Orlando, Radical Faith, & Surrendering Fear

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I heard the news of the Orlando massacre after church on Sunday. My kids were playing in our living room and I was crouched over our kitchen countertop in disbelief as I scrolled through Facebook. Is this real? I thought. Terrorism had once again revealed its evil and ugliness in all its forms.

My seven year old was next to me and I kept the news to myself while he played with his rescue bots. Soon enough, John would begin to understand the evil in our world and I didn’t feel it was appropriate to share what I had just learned so I stayed silent, praying for the innocent victims and the horrors of radical Islam. I looked in his brown eyes and thought about his innocent heart.

I began to think about the battle we are engaged in as Christ-followers. It is a spiritual one indeed. Just as Satan disguised himself in the garden and many times throughout Scripture, I believe he too is disguising himself under the name of radical Islam. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus says that He has come to bring us life – abundant life to the fullest. I’m well aware from my Islamic Doctrine class in seminary that these radicals are out to kill everyone – no matter if they’re gay, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and more. I’m well aware that they want to take over the world.

We need to get serious as a nation about the battle being a spiritual one.

Naturally, fears race through my mind and reading Fox News and CNN doesn’t help. The news fuels my fears. What if terrorism continues to increase in America? What about the safety of my children, family, and friends? What if we continue to have spineless leadership in our nation that is unwilling to call it what it is?

Fears plague my heart if I do not surrender them to Jesus. Ironically, I have been reading the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as I was encouraged recently to begin reading biographies. As a German theologian and pastor during the rise of the Nazi’s, Dietrich had much to fear yet in his story, he revealed how the only thing we really should be fearing is God – our Creator.

Bonhoeffer stood up for biblical principles in a time when even the German “Christians” believed in wiping out the Jewish race. He knew that God created all person’s equal. After eventually joining the resistance movement against the wickedness in his day, he was imprisoned and hung.

His faith remained unshakable and radical. He knew that his faith in Jesus was worth dying for. He knew that the only thing in life worth fearing is God. And that God would take care of him until death.

Bonhoeffer’s story is nothing short of inspiring as he clung to his faith in the midst of the horrors of the Nazi regime. It is nothing short of supernatural. Right now in America, we are facing all kinds of other forms of evil invading our land. We too, have the choice to remain steadfast and unmovable in our faith or to cower in fear.

It is in this time that it is tempting to doubt God and his plans. It is tempting to doubt his love for us. For me, it is just tempting to fear continually, on a daily basis if I let the nightmares get to my heart. But I know that Jesus’ perfect love casts out fear and like Bonhoeffer revealed, the only one I truly need to fear is my God – who has the ultimate authority over my life and death.

It is also in these times that prayer is vital. When we feel like all is lost and forsaken, we need to get our knees dirty and shake the dust off our Bibles. We need to be busy in God’s will because the days are short. We need to exchange our fear, worry, and anxiety with trust, peace, and hope in Jesus – the One who will one day, make all things right.

As I look into my girls’ blue eyes and my boys’ brown eyes, I see hope, joy, peace, and a contagious child-like faith. And I certainly need more of what they have.

The hands that hold the world are holding your heart
This is the promise He made, He will be with you always
When everything is falling apart, you will be safe in His arms. – Phil Wickham

When A Big Fear Made Me Brave

990129_96584657Yesterday, I headed to my women’s Bible study at church. It was raining so I quickly shuffled all my kids out of the van. I checked them into childcare and grabbed a chai tea and scone for my second breakfast.

Our study focused on Romans 16 and how the apostle Paul poured his life and ministry into people and relationships. We were challenged to intimately know the women in our lives and be known, to help protect them from potential danger, and to work hard at loving one another well. I left challenged and encouraged to apply what I learned.

I picked up my kids and we ran to the van since it was now thundering and lightening and pouring down rain. By the time I got their little bodies into car seats and packed the stroller in the trunk, I was soaking wet. And so was my seat. I said a prayer as I pulled out and about a minute into driving, my steering wheel suddenly locked up. I couldn’t turn it to the left or the right.

Oh goodness. You gotta be kidding me. Oh no, I thought.

Prayer for Help

“John! Start praying for the van right now!” My four year old is pretty accustomed to begin praying immediately when Mommy needs help.

I had to pull over immediately and to my left was a turn lane so I stopped there. Thankfully the lane barely had any traffic and we weren’t on a busy road. I called my friend Jen who I was just at Bible study with. I didn’t have to say much until she said she was on her way to help.

I turned off the engine and restarted it and the problem remained. I figured my husband Jeremiah was busy working with patients so I called my dad and told him the problem to see if I could fix the issue. I also wondered if I was the problem but I was pretty confident it was serious. We agreed that calling AAA would be best. I decided to go ahead and try Jeremiah at work and I was able to reach him immediately.

Meanwhile my 9 month old, Hannah, is screaming in her carseat with a runny nose I couldn’t tend to. And my 2 and 4 year old were wondering what was going on as the thunder rolled and the rain poured and we were going nowhere.

I was on the verge of crying when I explained the situation to Jeremiah. I wasn’t sure what to do with the kids and the car seats and everything. Thankfully his boss let him off work to come help and it would take him 45 minutes to get to us. After I talked to him, AAA was easy to reach and on their way within the hour to tow the van.

Facing Fear

Jen arrived with her kids and had the brilliant idea of getting us lunch so the kids wouldn’t be starving and could be entertained. She left to get the food and Hannah settled down as I held her. She began cooing and bouncing on my legs, happy as a clam.

And for some reason my typically fiesty, strong-willed 2 1/2 year old, Rebekah, is sitting peacefully in her carseat and chatting up a storm like nothing was out of the ordinary. I had to take it all in because being stranded on the road in a big city with a 4 year old, 2 year old, and 9 month old (not to mention a pregnant belly) all by myself was one of my biggest fears. What would I do? Who would be able to help? How would I keep everyone from having meltdowns? 

My jeans were wet. We were hungry. The van was absorbing the cold air from outside. But I was so grateful. The rain and thunder had died down. God was providing for us. I soaked in the moment (no pun intended) where I knew it was going to be okay. That moment where God was saying:

It’s alright, Samantha. I’ve got this. I’m taking care of you. You don’t need to worry. I am right here with you in your fears. You can face them head on because I’ve got you.

One of my biggest fears was happening and it wasn’t so bad after all. Thankfully I hadn’t got on the interstate yet. No one was hurt. And my van hadn’t blown up. Yet.

Abundant Provision

Within 20 minutes, Jen arrived with a smile and a bag full of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, chips, salsa and cheese. Talk about giving us above and beyond what we needed. She also waited in her SUV behind us until Jeremiah arrived. 20 minutes later, he came ready to help with the kids and take out the carseats and put them in his truck. Then about 15 minutes later, the AAA guy had come at last.

Jeremiah and I got the kids in his truck and we drove home. It felt so good to feel heat again. The kids were calm.

I couldn’t believe how God was providing through my husband. I was reminded how God has created our husbands to be the protector and provider in practical circumstances like these. He joyfully carried the burden for me.

God used Jen to be the kind of woman we’d talked about in our Bible study. She knew me well and that I freak out in stressful situations, thrive on having a plan and being in control, and struggle with anxiety. It didn’t matter that she had her own 2 kids and a newborn either. She was there to encourage me and provide food for our bellies in our time of need. She brought a sense of calming to my spirit.

Living by Faith

The reality is that fear and anxiety have left me crippled and frozen at times. I worry so much about the “what if’s” and allow them to overtake my thoughts as if I know how something is going to work out. While this fear wasn’t categorized as one of the greater fears like death or cancer, it has been on my mind regularly when driving.

I also know that fear has held me back from living the abundant life in Christ. It has kept me from trusting in God’s provision. Mainly, from trusting in him alone. God knew that and used that experience to test me and grow my faith.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. – 1 John 4:18

As followers of Christ, I think our lives would be radically changed if we lived by faith in God’s love for us. If we lived knowing He is our provider and in control. If we lived knowing that even if we have to go through the storm, He is still with us and it will be okay. He is God. We know the end of the story. What do we really have to fear anyway?

If we allowed that truth to settle in our hearts, would we make different decisions? Would we be more bold? Would we experience God’s love with a new kind of depth and meaning?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom. 8:38-39

Well we eventually found out the problem to the van. A belt broke and was fixed within a few hours. Other minor repairs will be completed on Monday. After all the running around, we tucked our kids in bed, crashed on our beds, laughed about the day, and I felt a little more brave than I did the day before.

Life & Love With Little Children

Jeremiah and I never used to frequent cafeterias until we had kids. At the cafeteria we ate at a few nights ago, balloons strung from the wooden highchairs, the food selection and presentation was outstanding, and an old lady played the piano in the background.

When we got settled into our table, John and Rebekah were fidgety. When they got their food, it took a while for them to really crave it. But with much prodding, they eventually started to eat. Within ten minutes, Rebekah was screaming to get out of her highchair and she fussed and fussed and fussed.

The old man eating with his wife at the table behind us kept turning his head around to see our little family. He smiled at us and I imagined that he raised toddlers once too. I tried to quiet my baby girl down and make her happy.

The old man kept smiling so I figured he was okay with the noise. Jeremiah sat with his work scrubs on. He had strokes of white paint all over him from working on our new house. He almost didn’t want to come in because he felt so filthy, but I persuaded him that we had to eat and he needed a break from all our house work.

We gobbled up the rest of our food before any big meltdowns occurred. I held John’s hand out the door- his little finger was wrapped up in the balloon string. Jeremiah put Rebekah on his shoulders and we headed to our van.

This is life as we know it, I thought.

I was with my best friend, lover, and husband of 6 1/2 years along with my 17 month old daughter and 3 1/2 year old son. And in just over 2 months, we would welcome the latest addition to our family.

I thought about how life has changed dramatically since the day we said “I do.” Having children has changed our world in so many ways. Life is busy, chaotic, messy, surprising, beautiful, humorous, joyful, difficult, demanding, exciting, exhausting, rewarding and abundant. Such a paradox.

And well… life has never actually been what it once was. But it’s so good.

God has used our children to change us for the better and to help us see the worse areas that need refining. We realize that there is something bigger we must invest in beyond “just us” and that makes our relationship deeper. We acknowledge that our marriage is the priority and must be cultivated everyday.

“Are we growing old together?” Jeremiah asked while we drove down the road, trying to talk over the two busy bodies giggling in the back seat.

I thought about his question earnestly. My mind raced back to our “single” days- married without kids.

“Yep, we are. We’re living out our dreams, babe,” I smiled.

A beautiful peace and contentment swept over my heart, erasing any doubts, fears, or worries. We were right where God created us to be.


Depending on Grace in Motherhood

My kids and I had just settled in at the park. The sky was bright blue. The breeze was gentle. I picked up my 17 month old daughter and inched her little legs into the holes of the swing. My three year old son was off doing his own thing on the slides.

The mom next to me was pushing her little boy in his swing. She looked a few years older than me and had long blonde hair and a nice smile.

“I can’t believe you’re going to have another one!” she said to initiate conversation.

Oh, here we go again, I thought.

I had heard this a few times before from other people (who I didn’t know. in the public setting). It agitated me but I tried my best to be nice.

“Yep, it will be a lot as they are all close in age,” I replied.

I talked a little bit about the challenges I knew I would face as a mom of three young children. And that yes, it seems crazy. Then I switched the subject and asked her questions. She was happy to tell me about her kids and how she could never have them so close in age. And I understood her completely.

But what that mom didn’t know about me was that I have huge fears and worries when it comes to welcoming our third baby in June. I had a rough transition from 1 to 2 kids and being that this baby will only be 20 months apart from my youngest, brings a lot of what if’s in my head. I’m scared of what the “balance” will look like.

How will I handle three meltdowns? Three whines for Mommy? Three hands pulling on my legs? Three bedtimes? And going out in public with three all at once? Do I even know what I am getting myself into?

In the past few months, God has really been working on me in this area of my life. If you can’t already tell! I adore my children. I love investing in them and wouldn’t want anything else in the world. God has entrusted them to me and I consider that a huge honor and great responsibility.

But I also have my days. I’m not the most patient person. I struggle with anger. I’m not a good multi-tasker. And being a stay-at-home mom around the clock has been exhausting at times. Much harder than I could imagine.

And then the same word that came to mind when I was at the park, as if to write itself across that blue sky, came yet again.

GRACE. God has brought me this far in motherhood, how could He leave me now? He has been my sustainer on the days I couldn’t go on anymore. Those days where sleep deprivation gets the best of you and you feel like you’re going crazy.

Somehow and some way, He has always carried me through even when I didn’t deserve it. His grace has helped me live in the Spirit and love my children well, reminding me that what I do in the daily, messy grind isn’t in vain. And that being at home is the greatest gift I can give them. His grace reminds me that I simply can’t do anything in my own strength.

Will His grace continue on, and on, and on? It always has. And it always will.

My prayer is that I will lean into grace all the more as I approach delivery and the days and months after. My prayer is that I will stop worrying so much about the opinions of others and trust in God’s plan for my life and my family, being confident that His grace is always available to hold onto.

When You Fear People More Than God

As Christians brought up in the church, this particular young woman and her boyfriend struggled with their purity. Eventually, they found out they were pregnant and considered having an abortion. All kinds of thoughts brewed through their mind:

We know abortion is wrong, but it would be devastating if people in the church found out we were pregnant.

Getting pregnant out of wedlock is the worst sin imaginable.

People would never look or treat us the same again.

We can’t let anyone know we’ve been living in sin and having sex.

Other thoughts ran through their mind and they just couldn’t bare the thought of keeping their baby and the turmoil they would experience from others. They eventually made their decision and sadly ended the life of their innocent child.

This story isn’t a whole lot different than the real-life stories laced throughout Scripture that involve men and women who trusted and put their hope in people more than God. The Bible calls it the “fear of men.”

I’m going through a Bible study with my seminary wives small group on fear and anxiety and I thought these questions were very helpful when it comes to pinpointing what the fear of men might look like in our every day lives. The author of the study, Edwards Welch, asks:

  • Have you ever struggled with peer pressure?
  • Have you ever been overly concerned about your appearance?
  • Have you ever been tempted to get plastic surgery?
  • Do you find that your view of yourself fluctuates on the basis of your achievements or the opinions of others?
  • Do you show favoritism?
  • Do you ever say yes when you should say no?
  • Do your public actions look much better than your private thoughts and behaviors?
  • Have you ever had a difficult time loving someone because you didn’t feel loved by that person?
  • Do you ever struggle with jealousy?
  • Have you ever been scared to talk about Jesus with someone for fear that the person would think differently of you?

From time to time, I struggle with all those questions (some more than others) minus the plastic surgery one because well… that freaks me out.

The danger in fearing other people is that we allow them to control us. We make decisions based on what they think or say. We fear the consequence if we let them down. We put our hope and faith in them instead of what God thinks or would have us do. And it’s a bit of a “subtle” sin.

But thank goodness there is a solution to being obsessed with what other people think of us. And it comes in four beautiful letters:

L O V E

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:18

Welch describes it like this: “God took all the initiative. He loved you while you were an enemy of his. He loves you now not because you are great, but because he is love. Such love is unwavering and secure. The Cross of Jesus- the ultimate evidence of God’s love- establishes it.”

God’s unconditional love is our motivation to trust in Him. He knows what is best. He is watching out for us. And he is guiding our path as he desires. And if we ever doubt him, we need only to fix our eyes on the cross that he died upon to remember His love.

When we look to Him, this world and what it “thinks” tends to fade away.

I personally know the young couple who had the abortion. For many years they dealt with guilt, shame, regret, depression, and major emotional, physical, and spiritual turmoil. They eventually learned that the people in the church they’d feared were far from perfect too. They just looked good on the outside and were able to say the right words.

While this couple still naturally carries guilt and shame at times, they have accepted God’s forgiveness and love and have forgiven themselves. They are open about sharing their mistakes and they’re learning what it means to trust in God, rather than in men.

Fearing, Loving, and Reverencing God more than men.

How liberating and God-glorifying to live life in such a way.

Yes, free indeed: Overcoming Our Deepest Fears

“Get dressed. We’re going to the lake,” my husband Jeremiah says on the other end of the line as he’s driving home from work on Monday. I was already dressed in my workout clothes and I was loving his spontaneity because it had been a hard day at home and I needed some fresh air.

We arrived at the lake an hour before sun set. My toddler John ran through the leaves and down the hills. I pushed Rebekah in the stroller and inhaled the cool breeze. We then walked on the paved trail that led to a long bridge where ducks swam underneath. We parked ourselves there for a while and watched our son in such delight. It was like the world stood still and all that existed was our little family.

Then out of nowhere… a cyclist comes riding across the bridge and before we could even think to hold his hand, John darts out in front of him. I scream: “John!” and the cyclist screams “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa!” and slams on his breaks in a panic, coming to a screeching stop. Not quite understanding, John hurried back to our side and the cyclist rode off.

On our way home, I started crying. Jeremiah was still in shock too. That experience showed me that I have a whole new set of fears I didn’t know I had. God has told us in His Word that He’s not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. But now what? What does that mean? What does it mean to live by faith, this faith I’ve been called to?

Being responsible…When I was crying, the fears flooding through my mind made God’s word seem stale. Could I trust God to protect John in the future…and me and my family? I mean, shouldn’t I help God out and do what is responsible? My heart wrestled. What seems most responsible is to not return to the lake. It is too dangerous! My insides were being seized by fear, and I was doing everything that I could to muster up some sort of faith that would set me free. I felt compelled to act, but if I did, would I even know what was best? I needed to be free.

Yes, free. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! Monday taught me that nothing will deflate our spirit faster than fear. Faith in God’s promises gives us the confidence and courage to experience the freedom and joy of the fullness of life. We were created to go to the lake with our family. I was made to watch John sprint down the grassy knoll, laughing with joy as he kicked up the leaves in the air.

Yes, I want that joy that comes with such faith- the faith of a child. John’s life became to me a vivid picture of faith. He lives by faith. Questions about how his needs will be met don’t go through his head. He doesn’t wonder if he will be safe. John’s faith allows him to be free.  John had such delight because he ran freely without inhibitions and fears that would keep him from running. John’s faith doesn’t know such fear. That is why he could laugh and smile when he shuffled his feet through the leaves.

Today, God is helping me to run again. Monday’s experience was tough, but I’m looking forward to going back to the lake again with my family. I haven’t figured it all out, but I know that I’m a weak vessel and I must trust God. There is an “abundance of life” that we were created to enjoy. In fact, I’m learning to enjoy it in a whole new way that I did not know before. Jesus said, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” Our faith in Christ is our very freedom. I am free. Yes, I am free, indeed.

* This article was a team effort. Thank you, Jeremiah, for helping me write and edit the story.

Running for Life [abundantly]

I want to really live in 2011, but sometimes I fear the unknown and I fear failure.

I’m still on vacation at my parents place, and this morning I went on a run for the second time this week. It had been over a year since I ran last. In the first 15 minutes of my run, I felt stronger and my pace was faster than it was on Monday. I barely had to stop and walk. I didn’t look at the time to see if I was almost done. I just savored the feeling of sweat again, my surroundings and my worship music on Pandora.

Then I thought about the fears I had: Can I really run again and run well? Can I really drop the 10 lbs. of baby weight that’s lingering? I wasn’t sure if I had it in me.

On my way back home, the wind blew harder against my face and my feet ached. I had to walk again. I looked over at the golf course to my right and the landscape was brown- not a pretty bright green as I thought it should be. I thought about how I didn’t want my life to be dormant and drab like that green. I wanted my life to be alive and vibrant. A life that bears much fruit.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

Then I thought about my fears again. Fear and the worries of this world tend to choke the life out of me. And the Enemy wants exactly that. But Jesus came so I would live life to its fullest.

In 2011, I want to take the first steps required for me to live more fully in my relationship with Christ. It might mean getting up early before the babies are awake to be in the Word. Or praying more through out the day. Or having self-control and resisting the urge to get angry at my toddler or impatient with my husband. Or embracing where I am right now and complaining less. Or going out of my way to love and invest radically in someone who is different than me. It might mean dreaming God-sized dreams.

I’m not sure, but I know I need to live more. I know that I haven’t fully embraced the abundant life that God has for me.

Well, after walking those few minutes in my run, I picked up my pace again. My parents’ house was in the distance and I started sprinting towards it, knowing there was no other choice but to run again.

Critics vs. Cheerleaders

image by Dan Waber

The more I live my life, the more I see the need for cheerleaders, and not critics.

I remember in my junior year of college, I wrote a fiction piece my Creative Writing professor loved. He read it to the class and at the end of the year, I won the Fiction Award at the end of the year ceremony for the English department. A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to submit the piece to our school’s literary magazine.

I was excited to contribute, but to my surprise, the lady in charge of submissions wrote an email back saying there was no story and no chance of it being published. She said she couldn’t believe that I submitted it. She offered zero feedback on how to make it better. Her criticism instilled a lot of fear in me, regardless if she was right.

I was confused and began to think, did my professor have his head on straight? Or am I just a loser who doesn’t know how to write?

And once in a blue moon, that lady’s words still come back to haunt me.

Then there have been people in my life who’ve done nothing but cheer me on. They’ve intentionally come along side me to speak the truth in love and encourage me to get back up. They’ve given of themselves and said: “You can do it! God has great plans for you! Keep fixing your eyes ahead…” Even if there was criticism on their part, it was constructive and done in love. It built me up. Those people are who I desire to be like. Those who have shown me by example, how to cheer someone else on.

It’s a daily choice to consider the cheerleaders in your life, and not the critics. It’s way too easy to cling to the latter. And the negative thoughts just start flying! It’s also way too easy to be the actual critic. God created us to live in community with one another where we will grow and thrive and part of that includes surrounding ourselves with people who will lift us up, whether that’s in our relationship with Christ, friendships, career, parenthood, or whatever.

Well after my submission upset, God began to give me clarity in my writing dreams. I started writing non-fiction articles and Bible studies for major publishing companies and discovered that non-fiction was where my heart beat the most. His grace allowed my writing career to really take off and today, my passion is to cheer on other people as best I can- while still battling the criticism I have in my heart at times towards others and myself.

Is it difficult for you to let go of another person’s criticism? What do you appreciate most about those who have cheered you on?

10 things the Cross has saved me from

… continues to save me from:

anger, control, pride, fear, condemnation, envy, shame, bitterness, anxiety, lust.

The weight of my sin on the cross was great, but not greater than the One who took it upon his shoulders:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFvMzDlsmig]

Oh me of little faith

Heart’s racing. Knees weak. Stuttered words. What will they think of me? Will I be rejected? Laughed at?

Sharing my faith with other people isn’t always easy.

I fear and worry still today even when the last time I tried to get things going spiritually, everything went fine. My waiter was receptive. It was an awesome conversation. The last time I had the opportunity at my eye doctor’s office, I didn’t take it. I had a hard time transitioning into spiritual matters. I think most of all, I feared what the admin. assistant would think of me.

I’ve been really thinking though- what is the worse thing that could happen when we share our faith? The worse thing that has happened to me so far is that my husband was fired for sharing his faith on the job three months into our marriage. You can hear more about our story in this 3 minute video.

I remember in high school being called “religious” at times. I’ve had people change a spiritual conversation on me really fast. I’m guessing I’ve been made fun of for my facebook status updates that are about God. And I’m guessing someone may have chosen not to be around me because I love and talk about Jesus. But I can’t pinpoint anything (as of yet) where people cussed me out or just hated me after loving on them and sharing my story of grace.

And even if they did, that’s okay. I’ve been commanded not to be silent. Heaven and hell are at stake. I know, no one talks about hell anymore. But it’s the hard truth. It’s okay if our heart races a little and we feel like we’re going to fall over and die! Because God is the one who cultivates. Convicts. Redeems. Restores. He is the only one with the ability to raise a life up from the dead.

He just chooses to use us in his plan. I’m so thankful he does despite all my crazy, ridiculous fears.

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