Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Living that Hospital Life.

Oh, hospitals. They are the bane of my existence. One day I'm feeling great and energetic, and then suddenly we're headed to the Emergency Room because my pain has gotten out of control.

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for such amazing healthcare, but having to stay for a few days in the hospital is really not my idea of fun. I would much rather be spending time with friends and family, doing yoga, and playing with my adorable cat. But that's not our life this week, I suppose.

It all started at the beginning of the week when I began feeling some slight pain around my liver. I wasn't sure if it was anything serious yet, so I decided to go about my daily life and just have the pain in the background. I was able to be pretty active which was wonderful, and even the afternoon before the pain got worse I was able to spend some great time with my family at my nephew's 4th birthday party. The evening after is when it all started, though.

I always know something needs to be done about my pain when it starts to be debilitating. We were sitting at home just playing some video games, but even though that's not an active activity, I had to stop and go curl up in one of our lounge chairs. It took me forever to actually decide to go to the ER, because in order to do that, I have to admit that something's wrong.

For whoever knows me, you know I'm super stubborn, especially when it comes to my health. I hate admitting that I'm not totally healthy, and the idea of staying in the hospital S-U-C-K-S. But...I eventually had to decide that the pain was debilitating enough for me to need to be seen.

That was on Saturday night, and now it's Tuesday. Mer. At this point, I really just want to go home, but I know I can't. I'm still waiting on my ERCP (like an endoscopy, only I'm completely asleep and they go all the way through to the liver), but once that's done I think I just need to be watched overnight for pancreatitis, and then I can go home. So if you're the praying kind, PLEASE be praying that I'll have my ERCP sooner rather than later. That would be most helpful.

While I'm in the hospital, though, I couldn't be more happy with all the nurses and doctors who have helped me. University Hospital (Anschutz) is one of, if not THE, best hospital care I've ever experienced. Every time I have to stay here I request the 9th floor, because all the people are so kind and so clearly love their jobs. They make having to stay here much more bearable. They joke around, take me seriously when I tell them I'm experiencing pain, and they really want the best for me.  I always feel like a priority, and that makes me so happy. If I have to stay in a hospital, I'm really glad it can be this one.

Thank you to everyone who has visited, sent emails of encouragement, and posted on Facebook. I am so grateful for all of you, and you have all lifted my spirits in so many ways. I'm learning that this kind of thing is just going to be my new norm (being health for 6-9 months then in the hospital for a few days), and that's okay. I'm grateful for those few months in between where I can be a regular person and do the things I love (my job, sports, church, time with friends, yoga, etc).

God is good, though. Everything that happens is for a purpose and these things help grow us into the people that God wants us to be. We don't always fully understand why he allows things like this to happen, but we know He loves us and He's in control of the situation. Even if the healing doesn't come, God is still good and in control - I couldn't ask for anything else.

I'll be in the hospital most likely until tomorrow, so if you live in the area, I would love to see you! We can talk, laugh, watch Harry Potter, or just sit and watch TV. I've been enjoying doing all those things with my friends and family. :)

On behalf of Eric and myself, thank you so much for your continued support and love toward us. We feel so strengthened because of everyone around us who cares, and we know we'll get through this time just like we've done all the other times.

Thanks again - you all mean more to us than you could know!

Monday, November 3, 2014

I'm Beautiful, and So Are You.

My whole life I’ve lived with this idea that I’m not allowed to believe I’m beautiful, that I must always point out a flaw I see in myself. I’m not exactly sure where that all began, but it’s a pervasive thought in our culture today. We have this concept of what beautiful “should” look like, and somehow we’re never able to attain it. That doesn’t mean we don’t try - we try as hard as we can to live up to this unattainable standard, but as hard as we work at it, we always convince ourselves that we’re just not good enough.

Why is that? Why are we so set on believing the worst about ourselves (and sometimes the worst about others) because of this imaginary standard of beauty? Why is it not okay to view ourselves as beautiful simply because we are God’s creation? It makes me cringe when I hear women critiquing their looks - whether it’s their body (too fat or too skinny), skin tone, face, hair, etc. Let me be clear - I’m not perfect at this either. I often find myself critiquing my looks in the mirror and telling my husband that I’ve gained weight, that I hate the bump in my nose, and that I’m too short. He always has to stop, look me straight in the eye and tell me, “Bethany, you’re beautiful.”

I’ve been told by others in the past that it’s not okay to view ourselves as beautiful because that could lead to narcissism, and we don’t want people to think we have big egos. But what if God wanted us to see ourselves the way he sees us? Do I really think that my Creator, the God of the universe, is judging my looks and thinking he made mistakes? Absolutely not. Our whole concept of beauty has come from society and media. As imperfect beings, we like to judge one another. We like to say, “Well, at least I’m prettier than her,” or “At least I’m skinnier than her.” If we don’t do that, we usually say, “I’ll never be as pretty as her,” or “I’ll never be as tan as her.” We are so mean to ourselves.

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve started doing yoga. I did it on my own for a while, but recently I’ve been going to classes with a couple friends. One of the instructors told us, “Be kind to yourself. Be your own sweetheart.” Why do we have to be harsh with ourselves? Why is it okay and accepted for us to constantly tell ourselves (and sometimes others) that we’re not and never will be good enough? Who is that helping? We may sometimes see that attitude in ourselves as humility, but it’s not. It’s false humility, because instead of being confident in who we are yet not boasting about it, we say unkind things about ourselves. When we do those sort of things, I firmly believe it deeply saddens our Creator. He made us to be completely unique, and yet we’re telling him, “God, you messed up.”

I will echo what my yoga instructor told us - Be kind to yourself. Be your own sweetheart. Love yourself - if we don’t learn how to love and accept ourselves, we’ll find it almost impossible to love and accept those around us. If we throw off the yoke of media and social pressure, we’ll find it much easier to be content and comfortable with who God made us to be. You weren’t a mistake, and neither was anyone else. God didn’t mess up with you, nor did he mess up with anyone else. He loves you perfectly right in this moment, exactly as you are. He’s not going to love you more in the future, and he didn’t love you less in the past. He simply loves you just the way he made you.

I'm beautiful, and so are you.

Psalm 139:13-16

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 were none of them.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mending Wounds and Moving On.

Sometimes in life we have to make the hard decisions. Sometimes we have to make decisions based not on what we want to do, but rather what we believe is necessary. For Eric and I, one of those decisions came a few weeks ago, and I wanted you, my faithful readers, to be aware of what happened.

As many of you know, last month I wrote a post on how Eric and I would not be returning to our church for a while due to a sermon series on “Parenting” that would have been too painful for us. I made sure to explain that we loved (and still do) our church family and we weren’t angry, but we would have rathered that the specific topic of parenting not be preached on a Sunday morning (we’re fine with and completely in favor of parenting classes either after church or on another day).

Unfortunately, because of that post, I was the recipient of ostracization (I don't think that's a word, but you get the idea) and judgment by some in the church. I was told that my post was just a rant that was unloving, unbiblical, and destructive. I became very concerned when this was told to me, so I asked close friends if my post seemed like I was just on an angry rant. Each one of them said no, so I was very confused why I received these accusations.

This situation with a few individuals covered the span of about a week and a half. I emailed the pastor and asked for his thoughts on the parenting series, and when he told me, I respectfully disagreed. I also told him that because of judgment from some members of the church, unless it was resolved and apologies made, Eric and I would not be returning.

Some people may think that we made a rash decision, and that makes sense. It was a very quick decision, but it didn’t come without a lot of thought, prayer, and wisdom from friends and family. We understand that it’s hard to hear a church you believe in be criticized, and we know that it’s hard to know what to do in those situations. We still love the people at that church, but because we don’t feel it is a safe environment for us to be who we are and have our thoughts and opinions without judgment, we made the decision to leave.

Though it was a quick decision, it was anything but easy. I shed many tears thinking about leaving our newly-found community, and I had no desire to look for churches again. However, even though we had been at the church for a year and still hadn’t made deep connections with people, we decided that walking away was the healthiest decision for us.

I’m not proud of the situation that unfolded with people in the church. I’m not bitter towards them, and I will eventually forgive them for the way I was treated. The biggest emotion I feel is simply just sadness. I’m sad that our community had to disappear because of a decision Eric and I made, and I’m sad that a post I had put much thought and emotion into was ripped apart.

I’m sad that those we tried connecting with didn’t seem to grasp that I’m a blogger, and I write everything with a tremendous amount of passion and thought. I blog because I am passionate about people, the church, and issues that arise within culture and Christian culture. I’m passionate about being a voice to those who may not have one on sensitive topics. I know not many people read my blog on a daily basis, but for those who do, I am and want to be vocal about my thoughts and opinions.

After we left, we decided that it was extremely important to us to find a community that loves and accepts us for who we are - even if they sometimes disagree.  A close friend of mine had been telling me for months that her church was wonderful and devoted to community in more than just church attendance and programs. In fact, this church hesitates to say any events are from the church itself, because they want to promote believers doing life with one another instead of just being involved in programs.

We visited that church a few weeks ago (they meet on Tuesday nights, which is awesome) and immediately fell in love with it. Through working at the seminary I already knew a few people there, but even those we didn’t know reached out to meet us and make us feel welcome. We came on a night that they were doing an introduction to the church after the service, and it was phenomenal to see who the church is and why they do what they do. We agreed so fervently with their values and ideals that we jumped right in to getting involved.

We know that our new church isn’t and won’t be perfect. We know that we’ll encounter conflict and disagreements with others, but because the church’s underlying purpose is our passion, we will do what it takes to make things work there. Even though we’ve only been a few times, so far we already feel more connected than we did in the entire year at our other church.

I want to reiterate that we are not angry with the people from our previous church for what happened. While we are disappointed, we know that good has come from this. We have learned so much about ourselves, what’s important to us, and how to talk with others. We’ve learned what’s most important to us in attending a church, and we’ve learned that it’s possible to have community that fully accepts us (and is a little awkward like we are).

So what does this mean for the future? It means that Eric and I are focused on continual growth, and we are now in an environment where we feel freedom to do that at our own pace. It means that my posts will almost certainly pertain to things we are discussing in church, because their passions are my passions. It means that we’ll begin to have a real community and hopefully develop deep friendships.

To you, my friends, I pray that you have (or can find) a community of people who loves you just as you are, but also spurs you towards growth. I pray that we can be a body of believers who love one another and are focused on unity even in disagreements, and I pray that we can reach out to meet the hurting where they’re at and minister to them accordingly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We'll Be "Bedside Baptists" For Now.

For the next several weeks, Eric and I will not be attending church. It’s not because we’re lazy, and it’s not because we don’t think church is important – it’s because we’ve specifically decided not to sit in the sermon series.

Let me make myself clear. We love our church, and we think it’s good and healthy for people to be involved in a community of other believers for multiple reasons – encouragement, accountability, growth, etc. We personally don’t attend church to hear the preaching. It’s great to be taught Scripture, but we attend church to meet with God and fellowship with other believers. However, sometimes (very rarely) it’s important to know whether or not a specific sermon series will be damaging. For us, that’s these next few weeks.

Two weeks ago, our church started a sermon series on parenting. This comes right on the heels of my previous post on how Eric and I may never have our own children. Do I think parenting is a great topic? Absolutely. I think a church needs to be involved in that area of people’s lives. But here’s my issue: it’s extremely, extremely alienating to those who aren’t in that specific stage of life. I truly believe our church had every good intention in doing this sermon series, but Eric and I both agree that this topic is best left out of a Sunday message. Why? Because the congregation comprises SO many more people than just parents and more than just the ones who don’t want to have kids.

A couple weeks ago, I looked around at our congregation from the back row and wondered what kind of stories people have. There could definitely be many people who don’t want to have children, and thus don’t have a problem with a parenting sermon, even if they can’t really relate to it. But what about those people who desperately want kids but can’t have them? What about those people who have had multiple miscarriages? What about those people who have had their children pass away? What about those people whose children are grown and they didn’t parent them in the specific way that’s being preached about?

My heart aches especially for those who want kids but can’t have them. Though I don’t want kids at the moment, I have a small taste of what it feels like, and it’s awful. A Sunday sermon series would only bring that pain into full view, and I absolutely believe that it would be way more damaging that constructive for those people.

I can’t say for sure how I would react to listening to a parenting series, but I don’t want to take the chance. It not only doesn’t apply to us, but it also could cause that pain to intensify.

Let me say again – I think it’s very important for churches to be involved in the parenting aspect of people’s lives. However, I absolutely don’t believe it should be talked about on a Sunday morning, simply because there are a multitude of different stories and situations that people come from. To assume that all (or even the majority) of the congregation would benefit from that series is dangerous and, again, damaging. I think it’s a phenomenal topic to offer an evening class on so that those whose lives it applies to can choose to participate.

Eric and I really, really love our church. We love the people we’re getting to know, and we love the fact that we’re starting to get involved. But sometimes there are moments in which we disagree with the church (and I think this happens with everyone), and we have to do what’s healthiest for us.

We’ll certainly be back in church when the next series is started, but this is one that we have chosen to say, “No” to.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Life Without Children.

This is a hard post for me to write. It may be one of the most vulnerable moments I’ve ever had in my writing, and it scares me.

Eric and I have discussed a lot in the past year the possibility of having children. We’ve both come to the conclusion that we may never have our own biological kids. I can’t say that conclusion was an easy one – it’s a little easier for Eric than it is for me. Though I don’t want children now, I know there’s still an ache in my heart that longs to be pregnant and experience what it’s like to bear and raise a child. However, we’ve both seen that it may not be in the cards for us.

One of the major reasons for our conclusion is my health. My liver disease is very serious, and if, during pregnancy, one of my bile ducts closed, I wouldn’t be able to get it opened up. Having it opened up requires general anesthesia, and this isn’t possible while pregnant. My hepatologist has even told me that she doesn’t want me getting pregnant, at least not right now. If I were to get pregnant, I would be very high-risk and would need to be watched closely. Neither Eric nor I are willing to take that risk.

Most of the time, I’m completely fine with not having kids. I see new parents all around me completely stressed out and exhausted, and I don’t envy that. I’m certain that it’s all worth it for them, but that kind of exhaustion is not something I want right now. Eric and I are in great places in our jobs, and we’re loving being successful at what we’re doing.

We also love our life together. We’re best friends, in every sense of the word. We absolutely love spending time with each other, and we both have dreams to travel the world and experience new things with one another. We’re not ready or wanting that to change anytime soon. Again, I’m not making a judgment on anyone who has kids – I’m certain that all the changes are worth it, but we’re not in a place to make that change yet.

It makes me sad when I hear people look down on couples who have decided either not to get pregnant anytime soon or not to get pregnant at all. We all have different walks in this life, and just because some people decide not to have children doesn’t mean that they are any less mature or “adult” than another couple.

Eric and I have very valid reasons not to have children (right now). Yes, most of it has to do with my health, but we also have no desire for the kind of hard work and sacrifice it would take to be parents. That’s not to say that if we had a surprise pregnancy we wouldn’t be thrilled, but we both know that we’re not at a place where we’re ready or okay with taking on that kind of responsibility.

However…I still have an ache inside. Though I’m so happy for my family and friends who are in that stage of life, I also mourn for what may never be. As silly as it is, ever since I was in high school, I would sometimes talk to my belly about the future children that would be housed inside. I made a Pinterest board for “the future,” filled with baby room ideas and adorable decorations and outfits. We’ve been asked by multiple people in the past, “When are you going to have kids,” and we’ve been able to answer with a positive “Not now, but maybe soon!” Those questions have thankfully disappeared, but the ache from past questions still remains.

Though I love seeing pictures and posts from friends who are pregnant or have just had children, sometimes I have to distance myself from Facebook in order not to become envious or angry that I may never have that opportunity. Sometimes the pain is just too much.

I know many of you are probably saying, “You’re only 25, you have plenty of time.” Yes, I realize that I have many child-bearing years ahead of me. However, my health certainly may never permit that, even if Eric and I come to a point that we want kids. I’m terrified of that possibility.

However, I still have hope. Through the ache and through the future uncertainty, I know that I have a great God. I also know that just because we may never have our own biological children, that doesn’t mean we’ll never have kids. Adoption has been on my heart for quite some time now, and even though it’s expensive and far off into the future, I would love for that to one day become a reality. Though I may miss out on the miracle of pregnancy, I would be thrilled to give a child a home and call him/her our own.

But for now, I plan on enjoying every second I have with my amazing husband, and our adorable (and crazy) cat. I love my little family, and I dote on my nieces and nephew any chance I get. If I have any advice for those reading this, it would be to please be sensitive to those couples who don’t have children. You may have no idea what they’re struggling with, and to just assume that they’re being selfish and immature for not having children is very damaging.

Those couples may be struggling through health issues, infertility, miscarriages, or a multitude of other things. Or, quite frankly, they may just not want children (and I believe that’s okay, too). We’re all on different paths in this life, so let’s not make the mistake of believing everyone must live the way we do.

And though this may seem silly and insignificant, please do not make judgments on those who call their pets “children,” or “babies.” It may seem ridiculous to you, but to someone who is infertile, it may be the only way they can feel like a parent. Please don’t devalue those who take pride in their pets.

We may never know what another person is dealing with. Please be sensitive to any and all who don’t have children, because your words and judgments may be far more damaging that you’ll ever realize.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

When Social Media Becomes Destructive.

Social media can be a very good thing. We can easily stay updated on the lives of people we love, we can share ideas and beliefs with others, we can create community with those we wouldn't normally commune with, and we can have fun and be entertained.

But then sometimes social media can become the driving wedge between friends and loved ones.

Many of you know that for the past year and a half, I have become heavily involved in an online Twitter community. I started becoming involved when I was realizing my beliefs on certain things changing (becoming a feminist and egalitarian). I didn't know many people in my life who shared those beliefs, so I wanted to reach out online to those I could learn from as I navigated these new thoughts and questions. I started seeing people who were so much like me talk about their frustrations with evangelicalism on Twitter and how they were breaking away from the movement. I resonated so much with them that I began conversing and developing friendships with them. 

I started to express my real opinions on certain topics in a way I never before felt free to do. Previously, I had always expressed opinions that I felt were the most accepted, even if I didn't actually believe them. It was through Twitter that I realized that my beliefs, though unpopular with some, were valid and intelligent. 

Even though it looked as though I was changing drastically in my beliefs and opinions, I don't think that was actually the case. I think I was always a feminist on some level, but I didn't know how to reconcile that with my Christianity. It was through Twitter that I learned how to reconcile both together, and where I became educated on what feminism is and isn't. 

I felt free to talk about my issues with American evangelicalism, and I was grateful to actually be listened to and respected for my thoughts, even if others disagreed. For one of the first times in my life, I truly felt like my opinions were valid. I cannot quite express how freeing this was. 

Then...it started to go downhill. I began to vent and rant about people I knew whom I was frustrated with. I began to talk about customers I had at my coffee shop that treated me badly and made me angry. My words began to drip with mirth and venom. 

Since most of the people I talked to on Twitter were not from my actual life, I thought I could say those things with some sort of anonymity. I thought my judgmental overtones would never be seen by the people I was talking about. I saw others doing the same thing, and I felt justified in my actions. I began to think, "This is what Twitter's for. This is an outlet for me to vent so I don't bottle everything up." What I didn't realize was that it was making me more angry, cynical, and judgmental than I ever was before.

I was out of control. Anything and everything (and everyone) that made me angry would end up on my Twitter. It was like "word vomit" (for all you Mean Girls fans), and I continued to spiral. This went on for a long time, until it affected someone I love and deeply care for. 
I won't go into specifics, but I said terrible things about this person when I was angry. Even though I knew this person would probably see it, I didn't care. I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "Well, this is what I do, and they can just get over it." I was so desensitized to my actions that I couldn't see the hurt I was inflicting. 

And then I was confronted with the reality of my actions. When I thought I was just venting pent-up anger and frustration, I was actually hurting someone. This wasn't imaginary or theoretical, but it was real. I was inflicting tangible pain on an actual person. 

When I realized what was going on, I didn't want to admit it at first. I didn't want to admit my culpability, nor did I want to think I had done something really, really wrong. My pride overtook any feeling of guilt or conviction, and I just shoved all those thoughts of wrongdoing to the back of my mind.

It came to a point, though, when I couldn't hide it any longer. I had to come face-to-face with my actions, and it hurt. I didn't want to deal with that. It was so much easier to pretend nothing happened so I wouldn't have to deal with the pain I had caused.

I almost lost a dear friend permanently because of my actions. Though I had alienated others through my words, nothing struck to my core like thinking one of the people I cared about most in this world could be gone from my life forever because of what I'd done. I knew I had to do whatever I could to make things right.

Much like the ending of Mean Girls, it was in that moment that I knew I needed to start sucking the poison out of my life. My first priority was to be reconciled with this person I had deeply wronged. By the grace of God and this person's compassion and mercy, that is exactly what happened. I will be forever grateful for the love and forgiveness I received even though my actions were deplorable and I deserved to be cast off.

My second action was to eliminate Twitter from my life. I still retain some good friendships from my time there, but I knew that Twitter had become such a destructive piece of my life. I couldn't continue being there with peace in my heart. Though I would have tried to change how I approached things, I knew that eventually I'd get into the same terrible cycle and hurt more people. That is a risk I'm not willing to take.

I honestly don't know who else I've hurt in this whole mess. Twitter is a public forum, and I can only imagine how many people saw what I wrote and were shocked/offended by what I said. My heart breaks to know that I have most likely alienated multiple people.

If you're reading this and you're one of those people I've alienated, please know that I'm deeply, deeply sorry. My actions were reprehensible and uncalled for. My desire (though it scares me) is to know who I've alienated/hurt so I can apologize to you specifically. If I have completely lost your trust or respect, I understand. Your feelings and thoughts are valid. What I've done is inexcusable. 

I am a deeply flawed individual, but I am learning. Thank you to those who have accepted me back and given me room to grow and make mistakes - I am so grateful and blessed to have you in my life. You all know that I'm far from perfect and I will continue making those mistakes, but you love me anyway. There are no words to express the depth of my gratitude. 

Moving forward, I know I will stumble again at some point. I know I tend to be an opinionated and judgmental person, and that this will continue to be a struggle throughout my life. What matters, though, is not that we stumble, but rather that we get back up and try again. As my wise husband has said, "It's not what you did wrong that matters - it's what you did to make things right."
Again, to all those I've hurt or made angry, please accept my deepest apologies. There is never an excuse to behave the way I did, no matter how frustrated or upset I may be. 

I hope that my online presence through this blog and my Facebook will become a source of light and hope instead of the darkness it has recently been. Thank you for sticking with me in this mess - I am so grateful for you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Joel Osteen and the Lie of the Prosperity Gospel

(photo taken from Google images)

I don’t want to start this post stating all the reasons I’m not a fan of Joel Osteen, but I do want to discuss some problems with his belief system. For those who don’t know, Joel Osteen is the founder of Joel Osteen Ministries, and he pastors Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. You can find his website here. I will readily admit that he is a great humanitarian who has done (and is doing) many good things for people around the world.  He and his wife Victoria are “…involved in vaccination programs, abandoned baby centers, and centers for young troubled teens looking for a new life and a fresh start. [They] are helping feed the hungry, clothe the needy and provide hope to the hopeless” (taken from joelosteen.com).

However, the kind of “gospel” he promotes is not what I would describe to be the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was introduced to Joel Osteen’s church when I was in high school and stumbled upon his telecast on TBN. As I started watching, I realized that everything he was saying sounded really, really good. He talked about “living in victory,” “living abundantly,” and that our faith in Christ would show itself to be true through our mental, physical, emotional, and financial lives. I began to think, “Yeah! That makes sense!”

Joel Osteen is clearly passionate about Christians living in “victory.” In the beliefs section on his website, his last point is,  “…As children of God, we are overcomers and more than conquerors and God intends for each of us to experience the abundant life He has in store for us.” What does this mean, exactly?

The definition of the Prosperity Gospel, according to Wikipedia, is “…a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.” This is the foundation on which Joel Osteen bases his belief of living in “victory.”

However, what do we see when we look at Scripture?

In John 16, as Jesus is speaking with his disciples, he says to them, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world”(NLT).

Followers of Christ have historically been known to suffer hardship – we see this in the lives of Peter, Paul, Luke, and many others. We see this in the persecuted church worldwide, where people are being tortured and killed for their faith. Paul himself describes the hardships he faced in 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27:

“I know I sound like a madman, but I have served [Christ] far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have raveled o many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”

Clearly, Paul experienced many, many hardships in following Christ. Does this mean every believer must experience the same things he did? Absolutely not – but I don’t think the Christian life was ever meant to be lived in material “victory.”

To the contrary, I believe the Christian life was meant to be difficult, but it is our responsibility to find contentment in Christ amidst our difficult circumstances. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Mountains and valleys exist in the lives of every human being. We experience heartache, tragedy, illness, job-loss, etc. Christians are not exempt from this – we must experience the realities of our broken world just as everyone else does. Jesus never promised that we would have easy or “abundant” lives. He only promised that he would be with us in our circumstances.

Over the next weeks, I will be discussing more in depth about this topic (and may do a chapter-by-chapter review of one of his books), and why I believe the Prosperity Gospel is a lie that too many Christians tend to believe. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. J

Monday, May 5, 2014

Live in Peace.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

- Romans 12:17-21 (NIV; Emphasis added)

Most of us have encountered this situation. We’ve encountered someone in our lives that we want to reconcile with and make things work, but either the other person isn’t interested, or for some unknown reason the issues, hurts, or problems are irreparable.

In the summer of 2010 between my Junior and Senior years of college, I was an intern for a youth group.  It was a large youth group, so there were 3 male and 2 female interns. Upon meeting my fellow leaders, I was excited about what the summer could bring and what we could accomplish as a team. However, I was mistaken in my excitement. Instead of a great relationship and teamwork with the other female intern, it turned into almost a competition. At one point during the summer when I told her I would like to be a team, she said, “You do whatever you want. I’m going to do everything I can to learn as much as possible, and I’m going to do things on my own.”

At that point, I knew nothing could be done. Even though I tried to invite her to events such as sleepovers with some of the students, she wouldn’t show up and neglected to invite me to things she did. Let me be clear, though. As hurt as I was by many things during the summer, I wasn’t perfect either. I talked about her to people (including students, which was a terrible decision), I lashed out at her in anger one day, and by the end of the summer I simply refused to talk to her. I was so angry that she didn’t want to work together, because that was something I had so desired. I was angry that I heard from other students that she had talked about me (even though I had done the same thing), and I left for school bitter and resentful.

A couple weeks went by, and I realized that my actions were wrong - I needed to apologize and attempt to reconcile. Without giving much detail, I sent her a message that was left unresponded to, and when I tried to talk to her, I instead received threatening emails from her brother and her best friend. At that point, I wanted reconciliation so much, or at least a chance to talk through things. But she wasn’t interested. I was so frustrated, because I couldn’t understand why a Christian would want to live in bitterness or resentment toward another person instead of at least moving to a place of closure.

I began to see things as my fault. I began to blame myself for the entire situation, and I felt as though I was a horrible person. It was then that Eric (my boyfriend at the time, now husband), grabbed me by the shoulders and said,

“Bethany. It’s okay. Were you perfect? No. Did you make mistakes and hurt her? Absolutely. Does that matter now? No. Why? Because you’ve done everything you can to correct things. And that’s all you’re responsible for.

I was floored by this. Really? I’m not defined by my mistakes, but rather what I do to make things right? That made so much sense, and yet it was so difficult for me to grasp. I always believed that I was defined by my faults - I was constantly looking for places to “start over” or have a “clean slate,” because I didn’t want to be around anyone who knew how flawed I was or what kind of mistakes I made in my past. But that’s not how it works - while there are those who don’t want to admit it, we’ve all made mistakes we wish to move on from.

“As far is it depends on you, live in peace with everyone.”

I tried to work things out with the other female intern - I had done everything I could think of (including calling her, asking our boss to mediate between us, etc), and nothing had worked. At that point, I had a decision to make: I could either keep on trying to no avail (and making things worse for myself emotionally in the process), or I could let go and move on.

It took about 3 years to fully let go, simply because I was so rocked by the situation. But as I began to heal, I realized the freedom that letting go brings - it allowed me not to blame myself. I was able to forgive the other female intern for the way she treated me, to forgive myself for the things I had done, and most importantly, I was able to accept that I was forgiven by God. I knew God didn’t look down on me with anger or judgment - He knows exactly what I’ve done to make the situation right, and that’s all the matters.

If you’re facing a situation of this sort now, or if you have in the past, there is hope. God doesn’t view you in light of your past mistakes or failings. You are forgiven. You are loved. Your mistakes don’t define you, nor does the other person’s refusal to work through things. It’ll take time to push through. It’ll take time to heal. But in the end, you’ll be a stronger person. You’ll be a better person, because you won’t allow yourself to do the same things that were done to you. It’s a journey, and it’s a difficult one. But with faith, hope, and Love, you can make it through.