Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Worship in spirit and in truth

Originally, I intended to end my mini-series of "why do I believe" with some Catholic apologetics addressing common Protestant objections to Catholicism - the papacy, Marian theology, the Eucharist, salvation through faith AND works.... but in the interest of total integrity, I have to say that I cannot, in good conscience, post what I originally planned to post.

After my time away from Catholicism, church-hopping to various denominations and even considering non-Christian religions, when I finally decided that the Lord was calling me home and I reverted back to Catholicism, it was for a reason.

I chose to return to Catholicism because it was the only Christian faith I was familiar with at the time that had a sense of the sacred in it's public worship.  I based this on my memory of Mass from Poland and the Polish parish where I received my First Confession and Communion.  For some reason, I managed to turn a blind eye to the way I've experienced Mass at the American parishes I've attended.

Protestantism taught me a lot about Christ, and I am very grateful for the Protestant Christians who have helped me along the way on my journey.  They are the ones who introduced me to the Bible.  They are the ones who showed me how to speak openly about my faith.  They are the ones who presented to me Jesus as a person I can relate to.  I did not learn any of this in the Catholic church.  I think part of it was that faith was not discussed in my household, so nothing I heard at church about faith was reiterated at home.  If anything, God and Mary were mentioned in passing as a matter of course, but there was no family prayer, not even grace.  I was sent to religious education classes, and only in preparation for the sacraments (First Communion/Confession and later Confirmation), where I was to learn whatever I needed to learn about God.  It was not discussed at home.

My great-grandmother, a pious and holy woman, with her altar in her room, her regular listening to Catholic Radio, her support of her parish, and her living out her life in humility, purity, obedience, and hard work, was often ridiculed by her own relatives for turning the other cheek.  Being taken advantage of seemed to be the worst sin in my household.  We were to be too proud to let anyone take advantage of us. My great-grandmother kept quietly to herself, never preaching with words, and yet being the main witness to Christ-like living for me.  But because it was not something that was discussed, my faith became much like that of my other family members - taken for granted, not explored deeper, boiled down to a minimum set of obligations and an attempt to live a moral life with no reference whatsoever to Jesus's example.

So I do have to give a shout-out to the American Protestants who filled in the gaps in  my religious formation.  Having said that, there was a deep sense of something missing whenever I would worship in a Protestant church.  There was exciting and motivating preaching, there was emotionally pleasing music, there was tons of opportunity for fellowship.... but at what point during the Protestant service did I get to meet God?  When did I get to stand in the presence of the Holy One and pay Him homage?  When did I get to feel His divine presence?  Did I worship God through listening to the sermon?  Did I worship God through the singing and clapping and swaying back and forth?  Did I worship God by mingling with fellow believers?

Perhaps the closest I ever came to experiencing God in a Protestant setting was through the music, and yet this was so very incomplete for me, after having experienced Jesus in the Eucharist all those years.  At best, I felt like I was worshipping in Old Testament times.  And actually, the sermons very often seemed to focus on Old Testament readings, which didn't seem right in a Christian church.

In search of the solitude I longed for, I turned to Quakerism.  The theology of the Friends really resonated with me, and I looked forward to simply sitting with them in communal silence when we met for worship.  But sooner rather than later, I found that now the pendulum had swung the other way.  I missed being able to experience my faith with my senses.  God gave me vision so that I could gaze upon beautiful images that told the story  of our salvation.  God gave me hearing so that I could bask in the joy of music.  God gave me the sense of smell so that I could so easily link the scent of a candle or incense with childhood memories of my faith.  God gave me the sense of taste so that I could experience Jesus even this way, through the Eucharist, feeling the Host melting on my tongue.  God gave me the sense of touch so that I could handle Rosary beads as I pray and feel the dampness of my fingertips after dipping them in holy water and then gently touching my forehead, chest, and shoulders in the sign of the cross (reminding me that God demands from me my mind, my heart, and my body - me in totality).  God gave me the possibility of movement so that I could worship Him with my whole body - standing, sitting, kneeling, shaking hands, bowing, genuflecting, lifting my hands in prayer.  Not using  my entire body to worship God seemed like I was telling God that I would limit the extent to which I would glorify Him.

I realized that neither extreme of Protestantism would work for me.  I then attended an Anglican church for several months, thinking it might be a nice middle-of-the-road compromise, enjoying the sermons and the music, having the opportunity for a bit of ritual, receiving communion even.  But alas, there was no silence, and communion was nothing more than a symbol.  I did not feel God's presence there either.

I returned to the Catholic church.  Alex and I found a Franciscan church whose spirituality really resonated with us.  We've gotten involved with various ministries - immigration, foreclosure crisis, environmental justice, support for childless couples.  This is the first church where I know people, and the priests know me by name.  Not since I was at the Polish parish in the US as a child did I have a sense of fellowship in a Catholic church.  So now I have it all, right?

It is with much regret that I have to admit that the silence that I remembered having, the reverence that I remember experiencing, the presence of God that I once knew only in a Catholic church... well, it's all hard to come by even at our great church.  In the interest of friendliness, people chat casually before and after Mass, right there in the sanctuary.  Our pastor seems to err on the side of approachability, using very informal language wherever he can get away with it.  Hardly anyone genuflects or even bows before the Eucharist, not to mention that most seem to receive Holy Communion in their hands, hands that just a few minutes before handled cash as they placed it in the collection basket.  There isn't even a proper adoration chapel associated with our church.  The church that spurred me on my church-hopping days due to various negative experiences at least had a dedicated 24 hour adoration chapel.  It is there that I find myself going now, when I want to sit in the presence of Jesus.

My mother, bless her heart, doesn't seem to have more than a single spiritual bone in her body.  Just the other day she told me that she doesn't understand why people convert.  You should just be whatever religion you were born, go to church, try to be a good person, and be done with it.  I finally realize that converting her may be a lost cause, and maybe it's not even necessary.  The God I believe in loves her for her sacrifices, for her virtues, and forgives the sins she - like everyone else - commits. I do not fear for her soul.  I believe that we will be together in heaven.  But this side of heaven, I cannot ignore my spiritual longing.  I apparently take after my great-grandmother in that we are both essentially spiritual beings.

So while I do not necessarily jump for joy at the thought of yet another leg to my spiritual journey (for I truly assumed that I was finally home), I have to be true to the urging of my heart.

If my search has been about finding a place to worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24), then I can't say that I've necessarily found that place yet.  "In truth" I believe refers to the fact that there are true teachings and false teachings, and we must find ourselves worshiping according to the truth, as revealed by Jesus.  This aspect of my journey has brought me back to Catholicism because I believe it is closer to the Truth than any Protestant faith.  It has what Protestants have stripped away - the Liturgy, the Eucharist, the Tradition  (Paul said, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us" (2 Thessalonians 2:15)). Catholicism recognizes the very human need and nature of ritual, and that it is not somehow intrinsically evil.  Without going into Catholic apologetics, suffice it to say that I've mulled over every Protestant objection to Catholicism, and ended up seeing the truth with Catholicism every time.

"In spirit" I believe refers to the fact that one experiences God's presence during worship.  God is spirit, so how can we experience God if not spiritually?  I will not deny the presence of the Holy Spirit in many Protestant churches, where the faithful are compelled to lift their closed eyes and open arms towards heaven as they praise God.  Surely, they experience God's presence.  And yet, Psalm 46:10 reminds us to also just be in the presence of God in order to understand who He is and who we are in relation to Him.  Here, I will break with my tradition of using the New American Standard translation of the Bible (used by Catholics) and instead use the New King James Version: "Be still and know that I am God."  It's interesting that a Protestant version of the Bible uses the phrase "be still" when in fact the majority of their corporal worship does not include any stillness, silence, or reflection whatsoever.  But alas, as I've come to realize, neither do most of the Catholic Masses I encounter nowadays.

So what am I to do?  I know I can't return to the Protestant side for answers, because I've already gone that path and am satisfied that I've gained all that I will gain from Protestantism.  And yet, I have not considered, as it turns out, all expressions of Christian faith; it had never occurred to me - until now - to look into Eastern Orthodoxy and in particular, Eastern rite Catholicism.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why do I believe...part 3 (who Christ is)

Why do I believe in Christ?

For some, it is enough to envision God as an abstraction that gives us our life force.  Buddhism operates on this level.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Yet we are relational beings; we thrive in relationships rather than in isolation.  We long to relate to those who are important to us, those who give us guidance about how to live our lives.  Therefore, many cannot do what God calls them to do – namely, serve Him by doing good – without having a personal idea of who God is.  God is not oblivious to this fact.  Remember, He is the source of everything, including our human nature, so the fact that we would long for a personal relationship with Him is not a novel idea for Him.

As a Christian, I believe that God didn’t leave any leaf unturned, including this one.  I believe that He incarnated Himself, that he took the form of one of His prized creations, to better reflect Himself-as-Love.  After all, if God is love, and love is only found in relationship, then how else could He have shared Himself with us, if not through becoming one of us as Jesus of Nazareth?

Jesus taught us to call God “Father”.  This is why we refer to Jesus as the “Son”.  It’s very confusing when we apply our limited this-side-of-heaven intellect.  How can someone be their own Father, their own Son?  But this is what we get for not being satisfied with an abstract understanding of God.  We cannot forget that we are not in heaven yet, where all things will be made clear.  I believe that the reason for this difficulty is to encourage us to take a leap of faith.  Not just in terms of accepting this basic tenet of Christian theology, but in life in general.  There are times when we do not fully know what, or why, or how, yet we must act and so we take a leap of faith.  Only in retrospect does our leap then make perfect sense.  I believe this is why God didn’t just make it crystal-clear to us who He is, and how He can be His own Son/Father.

I think Jesus was speaking as a representative of us humans when He called God “Father”.  He was modeling for us what we ought to do.  I don’t think this necessarily meant that Jesus had a split personality.  And consider this:  if you are a parent, or if you’ve ever worked with children, surely you have explored pretend play.  A dad may choose to sit on a tiny chair and put on a boa scarf and sip air out of tiny teacups for the sake of better relating to his young daughter.  He in no way ceases to be her father.  Yet how much more will she be able to come to know and love her daddy if he is willing to come down to her level, and thereby support her efforts and encourage her?  Given the choice, wouldn’t any child welcome their grown-up parents to play with then rather than watch from a distance, intermittently wagging their finger when the child does something wrong?

This is why I believe that if God is love, then God must have shown Himself to be this love in the person of Jesus.  He came down to play among His children, using our own level of understanding to guide us towards serving Him better.

I believe that Jesus’s purpose was to live among us, to teach us, and to model a life of integrity.  This is another point of contention I may run into with Christians, who hold that Jesus’s purpose was to die on the cross to save us from our sins.  I don’t want to contradict this.  However, I do want to offer a slightly less religiously-laden explanation, which I don’t think in any way takes away from what Jesus indeed did for us through His crucifixion.

I believe that Jesus was true to Himself as God-is-Love.  He turned the other cheek, He forgave wrongdoing, He sacrificed for the sake of His children.  Doesn’t this sound like the ideal of any relationship, to put the other person first?  I further believe that this was starting to have a radical effect on those He came into contact with, and His integrity threatened the political and religious powers that be.  Jesus was not the only one in history whose well-intentioned integrity was resented by leaders: Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind right off the top of my head.  In no way were Ghandi and King perfect, as Jesus was perfect, but they likewise strove to help others by loving them, by putting themselves at risk, by speaking the hard truth when no one else dared.  It got them both killed. 

I believe that premature, violent death is part of the scenery when one walks in line with God even when this means threatening the status-quo.  Too many people are self-seeking.  Too many people desire greatness for themselves to tolerate any perceived competition.

Therefore, I believe that Jesus’s passion and crucifixion were sort of inevitable based on the fact that He remained true to His mission, the mission of the incarnation.  In order to show love, one must put the other before oneself.  Jesus even said that "greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).  He didn’t seek death for death’s sake.  He discerned getting around it.  Jesus "fell on His face and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will' (Matthew 26:39). He anticipated it with much anxiety.  And yet, in spite of the limitations He placed on Himself by incarnating as a human being (and thus limited), Jesus tapped into His core as God-is-Love, and succumbed to the consequences of His integrity. 

Christianity popularly calls Jesus’s crucifixion and the following resurrection the crux of our salvation.  But I think the reason for this is not so much in the fact that He suffered and died.  I think the salvation we get from Jesus is in His example of love to the death.  He preached it, and then He modeled it for us.  He left nothing to the imagination.  He summarized all commandments into one two-fold commandment.  In the gospel of Luke, when a rich young man asks Jesus how to reach heaven and suggests that the Jewish scriptures say “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself"  (10:27), Jesus affirms him by saying "you have answered correctly; do this and you will live" (10:28).  Given the opportunity to simplify the religious code of the day, Jesus said that our purpose as human beings is to love.  It is clear that this is because we are made in God’s image, and as such, we are to reflect what and who He is.  If God is love, then we as His image-bearers must reflect that love in our lives.

I believe that a non-Christian can look to the example of Jesus and be “saved” without subscribing to the theology that comes with it.  I believe that Jesus died, nay, that He lived, obeyed, and subsequently died as a result of said obedience, to open the doors to heaven, as it were, for all of us.  He told us to do likewise.

There are arguments about this that I do not care to address, for I am not trying to address Christians, but rather seekers who may not be convinced with traditional Christian rhetoric about the existence of God or His love for us.  However, I believe that when Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), He meant that only those who follow His example of self-sacrificial love can ever come to know God.  Many will argue that Jesus said that only those who believe in Him will have eternal life.  Yet what they are referring to is undoubtedly John 5:24: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  Here, Jesus says that we must believe “Him who sent Me” (meaning the Father), and not “in him” (meaning in the divinity of Jesus).  Also, He prefaces this by mentioning hearing His word, which means He wants us to believe what He taught, not necessarily to believe who exactly He is, or what does it mean to be Messiah.

For this reason, I believe that Jesus is the “word made flesh” – God taking on human form for the sake of better expressing Himself and allowing us to get to know Him better.  I believe that Jesus taught that to be saved, ie. to keep from following Satan to hell, but rather to follow God to heaven, we must look to His life, His teachings, and His example, and do likewise. That is what I believe Jesus taught about salvation.  Notice also that Jesus never said “I am God”.  This would actually be a limitation of who God is, because God in His entirety cannot be contained in the one human incarnation of Jesus.  While Jesus was God to the extent of living a life of self-sacrificial charity, He intended to lead others to follow His example and thereby have eternal life by virtue of their love.

John 13:34-35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why do I believe... part 2 (existence of God)

 Why do I believe in God?

So I’ve mentioned God a few times.  Who is He, and why does it matter?  Again, my religion does teach various things about God – that “He” is a family of 3 persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that “He” relates to us in a personal way.  We believe this because it has been revealed this way in the Bible.  But what about those who do not follow the Bible?  What about those who don’t follow any holy book?  Telling them that God is like this because it says so in the Bible is of little consequence. 

This is why I don’t think focusing on the Trinity is the best way to go when trying to explain my faith in God.  Believing in something “because someone said so” is hardly an argument worth stating. 

I believe that God has revealed Himself to us, and continues to do so, but that it is impossible to know Him fully in this life.  An anecdotal side-note here:  I was recently at my best friend’s funeral.  Various people were asked to share a few words about her, and as I listened and shared my own take on who she was, I realized something very life-altering.  Every person who spoke about my friend, Rachel, spoke the truth.  Everything that was said about her was true.  Yet not a single one of us had the full knowledge of her as a person.  Not me, her best friend of 17 years, not her husband of 7 years, not her mother of 34 years.  This was so not because we didn’t love her or pay enough attention to know all sides of her.  This was because we are too complicated as human beings to be fully known by any single other human being.  Only God Himself can fully know us.  Likewise, only God Himself has the power to fully know Himself.  If we can’t even fully know each other, how can we ever expect to fully know God?  We can’t.

So all I can say here about God is that I believe He is the source of all things, including natural laws, the cosmos, nature, all creatures, and everything we may attempt to claim as our own.  I believe that God can only be known in terms of metaphors.  He can be experienced this side of heaven, but we can never express that experience for someone else’s benefit.  We cannot get to know God second-hand.

I also believe that God is not a singular entity, as we often traditionally think of Him, even in the sense that we use a singular (and further limiting masculine) pronoun to refer to the Almighty.  This is merely a convention of convenience.  The Jews have it right – to pronounce the name of God is to presume to know more about Him than we really do.  Instead – and this is what I believe the Trinitarian doctrine attempts to do – God is that which exists where there is love, a relationship.  Taken at face value, this may sound like God is an abstract concept with little appeal for most spiritually-minded folk.  And I think this is why God has revealed the personal aspects of Himself to us, for our benefit, to ease our ability to relate to Him. 

Yet I also believe that if anything stands in the way of our better knowing God, better serving Him, it needs to be ignored, at least for the time being.  If the concept of the Trinity is not helpful the way I believe it is meant to be, then I don’t think it’s necessary to push for it.  Rather than saying that God is three persons, as is believed by Christians, why not say that God is a person, Creator-Father, who incarnated Himself as the man-Jesus, and who remains among us as a Holy Spirit?  Again, the point of my argument is not to teach Christianity, but rather to try to make sense of the existence of God for those who aren’t convinced.

So, God is Source, God is Relationship, God is Mystery.  If you think about it, this translates quite easily to the common saying, God is Love.  Where does our hope, inspiration, courage come from, if not from having love for someone and being moved to act based on that love?  And in even more basic terms, ideally speaking, the way God intended, where does each of us come from, if not from the mutual love that our parents expressed for each other?  We come from love, and we live thanks to love.  So God is Love-as-Source.

Likewise, love cannot be known in isolation, but only in a relationship between people.  While the English language has gotten lazy in its use of the word, we cannot say that loving chocolate, or soccer, or our new haircut is anywhere in the same vicinity as the love we speak of when we talk about loving our parents, children, spouse, siblings, friends.  This kind of love is of God.  So God is Love-as-Relationship.

Finally, what exactly is love?  Can we point to it?  Can we describe it?  Can we picture it?  We only know it based on its results, don’t we?  We only know it’s there based on what surrounds it.  If there is joy, peace, fun, then we know there’s love.  But if there’s violence, sorrow, pain, then we start to question if love is there.  Therefore, love is really a mystery, expressed differently between different individuals, all having equal value.  So God is Love-as-Mystery.

God is not actually someone we can meet and look in the eye and shake hands with.  God is not one of us in the sense that we are all equals.  We are created in His image, yes, but clearly we’re all slightly different – therefore, no single one of us is the mirror image of God.  Rather, put together, all of humanity reflects the image of God.  God is bigger than any one of us.  But it’s very hard to be comforted by such an abstract concept, that seems so distant in spite of being within us.

I leave you with what I consider one of the most beautiful expressions of faith in God found in the Bible.  As I read through Isaiah, I always find myself nodding in agreement and thinking that no doubt creation itself is all the proof I need to believe in God's existence.

Isaiah 40:12-15, 21-26

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales? 
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? 
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge and informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. 
Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble.
“ To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. 
Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why do I believe... part 1 (morality, eternal life)

In this "mini-series", I share the reasons behind why I believe the basics of my faith.  Previously, I confided that my faith, what I believe about the nature of God and things of God, does not quite fall in line with the official teachings of Christianity.  That is not to say that I am content in plateauing in my faith.  Rather,  as the father of the boy suffering from convulsions since childhood answering Jesus, I say: "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). So here I simply share what I believe and why, and - for better or for worse - no reason is "because the church says so". 

Why do I believe I ought to do the right thing?

How do people know to do the right thing?  Is it because they were raised right?  If so, how did they decide what is right and what is wrong?  Or is it because they are members of a religion that outlines it for them?  If so, how do we then account for the agnostic, atheist, and otherwise secular people who place no value on any holy book or tradition?

Yet even without proper instruction, sometimes in spite of improper instruction, people do manage to tap into their conscience and do the right thing.  Not all people.  Some people fail to do right even in spite of a religious upbringing.  But let’s focus on those who do the right thing.  How indeed do they know this?

Some may argue that it has to do with evolution.  It serves us to do the right thing, because by so doing, we liken to ourselves others, who may assist us in the future.  Yet if this were true, then we wouldn’t have so many people choosing to do evil, for evolution would have long weeded that out.

I believe there is more to a person’s conscience than the science.  Conscience is an awareness of universal, eternal truths, truths that necessarily come from a source, a source that I and many others call God.

The existence of nonreligious but morally good people, to me, points to the existence of God.  Regardless if they choose to believe or not, there is something at their very core that they cannot part with – their conscience is their link to God, whether they know it or like it or not.

Many religious people do good out of fear of punishment, either in this life or the next.  But nonreligious do-gooders do not operate based on such fears.  Therefore, in a way, their good works are a better witness of the existence of God than are those of believers.
Why do I believe in eternal life?

Speaking of the next life, I believe that death is nothing more than a milestone, turning point, like any other.  We experience a tiny death every night when we fall asleep.  We cease to be aware for the night.  We enter into a realm of dreams that cannot find a correlation in our waking life.  We are at the mercy of the powers that be, trusting that the next morning we shall rise again.

I believe that sleep exists to prepare us for death, to help ease our anxieties, and to let us be familiar with it as much as possible, so that when the time comes, we can welcome it.

Most people do not dread going to sleep, but rather welcome it, especially after a difficult day.  We long for the rest, for the forgetting of our cares, for the escape provided by dreams.  Death is all of these things, but on a larger scale.

When we die, we fall asleep to this life, and are born to the life of dreams, where anything is possible, where we are not limited by the confines of time, space, or circumstance.  There are different beliefs regarding the exact nature of this life-after-death, but I don’t really think the details matter.  Personally, my religion teaches the resurrection of the body, but I don’t think this belief is necessarily crucial to pleasing God. All I know is that now that God has created me, I will live forever one way or another, so I might as well try to please my Maker in hopes of spending eternity with Him.

1 Peter 3:15
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Humility incompatible with job search?

Don't sell yourself too short.  Market yourself.  Doesn't that sound just a tad too much like human merchandising?  How does a believer make peace between the virtue of humility/modesty with the need to toot one's own horn in search of employment? And does anyone else take issue with the overwhelming dependence on networking to find a job nowadays?  Isn't that no different than simply saying "it's not what you know; it's who you know"?  But the Lord tells us that "since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly" (Romans 12:6). It would seem that there's nothing wrong with acknowledging our skills, since these are gifts from God.

Well, this summer I had a mini-panic attack as I tried to make sense of my existence after most of my classes were cancelled and I was forced to realize that I was heavily underemployed, a statistic.  I actually stooped to the level of using my gender as an excuse for opting out of the working world.  I kid you not - I researched stay-at-home-wifeness to see if there was any way I could bring myself to simply measure my worth as a human being by the cleanliness of our house and the satisfied stomach of my husband.  We don't have children, which was precisely why this proved to be extra hard.  "If we had children," I would muse, "I wouldn't give it a second thought.  All moms are working moms!  There's nothing more fulfilling and useful to the world than teaching and raising a new human being to be a follower of Christ!"  But you see, it wasn't a stay-at-home-MOM that I was considering being, because for that one requires the role of parent and the blessing of a child.  A stay-at-home-WIFE is an entirely different story.

Paul said "whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men" (Collosians 3:23). But I checked, and it does NOT take 5 full working days to clean, cook, and run errands.  At least it didn't take me that long, even when I was trying to be quite diligent about it.  Therefore, I was left with a lot of time that I was not using for the Lord.

In  my research, I agreed that if a couple is sufficiently well-off financially, there is no reason to judge either of them for choosing to assume traditional gender roles, with the husband as breadwinner and the wife as bread-baker.  The wife can then use her spare time to volunteer her time with any number of charitable organizations.  Or she can further her education, with the hopes of either utilizing it in the future for employment, volunteer work, or childrearing.  But this requires first and foremost an honest look at the couple's budget.  If the money isn't there, and the wife is perfectly capable of gainful employment, I simply do not see a legitimate excuse for burdening the husband with the entire material well-being of the household while the wife does nothing to help.

This is precisely the position I found myself in.  I had not given enough thought to God's counsel for such as me: "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). My social anxiety literally caused me to freeze in fear at the idea of having to search for another job, a full-time job, a job where I could earn enough to supplement our income.   The number one reason for this reaction?  That I would have to "sell myself" to potential employers.  I would have to focus on how great I am and what an asset I could be to the company.  This just didn't jive well with my shy personality.  Ok, I have skills, but they're not necessarily any better than those of others.  Why should I try to pretend otherwise?

Funny thing is, at one point while growing up, my goal was to be considered an expert.  It didn't much matter in what field or under what circumstances, just that it would be common knowledge that there was no one better than me in X.  This came flooding back to mind as I discussed my resume at a job fair yesterday with a very kind and informative woman who specifically told me to rate myself as an expert on federal job questionnaires.    I at first objected, but as I listened to her explanation, I realized that their idea of "expert" and my idea of "expert" were different.  My idea was not based in reality.  The people who are best at what they do are actually fully aware of their competition and their short-comings.  The expert I had hoped to become didn't exist.  But what job fair lady was offering me was much more attainable.  Her definition of "expert" simply meant that I had some knowledge of a given topic and could explain via a story how I utilized a given skill set or accomplished a given goal.  By this definition, I could be an expert in a multitude of fields!

What's more important, I could, in good conscience, highlight my accomplishments as needed, for the greater good of finding gainful employment and contributing to the household, so long as I remembered that "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phillipians 2:13) - God, not me.  It's only conceited to talk of one's accomplishments if in the process one denies God's role in the achievement.

And so I am taking a deep breath.... and embarking on the journey of seeking where the Lord would have me go.

Psalm 32:8

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Belief and Salvation

What is faith?  It's a belief in something that cannot be proven, no?  How is it possible, then, for people to be punished or rewarded based on their beliefs?  How can one change one's beliefs?  I can't just wake up one morning and decide that from now on, I believe in (fill in the blank).  I can say I believe, I can perform actions that may imply that I believe, but in my heart of hearts, there is nothing I can do to make myself believe or not believe something that cannot be proven anyway.  I either believe or I don't.

In the Army, there was a motto that went "fake it 'till you make it", referring to our having to pretend to be enthusiastic about being soldiers until, one day, it would finally get internalized and we really would be enthusiastic about it.  But you know what?  Being a soldier never grew on me.  I faked it with the best of them, but it never seeped into my inner being.  And so with faith.  I can fake it till I make it, except what if I don't "make it"?

Even though Catholicism, in that it's Christianity, does include a very specific set of beliefs in the Trinitarian God, the Virgin Incarnation, the Ressurrection, I find there is a lot more leeway for those of us who find ourselves having to "fake it till we make it".  I'm not saying that the Catholic Church encourages false pretenses.  No, I'm saying that the Catholic Church offers more than just faith (sola fide) as our ticket to heaven, as it were.  Now, my Protestant sisters and brothers, please bare with me.  I write this only as an attempt to be truthful about where I believe the state of my faith lies.  I cannot say "I believe" if I do not believe, because saying so will not make it so.  Therefore, I must hold onto my integrity, something that Jesus was quite fond of, I might add.

By being Catholic, I know that how I live my life, what I do in the way of charity, has direct meaning in my salvation.  Jesus showed us the way; He modeled it for us, He told us to follow His example.  To pretend that this was in some way secondary to belief in who He is is misguided.  Yes, Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me"  (John 14:6), but what did He mean?  This is a serious question.  If Jesus is "the way", does that mean we should follow Him on this same road to heaven in how we live our life?  Or does it mean that we should simply add our name to the "guest list" at the door and rest assured that since Jesus traveled the way, we get into heaven simply by association?

And what does it mean that Jesus is the truth?  Does it mean that He tells the truth, so we should pay attention to His teachings and believe everything He taught?  If so, then why do Protestants not believe Him when He said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me"  (John 6: 53-57)?  

The answer, inevitably, will fall that Jesus was being figurative.  And yet some of the same Protestants will say that when God created the Garden of Eden in 6 days, He literally created it in six 24-hour periods.  Who decides when God was being figurative and when He was being literal?  There is a saying I recently heard that really speaks to this point:  Every Protestant is their own pope. This means that while Catholics rely on the Pope and the Magisterium to interpret our faith, Protestants rely either on themselves individually, or on the pastor of their church at the time, or a televangelist, or a best-selling Christian author.  No matter how the cookie crumbles, you cannot have understanding of Christianity without interpretation.  But I digress.

Jesus is the life.  What does that mean?  How is Jesus "the life"?  Is His life a model?  Is there no eternal life without His human life? I don't even know what questions to ask, let alone truly understand what Jesus meant here.  Ok, maybe the second sentence in John 14:6 will help.  He says the only way to the Father is through Him.  Again, does this mean that Jesus will simply vouch for us, as long as we cast our vote in the religion election?  Or does this mean that the way we get to the Father is the same way Jesus did, by integrity and obedience to His will?

Ok, so now I've pointed out my very real concerns with the ambivalent feelings I have about theological salvation. Having said that, I have already learned that it does me and my soul absolutely no good to worship God with others who are equally unsure of what they believe in, or a group where each individual believes something different.  I've attended Unitarian Universalist church service, and it only made me feel less close to God.  I ended up returning to the Catholic Church when I finally realized, after years of church-hopping, that there is no single church that can give me the fullness of God's truth, because - HELLO! - God is not able to be grasped by our mere human minds.  If we could grasp Him in such a way so as to put into words what He's all about, then surely no one would ever question this type of testimony, as they'd sense in their heart of hearts that it was directly from God, and everyone would be of one religion.  

No, God cannot be explained, so I stopped looking for a church that could explain God to me.  Instead, I remembered that the Catholic Church does a wonderful job of providing opportunities for the faithful to experience God.  I experience God at Mass, by receiving the Eucharist, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, via the various devotional practices such as the Rosary or Stations of the Cross, through Lectio Divina (where the Word of God becomes more than just words on a page), and through the encouragement of simply being in God's presence in silence.  Ahhh, how I terribly missed silence during my time away from the Catholic Church.  There was so much preaching, so much singing, so much fellowshipping, that there was no time left to simply experience God's presence.  

Some people will read this and start praying for the salvation of my soul.  Prayers are always appreciated, thanks!  But I think these folks' time may be better spent praying for peace.

If it takes a certain belief to get to heaven, then that sounds a lot like censorship and dictatorship, and I'm afraid I won't be making it in if that's what it is - a university, or a place where everyone thinks and believes the same way.  The idea that God wants everyone to think the same sounds like a truly human innovation.  We like it when people agree with us, because it's less threatening when we don't have to defend our own beliefs.  

My experience of God is such that He (for lack of a better term) is indeed love, in that at the pearly gates, He will not be literal and legalistic like the Pharisees. I believe that God looks at our lives and sees how closely we followed Jesus's example, regardless if we even know who Jesus is.  I believe that those who claim a belief in their salvation via Jesus's coattails without putting forth their own effort will not be known to God.  Instead, I believe that countless non-Christians and fallen-away Christians who felt the need to purge themselves of Christian beliefs in order to get to the core of God's desire for our lives (serving Him through love) will be on a first-name basis with God and get into heaven right away, ahead of the line, because He will personally recognize them through their good works: "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16).

1 John 4:8
 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

If dogs could preach... Part 3 (accepting God's timing)

When crossing a street, it’s prudent to look both ways first.  As adults, we know that this is so that we don’t get hit by oncoming traffic.  We normally do not see this as an inconvenience, yet children and dogs seem to disagree.  They want to be where we’re going NOW!

When walking my two dogs, Hunter and Bigos, we often come to a cross section where there’s a bit more traffic.  It’s a wide road, with cars coming from three directions, around the corner, and often speeding.  Depending on my peripheral vision is not enough; I have to pause long enough to truly assess that there is no danger to me or the dogs before we proceed.  Except they don’t seem to understand that. 

I say “stay”, and I need to keep repeating the command until we can proceed.  I wonder what they’re thinking as we stand there for seemingly no reason.  Do they wonder if they’re being punished?  Do they think that maybe I forgot where we were headed?  And when one car passes, and I don’t immediately proceed, do they bemoan why they have to let 5 cars pass today, when yesterday they only had to let 1 car pass?

Sounds silly?  But don’t we do the same thing?  When we come to a fork in the road, how many times do we want to just jump in and keep moving, but we are being held back and forced to wait it out?  As we notice having dodged one bullet, do we eagerly anticipate moving on right away, and do we get confused when we need to keep waiting even after the second, third, fourth challenge is overcome?  Maybe sometimes we feel like just turning around and walking back, rather than continuing to wait for a time unknown to us?

As Alex and I have journeyed towards parenthood over the last 6 years, I have often felt like my dogs probably feel when we wait at that corner.  At first, I didn’t understand why we had to wait at all.  Having children is a good thing, so why would we have to wait to have them?  Then, as we experienced 4 birthmothers changing their minds, I reflected on all the things we learned through those experiences, things we never would’ve learned any other way.  “Aha!” I think, “that’s why we had to wait, to learn those lessons.  Ok, great, NOW we’re going to be parents.”  But alas, two more years go by, and even more challenging obstacles come our way, and at each interval, I think the same thing: “Now, God will decide that we are ready.” 

I don’t know why we’ve been asked to wait for so long.  I don’t know how many more figurative cars have to pass before we are allowed to cross to the side of parenthood.  For all I know, though, we may have timed our journey during a parade, and perhaps we should set up folding chairs and, for the time being, forget about crossing and instead enjoy watching the floats go by?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

If dogs could preach... Part 2 (accepting God's will)

When walking two dogs, it is imperative to keep each on its own side.  I don’t assign sides based on the dog’s sex or coloring, it just has to be consistent throughout the walk.  Next time, they may switch places, but for the duration of this walk, as long as I have their leashes wrapped around my hands, they need to stay on their assigned side.  The trail varies.  Sometimes, the grass is on Hunter’s side while Bigos has to pass by cars.  Other times, the roles are reversed.  Still other times, we take a leisurely break on a large patch of grass where they can both sniff to their hearts’ content and frolic about (as Hunter often does). 

Yet for some reason, they always seem to think that the other dog got the better deal.  They try to cross over in front of me, either getting kicked in the head in the process (since I’m still walking straight ahead, and they don’t look where they’re going), or they keep getting pulled back and yelled at.

It was on one such walk that I thought about how similarly we humans behave.  God gave us a specific side of the road to stick to, simply for the sake of easing His being able to manage us safely and effectively.  After all, He is leading us; without Him, we’d be stray dogs on the street.  So why do we seem to think that the grass is always greener on the other side?  And why do we get upset when we get kicked when trying to push our way to where we think we ought to be?  “God doesn’t love me”, “God doesn’t care”, “It’s not fair that I have to be on this side while my spouse/friend/neighbor gets to be on the other side”.  Seriously, it would do us some good to realize that we are not the only ones having this sort of complaint.  Others look at our life and wish they were in our shoes.  How much simpler life would be if we just turned ourselves over to God?  He really does know what He’s doing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

If dogs could preach... Part 1 (resisting God)

Most dog lovers would agree that walking a dog that pulls is no fun.  For me, it guarantees that the walk will be cut short.  Refusing to heel, the dog who pulls doesn’t accept their walker’s authority to determine the course of the walk.  As a result, the dog chokes itself on its collar, is frustrated by repeatedly being forcefully pulled away from what it was pursuing, and finds itself back home long before it would’ve wanted to return.

But such are the consequences of not trusting that your walker knows where to go to provide the best sniffing trails, sufficient exercise, lots of fresh air, and all the while keeping you safe.  The most well-behaved and trusted dogs are even let off-leash because they understand what is expected of them and they know their owner will not lead them astray.

We could learn a thing or two from dogs.  How many of us spend much of our time pulling forcefully in various directions without first checking with God to see where He’d have us walk?  Surely He knows better where we should and shouldn’t go to enjoy a relatively stress-free leisurely walk.  But if we refuse to obey when God IS trying to lead us, what makes us think He’ll continue to lead us?  He wants to enjoy the walk with us, but He won’t keep leading us against our will.  The natural consequence is that we get left behind.  We can bark and shout all we want, but without a proven obedient walk, we haven’t earned the right to being led by God.  And without God walking us, the best we can do is look out the window and live vicariously through others.

So when God says “heel”, we better do what He says, and enjoy the walk.  Otherwise we’ll get left behind.

Our two furry kids.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How do I know the great I Am?

So this weekend I realized that different people consider different things to be fun.  It also occurred to me that what we consider fun may change over the years.  Regardless, in spite of a tough 5 hour drive that was supposed to take only 2 hours, smooshed in the back seat with 2 friends, arriving just as it was dinner time in my mind, I was faced with an unexpected change of plans.  I don't deal well with these.  Alex says I micro-manage.  I said I'm a teacher; it's the nature of the beast.  At any rate, it had been raining on and off, and it seemed prudent to try to hit the beach when it wasn't raining, rather than risk getting rained out later.  Also, I had not accounted for the fact that several of our co-vacationers were intent on swimming in the ocean, while I had no such plans.  They pointed out that it made more sense for them to swim before dinner than after, which I couldn't argue with.  I handled it rather well, if I say so myself.  Complaining was kept to a minimum, and I was very glad for having yielded when only 20 minutes after arriving, we were told that the beach was closed!

Furthermore, that evening, it occurred to me that a life dependent on excess alcohol for the sake of loosening one's inhibitions could only lead to bad things.  If it doesn't result in lax moral decisions, it certainly results in a loss of money and a hangover.  To think, I used to count myself among those who saw these sorts of shinanigans as evidence of adult freedom.  Not wanting to rain on anyone else's parade, yet unable to keep my eyes open any longer, my group dropped me off at the hotel while they continued in search of a good time.  I was surrounded by blissful silence and sleep, while they managed to keep going the next day after only a few hours of rest.  Ah, to be young again! It is only when compared to those younger than me that I become aware of my own years.

At any rate, the next morning, we all returned to the beach, and again I went my way while they went theirs.  However, I couldn't have been happier with my time spent walking barefoot on the sand, letting the waves wash against my ankles, bending down to smoosh wet sand in my hands or pick up curious jewels of the ocean.  The view was magnificent, simply because it wasn't obstructed with man-made clutter.  Huge rocks served to break the waves, kelp and seaweed decorated the sand along tiny shiny rocks and shells, and the horizon off in the distance reminded me of the vastness of the world.

I became particularly interested in the tiny curious birds that circled around a particular section of the ocean, regularly hovering for a second before dropping in latitude, and finally diving head first into the water.  I couldn't figure out how they managed to fly right up again after submerging their entire bodies in the pursuit of a fishy snack.  It was fascinating to watch them, though.  I wondered, how do they know to do that?  I also wondered about those poor fish being eaten!  That's when I was reminded how disconnected I really am with nature.  I told Alex that I think I have to watch the Lion King again to remember the circle of life!

As I paced back and forth on the beach, watching the birds, feeling the sand, feeling the warm breeze, I thought about how rarely I really live in the moment like that.  I wasn't worried about the fact that we would be on our way back to suburbia soon, and I didn't think about how I could've better prepared for the trip.  I was just there, in the midst of God's creation, and I was just happy to be alive.  It was all so simple, really.

That's when I had this bizarre thought.  For years I have wanted to be a mother, but why?  For me, one of the answers was that I wanted to be able to relive my happy childhood through my daughter or son.  But this weekend, I thought why do I need an excuse to live in the moment, carefree?  What if instead of seeking an excuse for what I really want, I go for it directly?  Aren't happiness, contentment, joy, peace the ultimate pursuits of humanity?  Aren't these the reasons we do anything?  Don't we pursue education and career for the sake of happiness?  Don't we seek material wealth for the same reason?  Aren't all of our relationships geared towards this very end?  And so I realized that even my desire for motherhood likewise was a means to an end!  I have believed that being someone's mother would make me happy, fulfilled.  Maybe our infertility is a blessing in that it is forcing me to acknowledge that true contentment cannot be found outside of God.

Psalm 37:7 starts: "Rest in the Lord."

Jesus says in Matthew 11:28:Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."

In John 14:27, He says:  "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

In Phillipians 4:7, we are told: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

There are countless other such reminders from God, reminders to trust in Him and let Him give us what we need.  So often I've read such advice and failed to see how it relates to my entire life, not just to a particular situation I was dealing with.  So often I've thought that I'll find peace "just as soon as I...."  Alas, outside of God, there is no peace of mind.  This marvelous truth was so evident when my mind was still, neither planning nor analyzing, neither regretting nor hoping, simply being there, in the moment, in the midst of God's creation.  Life really is a lot simpler than we make it out to be.

 Psalm 46:10

Cease striving and know that I am God.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hugging God's trees

Have you ever been so passionate about something you wanted to share it with others every chance you got?  Have you ever been so convinced about a cause that you were sure everyone would share your excitement if they only knew what was at stake?  And have you ever been accused of being judgmental when you point out room for improvement or controlling when you insist on doing it right? If so, then maybe you can teach me:  How do I spread the green spirit without isolating myself from my friends?

         Why is it OK if we neglect or abuse her only a little bit, or only sometimes?  Why is it OK to make fun of those of us that try to do the right thing, try to take care of Her, try to teach others how to take care of Her?  ("Tree-hugger" is generally not uttered with respect.) Why does standing up for my principles have to mean that I’m a bad friend?

Maybe I could use a lesson in diplomacy.  But maybe some of my friends could use a lesson in thinking-outside-the-box.  One thing’s for sure.  There’s no reason to refuse to recycle.
Or use cloth grocery bags.
Or replace lightbulbs with CFLs.
Or turn off the light in rooms you’re not using.
Or turn off the water when brushing your teeth.
Or use things more than once whenever possible.
Or put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat.
Or keep windows covered instead of blasting the A/C.
Or use both sides of a sheet of paper whenever you can.
Or simply listen to other people’s ideas about how to contribute to the solution, instead of being part of the problem.

If I didn’t think this was important enough, I wouldn’t risk upsetting my friends or coming off as a nag.  But I do think our planet is important enough to be taken care of, not just by tree-huggers (whatever that means), but by all of its inhabitants.  Respect where you live – is that really too much to ask?

Ok, now that I've gotten that off my chest, allow me to contextualize it perhaps a bit more productively.  Alex and I have recently become involved with the Green Team at our parish.  Our priest has registered our parish for a 2 year certification program, at the end of which we are to be "green certified" - the first Catholic church in our state to do so!  This has given me great satisfaction to have my long-held passion for the environment recognized as something important enough for a church to do as an effort to serve God's will.  

On January 1, 1990, our beloved Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in honor of World Day of Peace "Peace with God the Creator, peace with all of creation. And exactly 20 years later, on January 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote "If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation."

The Bible is loud and clear on glorifying God through His magnificent creation, our Mother Earth:  Psalm 104:24-25, Isaiah 43:20-21, Job 12:7-10.  Specifically, God reminds us that our planet is on loan to us, and we are to be good stewards of its resources: Leviticus 25:23-24 says [T]he land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.  Thus for ever piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land. 

In Ezekiel 34:18, God admonishes humanity for mistreatment of His planet: Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures?  Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that you must foul the rest with your feet?  

In Isaiah 24:4-6, likewise:  The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.  Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty.

God is clear in His disappointment at our treatment of the environment in Jeremiah 2:7: I brought you into the fruitful land to eat its fruit and its good things.  But you came and defiled My land, and My inheritance you made an abomination. 

But I think the strongest admonition, the clearest sign that "God is green", comes to us in verse 18 of Revelation 11:  And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.  Ouch.  God threatens to destroy those who destroy the earth.  It can't get any simpler to understand that this.  And so, with this, I feel justified for being "green" when no one else in my immediate circle of friends was, for going with my gut that waste of natural resources and destruction of ecosystems is a sin! They call me "tree-hugger", and so I am blessed:

Matthew 5:11   

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart" (Proverbs 3:5a)

Why is it so difficult for me to remember God's goodness over the years?  Why do I so quickly forget that He has always come through for me?  Why do I ever doubt that indeed everything will be ok?

Ever since two of my summer classes were cancelled, I've bemoaned the financial burden this created in our budget plan.  I've frantically grasped at various job opportunities, only to have my enthusiasm met with silence.  I started to really doubt my own worth as a contributing member of society.  After all, if I can't get an interview for a job for which I'm clearly perfect, in spite of having a solid resume and a professional cover letter, then I just don't know what else I can do.

I've entertained the idea of becoming a stay-at-home wife.  I thought, this is an actual "thing" that some women do.  But as I looked into it, I realized that this may be fine and dandy for financially well-off couples, but not for us.  After all, my brilliant intellectual pride resulted in a $50K student loan debt that I do not dare to push off on my husband.  I may be new to the biblical ideals of marriage and the duties of wives and husbands, but my conscience tells me that this is MY debt, and unless there is something serious barring my being able to pay it off myself, it remains MY responsibility.

So there I was, realizing that while I may have inadvertently fallen into the role of stay-at-home wife, it was not a place I could remain or feel proud of, a place where I could honestly say that I was serving God's purpose for me.  Yet at the same time, I was seemingly unable to get a job.  I mean it.  I applied for fancy jobs that required my background, education, experience.  But I also applied for service jobs that I could've gotten when I was in high school.  Absolutely nothing panned out.

Then, to make matters worse, our roommate announced that she was moving out, giving us essentially no notice and no cash for this month's groceries. Interestingly, this forced us to get creative, as we had literally just completed our budget for the month.  We had been meaning to sell a few items that have been cluttering up the house, and this was finally the last straw.  We went on craigslist and found that there was someone who bought just the item we were looking to sell.  A few quick emails shot back and forth, and the next day, the chair-for-cash exchange was made.  We were able to get gas, and the rest remains for 2 weeks worth of groceries.  Immediately, Alex quoted part of Genesis 22:8, "God will provide."

So now I think I know why I've had to go through this time of frustration and angst.  First, I needed to be made aware that "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).  Also, Jesus calmed our anxieties by saying:  “For this reason, I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?" (Matthew 6:25-26).  Essentially, this sort of worry is a sin, as it is symptomatic of a lack of trust in God.

Second, I needed to actually experience the role of housewife to realize that there is a lot more I could be doing around the house to make it a more homey environment.  In my attempt to try to reason an acceptance of being a stay-at-home wife, I calculated that it takes about 8-10 hours per week to do all the necessary chores, grocery shopping, cooking, etc.  That's it.  Knowing this, I see that in the other four workdays, I must have something productive to show for my time as well.

Third, I had to be reminded, again, of God's timing.  And here I get to the point.  The fall semester is getting organized, and lo and behold, it looks like I will be busy once again come September.  Enrollment will likely be up for the fall, so less chances of class cancellation, and my schedule filled up rather quickly.  Not only that, but I've also gotten asked to come in for a few days of testing this month.  And then, just when I already felt satisfied that our finances would be ok afterall, I get an email from my boss, offering me a part time job at the office, working around my teaching schedule!   "Praise the Lord, for He is good!" (Psalm 135:3a)  Praise the Lord, indeed!

Matthew 8:26

[Jesus] said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.