Are we really Praying?

The headlines didn’t sink in right away. I thought here we go again and went about my day. As the evening progressed, chatter regarding the incident grew and it was only then that I began to understand the gravity of the situation. I finally pulled up CNN and read for myself what had occurred in Manchester.

Even after I fully comprehended the devastation of the bombing, I still felt hollow. The only word I could think of was more. More death and more hate. More tragedies my heart cannot bear to contain.

At times I am so overwrought with despair at the ceaseless death and destruction swallowing our world that I don’t allow the painful realities to sink in. An embarrassing and selfish admission, yet true. If I did, I fear I’d never be happy again. So I force myself to forget. I sometimes forget that my aunt passed away a few months ago or that my best friend’s dad has cancer. I forget that suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, that there are terrorists who kill innocent people, and that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry.

I’ve seen the tweets of people proclaiming solidarity, the thinking of Manchester statuses on social media, the pictures and stories remembering those who perished, but what I’ve come across most are those who claim to be praying for Manchester.

It all appears very hopeful on the surface. It makes us each feel good inside to step out of our own lives to offer condolences and prayers to those affected by this horrific event.

But are we really praying?

I lost my brother almost three years ago. I still remember all the people who came to my parent’s house to console us. I’m sorry they all said. Which I’ve no doubt they were, but those two words peeved me to no end. What were they sorry for, they hadn’t taken his life. Moreover, their apologies could not bring him back. What irked me most was that I felt they were saying sorry partly out of obligation. Because that’s what’s you’re supposed to say when someone dies.

My pain that day was too real to have been blanketed by social formalities.

The day following John’s funeral, my best friend’s family was throwing a 90th birthday party for her grandmother. In an effort to get back into the swing of normalcy, I went. I arrived before the party started to help out. I’ll never forget, the moment Cherise ( my best friend Ashley’s cousin) saw me, she immediately enveloped me in an embrace. To this day, every time I recall that moment, it brings tears to my eyes. No words, just an embrace, filled with strength, safety, empathy, reassurance that it would be okay, and love. It was one of the only times I felt understood regarding my brother’s death.

I wish with all my might that I could pass that embrace along to Manchester right now. But the truth is, I’m not as certain as Cherise was that everything is going to be okay. I feel powerless because I know that in the next few months, I’ll be reading the same headline about a different city.

To answer my own question, no, I’ve not been praying for Manchester.

Did I say a little two minute prayer asking God to provide peace to the families of those lost and that He would cover them with His love? Yes, of course I did. And indeed I meant it. But to think that that was enough is a shame. We need to be falling on our faces in prayer, begging in desperation for peace in our world. Saying one little obligatory prayer simply will not do.

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Remember when King David’s son fell ill? He did not eat or bathe. He spent his nights on the ground pleading with God to heal his son.

That is the type of prayer we need to be submitting ourselves to. And I don’t mean literally (although, if you feel God leading you to fast, so be it), but we need to be tenacious in our prayers.

Part of the problem is that we don’t actually believe our prayers have power. Some of us aren’t even sure who we’re praying to. How then, can we be meaningful and confident in our prayers when we’ve no belief?

We’re in this religious limbo where everyone wants to be free and send their good energy out into the universe because they don’t want to be bogged down by the burden of religion. That’s another post entirely, but what’s interesting is that no one prays to the universe in times of tragedy.

There’s no hope in disbelief, and there’s no faith without hope. What then, is the point of our prayers?

That’s just it. They’re not prayers as much as they are empty words that temporarily make us feel better.

Guys, we have to wake up. We have to make decisions about what we believe. We have to have a spiritual foundation. Deep down, we know that we cannot take the evil out of this world on our own.

Because really, without God, what hope do we have to offer those affected by this horrific event?

To Manchester:

I am sorry. I’m sorry that my prayer for you wasn’t fueled by complete faith. I’m sorry that I only prayed once. I apologize that I’m not sorry enough to do more. I’m sorry that I can’t possibly imagine what you must be going through. If I truly did, I’d still be praying now. I’m sorry that this world is filled with a despair so deep that hope, at times feels impossible. Please forgive me for my perfunctory handling of this devastation.

If you would allow me to try again, I would like to say most sincerely, with all my faith behind me, I am actually praying to God for you Manchester.

Stay strong in Him,

Celestial 

A Talk with God

One of the main reasons I fell in love with writing was because I discovered that it’s how God and I mostly converse. Unscrambling and deciphering voices in my head is difficult, but when I release my mind on paper (or Microsoft Word) His voice becomes so clear. I wrote this one day when I was doing my usual dramatics of feeling overwhelmed. 

Every time I return to this conversation, a peace washes over me and I am reminded that God has me right where He wants me. I hope you all can draw some encouragement from it as well.

Do not worry about tomorrow; today has enough worries of its own.

Tomorrow’s troubles will inevitably trample me if I live solely for today.

Prepare for tomorrow, but do not linger in its sorrow. Breathe in this hour and love in this moment, it is the only thing certain. Do not quarrel with yourself over days not promised to you. It is my hand that steers your heart to beat and my spirit that will draw your last breath. Fret not the day after, for I have given you today, and in it you shall walk among all as a disciple to me.

This world will be destroyed in a short time and I have placed you in a position to save those around you. Lead them to the kingdom of heaven, for this earth will surely return to dust.

Your faith is dwindling because you rely on yourself.  You say to yourself, “how can I do it? “You make requests of yourself as if you are the conductor of your life. You’ve placed it in my hands and it is mine.  I simply ask your faith in me my child. You need not know how, or the day, or the hour, but rest in knowing that my hand is upon your life.

Every step you take is in direct accordance with my guide. Continue to seek me in new ways and I will place firm stones ahead of you. You must do the work of today before you can stress over the fruits of tomorrow. Continue to mold your gift, pray to me, know me,  and I will fulfill the desires of your heart. I have much more in store for you than you have dreamt, but you must heed my commands. Cease your worries of tomorrow and make me a proud father today.

Maybe To-later

It’s what my three year old nephew says when he doesn’t want to do something right away. I like it. Mostly because I’m feeling one hundred percent maybe to-later today. I have nothing for you guys: no epiphanies or spiritual awakenings. I have drained words of honesty to offer, but that’s about it. I’m always tired, but yesterday and today especially, I’ve been a walking personification of exhaustion. I’m on leg two of three for today and thank God this last flight to Nashville is only an hour and five minutes.

Since I relaunched my blog back in February, I’ve been dreading today. I knew it would come because it always does with me. My fingers are heavy as they graze over the keyboard, but I’m trying to power through. I had already halfway made up in my mind that I would skip out on posting today. I have no material, not much time to come up with anything, and I know the moment I get to my hotel room, I’m going to pass out.

But if I allow days like today to defeat me, I know I won’t make it very far. Days when I think I’m too tired, lacking in energy, depleted of mental capacity to do the things I’ve committed to. I promised myself that this time I would prove to myself that I can be consistent. Reliable. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are the days I post on “Soul Bare.” Period. If I don’t post today because I don’t feel like it, I’m taking ten steps back that I’ve taken too many times over again. Even though I know the WordPress community is not going to protest, or even notice if I don’t post today,  it’s still important that I do. I’m doing it for me. Hashtag selfish.

I only have eleven minutes and thirty seconds left on Chicago O’ Hare’s complimentary wifi, so I’ll wrap this up. Today’s post means nothing and yet, for me, it means so much. It means that I’m learning to fight past my feelings and emotions. I’m pushing beyond my boundaries to do the things I know need to be done regardless of if I’d rather do them later. This feeling of wanting to skip out on my commitment will reemerge, but I’ll have the ammunition to combat it. I’ll have today. I’ll remember that I didn’t feel like it, but I did it anyway.  When I wanted to fall asleep I forced myself to stay awake and do the work.

Maybe some of you feel the same way today. You want to abandon responsibility and slip away into a deep sleep. I hope this post will at the very least, encourage you to push through. I know you’ll be glad you did. What’s funny is that, as lethargic as I am right now, writing you all (and myself) has given me a boost of energy I wouldn’t have thought possible had I chosen to dismiss my commitment today. I think that’s part of the answer. We have to teach ourselves to ignore emotion and find the strength in doing it anyway. I know, easier said than done. But true.

To-later is the easy way out and it feels good for a little while, but when tomorrow arrives, later becomes regret. My three year old nephew doesn’t know any better and I pity him on the day he realizes that some things have to be done today. We however, have expired the luxury of tomorrow.

The answer is today.

The Beauty of the Fall

Remember watching Jennifer Lawrence fall up the stairs as she received her Oscar?

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Or just this year at the Grammys, when Adele requested a do-over to her George Michael tribute because she wanted it to be perfect. 

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Mistakes.

We do our best not to make them, but often times it’s through our errors that we become more relatable to others. Adele and Jennifer Lawrence are both A-list celebrities, but by inadvertently exposing their flaws, they became human, made normal. Because let’s be honest, we think they secretly put their pants on differently than us.

When people of high status make mistakes, they become intriguing. Why? Because a huge part of their image is creating the illusion of constant perfection. Of course, we all know that perfection doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t stop people from trying or pretending to have it all together all the time. When that facade is punctured in the least bit, a part of the real person is granted freedom. That escaped authenticity is what we plug into and sparks our interest.

Before I go any further, I am in no way implying that Adele or Jennifer Lawrence are artificial, I just picked on them as examples to show that most celebrities are held to an expectation of perfection that is nonexistent. 

When Jennifer Lawerence, finally made it to the microphone, she received a standing ovation from the audience. They were supportive of her.

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Likewise, when Adele showed clear frustration at her initial undertaking of George Michael’s, “Fast Love” the audience cheered her on as she prepared for her second attempt of the song.

Vulnerability is at the heart of all human connection. Although we’ve never fallen on our faces in a million dollar dress on our way to receive an Oscar, we still know what it’s like to be embarrassed. Whether it’s in a Valentino dress or a pair of ten dollar jeans from Walmart, the reaction is the same: shock, red faces, thundering hearts knocking against our chests, racing adrenaline, and sweaty palms. Humiliation looks the same on everyone.

As much fun as I’m having talking about embarrassing celebrity moments, my real point is that the same humanization we’re fascinated by in them is what we also seek in one another. It is incredibly comforting to know that we’re not the only ones. There are others who share in our difficulties and know exactly how we feel. They understand what we go through and can help us. But if we wall off the parts of ourselves that are under construction, we only prolong the rebuilding process.

God created human beings to be relational- with Him and one another. Our personal problems are similar to mathematical equations, one thing affects another. Numbers work in conjunction with other variables in order to solve an equation. As well, we have to stop looking at our struggles as if they’re standalone problems. Our conflicts are connected. If we learn to work on resolutions together, each of our problems could be resolved with more ease and fewer setbacks.

However, if we remain unwilling to express our vulnerabilities, we will grow weary in our efforts to better ourselves. We need to be able to see a resemblance of ourselves in one another because, in fact, we are all reflections of the human experience. That experience includes both happiness and sadness, moments of victory and stories of defeat. Our lives are a hurricane of experiences and it takes every single part of us to create that storm and the subsequent rainbow.

Those rare moments when we catch a stranger laughing hysterically, watch a curious child observe his/her surroundings, hug a bad flyer on a plane, or see a woman fall on her face, must be embraced, for those connections are the heartbeat of humanity.

James 5:16 says:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Galations 6:2 also commands that we bear one another’s burdens in keeping with the law of Christ.

We have to learn to appreciate the art of building one another up. We all exist under one roof and we each possess a vital piece of construction for our home. If we fail to address the weaknesses in certain areas, the whole structure could founder. We have the ability to help one another more than we realize. If we bring our struggles, concerns, and fears from behind the curtain, we will find that there are others who are just like us and together (through God) we can build a strong, resilient home,

Let’s not be so eager to hide our flaws, they are what connects us. We must learn to be honest and empathetic, loving and encouraging toward one another. We have to take the first step in exposing our vulnerabilities because we are responsible for showing others that it is through our honesty, pain, and struggles that we will learn to build one another up and strengthen our weaknesses together.

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo

tenorWithout question, the cherry on top of my soft serve life would be Whitney Houston sprinkling fairy godmother dust on my every request and singing them all granted. I know, too much Disney. But how often do we wish for instantaneous resolutions to our problems?

Although, I’ve become much better at accepting God’s timing, there are still moments when I plead to Him, Oh great, powerful, mighty God… sweet baby Jesus, please just zap me free of my troubles, so I can go about life frolicking through lovely fields of daisies and tulips. You all pray the same prayer, right? But when I take a sober look at my life, I realize the necessity of my struggles. Without them, my faith would be feeble and I’d be rendered defeated by the tiniest hiccup in my life. The storms I’ve overcome have fostered an unbreakable faith in God and allowed me to find the silver lining during the cloudy seasons. They’ve strengthened me, and I know there’s no way I’d be where I am had I not endured the hardships and fought past the trials.

We each have a choice of how to react to opposition in our lives. In our confusion and pain, we can choose to retreat into anger and blame God for the way our stories unfold, filling our hearts with contempt toward Him. Or, in the misery of our storms, broken and disconcerted, we can choose to carry ourselves to the foot of His cross. 24201b7ddd7a22b7eddaf4f4ae00ade4

We all bear the burden of deciding how to react to pain. It’s not easy giving the reins to God when we don’t understand His plan. But that’s the definition of faith: trusting Him and believing despite what circumstances appear to be.

So, the answer is no. God (nor Whitney Houston) is not going to just poof us into that position at work or bippity boppity boop our bank accounts to six figures. It doesn’t work that way for a reason. I mean, how many movies have we seen where supposed instant gratification of magical wishes go insanely wrong?!  (Cough, cough, Aladdin). And in the end, the protagonist always winds up doing the leg work to get what he/she wants.giphy

God want’s us to want Him, to depend on Him. He longs to give us our heart’s desires and see us happy, but God also knows His children. If he just gave us everything we wanted without us working for it, we’d never appreciate the beautiful parts of life. Case in point, Adam and Eve. They were gifted with the Garden of Eden…yadda yadda yadda, you know the rest of the story. Basically, they blew it!

Just like candy,  too much sugar induces rotting. Honey wouldn’t be sweet had we never known the taste of bitterness. The good news though, is that God, in all his magnificence can create the most exquisite paintings with the ugliest colors. Our problems set limitations on us, not Him. Struggles are suppose to draw us closer to God, make us cling to Him as if our lives depended on it. Because, whether we know it or not, they do. Once we grasp the importance of trials in our lives, going through the fire will become a testimony, not a complaint.

Think about all the biblical stories of triumph, they all involve two things that produced their miraculous victories:

  1. A challenge not humanely possible to overcome.
  2. Blind faith in the Lord.

Daniel, chapter 6. There was no way Daniel could compete with the jaws of a lion. He could’ve resented God for not intervening sooner, but he didn’t. He could’ve been upset because he was imprisoned and innocent, but instead, he praised God as he stared death down the throat. And because of His faithfulness, he was spared. Often times, the resolution to the troubles we try to wish away is simply putting our trust in God. Ever heard that Donnie Mcclurkin song, “Stand”? That’s all God asks of us, that we trust Him to take care of us.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 9-11

God could’ve prevented Daniel from being thrown in the lion’s den in the first place. But how much more astounding and miraculous is the story, knowing that God allowed him to spend the night with Lions and not be killed or even harmed?! That should speak volumes to us! As long as we let Him, God has us. And even when we’re stubborn, He still has us, it just may take a little longer when we insist on trying to fix things ourselves.

When we do learn to let go and give Him control over every aspect of our lives, our wishes will begin to be granted. We won’t have to endure every fire and storm either. Sometimes, God will snatch us out of difficult situations simply because of our faithfulness.

We don’t have genies and fairy godmothers, but we do serve the God of the entire universe and with Him nothing is impossible.

36 Questions 

FYI: I originally wrote this post in October of last year. I’ve certainly grown since then, but I happened to stumble upon it today. It reminded me of how important it is to reflect on our growth. Enjoy 🙂 


I just finished watching a TED Talk called, “Falling in Love is the Easy Part.” It centered around a 1997 experiment that claimed two people could fall in love by answering 36 soul baring questions. Actually, it centered around a woman who tested this theory, and fell in love.

The idea that something as abstruse as love could be attained through a series of questions intrigued me. The more I listened, the more compelled I was to try it.

I knew immediately who the perfect candidate was for this experiment:

Myself.

I know, I know, cue the eye rolls.

But I’ve been so detached from myself lately; I thought, maybe crawling into the bowels of my mind through 36 vulnerable questions might offer some relief.

As I read the questions to myself, a common theme surfaced in the heart of my answers and what I ended up getting from this experiment, was insight; a deeper understanding of how I view myself.

In particular, my answer to question 4 of the experiment sunk to the pit of my stomach


What would constitute a perfect day for you? 


Without hesitation, the answer all but leaped from my lips-

 

A day where I didn’t doubt myself. 


Doubt. Not a day goes by where I don’t question myself. I know having insecurities isn’t a novel emotion, but it’s counterproductive.. It takes up too much of my day, my life- my existence. It’s not that I’m a self loathing person, but sometimes, I’m too hard on myself.

 

I’ve always felt handicapped at life. Like, two plus two never seems to equal four in my case, and things that occur naturally for others, I can’t seem to figure out. It’s like after 26 years of living, I’m still trying to figure out how to breathe.

 

That’s my problem; I’ve been trying to do it on my own. We are not expected to be our own savior. Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross so that in our weakness, we could be lifted by His strength.

 

God awakened life in the first man by breathing into his nostrils. How much more satisfied we would be if we understood that in that breath, was everything God knew we would need as his creation. We weren’t shorted in love, worth, or anything else.

 

Our worth is not something to be gained or achieved, it is what we simply are because we were created in His image and likeness.

 

I allow the part of me that wants to be better to cast a shadow on the parts of me that God has already made good. Right now, drowning in my flaws, I am still more precious than all the riches of the Earth to God.

 

It’s time I start walking in that reality. If I fail, I fall on God’s grace. As long as my primary focus is on Him, he will direct my path. I trust His guidance in my life. I’m no longer going to view myself through my eyes, but through the lenses of The God that created me.

 

I wasn’t searching for love in those 36 questions; I was on a quest for worth. My heart was telling me that I had to prove myself worthy of love. It’s the biggest deception Satan tries to convince us of and it’s just not true. Two plus two will never equate to four if we continue to add our doubt.

 

I know it’s a journey, but I’m going to focus on being more loving and accepting toward myself. I know that what God has for me is right beyond the cloud of dust I’ve created, I just have to trust Him.

Alone in the Know

Focusing on the people filing in and out of the box size Pizza Hut is all I can do to keep the tears at bay.It isn’t working though. Defeated, I hang my head to hide the tears that sneak their way past my defenses. I immediately erase the evidence from my cheeks, but behind the shield of my glasses, my eyes remain wet with pain. I know no one will notice; I’m in an airport. Like a train station, there’s no acknowledging here, only coming and going. I’m grateful for the lack of attention. All I want to do is get my personal pan pizza and leave. I wish I could forget this feeling behind in the pizza shop where it can reside completely unnoticed. But as I make my way to the next flight, the aching solitude remains. I try to outsmart it by taking in deep and slow breaths, but that isn’t working either. The emotions return, overwhelming my ability to control them. I suck in a mouth full of oxygen, holding it until my cheeks begin to burn and the need to breathe becomes uncomfortable. Finally, I swallow the air. It rushes down my throat carrying the threat of a breakdown with it. 


There. It’s gone. For now. 



The suffocating dread of loneliness overtakes me at the oddest times. One minute, I’m fine, the next I’m falling apart. Lately, this feeling has been hounding me more than usual. Like a lion stalking its prey, loneliness lies beneath the surface of everything I do on some days. It hides in the corner of my smile or just beyond the soft sparkle people see in my eyes.
Loneliness is an opportunist. It launches its attack when we think we’re safest: amidst people.
As I  walked out of that Pizza Hut in the Denver Airport, I thought back to what had triggered the sudden loneliness.


I remember… 



My flying partner and I were talking about relationships. Typical girl stuff. I told her that I’d never had a boyfriend, and she had the same shocked reaction as everyone else. “What?!” She exclaimed turning to look at me as if I was some sort of enigma. “I’m just surprised. You’re cute and you have a great personality.” I shrugged and smiled, tickled by her confusion. I told her that I thought one reason why I’ve never dated is because I’m too deep and it pushes people away. The conversation then transitioned to the topic of marriage and divorce. I told her that I wanted to be married one day but revealed my concern about the number of marriages resulting in divorce in our culture.

“The scariest part is the uncertainty. If so many people have failed at marriage, how will I succeed?”


“Wow Celestial, you are deep! I’ve never heard a young person talk like that or acknowledge those types of things!” 

“See, I told you!” I laughed. “I don’t mean to be that way, I just am, and I don’t know how to turn it off.” 

“Well, as long as you’re comfortable with yourself, that’s all that matters.”


“I am.” I assured her
.

And I am, but my mindset often makes me feel disconnected from others. I don’t think my ideas are novel. I know they’re different, but I don’t believe they’re difficult to grasp. When I talk to people, it’s like they’re studying me, instead of trying to understand me.

I love connecting, understanding, and seeing life through the eyes of others. However, I don’t feel connected to. There are times when I’m having conversations with people and I realize (after it’s too late) that I’ve gone off on some tangent into the depths of my thoughts. I’m always having to reel myself back in. And while people are generally intrigued by my perspective, they’re not necessarily creating a bond with me.

I’ve always been told that I’m wise for my age. It’s a compliment, yes, but I certainly don’t view myself that way. I know my mindset is different from most, but I hadn’t realized the burden that came with it.

Sometimes, I daydream about my brain having an off button. How wonderful it’d be to think of nothing. Or to have a thought without picking it apart and over analyzing its meaning.

Then, there are days when I just want to be on the same brain wave as everyone else, just so I can feel at home in the world.
But, that’s just it- I’m not made for this world.

God instructs His people to focus on the things of Heaven, not of Earth. Romans 12:2 says

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

Even in my bouts of loneliness and disconnect, I am ultimately thankful for the way God has molded my perception and protected me from the deceit of this world.

We all know what it’s like to feel alone and misunderstood, but the worst disservice we can do ourselves is abandoning what makes us unique, for conformity and false acceptance. We need to use our individuality to promote God’s love in a world that’s rapidly closing in on itself.
Sometimes, we don’t know how to accept the aspects of ourselves that set us apart. That’s okay. We don’t have to know it all right away, we just have to be willing to embark on the journey to discover the unique gifts God has embedded in each of us.

The reason we often feel alienated by society is because many times, we are. Our thoughts, beliefs, and spirits are not made to connect to the carnal, but when we try to force it, we are met with rejection. Truthfully, none of us are meant for this world. God wants us all to depend on Him regarding every aspect of our lives. But, it’s a free world and God has not made us slaves. Therefore, many of us have created our own ideas and beliefs, and have decided to live our lives in ways we deem appropiate.

When we accept ourselves for who God created us to be and embrace our differences from the world, feeling out of place won’t be such a bad thing. As long as we’re in place in the eyes of God, that’s all that matters. We have to choose who we want to please and who we want to allow control over our lives.

We aren’t doing the world any favors by denying it the beauty of our authentic selves. It’s okay to cry a few tears and feel a little out of place sometimes, because truly, we are.