Am I an apologist?!….Are you? — H

Late last year, I had been listening to the YouTube videos of a pastor I thought was a Messianic Jew. I was learning a lot of Jewish history that helped me see the Bible in new ways. Then, though, I came across one teaching that didn’t jive with what I knew from Scripture about Jesus. Listening to more from him, I realized he was Jewish and was saying some correct things about Jesus, but was thinking of Him as an excellent teacher and A son of God rather than THE Son of God. I was thankful for what I had learned that did hold up under scrutiny. But, I moved on.

Meanwhile, in its recommendations, YouTube listed a video that drew my attention. The descriptive title was a Bible question I’d been puzzling about. The video supposedly answered the question. So, I clicked to watch.

Following along in Scripture, it made sense to me. I prayed. I studied some more. I was satisfied.

“So, who is this person?” I wondered.

I clicked on their channel to find multiple Bible questions and their answers.

I went to the “About” section.

A Christian.
“Okay, good. We’ll see.”
I kept reading.

Hmmm. She used “apologist” as one of the labels for herself.
“Uh oh.”

Although I was truly clueless about what “apologetics” is, I had a bias against apologists because I figured they “made apologies” for Scripture.

My thoughts stood in rebellion: “No one needs to make apologies for my Father’s words!”
I paused, though. I pondered.
“Perhaps I’m wrong about what apologetics is. Yet, maybe these are the argumentative types who potentially give a bad name to Christians.”

“Wait, though,” I continued, arguing with myself. “This video was fine. She sounds like a reasonable, respectful individual. And, I’ve sometimes been seen as argumentative simply because I stick by what I’ve learned from the Bible is true. Same goes for others I know and love. This self-proclaimed apologist just answered my long-held question. I am satisfied with this answer. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll listen to just a couple more videos on this channel.”

Several hours later, I was not only familiar with her material, I’d found videos where she’d collaborated with other apologists. I’d gone to the channels of those other apologists and learned some things. They, in turn, had collaborated with other apologists. Before long, YouTube was recommending the work of other apologists.

“Hmmm. Maybe I’ve been really misunderstanding what apologetics is. These people just seem to be seekers. Some are pastors, but some aren’t. The difference between them and the seekers I know in person is that they’ve used social media to share what they’ve learned.”

My thoughts continued. “And, they are tenacious seekers. I like that. They not only refuse to give up on God or the Bible when faced with a puzzle, they sink their teeth into the challenge and plunge ahead. I like people like this. I want to be such a people.” (grin)

Then, I was faced with a question, “Am I already an apologist?!”

When one is a thinker who picks up on seeming inconsistencies or “conflicts within Scripture,” there can be a strong temptation to treat the Bible in certain ways:
* Toss it aside as a whole, or,
* Focus only on parts and ignore other parts, or,
* See it as just another book with segments that are inspirational but no more special than the books held aloft by other religions.

From what I’ve seen and heard from favorite apologists, they seem to have similar traits:
* When they have been or are faced with “hard questions,” they have the tenacity and stubborn faith to cling to the Bible and really “study it out” until they are satisfied, at least temporarily, with an answer.
* They’ve done this studying-until-satisfied process enough that they’ve become awed by the sheer genius and wonder of what the Bible really is. They come away, saying, “Surely, the hand of God accomplished this feat!”
* All are driven to reach out to others with what they’ve found.

Based on my observations, my favorite apologists have these practices and perspectives:
* If you think one part of the Bible conflicts with another part, it isn’t the Bible that is wrong; it is the reader’s current confusion or lack of knowledge. Keep digging.
* Some have live question-and-answer videos. They seem to all practice this: If you don’t know, say so. If whatever you say next is a guess based on what you do know, say it is a guess.
* Encourage others to read the Bible.
* Pray, asking for wisdom and understanding. Read the context. Keep reading the Bible with the hard question in mind. Study Bible history and Jewish culture. Listen to what other Bible scholars have found and see if their explanations are valid.
* Now that I have this answer, I’m going to put it out there and see what sort of feedback I get. I may be wrong. I don’t currently think so, but I’m willing to learn. I trust my fellow Christians to engage with me so we can learn from one another. I may someday modify what I currently think. That’s part of the learning process. I trust my viewers to point out where they think I am in error.

What I think and do when I am faced with a hard question:
* I go to the Bible first in order to see if I can find the answer. Sometimes, I find it, and I am satisfied. Sometimes, I don’t, so I figure someone has done a study of Bible history or Jewish culture that I haven’t. So, I go see what I can find from others. Inevitably, I find that someone else has been wrestling with the same question.
* There are sometimes missing or unsatisfactory answers as I go through the writings and videos of the apologists I trust most. Same goes for commentaries from Bible scholars I trust most. Either I haven’t found the right commentary or video yet….or, it’s a question that I myself need to keep searching out.
* I’ve found that, if I don’t let go of the question nor the Bible, an answer often comes. After all, we are told repeatedly to wait on God.
* When that answer comes, I see that as a signal I need to do my part and share that with other believers. Perhaps others, like me, have said, “It is possible that the answer isn’t to be grasped right now, but I have faith it will be.” And, the treasure I have found might be an answer to their held faith! Maybe their wait is over because God worked through me.

So, as I read commentaries, watch videos, and listen to sermons, I think the answer to what I puzzle over may come through someone else. Or, maybe there’s a question someone else is puzzling over that I can help answer.

I’m thinking this phenomenon is by design and is yet another excellent reason for the body of Christ. And, if none of us have a Biblically-sound answer, it may be we’re not supposed to know now. The “aha moment” will come later in earth’s time or once we are all face-to-face with our Saviour.

Mercifully, we’re actually told of one answer we won’t get through study — the day and the hour of His return.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:35-36 ESV)

That leaves room for a lot of fruitful learning! Being told what we won’t know tells me we can still study to try to find other answers.

Yet, what if I’m just not finding an answer?

It is a temptation to focus on the current “thorn” rather than see all that has gone right. Sometimes, when there isn’t an answer to a question yet, I avoid getting discouraged by thinking back through all the answers that HAVE been found. I consider all of the satisfaction I have received in what the Bible says — what I have already experienced as true.

I find that keeping a journal or taking notes of thoughts and discoveries during Bible study is really valuable for this purpose. Reading back through my journals and notebooks helps to strengthen my faith and warms up my Bible-studying “muscles.” It helps me see how and where I have grown over the years. It makes me want to learn more and grow more. It makes me hungry to devour more Scripture. It causes me to want to follow Him even more closely.

“Hard questions.” That is what one of the apologists calls them. They can also be called “doubts.” It is normal to have doubts. I choose to believe anyway, waiting on the Lord. I think  doing so is part of the growth process. Faith is what one must have in order to cling to the Bible even harder when faced with doubt. Like Jacob continuing to wrestle, I trust that an answer has been found by someone or will be found, perhaps by me.

What I try to do in the face of doubt:
* Pray. Talk to God about it.
* Dig into the Bible harder.
* Go to the apologists and pastors. See if what they share makes sense. If not, then it’s a case of needing to add “yet” to that negative statement in my head:
— “I don’t know the answer…yet.”
— “None of the apologists are talking about this…yet.”
— “Pastors/commenters aren’t addressing this. Maybe they aren’t seeing this issue…yet.”

Maybe the doubts are an opportunity to step from passively consuming what others are feeding me toward joining the army that is actually doing some of the feeding.

May that opportunity give glory to God and to His Word!

Observing Festivals, Short Diary — H

To us, observing God’s Festivals seemed more applicable to a Christian’s life than observing man’s holidays. For years, we’d already been keeping one of these appointed times — seventh-day Sabbath. Therefore, it seemed natural to include the other appointed times He asked us to remember and observe.  So, we incorporated His appointed times into our worshipful remembrances throughout the year.

Do we sacrifice animals? No. Jesus is the Lamb of God who died once for all, as is mentioned in Hebrews 10 and other passages.

Our first year of observing the festivals (2019), we jumped in just before Unleavened Bread. So, being new at this, we did a lot of research about what leavening is, what’s allowed in the house and what is not, what we needed to do with what is leavened, etc. Feeling satisfied we’d done what we could to remove all leavened products from our property, we observed the 1st and 7th day Sabbaths and we didn’t have leavened bread for a week. On the eighth day, we probably bought bread. (chuckle) (wink)

 

Hubby did a bunch of research on the “Jewish calendar” and what the Bible says about watching for the new moon to determine the start of each new month. It talks about gathering together to visit and see if the moon can be glimpsed, so we began having “new moon gatherings” at our house in order to enjoy one another and visit about God.

We didn’t do much for Firstfruits, as I recall. Just read about it, and I remember I did a study on the differences between barley and wheat. I’ll try to remember to post that here sometime.

Weeks/Pentecost 2019 — We observed the associated Sabbath, and I thought about the Holy Spirit and what I’d learned in several books I’d read in previous years about His being a Person.

Trumpets 2019 — I’d gotten hubby a shofar as well as a pocket trumpet, and he had begun blowing the shofar whenever one of us spotted the new moon. So, by the time this came around, he could blow the trumpet. We observed the associated Sabbath.

At this point, hubby was doing most of the research on the festivals. So, I was just kind of going along. I was excited about observing them, but I was busy enough with other things that I just went with what he was researching and telling me of what he learned.

Day of Atonement 2019 — I know we observed the associated Sabbath, but I don’t recall whether or not we fasted because I wasn’t writing in my “spiritual journal” at the time. I had the journal. I just wasn’t writing in it.

Tabernacles 2019 — I do remember this one. We observed the 1st day Sabbath, and we slept outside. Personally, I was excited about the latter. When I was in college, I’d sometimes drag my mattress outside and watch the stars until I fell asleep. It was a special privilege of having the freedom of being on my own. So, I was looking forward to sleeping under the stars again. Then, it got really windy, really cold, and really wet. We slept on the roofed part of the deck, but the wind drove the cold and rain sideways under the roof and right at us. It was an especially memorable time. (grin)

Then, there was the Eighth Day directly after Tabernacles. In our research, we didn’t know what we were “supposed” to do for it other than observing it as a Sabbath. So, we did that.

2020 — So, go back to Leviticus 23. We’d already been observing the 7th Day Sabbaths, as commanded, so next on the list is Passover. Well, there’s this COVID thing that makes this year rather interesting. Hubby had been doing research about the timeline surrounding Jesus’ last several days, death, and resurrection. He’d printed out that research, and it was stretched out on the table. It was nice to look at that chart as the times of the Festivals were going by.

Unleavened Bread 2020 — We banished the leavened bread from the house, and I learned how to make unleavened bread that wasn’t all that bad. Observed the associated Sabbaths, of course.

Firstfruits 2020 — By this time, hubby was still doing a lot of research and writing a book about the festivals and Biblical prophecies. I was doing some research on subjects mostly unrelated to what he was reading.

Weeks/Pentecost 2020 — We observed the Sabbath, of course. I don’t remember much beyond that. It has been kind of a blur where the days are blending into one another. What year is this again?

Trumpets 2020 — Hubby’s improving on the trumpet. He blasted it well at the start of the associated Sabbath, just like he has been on Friday evenings at sundown. I do wonder what our neighbors think. (chuckle) Maybe they think we’re Jewish. Maybe they think we’re looney. In all seriousness, by this time, I was starting to really dig these festivals. Remembering Him like this had started to become special times for me, and we had started calling it “God’s calendar” instead of the “Jewish calendar.”

Day of Atonement 2020 — I remember it this year. We observed it as a Sabbath, and we fasted.

Well, not long after, I was miserable with kidney stones. As I laid there on the bathroom tile, staring up through the skylight, I remembered that I should always be thankful in all circumstances.

So, I thanked God for the blue sky that turns into beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I thanked Him for trees, since I could see the tip of a tree that towers over the house. I thanked Him that a tree hadn’t yet fallen on the house. I thanked Him for a roof over our heads, food and clean water, friends who have become family, family members that are friends, etc.

WARNING: Doing some research after the troublesome time had passed (grin), I learned that if you are prone to getting kidney stones ((reluctantly raises hand)), you shouldn’t fast from food, even if you do drink a lot of water. Hmmmm.  I’m told there are all sorts of ways to fast rather than quitting all food cold turkey (heh!), so I decided I’d need to do some research on how I could still fast correctly without tormenting my body quite as much as I had this year. (grin)

Tabernacles 2020 — “Yay!” I thought, “We get to sleep outside and gawk at the stars!” We put out mattresses under us this year. That was smart. Last year, we’d learned that hip bones, knees, elbows, etc. all dig through the sleeping bag, a couple layers of blankets, and into the wooden deck quite noticeably by morning!

This was almost the last festival of the year, so I really wanted to “make it count.” I wanted to observe the Sabbath. I wanted the shofar to be blown. I wanted to sleep outside every night. I was so excited to be under the stars again and do some praying that I didn’t sleep much that first night. I learned some things. The next night, I slept more, but I still learned some things.

One of those things I learned was that the booths were temporary and made flimsy enough to be able to see the night sky. I wondered why. But, then, I slept in the same spot on the deck every night, and I was waking up at the same wee hour just as the moon appeared in my line-of-sight over the roofline. Observing it from night-to-night in relation to the roofline, I was amazed at how much change there was to the moon’s trajectory, appearance, and timing over the course of only a few days.

“God’s calendar moves fairly quickly,” I thought.

As I stayed awake until the first bird chirped, I checked the time on my phone. Yup, about the same time every morning. “God’s clock is pretty nifty, too. I bet if one was out in the wilderness every night and every day like the Hebrews were, you’d really get into the rhythm of His creation. You’d be able to know the seasons, the time on the clock, when festivals are supposed to be observed…all that by just observing God’s creation and being still.”

Not long after that revelation, the forecast was moisture and cold. It was left up to me what we’d do. We both knew it was going to be physically miserable out there, much like 2019 Tabernacles was. But, I’d been blessed by His lessons so much on previous nights. I prayed and wrestled with the decision.

“Do we have to sleep outside every night of Tabernacles? If we lived in a place where it was freezing and there was snow, would we? What was the weather for the Hebrews back in the wilderness? Shivering from the damp and cold probably isn’t healthy for us, and much of the commands from God are His way of trying to keep us healthy. If we open the curtains and put the mattresses right next to the windows, we’ll still be able to see the stars and moon if it clears up. Yet, we are supposed to sleep outside. God will take care of us. That’s the point of this, right?”

So, we put the mattresses out.

In the amount of time it took to gather our pillows and sleeping bags, the mattresses got quite wet and cold. Ugh. That decided it.

We brought the mattresses in, dried them off as best we could, and got set up beside the living room windows.

Indeed, I was blessed with the sight of the moon and the planet that had been accompanying it every night so far. I couldn’t compare it to the roofline, but I’d already observed on previous nights that the planet and moon were moving away from each other. I could see that such was even more the case on this wee hour of the morning. Interesting that I’d awakened at the same time I had on nights we’d been outside.

Would I still be able to hear the first chirp? Nope. But, the choir of birds later was loud enough to penetrate the walls.

The next night was kind of misty and cool, but nothing like the previous night. It was left up to me. To me, it wasn’t a “have to” sort of thing, but I wanted to sleep outside again because, as I told hubby, “I don’t want to miss the blessing of a lesson God might have for me.” I’d still learned some things the previous night, but sleeping more directly in His Creation made me feel like I was more in His house, seeing the calendar on His wall and watching His clock. I wanted to get to have that experience some more. I wanted to get to spend more intimate time with Him, learning at His feet. And, once again, I learned some things.

Before I was really ready for Tabernacles to end, the Eighth Day arrived. We kept it as a Sabbath, but I knew life would be returning to normal. Our normal bed. Man’s calendar on the wall, telling us when to do what. Man’s clock on the wall, ticking out times for meetings and meals.

And, it was over. The festivals were behind us for another year. I was disappointed this year.

“That was such a sweet time with You,” I whispered to Him. “I wish it wasn’t over.”

I told hubby of my disappointment, too. That’s when he reminded me that I was forgetting how Leviticus 23 starts.

“Oh yeah! We still have a weekly one between the Eighth Day and Passover! Seventh-Day Sabbaths! We get to have that every week!”

The disappointment about the festivals being “done” melted away. I still get an appointment to spend quality time with God every week! What’s more, the Bible is still right here! I get to read that whenever I want…at least until it is maybe taken away someday. One thing that will never be taken away, though….I still get to talk to God anytime I want!

And, suddenly, I realized that the festivals had become something really meaningful for me. As the year had progressed, they became more and more special to me. I was more drawn to reading the Bible. I craved more time with Him. When I read about God’s people being led through the wilderness or sinning as a group, I no longer pointed and said, “He led THEM,” or “They sinned.” It became, “He led us out of Egypt,” and “We sinned against Him by turning to other gods.”

That relationship I’d had with Him when I was a kid…that intimacy I’d spent much of my adulthood trying to regain…  I grew back to that. And, maturity and experience makes me thankful and not take it for granted, bringing a promising richness I hope to grasp and treasure with all my heart, mind and soul. I enjoyed a deep, refreshing, renewed taste of Him, and I wanted more! I picked up my spiritual journal and started writing in it. I began researching about the festivals for myself.

And, as I thought about that, I finally understood what hubby was talking about when he called the festivals “God’s Plan of Salvation.” I hadn’t comprehended before what they had to do with salvation. Perhaps all the rest of the church understood this, but I really didn’t….not until now.

The festivals show the progression of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt (bondage to sin), a covenant relationship recognized at Mt. Sinai, and the entrance into the land promised to them.

The 2020 festivals represented my progression into more intimacy with Him…more stillness and listening at His feet.

I started studying the Tabernacle for myself this time, instead of relying on what others told me….others who’d studied it for far longer and far deeper than I ever had. They’d drawn out maps of it and made models. They knew this stuff, so I thought, “Why should I bother going back to read about it myself?”

But, the festivals have so much to do with the Tabernacle that I wanted to read about it myself.

And, that’s when I saw it. As I was gazing at an artist’s depiction of the tents around the Tabernacle in the wilderness, I thought about their observing the festivals.

Passover — In Egypt, they had spread the lamb’s blood on the doorposts and huddled within their dwellings. I remembered paintings of the families inside their protected homes while death visited other families. I looked at the tent dwellings in the artist’s rendition. “What was Passover like in tents in the wilderness?” I wondered.

Unleavened Bread — I thought about trying to remove every scrap of leavened bread from our house. I looked at the painting and pictured their removing every scrap from their tents.

Firstfruits — I thought about the Israelites going out to their fields to mark the plants that broke through the soil first so that they knew which ones were God’s when it came time to harvest. Yes, they went to the Temple to give offerings and sacrifices, but these are all things they were doing in their homes and their own fields, too.

Pentecost/Weeks — I looked at the lampstand depicted in the Holy Place. I thought about those who conquer having their names written on white rocks. I thought about God’s names. The Holy Spirit entered the disciples, and they were aflame with Him. The Holy Spirit is a Person; I knew that from my reading. But, why is “the” in front of “Holy Spirit” so often like that?

I whispered to God, “You, Abba, have a name….several. Jesus, You have a name….several. What is the Holy Spirit’s name so I can stop using ‘the?’”

Hey, I decided, I think I’ll just try to stop using “the.”

And, look, my focus is now in the Holy Place on the painting.

Trumpets — It’s an announcement. Of what? God’s voice is sometimes said to sound like a trumpet. An announcement that He’s coming? Why do we need to know? We need to prepare, for the Day of Atonement is coming up.

Day of Atonement — “‘Day of Forgiveness’ is what hubby’s been calling it. Hmmm. I was looking at the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. This veil was rent. Jesus’ body was torn up, and He died. But, He arose. Because of what our High Priest, Jesus, did for us we may now enter in.

I’d just read Exodus 33 and was struck by the knowledge in verse 9. “As Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and remain at the entrance, and the LORD would speak with Moses.”

I thought about how the Temple is filled with smoke on the Day of Atonement.

I thought about how only the High Priest goes into the smoke-filled Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement.

Tabernacles — In my mind, as I gazed at the painting, I pictured now being in the Most Holy Place, reverently learning at His feet, sheltered in His Home, listening to the tick of His clock on the same wall where His calendar hangs. His Home. My Home because He calls me His own.

Do I HAVE to watch for the new moon? We forgot to one month recently, and I was disappointed. Yet, I didn’t feel like I’d committed a crime. I just felt like I’d missed out on a special time with Him.

Do I HAVE to keep the 7th Day Sabbath? It is a commandment, but it’s something we get to observe every week. And, that’s special, and I can make every day between now and the next festival special because I get to be with Holy Spirit anytime anywhere.

Do I HAVE to observe the other appointed times? Is it a commandment? Reading in Leviticus, it seems pretty important to Him. Observing them isn’t one of the traditional Ten Commandments, no. But, the festivals have become special to me. I really don’t care if it is a “HAVE TO.” I’m now looking forward to Passover, and I can now understand why maybe the Jewish people inserted things like Hanukkah and other religious holidays. More times honoring God.

And, something kind of struck me about the verses like Hosea 6:6 (CEV) — “I’d rather for you to be faithful and to know me than to offer sacrifices.”

Doesn’t that sound like the cry of a parent just wanting to hear from His kid?

Parents and aunts and uncles of teens know what this is about. The teen will understand the desire for communication once they are old enough with kids of their own. Meanwhile, kids still have a lot of “HAVE TO’s” with which to contend.

Did we HAVE to do sacrifices?

Do we HAVE to keep the Ten Commandments?

Do we HAVE to observe the festivals?

Sometimes, we need to do the “HAVE TO’s” until they become “GET TO’s,” and it is then that we have entered into intimacy with Him in the Holy of Holies….in the Promised Land.

Then, on the ultimate Eighth Day, I’m thinking there will be one whale of a celebration that we are finally all home with the Bridegroom!  
 
Thank you, hubby, for researching this stuff. Thank you for quietly writing about something really important and reaching out to serve in excellent ways….in a way that transformed my 2020 and built up my spiritual life. Together, what we are doing leads to “more” in our lives, allowing us to live more abundantly. I’m ever so grateful for that fact and for Him.

“Mother’s Day” by H

I hope you all have a blessed Mother’s Day!

Friends have wondered what Mother’s Day was/is like for me.

Growing up, it wasn’t the greatest because no gift seemed “good enough” to be pleasing to her, even if I’d saved up for something grand or spent long hours creating something I thought would be just right.

In grade school art class, we had to bring a bar of soap from home so we could each carve it into a turtle for our mother. I thought mine was awesome with sparkly sequins all over it! I even decorated the soap box so he could have a pretty home to stay in! I just knew I’d done well this time.

When I presented it, along with the handmade card we’d been encouraged to make, these are the words I remember being said in disgust as she looked at the wonky turtle in her palm: “What the &*%# am I supposed to do with this?”

I don’t know if she liked the card or the box. The words I heard and the look of disgust echo forward from the past. I’d heard similar words and looks about me instead of that turtle. So, the rejection was felt.

That was how I saw it from my viewpoint as a kid.

As an adult, I would hope I’d have the love and tact to thank a child and gush over whatever gift with which they chose to honor me. Also, from this older viewpoint, I look back at mom and wonder if it somehow comes from her being a child of the Depression era and rationing during World War II.  From that perspective, could I see that her statement was a criticism about the teacher’s choice to take a practical bar of soap and turn it into an impractical “sculpture” with scratchy sequins? Truly, what was Mom supposed to do with it? That isn’t quite it, though. She’d treasured impractical gifts from others. So, there was something more involved.

Back then, it felt like I’d failed to please her. More significantly, it was that expression on her face — the set of her mouth as she looked at the turtle with distaste. It was the same look I often received from her.

Now, looking back with logic and love, I realize that her focus was “off.” Instead of recognizing the loving gesture from the giver, her focus was on the gift. She didn’t know how to see and love me. She didn’t know me, the giver. In her eyes, the gifts were inadequate in quantity and quality because that’s where she focused.

In church yesterday, the sermon was partly about biases we have as we come to God and His Word. It made me think back to the many stories from people about their parents and how they grew up. When people describe their fathers, I can often see how that relationship affects how they see our Heavenly Father. If a person’s relationship with their earthly father was/is strained, abusive, or absent , there’s work to be done to separate how those dynamics work in comparison to how a healthy “Creator and created” bond should look.

I know my phenomenal Dad’s love contributed greatly to my perspective of God. I am so blessed in that! However, did Mom’s hatred for me and self-loathing do anything to negatively affect my bond with God?

My first thought is “no.” We’ll see if that changes by the time I finish writing.

My caution of her created in me a caution of people, both male and female. Anyone has the potential to sin, to be harmful to themselves and others. I’m included in that broad sweep.

Yet, God has taught me that people can be forgiven with His forgiveness. I’ve also learned that people have the potential to love. I’m included in that broad sweep, too.

In the after-church discussions, hubby was sharing with a friend the subtlety of a Biblical truth being overlooked. Our friend was glad for it because a possible “blind spot” of his might be getting wrestled through. I also hunger to know my blind spots and have them erased, so I understood that desire.  That’s why I’m thinking about this today.

Did Mom’s hatred and self-loathing negatively affect my bond with God? When I say, “no,” am I overlooking something? Do I have a blind spot here? Perhaps.

Is my caution of people at an unhealthy level? If so, then such does affect my relationship with God.

I currently don’t think it is at an unhealthy level, for either gender. That thought may change as God leads.

The next question seems to be, “Why hasn’t that caution been cranked up to “too high?”

Many have looked at my upbringing and express shock that it isn’t somehow more visible in my actions and words. I think that is due to God’s work in my life, so I am thankful.

Perhaps it is because of that very caution of people that I seem fairly “unscathed,” for that watchfulness is also turned on myself as a potential sinner. I have seen the state of humanity, which includes me. Beyond a shadow of doubt, I know God’s help is needed in order to corral my sinful nature.

The next question is usually, “Why isn’t that inward-focused caution beating you down, though? Why didn’t your experiences harm your self-esteem? Why didn’t these enemy attacks turn you into someone with self-loathing? What causes this self-confidence and sense of worth?

God’s Word tells me I have the potential to sin. He also tells me I have the potential to love. That’s my choice. I am no different than anyone else in that regard. Mom wasn’t different in that. Neither was Dad. My Heavenly Father tells me that we are all the same in that ability to choose.  So, if I don the glasses He gives me, I can view all with some caution because of that free will; yet, that shouldn’t stop me from also choosing to forgive and love.

Is Mother’s Day still a terrible day for me? No.

How do I know that, through God, I am getting close to reaching that good balance between caution and forgiveness? Perhaps it is partly because I have chosen people I consider to be mother figures for me, and I wish them well on this day. Perhaps it is because, if she was still alive, Mom would still get a call and a card from me.

Maybe the greatest thing that has spoken to me about where I am with people (and also God) is the fact that, even though I have birthed no children of our own, there are those who say “Happy Mother’s Day” to me because they consider me to be a “bonus Mom” or think I have motherly qualities. That touches me right to the core and seems to keep me all squishy and tender inside. 🙂

Thank you, dear Giver, for these gifts You’ve given me that are all wrapped up in human flesh. Thank You for wrapping Yourself in flesh and giving me You. Happy Mother’s Day, Father!

H’s Journey, Childhood

Journey Through Religion, Part 1 (Childhood) — H

I wrote the bulk of my autobiography during my 20s. Then, as a separate paper, I wrote specifically on my encounters with religion. These posts are built significantly upon that separate paper. Then, at the end of each part/post, I will give my thoughts on what I’d written.

When I became an adult, I discovered how many had been praying for me and my immediate family. Those praying included Dad’s sisters and mother, cousins, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. Never underestimate how many quiet watchers are lovingly conversing with God about each individual. If you are an intercessor, thank you for demonstrating that love for others.

Warning on this post: For mature audiences only. Read my comments at the end for more.

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“In the beginning…”

Heh. Okay. In my beginning, God was there. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t just know God exists. My immediate family didn’t talk about God, but perhaps I noted that Grandma prayed at mealtime when we visited. Either way, God is.

As a result, I wanted to learn more about Him. So, I asked my sister, “April,” how to do that. Her teenage reply: “I don’t know. Go ask Dad.” (grin)

We were 7 years apart in age, and I was a pesky little sister. April loved me, but other things occupied her mind right then.

I went to Dad. He pointed me to a Children’s Bible Story set and a Bible he’d quietly put in the bookcase upstairs where my sister and I had our bedrooms.

In the Bible, I discovered what other people had experienced of God. Enthralled, I read it for hours, devouring the concepts and principles hungrily…eagerly. In these younger years, my reading stayed in the Old Testament because…well, books are meant to be read from the beginning, right?

Dyslexia and other challenges made me a slow reader. In spite of that, books and the library were a retreat for me. The Bible wasn’t any old book, though. There was something significantly different about it. I drank deeply from the Bible because, through it, I was recognizing God as my Protector, Comforter, Friend, and Heavenly Father. I needed Him!

Whenever my mother caught me reading any of the Bible, she was angry, sneering and mocking. Don’t hold that against her, though. She simply made several wrong choices in her life.

I believe she was seeking experiences with the God she’d learned about in church in her youth. But, I don’t think she sought Him in the Bible. Thus, she was wooed by our enemy into saying “yes” to his advances. She listened to his lies about her and about those around her. I know this because she’d say them.

Looking back, I wonder if there was something that initially caused her antagonism toward Christians. Perhaps it was only what she read, but maybe it was some event from her past, too.

My parents had a big bed with a headboard full of reading material. Mom didn’t seem to mind my browsing there. This is where I found a book about the cruelty in a convent as well as one written to give the negative “inside scoop” from a relative of Mormon leader, Joseph Smith. Also, this was where she kept her stacks of well-worn FATE magazines.

I had watched Mom pore over each FATE issue she received, so I was curious what she found there. They were filled with paranormal stories, most being creative and interesting. That also drew me in to read more, so I understood…until I got to one disturbing story about a couple where the husband was killed in a horrific accident, the wife took his head home, and it came alive to talk to her.

Distraught and horrified with the imagery described, I’d gone to her about it, asking if she believed it to be a true story.

Being a night nurse’s aide in a small hospital, she was stationed in E.R. a lot. She answered my question by telling me a graphically-detailed story about the remains of a man who’d committed suicide by lying in the middle of the highway and getting struck by a truck.

I was confused about the relevance, and her story only served to disturb me further. My internal knowledge of right and wrong told me, then, that a healthy, loving adult would not have told this story to her young child. How long had her mind and heart been this way?

A family story my father and brother told was that they had to pull Mom off of my oldest sister when she had been a teen. Mom had tackled her, was sitting on her, and was trying to choke her. So, something hadn’t been quite right for a very long time.

Voodoo and the occult enticed Mom further toward darkness. She purchased a Ouija board, a preserved rabbit’s foot “good luck” keychain, and a crystal ball, firmly believing in their “powers.” I knew this because she talked about them in that way. She also wasn’t debunking the superstitious and paranormal concepts in TV shows I watched like Bewitched and The Addams Family.

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An excerpt from my autobiography:

Dad, I don’t feel good.”

He reached to feel my forehead.  “You do feel a little warm.  How don’t you feel good?”

“Sick to my stomach.”

“Why don’t you go rest on the couch.  I’ll be in soon.”

“Can you stay home today?”

“I’d like to, but I can’t.  Your mom will be here.”

Inwardly, my heart fell, but I tried not to let it show.  I mumbled, “I know.”

Settling on the couch, I mentally began preparing for the day. I smiled weakly when he walked to my side. He settled a warm blanket over me and nestled a bucket on the floor nearby.

“I’m sorry you’re sick so much, honey.”

“You didn’t do it,” I said, aloud.

***

Inside, my thoughts added to that statement, silently whirling around but remaining unspoken: “You didn’t do it, but maybe Mom did with the voodoo doll. If I don’t believe in it, it won’t make me sick. Don’t believe, and you won’t be sick. Don’t believe, and you won’t…”

A previous afternoon, as I was staying home (sick again), I’d watched a sitcom where one of the characters had a voodoo doll. Mom must have been watching, too.

Some days later, she beckoned me to come to the upright piano. It was wisest to do as I was told, so I went to her. She got an item from the top of the piano and held it in her closed hand near my face so I could get a good view. Stiff hair was sticking out here and there between her fingers.

When she opened her hand, I saw that it was a homemade cloth doll with long hair, just like mine. Looking closely, I realized she must have saved some from my last haircut. The eyes and mouth were crudely sewn patches of black thread.

At that moment, I had forgotten about the sitcom, so I didn’t know what to make of the doll. I looked up into Mom’s face and wondered what I was supposed to do with it. She was smiling, so was I supposed to treat it like a gift and take it from her hand? But, was this her trustworthy smile? It didn’t quite look like it. Even if it wasn’t, am I to quickly say, “thank you,” so I don’t get into trouble?

I was deciding I’d best wait for her to say something when she brought my attention to her other hand. She had several stick pins on her open palm.

“Do you know what this is?” she said, slightly raising the hand with the doll. “This is you. If you’re not good and do what I tell you to do, I’m going to use these pins in the doll. You know how it works.”

With that, she put the doll on top of the piano where I could just barely see a part of it over the edge. But, I was not tall enough to reach it, perhaps not even if I did have the strength to move the piano bench and use it for help.

Then, showing her teeth in the untrustworthy grin that had been starting to form earlier, she looked down at me, nodded contentment with herself, scowled, and walked into the kitchen.

I stared up at what I could see of the doll and shuddered. I thought of the crystal ball she kept on her bureau and wondered if she’d used it to find out I had stuck my tongue out at her behind her back the day before.

My eyes fell on her “women’s magazines” stacked on the nearby bookshelf. She kept her Fate magazines in their bedroom. These were the good ones. Perhaps she knew I’d looked at one of her Good Housekeeping magazines in the stack, even though I’d been very careful to study and memorize the arrangement before touching them. I’d tried hard to put them back in exactly the same order and the angles of the edges exactly the way they had been in relation to each other.

She stepped back into the room and pointed to the very same magazines on the bookshelf.

As if she had been reading my mind, she snapped, “And, don’t be touching these again.”

It was amazing how she could do that.

She went back into the kitchen, and I just stood there, thinking about her crystal ball.

“No, she can’t see anything,” I assured myself. “It’s just a hunk of glass.”

I started pondering my techniques. I must have been a few fractions of an inch off in aligning the magazines back the way they were. That’s all.

I prayed, “Why is she always so mad at me? I’m trying to be a good girl.”

***

Sitting beside me on the sofa, Dad chuckled. “I know I didn’t make you sick, honey. I just wish you felt good. I’ll see you tonight.”

He kissed me on the forehead, picked up his briefcase, and left with a wave back at me.

I wanted to scream after him, “Dad, please don’t leave!”

But, no, it was best not to say anything.

Inside, I tried to counsel and steel myself for the day: “She’s going to say and think whatever she wants, so just ignore her. Be quiet and try to feel good. I don’t want to go to school, but it’s better than this. But, if I throw up there, they’ll call Mom to come get me, which will make her madder. So, just lay back and try not to be sick anymore.”

I settled into the couch, steadily feeling sicker, I decided I would be as quiet and unobtrusive as I could all day. If I was barely there, surely she would not find something to get mad about.

Shortly, Mom entered and looked out the front window toward the car.

“Yes, Mom,” I muttered in my head, “the coast is clear to start in now.”

She must have deemed that to be true, for she wheeled around to glare at me.

That look was on her face again. It was a familiar look by now, but no less heart stopping with each repetition. This was going to be a long day.

“Sick yet again. I swear you just live to make me wait on you hand and foot.”

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll take care of myself.” I tried to sound as innocent and reassuring as I could. “I won’t be any trouble to you.”

Scowling, she went into the dining room out of sight.

The nausea was really starting to overwhelm me, but I dedicated every brain cell toward thinking about other things – anything but the increasing need to throw up.

I stared at the overhead light and counted dead bugs. I pretended I was an elf, mountain climbing on the drapes as they swished back and forth…back and forth. Oh no!

Thankfully, I hit the bucket. I was still having painful, dry heaves when I opened my eyes to see Mom’s foot beside the bucket.

Her voice pelted me from above. “You aren’t really sick. You just fake it so you can have someone wait on you hand and foot. You don’t care about me or what this does to me. All you think of is yourself.”

Staring at her shoe, I was still overwhelmed with nausea. I felt like throwing up on her foot, but had nothing left. Besides, it would only serve to make matters worse. I had visions of her dumping the bucket over my head in fury.

She snatched up the bucket and fled to the back recesses of the house.

My mind drifted again as I rested my head back on the pillow.

“I don’t think the doll is on the piano anymore. I bet Dad asked about it, and she couldn’t explain it. I bet she still has it, though. Just hidden away somewhere. Probably in the same place as the crystal ball.”

The crystal ball was no longer on their bureau, but I suspected it was in a drawer. I hadn’t seen the Ouija board since I’d refused to “play it” with her. I doubted she got rid of it as I had pleaded with her to do. I figured she’d stuffed it away in her closet.

Now, resting here, no matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I slept. Perhaps she would kill me in my sleep, as I suspected she would do someday. Today, maybe it really didn’t matter.

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There were such threats, toward both Dad and I. All this is an incredibly long and complex story all by itself, so I’ll move on.

The important thing to get from this and keep in the back of your mind is that I was right in the midst of a violent spiritual war. And, God, through His Word, was walking me right through that battle zone every day.

It wasn’t all bad. Dad tried hard to make up for all the heartache and scariness. At one point, when Mom was at work, Dad showed me his old antique Bible. What a special treat for me to glance through it! He had gotten it from his parents just before he went to World War II.  Nestled on my lap, its weight and the gold-trimmed edges of its thin pages contributed to the image in my mind of its being an old treasure passed down from wiser generations. Before he put it away, he told me it would someday be mine. Wow! What a promise!

During these years of reading, my favorite story was that of Elijah. What fascinated me most about his story was the idea that he had developed such a wonderful companionship with God. In fact, one day when he and God were walking along, Elijah was so enveloped in the interaction that he didn’t even notice when he’d walked right on into Heaven with God. That is the impression I’d gotten, perhaps from the Bible Story series. Anyway, I wanted that kind of companionship with God, a friendship that intense.

I wanted to remember to be in continual communication with God like Elijah seemed to be. So, I wrote on tiny pieces of paper and taped them in strategic locations all around my bedroom. To be a little bit cryptic so as not to get in trouble with Mom, I simply said, “Elijah” and “Remember Elijah.”

Dad, being observant, asked me about them one time, “What’s this?”

Knowing I could trust Dad, I said with enthusiasm: “Every day, I want to think of Elijah and how he was a friend of God’s. I want to be, too.”

Dad smiled. I don’t remember what he said right then, but I imagine it was something encouraging.  He was like that. I do remember a time when he put his hand on my shoulder, got teary-eyed, and said, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Perhaps this was that time.

Dad was the best moral example for me as I was growing up. He did not preach the Bible; he lived it – every day. I have never faulted him for our family’s lack of church attendance. I once asked him why he didn’t attend church. He explained that he’d grown up going to a congregation with strict rules, and his family attended several times a week. In his words, he had “burned out” on church. But, he added, “I want you to feel free to go to church whenever you like, though. Just ask, and I will take you.”

I was around nine years old when a neighbor asked if I’d like to go to church with her. That Sunday, for the first time in my life, I entered a church building.

“Kevin,” my fellow mud-pie maker from next door, and his family were there! In fact, I knew and liked many of the people at this church. Here, I could visit with others about God and do so to my heart’s content. No one would belittle or sneer at me here for reading the Bible. No one here would tell me to shut up, if I talked about my Best Friend. And, because Mom wasn’t there, I thought I’d finally found a haven in which to relax and lower my guard a little.

To top it all off, only the nice kids from school were attending this church, so I wasn’t going to get bullied. I was ecstatic about the idea of attending every week.

There were three or four rooms just off the sanctuary. Kids my age were taken to one Sunday school classroom while I was guided to a different room for kids a few grades younger than me. I admit I was disappointed with that and sat close to the door so I could listen to the adult studies taking place in the sanctuary. However, my teacher came over, closed the door, and encouraged me to pay attention to my “own lessons.”

It disappointed me that the kids were separated from the adult session. I knew what the adults were talking about. I’d read the Bible, and what I was learning from listening in on the adults had real-life application for me at home. I wanted more than Noah’s Ark stories. I needed more than that.

The strangest part for me, though, was when I discovered I was not allowed to take communion. I’d read about this. I knew what the ceremony meant. I was bewildered when my neighbor passed the trays around me and to the adult on my other side. I felt like I was being told I wasn’t good enough to take part.

My neighbor operated a daycare in her home, so that’s probably why she picked up on my curious yet hurt expression. She apologized and explained that I couldn’t participate yet because I needed “to learn the meanings to it all and get baptized first.”  What’s more, she added that I couldn’t go to Heaven until I was baptized!

Wait…huh? What in the world was THAT supposed to mean?! I’d have to tell God about this one! Because of experiences at home, I was petrified of water. Not only did I need to overcome that fear to partake of communion, I also had to do it to be with God someday?

I didn’t go to church again for a while. Kevin and I still played together, though. After this first visit to a church, I was very curious and pelted him with questions as we were creating chocolate milk (dirt and water) and carrot cake (grass cuttings and mud, “baked” in the sun).

I’d seen drawings of church buildings in Ideal magazines, and I had noticed some things missing from his. I asked him why there wasn’t a piano in his church.

He said that it was “against his religion.”

“Why?”  I asked.  I couldn’t fathom why a piano would be wrong.

He just shrugged and added that the only music allowed in church was singing. He added, “We aren’t allowed to dance either.”

“You mean in church?”

“Anywhere. It’s against our religion to dance.”

This was the shock for me. I often twirled and leapt around our grassy yard.  Sometimes, I was trying to learn how to fly (without cardboard wings, at this point). Mostly, though, I pretended I was a ballerina like the one that twirled in Mom’s music jewelry box when she opened it. These moments were filled with joy and the kind of inner laughter that comes naturally between children and their Creator, so this prohibition confused me.

I said, “But I read in the Bible where good people were dancing for God. That was wrong?”

“I don’t know. We just aren’t supposed to do it,” he said, handing me a mud chocolate cake (colored black with decayed toadstools).

My experiences at the church and this talk with Kevin sure got me to thinking.

Day after day, I continued to read the Bible and the Children’s Bible Story series.  Now, I was searching intently for answers. What is allowed? What is wrong? What is God REALLY like?

Was God this exacting? Maybe I had to look for the best ways to show Him that He’s loved. In my eyes, we all needed to concentrate on keeping Him from getting lonely, since He’d created us in order to keep Him company. If it was wrong to dance and play instruments, what other ways could we show Him we liked having Him around? Maybe I hadn’t understood something.

With these questions in mind, I combed through what I’d read so far in the Bible. I came upon the story of Abraham and Isaac.

You mean, if God is to understand how much I love Him, I have to sacrifice something I love? Just then, I looked down at my cat, trustingly rubbing against my leg and looking back with slowly squinting eyes. He wanted me to reach down and pet him, as usual.

“I love him,” I prayed. “I would do it, I guess…for You. But, he wouldn’t understand. I don’t even understand. This is what You want?”

As I snuggled my feline best buddy, I thought, “If he somehow knew what I was wrestling with, would he be stretched out here so trustingly?” I agonized over this story for a day or two and decided God would have to come booming in to tell me to do it, and I’d have to have no doubts whatsoever that it was Him and knew for sure it was exactly what He wanted. I’m so glad my walk with Him had matured to this point.

Meanwhile, I again found the passage I’d thought about when hearing Kevin describe dancing and instrumental music as being “off limits.” I carefully read again about David singing, dancing, and playing instruments. I puzzled over it for a few days.

Then, I simply accepted a truth that made sense to me.

I figured everyone read the Bible from start to finish like I did. So, the people at church just must not have gotten to the part about David dancing and playing instruments yet. They were adults, but perhaps they read even more slowly than I did.

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My thoughts, upon looking back now:

  • I find it interesting that the things I experienced around me in my home and saw on TV were scarier for me than stories I read in the Old Testament — those very things that the churches avoid in classes for kids and, sometimes, even in church services.
  • There are only a few times I remember going to Dad with questions about what I read in the Bible. When he didn’t understand it either, he said so. When he thought he did, he made sure I knew it was just his opinion about the meaning.
  • I think Holy Spirit did a fantastic job working with me on what I read in the Bible. From my viewpoint, my God could do anything. If eyes were gouged out or even if people were killed, He could heal them or bring them back to life, if He wanted. He rescued the three from the fiery furnace, after all. He miraculously replenished the oil and flour for the widow and her son. He brought kids back to life. All that was no big deal for Him.
  • To some, Bible stories straight from the Bible are too graphic or scary for kids. However, to me, the Bible didn’t go into gory detail like the stories from FATE or like Mom when she would try to tell me what she witnessed in the emergency room. In modern times, have you sat beside a video gamer and watched the screen as they play some of the violent games? Not much is left to the kid’s imagination. The Bible is tame.
  • Dad had simply pointed me to the Bible and the Children’s Bible story series for reading about God. I had access to both. When one looks at the Bible from an adult’s viewpoint, the mature imagination is filled with images and thoughts from all of their experiences and from movies and shows. Even if a kid has some of that imagery and experience, I think Holy Spirit can be trusted to reach that kid as a unique individual, explaining the Bible understandably and in an appropriate way.
  • I look back on the story of David and remember thinking in pretty simple terms of David liking someone he shouldn’t because she was already married, then making sure her husband died so he could marry her. That was more than one commandment broken in the same story. That explained it as much as I needed to know.
  • Revisiting the story of Abraham and Isaac, maybe you noticed that I didn’t obsess over the idea that a father was going to stab his son with a knife. I’d read in the Bible about the animal sacrifices, yet I fled the scene whenever Dad was about to stun the fish we’d caught and fillet them. Isaac was a beloved and promised son – a human with more value than a fish! Why was I not freaked out? It said Isaac was bound, but my imagination didn’t go to a dramatic scene of Isaac struggling against Abraham. In fact, in my imagination, it looked to me like Isaac was agreeing to it in trust of not only his earthly father but also His Heavenly One. Maybe the son would be brought back? I didn’t know. I just kept reading in trust of God for whatever was going to happen next. And, it worked out. No surprise. Then, see how God worked with me on what it meant in my little world of a cat I adored and how I didn’t turn into a killer.
  • Baptism was a scary concept for me because it involved water. I didn’t get that fear from the Noah’s ark story. I was already fearful because of my own experiences.
  • I didn’t think in terms of “denomination” back then. I figured all the Bible-reading churches held beliefs found in the Bible…well, for at least as far as they’d gotten in their reading at the time. (chuckle) If something they believed didn’t “jive” with the Bible, I figured they just hadn’t gotten to that relevant area in their reading yet.
  • I remember thinking, when I read Mom’s short books about the abusive nuns and some of the stories about Joseph Smith, that these folks just hadn’t read the Bible. It really was that simple to me. Mom was the way she was because she didn’t read the Bible, which was obvious to me from her behavior but also because she didn’t like it when I read it.
  • The Bible, especially my favorite part (Psalms), was filled with writing about struggles similar to what I was going through. What a great comfort to know I wasn’t alone! Other people had gone through bad stuff, and God was right there with them the whole time! He comforted me with His Presence, too. In other words, I learned early that: 1) Everyone goes through bad stuff; 2) God is here as a comfort and never leaves, no matter what happens; 3) God steps in and helps when and how He sees fit. This knowledge was sufficient for me.
  • My autobiography is filled with personal stories like the one included here. The voodoo doll story scratches the surface of what went on in the life of this little girl. I am still in awe and ever thankful for what God brought me through and how. He is amazing!

Preamble to “Journey with H”

Father, in the name of Jesus, if Your discernment, love, and wisdom are to be found in the words on this blog, may they be found by the reader (and writers) and kept tight in our minds and hearts. May all other words and concepts fall to the wayside and not find soil in which to grow. I take it as Your truth that we all fall short of Your glory and Your perspective of perfection. Please help us to rely upon You and Your will in not only what we all share with others but what we bring into our belief system from others. Thank You for guarding our ears, our minds, our souls, and our hearts, preserving them for You. Help us to have ears to hear and eyes to see what You are saying to Your Church.


With the global pandemic and unrest of the last year or two, some are feeling like the end times are nearer and nearer. In that position, there seems to be a lot of focus on the potential things the enemy is doing to lead the elect astray.

It is a good thing to be watchful and alert. Jesus, Himself, addressed this: “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came up to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you! For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will deceive many.'” (Matthew 24:3-5 LEB)

So, there are understandable concerns. Am I going to be one of the elect that caves? Am I going to make a wrong move? Is the enemy going to pull a fast one, and I lose my footing without even realizing I was off the path?!

How do we find the narrow gate talked about in Matthew 7? How do we remain level-headed and not filled with fear? How do we have faith like Daniel in the lions’ den, hope like Moses in the wilderness, and a heart like David’s as he faced Goliath? How do we gain that confidence?

Keep our focus on our God. Prayerfully read the Bible. A lot. When we go about our day with His Word (instructions and love notes) streaming through our minds in relation to occurrences around us, I think this happens:  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28, KJV)

I think our mutual enemy likes to see fear, confusion, and chaos. I do think he wants us to focus on him in the spotlight while he works subtly and quietly in a more vulnerable location. He dances before our eyes while he works around to a spot where he can stab us. We can get distracted by a big uproar in the news over there while he is sneaking his way into the churches.

So, yes, we can get deceived, as Eve was. Sometimes, we are not deceived but we still make a choice that is pleasing to our fellow rather than to God, as Adam did. Same fruit. Both sin. Same promise from God for both. Same promise for each of us.

1 John 1:5-10 — “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (RSV)

Go on into the next chapter — “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His Word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” (1 John 2:1-6 RSV)

* * *

When I went off to college, I was new to extensive interaction with churchgoers. Thankfully, I met some fabulous people. But, then I came across those who used the Bible as a weapon against me and others.

It was a mess, and I ran. In that flight, I gave up on the Bible and who I thought were Christians.

And, I tried to run from God….heh…you know…the One talked about in Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV): “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.”

Now, I’m back to clinging to Him. I don’t want to run or to stray again, so I’m staying in His Word and relying on Him to hold me.

Indeed, there is chaos in this world. It can get tiresome, I know. It can get confusing about what is true and what is not. It is easy to throw up one’s hands and go, “I give up on humanity. They’re all a bunch of loonies and meanies!” (chuckle)

When I feel like that, there’s a snippet of Scripture I remember that brings the whole context to mind and what I learned from it. That lesson is what reels me back in. “…let us not grow weary of doing good.” (Galatians 6) It gently says to me, “Don’t give up on humanity.”

That promise from 1 John 1:9 is great for me. It’s also great for that person who is, at the moment, behaving as the enemy. They can be forgiven, as I was. They, too, can be cleansed of all unrighteousness. God is faithful and just. I am so thankful for those who did not grow weary of being instruments of God to guide me back to Him.

I’m saying these things about people because, when I wrote most of my autobiography, it was not long after the events occurred. The upcoming posts from me about my journey through religion are extracted from that autobiography, mostly written during my 20s and early 30s.

So, although you, as the reader, are not getting the “full flavor” that would come from details, you will likely hear some of the hurt and snarky perspective from the “freshness” of the feelings that arose from the experiences described.

However, 20+ years later, the bitterness has faded into forgiveness. The hurt has been transformed into prayerful understanding. As I read through these writings now, I can look back and realize I have the real potential to behave just as hurtfully toward others. I often need a note floating in front of my eyeballs that says, “Be gentle and loving. Chill!”

That said, there’s a reason I’m sharing here.  As I run the course, I am not to be mute about the hazards and traps! I’m to be helpful to my fellow runners. Brief video on this: https://youtu.be/2Pmhs6aVezo

I don’t know whether you caught my earlier allusion to being fairly isolated from the body of Christ up until my college years. There were some lessons I learned after longer exposure. (grin) I think the most useful lesson for me was the first one on this list:

    • People are just people, whether they go to church or not. Most have the same motivation. Most just want to be respected and loved. We just have different ways of trying to gain that love and respect.
    • Because of this motivation, we all have moments of thinking the world revolves around us.
    • Regardless of our beliefs, people can be a poor representation of who God is. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    • Not all who say they are Christians are fully trustworthy.
    • Not all who are leery of churches are untrustworthy.
    • We are made in His image; not the other way around. To me, this is one of the many reasons why we are to make Him #1 in our lives.
    • We all seem to go through distinct places in our Christian journey, and we aren’t all in the same place at the same time.

In a Christian’s walk, there are deserts. There are oases. There are quagmires. There are high points above the tar pits. There are places where you stand and wait, a place where He will take care of the fight and reveal Himself as the LORD, as in Exodus 14.

It SEEMS to me like I’m in a better location than I was because I’ve been studying the map so much more than I had. Yet, pride goes before the fall, right? I need to lean heavily on the One who created the map. Otherwise, in thinking “I’ve got this” and running out ahead of Him, I could easily land myself in the very next tar pit. I know this because I’ve done it. No matter how hard I try on my own, that’s where I can end up.

Again, I must remind myself to be drenched in His Word and have an ongoing communication stream with Him.

I strayed from Him. Yet, God is good. Our ever faithful Shepherd will listen to the cries of His sheep. I can be there, up to my armpits in muck or even floundering in deep waters, but He is able to rescue. He’s made promises about this.

Psalm 40:1-2 (RSV) — “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Psalm 18:16 (RSV) — “He reached from on high, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.”

The whole of Psalm 40 is good. All of Psalm 18 is worth reading, too, for it shows the quick and mighty delivery method He can enact for us. Boom! Smoke is rolling from His nostrils, and He means business, people! He’s saying, “Step aside! That’s My Child!” Whoa! You can see in Psalm 18 that, unmistakably, the Rescuing Steam Engine is a’comin’!

Both psalms were favorites as a kid, and I leaned on the promises there a lot. I saw Him work just like He promised He would. I still do, when I’m actually stopping long enough to watch (eye roll at myself), which I’m trying to do.

In upcoming posts, I am going to write about my journey in “religion.” Sometimes, it was a walk with Him. Sometimes, I strayed. Looking back, I know He was always near and listening for my cry.

Psalm 23 was a source of comfort in my childhood. So, now, as I ponder the act of sharing with you about my road, I think of Psalm 23:4 (RSV) — “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

One last thing I want us all to keep in mind:
We sheep are not dumb. I honestly don’t think that’s why we are called “sheep.” I think it is because we are small and defenseless on our own. We need the Shepherd. I personally am comforted to know that He can prod me back into His fold with His staff. I personally am comforted to know that He can roar in and combat the predators away with His rod.

When I willfully and/or pridefully go astray, thinking I can handle life on my own, that’s when I get into trouble. This sheep is an adult with free will, but I need Him in order to live in this world. I am not wise and discerning on my own, nor am I gentle and loving on my own. May it be that I turn to Him for both.

Matthew 10:16 (ESV) — “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

** On a side note, I tend to quote my favorites in RSV because that’s the Bible version I had access to when I was little. Its cadence and melody is what resonates for me, giving me the “down home with God” comfort I experienced in Him.

Just a Nickname?

Just a Nickname? — H

When I was a kid, having a curiosity about everything, I read nearly every nonfiction and biography book in the children’s section of the public library. When the librarian noticed I was checking out the same ones over again, she suggested some children’s fiction books I might like. Quickly exhausting the Walt Morey, Jean Craighead George, and Little Pear books, she said something absolutely beautiful to me.

“You do know you can go over to the adult section, right?”

I remember my eyes widening with wonder as I looked toward the adult stacks that filled two-thirds of the small, one-floor library!

Looking back to her, I asked, “I’m allowed to?”

She smiled and nodded. “Come on.”

I followed close at her heels as she pointed out a whole shelf of nonfiction nature books beside true-life animal stories. She seemed to be having fun taking me on the tour of what subjects to find where, emphasizing those she knew I was particularly fond of over in the children’s section. Then, I was released to the wilds of this new wonderland of reading adventures!

There, in the adult section, I found a couple books on yoga.

One of my favorites in the children’s section was a book of yoga stretches for kids. Glancing through these, though, I was turned off. There was a lot of talk about meditation and “centering.” Huh?

This was boring to me, and it wasn’t in the book for kids. So, I tried the next yoga book. It showed photos of a bearded, loin-clothed fellow stuffing a long, wet rag up his nose and it coming out his mouth. Gross!

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “Adult yoga isn’t for me.”

Just to my left there was a huge bookcase filled with Christian books as well as tomes describing the beliefs of other religions. I spent quite a bit of time over the next several years reading through many of these.

Back to yoga. I never “advanced” beyond the stretches, making them a regular part of my home fitness program. However, glancing through the weirdness and yucky ideas in the adult books spared me of other yoga practices.

When I got to college courses on grade school education, we were learning how to teach each subject. For the physical education portion, we each had to teach our fellow students a physical game or practice. I chose yoga. I told them I’d gotten the stretches from the world of yoga. I explained yoga’s origins. I described that, because I was a Christian, I wasn’t planning on teaching any of the accompanying meditation or spiritual beliefs that can go along with yoga. They seemed fine with that.

A year or so later, I asked a friend if I could “come do yoga” in her larger, more private living room.

She forcefully said, “no.”

I accepted that and did not try to persuade her to change her answer.

However, I had immediately felt unfairly condemned, so I wanted to talk to her about my thoughts on it. Knowing she was a Christian, I explained that all I did (and had ever done) were the stretches.

She angrily said, “I don’t care. I’m not having my kids exposed to it.”

“That’s fair. I don’t blame you. Again, just keep in mind that all I do are the stretches.”

I applaud her protection of her kids. Plus, even if we were best friends, she definitely had a right to say what went on in her home. At the time, though, this knee-jerk reaction and quick anger confused me. She’d been in sports in high school, and I’d watched some of her practices as well as football practices. A large number of their stretches were from yoga. So, what was the difference? Did she know she’d been doing yoga all along?

I realized, then, the problem. I’d called it, “yoga.” Had I called them “stretches,” it might have been fine.

As I thought about it, I got why she’d reacted. By this time, though, I was seeing the good in it. I was teaching the stretches to the elderly, chronically ill, and wheelchair-bound. In my experience, the slow, gentle movement and balancing poses were helping them tremendously, especially my fellow MSers (people with MS). I still wasn’t teaching beliefs held by other yoga teachers, and I’d explain it was because I was a Christian.

This is when it happened. As a term of endearment, my nickname from people became “Yogi.”

From then on, whenever fellow Christians heard or saw my nickname, they’d inevitably talk about the food-loving cartoon. Knowing the potential flip from a happy remembrance of a campground bear to angry revulsion over “yoga,” I simply affirmed I do like picnics and changed the subject. In other words, I just let them think of me as that cute cartoon!

At this point, it was already a long-standing part of my email address. [It still is, though I’m trying to get everyone moved over to one of my other ones. Why? I don’t want the nickname or my email address to lead others down a harmful path, thinking Christianity can flow righteously with Hindu or New Age beliefs.]

My full “religious journey” is a long write-up. For now, I’ll just cut to the chase and say that I eventually ran from an abusive man who claimed to be a Christian, ended up running from God in the process, and truly did get involved in New Age and shamanism.

Eventually, I started making steps back toward Jesus and the Bible I had read so avidly as a kid. What I hadn’t expected was that the Bible and New Age beliefs could be mixed so well that I could be deceived into thinking I was still serving God. One can sincerely want to follow Jesus while still being led, via superficial reading of His Word, toward all kinds of troublesome theology and extrabiblical philosophies.

Nowadays, my husband talks about Satan claiming to be Jesus someday. Is it already happening? These extrabiblical principles are subtly infiltrating the Church. It angers me that Satan is gaining this foothold! It angers me that I fell for it. I hope that, by looking at my story in this and upcoming posts, you will be inspired to take heed and be watchful.

Ephesians 6:10-20 (LEB): “Finally, become strong in the Lord and in the might of his strength. Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil, because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Because of this, take up the full armor of God, in order that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.  Stand therefore, girding your waist with truth, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and binding shoes under your feet with the preparation of the good news of peace, in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you are able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one, and receive the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and for me, that a word may be given to me at the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for the sake of which I am an ambassador in chains, that in them I may speak freely, as it is necessary for me to speak.”