Take My Hand


Peaks and Valleys

Blinding radiance
brings an arm to shield her sight.
Looking into the
faces crushing about
reveals they see nothing.

Pulsations travel through the soil
moving her being.
A tingling sensation progresses from
her feet, to her knees, to her center.

Blood is afire as it surges through
her veins making the roar
audible to her alone.

Lungs freeze in expansion.
The heart stills as the
energy continues
its upward journey.
There is no pain.
There is no fear.
There is only being.

The eyes once stung by
the radiance now adjust as
the energy fills them
from within.

Her eyes see…everything.
The throngs continue in
their pursuits.
They are shrouded in
darkness, yet appear happy.
Nothing has changed for them.
They are happy.

Exhaling, she realizes she had
been holding her breath.
Form after form becomes
tangible in the light.
The colors are brilliant and
hold a depth she…

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BATTLE WORN


Peaks and Valleys

Acrid, dense smoke pierced

eyes swollen from exhaustion.

Each breath burned like fire and

took twice as much effort to push

in and out of the body.

Another battle won, yet

victory is not

as sweet as when younger

lips enjoyed it.

Still victory was had.

Looking to the left…darkness

to the right…darkness

Everywhere…darkness.

How can we take it?

The Dark One does not rest.

He revels in our weakness

using it to pull us away

from our Savior.

The battles weaken us and

He moves in to tempt

showing us the easy path

to take.

Clever to be sure,

 his generosity

is abundant.

Humans cannot resist

for they are weak in their

own strength.

Truths spin through her

mind trying to find root.

Exhaustion and pain make it

difficult for them to find purchase.

“Not more than you can handle…”

“Will not be tempted…”

“Plans to prosper you…”

What…

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A War Won


Peaks and Valleys

by
Tina Blackledge
7-14-2014

Is it the 4th or 5th day now?
I suppose it matters not. It will end
when it ends and not a moment beforehand.

Why do you stay?
I am feverish, achy, exhausted.
My resolve wanes as the days drag
onward. This flare has to end
sometime. It is a minor one to be certain
but I am becoming woefully weary.

Why do you stay?

This body is broken, has been
for a very long time. There is no
quick fix or special remedy
money can buy. No
hope exists for a “happily ever-after.”

Why do you stay?

If I could, I would run far, far
away. Battle weary, hard
won victories leaving
behind severe scars. Another
thing to deal with, another pill
to take making that much
deeper the stake.

I must stay.

In bed we lay. Tonight,
it is I who is in need…

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Strength within Loss


Peaks and Valleys

Predawn air saturated
with tiny water droplets
hang about my frame.

Cool moisture dances upon
my skin sending a chill
throughout my body.

The moon sets as the
sun awakens providing
an ethereal pale silver and
yellow glow all about me.

Inhaling deeply, I taste the
moisture upon my tongue and
I know this is part of you.

I close my eyes allowing the
sounds of the new day to awaken
my soul. Song birds signal to
all of creation; begin the
intricate dance.

I smile, hearing your words
whisper to my soul.
“Ohh, my dear how beautiful
this is, how magnificent!”

Your strong, loving arms encircle
my waist as you deliver tender
kisses to my neck and shoulder.
Our fingers interlace and I
feel your lifeblood coursing
through the steady thrum
of your pulse.

The serenade of birds
is joined by
the life sounds of
the woodland creatures.

The…

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Soul Mates


I beg your tolerance as a re-blog a few older posts for a dear friend of mine who is struggling greatly with his own brokenness and feelings of worthlessness. I am hoping my words will allow him to see that the love he has been blessed with will far outweigh the pain and hardship with which Satan is attacking.

Peaks and Valleys

Soul Mates
By
Tina Blackledge
5-9-2014

His body glistens as

he lies beside me.

The gentle touch of his

hand tracing my frame

soothes away the fear,

soothes away the pain.

I look deeply into his eyes

and find myself reflected

in his heart of hearts.

The pulse of life courses

under hand as I rest

mine upon his neck.

He whispers ever so gently

words I cannot comprehend.

“You are so beautiful,

I love you so deeply

my heart aches.”

My eyes well

with hope and fear.

How could anyone ever love me?

I am nothing,

I am broken,

I am refuse.

My body stiffens

as he draws me closer.

Softly, gently, our lips brush

then he kisses the tears from my eyes.

“Please my love,

look at me.”

I open my eyes to be drawn into his own.

Love, tender sweet love.

Tears stream freely now

he cradles…

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Walking in Faith…not for the faint of heart.


 

 

“Even if all fall away, I will Not!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “Today-yes, tonight-before the Rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And ALL the others said the same (Mark 14: 29-31 NIV).

            Jesus had warned Peter that Satan had requested to test them all (Luke 22:31-32) and told Peter to pray for strength of Faith. He even told Peter the result by telling him what to do after he turned back to Him. Jesus instructed him to ‘strengthen your brothers’ when he turned back. Peter could not fathom he would ever abandon his Savior. He strongly protested his loyalty and devotion to follow Christ to prison or even death. Peter’s epic faith failure would be infamously recorded for all time. Even if Peter was not branded with a catchy handle like, “Doubting Thomas”, it has not diminished the bumper crop of criticism his behavior has harvested throughout the ages.    Humans tend to humanize everything including our understanding of Scripture even when denied huge swaths of the storyline. Although the crucifixion of our Savior is well documented in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and through the multitude of Old Testament prophet preludes, we are still required to seek the truth.

Before I begin getting complaints that this is all Easter stuff requiring me to field questions as to why am I dragging it up at Christmas, please afford me a small back step. The Advent season is largely restricted to Christmas and the crucifixion event is relegated to Easter alone. I would argue that folks who see the two events as separate are missing the point of Christmas. The gift of Christmas is our salvation. It is not a beautiful story of  angels singing on high, shepherds being amazed, wise men visiting, or even a cute little baby being born in a humble livestock cave and being place in a feed trough. I love everything about the Christmas story but to see it as a singularity robs Christ of the gift he brought for you. If you do not think of your personal salvation at Christmas then you have missed the boat of understanding. The human mind and heart tends to want to separate the “happy event” from the “sad event”, which is wrong on too many levels to keep this paragraph brief. It is the guilt we all feel at the need for Christ to bear our sins that tends to make us recoil from “remembering” Easter at Christmas. Insisting on the strict separation of the two holidays blinds you to the blessings. When you understand the integral connection but deny yourself the contemplation of that connection then you, too, are secularizing and falling for the commercialization of Christmas. A Christian celebration of Christmas MUST look and feel different to participants and onlookers alike. If it does not then you may want to review how you are conducting your celebration. A more prudent move may be an in-depth review of your Faith Walk.  Hey, I get it there are many stressful things that compete to veil the joy to be had. After all, even Jesus’ mom stirred the pot of family-get-together irritation when she asked him to do something about the wine situation at a wedding. So, if you think Christ cannot understand how irritating the eclectic pool of variously gifted relatives who grace your home once/twice a year then you would be very wrong. The “know-it-all”, “moral crusader”, “shady character”, “sponger”, “political activist” “the nutrition Nazi”, “Woe is me Molly” or the one who is especially good at making the highest “mountains from molehills” are all small potatoes compared to all of us because we are his family and he gets all of us every single moment of every single day and night. There is nothing you can endure that God does not understand. Now, back to Peter.

Wave after wave of criticism has submerged Biblical figures like Peter, Thomas and Judas for eons but how valid is that criticism and who, exactly, is qualified to levy such criticism? As many of you know, one of my pet peeves is folks who are ignorant of the facts but still feel justified in voicing an opinion. First and foremost, learn the historical context in which the story took place. Become a super sleuth, pursue your God and He promises to be found. Don’t depend on others to tell you a truth you say you base your Faith Walk upon. What if they are lying? What if they are ignorant? What if they are only trying to manipulate you to believe how they believe? Try to put at least as much time into your pursuit of God as you do your favorite TV program, book series, video game, etcetera.

Did Peter fail in this test of Faith? Yes…yes he did. Jesus knew he would. Jesus told him that he would. Jesus told him he would come back around to be the rock all his brothers in faith would desperately need him to be. Jesus did not condemn Peter for what he knew would happen, for he understood that Satan was going to be suppressing his beloved disciples with overwhelming fear. I wrote about Jesus’ fear in my last post; therefore, we already know that fear is not only permissible but expected. Nevertheless, fear cannot become a roadblock preventing you or him from fulfilling God’s purpose. Courage is not the absence of fear but continuing forward in spite of it.

In all of my humanness, I gauge the absolute worst part of Peter’s experience occurred when that cock crowed and he lifted his head only to see the broken hearted Jesus looking directly at him. An immediate, overwhelming, soul-wrenching sorrow overtook Peter. The weight of his failure at that moment cannot be equaled and it must have been truly devastating to him. Every gospel records the event but only Luke includes this very important detail. Imagine the exact moment in time when you see the hurt in Christ’s expression knowing that it wasn’t the insults, abuse or even false accusations of the accusers that had put that pain in his expression. Nope, his eyes filled with tears because of you.  The pain for both of them had to be indescribable. Scripture tells us that Peter went outside and wept bitterly. That tells me that a lot of body shuddering sobbing was going on here. You know, the really ugly crying event that makes you look as if you went ten rounds with three prizefighters the night before. Yet, this event is not over yet. This is only the beginning of a night and day of horror for our Savior and all who loved him. For Peter and his fellow disciples it was going to get much darker as their friend, brother, teacher, and master would be torn apart on every human level. Also, if you noticed, Peter was not alone in his rapid flight from Christ. ALL of his flock would scatter when the shepherd (Jesus) was struck.

So why is Peter’s story of fear and failure highlighted? Why doesn’t God tell us of all the other disciples who ditched Jesus that night? Simply, it was not necessary because Peter’s account was enough for us to be able to identify with him. We are Peter. How often have you thought, “I would never abandon Christ?”I would stand with him till the end! I would surely die for him if that were what is asked of me! I would never, ever, ever hurt Christ that way!”

I would respond as lovingly as I could by saying, “Oh Really?” Then let us consider a few facts that may help you level out that ‘hero complex’ to a human reality. First and foremost, your sins and my sins put him in that situation. He was betrayed, mocked, hit, ridiculed, humiliated, spat upon and then had his flesh torn from his bones as he was flogged. Each lash should have been delivered upon your back, upon my back, for our sins put him there. All past, present and future sins of humanity were borne by Christ and he did nothing to deserve it…nothing. You may say, yeah, I heard that one before, what else you got?

First of all, that attitude got to go but I do have more. When is the last time you complained of an ailment, an economic hardship, being attacked for a belief, being subjected to false accusations, betrayal, being used, abandonment, and/or any combination thereof? To be certain, complaining and asking ‘Why?’ is not a sin unless it serves to drive you, yourself and others away from Christ. Then it becomes a handy tool of Satan that is very apt at destroying you and those who love you. The rub is that those who have been rooting for you to fail are also harmed when you behave this way because they just “knew” you were ‘full of it’ with this Christian crap.

Suffering is a guarantee, not just a possibility, if you choose to follow Christ. Plain and simple, Jesus tells us that we will face many of these things if we strive to walk in the Faith we claim to have.  Our proud boasts and claims of sticking by Christ, “no matter what” often do not stand the test. When hardships and sickness hit we begin the self-defeating mantra of, “Why Me?” Again, asking God, ‘why’, is not a sin but staying stuck because you are not looking for the answers; thereby, refusing to fulfill your purpose may be something you will have to explain to your creator one day.

As some of my readers may remember, the story of Job, was a huge stumbling block for me as there are so many things in that book that I do not understand and no human can explain to me. Still, it continues to surprise me how many people claim to have the life of Job while making the indignant claim, ‘My life just isn’t fair!’ If you are claiming such a boast then I expect you to be pretty darn righteous. God judged Job to be a righteous man in all ways. Your Faith Walk better be able to rival those of Peter, Paul, Noah, Reverend Graham or Mother Teresa’s just to name a few. Not that any of these folks were perfect but their Faith walk was pretty solid by the time they began becoming effective for God’s kingdom. No, they were not born that way; instead, many Faith failures tempered the genuineness of that faith. Suffering hones the strength of our faith or adds to the level of bitter anger we tend to nurse. It is your choice. Another feature of a Job claim-to-be, EVERYTHING is a huge deal as there is no rational perspective of suffering. God is picking on you, right? You do not care or want to understand someone else’s suffering. You just want your suffering to stop. I get that, I have been there too. There have been moments in my existence where I have actually told God, “I don’t care if they are hurting. I do not care if he or she needs me. I do not care if this experience will make me better or more able to understand the pain of others. I just want it to stop. Yeah, I am not too big a fan of the honing part of this Faith building journey. It hurts. Pain perspective cannot be learned from a book, it is earned through experience. It matters not what type of pain the sufferer is enduring because it can all be destructive if not handled properly.

“Can it possibly get any worse?”. This question is either asked by someone who is ignorant or just plain foolish. The answer is, YES, YES, YES, it can always be worse, always. I used to bemoan my challenges all the time and would snap at those trying to counsel me saying, “You do it then…you walk in my shoes then offer me the same useless advice!” I have I ever encountered a person with the same volume of simultaneous challenges with which they must cope as I work through every day. I am NOT saying that I have it the worst of all humanity, nor am I comparing my pain and suffering to anyone else’s. Numerically speaking, the volume of simultaneous problems occurring within a finite time frame has been daunting and served as an effective stumbling block upon my journey. Suffice it to say, .it can and usually does become worse before it begins to get better. The impetus of change is usually you, your choices, your decisions…period.

For instance, you go to the doc because you are having a hard time catching your breath. She tells you that you have case of COPD in the initial stages but that you could slow its progression and improve your short and long-term quality of life by making some lifestyle changes. Stop smoking, lose some weight, stay away from concentrated second-hand smoke, watch your alcohol intake and get involved in some cardiovascular exercises at least three times a week. The problem has been identified and you go home and do what? Decide on a plan of action so that you can drop some weight, quit smoking and get some more exercise? Perhaps you will alter your social hangouts so that you can stall the disease effectively affording you a couple more decades of a higher quality of living.

Unfortunately, a very small percentage of us react in such a proactive manner. Rather, we begin binging on all the stuff that must now be restricted or eliminate and that is just at the mere thought of giving any of it up. We feel sorry for ourselves and begin imagining the worst-case scenario and in that active imagining we become our own self-fulfilling prophecy. We either ignore or refuse to participate in the possible solution. We actively sabotage our future by living, in this case, as if we have stage four lung cancer. We effectively take ourselves out of the land of the living long before that ever happens. I have known people who are figuratively standing in their grave, shoveling dirt upon themselves while yelling at those trying to dig them out. What are they yelling at the potential rescuers? “No one understands, no one feels what I am feeling, No one will help me! I am worthless, useless and a burden. I don’t need anyone to help me. God is persecuting me, God has abandoned me or ‘I have the life of Job, woe is me!” Of course, their actual verbiage may take on a more colorful tone. How does this relate to Peter’s faith failure? When we do these things, we are failing in our faith walk. We allow fear to control us. We allow Satan into our minds and let him run amok until he has convinced us that we are all alone, God is unjust, and that no one cares or understands what we are going through.

Granted, it is the normal human reaction to ‘wig out’ when faced with such life altering news.  However, if you are a Christian then you must get beyond the initial reaction and concentrate on finding the purpose in the pain. We all have faith failures throughout our lives and sometimes those failures are spurred by agony that cannot be verbalized. Pain, so intense and pervasive that can be felt by others due to the constant pulsating ache emanating from the person upon everyone around him or her. This is true regardless of whether it is being felt by us or by another depending on how empathetic you are and/or how close the person experiencing the suffering is linked to you.

Every time we ‘stay stuck’; we are abandoning Christ just as his disciples did after that night in the garden. Every time we dwell on the negativity surrounding the problem we are laying down our crown of thorns and allowing our cross to shudder as it bounces off the hardened ground. We look at Christ as he looks right back at us and we drop the crown saying, “I am sorry but I cannot follow you to the end. I am too afraid, it hurts too much. I am sorry Jesus, I thought I would never abandon you but I was wrong.” Then we weep bitterly, for we have broken our promise to be there for our savior. We are certain we could fulfill our promises to follow him no matter the cost. Yeah but, you didn’t understand just how high that cost was going to be and how many were going to try to stop you. “Sorry dude, you are on your own Jesus and please do not give me the “Jesus eyes” of total love and total forgiveness. That is like a knife in my heart.”

Peter could have chosen to fold in on himself in pity, shame, and sorrow effectively removing himself from the critical role Christ had called him to fulfill. He could have run and hid after his friend and savior looked straight into his soul. On the other hand, he could have chosen the easy way out like Judas had by killing himself. Dying is much easier than choosing to live and face your mistakes atop all the challenges ahead.  Satan knocked Peter to the dust but he did not choose to stay there; instead, he eventually got up and took the hardest step…the one leading forward.

I used a large life-changing example to illustrate the point but every time we hear another take the Lord’s name in vain and stay silent, it is a brutal lash across our Savior’s back. When we see a neighbor or stranger hungry, cold, or lonely and remain invisible to them, it is a hard blow to his Face. You and I are no better than Peter, for we are all perfectly imperfect. Peter spent the rest of his life trying to make good his promise to his Christ and friend. Peter never abandoned Christ again but that does not mean he did not fail. We chronically give up on Jesus and all it takes is a few problems hitting us at the same time. Car breaks down, deep freeze thaws unexpectedly and now on top of everything you are nursing the flu. You begin bemoaning your life, your home, your situation—Christ’s cross appears to be too heavy for you to bear so you put it down. You see in his face that you are breaking his heart…again.

Walking steadily in one’s faith is not easy and everyone will falter now and again but the key is to have others walking a similar path as you so that you can catch either other when you stumble. Satan is not going to stop trying to destroy you but Jesus will never abandon you even if you come to the conclusion that you cannot follow him everywhere he must go. He will never stop you from stepping off the path…pesky ‘free will’. His heart will break as your eyes meet one another’s countenance as you stray.

We are Peter; we are worse than Peter as he failed a couple millennia ago but we are failing every day, knowingly. A FaithWalk never ends, the hardships do not get simpler but our ability to handle the hardships and pain grows exponentially. Jesus never asked us to traverse this Faith Walk alone; conversely, he provides helpers for us at every turn if only we will open our eyes. We must climb out of our premature grave and practice perspective; stop comparing our lives/ailments/sorrows to all around us. God asks each of his children to carry a unique burden, for which he has woven into our being the skill, talent, or gift to overcome the hardship. He promises that the cost of following him will pale in the brilliance of the reward. Do not see Peter as a long dead man who has no relevance to your life. Peter did not have super powers, he was not divine but his faith failure launched his resulting level of new faith into an epic foundation.

Before sharpening your sword of judgment, hammer of woe-is-me, and dust out your pit of despair…pray for strength, wisdom, direction and healing. Pursue your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Look towards Peter’s incredible strength of Faith when he decided to get up and take that next step toward the Kingdom of God. He could have wallowed in his failure, pain, and heartache but he did not. He remembered Jesus’ instructions for him turned back to the path that led him to Christ…strengthen his brothers in the faith.

I understand that your suffering may be so dire and so prolonged that it has been allowed to create a guarded heart in you. A heart and mind filled with fear, anger, cynicism and judgment upon all others is one that is cold…one that is dying. Our lives are perishable, our bodies have an expiration date, people we love are going to get sick or get in an accident and we are going to lose those we cannot think we can live without. There is going to be pain. Do not waste your suffering and do not stay stuck.

I pray God blesses each of you with the strength and overwhelming desire to pursue him whole-heartedly.

 

 

“Eloi, Eloi, Lema Sebachthani?”


“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”, Jesus cried in his final moments on the cross. Although beyond our mind’s comprehension, it was not the physical suffering our Christ was lamenting. To be certain, he suffered greatly but that was nothing in comparison to the moment his Father had to turn away from him. It was the moment that Christ bore all past, present, and future sins of humanity…alone. The absolute agony of being separated from God is unbearable, soul-devouring, spirit crushing, horror.

He begged his Father three times (Mark 14:36) to take this burden from him telling his friends to keep watch as he prayed saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, “ (Mark 14:34). He wasn’t distressed about the physical trial to come even though he knew it would be brutal beyond compare. No, it was his spiritual separation from the Father that filled him with revulsion and terror. He chose to obey, he chose to suffer, he chose to become separated from his Father. Why would he do this? He did this for you.

You may argue that he was fully God  and could endure much more suffering than a human ever could. You may argue that he only suffered for three hours on the cross and you have suffered all your life with this or that. You may argue that he could have stopped it all and destroyed evil then and there. Your arguments are permissible, but not valid, because as you just read, Christ asked his Father the soul wrenching-question that can be so destructive, WHY. Doubt is not a sin, it is an expectation just as is the drive to find the answers. God tells us to seek him, pursue him, love him with all our heart, mind and soul. Why would we have to pursue a God we believe in? Isn’t that an endeavor for the unbeliever? Oh no, not at all. Once you believe you have a Father who created you for a purpose and  who sent his son to pay for your sins then that is when the pursuit of our Creator truly begins.

As unbelievers, we are in stark rebellion just floundering like a fish out of water but once we chose to follow Christ then that is when the journey becomes difficult. Hence, it is not a sin to ask our Father why something has happened or is happening. Understand, you may never get an answer to your specific question until you breathe your last but if you pursue the answer then you will learn much along the way depending upon who you allow to steer your rudder. If you allow Satan to embitter you then your search will end in depression, self-loathing, self-pity,  rage and a flaccid faith. You will get stuck at that moment of suffering neither going forward nor backward. If you allow Christ to lead you then you will likely still experience all these things but you will not get stuck in that place because he gives us the strength to move beyond the pain and suffering of the current life crisis. Just an added thought I cannot let hang open, Christ was also fully human too so he experienced everything throughout his life just as we would have.

Strength and Suffering

Do you consider yourself a person of great strength? What do you consider to be strength? Are you physically fit and strong? Are you financially strong and secure? Do you have a strong moral code or belief system? Do you have a strong intellect? How about a strong faith?  We humans measure and define strength using variable measuring sticks according to what we value in life; therefore, your answer may be far different than another’s. Nevertheless, how you define strength becomes very important when you are faced with losing it. I argue that you cannot lose your strength entirely if you allow it to transform into another and likely more durable manifestation of our surrendered weakness.  If you consider yourself a to be a weak, helpless person then that is another issue, or set of issues, entirely that must be saved for another day. This writing is about the burden of strength and the blessing that can be experienced within it.

Burden of strength? How could strength be a burden? Most consider being strong a great asset but there are different aspects and perceptions of strength that can become a stumbling block or an unsung badge of survival. When you meet a person of great emotional and more so, spiritual strength then you are also meeting a person who has endured great and overwhelming suffering. Those people are the closest to understanding how Christ felt when he uttered his words of agony, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” It is that moment of Christ’s agony, which none can offer comparison is where the remainder of this writing will focus.

Physical, financial, social and intellectual strengths are all illusions of strength because they are insecure. All of them can be lost suddenly or through a lifelong deterioration and each of them can serve as a major stumbling block to our relationship with others and with God.  Christ warned against relying upon our own strength when he said that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:25). Many point this verse in scripture to condemn the wealthy but Christ was talking about anyone who depends upon their own strength to traverse life because they think it is their own skills, talents or attributes that have gained all they have in life. These types of folks never acknowledge that it was and is God who has supplied them with those gifts that they have used to exploit their time on this planet. Some give lip service to God but when a crisis hits or when their strength begins to ebb then that is where their convictions are truly revealed. Now, everyone is going to endure a grieving period when their strength is lessening because it challenges their core beliefs, who they thought they were, where they thought their life was heading, what they thought God’s plan for their life was going to be. The common denominator here, our thoughts, our perceptions, our ability to reason things out and that is where we stumble.

Encountering people of faith and those who reject God as they struggle in this life reveals many things. Admitting weakness is almost insufferable to both populations. We do not like to appear weak or concede that we cannot handle or deal with anything that is thrown at us. The largest obstacle to anyone walking this planet is not their upbringing, their poverty/wealth level, their intellectual capability, their lack of opportunity, or their health status. What then?

You are your biggest obstacle. ‘But…but…but I have played by all the rules, I have done everything I was supposed to, I am a good person so how could I be my own biggest obstacle?’, you might query. You trust in yourself, which is akin to trusting the strength of a water balloon constructed of tissue paper. There is a big difference between being confident in the gifts and talents God has woven into your being and relying upon them as if they were your gods. Nothing you have and nothing you can do is sustainable by your own efforts including your very next breath. This is highly evidenced in multiple instances of situational irony played out in the real world like the health fanatic who believes he/she is doing great then suddenly drops over of a heart attack while a man who has drank and smoked heavily is still living strong at 92.  Neither person in this example is being put forth as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, only examples in real life judged by human criteria of “living good” and “living hard”. You are not in control of tomorrow regardless of your physical, financial, intellectual, or spiritual ability.

So does that mean we just throw our hands up and say,” chaos rules,” and we are not able to control anything? Of course not, God is a God of order and purpose but he is also the person who gave us Free Will. Our choices are often the road that brings suffering to our lives but not always. However, our own sin nature is not the only force we have against us but it is the one that invites the destructive forces in. Satan is very real and very active in creation. His rage and jealousy against humanity is documented in scripture as is his desire to destroy God’s beloved children. Therefore, when Christ told his apostles to expect hardship, pain and suffering  he was trying to support the men who he called friend and brother as he knew what they would face on account of him. Be assured, anyone who chooses to follow Christ is going to suffer because we are fighting our own sinful nature atop the world that revels in sin and Satan.  The odds are not in our favor and it is an impossible task unless we admit our weakness, our lack of strength, our inability to be victorious if we depend on our own skills, talents, gifts (strength) alone. It is not achievable unless you give it all to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to work through you. Allow Him to use your pain, tears, heartache, confusion, righteous anger and weakness to lead you and others toward a closer relationship with Him.

Our human mind rebels against this idea and we fight it, actively fight it because we believe if we surrender whatever is causing us misery then we will be weak. However, the longer we hold onto something we were not meant to carry alone in the first place then the more suffering we will endure. Not that God is causing it or “turning up the fire”  but because we are trying to solve our problem with a small percentage of the full picture. When we try to stand alone, we are at our weakest and we will fail. Yet, what few recognize or understand is that our choices directly or indirectly affect all whom we love. Some of the connections are blatantly obvious but others are masked by the perception of strength. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this concept.

Sofia, a single mom of two, is holding everything together. She has a job, is going to school, raising her children in the Lord and doing her best to provide for all their needs. She is perceived by the world as being a strong woman, a functional citizen and a good mom. However, Sofia is barely holding on emotionally, spiritually, financially, and even physically. She refuses to let anyone help, she would never ask for help and she is very private about her feelings. She will not shed tears in front of her kids or anyone else for that matter because she does not want anyone to think she is weak or cannot take care of her kids. She feels to do so would invite criticism of her ability to parent. Yet, she feels as if she is being eaten from the inside out. She has a luke warm relationship with Christ. She is devoted to teaching her children about Christ and makes certain they all attend church every Sunday but she feels dead inside. Her fears of criticism are valid but her healing will not begin until she surrenders her pain to Christ. He knows exactly what she is going through and He never intended for her to traverse her journey alone. Satan continues to whisper her worthlessness in her ear and the feeling that the world and, more specifically, her children would be better off if she were dead.

But it is not that easy, you say. People cannot be trusted . People are going to hurt you. You are going to be betrayed, used, rejected. Yes…yes, these things will happen to you and each time you are hurt you will need to make a choice, several choices actually. Some will bring you closer to understanding, healing and  to God; others will pull you toward the Prince of deceit and you will become his tool. Understand this firmly, God is NOT the one doing the moving in this equation. God does not vacillate, for He is our rock and anchor.

Ted is entering his 40’s and has enjoyed great health, physical and intellectual strength throughout his career and personal life. His spiritual life centers upon what he was brought up with in the Christian faith; therefore, he considers himself a ‘good’ Christian. He feels he is a strong Christian and tends to criticize those who “whine” about their lives. One day  Ted wakes up a little more achy than is usual after a prior day of hard work. As we humans often do, he brushes it off and continues on his way. Then a pattern begins to emerge causing him to begin to think something might be wrong so he over rules his own objections and goes to the doctor.  As you can guess, the doctors inform him that he has developed a chronic ailment that is going to cause pain and deterioration for the remainder of his life. Ahhh, but this is only the beginning of Ted’s nightmare because other related health issues begin to rear their ugly heads spiraling Ted into deep depression, anger, frustration, and serious faith wavering. He has always been the provider, he has always been the one others look toward for help, he has always counted on his own strength and wits to solve any problem he encountered. The disease is stealing his strength, destroying his strong body, robbing him of his independent lifestyle and clouding his thoughts. Worst of all, his fragile faith must now bear a full onslaught of fear, doubt, confusion and anger. Earlier in his life, as he was building his career and family he had no motivation to pursue God, wholeheartedly, because he had everything well in hand. His relationship with his Creator and others was guarded at best as he could never relinquish the control of his life by realizing he was not strong enough to endure the suffering alone. Yet, this is truly the first time suffering on the deep core level had ever been experienced. It’s not the physical pain, as that was just the match, it is the soul-wrenching pain of loss.

Here is a another kicker for you, his mindset, weak faith and self-perception is not entirely his fault. In American society, we put unrealistic goals upon our men and women. Somehow we have come to believe that every man must be a hero and every woman must be ‘mother of the year’ with the added feminist demands of being “more”. We cannot attain that status and God knows this; however, he is always there waiting to catch us when we finally understand that we can do nothing without him. Does understanding this truth make the suffering easier? Eh, not right away but eventually it brings even deeper understanding and focus to the purpose your life experiences have prepared you to fulfill.

What about the kid with cancer, the one who gets raped and killed by a psychopath or parent? What about all the disease, famine, warfare, and natural disasters? Are you going to look into a father’s eyes as he holds his dying child and try to explain that sin has caused the poisoning of creation so everything, even our cells have been tainted by its affects giving reason for his child’s cancer? Of course not, you are going to be silent but present. Allow God to do the talking as only he can, for words mean nothing in moments like that because the suffering is so profound, unjust, unthinkable, and soul crushing.

That holds true when anyone is suffering because to the one who is doing the suffering your platitudes of “everything is going to be alright.”, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, God never gives us more than we can handle,” etcetera are like hot daggers being thrust into their hearts and souls.  Let God work, admit your weakness, confess that you have no idea why their suffering is occurring ( if there is no apparent reason such as lung cancer following years of smoking). Even if the reason for their suffering is blatantly obvious, YOU ARE NOT THEIR JUDGE. They are likely well on their way to meeting their judge and then explaining to their creator why they chose to destroy the body He created for them so they do not need you to start harping on them ahead of time.

We all make life choices that will bring betterment or hardship to our existence so we have no room to judge another. On that same token, those who make life choices that create health, financial, social, emotional, psychological problems bringing pain, suffering, and loss have to refrain from blaming God and start taking responsibility for their own actions. God is a god of second chances, unending second chances so there is a future beyond the one you planned IF you allow it to be brought to fruition.

Do NOT depend upon humanity’s interpretation of who God is and what God’s plans are for your life. Pursue Him with every fiber of your being and I promise that what you find will bring change to your life. Change can be painful but it is very necessary for anything to become what it was borne to become. If you are a strong person then you know that the journey is painful, suffering is your bedfellow, for without these faith is hollow. Having a strong faith in Christ is the most difficult thing to earn because it is earned through tears and sorrow. Trusting God when all is well is easy and empty but trusting him as you are sending your child through the operating doors or sitting him in the car of an abusive parent due to a court order is faith and acute and unimaginable suffering.  Standing over a loved one’s grave with a pain that is tearing you apart but trusting that God will bring you through it is faith. Picking one of two devils to be President of the United States and believing God’s plans will come to fruition is faith.

Faith is not a noun but a verb. Faith is a breathing entity that must be fed, must be worked, must be tested because it is a powerful tool to the one who is strong enough to wield it. Christ is our teacher, he is the only one who can show us how we are to approach suffering and not only survive it but how to become something better on the other side. We can fight only what we can see but there is a battle of epic proportions going on all around us and we contribute to the evil or to the good every moment of everyday. Hence, you must examine your own life and decide if your suffering can support the claim that God has forsaken you (He will never leave you nor forsake you [Deut. 31;8]) or that you could equate your suffering to Job (which none of us know enough about to even offer an inkling into what was going on there, for there are too many missing pieces to the story) or justify anger towards God (even though he can take whatever we can dish out).

If you have been following my blog from its inception then you know these words of mine are not empty. I am not boasting when I say I am a woman of great faith in Christ, because I do not consider it a badge of honor but rather a sign of great suffering. I do possess a strong faith and for that I am grateful and humbled knowing he grasped me ever more tightly each time I let go. Without Christ, without understanding the epitome of suffering that is to be separated from God for the merest of moments is to only be brushed by the backside of suffering’s fury and  left with the deluge of pain. In my arrogant youth, I used to use “Eloi, Eloi Lema Sabachthani?” as my mantra feeding my rage and hopelessness but I did not truly understand the depth of their meaning until I came to the point in my life where I thought God had turned his back on me. That is the moment of zero hope and utter, desperate agony when I decided I did not want to live any longer. I only thought God had abandoned me and the pain was more than I could bear; therefore, imagine our Savior’s agony when he bore this reality for you and me. My previous posts expound upon these topics further so I will not reiterate them here.

You cannot look through the lens of human understanding to form your idea of God’s thoughts, ways, and love. How could a finite being such as you and I possibly presume we could understand the infinite. You are so important to your Creator, he loves you beyond any type of human love that can be experienced. However, love is not always kisses and cuddles and your Father in heaven knows what he has created you to be and he will push you toward completion of that goal. He does this not for his sake but for your sake. His plans are to prosper you as he clearly says in Jeremiah 29:11, yet he still provides you the choice. Are you forsaken? Can you boast about your strength in weakness? Can you wear Christ’s crown? Can you carry Christ’s cross?

My love and prayers go out to all my readers. May you each feel the depth of love Christ brought to us in that tiny manger so very long ago.