For all of you Twitter fans out there, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve joined the club!
Have you been waiting for something huge and exciting to happen? Something as strong, powerful, and life changing as an earthquake or fire? I have. I’ve been on the hunt for a new job since I quit my previous position about two months ago. I was waiting to hear back after interviewing for an exciting new job as a social media marketer, when I received a phone call from a representative from another company that had advertised a much more lucrative position. Big news for someone whose bank account had run down to zero.
The man, who was impressed with my resume and its long list of achievements, was very interested in having me join his team as a customer service and sales associate. The job paid much better than the other position that I was interested in, and as an enthusiastic agent for the reputable automotive facility, the man excelled at describing all of the perks. But as he launched into a ten minute description of the various sales objectives, training tiers, and possibilities for advancement, all I could think about was how much the job reminded me of the previous positions that I’ve held. It became clear that God wasn’t in the passionate speech that filled my ears, but in the gentle whisper in my heart.
The whole point of my new job search was to get away from all of that stress and pressure, not to jump right back into it. I couldn’t let the increasing pay scale tempt me, especially when God had just brought my body back to its previously healthy state. When the man finished his pitch, he asked me how everything sounded and if I was still interested in joining his team. I had to be honest–I wasn’t. I thanked him for his time, but informed him that he deserved to have a candidate that was as excited about the position as he was. The job wasn’t going to be a good fit for me after all. He was surprised by my candid reply, but wished me luck on my job search.
Later that week, I received an email from the other company about the social media position. My patience and unwillingness to deviate from my path paid off. I got the job.
As a teenager, I developed an affinity for melancholy music. Initially I appreciated such music and lyrics for its sheer beauty and ability to elicit profound emotion. Unfortunately, the more I listed to sad songs, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I needed the compositions to comfort me. Hence, a sick cycle ensued. Negativity bred negativity. It was only by recognizing the downward spiral, and taking action to correct it, did I finally recover.
This isn’t just a contemporary issue. People have been struggling for centuries to overcome the powerful grip of negative influences. The Bible attests to the pervasiveness of external influences by pointing out their startling impact on behavior. Matthew 12:34-35 reads:
“‘For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.’”
Here, Jesus asserts that our words and actions will reflect what we fill our hearts with. We embody our environment. Therefore, we must be careful about the types of music, movies, and even people on which we choose to spend our time.
In a world run by media masterminds and corporate conspirators, external influence is inevitable. But that isn’t to say that we don’t have some control over what we decide to fill our hearts, minds, and homes with. We’re not sponges, and we don’t have to soak up the rampant consumerism that favors sex, drugs, and violence. God blessed us with discerning minds to act as filters. We can fill our iPods with uplifting music, turn away from explicit movies and television programming, and surround ourselves with encouraging friends and family. We can fill our hearts with good things so that the overflow of our hearts may also be good.
My mother doesn’t miss a beat. When she called recently to see how I was doing, she immediately noted the change in my voice. After quitting work and taking a much-needed vacation, I was feeling healthier than I had in months. The cheerful tone of my voice reflected my renewed sense of energy.
“What’s changed?” my mother asked. “You haven’t sounded this good in years.”
It was true. I’d been plagued by one calamity after another for what seemed like a lifetime. I didn’t think that there would ever be an end to my suffering. Sure, self-inflicted unemployment helped my body to heal, but the financial implications of such drastic measures caused its own concerns. Flying out to visit my family, however beneficial to my sanity, certainly didn’t help money matters either. What really helped me to heal was giving my worries to God.
In the midst of all of my sickness, I’d tried just about everything. Chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, aromatherapy, prescription medications, diet, exercise, meditation…I stopped just short of surgery. I can’t tell you how many doctors I’d visited or how many health questions went unanswered. In this past year, I’ve spent nearly a third of my income on medical expenses. But nothing helped. I now realize that there was a reason for that.
Medicine certainly has its place in society, but doctors can only do so much. Their ability to be effective is incapacitated by the inextricable link between psychological stress and physical damage. Yes, I was in pain, and yes, I was suffering, but much of the problem was in my mind. The more I sought out answers, the more elusive they became, and the more I tried to heal myself, the worse I felt. It was only by giving myself over to God did the healing process finally begin.
The healing came quickly. While I had spent the past few years trying to figure out what was wrong with me, God healed my broken mind and body in just a matter of days. Was such a miraculous recovery even possible? The Bible certainly says so. This morning as I was going through the Book of Matthew, I read about a sick woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. After suffering for so long, she could have understandably given up hope. Instead, she remained faithful. She knew that Jesus could heal her. Matthew 9:22 shares how the woman’s faith fixed her condition:
“Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment.”
If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s that God is in control. He is Almighty. He is Powerful. But there is also power in acknowledging His omnipotence. Nothing is too strong, too debilitating, or too pervasive that He can’t overcome it. Never underestimate the power of faith.
Winter is coming and my favorite coat is in need of mending. This morning I set out in search of the missing buttons to make the necessary repairs. The quest resulted in the contents of several drawers being dumped out onto my bedspread, but to no avail. The buttons are lost.
My coat still needs the buttons replaced, but I’ve come to a startling realization–my drawers are a mess! The number of knicknacks, paddywhacks, chargers, and cords that I’ve amassed is shocking, not to mention disorganized. As I returned the spilled contents back to their appropriate hiding places, I wondered how many other “junk drawers” we have hidden away. There are real junk drawers, like mine, pictured above, but there are also junk drawers of the soul.
As humans, we compartmentalize, categorize, and organize. But we also stow things away. Secrets, flaws, and bad experiences are hidden from public view as we attempt to avoid our emotional baggage. Stuffing our metaphorical junk drawers with a hodgepodge of unwanted thoughts and feelings may seem like a viable solution, but it only results in a tangled mess. The more we fill the drawers, the more difficult it becomes to clean them out.
We may try to hide our past, present, or even our future from ourselves and others, but there is no hiding from God. As Luke 12:2 affirms, ”Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” God sees everything, even the worries and widgets in our junk drawers.
Wouldn’t it be better just to come clean? To pour out the junk in our drawers to God and let him help us clean up the mess that we’ve created? He created the heavens and the earth–He’d be a much better organizer than we could ever hope to be.
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace”
- Romans 8:6, ESV
A few days before my husband and I had gotten married, we headed to the bank to deposit the stack of cash given to us by our loved ones to see us off on a prosperous union. When Raleigh removed the envelope from the pocket of his cargo shorts, he was shocked to discover that the money had disappeared. As two college students on a tight budget, the missing $300 was the difference between buying groceries for the summer and subsisting on ramen. We immediately embarked on a frantic search to find the missing money.
Desperate to find the cash, we checked every fathomable hiding spot. The car was scoured, drawers were dumped out, and Raleigh’s dad, who was helping us set up our new apartment, even dove into the dumpster to sift through the trash we had tossed out that morning. Much to our dismay, the money was nowhere to be found.
Raleigh and I were both upset about the mysterious disappearance. But, not wanting for the tragedy to put a damper on our impending wedding, we held hands in the backseat of the car and prayed for peace as we continued with they day’s agenda. We loved each other, and ultimately, that was all that mattered. We could learn to do without the extra $300.
To further recover from the frenzied search, I rested my head between my knees as Raleigh’s dad drove us to our next destination. Much to my surprise, stacked underneath the seat were the elusive $20 bills that we had been searching for. The money must have slipped out of the envelope when Raleigh pulled it out of his pocket. It was only after accepting the loss of the money were we finally able to find it.
Life is funny that way. The more we struggle to attain something, the more challenging it is to do so. It is only by relinquishing control and allowing God to work through us do we finally find peace and stability. I find that this is especially true in terms of health and wellness. The less anxious I try to be, the more anxious I become. My worries and fears are only alleviated by trusting in God.
Shawn T. Smith, a psychologist in private practice, delves into the reasons behind anxiety, depression, and neurotic behavior in his book The User’s Guide to the Human Mind. Offering practical solutions to managing emotional and psychological symptoms, he has this to say about the struggle for acceptance:
“Freeing oneself from low mood is rather like escaping quicksand. The more we struggle, the worse it gets. The secret is to lean into the pain and accept that perhaps the mind is not to be trusted when it is engaged in the business of coloring perception.” (pg. 165)
Here, Dr. Smith acknowledges that the human mind can only do so much. The mind is messy, emotional, and at times overly sensitive. Recognizing negative thoughts, and even bad situations (such as losing $300), is only one part of the solution. True peace comes with acceptance. I would take this a step further to stay that true peace comes with trusting God.
Having just finished my first novel (*whew*) and now working on finding a suitable publisher, I find myself in a mode of preparation rather than production. I’ve been taking the opportunity to catch up on some long-awaited studying of some dearly beloved subjects as I recover from my whirlwind of writing. The rest is much needed, as I’ll need my energy to dive into NaNoWriMo in just a couple of weeks!
Needless to say, a trip to the library was in order! I breezed through “She: Understanding Feminine Psychology” by Robert H. Johnson in a matter of hours. An incredible read that provided a lot of insight into my past experiences and present psychological state. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about themselves (the book refers to “feminine” psychology, which is found in both men and women, just in varying proportions).
Here is an excerpt that is startlingly applicable to my current phase of peace and tranquility:
“A woman has a profound capacity to be still, perhaps the most powerful act any human being can make. She is required to go back to a very still inner center every time something profound happens to her. This is a highly creative act but must be done correctly. She is to be receptive, not passive.” (pg. 49)
The excerpt sheds light on my present calling to “be still.” I’m being receptive, not passive. Now is the time for learning, listening, and reading. My next novel awaits!
(If you’re like me, and are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo, please feel free to add me as a writing buddy. I’d love to share support and swap ideas!)
“My teachers would likely throw a fit if they knew that I am “wasting” my art education by promoting God’s Word. But their secular opinions don’t matter. I was not put on this earth to please them–I was made to serve God.”
When I was student in college, there was one young man in several of my art courses who operated on an entirely different plane. As a steadfast believer in Christ, he didn’t subscribe to the typical temptations of the college lifestyle. He also blatantly ignored the elements of design and principles of composition in favor of work that was rudimentary in structure yet rich with thought-provoking theology. However bold in the face of such rigid artistic standards, his work was often dismissed as kitsch and he was laughed out of every critique.
I recall one review of his work, in which he presented a series of thematic prints featuring some rather questionable color combinations. Stamped with a quote from the Bible, the seemingly seductive images denounced women with “loose” morals and urged for the repentant return to virtue. He downplayed the sexuality of the rather provocative pictures by depicting the women in dark gray tones. Punches of pink, yellow, and orange hinted at temporary happiness and misplaced femininity. On an ideological level, the message made sense, but in the aesthetic arena, the prints were a mess.
When during the critique, I asked the man why he selected those particular colors, he simply said, “Those are the colors that God wanted me to use.” My classmates and I sat with our mouths agape, unsure of how to respond to his unapologetic honesty. From an artistic standpoint, his compositions and color combinations were atrocious, but how could we argue with such unwavering devotion to divine inspiration?
Once the class recovered from their initial shock, a few passionate individuals launched into a ten-minute tirade regarding the inappropriateness of such unquestioning spirituality in the studio space. In their eyes, there was no place for God in the creative realm, at least not in terms of the production of “legitimate” art. The man stood his ground and remained true to his faith, not once attempting to justify his decision. His work was inspired by God, and he was going to follow God whether his peers agreed with him or not.
At the time, I found myself both appalled and awestruck. On the one hand, the prints were painful to look at. From what I later heard from the man toward the end of the term, the teacher had given him a failing grade for the craft and composition categories of the rubric. But on the other hand, I admired the man’s unwavering belief. He not only believed in God, but he wasn’t afraid to publicly declare his faith. His commitment to Christ during critique caused me to question the content of my own work, which was benign in terms of political or spiritual charge, but could stand an additional dose of devotion. God had blessed me with artistic talents, but in anticipating the judgment of my classmates and instructors, I was afraid to use my creative skills to build His kingdom. Communicating my religious beliefs sat on the back burner as I strove for high marks in my classes.
Now, as I continue to explore my faith, I have become much braver about speaking about my spiritual beliefs. I am not afraid to paint about religious themes, discuss my beliefs on my artist website, or even openly write about God and the Bible. My teachers would likely throw a fit if they knew that I am “wasting” my art education by promoting God’s Word. But their secular opinions don’t matter. I was not put on this earth to please them–I was made to serve God.
That being the case, my creative endeavors have been going much more smoothly. I find it is easier to paint, draw, or write when God works through me rather than attempting to rely on my own thoughts and skills. Still, that is not to say that I don’t struggle with my own ego or overly analytical eye. Even as I continue on the creative path that God has laid out for me, I occasionally find myself questioning the quality of my work. It’s difficult not to put each of my projects through the critical filter instilled in me by my fine arts education. There is always room for improvement in terms of secular standards, but since my work is inspired by God, it is perfectly acceptable the way it is. I don’t need to justify the validity of my work, not to my past instructors, my peers, or even to myself.
Luke 12:11-12 reminds me of this truth. The verse reads:
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (NIV)
Here, God says that there is no need to search for the right words, or even explain myself to others. He will give me the words to say if speaking is the appropriate course of action. But it’s also possible that words may not even be necessary. God’s power speaks for itself.
The verse also reveals the reality of divine inspiration. Since the Holy Spirit can speak through those who believe in Christ, who is to say that it can’t utilize various mediums? God speaks through writing, painting, and all other forms of creativity. God himself is an artist and creator, as the first few chapters of Genesis amply attest. He has an eye for beauty and has instilled in us that same creative drive. After all, we were created in His image.
That being said, who were we to judge my classmate for using the colors that God had chosen? We might have had our own ideas of beauty and aesthetic standards, but ultimately, God had his own plan in mind. That same truth is maintained even now, as I stretch the secular notions of “acceptable” art to pursue God’s purposes. But what can I say? Nothing, really, because God has been teaching me the words.
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens…”
- Excerpt, Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV
In my current condition, which is characterized by frailty and carefully calculated movements, I’ve been trying to understand how I used to do it all. As a college student and newlywed, I maintained a tightly packed schedule. I used to go to class 30 hours a week, squeeze in an extra 10 hours of studio time, and work part-time as a retail associate for another 15 hours over the weekend. Even with all that work on my plate, I still managed to find time to spend with my husband and keep the house clean. Understandably, I was tired, but nowhere near to the extent that I am now.
My circumstances have changed since those busy days. Now, I can’t even make it halfway through the grocery store without feeling faint. Forget trying to put away all of my purchases, let alone actually preparing the meal! Something as simple as a quick shopping trip has become too physical and cumbersome of a task. As the self-proclaimed queen of multitasking and errand-running, this surmounting challenge has become frustrating for me. I find myself constantly comparing my current capabilities to my previous accomplishments, which only results in bitter disappointment.
In struggling with my increasing limitations, Ecclesiastes 3:1 keeps coming to mind. The subsequent verses go on to list opposing tasks, the contrast of which shed new light on the stark differences between my productive past and present listlessness. The words are a source of comfort as I survey my present state. There was once a time for strength, stamina, and productivity, but that time has since passed. Now is a time for stillness, quiet, and peace. But not all hope is lost. This season of resting will pass. I have faith that God will either grace me with the energy to resume some of my usual activities, or at the very least, with the patience and understanding that my physical pain is part of His plan.
As it stands, I’ve been spending the past week in my sleepy hometown of Kingman, AZ. Visiting with my family has done wonders for my rather fragile psyche and failing health. While the Arizona air is much thicker than that of my Colorado residence, my condition has only improved slightly. I may not have healed as much as I had hoped, but I have made headway on the path to acceptance. Once resigned in the permanence of my pain, I now see this illness as a season.
Whether this is a lifelong, chronic condition is not the issue. It’s very likely that whatever it is that I’ve been dealing with will never subside completely, and that this “season” is much more long-term than I could have anticipated. However, this sickness is not debilitating, at least not to my soul. The overwhelming sense of struggling will subside as this season of hopelessness wanes. There is peace in knowing that God has a purpose for my pain. I’m realizing that truth more and more each day. That hopefulness keeps the dismal thoughts at bay.
As you go through your own struggles, remember that there is a time and season for everything. Nothing lasts forever, except the love and grace of God. Let that see you through the hard times.
There are no dollar signs in heaven, no piles of solid gold bars, or stacks of crisp dollar bills. There is only love…All that will matter is love.
God is love. He is not money. I have to remind myself of this as I battle my obsession with staying debt-free. That’s a feat that I’ve worked so hard to accomplish, and I can feel my financial aspirations slipping away with each dollar that I charge to my credit card. But these are not God-inspired dreams. These are the product of systematic conditioning, of the so-called “American Dream.” I have been programmed to equate the accumulation of money and material possessions with power and success. This is wrong, and if I’m completely honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ve been praying for money when I should be praying for acceptance.
My selfishness is deeply rooted. As a child, I watched my parents struggle to pay the bills. They purchased essentials like gas and groceries on credit because they didn’t have enough money to afford even basic necessities. Whenever we needed something, we either charged it or went without. Even at that young age, I knew that I didn’t want that type of squalid life for myself. As soon as I was of age to start working, I did, and ever since, I have been working nonstop to save up money. My willful determination to stay debt-free earned me a full-ride scholarship to an in-state university. Between that, and working a part-time job throughout my college years, I didn’t acquire any debt. After years of toiling, I had finally earned the life that my parents couldn’t afford.
As admirable as my goals may have been in the eyes of the typical dream-driven American, God wasn’t there in any of my plans for prosperity. He wasn’t in the products of my own labors. Instead, God has been in the people in my life. Now more than even, I see that He is in my husband, who has not only supported me in each of my endeavors with the steadfast mantra that “God will provide,” but has inspired my passion to pursue the new path that God has laid out for me. God is in my mother, who encourages me to talk through my troubles over the telephone, sometimes for hours at a time and at a long-distance rate. He is in my friend and confidante, who cheers me on and builds me up as she skillfully breaks down the tension in my muscles. God is in people. He is in the love in those relationships.
At the end of my life, when I stand before God to be judged on how I lived my life and what I did to build up His Kingdom, will it really matter that I charged $2000 worth of car repairs to my credit card? That I only made the minimum payment and had to pay interest on the balance? Absolutely not. There are no dollar signs in heaven, no piles of solid gold bars, or stacks of crisp dollar bills. There is only love. God doesn’t care how much money I earn, or how much I save, or how much debt I accrue. In the end, all that will matter is how I utilized the strengths and abilities that God so graciously gave me, how I treasured my relationship with Him, and how I treated the people He purposely placed in my life. All that will matter is love.
So now, as the pressure to pay off my credit card looms over me, I pray not for money, but for acceptance. I pray for peace and understanding that despite all of my best efforts, God has other plans for me. Money is irrelevant. It isn’t even in the equation. As I continue to follow the path that God has laid out for me, His love and His grace will sustain me. His love is far greater than any debt or bill conspired by this earth. His love is the ultimate source of wealth.