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I’m NOT Coming to The Party!

Some time last week, I was having one of those days where I was feeling down and sorry for myself. I was thinking about all of the things that I had not yet accomplished and how far fetched my aspirations all seemed in the grand scheme of things. How everytime I took 10 steps forward, I was being pulled 5 steps back because of circumstances I could not control. I wasnt where I used to be but I was far from where I wanted to be. I was looking at the glass half empty instead of half full. For a good few minutes I began to throw myself a pity party, inviting self doubt and anxiety in to join me. Before I knew it, depression was trying to get in too. …Even caught myself asking the question “Lord, is anyone praying for me?” Dumb question right? I know! In that very moment, it was as if God came in the room and whispered in my ear “I am always with you. You are never alone!” Then He reminded me of His promise in Jeremiah 29: 11. With that said, I knew that fear and faith could not coexist in the same space- I had to choose. At the end of that little conversation in my head, I had no other choice but to leave the party!

If you are not careful, the enemy will try to catch you off guard, he waits for the opportunity when you’re most vulnerable. All he needs is a foot in the door of your heart and he will begin setting up! Don’t give him the attention! Slam the door in his face; tell him he’s not welcomed in your space! AND you will NOT be attending his pity party!

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Breaking Depression

Growing up, I was constantly being reminded of how “blessed” I was. I lived in a fairly decent home, I had been afforded the opportunity to private school education, never wanting for food, clothing and the basic necessities. I had, what appeared to be a better life than my siblings who were being raised by my biological parents abroad, yet I felt incredibly empty. In my young mind, no amount of material things could ever compensate for the massive void I felt from not being a part of a “normal” nuclear family. I could not see past the fact that I had been separated from my birth parents and siblings and felt deprived of the opportunity of forming a relationship with both mother and father. From the outside looking in, one would conclude that I was for the most part a normal teenage girl yet my then living arrangements created feelings of loneliness and rejection very early on that took me down a long road of unhealthy relationships and self-destructive behaviors. As the years progressed, my life became increasingly complicated because added to my already young troubled mind was the responsibility of managing the drama and most times unwanted attention that accompanied the first toxic bond.
So by the time that relationship ended, I had only added to the myriad of unresolved issues that were still buried beneath the surface. In between the years of the first relationship and getting married, my dating life was limited to say the least. During the process came two short term relationships; one that lasted a little under a year, and ended on mutual terms because of geographical distances. The other one lasting only three months and though short lived, was the very test that revealed the ugly festering sores of my unhealed heart. You see, that relationship did not end on my terms like the others did; it ended after a disagreement that resulted in the young man breaking up with me. For more than a week, he had ignored my calls, messages and attempts to reach out to him; naturally I interpreted his actions as rejection. After numerous attempts on my part to resolve the issue without success, I slipped into a state of depression that for the first time in my life led me to thoughts of suicide.
One might ask, how could a failed three-month old relationship cause someone to want to harm themselves. However, those thoughts had very little to do with the length of time that had been invested in the relationship, nor did it have anything to do with whether there were any real feelings for that person or vice versa. My thoughts of suicide had much more to do with the unresolved deep rooted issues stemming back from my childhood. Again, I had been faced with the outcome of someone else’ decision that directly affected how I chose to see my own self-worth; and it triggered those old feelings for which I did not know how to properly appropriate at the time. Not allowing myself time to completely heal from my past, woke up those sleeping demons that had been lying dormant for so long. It was only by God’s divine intervention that I was able, in that moment of complete hopelessness to shake myself out of that place to tell the story today.
Over the years, through time, observation and my own personal experiences, I have gained a certain level of understanding of depression from both a practical and spiritual perspective. I recognize the sensitivity of this topic and felt it necessary to share just a small piece of my personal experience of overcoming chronic depression so that those dealing with like symptoms will be able to relate and perhaps find relief from the information provided in this blog post.
Before I continue, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not a trained professional counselor. The steps that I am about to share with you, are simply preventative methods that I took to help me break the cycle of depression. Healing from depression is definitely not an overnight process; it took me years to fully recover from its cycle. From a practical point of view, I am convinced that beyond God’s intervention, our human will is in fact the strongest element to overcoming this mountain. Here are some of the steps that I took that helped me in the healing process.
1. Writing: I know this sounds so cliché but creating a journal is not just therapeutic, it allows you the privacy to be completely free with your innermost thoughts. You are the only person reading it, so no need for pretty articulate accuracy; you can release raw uncut, uncensored feelings and thoughts that you would not otherwise tell anyone else. Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, put pen to paper and let it rip! Allow your deepest, darkest thoughts to spill onto your journal. For me, reading back through my old entries gives me an opportunity to reflect on my progress or lack thereof. It also allows me to reevaluate my thought process, make adjustments if necessary and correct old habits.
2. Music: My choice of music has always been worship whenever I am feeling down simply because its lyrics are not just soothing but directing my thoughts away from whatever I am feeling onto God somehow gives me relief. The scripture says to put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. This method of worshipping is actually my favorite and it has never failed; I call it musical therapy. In fact, some days I do this for hours, and depending on my mood, I pick one song and if the words resonate with me and the message is corresponding to what I am going through, that song stays on repeat. The objective is always to release the negative thoughts by flushing it out with positive words so that you maintain a healthy internal environment. Your genre of music might be different but make sure that the lyrics of the music that you choose to listen to are uplifting, encouraging/inspiring and hopeful. So that means opting for your Adel playlist when you are feeling depressed may not be the best decision; especially if you are suffering from a broken heart! IJS
3. Join a Support Group: During my early adulthood my single friends became my support system; especially following my break ups. We were all around the same age, all going through similar situations during that time in our lives and were able to lean on each other for emotional and moral support. However, often times we also became the outlet for each other’s frustrations; so choosing the right group is also very important as well. You want to connect yourself with people that may be dealing with adverse circumstances but is still able to understand and respect the importance of effective communication. Otherwise, you may end up doing more damage than good to yourselves and each other. Your situations may differ somewhat, but it is always comforting to know that there are others like you that can relate to what you are experiencing on some level or the other and are able to shed some positive light on your situation.
4. Seek Professional Help: My help came in the person of a mentor/spiritual advisor. I reached out to one of the female leaders in my local church following the advice of the young man that I dated for a year. Prior to that, I had never been exposed to the term “mentorship” and had no idea what the whole concept entailed. After my friend heard my story, he strongly suggested that a spiritual mother was just what I needed. During that season of my life, my mentor played a very crucial role in my healing process. She became more of a surrogate mother to me, providing a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and a voice of reasoning through her advice using Godly principles. I don’t know if she had ever received any formal training for the role that she played but she was the closest I had come to getting what I considered “professional” help given my background. Going from not talking to anyone at all about what I had experienced to being able to open up to someone whom I considered an authority figure was a relief to me. Also touching base with someone else regarding my progress aided in building discipline through accountability. Sometimes, just the thought of knowing someone else cared and being able to call on that person whenever I was feeling down brought a certain level of healing within itself. It is important to note that, if you are not connected to a church or perhaps are not comfortable with the choices available in the church that you attend, there are other avenues that you can take. There are professionally trained counselors that can provide the support that you need through their services within the frame work of the medical field. Also don’t be ashamed to take advantage of the special call centers available around the clock if you ever get to a point where you feel like you have exhausted all possible options and are now at a point of taking extreme measures. What is most important is that you reach out to someone that has been trained to take on the responsibility of providing sound advice or direction for your steps towards healing and wholeness. It is critical though, that you are open to sharing your most intimate feelings so that that individual will have adequate knowledge of where you are emotionally in order to provide you with the best possible support and outcome.
5. Get Out: Getting dressed up and going out on the town with your friends/support group is just the thing to boost your mood and confidence. The mundane routine of being confined to work, school or home can become depressing in and of itself. Making weekend plans for an outing with the girls or guys or both is definitely something to look forward too. If your budget is tight, a night out doesn’t have to entail dinner at a fancy restaurant, you can find creative ways to have fun. As much as I like fine dining, some of my best GNOs were spent at a friend’s house, ordering pizza, watching a movie, just chilling and having good conversation. And if you’re a single lady with other single female friends, you can even plan a sleep over and make it a late night pamper party. It’s a really good time to connect, share laughs, tears and “Kum Ba Yah” moments together.
6. Help Out/ Volunteer: I found that joining an organization that ministered to the needs of others helped to take my mind off of my own challenges and at the same time gave me a sense of belonging and purpose. During the early stages of my healing process, I would volunteer in my local church in various ministries such as the Singles Ministry, Womens Ministry and Young Girls Mentorship Program which were geared towards meeting the specific needs of those target groups and also provided outreach programs that served the wider community. I got to meet and provide support to young girls on a weekly basis, some of which lived in rural communities and Children Hostels and had been handed the same fate as myself or worse. I also had the opportunity to accompany my women’s group to a local Old Folks Home where we presented them with some much needed supplies and spent the afternoon singing hymns to them. To know that our small gesture was serving as a beacon of light and hope gave me a sense of fulfillment. Additionally, observing and hearing the stories of some of their circumstances provided me with a different perspective on my own situation and also served as a learning experience. Of course, there are a number of none religious organizations that you can join independently that are community service oriented and meet the same objective. E.g. soup kitchens, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Children Hostels/Orphanages, Geriatric Homes etc.
7. Develop Intimacy with God: I saved this one for last because I feel like it has been the most significant step in my road to healing and recovery from depression. I would be remiss if I excluded the fact that during that season when I was dating the guy from the three-month short relationship, I had moved away from God. The biggest mistake that I made in my rededication to Christ was allowing myself to become involved with a guy that was unsaved. I let the fact that I had met him in church sway my decision to even entertain the thought of going out on a first date. He was young, well educated, socially graced, well groomed, goal and career oriented; most of the qualities that a woman would want in a potential husband. However, although he believed in God he confessed early on that he did not have an intimate relationship with God nor did he display any immediate intentions of developing one. Our views on faith were very different and I had every opportunity before becoming exclusive to discontinue the relationship on my own terms, but somehow I thought that I could perhaps convert him into the potential that I saw in my imagination. Rather, I found myself slowly changing who I was and the standards of my faith to fit into his world instead of him conforming to mine. I had lost focus, leaving myself completely open and vulnerable to spiritual and emotional attack. So when thoughts of suicide came up following the breakup from that relationship, I cannot say that I was surprised. In order to overcome that bout of depression, I had to dig myself back into that secret hiding place that I had built all those years ago. A place where, even during my darkest days, there was not even the slightest inclination to end my life because I had given myself entirely over to praise and worship even when I couldn’t find the strength to pray. There is a level of unexplainable comfort that comes from spending quality time in the presence of God. Talking to friends and counselors was helpful but expressing my deepest thoughts to my Heavenly Father brought me the greatest sense of peace. To be able to give all of my cares and concerns to God and not wonder if they were going to be misinterpreted or misused was comforting and therapeutic. Sometimes during my lunch break from work, I would drive to a nearby beach, sit in my car, and spend time alone with God. I would find a scripture that was relatable to what I was dealing with, meditate on the words after I would’ve spent a few minutes in worship then I would pray, releasing all of my cares and concerns in the most natural way. Know that talking to God does not have to be a performance with eloquent words and phrases, be completely honest and open about what you are feeling and let it all out. He can handle it and He knows your thoughts anyway so no need for pretenses! Trust me by the time you’re done throwing off your burdens on him, you will feel a whole lot lighter.  Sometimes by the time I was done, I would have to reapply my makeup but the relief that I felt was worth the drive and every ounce of mascara.

If you or someone that you know is battling with depression and thoughts of suicide, my hope and prayer is that you are able to take something away from this blog and apply it to your life so that healing can begin to take place. Also, I cannot express enough, the importance of speaking up, please make a deliberate effort to reach out to someone. Know that whatever you are facing you do not have to suffer in silence alone. Your feelings matter; your life matters! Someone, somewhere is depending on you to survive. Making a permanent decision to correct a temporary problem is never ever the answer.

“Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison

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Faith Versus FUD

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.  People often become more committed to a familiar discomfort than they are to an unfamiliar new possibility.” Lisa Nichols

Today I want to address the issue of fear, which has so many dynamics that it would be nearly impossible to cover it all in one blog post. After meditating on the topic for this post, I referred to google to see if my initial key phrase actually made any sense. In my search I came across the acronym FUD meaning “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” which was a term used in the early 20th Century to describe the marketing strategy of the well-known IBM computer company. It is speculated by its first competitor, that this strategy was used by IBM’s sales team to instill disinformation in the minds of potential customers who might be considering a new competitive product.
American software developer, Eric S. Raymond wrote:
“The idea, of course, was to persuade buyers to go with safe IBM gear rather than with competitors’ equipment. This implicit coercion was traditionally accomplished by promising that Good Things would happen to people who stuck with IBM, but Dark Shadows loomed over the future of competitors’ equipment or software. After 1991 the term has become generalized to refer to any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon.”
I am convinced that just as it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual realm. Isn’t it interesting how the adversary uses fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) as a competitive weapon against the children of God? He plants seeds of doubt by creating the illusion that the obstacles or setbacks that we can see are more real than the promises that God has spoken over our lives through His word. I guess he knows that in our finite human intellect, it is a lot easier to believe in the tangible (seen or proven) over the intangible (unseen or unproven). His ultimate goal is to replace our faith with FUD. If he can get us to believe that staying in the comfort or safety of what we know will protect us from unforeseen failure, then he has successfully created fear thus producing stagnation. And the enemy knows full well that that is not a spiritual environment conducive for our faith to thrive.
Trust me, I speak from years of experience in this area but I am about to tell you how I was able to conquer my fears, uncertainties and doubts.
One of my favorite writings by the Apostle Paul is found in Hebrews 11. Whenever I need a boost in my faith I go there, it never fails! He outlines the precedence of some of the greatest miracle stories in the bible to sum up faith in action, but the part that resonates most with me is verse 6 when he said:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
So if our faith pleases God, and the absence of faith is fear, it suggests that the enemy’s plan has dual purpose! He knows that once he can get us to become doubtful of God’s promises, fearful and uncertain of the unknown, not only do we ultimately derail God’s divine plans for our lives, we also displease God by the very presence of our fear. I can guarantee that there is nothing the devil loves more than to feel like his plans have succeeded over our trust and confidence in our Heavenly Father.  Let me remind you  that his strategies are as old as time; he has been using FUD since the very beginning of mankind. Case and point: Adam, Eve and the apple!
I think Paul recalls the stories of all of those ancient saints to prove to us that God’s plans always prevail once we put our faith into action.
Let’s look at verse 7 and 8:
7 “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.”
Wow! So here we have a man who in holy reverence to God builds this massive ship on dry land proclaiming to his family, neighbors and friends that a flood was coming. Now bear in mind that this floating vessel was the first of its kind back then. They knew nothing about The Titanic or Royal Caribbean’s Symphony. Additionally, their world had never experienced a flood before so I’m pretty sure to his native people, Noah looked like a walking talking lunatic! He came up against incredible opposition during the building process of this boat. I would imagine as a normal human-being although he maintained his faith, he still went back to God a few times just to verify that it was really God’s voice that he had heard. After weeks of building, with no sign of rain, he was probably tempted to give up. However, after being laughed at, scorned and ridiculed, his character beaten down and his self-esteem completely deflated, each day that he woke up to make his way down to that building site he made a conscious decision to maintain his focus on completing the work that God had entrusted to him.

Needless to say, the flood came and it not only solidified Noah’s confidence in his ability to hear God’s voice; it also reassured his faith in God’s protective and redemptive power because he and his family survived the storm and God eventually restored everything that had been destroyed. As for the mockers, sadly enough the flood proved to be dooms day for them because of their disobedience and lack of faith in a God they could not physically see.
8 “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”
Now here is another phenomenon that required much faith. Here is a man that left everything that he knew to go to an unknown place under the instructions of God. Imagine leaving the comfort of your birthplace to wonder around in a strange land in hopes that you will eventually reach this never before seen “promised land”. With no map, compass or directions, travelling thousands of miles on foot, horse and donkey as a means of transportation, this scenario would’ve definitely spelt disaster and defeat for most of us living today, but not Abraham. He had tunnel vision to continue on his journey in hopes of reaching Canaan; BUT his path was by no means clear cut. It consisted of many unexpected detours, obstacles, and opposition along the way that would’ve otherwise create FUD. In the process of travelling to Canaan, he had to overcome exile, abuse, hunger, family disagreements, and the list goes on.

This is the same man whose wife, through a promise made by God, did not bare him a son until they were both well in their 80s. Now if that isn’t faith in action, I don’t know what is! And to top it all off, God later challenged Abraham to sacrifice the very son that had been promised and given to him after 80 years of waiting! Though saddened by the strong possibility that he would have to kill his own son out of obedience to God’s instructions he goes up into the mountain still believing by faith that God would provide a way out. And just in the nick of time God steps in to save Abraham’s son from death by his own father’s hands! Can you imagine what level of faith it must have taken for Abraham to come so close to killing his own son all because of His desire to obey and please God?

So in essence what Paul was telling us is that with all of what Noah and Abraham endured and still maintained their faith, then it gives us more than enough ammunition against the tactics of the enemy!

Nowadays, we are no longer restricted to a horse or a donkey with only the stars as a guide if God gives us instructions to move. The advancement of technology has given us computers, navigational systems, cars and airplanes to make the process a whole lot easier. You may say, but what about the resources needed to do what I need to do? Like Abraham, it is important to see beyond the limitations of our present circumstances, to block out all doubt and dispel the fear by activating our faith to action. Sometimes making the first step though small it might be, could very well be the step in the right direction to seeing those plans come to fruition! The resources may not be readily available yet but perhaps writing the vision will lead to the next step and then the next until God makes the provisions or the way clear for the next level.
I can attest to the fact that every time I faced an obstacle, whether it was the loss of a job, a broken relationship, a failed endeavor or a disappointment from derailed plans, God always provided a much better outcome than I could have ever planned on my own. I have seen God provide for me in the most unconventional ways. He has used people and avenues that I would least expect to come through for me during my times of need. So as time progresses, it becomes easier to handle each setback or curve ball with a degree of grace because my faith stands on the foundation of the last miracle and the one before that. I had to train my mind to interpret every single obstacle, detour or delay simply as a temporary setback for a permanent set up.

Now with that being said, I have also come to realize that sometimes our greatest battles are not the illusions (external factors) created to look like failure, rather they are delusions (internal wellbeing), battles of the mind, which is of far greater concern. Delusions are internal beliefs, that have been proven to be wrong but is still maintained by an individual. How you view yourself, those around you and the world at large can create a degree of fear, uncertainty and doubt. This kind of obstacle, in my opinion can be considered as a strong hold that requires both fasting and prayer to break free from this mindset.
It is also very important to create an environment that in conducive to growing your faith. You cannot meditate on the words of pessimistic, negative people and expect to maintain a healthy faith life. Remember the enemy also uses people’s opinions as a target to destroy your faith. Whether you are receiving those opinions directly from family, friends or foe or indirectly through various media streams, be mindful and vigilant of Satan’s craftiness. Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with those that will provide encouragement and solutions rather than ridicule and unfavorable outlooks. Feed your spirit with positive and uplifting material that flush out any thoughts of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
I encourage you today, that whatever obstacles, detours, setbacks or oppositions are staring you in the face, know that it is only an illusion to what is ahead. It is up to you to remain focused, obedient and prayerful. Remember that having faith without action is just as detrimental to our growth as having FUD. See those setbacks as an obstacle course if you may, allow each disappointment, delay, or set back to build the endurance that it takes to push past the fears of the unknown, building up your spiritual muscles and bringing you closer to the finish line.  Make the first step in the direction of your desired outcome, practice patience, learn to be sensitive to God’s voice, so that you know timing, when to move and when to be still. With these components, I am confident that in due course, God will reward you for your diligence.

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Your Pain Has Purpose

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Let’s be honest, Paul sounded crazy! Why would anyone in their right mind delight in pain?! Furthermore, why would a merciful, compassionate, sovereign God allow insults, hardships, persecution and difficulties to be inflicted on those that he loves and calls His children? How could a God that claims to love us so much, in his infinite power foresee our pain and not block it from happening?

Oxford dictionary describes pain as:
• highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury.
• Mental suffering or distress.
• Great care or trouble.
• An annoying or tedious person or thing. (informal)

Pain takes on many faces and does not discriminate against age, gender, color, class or creed. It is a fact of life, an inevitable occurrence for every single breathing human being. And if you’re anything like me, the pain that I have experienced in my life has taken on all of the facets described in the list above. Now, before I continue, let me be the first to admit that, yes, some of that pain was self-inflicted. My decisions to “figure it out” on my own rather than allowing my life to be guided by the word of God resulted in much of the adversities that I faced during my early adulthood. And, if there is anything that I have learnt along the way, it is that violating natural and spiritual laws can have negative effects on one’s physical, financial, mental and spiritual health and stability.

What do you mean by that Simone?

Well, for argument sake, let’s say a chain smoker overtime developed lung cancer, one would conclude that their illness was as a result of the direct violation of the natural law that says “Smoking can lead to cancer”. If someone ate at least three cheeseburgers a day and washed them all down with 16-ounce bottles of coca cola soda and overtime developed a heart disease, it is safe to say that they have violated the natural law that dictates “the excessive consumption of certain foods causes high cholesterol which leads to clogged arteries and ultimately heart problems”.

If at the end of every month I took my salary and went on a shopping spree and neglected to pay my monthly obligations, the laws and policies of the companies for which I owe would automatically take effect, no? So wouldn’t it be hypocritical of me to pray to God for a miracle when the electricity company comes to disconnect my electricity for none payment because I decided that having that designer bag or shoe was more important? I can go on but I think I’ve made my point.

Those were some examples of how violating some natural laws can lead to self-inflicted suffering. This same theory holds true even in our pursuit of finding our true north or moral compass; there are always consequences for every decision that we make in life, both good or bad. For every action, there is a reaction. People less spiritual tend to refer to it as karma, but it is the simple principle of seed, time and harvest.

The reality is, because we are human and subject to human error and failures, through the gift of grace God makes provisions for such shortcomings. So despite our disobedience, God’s love for us as a father, protects us from ourselves, to the point that although we may feel the sting of our own actions, he does not allow it to completely destroy us. However, God has also given us all free will, so in order to receive total deliverance or healing from our strongholds, it is up to us to first come to ourselves, take responsibility for our actions, change whatever those habits are that is causing discomfort in our lives and then take the necessary precautionary measures to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes again.

Ultimately, God is able to turn what was meant for our destruction around for our good but also for His glory. By that same token, not only would we have grown from the experience but we would’ve survived it to provide moral and spiritual support to others; cautioning or advising them against such behaviors, and encouraging them to take a more progressive approach in their future decision making.

One may ask, “Ok, I understand all of that but what about the pain that I know I didn’t deserve?” This seems to be one of the most challenging questions in the life of a believer. “God why?” Many people have suffered loss, be it the loss of a loved one, a job, material possessions, broken relationships, broken marriages. Some are facing poverty, various illnesses and infirmities for which they did not bring upon themselves and they question why God would allow them to go through what they are being faced with. There is never an easy response to that question because the answer always sounds so cliché but I am a firm believer that God does not place on His children more than He knows they are able to handle. The question then is “How can we truly know the strength of our abilities or the depth of our faith, if they have never been tested?”

Job is a perfect example of someone that reflected the epitome of righteousness but yet God allowed Satan to destroy all that He had so that Job’s faith might be tested. He lost everything, his family and his wealth, but the story didn’t end there. The end result was that God gave Job double not only for his trouble but also for his faithfulness. Thus proving to the devil that Job was in fact an overcomer and He had the final say.

As Mothers’ Day approaches, I am reminded of the pain that many people who have lost their mothers will be faced with this weekend. For some, the wounds created by their loss are still fresh, while for others, this weekend of celebration bares with it the bitter sweet memories of old times coupled with the old wounds that followed their passing. It is a constant yearly reminder that she is no longer here on earth to celebrate another Mothers’ Day with them.

This coming Sunday will mark the 4th Anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, but it wasn’t the day that her breath left her body that I remember most about the painful experience of her death, it was the days leading up to it. Let’s face it, she was 92 years old and had well exceeded her promised years here on earth. I had long been preparing my heart and mind for the inevitable but absolutely nothing had prepared me for the toll that caring for my ailing grandmother would have on me. For ten years I watched the once, healthy, vibrant, independent, proud, poised statue of a woman slowly deteriorate to the frail, helpless, completely dependent and now bid ridden structure. I remember in the final hours of her life, walking into her room and becoming overwhelmed with a feeling of total helplessness. I stood there for what seemed like forever and watched the life slowly drain from her body. It had been days since she had eaten, she was rapidly losing weight and slowly she was becoming more and more unresponsive. Completely incapacitated, her breathing faint, unable to move, speak or even comprehend anything that was going on around her; it was more than clear that it was only a matter of time.

I remember in that moment turning away, walking back into the kitchen and bursting into tears, as I asked the question, “God why?!” And it was not a question of “why was this happening?” I knew full well that it was her time to go; she had lived a full life but mine was just starting and I was already mentally and emotionally exhausted from the journey. My question carried a far greater weight for which I did not have the mental capacity to fully articulate at the time.

Someone once said “Sometimes you don’t realize the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.” You see, the passing of my grandmother did not just signify the loss of a mother; it was symbolic of the end of an extremely long season. As her primary caregiver and only blood relative living in the same country, that season carried with it, an incredible level of responsibility that at times felt like a massive load that I was far from equipped to carry at such a young age.

However, along with its pains and challenges came also an equal amount of skills, a wealth of knowledge and an uncommon level of wisdom gained, that could not have been obtained any other way than through that experience itself. It also forced me out of the comfort of dependency on others to think and to do for me what I thought I never could. I had to learn very early on in life to become independent in everything that I did. The responsibility of caring for someone else gave me a sense of courage and commitment. I was forced to keep moving and to be strong even when I didn’t want to because someone else’ life depended on it.

I have learnt that the pain of life’s experiences acts as a catapult to some of life’s greatest achievements. It is the bridge that connects our weaknesses to that of our strengths, the scale that balances our confidence to that of our humility. It is the ladder to which every step upward symbolizes another weakness conquered.

So it turns out Paul wasn’t so crazy after all, he was on to something. In Romans 5 he again reiterates this same notion:
“ Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The revelation that pain does serve a purpose became even more evident during the birth of my son. I was excited about finally meeting the little person that had been sharing my personal space for the last forty-one weeks; but I was just as relieved to finally be rid of the extra weight that I had been carrying around for the last nine months. My sleeping pattern had become increasingly uncomfortable, as my bathroom trips forced me to get up multiple times throughout the night because of the pressure of the baby’s weight pressing against my bladder. Moreover, normally I was most comfortable sleeping on my stomach but by the third month my options were limited to left side or right.

Overall, pregnancy was an overwhelmingly beautiful experience but I was more than ready to be done with it! The overnight bag was packed well in advance and it was time to serve the little person who had outgrown his shared space an eviction notice! He was doing well and was in full formation to make his grand entrance into the world but my body was very slowly dilating.

It seems, the advised at-home-remedy that I had taken just the day before had triggered contractions but didn’t work out quite the way I had anticipated. After settling in to the delivery room, four hours had lapsed and there was still no progress; I was tired, hungry but patient nonetheless. I had watched enough TLC Baby Stories to know that sometimes these things could take all day, but time was of the essence, so my doctor ordered the oxytocin to help speed up the process. Now, initially I had a birth plan that included an all-natural birth, free of any form of medicine or chemical. I was hard fixed on it for months but in the grand scheme of things, I had to come to the realization that a safe delivery and a healthy baby was far more important than my own dream of becoming a super hero. So when I saw that I had already passed the first half of the day, I was well aware that I needed reinforcement and with a narrow window of opportunity I ordered the epidural. I was done playing Wonder woman and I recognized that after so many hours of labor there was only so much that my physical body could take. I also needed to be well rested with enough energy to push when the time came and this chemical injection would make that all possible. So with birth plan now tossed out the window, I gladly surrendered!

The anesthesiologist came into the room and began making the necessary preparation to administer the commonly known miracle drug used by wise women the world over during labor. Prepping the area for the injection and insertion of the catheter, the words that came next held the most profound meaning of the entire labor day experience “I need you to be completely still, while I am doing this. Now, you will feel a very cold sensation around the spinal area but that is normal. I will give you a low dosage which is just enough to help alleviate some of the discomfort and relax the muscles but it won’t be enough to completely numb your system because you need to be able to feel some level of pain or pressure during labor. That pain is an indication that you are having a contraction and that you should push. If I completely remove your ability to feel anything at all then you won’t be able to bear down and push with the contractions.”
In the moment, although I understood what was being explained to me, the revelation of it all held absolutely no relevance until months later.

Needless to say, three doses and five hours later, it was time to push and sure enough there was sufficient pain to indicate exactly when I needed to do just that! I will spare you the gory details of what the next 30 minutes of the labor experience entailed but just know that for me it held one of the greatest lessons on the purpose of pain and the power of persevering through it all. During labor, my tunnel vision was in full effect! I had already been forewarned that if I didn’t get this done soon, the doctor would have to move on to plan B; and plan B was not an option for me!

Though exhausted from nearly eleven hours of labor, I knew that the pain that I was feeling was temporary and pushing through the pressure would ultimately give way to a much greater purpose. With my husband at one end of the bed and the doctor at the other, they relentlessly cheered me on with every contraction, both holding a leg. LOL! I was determined to get this right! I had failed at many things in my life but this was not going to be one of them! A life depended on my ability to push. So with everything that I had left in me, I pushed and after thirty minutes of pushing and a total of eleven hours of labor a healthy baby boy was born.

The analogy of childbearing maybe physical in nature, but I think in so many ways, it can be likened to most of life’s challenging situations. Most times, it is very difficult to focus on what is ahead when our temporary set backs are staring us right in the face. It is in those times that we must always remember that we are never in it alone. We might not always see them, but God is there every step of the way cheering us on as we push beyond the pressures of our present circumstances; he releases his angels of grace, mercy and protection as reinforcements during our weakest moments but it is up to us to call on Him during those times. Sometimes our plans get derailed because of circumstances beyond our control, but God in all of His infinite wisdom always provides for us a way out. His plans for us are always far greater than we can ever think, hope or even imagine. So when you are forced to tap out or give up, it is imperative to see beyond the scope of your current temporary situation. It is important to know that with every struggle that you face, pushing past the pain of that season will eventually give birth to a greater purpose. You might not be able to see it now but the reward for your troubles is wrapped in a beautiful gift yet to be unveiled.

“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
― Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts

 

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Clean Hands…Impure Heart!

 

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Mahatma Gandhi

So many people share the same sentiments as Mahatma. This is not only the cry of those that have never darkened the doorsteps of a church building, but sadly enough, this is the lament of those that have experienced by participation the religion called Christianity. Unfortunately, as a result, there are people that have completely given up on the gospel of salvation and God because of one bad encounter with an individual or a group of people that misrepresented the true nature of what a Christian is supposed to look like.

The saying is true, “hurting people, hurt people”. I will be the first to admit, I have been on both ends of the spectrum. You see, although I had made a conscious decision to walk away from the religious dogma that held me captive and develop a genuine relationship with God, the experience(s) of my past had left behind years of bitter memories and scars from which I had not completely healed.  I  had dedicated my life to God, I was praying, reading my bible and had reconnected myself to a local church.  I thought I was walking the straight and narrow, by all intents and purposes, my life was now “clean”! Saved, sanctified, water baptized, spirit filled…No longer ashamed to lift up “unholy hands” for fear of scrutiny under the watchful eyes of those that knew my secret sins.  I was now able to walk with my head held high, and that I did! For the first time in my life, I felt like a free independent woman, in control of her own life, not having to compromise her standards for anything or anyone! I felt accomplished!

Little that I knew, time and life would soon reveal that I wasn’t as “righteous” as I thought I was. You see, my hands were now clean BUT my heart…what was the condition of my heart? For a brief moment I went through the new born baby Christian stage; you know the one I mean!  The “happy-go-lucky over zealous I want to save the whole world” stage.  I was just so happy and relieved to be freed from so many years of mental and spiritual bondage that I basked in that phase for a good while!  As time progressed, and the months turned into years I discovered that confessing my sins, dedicating my life to God and walking the “straight and narrow” did not in any way guarantee a smooth journey through life as a Christian and it certainly did not protect me from the battle that would soon rage from within.

I recognized that although I was now “saved”, my mind and my heart to a large degree, still mirrored the brokenness of my past. It did not manifest immediately though, once there was no opposition, all was well in my world but as soon as I felt like I was being mistreated or humiliated-those familiar spirits of rejection, inadequacy and insecurity would cause me to react in ways that were far less than “Christ-like”.  And 95% of the time it was in cases where I honestly felt like the victim, not realizing that my reaction or need to defend myself actually made me the villain in the eyes of the culprit and those that were watching.  I was slowly losing my witness and it would take more than a prayer of confession and some scriptures to break through the thick walls that had been built up around the perimeters of my deeply scarred heart.

I recall a teaching delivered a few years ago during a corporate consecration service at my church.  The pastor was teaching on fasting and prayer and some of the things that can hinder our prayers from being answered. “One of those things is iniquity” he said, “these are the secret sins of the heart, the inner thoughts that contradict God’s nature and character”.  He went on to list them  “…pride, jealousy, covetousness, hatred, bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness…to the natural eye you look like you have it all together, you walk around wearing your long dresses, your religious regalia, your religious bumper stickers, you can quote the scriptures from cover to cover, you take your big bibles to work and put it on your desk for all to see.  You make it clear to the world “I am a Christian” but I wonder…what does God see when He looks at your heart?”

At the end of the pastor’s teaching he compelled those in the audience that felt like God was speaking to them through the message to kneel down from the place where they sat and confess every iniquity before God; allowing the Holy Spirit to wash our minds clean from those secret sins of the heart.  I felt convicted that God was speaking to the spirits of resentment and unforgiveness in me that for so long had controlled a large part of my life. That night, I made a deliberate decision to release the people that had hurt me unknowingly and intentionally, from my past and my present.  I recognized that carrying the load of someone else’ wrong doings on my shoulders was too great a burden and it was not worth the weight.  I had to ask the Holy Spirit to give me the grace that I needed to release them from my heart.  I had to release my mind from the negative labels that had been placed on me and embrace God’s thoughts toward me- that I was more than a conqueror, that I was the apple of God’s eye, that I was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of royalty. I had to renounce every negative word that had ever been spoken over my life and declare the promises of God for me- that He had plans to give me a hope and a bright future.

I had to believe that if I never got an apology or there was no vindication God had me and that somehow every thing that had been meant for my bad, He was orchestrating events and circumstances to turn out for my good in the end. I had to believe that I would come out bigger and better because of it. I had to believe that God was on my side, I did not have to fight my own battles.  I had to come to the realization that some battles were not worth fighting and that not fighting them did not make me weaker, but rather, it would inevitably make me wiser. I had to believe that in the fullness of time God would reward me for letting it go and taking the road less travelled.  I had to LET IT GO, not just for me but for the few people that were depending on me to be ok, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

Forgiveness did not come overnight, it was a process but walking out the process with that mindset made the journey a whole lot easier.  And guess what? I have come to understand that the process of forgiveness is an ongoing one! Why? Because although I have forgiven those past sins of myself and others, I recognize that as long as I am breathing more offenses will come. And whether I am on the receiving end or the one dishing it out, the fact remains, we are all imperfect beings living in an imperfect world where we will be challenged one way or the other…it is simply apart of life. I have learnt that I cannot control another person’s actions but I can control how I choose to respond to it and that is all the control that I need.

Many of you, like me have encountered offenses of varying levels that have placed you in the category of victim, villain or both. Some of you are still struggling with issues of the past while others of you are currently facing those same mountains. Maybe, you have disqualified the notion of developing an authentic relationship with God because of what someone else did to you. Perhaps, you have a relationship with God but there are some grey areas that you have not completely surrendered to Him because you have become discouraged or distrusting.

May I submit to you, that we are ALL on a journey to becoming the very same characteristics that we strongly desire to see reflected in someone else that call themselves Christians. “How much of my life have I decided to yield completely to the will of God?”- the answer to that question is what draws the distinction between all of us. That is the one thing that makes the difference in our thought patterns, our intentions and ultimately our actions.

Living a Christ-like life for me now has so much more to do with the posture of my heart and mind. I am no longer concerned about keeping up external appearances for the sake of looking “holy” as much as I am concerned about actually pleasing God for real. I find that the more I submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit regarding my daily walk as a believer, the easier it becomes to live a life of complete freedom in Him. Everyday is not easy and I’m sorry to disappoint you but I don’t think that it ever will be, but knowing that my life is hidden in Christ is so much more reassuring than living without him or living in the grey area of uncertainty.

There is an indescribable peace that comes with knowing that no matter what others do or say, whether saved or unsaved, my relationship with God is independent of it all.  Knowing that the only mediator between me and God is Jesus Christ puts my mind at ease. With that kind of relationship comes an incomprehensible level of confidence in knowing that I belong to a God that is sovereign, all knowing, omni present and can do the impossible in my life.

He made me so many promises and I am looking forward to seeing those promises fulfilled in my lifetime. Those same promises are available to you. In order to receive them, all that He requires from us is that we have not just clean hands but pure hearts…who could resist a deal like that? #Psalm 24

“All the water in the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us”
― Goi Nasu