Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How I Lose My Faith

I seem to be losing my faith quite frequently these days. And by losing my faith I don't mean my salvation. I mean my daily reliance on Jesus. 

For example, when I ask God to change someone and I see no change despite fervent prayer, I grow impatient and lose my faith. Turns out I had been believing in a God that would change people the way I thought they ought to be changed, a God fashioned after my own liking with my ideals and my plans. I feel suspended over thin air, realizing the platform on which I was standing is not there anymore. I feel God is not there anymore, and indeed I am right. That god, the false one, was never there.

This is how our faith is tested, and by testing I mean the same thing as a mathematician testing a coordinate to see if it is the solution of a function, or graphing a set of coordinates to see if they fall on a line. Or—if the mathematical illustrations mean nothing to you—it is like baking the dough to see if you’ve added enough yeast, or trying out a new medication to see if it helps the rash go away.

You see, we all of us have a particular image of God in mind when we say our prayers or think of the one who purchased our salvation at the price of his son’s blood, and that image must be refashioned after every disappointment, sorrow, and fear. Without the refashioning, we either begin creating a god after our own likeness or we turn our backs on God entirely like the prodigal son did. 

But perhaps the prodigal son is actually closer to God than the one who continues with his false religion. The prodigal knows his will can’t bend to God’s so he runs away to spend his, and by his I mean God's, resources as he wishes. On the other hand, the one making a false god believes his will is God’s. The prodigal is not far from realizing how inadequate he is without the Lord; the one in a false religion thinks he, unlike all those sinners, is pleasing the Lord.

As for the man who sees that he is suspended over thin air, who sees that he is believing in a false god and chooses to discarded that image, he is transformed by the renewal of his mind, and through testing he discerns what the will of God is (Romans 12:2).

Let me cite another scenario in which I lose my faith. Phil and my back-house studio is vacant. We have a laundry list of action items to complete before the next renter comes in June. We don't have this month's rental income supporting us. Phil’s and my cars both ended up in the shop, and at the start of the month I was too sick to do any work. Phil and I are overwhelmed and exhausted. We don’t know how we'll complete all our work or stay out of the red financially. I grow anxious and short-tempered. I lose my faith. 

Or here is another example: I attended an interview with the principal of Lou Henry Hoover Elementary where Lee will be attending kindergarten next fall, and I was shocked and distraught to learn that the principal wished to put Lee into first grade instead of kindergarten because I held him back last year. I exited the meeting frantic and angry, and went on a rampage rudely venting on school district employees in an attempt to get what I wanted. I lost my faith. 

In the first situation, I feel inadequate to the tasks at hand. In the second situation, I was feeling unjustly treated and afraid of the future.

How frequently I lose my faith that a situation is within God’s scope, that he is prepared to take care of these things too, that he is the one to bring about justice and to give good to his people.

Not too long ago I was reading Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, a gal who fresh out of high school felt called by God to serve in Uganda. Her service there lead to founding the non-profit organization Amazima, adopting thirteen girls, and residing in Uganda permanently. During a fund raising trip to the states, she became overwhelmed with worry about her girls back home.

“I had become so concerned about how I would continue to provide for the children that I forgot I wasn’t even the one who was supposed to do it. I’d been so busy working to raise money that I forgot to ask God for it.” (Davis, 126)

“I keep forgetting to ask God first to heal me, to fill me, to guide me, to rejoice with me. I have to set aside ‘time to pray’ in the morning and at night instead of being in constant communication with him. In Uganda because I was so physically ‘poor’ I was completely dependent on God and spiritually as wealthy as ever.” (Davis, 122)

Reading this was a spotlight on my faithlessness, not only because I hadn’t brought my financial and parental fears to the Lord, but because even in prayer, I was expecting the Lord to deliver in a certain way. Was my faith placed in what God would do or in God himself? I wanted the Lord to help us complete our tasks and supply the extra money and get Lee into kindergarten. Could I still have faith in God if we didn’t finish on time, if our accounts went into the red, and Lee wasn’t permitted into kindergarten?

“You know that under pressure your faith life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. Don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed not deficient in anyway” (James 1:3-4 Message).

Again, in what sort of God did I believe? Was it in a God whose plans matched mine, one who gave me all I wanted, a false god fashioned after my own desires? No, I knew that God was not bound to orchestrate events according to my will.

It's a tell-tale sign that my prayers are faithless when I pray them in fear. I beg God, “Please, do this! Please, please, please. I need this! I must have this! I don’t know what I’ll do without this!”  These are the sort of prayers said with no faith that the maker will take take of me. I am “like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8 ESV).

I lose my faith. 

Again, I have three options: transfer my faith onto the real God whose plans might not be to my liking, flee from this God and his undesirable plans, or follow after a false god. Too frequently I choose the last option. I decide to shoulder the burdens on my own with the belief that God doesn’t care or God helps those who help themselves or that God will step in once I’ve proved my worth. But this is not the God of the bible. It's one created after my own flaws. God cares. He is able to do anything if I trust him. And he is not waiting for me to prove my worth. Chances are if I complete all my tasks myself, I will probably then believe I have earned God’s favor and that now God owes me some easy living or a bit of entertainment or a night's rest without a child interrupting my sleep.

I do not mean that by giving up my hopes for the future and renewing my faith in God that I then sit back and wait for God to get Lee into kindergarten and prepare the studio for the coming renters. But I do mean that any effort I make is done with a newfound rest and delight. I am no longer fretting and fearing that if I don’t do things right, I won’t get what I want. I know the responsibility of making things happen “correctly” is not up to me. There is no fault upon me if things don't go as I like or in a socially acceptable manner.

I take each task every day—scrubbing the studio floor, ordering curtains, selling items on ebay, requesting recommendation letters from Lee’s previous preschool teachers—with prayer. “Lord, is this the task you would have me do today or should I rest to heal from my sickness?” “Lord, please help me be open to Lee going into first grade.” “Lord, should I focus on selling items on ebay or trying to paint the studio?” “Lord, is it really necessary that we re-grout the shower and if not, help me to be at peace with the way things are.”

That is what the Bible means when it says to walk by faith and not by sight, to live in Christ, “to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you,” (Philippians 2:12-13). 

By the way, Lee was permitted into kindergarten after an entrance test, letters of recommendation, a local school council meeting, and several months of suspense. Phil landed five side jobs and I discovered that Mike Hamilton's Kenner Star Wars action figures that he'd given me to sell were worth hundreds. And while Phil and I have yet to finish preparing our studio, we are taking one task at a time, in faith.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Monterey 2018

It's been two years since we visited Ed and Barb at their home in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and the children had been asking for another visit, so we put that on our calendar for this month. Despite coming down with a cold followed by a painful ear infection, I somehow managed to pack up the children and myself and grab some antibiotics at Urgent Care before leaving for our trip.

Taking a vacation with two kids while being 30 weeks pregnant and sick was a new experience. My left ear was plugged for the duration of the trip, and my energy was at an all-time low. Despite that, the vacation was the most restful one I've had since the welcoming of Lee into our family.

Things I would normally fuss about—knowing and planning our events and meals, taking pictures at every stop, kids whining in the car, noisy children bothering restaurant guests, forgetting my tea and deodorant, keeping track of all our belongings, making sure we're driving the right direction—fell by the wayside because I didn't have the energy to worry about them. When we set up our folding chairs on the beach, I wasn't bored or antsy without a book or journal. I was content to just sit and watch the children play. I left my computer at home and my phone in the car. I was too tired to take pictures and my brain felt too mushy to cough up any thoughts to record in my journal. I simply rested. And it was lovely.

I ought to add that without Philip and Ed and Barb, all this relaxing wouldn't have been possible. Phil checked us in and out of Cambria Pines Lodge. He loaded and unloaded the car. He took the children on outings so I could nap. He took pictures and coordinated a breakfast with Luke Shakelford. He acted as the enforcer of rules and the face behind the fun for the children. He handled our vacation schedule and budget as well.

Then Ed and Barb stepped in with outing suggestions and aquarium passes and meals and a love for us and our children that made us feel right at home. They watched the children one morning so Phil and I could grab breakfast at Monterey's First Awakenings. Phil and Ed took the kids to Dennis the Menace Park, and Barb made us sandwiches for a picnic on the beach. They supplied the kids with age-appropriate toys and enough Doc Mcstuffin and sugar to last them the rest of the year.

The children were great travelers this time round. I'm so encouraged to see how each year they become easier to take places. In the car they sat quietly listening to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle or A Series of Unfortunate Events. They drew on their doodle pads, which were a travel gift from Auntie Terri several years ago. Rose dressed her magnetic doll and Lee found Waldo. They indulged in Cheetos and fruit leather and PB&J bars from Trader Joes. And even though we still had to stop for the restroom every hour or so, I welcomed the bathroom pit stops too.

We spent one night at Cambria Pines Lodge, stopping at Padaro Beach Grill on the way up. This year Phil secured us a corner room with a forest view and a living room separate from the bedroom. I don't know why we haven't requested this prior years. That was definitely the way to go. After putting the kids to bed, Phil and I could stay up an entire thirty minutes before we too conked out. That's luxury right there.

Highlights included rock hopping at Moonstone Beach, the children wading through neck-high  nasturtiums at the Cambria Pines Lodge kitchen garden, the yellow mustard so vibrant and the oaks so majestic along highway 46, spotting dead jelly fish on the sandy beach, picking up hermit grabs and touching sea "enemies" at the tide pools, homemade meat loaf and asparagus at Ed and Barb's, watching the sea otter video and standing in the splash tunnel at the aquarium, spotting a doe and her fawn in Ed and Barb's front yard, watching the children perform somersaults on the fake turf in their front yard, Ed tossing fancy shells onto the rocks for Lee and Rose to find, acquiring a list of book suggestions from Barb, Ed playing Guess Who with Lee, Rose's delight at collecting colorful pebbles, sipping cool kombucha on the beach, listening to Lee explain to newcomers what fish were swimming in the open ocean display at the aquarium, children in their underwear leaping from the rocks, watching the train go by at Padaro Beach Grill, hearing how Lee would've defeated the snow monster in Frozen, sleeping in until 7am almost every morning, Phil doing a load of laundry at Ed and Barbs, the children's excitement when showing Ed and Barb our 2017 family movie, being content with only hearing half of what's going on, and Lee expressing that he was so excited to go home because he missed his blankets and bed.