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.

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.

Gratitude List (December 26, 2020) #TToT

Hello everyone and a belated merry Christmas to you all! As usual on Saturdays nowadays, I’m writing a gratitude list. I’m joining in with Ten Things of Thankful (#TToT). Enjoy!

1. I am grateful for Jesus! I’m so grateful I became a Christian this year and this time hopefully for real. I say this because I’ve been a progressive believer for many years but hardly took my faith seriously at all. I still could take it more seriously and I’m praying God will open my heart and mind to him even more.

2. I am grateful for my family. My parents sent me a Braille-typed Christmas card and my sister sent me a card too. This reminds me that, even though we don’t have the closest relationship, I still matter to them.

3. I am grateful for my husband and in-laws.

4. I am grateful for great Christmas meals. Yesterday, my husband and I made use of the fact that people can legally have two (actually three on Christmas and boxing day) visitors and celebrated Christmas with my in-laws. We had a delicious dinner.

Also, the bakery in a nearby village sent the entire care facility a Christmas lunch of freshly-baked buns. Normally they give it to the day center in that village, where the clients help package their goods. However, that day center is closed due to COVID. Most clients from my care facility don’t work at the day center there, but some do and the bakery was so generous as to give us all the lunch.

5. I am grateful for my psychiatrist. As we wrote on Tuesday, she completely validated us. I haven’t yet needed my new PRN medication.

6. I am grateful the days are getting longer again. Ugh, how I hate the dark days!

7. I am grateful for the motivation and focus to be able to read again. I’m reading a middle grade novel, but that’s okay.

8. I am grateful for uplifting, Christian music. My husband has some on in the car and I discovered some on Spotify.

9. I am grateful for sausage rolls this morning. My husband joked that he was going to eat them all if I didn’t make it downstairs soon enough. I guess I did though.

10. I am grateful for a lie-in this morning. My husband didn’t get up at 7:30AM like usual on Sundays (maybe because it’s Saturday today), so I slept in longer than usual too.

I hope you all had a very happy Christmas. What have you been grateful for lately?

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.

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