Generosity

Today’s prompt for #JusJoJan is “Generosity”. I don’t tend to think of myself as a particularly generous person. That would not only be arrogant, but it would be incorrect as well. Particularly as a child, I liked receiving more than I liked giving. I was a very jealous child, often envying my sister for what she got and I didn’t.

I remember one day, when my sister and her friends had been participating in the four-day walking event in my city. It was the last day of the event and I was allowed to walk with them for this occasion. At the finish line, a parent of one of my sister’s friends had lots of candy for my sister and her friends, but he had none for me. I had a full-on tantrum in the car home even though my sister and her friends ended up giving me more candy than they kept for themselves. It caused the oldest friend, a girl my age, to cry. I was ten at the time, so far too old for toddler tantrums like this. I feel intense shame about this incident as I look back, seeing that I should have known it wasn’t fair of me to expect candy since I hadn’t walked the entire event. Much less should I have tantrummed about it in the car.

Now that I’m an adult, I am a little less worried about material goods and a lot less jealous of others, but it still doesn’t come natural to me to give material things away. Thankfully, generosity comes in different ways and I do love expressing it in other ways. I love to create my own gifts for people. Yes, of course they are material too, but that feels different.

Still, I am often reminded of the Sesame Street episode in which Bert and Ernie have a cake and Ernie gives Bert the smaller slice. Bert teaches him that he’s supposed to offer Bert the larger slice first. Then Ernie asks: “So what would you do if you were to offer me the cake?” Then he replied he’d take the smaller slice and offer Ernie the larger slice. “But you have the smaller slice now, like you wanted!” Ernie objects. This is child logic and it is incorrect. It is not how we’re supposed to be generous. We are supposed to love others like ourselves. Others before ourselves, even.

I pray God leads me to a life of greater generosity. I know I am supposed to love others as myself and that includes giving generously of myself to others. Like I said yesterday, when I trust that God will provide for my needs, He will. As a follower of Christ, I have no need to worry. In the end, everything will work out okay.

Grateful for a Life of Abundance

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV)

The above Bible verse was the verse of the day for today on YouVersion. It immediately spoke to me. Today also, the prompt word for #JusJoJan is “Abundance”.

a thing I realized when I read up on abundance, was how fortunate I am. I don’t have to worry about not having something to eat tomorrow. I don’t have to worry about not having clothes on my back. I have a roof over my head – two, in fact, in a way, in that I have both my room in the care facility and my and my husband’s house. Though I do worry slightly about my financial security now that it’s time for my new long-term care copay to be determined, I really don’t have to worry. I have enough money to afford my necessities and most non-necessities I want too. Even if (most likely) I do get a higher copay, I still don’t have to worry about going into debt. All this means I am far more well off than the vast majority of people.

I also live a life of abundance because I am in reasonably good health both physically and mentally. Though I endured trauma in both childhood and my adult life, I am currently safe – even though PTSD sometimes tells me otherwise. I know there are a lot of people who feel happier or more stable mentally than me, but I have been in psychiatric hospitals long enough to know there are also many people who are a lot sicker than me.

I know that comparisons don’t always work. Telling yourself others have it worse isn’t a magical cure for misery or depression. However, gratitude definitely helps cultivate happiness.

I have an abundance of reasons to be grateful. Last Saturday, I listed ten gratefuls for the past 24 hours alone. Today, I could list a number of things too. I am grateful for my favorite Christmas cookies, called cinnamon stars. I finished the first packet out of four I got for Christmas. I am grateful for Senseo coffee. I am grateful the web store accepted my returned Fitbit charger (it wasn’t working). I am grateful elementary and secondary schools are reopening next week. Although I don’t have kids, this does feel like a small glimmer of hope for a way out of lockdown.

I trust that I will be able to live a life of abundance in spite of the hardships I may endure. I cannot do it alone, but through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I will get there. He does not always give me what I want. I mean, I may actually have to pay a much higher long-term care copay than I expect now (I won’t find out until the 12th or so). Then again, He will take care of me as long as I put my trust in Him. Isn’t that awesome?

Linking up with InstaEncouragements.

Am I Good Enough for Jesus?

It’s the day after Christmas. Boxing day in the UK. Second Christmas in the Netherlands. I spent Christmas with my in-laws having a good time, then went to my and my husband’s house in Lobith. On our way from my in-laws to our house, my husband and I talked about faith. I noticed while talking with him that I’m still struggling with my faith. It isn’t so much that I don’t believe in God or that I, personally, don’t believe Jesus is my savior, but how can I be sure I’m saved if we’re saved by grace alone? How can anyone be sure?

Today, I decided to look up some Christian journaling prompts to get me started on my reflections on faith. The first one I came across asked us to write about our relationship with God. Is He a friend, a coach, a father or perhaps merely an acquaintance? I’d say, He’s a Father, but I’m not sure he’s the loving, caring father most children hopefully have.

It doesn’t help that I didn’t really grow up in a nurturing earthly family. I have hardly known love. Of course, I know rationally that my husband loves me, but when it comes to faith, I still sometimes believe that if he truly knew me, he’d believe I’d go to hell.

And God truly knows me. He knows I bought The Artist’s Way, which turns out to be pretty New Age’ish. He knows I used a censored swear word this afternoon, which no-one else knows because no-one was around. He knows I worried last Friday about the holiday money I usually get from my parents each year. God knows my heart, mind and soul. And I’m pretty sure that, like my earthly father, He’s going to judge me pretty harshly for it. And, whereas my earthly father could give me a beating and send me to my room for an hour or two, God could send me to hell for all of eternity.

And of course I do believe in Jesus. I admit I need him more than I need anything. But if faith doesn’t change me – and I’ve believed in Jesus for a year now -, isn’t it completely invalid? I do see a change in myself over the past year, but it’s so small I’m not sure it’s enough. Am I good enough for Jesus yet? I pray that I will be.

God, please show me Your will and help me be obedient to it. Help me let go of those things which are undesirable in Your view and to embrace those things that are desirable. Please help me move closer to You. In Jesus name, I pray, Amen.

I Am Not a Calculation Mistake

Like I mentioned last week, I have been doing a Bible study plan on YouVersion called Hope Heals in the Midst of Suffering. I finished it yesterday and it was awesome. It was written by Katherine, a woman who survived a severe stroke shortly after becoming a mother, as well as her husband.

The plan follows Joseph’s story, the part of Genesis I had gotten stuck on in my Bible in a Year plan. I was glad to read it now.

At one point, Katherine shares that, about a year after her stroke, she is still unable to perform many basic functions. She is still in adult diapers, unable to eat, unable to even lift up her head. Her family is having Thanksgiving dinner with her son, then a toddler. As the family are playing with her son, she wonders if there was a mistake. Should she have died from her stroke?

It was at this point that a lightbulb went off in my head. I, too, have often wondered whether my life is a mistake. A calculation mistake, to be exact.

You see, I was born over three months premature. Officially, I was born at 26 weeks 4 days gestation. However, it is quite probable given the circumstances of my conception that my mother really wasn’t yet 26 weeks along. At the time, 26 weeks gestation was the cutoff for active, life-saving treatment in the NICU.

My parents weren’t even sure I should be treated actively. At one point, when I’d suffered a brain bleed, my father asked the neonatologist what he was doing with regards to my treatment. “We’re just keeping her alive,” he said. He (or his nurse) added that my father shouldn’t interfere in my treatment or he’d lose custody of me.

In 2004, when I was eighteen, this same doctor was quoted in a newspaper as saying that he sometimes meets preemies he’s kept alive back in his early days as a doctor, about whom he wonders: “What have we done?!” I at the time tried to reassure myself that he wouldn’t have meant me. Or would he? I, after all, am multiply-disabled and in long-term care.

The devotional in the Bible plan I was reading continued. Katherine at this point heard God clearly speak: “I am God. I do not make mistakes.”

This was what I needed to hear! I have tried to find my neonatologist on Google several times since that newspaper article. However, I don’t need his opinion. I have talked to my father about his views on my quality of life several times, but it hasn’t helped. I don’t need my father’s opinion either. God chose for me to be kept alive and that’s what matters.

Grace and Truth

Also joining Friendship Friday this week.

No Shame in Hope

I have been wanting to share more faith-based posts for a while, but didn’t quite know where to start. Today, I read the second weekly meditation in Hearing God Speak, an enneagram-based book of devotionals by Eve Annunziato. It is a meditation on suffering and the everlasting presence of God through it all.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 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.” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)

I have known this passage for several years, even before I became a Christian. I have probably written about it before. After all, the fact that suffering produces perseverance, really resonates with me. As Annunziato points out, enneagram type fours like me feel most alive when we dwell on our feelings of pain and suffering.

As such, Annunziato challenges us to move towards praising God and seeing His presence in a new way. As such, the line about character and hope is more important to us Fours than the line about suffering producing perseverance.

I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Romans 5:5 and that verse in particular speaks to me now. I, after all, often fear joy and, by extension, hope. I am not yet sure what it is about joy I fear, but it might be a feeling of being less alive if I’m not suffering.

God’s love, however, has been poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit. This is something to rejoice over, not to be ashamed of.

Indeed, it is interesting that Paul uses the word “shame” in this verse. I had no idea it is this emotion I often feel when I’m hopeful or optimistic, but it is.

I mean, even when I’m doing pretty well, I still say I’m doing “okay”. I remember a fellow patient in the mental hospital did the same and he did this so the staff wouldn’t think he was well enough to be discharged. I didn’t consciously do this, but on a subconscious level, I probably did. And still do, despite the fact that there’s no reason I’ll ever be kicked out of long-term care.

Honestly, there is nothing wrong with feeling hopeful, joyful and optimistic. In fact, it is what God is wanting for us in His honor. For this reason, Annunziato encourages us to praise Him even in the midst of our suffering! Because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope is nothing to be ashamed of, because through the Holy Spirit, God’s love has been poured out over us.

Linking up with Scripture Blessing, Let’s Have Coffee and Recharge Wednesday.

Disagree

Today’s prompt for Five Minute Friday (#FMF) is “disagree”. Initially, I was going to write a post about how (lack of) open disagreement with others was used against me. When my then psychologist diagnosed me with dependent personality disorder in 2016, she thought that my lack of open disagreement with many of her controversial opinions, proved I had this condition. It honestly to me proved that she was in authority even though she had no clue what she was doing.

I eventually deleted that draft and started over, but I still want to write along those lines.

In Christianity, we are often taught to not just respect, but obey authority. Children are expected to obey their parents in everything. Wives are expected to submit to their husbands.

As a survivor of childhood trauma as well as many abuses of power, I struggle with these commands.

That being said, the command to be obedient as a child and submissive as a wife, does come with its respective obligations on the part of the parents and husband. In Colossians 3:21, Paul writes for example: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” In other words, the Bible is not a reason for harsh treatment and abuses of power. Besides, of course the Bible does not say anything about people in modern-day, informal authority positions, such as the aforementioned psychologist.

Now, five years on, I am very happy that I eventually did stick up for myself and sought an independent second opinion on that diagnosis. Then I applied for long-term care. Now that I have the right people (loving, respectful people) around me, I no longer need to fear authority. I can respectfully disagree with people, whether Biblically I’m supposed to submit to them or not. I am still working on feeling confident in my role as a grown-up woman. God and His Word help me on this journey.

Okay, this post took me much longer than five minutes to write, as I had to look up what the Bible actually said and also because I got distracted several times. I hope that’s okay.

Finding God in the Middle

Today’s prompt for Five Minute Friday (#FMF) is “Middle”. I sat thinking about what I want to write for a bit. The prompt really resonates with me, but I wasn’t too sure why. Then I realized that, in all of my life, I struggle to find the middle.

In dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), I learned to practise finding the middle. The middle between emotional mind and rational mind, for example, is called Wise Mind. But there are other things that require the skill of dialectics.

For example, I struggle to reconcile my relatively high (sometimes even seen as very high) IQ with my low emotional level of functioning. I know rationally that, when staff leave the room, they aren’t on the North Pole, but emotionally it feels that way.

Then again, there is somehow a middle. I still am both highly intelligent and emotionally vulnerable, after all. If they were mutually exclusive, I wouldn’t be me. And I am me. And that’s okay.

DBT is partly based on Buddhist thinking. However, I do believe that God does call us Christians to find the middle ground too. Like Kate writes in her own contribution, God is there always: He was there in the past, He will be there in the future, but He is definitely also there in the middle, that is, the present.

This is also what DBT calls us to do: be present in the here and now. Mindfulness is one of the core skills of DBT and it doesn’t matter that the idea of it originated with Buddhist thinkers. In fact, when we as Christians pray and especially when we are still, we are present. God calls us to be present, to receive his grace in the Holy Spirit. DBT fans can call that Wise Mind all they want. I call it God’s speaking to me.

Knowing God When I’m at a Fork in the Road

Yesterday, I finished the First steps with Jesus Bible plan on YouVersion and I immediately wanted to start a new Bible reading plan. I looked through the most recently added plans and found one called: Hey God, Can We Talk? I’m at a Fork in the Road. I clicked on it and apparently loved its description, although I can’t remember it right now. So I decided to start the plan.

The plan walks us through Jacob’s story. For the first day, we were asked to read the verses in Genesis 28 where Jacob leaves for Bethel after Esau plans to kill him. I had no idea about this. I mean, I thought the idea that Jacob would receive Isaac’s blessing rather than Esau had been mutually agreed upon. That’s how my father explained it once when we ate lentils for dinner: that Esau voluntarily swapped his firstborn’s right for a bowl of lentils. He then personalized the story to my younger sister and me. I probably thought to myself that my sister could keep her yucky lentils and eat mine as well.

Anyway, apparently not. Rebekah had urged Jacob to escape the family home and go to her brother. This, the plan author compares to us leaving home to go off to college. Except, she says, Jacob didn’t have his family to support him should catastrophe strike. This hit home to me.

When I lived independently in Nijmegen in 2007, I didn’t have my parents’ support either. That is, when I wasn’t coping, they made it very clear that I wasn’t to rely on them. I had my community support staff, of course, but they too had their conditions for supporting me.

At one point while resting in Bethel, Jacob has a very important dream. In it, the Lord speaks to him and promises him the land on which he lay. Okay, fine by me. I don’t need land. but I do need comfort.

The plan then goes on to highlight verse 16: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.'” (Genesis 28:16 NIV)

This, then, was comforting but also slightly scary to Jacob. This is so relatable! In 2007, I had no idea there was even a God, let alone that He cares about my life. Now I do know, but it’s sometimes scary too. Maybe because I am not used, with the exception of my husband (and I doubt that all the time), to being loved unconditionally.

Of course, Jacob’s story takes place long before Christ. However, the God of the Old Testament, unlike what some atheists told me when I first learned about religion, isn’t a horrible dictator. He is still the same and He was with Jacob. I love this. Do you, too?

Linking up with Grace and Truth.

Waiting for Sunrise #Write28Days

Welcome to day five in #Write28Days. Today’s prompt is “Sunrise”. It is also this week’s prompt for Five Minute Friday. I’ll try to freewrite for this post, although I won’t set a timer.

At first, the prompt didn’t speak to me. I have rarely in my life ever seen the sunrise, as I don’t usually get up before dawn. Besides, I am almost completely blind, so I am not able to appreciate its visual effects as much as others. To me, sunrise looks pretty much exactly like sunset. I know there’s a difference, but I can’t see it.

Then I saw that some fellow Five Minute Friday writers have used the sunrise prompt as a way to symbolize the coming of something good. According to Genesis, God created the sun to mark the day and the moon to mark the night. Indeed, a new morning is often appreciated as something positive. It symbolizes a new chance to make positive changes to our life or world.

Why, though, should we wait for that new dawn? We shouldn’t wait for Jesus to come back to make everything right. With God’s help, we can make positive changes to our life and world right now, even though it’s 8:30PM on a Friday in February and the sun has long set.

There are so many things I want to change about my life and world. Personally, I want to develop my distress tolerance. I want to lose weight. I want to deepen my faith. Politically, I want to educate myself on areas in which I experience privilege, such as race.

I don’t need to and shouldn’t be procrastinating on these things. I may not be able to accomplish them all at once. However, with God’s help, each and every second of every single day, I get to make a choice between love and judgment, ignorance and education, health and sickness, faith and despair. Right now, I am making a choice to trust God. Thanks to His grace, I trust I can make these other positive choices.

Enthusiasm for Jesus #Write28Days

Welcome to day 2 in #Write28Days. Today I’m not feeling well and struggling with my faith a lot. I try to remember Jesus is there for me no matter what, and even if I don’t feel better now, I might in the future. I don’t know what plan God has for me.

Today, for this reason, I want to write about the parable of the sower. The prompt word for today in #Write28Days is “enthusiasm”. This is the perfect word for me right now.

For those not familiar with the parable, in Mark 4, Jesus teaches that God is like a sower. He sows the Word. Some of his seeds fall on the road, while others fall on rocky ground, still others fall inbetween thorny bushes, and yet some fall into rich soil, where they sprout and multiply and carry fruit. These places the seeds fall on, are a metaphor for people hearing the Word of God. Those who don’t hear or are evil, resemble the road. Those who at once rejoice in the Word, resemble the rocks. After all, the seeds spring up quickly, but they lack a root and wither easily. The people who are like rocks, are enthusiastic to hear the Word, but can’t withstand the negative aspects of it, such as persecution.

I must admit, when I first truly converted to Christianity, I was like the rocks. I was elated to hear my husband had recently become a believer again after years of being an atheist. I felt ready to dive into faith once again, after years of being a sort-of believer. Then though, I wasn’t feeling so well and learned about the negative aspects of faith. I began to struggle.

I also have had times when I was like the thorny place. Jesus says that these are the people who are eager to receive the Word but don’t want to or can’t give up on the pleasures of life. As an example, I have often laughed at blasphemous jokes. Even letting go of this low and simple pleasure is a struggle. Don’t even get me started on the more insidious temptations of life.

I really pray that God’s grace will transform me from the rocky, thorny place I may now still be into rich, fruitful soil. I trust that this will happen. After all, during my years of sort-of belief, I wasn’t even aware of my perpetual use of blasphemous interjections. Now, on the rare occasion that a blasphemous word slips out, I am instantly aware and correct myself. I am so glad that God has at least opened my awareness to this.