Rescued by the Storm

I’m awake. Thankful as I am for another day, I had every intention of being asleep at this early hour. It’s a cool fifty-four-degree morning here in Calgary, Canada and the sun is in its final moments of rest. Us humans, however, are already up and at it, scrambling toward productivity. I can hear the grumbling acceleration of car engines dragging along the black road just outside my window. Headlights peek through the small opening in the sheer hotel curtains, and some undecipherable fluorescent green sign across the street is pulling my focus away from the task at hand.

I snoozed my alarm at 6 a.m. but couldn’t fall back asleep. I figured a little reading would help ease me back into unconsciousness so I opened the Bible. The Old Testament. I ended up in the first chapter of the book of Jonah. I’ve heard the story of the man who was swallowed by an enormous fish a million times, but I’m embarrassed to say that this morning may have been the first time I read it for myself.

As I read along, my eyes lingered on one word in chapter 1, verse 17:

Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Provided?

I reread the verse trying to understand the use of a word meaning provision when Jonah’s situation couldn’t have seemed more hopeless. God made arrangements for Jonah to be swallowed by a sea creature? I needed clarity, so I continued my reading into chapter two.

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Our prayers to God generally include pleas for him to keep us away from ill-intentioned people and harmful circumstances, but not often enough do we pray for God to save us from ourselves. I love that I’m about to quote Whitney Houston, but something she said in an interview truly comes to mind. When asked what form of substance abuse was her biggest devil, she responded:

That would be me. It’s my deciding, it’s my heart, it’s what I want. And what I don’t want. Nobody makes me do anything I don’t want to do. It’s my decision. So the biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy. And that’s how I have to deal with it.

Love you Whitney.

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She was right, and although there is a very real enemy plotting against us, most of our problems are self-created through stubbornness and disobedience, just as it was with Jonah. God had given him a message to deliver to the people of Nineveh and he refused. He ran away from the will of the Lord and thus found himself tossed overboard a ship in a raging storm.

What I realize is that God’s idea of saving doesn’t always look like what we envision. God saved Jonah by sending a deadly storm and putting him in the belly of a sea creature. Personally, that’s not my idea of a life saver, but hey, I don’t make the rules. I’m sure Jonah would’ve appreciated dry land as a form of rescue.

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But the question is would he have responded to the call of God had God simply placed him on dry land? Sadly, I think not.

Jonah 2:1 says that “From inside the fish Jonah prayed…” That storm was Jonah’s opportunity for rescue, his moment to regain sight of his purpose. And in it, he cried out to God.

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Out of fear, we sometimes run from God’s plan for our lives. Decisions made in anxiety will always lead to disobedience. That rebellion is the catalyst to many of our storms. But what I love about God, is that he uses even our worst experiences to strengthen our relationship with him. Nothing we endure is wasted. He is a resourceful God, who uses the ugliest and most shameful parts of our lives to teach us and refine our faith in him. Because he is a merciful God, he provides a rescue in our storms. More amazingly, the storm itself is often the rescue.

Many times, it’s not until we hit our lowest point that we begin to heed God’s guidance. Most of my spiritual breakthroughs have come in the form of storms I thought I could weather. Whenever they proved to be too much for me, God has always been there, waiting to embrace me with open arms. And it’s in his presence that I was given the strength and faith to trust and obey his will.

The next time you’re in a storm, consider the possibility that you are also in the midst of your salvation. You must choose not to focus on your circumstance, but the God who has the power to pull you out. Trust that through the bad weather, God is realigning you to his will for your life. Remember that the Lord commanded the sea creature to vomit Jonah up. When it did Jonah had found the strength and courage to deliver God’s message to the city of Nineveh.

Know that when God allows your storm to spit you out, you won’t come out empty hearted. He will have prepared you for whatever challenge lies ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Traveling Light

 

In March, I spent two days at Newark Liberty International Airport completing recurrent training: a dreaded but necessary requalification course required annually by all flight attendants. Never a fan of school, I huffed and puffed all the way there on that first day, but by the time class was over I realized how light I felt— literally.

 A normal workday would find me weaving in and out of the ever-crowded Newark airport, my forty pound luggage dragging behind me like a fractious child. But because I wasn’t actually flying anywhere, all I’d brought to training was a backpack to house my wallet, a notebook, some snacks, and a blanket.

Eager to soak up the rest of the day away from work, I galloped down the escalator and hurried to meet my uber driver at arrivals. I shrugged my bookbag off as I slid into the car. Leaning back, I sunk into the worn seat as the driver eased on the gas and the airport faded out of view. Wow, that was seamless.

My temporary dismemberment from my suitcase had given me the freedom to walk and maneuver as I willed without having to factor in their extra weight. On the ride home, I couldn’t help wishing I had access to the science used in the movie, “Honey, I shrunk the Kids.” Of course in my case, the kids would be my annoying luggage. How much easier my life would be if my bags weighed less than a pound and fit in my pocket.

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Putting aside silly notions, I thought of more realistic ways to lighten my load. As I began taking a mental inventory of the items in my suitcase, I found my thoughts drifting off to the less obvious baggage I tote around daily: the unecessary bulk I carry in my spirit.

We spend so much of our lives internalizing weight that was never ours to carry. Our spirits weren’t created to support life’s burdens, yet we bathe ourselves in the worries and trials of this world expecting to be cleansed.

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Hard as it may be to grasp, we don’t possess the antidote to not even a single of life’s troubles. Blinded, we sometimes think we have a responsibility to carry the load on our own, but that couldn’t be farther from what the word of God says.

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Anger, unforgiveness, and abandonment are a few of the more recognizable poisons we hold onto, but it’s the worries we think are natural and harmless that mature into beasts over time. Constantly stressing over money and bills, the future, health, our kids, marriages, and employment— all these normal worries carry heft as well. With time they ossify our spirits and we begin to block the blessings God wants to bestow upon us. Philippians 4:8 instructs us on what our thoughts should be consumed by.

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Giving our lives to God means trusting him entirely. Not only with the big things, but with the minutia of our lives. We cleverly disguise our pain, making sure to evenly distribute it throughout ourselves so that no one will notice the extra weight. We can’t hide from God. He formed and knew each of us before the foundation of the earth. He has purposed each of our lives for his glory. God is not perplexed or intimidated by our pain. However, we must make the choice of whether we want our struggles to be barriers or breakthroughs.

I see so many Flight Attendants hobbling through the airport with their luggage. It’s usually the ones who have been lugging around three and four pieces of baggage for twenty-five years. The weight and strain catches up. The baggage, if we let it, will attach itself to us like barnacles. Thank God though, our pain doesn’t have to be irreparable. We can opt to surrender our excess weight to God and let him deal with it. Trust him to deal with it. Know that He is more than capable of giving us the peace that we need to released our baggage.

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Millennial.

Millennial is a label I’ve grown to hate. Unless it has to do with teaching the Baby Boomers how to work their smartphones, the title has become synonymous with spoiled, entitled, brats.

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I wish I could disagree, but unfortunately, that definition isn’t entirely inaccurate. Yet, what I find far more pertinent than defining us, is figuring out how in the heck we got like this in the first place. How did we become such self-absorbed, pretentious individuals? I’m no Social Psychologist, but being a millennial myself, I do have a few theories on how we wound up a bit of a hot mess, and what we can do to remedy it.

1. Reach for the stars…they said.

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We were sold a dream. When our teachers and parents told us we could do and be anything, we believed them. We were inadvertently brainwashed into believing that a sure and certain path would lead us to lasting happiness. So you can imagine our devastation now that real life has pied us in the face. We put all our eggs in one very promising basket and things aren’t panning out, so we’re busy falling apart. Maybe no one said it, but we were made to think that following our dreams would be easy: graduate high school, go to college, get a career, find a spouse, buy a home, have some children, and run off into the sunset. No one told us we’d be here- drowning in the waters of a reality we were shielded from. We didn’t know there’d be bumps in the road or mountains not ours to climb, or how painstakingly long we have to water our seeds of success before they sprout. We’ve been convinced that happiness only exists in the grandest parts of life. If we aren’t doctors, lawyers, or some glamorous person who makes more money than they can spend, we diminish ourselves to nothing. The ordinary life has no appeal to us. No worth. The quotidian office or factory job is devoid of the happiness we imagined for ourselves. We were bred to be more…they said.

2. Fear of being second best.

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As a result of our warped perception of happiness, us millennials are terrified of failure. Cat’s out of the bag that we aren’t all going to be Space Engineers and Pop Stars, but we’re not taking it all that well. In fact, we’ve resorted to a state of petrification. Unable to move because we fear that if we do, we’ll somehow end up in the same spot. If we don’t cross the line first, we’d rather not cross at all. Ridiculous, I know, but this runs deep. Us millennials don’t do second best. And many of us would prefer to remain stagnant than to finish last, or fourth, or fourteenth. Instead of finding contentment in gradual progression, we’re programming ourselves to find happiness in whatever is on the surface. Whatever is within arm’s reach.

3. Social Media

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Where to begin with this one? Social media is the most life-sucking activity millennials engage in. We’ve belittled our self-value to likes and embellished pictures. Everyone wants to be Instagram famous and many are even striving to make a career out of creating illusions of happiness. Social media has become a mask: a way to hide our real fears and deep pain. The approval of others is like a high for us. We lay our precious worth in the hands of individuals just as broken as we are. To us, the world we create on the internet is more valuable than the world we actually live in. Social media has become a way to escape reality, but what we escape into is even worse. Millennials couldn’t be more enthralled with superficiality if we tried. Having money, being pretty, having a nice body, going on vacation, and luxury have all become paramount to the real beauties of life: gratitude, kindness, and love.

How do we initiate change?

Honestly, change feels impossible most of the time. I pray for my generation, myself, and for our world. The Bible speaks explicitly about the current times. Our world was always going to get to this, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to shoulder one another in these trying times. We have to stop selling the dream that life is all glitter and gold. It’s messy and it’s hard and doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty of happiness. It’s not the world’s responsibility to create a happy place for us, it’s our decision to create a happy place in the world. If we expect only one part of our story to produce happiness for a lifetime, that one thing is what will kill us. Failure is just a part of life and it’s okay not to be first. That’s one of my biggest fears when it comes to my writing, What if I write a book that doesn’t make the New York Best Sellers list? It is a very real possibility that my book will not be on that list, but that won’t make it worthless. I’ve read and enjoyed so many books that never made it to the best sellers list. So what? I enjoyed reading them and they imparted new thoughts and ideas- that’s what matters. Millennials, let’s be brave and make an effort to stop hiding behind social media and deal with our real selves. So what, if we’re not doctors and lawyers- we’re people. Don’t trade the human experience for silver and gold. We have to find a way to be happy and grateful in the place God has us. Move forward when it’s time, but let’s not allow our now to dictate our forever.

I Can Only Imagine

I’ve heard the song a hundred times, listened to it sang at least five different ways, and yet have never been at all curious about the lyricist. “I Can Only Imagine” is the best selling Christian single of all time and arguably the song most beloved by followers of Christ. When I found out a movie was being made about the backstory of the song, I was immediately intrigued. I wondered What did someone have to go through to come up with the lyrics:

“Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for You, Jesus
Or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine.”

On its own, the song depicts perfectly our wonderment of what it will be like to experience the glory of God in heaven. Yet, the context of the movie unveils a less apparent perspective. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I do want to share my takeaway from the film.

The movie “I Can Only Imagine” broadens the character of the song. It puts the spotlight on the linchpin of Christianity. Faith. It’s easy to preach and pray about, but it’s not always easy to have. Pleadings to God can become tedious when we are forced to live in the now. Our situations don’t yield to our prayers in our timing, but in God’s. A hackneyed phrase, I know. God’s perfect timing can sometimes feel like an eternity.

Imagining our prayers already answered is faith. The areas in our lives and in our world that we wish were different, can be. But praying isn’t enough if all we’re doing is speaking the words we’ve been taught to say. Belief is what anchors our prayers. I know it’s not always easy, but it is necessary. The next time you pray for something, question yourself. Do you actually believe- can you imagine- that what you’re praying for can be a reality?

I have a friend whose salvation I’ve been praying for for years. This friend once told me that Believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus. Talking to him about my faith is like trying to explain long division to a rock. A few months ago the holy spirit challenged me to change the narrative of my prayers: Instead of making requests for things you believe have the potential to happen, begin to picture everything you pray for as if it’s already happened. I started with my friend. Now when I pray for him, I imagine him kneeling at the altar of God, both hands raised to heaven, praising the Father. I do the same for all my prayers. Picturing my requests have made my prayers more fervent, more believable, more hopeful.

So just as the Holy Spirit challenged me, I challenge you: imagine. Paint a picture with your prayers and hang it up on the walls of your mind to create a reference point for your petitions. I will never forget the scene I created the first time I prayed for my friend’s salvation using my imagination. I pictured my prayer as if it were real and since then, for me, it has been. It’s simply a matter of waiting for it to come to pass. 1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us that Love suffers long… Don’t give up on your prayers. Imagine what you already know to be real by your faith in God.

Running to God, not from Him

As a child, one of my first lessons in morality was honesty. My mother put an unusual emphasis on telling the truth. I know it’s standard for any half-way decent parent to instill veracity in their children, but my mother really hammered it into her four kids. She’d tell us, “There’s nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.” To further drive her point, she’d give us these insane scenarios in which her love would abide: “If you killed twenty people, you could tell me and I would still love you.”

So growing up (and even now) it was rare that I lied to my mother. When I did, the guilt would gnaw away at me until I ran to her confessing, “Mommy I’m sorry! It was me who drank your root beer!” Of course, swiping a soda was a minor offense, but I was always astonished by how easily she forgave me. My apologies usually ended with my mother enclosing me in her arms or gently grasping my face in her hands and looking into my tear filled eyes to remind me…nothing.

That seed of unmitigated love ingrained in me as a child was the blueprint I stumbled around trying to comprehend God’s infinite love for me. Even now, as a somewhat seasoned Christian, I still find myself tripping over God’s love. An ineffable love so overwhelming, that at times I flee from it. I feel guilty for being on the receiving end of such a limitless affection.

It seems like my relationship with God is constantly on the rocks. There’s always something to fix or improve. I hardly ever feel satisfied with my contribution to the union. When I take too many steps in the wrong direction I think Oh no, I’ve done it this time and hide my face in shame. There I stay for days, sometimes weeks or months, until God coaxes me out of my hiding place and back into his presence.

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  Recently, God placed a pause in my heart: anchored it in order that we might have a conversation about my distorted idea of his love.

God’s love for us far exceeds the potential of any human affection we could ever hope to receive. There’s no shame in his love and it abounds in grace and forgiveness. There’s nothing we can do, no sin we can commit that would diminish his love for us.

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It’s much easier to read those words than to walk in them. When we give in to sin, it’s sometimes easier to stay there than to confess that we messed up- again. But it’s in those moments that we should be running into the arms of God, not from them. God knows our sinful nature and he knows that we are not capable of resisting on our own. He invites us into his arms when we feel burdened and overcome by sin. His hand is gentle and yearns to correct us with the love of a father.

There is no better feeling of relief than knowing that we can disclose all the messy, ugly, and sinful parts of ourselves to a God who will transform our faults into his glory. Trust him. Trust that God can paint our pain with his love. When we feel most vulnerable, most confused, most tempted, most carnal, God is inviting us to hide in him and let him fight our battles. Our hearts cannot be hidden from God and there’s no hope of refuge in running from him, only to him.

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Note to self.

 

We’re a lot like Snow

Another winter storm is racking the northeast with high winds and heavy snow. Concerned for our safety, the company released us from training early. Most flights to and from Newark have been canceled. Luckily, I made it back to the crashpad just in time to avoid getting stranded by the inclement weather. Before settling into the rocking chair with a missing arm cushion, I drew back the curtains and made myself a hot breakfast. Now satiated, and entranced by the budding storm, I’m finding it difficult to write. These are prime conditions for both, streaming creativity and sleeping. With only one other person here, the apartment is quiet. Tucked into the deepest crevice of the couch, my roommate could easily be mistaken for a crumpled blanket. Strays of orange hair and a messy top bun ornamenting the crown of the cover are the only indicators of her company. I too, am fighting the urge to lose myself in a blanket and watch anything involving Meryl Streep.

Somewhere in the recesses of my uterus, my cramps are producing just enough of that stabbing sensation to keep me awake. A good thing for the sake of productivity I suppose. Three years of being based in Newark and I’m still hopelessly fascinated by the snow. Today, especially. A decaying brick accent wall is home to the only window in the living room. Ordinarily, the view is a mere reflection of our brick apartment building, but today it’s a backdrop to a spectacular show. The diminishing browns and oranges of the brick wall make the snow look 3D. It’s sort of…poetic. I feel like a stranger who’s stumbled into the delivery room of something extraordinary: the sky giving birth to a little peace of heaven.

Meteorologically, this is considered a storm, but it feels like anything else. I never knew snow could dance. Without adherence to any form or technicality, it gracefully moves. Beautifully wild, it flows. Some snowflakes are falling rapidly in a race to the ground, while others take their time, slowly drifting to their destination. Some sections are falling straight down, while others are descending at a slant. Then, there are the snowflakes that are simply riding on the wings of the wind. Some are stuck together and some are traveling alone. Some are falling to the east and some are headed west. Somehow though, regardless of direction or form, they’re all in sync. Each doing their own dance, yet fully aware that they’re part of a grand ensemble.

We’re a lot like snow. Multilayered beings, composed of various facets, all contributing to one single source. Sometimes, we put too much focus on one aspect of our lives. We spotlight the areas that need work or aren’t panning out the way we hoped. I’m learning to give those areas of my life grace. I don’t want to lambast them into a place of hiddenness and shame. I want to be encouraging and provide a positive environment to recalibrate those areas.

When we admire a place blanketed in fresh snow, we don’t analyze its beauty by each particle. Instead, we acknowledge it as one body of snow comprised of many snowflakes. Together, each snowflake creates one breathtaking body of natural art. We are each, a wonderous expression of art formed by our creator. God doesn’t look at our rough edges, jagged lines, and the pieces of us that aren’t quite falling right, with ridicule. If we commit every aspect of our lives into the hands of God and trust him to mold us into something extraordinary, he will. He can transform all of our mess and chaos, into splendid portrayals of his love.

A Warm View on a Cold Day

A huge gust of smoke rose from the engine as we pushed back from the gate. Panicked, I fidgeted to unbuckle my seatbelt. Suddenly I remembered and my alarm subsided. It’s fourteen degrees in Newark today. It’s just the normal breath of the engine being chilled by the below-freezing temperature. Relaxing back into my chair, I bathed in the slither of sunlight offered by my window seat at 30A. It doesn’t look cold outside. The clouds are few and the sun is positively beaming on this chilly day.
Seeing how beautiful it looks outside despite the harsh weather is exemplary to how life with Christ should be. Some people are under a grave misconception that reliance on God means a life exempt from hardship, but God tells us in his word that it “Rains on the just as well as the unjust.” Believers don’t get a pass from tribulation but are protected from it by seeking refuge in God. We know that because we are His children, there is no storm that can overtake us.
As followers of Christ, we should not look like what we are going through. If we do, what sets a life with God apart from one without him? This is not to say that Christians shouldn’t feel pain or express it, we’re human too. But ultimately, we know that God is in control of our lives and knows what’s best for us. Every situation we encounter- good or bad- is an opportunity for God to display his love, grace, and sovereignty. Therefore, Christian affliction should not be expressed by hopelessness. It’s during these times that we need to seek God most. He doesn’t allow us to go through difficulties just because. At times, it’s his way of communicating with us. And if we’re honest, too often, it’s only during our struggles that we’re interested in what he has to say. But he is calling us to more. He wants us to be in his presence always. When we establish a regular dialogue with God, we gain security in trusting and relying on him. It’s in that realm of intimacy with him that we come to truly understand that our problems are no match for God.
Don’t confine conversing with God to a prayer on bended knee at an altar. My dialogue with God today was me sitting on a plane and observing. A rare moment when my mind wasn’t fixated on anything that wasn’t right in front of me. In that moment, God opened the conversation with imagery: A warm view on a cold day.
I want to look more like today in Newark, NJ. (Never thought I’d say those words). I want to be secure in God despite the challenges I face. I want to rest in the reality that even when life is cold, I am warmed and protected by my saviour. As long as we’re prepared, the cold can’t kill us. Preparation is simpler than we make it. Trust. Our trials expose the depth of our faith. Study his word and learn to rely on him even when it feels useless. Trust doesn’t happen overnight, but with prayer, practice, and intimacy with God, it will become the most secure aspect of our lives. Then others will wonder how it is that we are so warm in this bitter, cold world.
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