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A Christian Experience

God did not give me a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-control. 

This is my daily reminder and most powerful combative verse to answer my specific call by God each day. It keeps me grounded in faith. It reminds me that my weaknesses are His opportunities to strengthen me. I am enabled to love people beyond my natural ability and I can say no to things that are not for me.

Even more, as I begin this series titled “A Christian Experience”, I choose boldness in sharing my experiences as a Christian in several contexts (i.e., the workplace, classrooms, unequally yoked relationships, friendships). I will do a special post on my experience as a Christian in the church. I will also invite others to showcase their experiences as well.

This will be a very sensitive series, so I ask that if you are not firm in your faith knowing who God is for yourself, maybe refrain from reading this. My hope is to not turn you away from Jesus but to be as authentic as possible as a Christian, allowing people to see it is no walk in the park. There is beauty but there is also tremendous burden. Joy and jadedness. Love and lies.

Stay tuned…

On the other side of Yes

Yes, Lord. I’ll follow you.

Boom. Now you’re a Christ follower. You’ve believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth. Salvation? Check. Complete surrender? Check.

How bad can it be?

What if on the other side of yes meant:

  • Losing the support of your family because they believe something different
  • Biting your tongue when your only desire is to be heard
  • Enduring several heartbreaks amidst your endless effort to love well
  • Living paycheck to paycheck because God has called you to a lower paying job
  • Being barren for the first few years of your marriage
  • Being single for the complete decade of your twenties…scratch that, forever
  • Committing to the lifelong struggle of fighting porn, alcohol and drug addictions
  • Watching your child repeatedly deny Jesus and eventually spiral out
  • Being uncomfortable
  • Allowing a foster child to move in when you can barely support your own children
  • Suffering from an illness where there is no cure

Would you still follow? Could you bear to justify that even in our darkest, imagined moments that Jesus still endured the worst? Will our allegiance be in our desires being filled or in the all-knowing, good God? In your deepest valley, can you even call Him good?

Obedience is not easy. We live in a romanticized world that has conditioned us to believe that every story should have a perfect ending. Yet we see day after day in our own lives that we are striving for something that may not exist. At some point, all things we hold close we must be willing to let go of.

You see, surrender is complete obedience. Our church culture preaches about confession and accountability and even purpose but what about simply doing what God has called us to do? I long to see a generation that submits fully to the authority of the Lord. Where our feelings are not the standard nor our lofty theological opinions, but the Word of God alone.

My allegiance has been tested, and I still say yes. It has cost me unbearable and unspoken pain, but none more than my Savior up on that cursed tree.

Yes, Lord, yes.

Bad case of FOMO

The social media feed never ends. Think about it…You were on your way to bed just last night and thought,

I have five minutes before it’s bedtime. I’ll just check my feed real quick since I haven’t been on since my lunch break. Maybe someone responded to my Marketplace post. I only have five minutes, and that’s plenty of time for me. I don’t need to be on here all night anyway. 

The first video you see is a church member’s post of their three-month old cooing back and forth with daddy. You couldn’t help but to read the comments of all your fellow church members who were just as in awe. The video itself was 2.5 minutes. By the time you stop reading all of the comments, you are now with one minute left to scroll.

Log off now? Of course not…that’s not fair. I only saw one post!

So you scroll…and scroll…and scroll.

I rather not go into the statistics behind our obsession with social media. We’ve all been told whether in lectures from classrooms, pulpits or family vacations that we are doomed, lazy and mindless. We know we are obsessed. The failure to admit this is absurd. Even if you deleted all of your social media, think about how many times you’ve had to reinstall the app on your phone. Better observation: how little control do we have of this fixation to be forced to delete the app rather than just not opening it?

I am most guilty of my obsession with these apps. Not just because everyone is doing it, but because of the pseudosecurity that it gives me. I would not naturally say that I am diagnosed with FOMO (“the Fear Of Missing Out”), yet when I have not opened my Instagram for 13 hours, I feel this unspoken pressure to log on. As if my virtual presence would suffice being with my good friend hundreds of miles away. The fear should still remain, because I am still in Tennessee while my friend is in Japan. I am still missing out on her experience, but now I secure myself in this virtual reality.  It is a real fear paired with an unrealistic comfort.

The art of unplugging gives us the real, authentic kind of security that we constantly seek. We see who is really in our circle. We see what our reality truly is. We see what God is really doing.

Your Circle

Loneliness has to be the most dreaded, yet most relatable feeling of every living being. Turn to your book shelf, movie collection, calendar, or even the zoo. There is always a relationship to be sought after, romantic or not. The idea of being alone absolutely scares us (even us introverts!). And…where do we often turn to cope with loneliness? You got it…social media. It usually goes something like this:

*People you may know*

Wow. I think I saw him in the cafeteria at work today.

*Add friend*

Can’t wait for him to respond. *Clicks page and begins to stalk*

YAY. HE ADDED ME!

I stalk him, He stalks me…now we KNOW each other. Even though, I have not talked to you about what I have observed, I pretty much know you. I mean, I get that everything I saw was my interpretation of what you wanted me to see, but I get that too. Now, let me like all of your pictures so you KNOW that I’m getting to know you. 

And boom. Your friend circle has widened. How insane. But how true?
My goodness…we do this over and over and over again. Never really getting to know anyone, but living in a reality of knowing everyone. Log off, and see who really knows you.

Your Reality

If you are anything like me, you have a comfy couch, Christmas lights and a bag of hot Cheetos in the middle of your brain. It’s your comfort zone. When things are tough externally, you run up there and hide. No one can enter in. Nothing can leave unless you want it to. It’s your safe place. You are fully in control of it at all times.

Now, whether we realize it or not, our minds are not a safe place. As much as we believe there are walls, there really isn’t any. There is actually a fence…a gated one, at that. We don’t have the key to the door, or maybe we do, we just can’t figure out which key is which. Sometimes we are inside the gate, and other times we step outside. But so does everything else that we allow our senses to experience. We want to be in control but constantly put ourselves in positions of complete powerlessness…especially with social media.

I would love to make reality be what I want it to. That is why my page looks like it does. That is why I smile the majority of the time…I would love to be as happy as I make myself appear. If only the split second of laughter could sum up my entire life story…it’s just not true.

Look back through your posts and look at that beautiful sunrise you captured from your beach trip. Now remember that same sunset you planned to post, but instead were in the bathroom wailing at life circumstances back home? Or the other picture of you dancing in the rain when five minutes after, you fall and bust your lip on the sidewalk, because the candid stuff was a little out of control. What about the “Happy Anniversary” post for your spouse when you really don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore?

What is real is real…we can post a billion different pictures of how we want life to be. Let’s try unplugging. Surely we can spend more energy making our quality of life better rather than the quality of our posts.

Our Calling

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”
1 Corinthians 2:9

No eye has seen (nor will ever see), no ear has heard (nor will ever hear), nor the heart of man imagine (nor will ever imagine) if we do not be with the One who has prepared for it all.

Sweet friends, we are scrolling because we are empty. We are trying to find some treasure at the end of the timeline, but I am here to calm your frenzy…you are looking in the wrong direction. It is not down at our phones but “To You I lift my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Ps. 123:1). If we flip through the pages of the Word of God like we do our timelines, we would be radiantly and unimaginably transformed.

 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

I challenge us to unplug. Let FOMO sink in, because if life is found at our fingertips, we are missing out on an incredible amount of living and that, indeed, should be feared.

Dark Mornings

This morning is one of many where I have waken up with knots of anxiety deep in my bosom. I feel very fragile and susceptible to danger. If I could describe it, I picture my heart as an open wound sucking air that needs to be filled.

Longing for hope, longing for purpose.

I wonder if it was a horrific dream that my alarm so graciously woke me from. Maybe it had nothing to do with sleep but the reality of waking up, in general. Are your nightmares sometimes easier to deal with than reality? Thoughts about the day ahead many times leave me paralyzed, constantly snoozing my alarm while hiding underneath my covers and between my myriad of pillows. My bed many times feels like a mighty fortress; a refuge amidst life’s great storms.

Not sure if I am alone in the amount of vulnerability I face, but I know that Jesus understood it perfectly during his time on Earth (Matt. 4:1-11; 26:36-46). But rather than running to a bed of rocks, he ran to the Bedrock.

God wants to be our fortress and our refuge. His protection is far more soft than a quilt and freshly-washed linens could ever be. His love is more comfortable than the fanciest memory-foam mattress topper out there. Boy, his grace is more sufficient than any sleep you have ever wished for. Above all, His presence can travel where our actual bed cannot. How do I get out of bed on days like these? I rest in one of many promises like this one…

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,

but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
he young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91

Faith in the Unfamiliar

Transitions are all about moving from what is known towards what is unknown; about leaving what is familiar to embrace what is unfamiliar.

It seems that right when life starts to stabilize, someone pulls the rug from my feet. Once I overcome one struggle, another sprouts. I wish I could wiggle my nose and jump pages into the middle chapter of my story without suffering the pains of the preface. I stand at the top of the bridge longing to be at the other side, yet I am so deeply afraid of walking across the wooden planks of transition.

Trembling in Fear

The latter half of this year has brought many adjustments to my life that can be summarized in one gigantic aspect: graduating college. Outwardly, I smile with my diploma. Inwardly, I disintegrate.

Mind running.
Heart racing.
Doubts rising.
Desires diminishing. 
Prayers multiplying.
Darkness awaiting.
Fear encroaching.

Not even 18 years old and I embarked on a journey that is common but still so rare for many people of color–college. Terrified? Probably. Determined? Definitely. I went into college with the single focus of graduating as soon as possible. Nursing was kind-of part of the plan, but graduating with a degree of some sort was absolutely necessary. I saw the finish line early on, but the race was such a mystery. Not having my mom in my dorm room after a tough day was an adjustment on its own. I had to call, and hope she was free to talk (which she always was). Let’s not mention the lack of nutrients that came with eating Ramen every day. Yet, the most difficult aspect of college was the miserable amount of loneliness I felt. Who do I call? Who do I ask to fix my car? Who do I allow to know me?

Just now 21, I can say that God has filled in many of those blanks with Himself. I struggled with discontentment all throughout college, always looking for the next best thing or person to satisfy me. I came to graduate, but the Lord wanted me to grow in Him. Fear had its fun with me throughout school. Fear caused me to be entangled in sexual sin. Fear enlisted me in the battle of an identity crisis. Fear handed me the marker to write “shame and guilt” on my forehead. Fear kept me in hiding. Fear hid the truth.

Right before fear paralyzed me completely, the Holy Spirit whispered the most powerful antidote to such threat–faith. How do we maneuver through transitions? We put our faith in the One who was, is and is to come.

Trembling in Faith

Transitions are all about moving from what is known towards what is unknown; about leaving what is familiar to embrace what is unfamiliar. I had no idea that the past four years would be a pivotal chapter in my life. I could not have guessed the Lord’s plans if he showed me in a dream. There is no way to know which way God’s hand will move next, but I do know what posture my heart will take.

God is not a man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Numbers 23:19

It was clear that the Lord called me to pursue a higher education at a university. Though I had just come into relationship with Jesus my senior year of high school, I knew a couple church-going clichés that hid in my heart and deep in my spirit. I did not have much insight on what college entailed, but I knew God had plans to prosper and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11). I knew that God knew me before I knew me (Psalm 139). I knew that God would never leave or forsake me (Deut. 31:6). I knew that God would go before me (Deut. 31:8).

Now, I’m here again. Not looking to enroll into another school, but on the brink of adulthood. I have no idea what it looks like to view my calendar from January to December excluding spring, summer and fall breaks. I am bewildered at the thought of budgeting. I am stunned at the thought of having a boyfriend along with the implications of Christian dating. This is all so new. Yet, I have two choices: tremble in fear or in faith?

Lord, help me to chose the latter.
Amen.