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.

Misunderstood

I am currently reading Forty Days on Being a Four, a book of reflections by Christine Yi Suh, who identifies as an enneagram type Four. In the day one reflection, she discusses the story in Luke 7:36-50 in which an unnamed, sinful woman enters the house in which Jesus is eating with a Pharisee. The woman’s dramatic display of emotion makes Christine Yi Suh think she’s a Four. Indeed, she is greatly misunderstood by the Pharisees, who see just her sinful lifestyle and don’t understand that she is in fact displaying her faith, love and devotion towards Jesus.

The reflection ends with the question in which ways I, being a Four, have been misunderstood. Well, for one thing, I’m often not even seen as a Four. Others would most likely describe me as a Five, because I’m such a thinker.

In fact, one of the main ways in which I feel misunderstood, is that my intellect is overrated and my emotional life underrated. As a child, I was described as self-centered, selfish even. I often got the feeling that I was seen as unfeeling. I am not and never was unemotional at all.

Indeed, I do feel that the depth of my emotional life is often misunderstood. I used to joke that I should give my parents the table of contents of the DSM-IV (we were still in IV era at the time), so that they could pick a random disorder to label me with when I wasn’t being my desirable, intellectual self. I mean, they often labeled me as dramatic, psychotic even. I wasn’t.

People who really know me, know that deep down, I’m definitely sensitive. I may not show it on the outside as much as the unnamed woman in the story does.

Another way in which I am often misunderstood, is in terms of my behavior. Too often, my challenging behavior has been seen as a willful act of defiance. In this sense, I do relate to the woman in the story, who lived a sinful lifestyle up till the point she met Jesus. Like Jesus saw beyond her acts, so He hopefully sees beyond mine. Like this woman was saved by her faith, so hopefully am I.

I also see that other people who know me, look beyond my distant, intellectual façade and also beyond my dramatic emotionality. They don’t see my intellectual and distant appearance as a sign of lack of emotion. They also don’t see my dramatic displays of emotion as mere manipulativeness, like my family used to. They, in fact, see me as a sensitive but also caring woman.

Like the woman in the story, I am sinful. I mean, my challenging behavior was there when I was a child and in some ways still is there. However, I recognize that I am not just my behavior. Like Bobby Schuller says, I am not what I have, I am not what I do, I am not what people say about me. I am the beloved of God.

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.

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.

My 2021 Word of the Year

Okay, the first week of January is already over and people have come to say it’s weird to wish each other a happy new year even if this is their first time meeting in 2021. It may be a bit late for me to pick a word for the new year. Then again, it’s one of Mama Kat’s prompts for this week. Besides, last year I didn’t choose my word for the year until January 10. I had the flu to excuse it with then, but oh well.

Last year I picked “Wellbeing” as my word for the year. I was somehow convinced it’d be a bad omen though. It wasn’t, in the sense that I didn’t end up in a major health crisis in 2020. Then again, the world at large did.

This year, I’ve had a word in mind for several weeks now and yet I keep making up my mind about it. I want to deepen my faith this year, so shouldn’t something like “faith” be my word of the year. That’d be too easy though. Rather, I based my word for 2021 on Bobby Schuller’s book. It is: BELOVED.

I want to focus this year on the creed of the beloved as Schuller outlines it in his book You Are Beloved. It is:
I am not what I do.
I am not what I have.
I am not what others say about me.
I do not need to worry.
I do not need to hurry.
I can trust my friend Jesus.

I also want to focus this year on my relationship with God and with others. After all, “beloved” does not just apply to me, but to my husband and others around me too. The fact that I am a beloved child of God, also, implies that I need to accept God as my Heavenly Father.

Now of course my thoughts are going back to the idea that this word of the year would be tempting fate. I fear that, now that I chose “Beloved”, it will mean I’ll lose my husband or other important people in my life this year. Even if this happens, though, I can show my love for them. I can start to express love right now, after all.

What is your word for 2021?

Mama’s Losin’ It

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.

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