: Prayer

Unfortunate misconceptions…

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In usual fashion, this post is quite long…ramblings of a sort. I’m honored if you make it to the end. Words fill my heart and head. And when they start to flow, I don’t want to hold them back. I hope each of my words touch your heart and leave you with love and compassion in a cruel world.
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Misconception

In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida, I’ve heard of and witnessed many stories filled with or fueled by hate. I’ve also heard many stories of the outpouring of love and support for the families of the victims involved in the senseless murders of 49 people and the many others injured, forever scarred by evil desires. It’s a mixed up world we are in and unfortunately, in a time when we should all come together in support of one another, we remain divided, allowing anger to fester between us. These are my own thoughts. Feel free to comment with your thoughts as well, but leave hate out of it. There’s no room for anymore hate. Comments filled with hate, from any point of view, will be deleted.

Misconception – a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding.

Religion – “the belief in a god or group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.

Tragedy – “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.”

On September 11, 2001, thousands of people breathed their last breath. A country was impacted by the tragedy of violence, hate, and murder. A country mourned. The world mourned. We still mourn.

December 14th, 2012, in the peaceful town of Newtown, Connecticut, a young man walked into an elementary school and murdered 20 children and 6 adults. The children were 6 and 7 years old…still babies, learning to read and write, to dance, to share with one another, to walk in a line, to whisper, to live, to love. Their lives were invaluable to those who loved them but to that one young man, their lives were meaningless.

June 17th, 2015, in a small South Carolina church, a group prayed together. They welcomed a troubled young man into the church and prayed with him just before he took their lives. A tragedy of violence, hate, and murder.

On June 12th, 2016, at a night club in Florida, men and women danced, laughed, sang, and breathed their final breaths as a gunman ripped their lives away. A moment of terror left 49 dead and many others injured. Hundreds of lives, forever changed, by violence, hate, and murder.

It’s been said that many of these tragedies are done “in the name of religion.”

This is true. Many acts of hate and evil have been done “in the name of religion.” What this means is people, filled with hate towards a select group of men, women, or children, committed acts of horror, terror, violence, and murder and claimed to do so based their belief that in doing so, they would be fulfilling the desires of their god. When this happens, the unfortunate misconception is that religion is to blame. We lump all religions, every group of people who gather to worship a higher power, into one category. We label religion as evil. But that’s where we are wrong.

When religion is based strictly on a set of rules or laws that one believes must be met in order to receive salvation, that opens the door for competition, jealousy, anger, rage, and hate. It creates a need to “one-up.” It puts people in a position of attempting to attain the impossible … perfection. When religion is based solely on the grace and mercy of one man, sent from the Creator of the earth, we are humbled people, learning to extend compassion and forgiveness, understanding we are no better than any other, knowing we are all broken people in need. This removes ourselves from being the source of our own salvation and places that salvation in the wounded hands of the only Savior.

Not one of those lives stolen deserved to die that way. Not one. Not the youngest of the children at Sandy Hook, not the heroes who rushed into falling buildings to save the lives of others, not one man or woman based on their sexuality, their feelings, their desires, period. Not even the men who began their lives as one tiny heartbeat, 10 little toes and fingers, a light, soft swoop of hair on their head, raised and taught to hate to the point they would brutally torture and rape women, or sacrifice their own lives to selfishly and hatefully take the life another, in the name of religion. Not one of them should have died. Not one.

Let’s get something straight…

Religion did not carry a gun into the the flashing lights and crowded dance floors of a night club in Florida and the gun did not walk in there on its own. A man chose to allow anger and hate to fill his heart. He chose to carry guns inside a night club filled with people. He chose to murder many innocent men and women and forever change the lives of many others. A broken man. A man with empty places filled by hate. Religion is not to blame. Evil is. Religion did not fly a plane into the World Trade Center with the intent to kill thousands. Broken men did. Religion did not walk into a church, sit among a group of people as they prayed what would be their final prayers, and then rob them of another breath. A broken man did. Religion did not enter an elementary school, open fire on a terrified, helpless, innocent group of 6 and 7 year olds, and destroy the lives of many. A broken man did.

We are all broken. Hear me, we are ALL broken.

As broken people, we need each other. We need love, support, encouragement, hope, peace, faith. Each of us is designed to grieve, to mourn, to desire fulfillment, closeness, relationships, and more. But in a broken world, we are left empty in many of the places we need, so deeply, to be filled.

For some, those places are filled through work, friends, activities, addictions, religion, etc. Others find themselves filled through what most would call religion, but what I will call a relationship and faith. Faith in something better. Faith in a loving God. Faith in a God who became flesh to teach us, guide us, and love us. Faith in a grander place and a grand design. Faith in humanity. Hope.

A successful relationship comes from knowing someone. You learn about their character. You grow to understand them. Through prayer, through reading Scripture, I’ve been able to understand more about the God I believe created the world. I have learned He is a God of love, not hate. He is a just God, who will punish evil, but at the same time, reminds me to live with peace and unity among all, including those who have different beliefs, make different choices, live different lives, and even with my enemies. He instructs me to pray for my enemy, those who hurt and betray me. Praying for those who hurt me does not wipe away the hurt, the wounds are not forgotten, and the pain is not removed, but the hate that could fill my heart is replaced by forgiveness, love, and hope. What could make me bitter, angry, and hate-filled, instead, allows me to look for the good, to appreciate the blessings, to love the unlovable. Religion is much more than a set of rules. It’s a relationship with the One who gave me life, and gave His own, in order that I may truly live. Without a relationship, without that appreciation, without the mercy and grace given as a gift, we have nothing.

Marriage does not work without communication.
Parenting without nurture wounds a child.
Religion without Christ, the giver of grace and mercy, is empty.

Perhaps we need to create some sort of substantial separation between what we define as religion and Faith. I’m not even sure that works because there are peaceful, loving Muslims. There are peaceful, loving, Buddhist. There are peaceful loving people in all sorts of “religions”. And there are broken people in them, just the same.

As a Christian, I believe we all need…we all need a savior and I believe the source of salvation is not in acts of goodness, service, kindness or in acts of control, hate, or murder. I believe our salvation is based solely on the grace and mercy of a loving God by His own flesh, Jesus Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Are bad things done in the name of religion? Yes.
Does that make religion bad? No.

But these words in my Bible, that I believe are breathed straight from God through man, serve as instruction and guidance for my life. They very clearly say that I am not saved by acts of kindness, service, or a good heart, nor am I saved by acts of evil, hate, or murder. I am saved by the acts of one sinless man, the very God I believe in, the one who created everything out of nothing, the one who fills darkness with light, the one who walked on earth in the form of flesh to experience the very same feelings and emotions we experience, in order to draw us closer to Him, to show He fully understands, to set an example before us of how to extend hope, love, and compassion to those around us, who created us with the purpose of doing good. Acts do not make me a Christian and believing in God does not make me good. I am a sinner. I have made bad choices. I have hurt people. Being a Christian, a believer in Christ, a follower of Christ, makes me a person who can freely admit that I have dished out my own fair share of wrongs and had wrongs done to me but am saved by the grace and mercy of one God, who took on the sins of the world through flesh, with the purpose that I will do good in His name. That in the name of God, because I have faith, I will love. I will show compassion. I will try to understand others. I will accept as they are, just as He has accepted me. I will pray for peace.

Do I profess to fully understand all of that? Nope.
Can I explain it without any doubt so that anyone else will also believe? Nope.
Do I have faith anyway? Yes.

There are a lot of “religious” people who spew hate and disgust at people who are different from them.  There are a lot of non-religious people who hate the religious bigots. That means there is a lot of hate going around. I don’t understand why this happens and I can’t explain the hate some are filled with.

Unresolved anger?
Fear?

Maybe there are no answers or maybe there are hundreds of answers.

What I do know is that we are designed with a desire and need to be with one another, to love one another, to support, encourage, and care for one another. From the moment a child is conceived, she has a need. She needs nourishment from her mothers body to enable her to grow inside her mothers womb. She needs comfort and protection as her organs form and she prepares to breath her first breath. And in that moment, the moment she takes her first breath, she needs love, comfort, and nourishment. Without those things, she will die. We are created to need one another.

While some people frown upon the word sin, one fact is, sin separates us. No matter what you believe or don’t believe, as a human being, you are not exempt from the effects of sin (or the wrong/bad choices people make). As a Christian, I believe sin separates us from God. I believe in a good God who can take no part in the evilness of sin, who mourns and grieves with us because of the evil in our broken world, but who promises us a place of peace and hope, to fill the emptiness left by the sinful acts committed by us or against us. As a person, who walks in the flesh, I believe sin separates us from each other. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or if you believe in anything, you are still subject to the effects of sin. Gossip destroys relationships, reputations, and lives. Infidelity puts walls between couples and robs them of the trust in their partner. Jealousy leads to dissatisfaction and a lack of thankfulness in the blessings of the meaningful things in our lives. Rape takes the innocence of an act designed to be pleasurable, fulfilling, intimate, and turns it into something horrific, a brutal, damaging form or torture that follows one throughout their life. Murder not only destroys the lives of many, but it robs the murdered of another moment, another breath, another chance to extend hope and love. It is an irreversible choice.

Sin, evil thoughts or acts, crimes of rape, murder, jealousy, infidelity, and so on, create in us a cold, dead heart. Not in the physical sense, but by us placing the value of a thing above the value of a person, in pursuing our own desires before those of another, in forcing things upon another against their will, in stealing ones innocence, in destroying the lives of others. It takes the love and warmth that was meant for us and replaces it with hate, anger, rage.

Religion did not destroy the lives of more than a hundred people at the Orlando shooting. Hate did.

While some claim hate in the name of religion, what people need to understand is, you cannot lump all those who have faith in a higher power under one title. Religion is not the source hate anymore than a tree is the source of money. An individual persons choices and actions are the source of and result of hate. Hate comes from many different people, religions, cultures, groups, beliefs, and so on. Hate can be found in a classroom, in a church, in a store, on a baseball field, in a group of friends, in a marriage, on a highway, or anywhere and in anyone’s heart.

So can love. It’s our choice what we fill our hearts with.

Religion – “the belief in a god or group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.

Can religion be the source of hate? Yes.
Does that mean religion is evil or hate-filled? No.

There are many peaceful, loving, caring Muslims who believe their God is a God of peace. There are many Christians who pray daily for peace, grasping for bits of hope for a better tomorrow, believing in a loving God.

And then there are those who have their own motives, fueled by their brokenness, filled with hate.

I can only speak from the Christian perspective because it’s what I know.

Do religious people hurt people? Yes.
Do non-religious people hurt people? Yes.
Do Christians hurt people? Yes.
Do non-Christians hurt people? Yes.

Does the Bible speak of hate, murder, sexual immorality, punishment, war, and many other horrors? Yes. Does that make it hard to comprehend? Yes. Have countless people asked, “How can a loving God allow so much hurt and pain?” Of course. Is it possible for that to create doubt in a loving God? Yes.

Here’s the thing…doubt comes from a lack of understanding. I can say that because I’ve been there. For most of my life, I’ve doubted that I was worthy of the love of a good and loving God. I also spent many years believing He was punishing me for being a bad person. I lived in fear, doubt, hopelessness. I wanted to believe in a good and loving God but I couldn’t imagine one who would accept me.

Broken people need.

They need healing.
They need hope.
We are ALL broken.

At some point, in my own life, I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I was in a place of desperation. The only choice I felt I had was to depend on a God I couldn’t see, one I feared hated me, one I was certain would never accept me, but one I placed my faith in anyway. It was a choice. I don’t take pride in any of the choices I have made but I am thankful for the direction my life took that led to the choice I made that sunny September morning in 2005. What I’ve learned is the God I believe in truly is a loving God. He chooses broken people. We are broken, created with many needs, leaving us each with empty places, that I believe, only He can fill. He uses broken people. He uses them for good…not evil.

So when someone commits a horrible crime, destroy lives, robbing them of a future, of hope, and they do so in the name of religion, we need to understand there is a difference in them, their beliefs, and mine. Religion is not hate. Religion is a group of people, worshiping a God they believe in, because it is important to them. That does not mean religion can be defined as hate.

Are there some religious people filled with hate? Yes.
Are there many other religious people filled with love? Yes.

Please don’t put us all in the same category based on misunderstanding of religion or the differences in religions.

Personally, I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in hope. I believe that someday, there will be no more pain, tears, suffering. I believe because it’s what I need. It’s what works for me. I have lived through many tragedies of my own. I have lived a very broken life, with many hurts, many moments of darkness, and many thoughts of escaping this cruel world. I have questioned the God I believe in. There are things I will never understand.

I have sat alone in a cold, empty room, having had everything even down to my underwear stripped away from me and in that darkest, loneliest moment, the comfort of God’s words were all I had.

“I will not die but live, and proclaim what the Lord has done.” Psalm 118:17

Those words were with me that night. Whether you believe in God or not, I believe those words came from Him, over 2,000 years ago, and in that moment, He used them to comfort me, to give me peace, to restore my faith and bring life back to my worn and tattered soul. He gave me hope that I could breathe another breath, that I could face another tomorrow, that somehow, someway, I could help another through the struggles of this life as well. I was not alone. Though physically, I had nothing but a hard cot, a scratchy blanket, and a set of paper scrubs, I was not alone and He provided exactly what I needed in that very moment. Those words were everything.

And still, I find myself asking at times…

Why does a mother have to say goodbye to her child before it can even take it’s first breath?
Why do people fulfill their own sick desires by violating innocent children?
Why does a man walk into a night club and murder many innocent, precious, people?
Why do we not value each and every life, breath or no breath?
Why does a child face starvation and desperation?
Why are people hated because of the color of their skin, their physical disabilities, or their sexuality?

What brings a person to the point that he or she sees no value in the life of another?

I could go on and on with the questions but there are no answers. The only answer that brings me peace is that the God I believe in is faithful and promises hope, love, and healing. He promises to never abandon, to provide strength in times of need, to hear our cries, to mourn with us.

There may be religious people who hate. But religion itself is not hate. Religion is a group of people in a shared group of beliefs in either a God, laws, rituals or whatever. But hate is what fills a person. Religion may teach works, hate, or murder. Religion may teach hope, faith and love. Each of those things are what a person is filled with and each of those people are given a choice in what they will be filled with. A man who chose to murder 49 innocent people in the name of religion chose to be filled with hate. A person professing to be a Christian, shouting hate-filled statements of disgust and anger towards a group of people based on their sexuality, makes the choice to hate. A person who denying the beliefs of any greater power or a different higher being and in turn mocks, condemns, or ridicules someone else because of their differences in beliefs, chooses hate.

Why? Why are we so afraid of people who are different from us? Why are we offended when someone chooses something we don’t agree with? Why do we feel our beliefs and desires have to be the beliefs and desires of everyone? Why, like God, do we not allow people to make their own choices, and extend encouragement, support, and love? Perhaps if the gunman in Florida had been nurtured and loved, raised to accept the differences in others, to embrace those differences, to love in spite of differences, maybe he would have chosen love instead of hate.

And as a Christian, I know there are many “Christians” who express disgust towards homosexuals, yet when one is found guilty of adultery, gossip, slander, stealing, or something else they deem those “sins” as inadequate compared to what they believe is the sin of a homosexual. What someone does in their bedroom is their business. It’s not mine. It’s not yours. It’s theirs. If you believe in God, then you also know that Scripture says…

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Basically, it says butt out. Mind your own business.

While that may sound harsh, leave the judgment to the God you believe in. If you feel the need to do something or say something, follow God’s word and pray. Don’t pray to change someone who’s different from you. Genuinely pray for them, that whatever is best for them will be, that the God you hold so highly, wrap them in His loving embrace and comfort them in any times of trouble. Cry out to God with your frustrations, concerns and fears. When we fail to trust the very God we expect others to follow and trust, we are no example to them. If we believe, as we say we do, in a loving and just God, then we should show our trust in Him by leaving the judgment and correction to Him and extend to others the grace and mercy He has given us.

The greatest commands are to love God and love others. Before anything else, we love God and others. A friend said to me, “Does your Bible say homosexuality is wrong?” Yes, it does. It also says tattoos, gossip, infidelity, stealing, murder and more are wrong. And it says we are all broken. It says we are all in need of something to fill our empty places. And it says we all have choices on what those empty places will be filled with. And it says if we choose to let those empty places be filled with love, we are full-filling the greatest and only commands we need to follow. By loving God and loving others, everything falls into place as it should.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36-39

“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-11

These are verses from my Bible. These are the commands of a loving, sovereign God.

Do bad things happen? Yes.
Does God punish people for the bad things they do? I believe He will.
Does He still mourn and grieve for those who turn from Him, those who do wrong, those who are hurt by the hands of another? I believe so.
Does He offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness? Yes.
Does He withhold that from anyone? No, it’s available to all.
Does He command us to do the same? Yes.

So while there are many things in Scripture that I may never understand, I do know God’s love is available to anyone. And I believe He loves everyone.

“… when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

Christ died for the ungodly. Not the saints. Not the perfect people. Not the holier than thou. But for the broken, the needy, for all of us, not based on religion, sexuality, age, color, or name. We are all His creation. His desire is for not one person to be lost. But with that, He gives each of us the choice. He won’t force us to choose Him. We are free to make our own choices.

A religion may be a group of people who share a common belief, or even believe certain rituals or laws, but each individual is responsible for the choices they make. There are bad people and there are good people. There is sorrow and there is joy. There is pain and there is healing. What will you pour into others?

Many non-Christians or non-religious people say the Bible is filled with hate. I admit, there’s a lot in the Bible that makes very little sense to me, things I don’t think I’ll ever understand but as you really begin to understand the God of the Bible, you see, it’s His letter to us of guidance, hope, and love.

“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” 1 John 3:12

Cain was evil. He was affected by sin. Each of us are given a choice. We can allow sin to control us or we can take control of that sin. Cain allowed his anger, his jealousy, to enrage him to the point he murdered his own brother. His deeds were evil. Cain made a choice to commit an evil act.

“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

Each an every heart that ever beats is precious in God’s eyes. Every single one. And each and every person is given choices in life. The hate-filled men who murdered thousands of innocent people in the name of religion as they brought a country to her knees on a beautiful September morning…they were created, intricately, in the depths of a woman’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made. And in a broken world, they had a need. They had an emptiness that only God should fill. Instead, the choices they made led those empty places to be filled with hate and evil. What should have been filled with peace, love and hope, was occupied by plans of devastation and murder, and done in the name of religion.

But religion did not cause the events of that September day. Broken people, who made hate-filled choices did.

Does God allow evil?

Each of those twenty precious babies from Sandy Hook Elementary had value. They had value to their parents, to their families, to their friends, and to a loving God. Did God want fear, suffering, and death for them? I don’t believe so.

I believe from the very beginning, from the moment God took the dust of the earth and formed it into a man, He had a plan. A grand, beautiful plan, but a plan we would play part in. He could have created us as robots that followed everything He desired but instead, He allowed us to make that choice for ourselves. Without a choice, there would really be no meaning or no purpose in our lives. With choices, we would learn to put others before ourselves, to love one another, to mourn with each other, to laugh and be joy-filled together, to pray together, to live together. And with that, we would learn differences, and with differences would come jealousy, anger, and hate. And we would have a choice. We could choose to look beyond those differences in acceptance and love, or we could choose to allow bitterness to take root and grow into a hate-filled heart.

If God is all-knowing and in control, how do our choices make a difference?

Because He is all-knowing, He knows our hearts. Our comprehension and understanding is inadequate compared to Him. After all, He created everything, with a single breath. Can you do that? His ways are beyond our understanding. But He is good. His purposes are good. His desire is for us to choose Him, to come to Him in our own free will…not forced, but to make a choice to serve Him, a good, loving God. Being in control means He is aware of the outcome and in the end, He wins. Evil cannot win. Evil does not get the final say. Hate does not win. Love does.

Some people bring up the Old Testament laws and use them against Christians today, calling us hypocrites. I understand that and honestly, there really are plenty of hypocrites in the church, and outside the church. I’ve been one myself. Again, we are all broken people. I’ve been a thief. I’ve been jealous. I’ve gossiped. And on, and on, and on. And I’ve loved. I’ve served. I’ve grieved. I’ve suffered. You name it, I’ve probably done it. I’m broken just like anyone else.

But I have something that the man who walked into a night club and took the lives of 49 innocent, precious, beautiful sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, did not have. I have faith in a good and loving God. My religion is not hate. My religion is Christianity. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I believe in a God who became flesh as an example of how to forgive, to love, to care for others, to bring comfort, to serve, to live. I believe in a God who became flesh to show me that He understands the temptations and sufferings I would experience on this earth and that He alone can provide the strength and courage needed. I believe in a God who promises to be with me through every moment of joy and through every painful tragedy. I believe in a God who is not filled with hate or disgust for any person, because after all, He created each and every one of us, loving us from before our hearts even beat for the first time, with a grand plan that someday, we would join Him in a peaceful and perfect world, but only after He allowed us to choose that for ourselves.

Religion is not hate. God is not hate. Evil is hate.

“The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

People have a choice. Love or hate. Choose love. No matter what you believe, no matter what you’ve heard or what the media blows out of proportion. No matter the differences, no matter your location, no matter your history, no matter your future, choose love. Hate destroys what is meant to come together. Love brings unity and that is what God desires. We are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We are one nation. We are America. We are broken. We are all in need of something. Don’t let hate be what fills your empty places.

Let love win. Let love win. Let LOVE win!

 

 

A Good Bad Day

GoodBadDay

This is follow up from a post I wrote a few days ago.  Check it out here.

Too often, I stuff my feelings in order to protect myself or those around me from uncomfortable topics and emotions.

In my previous post on this topic, I mentioned that sometimes I just want to be able to share, to get some of that out.

While there have been many times I could have used a shoulder to cry on I an ear to hear, realistically, it’s not always or even often available. With that said, how do we get through the tough times without feeling like a burden to others?

I am learning that turning to God in everything, praise or problem, is key in my life.

Philippians 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Even though there have been people in my life I could have turned to in tough moments, I have always worried about becoming a burden or pushing them away with my baggage.  I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to open up but even more so, I’m learning how to turn to God in those moments when my heart is so heavy.

Scripture, prayer and music have all been huge in my life in recent years.

Music has always had a huge part in my life.  Anytime I was feeling down, I would drown myself in songs that I could relate to, songs that poured out the same feelings I was feeling, songs that made me feel like I was not alone.  I clung to the lyrics and played them over and over.  On a side note, many times the music I chose reflected the world I was in which was not always good.  While it left me feeling like I wasn’t alone, I see now my choices in music weren’t always the best choices and sometimes fueled my negative thoughts and feelings.  I’m a big believer in garbage in = garbage out (just ask my kids how many times I’ve used that on them, lol!) and am very thankful so many Christian artists are out there now.  You can find music in any style – hip hop, rap, country, normal – in Christian music.  It’s refreshing!

Prayer has not always been an easy one for me.  I have always prayed but I admit, I’ve gone through moments of doubt and have asked questions like, “If God knows everything, why do we need to pray?”, “Why would God want to listen to me?” and “Will my prayers really make a difference?”.  Some days, I still battle those questions but I do believe prayer is important.  I believe it’s one way for us to build/grow in our walk with Christ.  I believe God uses prayer as a way to keep us connected to him.  When we pour out our hearts in prayer, we are seeking him.  When we fail to pray, we are trying to do too much of the work on our own.

Scripture is a tool.  Did you know that?  It’s not just pretty little letters typed into a nice leather bound book.  It’s history, it’s real peoples lives, it’s their stories, their trials, their triumphs.  It’s the emotions they felt, the mistakes they made, the faith they held tight to, the distress and loss, and so much more.  There is really nothing I could face today that I couldn’t find similar responses or emotions to in the Bible.  Every time I have looked a particular subject up, I have found verses that encourage me, words that speak to me, stories that that I can relate to.  Scripture is a tool for when you are weary, hurting, in need of encouragement, hope, peace, to strengthen your faith, give you courage, guide your steps, bring light to your life and so much more.

I haven’t always had a lot of friends.  I still don’t have a lot, but the ones I do have, I love with all my heart.  I put 110% into those cherished relationships and my heart aches for the friendships that have passed.  When someone takes the time to accept me, get to know me and love me just for being me, that means the world to me.  The thing is, to be a great friend back, I can’t put unreasonable expectations on them.  I can’t expect them to be here for me every waking hour.  I can’t expect them to drop everything and rush to my side every time I feel sad or down.  I can’t expect them to know the right words to say all the time or to read my mind.  Sure, they may want to do those things at times, but to expect that from anyone would just be too much.

That’s where God comes in.  He is available anytime, any day, any place.  All he wants is for us to come to him.  If that’s in prayer, then I pray.  If that’s through Scripture then I soak myself in his words.  If that’s through music, then I crank up some Casting Crowns, Third Day or my current favorite, Rhett Walker Band.

He has never failed me.  I have failed him.  I have turned away from him.  I have been angry, doubted his love and concern for me but he has never failed me.

Psalm 118:24  This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 136:1  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.

 

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Oh the lessons…

Lessons

My heart sank when I walked in the room.

It was the first night of new Wednesday classes at church.  My class … a women’s Bible study on forgiveness.  (Insert big WOW here for – nothing like a big topic, right?!)

The book we are following, The Unburdened Heart by Suzanne Eller, is simply amazing.  She does a great job of writing so that no matter what your story is, you can relate to the thoughts and feelings expressed in the book.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  So for the past few weeks, I’ve been so excited about how God is going to work in the lives of the women who come to this class, myself included.  I can’t wait to see how he works and the amazing things he will do.

As excited as I was to start this journey, I was filled with anxiety and fear.  I had spent the whole day fretting over praying out loud.  A few weeks back, I shared a little here about how God was working on me with prayer.  Surely I could tackle this praying out loud thing, right?  I was going to do it this semester in class – I would take the reign and pray for the women in my class.  After all, God has been preparing me for this.  Still, I was afraid, nervous, anxious.

Philippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Instead, I walked in with nerves raging and quickly noticed an unfamiliar couple sitting in the room – a man and a woman.  Immediately, my heart dropped.  My class was suppose to be only women.  In my head, there was simply no room for a man.  We were facing some really big topics, the possibility of deep, intimate conversations, some that simply wouldn’t be possible with a man in the room.  Without asking him to leave, I gently warned him that the class would probably be all women and that he may feel uncomfortable as well as the women who attended and hinted that he might want to consider a different class.  In most ways, you could say I handle the situation fine but the outcome was not at all what I had hoped for.

The couple left.  Not just left my class … they left the church.  If I had to guess, I’d say they left angry.  Angry that they had made the effort to come.  Angry that they needed my class and didn’t feel welcomed.  Even though my intentions were right, they left angry.

What was suppose to be a light and fun evening quickly started off totally wrong.  I managed to somehow pull myself together enough to get things going.  The class went on, women came, women opened up, we passed the tissue box around on the first night!  It was great and I am absolutely looking forward to the next 11 weeks with this wonderful group of ladies, getting to know them and seeing God working in their lives.

Why did I share the story above?  Well…if you’ve read many of my recent posts, you know that God is really teaching me.  Sometimes, lessons are pretty hard to learn.  Sometimes we have to make mistakes to learn from them.  It’s like riding a bike, sometimes we have to fall before we learn to ride.

This morning, as I’m sitting in the Sunday service, listening to our pastor talk about the man that was born blind that Jesus healed, my thoughts went elsewhere and I thought about the couple from Wednesday night.  Sitting there in church, I kept thinking about what I could have done differently.  Did I really handle it the way I should have?

The answer was simple – it was NO!

I did not do anything wrong by the way I addressed this couple but that doesn’t mean I did it right either.  Perhaps instead of standing across the room and going on and on about how uncomfortable he and everyone else would be, instead of suggesting he go elsewhere, perhaps I could have first of all introduced myself.  I did not even introduce myself.  Here was the this couple I had never met before, in my class, and I didn’t even take the time to welcome them or introduce myself.  Secondly, I could have gone over to them and after introducing myself, I could have leaned in close to inform them that this was really suppose to be a women’s class, however, they were welcome to be there if they choose.  Basically, I could have shown them kindness and acceptance, even if it went against the rules I had placed on the class.

Proverbs 21:13  Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.

Philippians 2:4  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The thing is, we have encounters like this every day.  God is trying to speak to us and teach us new things every day.  I am so thankful that through this, I learned a very valuable lesson.  I learned to be still, to take the time to acknowledge people, to welcome them, to show them kindness.  I learned not to be so quick to react.  I learned that even when a choice seems right, that doesn’t make it the best choice.

How many times has God tried to teach me something and I failed to see?  How many times have I turned away from his lessons?

While I am so sad that this couple left and the weight is heavy knowing that I am the reason they left, I walk away thankful that through this difficult situation, God is teaching me and that I am able to see it, able to learn from it and hopefully it will prepare me to handle situations better in the future.  Let my mistake be your lesson!

And while you’re here, can I ask you to pray for me?  You see, because I allowed anxiety and fear take over, we failed to pray at all Wednesday night.  I did ask the class to keep the couple that left in their prayers, but I failed to pray for our class and I didn’t even take the time to ask someone else to pray.  I allowed fear to get in the way and that’s not what I want.  I know God has been preparing me for this and I know that it’s not about me, it’s about him.  Please pray for me, that he will use me and give me the words of prayer that my class needs.

 

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All Cried Out…

May my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word.  Psalm 119:169


(image source – unknown)

Many of you, I’m sure, have seen the recent news.  Some of you may have seen it and are now doing all you can to avoid it.

I can’t avoid it.

My heart aches for 27 families who now mourn the loss of a loved one.  I can’t imagine the immense pain and heartache they and many others are now burdened with.

Yesterday, lives were changed forever because of one young mans choice.

I feel drawn to these stories, learning what I can about the precious little angels who didn’t get hugs from their parents.  I want to know them, see how much they were loved, cherish their memories.  I want to comfort their families, tell them it will all be okay and yet…

I’m here.

In times like this, I’m almost at a loss for words.

How do you tell someone it will get better?
How do you tell them that time will heal their wounds?
How do you tell them God is with them when in this moment, they feel anger, betrayal and hurt?
How do you tell them their babies are no longer suffering when they are left with horrid images and tragedy?
How do you comfort the siblings?
How does a parent tell their other children their sibling isn’t coming home?
How does a man move on with his life when he’s tormented by the acts of his brother?
How does a father live, knowing the acts of his son have left a community destroyed?

The only thing I know to do is …

Pray.

I know some will just think that is ridiculous and I’m sad to know there are people who think that.  In moments when life is unbearable, prayer is the one comfort I have found to be consistent. It’s the quiet moments when I can take my questions to God and rest in my faith that someday, we’ll understand, which keep me going.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  Ephesians 6:18

Today, as I wrapped Christmas gifts for my loved ones, I saw just how insignificant this “stuff” is.  My heart aches for the moms and dads who will not be able to bear removing the unopened gifts from under their trees, for the hugs they will no longer have, for the precious moments that were ripped away from their lives yesterday.  Christmas is not about all this “stuff” … it’s about a love great than we can imagine, the love a parent has for their child, the celebration of birth and life.

I don’t understand the silly, petty things we do and say when so many people are hurting.  I can’t imagine what these parents are going through but from what I have seen, they are some of the most amazing and strong people.  The town has pulled together to rally around these families, and yet, nothing – nothing can bring back their babies, siblings, mothers.

I am all cried out.  I have shed many tears and I have cried out to God with my why’s.  And still, I’m here, waiting, knowing the answers aren’t mine to know … not yet.

I find peace believing that these precious, beautiful children are sitting next to their teachers, Rachel, Lauren, Victoria, Anne Marie, their principal (protector), Dawn, their counselor (comforter), Mary,  and Nancy Lanza – at the feet of Jesus.  I feel sure he’s reading them a story of peace, hope and love and embracing their smiles, the innocent glimmer in their eyes, their hopes and dreams and wrapping his arms around them.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families involved, the people of Newtown, Connecticut and our country as we all mourn this senseless act of violence.  I’m putting their names here because I want to remember them, I need to pray for them and I know they need our prayers.  Please join me in praying peace and comfort over these families and all those forever affected by this tragedy.

Prayers specifically for …

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dawn Hocksprung, 47
Madeline F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Russeau, 30*
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N Wyatt, 6

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

© The Imperfect Princess at theimperfectprincess.com

The Name Game!

So with the new look all finished, it’s time to lose the .blogspot.com name.
Can you help a girl out?
I need something fun, fresh and full of glory for the new .com name.  I’ve tried a bazillion things like:
morningglory.com
jenarmstrong.com
jarmstrong.com
jennyarmstrong.com
psalm143.com
etc.  and yes, those are all taken :(  Needless to say, there must be a lot of cool Jen/Jenny Armstrong’s in the world cause there’s sure a lot of domains taken w/ the name.  I ran into that issue years ago when I started my photography website which is why is has the long, boring, confusing domain of www.jenarmstrongdesigns.com.
Nice, huh?
So, this is where I need your help.  I need some suggestions.  I really do like the name Morning Glory but I’m not opposed to changing the blog name to suit a domain name.  It’s still new enough that it will fly just fine.
I’m fine w/ using a Bible verse as well but I prefer it to be something that has to do with glory, joy, prayer, prayer in the morning, etc.  You get the idea, right?
Do you have any wonderful suggestions for me?  If I pick your name, there just might be some kind of goodie involved!

Some of my own thoughts are…

www.theimperfectprincess.com
(right now, this is the one that stands out most to me but is it too long?  I like something along these lines best – something fun or a little catchy!  For me the thought on this is He is King and I am His princess.  I am not and never will be perfect, thus the imperfect part.  Is this too out there or once people get the drift of my blog, the name will make sense?  Thoughts?)

Something with mom in it would be okay – psalmmom.com or morningglorymom.com.  Better suggestions there are much encouraged, welcomed and appreciated ;)

morningpsalm.com
(this is along the lines of morning glory but I wouldn’t want the assumption that it is a daily devotional of psalms and that’s kind of the feel I get from the name. How about you?)

www.jenarmstrong.org
(though with so many awesome jen’s out there would this be overkill & confusing?)

psalm143-8.com
(I like this okay but would the hyphen be too awkward? Not girlie enough?)

Oh boy!  I feel like I’m naming a child – well, this will be my baby for years to come ;)  It would be much easier if I were using my maiden name which is hard to spell and pronounce, HA!

Please help a girl out!
Yours truly, 

© The Imperfect Princess at theimperfectprincess.com

God is love…even when we’re not!

How easy is it to disagree with that verse?  There are times when we’re angry with God because we feel there’s no way He could love us.  There are times when we feel hurt because it seems that God doesn’t care for us.  There are times we feel broken because we think God is punishing us.  If we have anger, hurt and brokenness that we feel is brought on by God, then how can He be a God of love?  Why does He allow pain and suffering in our lives?  Why does He cause us to hurt and suffer?

Those are all questions and thoughts I’ve faced many times throughout my life.  I suspect many of you have had those same questions.

God does not cause our pain and suffering.  The broken world we live in is unfortunately full of pain and suffering.  It’s part of being human.  Whether you choose to believe in God or not, you still experience pain and suffering the same.  God wants nothing more than for us to be filled with joy and peace.  It’s in those times of pain and suffering, when we call out to Him, that He hears us, wraps His arms around us and carries us through the brokenness, but we have to let Him.  He doesn’t force us.  He waits patiently, gently guiding us, placing stones in our paths to help us find our way.   He wants us to seek and find Him.

It is often difficult to show Christ-like love to people you feel have hurt you.  I have been quick to respond in anger and frustration many times, even especially with those I love the most.  I have said hurtful words and I have held grudges.  I have embraced bitterness.  I have welcomed anger.

It’s hard work breaking those habits.  I have to try really hard to think about what I say, how my reactions affect those around me, and asking that question…are my words and actions showing the love of Christ?  If they aren’t, maybe they aren’t worth saying and doing.  I don’t want to bring hurt and pain to others, so instead, I find myself much quieter than I use to be (many folks are probably very thankful for that, LOL!). 

That’s not to say that I don’t still struggle.  I do!  I have sleepless nights when I just can’t get people off my mind.  I replay over and over in my head the things I should say, the things I want to say and the things I shouldn’t say.  I debate with myself and God over my attitude, my actions, my thoughts and my feelings.  I struggle every day to find that peace God wants to give me.  Thankfully, life is much more peaceful now than it has ever been.

I think a lot most of my peace comes from His word.  Instead of being quick to speak, I am quick to turn to my Bible and see what God has to say about each particular issue I am facing that day.  Instead of acting in anger or frustration, I catch myself breathing and thinking, figuring out the best way to respond.  I don’t always get it right and there are many times when I still just want to shout to the top of my lungs my thoughts but I am slowly learning to change my ways.

Will you show the love of Christ to those you encounter today?  Will they feel His presence through your words and actions?  Will you embrace the love He wants to give you even in times of pain and suffering?

It’s through those experiences that have brought me to my knees, that have left me empty and hopeless, that have crippled my spirit, that I have come to where I am.  It’s through my brokenness that I have found true peace.  It’s through the darkness that I have found the light.  Through my pain and suffering, I have learned to live.  Before, I wasn’t living .. I was waiting to die.  Now, I am truly living, with a purpose, called to share the glory and grace that God has shared with me. 

Psalm 71:20-21  Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.  You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.

© The Imperfect Princess at theimperfectprincess.com