Come Out of the Dark

The blonde beauty queen sits on the sands of a secluded lake front. Alone in the dark, she counts the number of waves thrashing violently. The cool wind occassionally blows her wavy hair into a mess, but she does nothing to straighten it out. At least, not when no one sees her in the dark.

She tucks her legs into her chest and hugs them tightly, head down on her knees. She counts the waves, but doesn’t look up at the moonlight.

The waves begin to calm. Ten minutes later, the woman still sits in the fetal position, her tears dropping through her legs and onto the sand. A young man on a canoe notices the woman on the sand and thinks to yell to her, but for some reason, no sound comes out. So he paddles closer, just enough to clearly see the woman under the moonlight. The wavy blonde hair. The red athletic shorts and fragile legs. The gray sweatshirt that’s too big for her small frame.

He knows this girl, but from where? Should he say something?

She continues to weep, pretending not to hear his footsteps. She pretends not to have gotten a glimpse of familiar tan and muscular legs. Just from the sound and the subtle glance, she knows who he is. But she says nothing.

The wind starts to pick up again, the moonlight dimming. He gets out of the canoe to push it back into the water. Better head home, he thinks. So he quickly paddles off, flexing his muscular arms to race against soon-to-be-violent waves.

When he gets to the other side, he looks back. She’s probably still there, he thinks.

And she is, once again listening to the thrashes. She’s heard noises similar to this a million times before…pretty much every day.

Right before the moon completely dims, her cell phone goes off, the sound of angry rap overpowering the waves.

Shut up, Brian! her mind screams. She doesn’t dare answer the phone.

Why did Jake come up to me? she wonders. It’s been five years since we saw each other. No, we weren’t in the same crowd. Maybe he didn’t recognize me. But he could have at least said something.

As she thinks about the “whys”, she stands up, picks up her cell phone from the sand, and throws it into the lake. Slightly satisfied, she sits back down and folds her hands, silently praying to God to give her the courage to end her current relationship.

Even if it means one more violent fight, it would be worth it to just see Jake one more time, to see him clearly under the moonlight.

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The Importance of Reading Little By Little

The Bible as Lit. class was made up of maybe 30 college students. Some of them took the class out of interest. Others took it just for credits. They all used the English Standard Version Bible. They all wrote essays and took short-answer and multiple-choice quizzes and tests. The professor emphasized on themes, basic concepts, and details from all of the books, especially the gospels.

I was in this class, intrigued by different themes, wanting to absorb all of the information “at once.” Given that I had some knowledge about different books in the Bible before I took the class, the essays and tests weren’t hard. But the quizzes that had questions about names and dates and specific events in one book were hard for me.

See, before taking the class, I had an intense interest in not just everything biblical, but the writing style as well. It was hard to just read for facts when I paid so much attention to style.

I realized that by focusing on so many things while trying to read fast (just enough to take in general themes and writing styles), it was easier to miss important facts. By the end of the class, I learned that it’s best to just read little by little and really dig into the concepts. Maybe it would have been more beneficial to read 2 verses, take a break, and read 4 more verses until I understood everything and completed the assignments.

Nevertheless, I did well in the class because it was about a topic of sincere interest. My prior knowledge helped. But the whole time I was reading and studying for tests and quizzes, God was teaching me that there was so much I still had to learn. There was so much I had to learn about reading the Bible so deeply that I could truly grasp the messages and apply them to my life. Now that I’m done with the class, I can go through the books again…a few verses at a time.

The Beauty of Baptism

At church today, there was a baptism of a baby girl. (For confidentiality, we’ll call her Kaitlyn).

The pastor and four adults (the parents and their sponsors) gathered around the alter. Kaitlyn’s mother held her loud baby as the pastor was giving the blessing.

The whole time the five adults (the pastor, the parents, and the sponsors) gathered around the alter, I thought…She’s so tiny, so young! And they’re blessing her now, before she can even talk.

I was awestruck, watching Kaitlyn squirm in her mother’s arms and cry as the pastor ran water upon her forehead in the shape of a cross.

This scene almost made me cry. My parents had all 5 of my siblings and I baptized at an early age. I don’t really remember my baptism, but I do remember one of my siblings being an infant. The child was surrounded by my parents and “many” extended family members.

That was the first baptism I remember. It was a huge deal to my parents. At the time, I was too young to understand why.

But during Kaitlyn’s baptism, I truly recognized the beauty in the blessing of the cross, the first stage to accepting God. Parents have their children baptized early so that they can grow with a foundation of faith, a foundation of belief.

This is beautiful because not every child gets baptized so early in life. Those who do get baptized early have their whole lives to truly understand baptism and blessings. Not every child has that chance. In fact, some people don’t get baptized at all because their parents never showed the importance of it.

My siblings and I are so blessed to have been baptized at such a young age with so much thought, planning, and love from our parents.

After Kaitlyn’s baptism was over, I thought about the service and my memories and thought…When I have a child, he or she will get baptized at a young age.

Thank You Note to God

This morning, I was typing away on my iPad at a coffee shop, trying to write “thank you” notes to people who allowed me to interview them for a feature story. Meanwhile, I had a million other things on my mind–updating my LinkedIn profile, networking for jobs, reading about job interview advice, and sending out my resume.

Right when I found a website for a networking group at a church, I came across a prayer forum on the righthand side of their website.

I wasn’t expecting a place to ask for prayer, especially when I was by myself at a coffee shop.

Before I typed my prayer request, I saw that the most recent request was a little like mine.

It moved me, leading me to send a prayer for this person as well as a request for myself.

Thinking about it now as I type this blog, I realize…this was meant to happen as a way of God encouraging me to pray for others and ask for others to pray for me. This blog, being written as I continue my search, is a “thank you” note to God for the reminder of the need for prayer.

When we’re constantly on our phones and tablets, there comes a point when the battery dies. We know this when we’re thinking about it, when the battery icon turns red. But until that happens, we remain on the run while the battery slowly dies.

Sometimes, it feels like our souls do the same. When we see that our spirit is dying, it feels so fast. It feels so frustrating. We might even ask ourselves…Where is God?

I’m writing this blog on my iPhone right after my iPad died. In the process, I worry because my iPhone’s down to 10%. Of course, I’m at Panera having forgotten my charger.

Not exactly convenient for a day of resume building, job searching, making phone calls, and blogging.

But as I sit here with an iPod about three-quarters of the way charged, I can listen to Christian music while using the remainder of the battery from my phone to finish this blog post. All the while, I feel like I’m getting somewhere, my spirits being lifted with even the slightest bit of energy.

It’s easy to get frustrated, to feel burnt-out, to feel lost…especially when all we see is that little red portion of a battery left. It’s even harder without a charger.

But sometimes, the littlest amount of energy can go a long way, our spirits lifted more than we know if we see the value in what we have left.

Not everything is lost. Our souls are not dead.

Is God Your Objective?

I’ve had a lot of talks with different pastors and friends of different denominations of the same faith (Christianity). But for the longest time, all I had for these people was a list of questions…oh, and my thoughts, prayers, and feelings. Subjective people to lean on? Yes, but God was still the objective source…right?

Now, I have to wonder…Was he ALWAYS the objective? And how do we know if he’s our objective, the being we’re ultimately seeking, when all of our thoughts seem so world-centered, human-centered? There’s not just the guilt, but the never-ending question of…Is this right?

Some of the most seemingly simplistic and cliche things that people can say to you include the following:

-“You haven’t been praying enough. Pray until God gives you the answer.”

-“Just rely on faith, I guess.”

-“Was it God, or was it you? Make sure you’re listening to Him.”

But then, there’s the ONE direct “demand” that you might receive: “No, don’t do this. If you do it, you’re not gonna be able to move forward.”

These types of comments aren’t said in just one situation. Oh, no. Pretty much every situation where you have to make a decision–whether it be to go to a big university, move to a big city, or hang out with a certain crowd–will not arise without some sort of overwhelming web of opinions from people with “strong faith.”

But here’s a question for you. How do THEY know your faith? How can someone tell you that “they” have a bad feeling about something…because God came to them in a vision?

Now, I believe that there are a lot of wise people out there, people who know FAR more than I know about God. Heck, there are people who have probably memorized the whole Bible. I can barely remember a verse.

But even these people who know so much about the Bible and about God don’t know about my relationship with Him. Do they know my prayers, my dreams, the whole me? No…not like God does.

That’s why a Christian relationship with Christ is so intimate. We cannot go to someone of the same faith and ask “Is this right?” and expect them to give us a perfect answer, God’s answer. Of course, they can pray and get feelings, even visions. But ultimately, we have to believe in the visions for ourselves.

With the holy spirit in us, we can see a vision from the spirit. The people we talk to–the people with strong faith–can guide us to get a closer relationship with God. But they cannot define our relationship.

God is my objective, the being I long to serve whilst talking to Him, totally open and honest communication, something that’s only achievable with full trust and time. Any subjective “principles” may be important on this journey to meet my objective, but they do not define my obstacles and answers. So I ask anyone reading this: Who are your sources for answers? Is God your ultimate objective, your ultimate purpose for existence, your ultimate source for answers?

Emotions from Music

Have you ever asked yourself why you felt depressing emotions over the course of a week or a month? Perhaps you felt sad for a year. Maybe you tried to change a million things, throwing yourself into a hobby or constantly surrounding yourself with people. Maybe you did these things so that you wouldn’t have to feel anything. Everything that was bad could just be completely forgotten, replaced by something “better.” But after awhile, the effects just wear off. Why is this? you wonder. Nothing seems to change for the better.

Then, you go to your car and turn on the radio. What’s playing? Maybe it’s rap with a ton of profanity, an angry tone with slurred words. Maybe it’s heavy metal with lyrics that you barely understand. How does it make you feel? Does it make you more angry? Maybe you like it because it’s relatable at that moment. So you just let it play, trying to enjoy this “distraction.” But what is it ultimately doing?

I’ve gone through long periods of listening to depressing music while doing enjoyable activities, like running and writing. So I understand why we would listen to music that may not send the most inspirational messages. Sometimes, breakup songs are nice. They remind us that we’re “not alone.” But the more those lyrics pile up in our minds, the more we learn to hate love, to hate the opposite sex, to hate the SUBJECTS that God wants us to love.

There are things in this world that are hateful, like lies, gossip, adultery, murder. But if we just listen to words condemning the people who do these things, we’re distracted from God and His messages. We’re distracted from the ability to love and to forgive. We’re distracted from the message that life DOES get better and that we are blessed. So even while we do the things that we enjoy, we’re still building up hate. Consuming our minds with awful messages while doing what we love is like bulking up our muscles instead of toning them. Instead of getting rid of what we don’t want, we’re adding the good onto the bad, using that as a way to justify what we are doing. But nothing’s really changing for the better.

I’m not saying that this will automatically make me stop listening to artists who are relatable and/or enjoyable, like Lana Del Rey. But it does make me want to listen to more uplifting music. There might not be a noticeable change right away, but at least I won’t be bulking up my mind with as much negativity.

Fears and Blessings

What do you do when you feel hopeless in your ways? Do you turn away from faith in God, or do you seek faith in other things? A better question is: would it be possible (and right) to have faith in God through other things?

Through life’s trials and fears of not getting worldly desires, I found that it is possible (and even good) to find faith through God’s provisions.

Recently, I started a new medication for dizziness. I was so scared of the side-effects, especially possible weight gain. Plus, I felt awful that I had to rely on medication instead of God. In the initial stages, I felt tired all of the time. I wanted to quit using it just because I thought it would do bad things to me.

When I think about all of the crying now, I realize…I’ve cried for the same reason when my faith didn’t “seem” to be working. But really, my faith WAS working. It reminded me of the Psalms and how David’s faith was working when he cried out to God for justice. Like David, I wasn’t crying to myself, but to God with my soul-grounded belief that He was up there.

Still, there were times when I wondered…even if I was crying out to God, was my faith really with Him when I “thought” he was out to get me? Yeah, the Bible says that all things come together for the good. But in the process, not all things are good. Did God want bad things for me?

In the middle of my confusion and questions of faith, I seemed to be gaining faith in God through my friends instead of God alone. At first, it seemed a bit strange that I would have more faith in friends than in God. Before I started the medication, I felt so close to Him, so trusting. My whole goal was to get closer to Him, and it was working. That was why I spent more time alone with Him than anyone else. He was my medication.

But the truth is, if I didn’t have friends who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t have thought that their words could also be my medication. Because I have friends who seek after God, I am constantly being pushed closer to Him without even realizing it. Even when my mind is stuck on the wrong things (things that I question God really cares about), I know deep in my heart that He cares about my faith in Him and love for His followers.

Like David, I may cry out to God in anger and fear, but ultimately, He provides answers through blessings in my suffering. In this case, I’m talking about suffering that can be detrimental for my emotional well-being, which could affect my spiritual well-being.

Right now, God is testing my well-being in every aspect of life by giving me good and bad emotions. He is testing me by giving me blessings and fears. But with God in my blood, all good overrides evil. All blessings override fear.

Why Church Searching Can be a Good Idea

A lot of Christians will tell you that it’s not good to switch churches. They might say that it’s best to stick with one church to form a solid community. But what if you are not doing well with your faith at your home church?

When it seems as though a community of believers cannot reach out to you in your time of spiritual drought, it might be in your best interest to look for a new church. Maybe it has nothing to do with them, but it has to do with your own personal and spiritual needs. As long as you’re focused on growing with other Christians to serve God, it is a good idea to ask other Christians about their churches or look into different churches online. See what they have to offer as well as what you can offer them. While you’re attending different kinds of services, figure out what is helping you and why you would pick one over another. Before you commit to a church, pray about it. Make sure that you will be at peace in the long run. Also, make sure that you are doing it not out of your own selfish desires, but out of God’s will. Make sure that the church has the resources for you to do God’s will and help others do the same.

I will emphasize on looking for a church for the sake of spiritual well-being, not happiness. While happiness is great, it usually involves fulfilling selfish desires (i.e. finding a significant other, getting job connections, etc.). While those things might seem great right now, will they really help you stay focused on God in the future?

Everyone changes, and needs change. You might get hurt, and you might need people who value God’s work in other people to get you the help that you need. By finding a church with people who really understand your need for help from others, you could find peace and grow with faith. Also, you might find a sudden spiritual high and express it more freely than one church seems to accept. By finding a church that has people who are accepting and supportive of your preferred worship style, it will probably be your best fit, as both you and the community will be able to adapt to (and even grow from) each other.

When you were young, your family might have gone to one church. Maybe you didn’t have a choice. Maybe when you grew up, you found yourself striving to learn more about God. Maybe you found a church that helped you accomplish that goal more than the church that your family attended. Maybe you grew up facing anxiety that not many people in your old community have faced, and that led you to question God’s greatness. Perhaps a different church would help, one with people more like you and better able to help you on your walk with God.

There can be so many reasons church searching can be good for you. At first, you might not find peace with this idea. You might feel guilty. You might feel like you are walking away from commitment, people who have known you a long time. You might feel like leaving one church to join another means that you’re seeking a “better” church, making your original church seem “not-so-good.” The truth is, no church is better than another when they all serve the purpose of worshiping God. However, there is a better church for individuals with different needs.

Broken Promises

Have you ever made a promise to yourself that you thought God would help you keep? And when you didn’t keep it, did it make you angry at God? If it did, who did you run to? Who helped you get back on your feet and fulfill that promise? If you didn’t get angry at God, how did you respond?

I answer these questions for myself with a tame mind, though still fully aware of my own “broken” promises, the promise to give up Facebook, the promise to have a clean room. This is probably one of the rare moments when my Facebook page isn’t up, but most of the time, I feel as though I slipped back to old ways, the ways I felt so much better without.

Now, whenever my mom walks past my room, she’ll see my five million statuses (and a few selfies) on my Facebook page…unless I can hide it right away. When she comes in, she’ll step over a million pieces of dirty clothes, clothes that I “promised” wouldn’t even touch the floor. So much for keeping my promises.

So here I am, listening to worship music, Jeremy Camp singing about God’s promises. God never broke His promises. In fact, He never actually promised to fulfill my promises to myself. He promised to love me unconditionally, though not without problems. One of my problems is overcommitment. How can I be mad at God when it wasn’t His fault that I overcommitted?

Somehow, I’m not angry. I’m on the fence of blaming myself and letting it go. I have the mentality that if I can just stay connected to God and use Facebook “in moderation,” that promise might seem broken, but it wasn’t meant to be made in the first place. I’ve never looked at it this way without anger before. Whenever I broke promises to myself, I’d beg a friend to give me advice. Maybe I’m not angry now because of the amount of prayer easing my mind, or the beautiful worship music…or most important, maybe it’s God’s message to me that those are just two promises that I made to myself and they weren’t meant to be kept. So I should just trust that only God’s promise will remain fulfilled.

That being said, maybe it’s okay if I forgive myself for using Facebook too much. Maybe I can just set goals to keep my room straight and eyes off Facebook instead of promises to prevent myself from overcommitment. Maybe God already blessed me with less commitment to reduce my anger and anxiety. Maybe He won’t fix anyone else’s broken promises to themselves, but He’ll find some way to bless their honesty in those broken promises and free them from frustration.