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.

What If I Disappoint God? #Write28Days

Welcome to my first post in the #Write28Days blogging challenge. This challenge is an offshoot from the original #Write31Days challenge that used to be done every October until 2018. I only found out about #Write28Days a few weeks ago. Thankfully, you’re not required to pick a topic. The goal is just to write everyday during February. And this is my first post. I don’t have a landing page, as I used to forget to update those. However, if you click on the #Write28Days tag, you should be taken to my other posts.

I originally intended to write my challenge posts on faith, then realized I, being a new Christian, may not be able to devote 28 posts to this topic. But for today, something definitely came to mind: the feeling that I’ll disappoint God.

I was converted to Christianity in early December of 2020. Before that, I’d sort of believed in God, but never understood the essence of the Christian faith. I felt incredibly alone, thinking I was a very wicked person on the inside. The thing is, I thought I was the only one.

Then my husband showed me the book You Are Beloved by Bobby Schuller. I started reading and thought that, oh yes, God loves people, but not me. I still felt I was somehow more sinful than other human beings. And at the same time, I wanted to combat this feeling by believing I am good enough without Jesus. Well, I’m not. And that’s okay, because neither is anyone else.

The question, then, becomes not what if I disappoint God? I already do. Yet I’m not alone. Everyone has their imperfections, after all. The Bible calls them sin. Yet through Jesus’ death on the cross, we are forgiven.

Yesterday, through a Bible reading plan on the YouVersion Bible app, I read Mark 10 and 11. In Mark 10, Jesus tells a rich man to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor and then to follow him. He may or may not have literally meant for the rich man to sell everything, but he did mean we need to let go of something in order to follow Jesus and gain eternal life. After all, the Ten Commandments tell us not to have idols. That doesn’t just mean other gods, but other things we pursue in life besides God. The author of the plan, in fact, had to let go of his pride. And in a way, so do I.

God, thank you for showing me your presence in life. Thank you for loving me despite my imperfections. Help me overcome my self-righteous sense of pride. Help me realize that, like every human being, I am powerless over my sin. Help me draw closer to You through your only begottn Son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I Can Rest in Jesus

A few weeks ago, like I’ve mentioned before, my husband pointed out that I cannot and should not do life alone. I at once cannot and do not need to rely on myself alone to solve the puzzle that is life here on Earth. I have God to help me.

That same day, John 15:5 was the verse of the day on the Bible app I use. It has been on my mind ever since and could easily be one of my favorite verses so far. Oh yes, I know the Bible wasn’t originally written in chapters or verses and the wider context is important too. I will get to that.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV)

This is good news! My husband was initially worried that I would be disappointed by the rest of this chapter, because, well, it is good news only to those who will listen. This verse, to me, however, captures both the positive and the negative message that the wider context of the chapter reveals: Jesus is the vine, while we are the branches. If we abide in him, we will prosper; if we don’t, we will perish.

Today, as I was thinking of what to write for my blog, I opened Bobby Schuller’s book You Are Beloved and saw him discuss this exact chapter. Schuller says that, in Greek, the word that is translated as “abide” in English, is “meno”. There is no literal translation for this word in either Dutch or English (the Dutch Bible translation I use says “remain in”). Meno, according to Schuller, means something like coming home to a warm place after having been in the cold for a long while. We can come home to Jesus.

I loved the imagery Schuller evoked. As regular readers of this blog might know, I have never felt that I was truly “home” anywhere. No, not even in my current care facility. I didn’t feel very safe with my parents and, after I moved out, have been in so many places that were all temporary. Now that I can stay here, still, I struggle to believe it. Regardless though, in Jesus, I can rest and be home.

Schuller also makes it very clear that we can only truly love one another if we know God’s love for us. Through Jesus, we are loved in all our sinfulness. If we realize that God loves us, imperfections and all, we are able to extend this love to other people.

In my experience, this isn’t even a fully conscious choice. God’s grace extends to us, and due to that we are able to extend our grace and love to others. I am reminded, as I often am lately, of my music teacher’s telling me and my fellow students about a show on Dutch TV at the time called “God changes people”. Because the first several syllables of this phrase are the same as those in a Dutch swear word involving God, I was tempted to start cussing with God and then change my wording mid-sentence to “God changes people!” I still use God’s name in vain at times, but each time now, I am reminded of this. I credit God’s work in me for that.

I am linking up with Faith on Fire and Grace and Truth.

A Fresh Start in Jesus

Today’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “Fresh”. I couldn’t quite think of something to write on this topic at first. Then I read Kate’s original post.

She wrote that she took some fresh breaths of air before having to put on her face mask. Now I rarely wear a face mask, as I hardly ever go to public places. That being said, I definitely enjoy the fresh air. That’s why I went for three walks today despite my shoes getting damaged due to my having drop foot.

The word “fresh” also made me think of a fresh start in God. As regular readers of this blog know, I became a Christian only a little over a month ago. God gives me a fresh start.

I am constantly reminded of a metaphor my husband explained to me last week. He explained that, as humans, we are all on a train ride to hell, but Jesus stands outside to command everyone to get off the train and be saved. I like to imagine Jesus standing on a platform at every station.

Another metaphor is the team building exercise in which one person is supposed to fall backwards and trust the other people will catch them. That’s what faith is like. Maybe that proverbial train is moving, in fact. Ouch, how scary! I probably still have one foot on it.

God, thank you for your presence in my life. Thank you for your everlasting love for me. Please help me gain the confidence to jump off your proverbial train into your loving arms. Help me get a fresh start in the fresh air of your presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Fear Turned to Hope for the Second Coming of Christ

I have been making a daily habit of Bible reading for the past ten days and hope to continue this habit for a long time still. Sometimes, I squeeze in five minutes of reading just before bed, while on other days, I spend far more time reading the Word.

A few days ago, the daily story (something like a short sermon) on YouVersion was on Christ’s second coming.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44 NIV)

The speaker said that this Bible passage had always instilled fear in her as a child, because she didn’t want to be caught with her hand in the cookie jar when Jesus would return. I understand now even as an adult. Indeed, some strict pastors in the past used to go to cinemas and tell believers that they ought not watch worldly movies, for what if Christ returned now?

Then again, God knows us better than we know ourselves. We do not need to hide anything from Him. In fact, this is not possible. He also knows our hearts. This does mean we need to make sure we train our minds to think more helpful thoughts.

The speaker then went on to say that this passage currently inspires hope in her. I relate this to what my husband told me a few days ago: that the people of the Old Testament found their hope in the coming of Jesus. Jesus was their light even before he’d come to the Earth.

Indeed, we as believers can trust that everything will be okay in the end. Christ may not have come back yet, but he will.

Last year, when I hadn’t become a true believer yet, I predicted that everything would be okay in 2021. I based this on the fact that mentally ill people would qualify for long-term care by then, so I would be allowed to go into a care facility then. I already moved here in September of 2019, but I didn’t know at the time that I’d still have to fight a huge battle against my inner demons.

Of course, if Christ comes back in 2021, I fear he might find me in one of my bad moments, but I do hope he’ll make everything okay for me. And I hope so whenever he returns.

I’m linking up with Let’s Have Coffee.

Moving Beyond Shame

I’ve been struggling a lot lately. I feel shame over a lot of things. Then again, my husband said that shame is only useful for the one second you realize you should’ve done different. Then you need to move on.

I just read a part of Bobby Schuller’s book You Are Beloved in which he tells me that God’s love is the antidote to shame. Jesus, he says, did not act out of shame. Maybe he didn’t even feel it. He didn’t care about his reputation, inviting the lowest-status people of his time to eat with him. Schuller notes that eating with someone in Jesus’ time on Earth means seeing them as equals.

Jesus regarded people who didn’t believe they belonged, as equals. Of course, he is God, so we can never measure up to that, but we can rest assured that he loves us no matter what.

God, help me move beyond the feeling of shame towards an experience of peace. I know You love me for who I am. Please help me see this with all my heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This post was written for Five Minute Friday, for which the prompt this week is “Beyond”. I didn’t set a timer, but I think I did a pretty good job of doing this piece in five minutes.

Fighting the Depression Demon

I was in yet another crisis yesterday. When the extra staff was about to leave, I crashed and started crying. The staff felt somehow obliged to stay and, when she finally left, another staff tried to comfort me. I cried for like three hours.

Then today it seemed to start all over again. I decided to call my husband, who told me to push the depressive thoughts away. I was going to say I feel like a selfish monster for having even unconsciously made the staff stay yesterday, but my husband said that I need to push away those thoughts too.

My husband kept repeating that I’m not a monster and I need to stop those thoughts now. He said that these thoughts are destructive. I find it hard to understand, but maybe on some level I do. I mean, I feel that I’m wicked and that’s why I’m depressed and that’s why I ask for more and more help and that’s why people leave me and that’s why I’m depressed. I can see now that this is a vicious cycle. I’m not sure it isn’t true, but I remember from the little cognitive behavior therapy I took years ago that really it doesn’t matter. It’s non-functional. Or destructive even. And that’s what matters.

My husband tried to remind me that God loves me. I kept getting stuck on technicalities such as the fact that I wasn’t baptized. At first he told me: “So then get baptized if it helps you.” I can’t see how I could be baptized in this time of social distancing.

Then my husband started to tell me that I am at a crossroads and can take one step towards despair or one step towards hope each second. Maybe even if I don’t get baptized at this point, because well I can’t, I can take a number of baby steps towards hope. Towards God.

Lord, please help me take every second as it comes. Please help me choose each second to take that one step, even if it’s a snail’s step (or crawl, whatever snails do), closer to You.

Lord, thank you for bringing my husband into my life. Thank you for speaking through him and reminding me to live positively. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now I’m totally clueless about the supposed format of prayers, so I have no idea whether this was a proper one. I trust God hears me whether my prayer was written properly though.

Grateful for Love

Today’s Five Minute Friday (FMF) prompt is “Grateful”. It truly speaks to me, even though I, being from the Netherlands, don’t celebrate Thanksgiving this week. In fact, all I do for it is look all over the Internet to see whether the Apple Watch I want is on sale for Black Friday (it isn’t).

That being said, I haven’t felt more grateful than I feel now in a long while. Here’s why…

I feel so immensely grateful for my husband. He loves me and cares enough about me to show me his love multiple times daily even though we don’t live together. He must miss me, but rather than turn around and find someone else to live with, he tells me he loves me too many times to count. In fact, when COVID hit here first, we weren’t allowed to see each other for three months and yet he still loved me.

Last week, I wrote about grieving the loss of my “normal”, functioning self. Today, I am so immensely grateful to be loved for who I am. Not just by my husband, but by God as well.

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV)

I have been meditating a lot on this Bible passage and somehow come across it almost on a daily basis when reading about Christianity. It was the start of the Bible reading for the First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge, LA sermon I referred to on Tuesday. More than commanding me to be Godlike, it speaks to me in that my old self doesn’t matter. I am loved by God just the way I am.

Okay, this took me longer to write than five minutes, but then again it usually does. Sorry about that. In fact, I took probably about five minutes to find, read and copy/paste the Bible passage. Well, at least I tried to keep it short.