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.

Faith Is a Verb

Last Saturday, my husband told me about a book he had been reading. He said: “It’s a Christian book.” As a progressive believer who struggles with her faith a lot, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a Christian book. Two weeks earlier, he had recommended Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis to me and I hadn’t picked it up yet. After all, some of the passages he read to me had me angry.

My husband though explained to me that the book he was recommending now was perfectly suited to my recent struggles. You see, I have been struggling with feelings of worthlessness due to my not living the life my parents had envisioned for me.

The book is called You Are Beloved by Bobby Schuller. My husband was so convinced it’d help me, that he offered to buy me the eBook on whichever platform suited me best. I said I’d look whether it’s available on Bookshare, an accessible book service for the print disabled, first. And it was. I downloaded it as soon as I had access to stable WiFi.

I looked up Bobby Schuller first before starting to read the book. My husband isn’t very conservative either, but still more conservative than me. I wasn’t sure I’d like what Schuller had to say.

I so far only read the introduction, but was immediately enthusiastic. Not just for Schuller’s book, but for my faith in general.

I don’t have a church I belong to normally even without COVID. In fact, I usually listen to American church services despite living in the Netherlands. I hadn’t listened to them in a while though and the ones I usually listen to are so progressive they’re hardly Christian at all. On Sunday, I decided to listen to the prior week’s sermon (since the current week’s wasn’t available yet due to time zone differences) from First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, LA.

In it, the pastor discusses Ephesians 4:22-5:2, in which Paul tells believers how to be Godlike. The pastor also quotes an original Methodist work that explains the character of true believers. It said, among other things, that we are happy – always happy. The pastor uses this to tell the believers that the goal of the Christian life is not just to go to Heaven after we die, but to be Christlike in the current life too. This very much resonated with what my husband said to me when recommending Schuller’s book: that faith is a verb.

My husband meant to say that, if we truly believe that God loves us, we will also extend this to others and live an ethical life. He also said that the goal of every religion, not just Christianity, is to find true peace of mind. In other words, the goal is not just to sit on a cloud and play the harp after we die (in case that’s how you picture Heaven), but to experience the kingdom of God here on Earth.

Schuller’s main point, by the way, is that we are not what we do. We are not what we have. We are not how others see us. We are beloved by God just because we are.

”Grace

Such an Inner Strength

Yesterday, I listened to the latest sermon at Holy Covenant UCC. As regular readers know, I’m a very progressive believer, hardly even calling myself a Christian. I tend to doubt God’s presence a lot. I mean, why is there so much suffering in the world when God is loving and ever present?

The pastor delivering the sermon said that Jesus could’ve had these same doubts while on the cross. Yet what seemed like God the Father abandoning His son was, according to the pastor, the greatest moment of all creation, as God opened the gates of Heaven.

One of the things I find hard to deal with in Christianity is the idea that only certain people will make it to Heaven. I mean, according to the Bible, only 144,000 people who ever existed will be allowed entry into the Kingdom of God. My husband uses this as one of his reasons for being an atheist. My former pastor at the psych hospital though said that this number may be symbolic: twelve times twelve times a thousand is a lot! I like that. Some other progressive Christians at one point told me that there’s a theological theory that says that all of Hell was shattered on the cross when Jesus died for our sins.

At first, when listening to the Holy Covenant UCC sermon, I felt weird. The pastor said that God had hidden his treasure in the plain and ordinary, that is, us. That had me go uhm. I somehow wish I was more than just an ordinary being and a sinner at that. Isn’t that a bit narcissistic of me?

Then the pastor went on to tell the church that we are more than our outward appearance. In other words, we are more than ordinary beings. Because of God, we each harbor a huge inner strength. A treasure. We are more than how we come across to others. We are also more than our experiences. We are more than the racism, sexism, ableism, etc. we endured. Through God, we can overcome the odds!

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what is right. The pastor, who I assume is of color, talked about the great abolitionists and civil rights activists, who maintained their faith in the presence of immense hardship. They kept going despite opposition and oppression. That is what we should do. Don’t give up, but fight knowing that God is by our side. Ultimately, even if evil prospers right now, it will not always.

Expressing Faith By Expressing Anger

Last week, for some reason, I felt called to listen to a church service. When I do, I usually listen to United Church of Christ services, though occasionally I check out Protestant Church in the Netherlands services locally too. The service I ended up listening to was delivered at Mayflower Congregational UCC in the Oklahoma City area. It was titled “disorientation”.

The topic was how many Christians think they’re not healthy or whole enough to attend church. Many Christians are taught to believe that we shouldn’t show our distress or be angry with God. Though I grew up in an atheist home, I too was taught not to complain or be angry. “Gets angry easily” was often written about me in psychological reports. This may have been so, but anger in itself isn’t bad.

Rev. Lori Walke, in her sermon from May 10, talks about the psalms, nearly half of which are psalms of lament. In one of the psalms she discusses, psalm 13, David cries out to God in anguish:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” (Psalm 13:1-4 NIV)

Rev. Walke goes on to recite the rest of the psalm:
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6 NIV)

This expression of anguish shows, according to Walke, that David deep down still has faith. After all, if he didn’t believe his anger would do anything, what good would there be in expressing it? As such, those who hold their anger inside and keep silent, usually are more hopeless than those who cry out.

This is why Walke invites us all to take our troubles to church. We don’t need to put up a happy face all the time. Indeed, in our expression of anger, we also show an expresssion of faith.

This totally struck a chord with me. I was taught as a child not to express my anger. Like I said, it was said about me that I was angry too easily. When I landed in the mental hospital at age 21, I even for a while had the unofficial nurses’ “diagnosis” of “angry and dissatisfied”. While there definitely was some truth to this, stuffing my anger only fueled my hopelessness. It was in my expressing my despair that I also showed that deep down I still believed in a good outcome.

Joining in with Let’s Have Coffee.