Monday, July 12, 2010

Jesus Saves My Faith

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a great struggle between you and God? I’m talking about that anguished-gut-wrenching-maddening-tear-jerking-pull-your-hair-outta-your-head-frustrated-crawling-in-the-dirt-I-don’t-understand-whatsoever kind of struggle. Ever been there?


Well, I certainly have. There have been times I've had a lot of deeply raw questions and disappointments that might even make some drop a jaw too. And there have been times that I have seriously re-evaluated my faith, pondering why I believe what I do and if it’s really enough to help me endure everything I go through. I must say that physical long-suffering will drive you to question everything you have ever believed at some point. It has a way of drawing out those deep nagging doubts. I must also say that I don’t think I’m alone in this kind of struggle; in the questioning and pondering of faith. I think a lot of people feel exactly the same way, particularly when their lives have been rocked by some deep tragedy, suffering, or loss.

Why is there so much tragedy and suffering? And how is it that we seem to be growing accustomed to it all? Think about some of the worst tragedies of our time: the 1994 Rwandan genocide; the 1999 Columbine High School massacre; the September 11, 2001 tragedy; the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster; the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina; the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings; the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China; the 2009 Air France passenger jet crash; and more recently this year, the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in January and the Gulf oil spill that is still ongoing.

It’s a lot easier to find resolve and move on from a loss or tragedy that does not affect us directly. But what about our own personal tragedies? What about those things that affect us where we are in our daily living? The death of a loved one; a debilitating chronic illness; childhood sexual abuse; homelessness, adultery; poverty; injustice; loss of livelihood; betrayal; rape; depression; barrenness; disability; addiction; domestic violence; rejection; miscarriage; incarceration; dark family secrets.

These are but a few of the realities many of us live with. People might know about them and they might not. Nevertheless, it’s what causes us pain at the very core of our being. It's what weighs heavily on our hearts and keeps us awake at night.

As a follower of Christ, I have always believed in a benevolent God; a God of goodness. I’ve always believed that He is sovereign and has a purpose for each of our lives.

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about why God permitted my suffering in the first place; pondering what it’s accomplishing for the greater good and how I can help others as a result of it. But there are still times its just plain difficult to so neatly explain it all. The truth is, no one can entirely understand the depth of suffering I've lived with all of these years; or of all that I have had to give up. And so it is for everyone who suffers a personal tragedy and whose life is forever changed by it.

We ask ourselves if anyone really cares that our world has been torn apart. More so, we ask and wonder if God really cares.

We hold tightly onto the anticipation of something better but instead; we find our circumstances unchanging or even growing worse. One thing piles on top of another, and then we start to wonder why our real-life experiences with God are so very different from our perceptions and expectations of Him. Now how do we fit that into our tidy little boxes?

So I’ll be blunt but honest.

In the deepest depths of my struggle, I think God to be cold, distant, apathetic, and uncaring. That He sits away off in the heavenlies somewhere, watching, while I fight to get through my days; that He observes as tragedies unfold on planet earth, clearly able to do something about it, but choosing not to intervene.

In my deepest of struggles, I feel hurt, angry, disappointed, and forgotten by God. I really feel at a loss for understanding. I question why I've ever held onto a faith that seems to let me down. I'm frustrated and confused because I am obedient to what He asks; because I stand on the promises of God but the promises never come. And then I think I must be a total fool for believing in such a good God and for holding out all hope that He will give me beauty for ashes.

Now some might think my words quite harsh but for those who have suffered, for those left battered, bruised and broken, I know you can relate.

Honestly, I would believe these things about God were it not for Jesus. I would just ditch the whole thing were it not for Him. I mean what would be the use otherwise? There'd be nothing but empty, rigid, legalistic, meaningless religion.

This is how I see it.

Jesus gives God a personal face. He steps out from behind the enigmatic veil to show us the realness of who God is. And He is not mechanical or formulaic or programmatic. Rather Jesus is deeply personal and relational; He wants to know us and us to know Him. He wants a genuine relationship and union with us.

He didn’t just come down to experience humanity or point out how awful we are. He came to rescue us because He loves us. He came because we were in need of Him to do what we could not, nor cannot, do for ourselves.

When I think about Jesus, and read about Him in the Gospels, I feel like there's finally someone who gets what it feels like to suffer so much; that there is somebody who relates to me one-on-one and cares deeply about every facet of my life.

He makes me feel I can trust Him with my aching heart and that I can share my deepest feelings with Him and He won’t judge me. And Jesus won’t lecture me because I’m not being theologically correct. In fact, He reminds me I will only find truth in Him and not in the institution of religion.

He gives clarity to my foggy conceptions. He helps me to see how I sometimes confuse God the Father with people. How, although I cannot understand the totality of my circumstances nor of God Himself, it is important for me to talk to Him, the Son because Jesus knows the Father better than anyone. And He would never mislead me or give me false hope.

He reminds me what love in action really looks like and how He demonstrated that on the Cross - just for me. And He reminds me He doesn't love me then leave me but that He’s with me always and I can never really go from His presence.

He reminds me He’s bigger than I think or imagine Him to be and that His thoughts towards me are for good. He points out He's compassionate and gracious; that He is faithful in all He does. He also points out my human, time-constrained perspective is limited but that His eternal perspective is not. And that everything He does has eternal value.

And I’m suddenly relieved to realize He’s the real deal.

He's not a drill sergeant version; He's not a circus version; He's not a pop culture version and He's not even a churchy version. But He is Jesus, the Christ; the Redeemer, the Great Shepherd. He’s the friend of a wounded heart.

God knows we all struggle at times. Even in our walk with Him.

He knew in advance the doubts, frustrations, and questions I'd have about Him, my life, my faith, and my circumstances. And He knew the wide gamut of emotions that come with seeking out the answers to such questions and frustrations.

He knew.

He knows.

So Jesus came to synthesize it all. He came, not to necessarily give me (or you) all the answers to everything I long to know and perhaps not even to take the struggle away but instead; He came to mesh all the pieces together.

He came to take everything ~ all of my dreams and disappointments; all my joys and sorrows; my hopes and fears; my losses, setbacks, accomplishments, mistakes, triumphs, tears and laughter; all that makes sense and all that does not; the good, the bad and the ugly ~ and form them into a meaningful whole.

He came to reconcile me and all the parts of my life through Himself.

And while I might not understand it all now, and perhaps never will in this life, I can look to Jesus and know that He truly has my best interests at heart; that despite my uncertainty, He is certain. Jesus reassures me there is a time and purpose for every season under heaven; that it all matters.


And finally, Jesus reveals to me that He is but a reflection of my Heavenly Father; that everything He is, God the Father is also. And in knowing that, I can feel safe to trust the Father just as I do Him. He bridges the wide chasm between God and me.

Jesus saves my faith.

- Michelle

Michelle Holderman
Copyright © 2010

(Photo Source: Photobucket)

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Gift Of A Day

My Mom and I recently watched a movie I never knew existed until the lady at the Family Bookstore informed me of how wonderful it was. Actually I was checking out with no time to waste, on my way to a doctor's appointment, when she almost insisted I buy it. For five bucks, I figured I couldn't be out much if it was a dud. But it wasn't. In hindsight, I believe the persistence of this woman was actually God moving on my behalf. He didn't want me to miss this.

"The Ultimate Gift," based on the book by Jim Stovall, is one of the most impacting movies I think I've ever seen! It really took me by surprise. I can honestly say I have never been moved by another movie in the way I was by this one. 

The basis of the storyline is this: When his wealthy grandfather, Red Stevens dies, trust fund baby Jason Stevens anticipates a big inheritance. Instead, his grandfather has devised a crash course on life with twelve tasks – or “gifts” – designed to challenge Jason in improbable ways, sending him on a journey of self-discovery and forcing him to determine what is really most important in life. http://www.theultimategift.com/ 

Many of the "gifts" as defined by this movie really do apply to our everyday lives and the challenge is in not losing sight of what they hold for us. This film inspired me but it also made me pause and begin to give serious thought about these gifts, one of which is the title of this post ~ The Gift of a Day.


Do we even consider a new day to be a gift in this fast pace, high tech world we live in? Or are we too busy, distracted and overwhelmed with this thing called life to notice? Do we roll through the day, doing what needs to be done, never giving any real thought to the day itself? Perhaps some of us have been forced to take notice of the delicacy of our days due to tragedy, loss, or illness. Whatever our perceptions are we each have this in common: we are given a brand new day each morning and what we choose to do with it is up to us.

After living life chronically ill these past sixteen years, and living with a disability, I can tell you that many of my days certainly do not feel like much of a gift. Deeply exhausting fatigue, recurrent fevers, headaches, muscle and joint pain, etc. are burdensome and keep me from doing a lot of things I desire to do. Not everyday is like this but many are as I know they are for others also living with chronic illness. So to view each day as a gift when ill can be quite challenging.

But I don't want the days to pass me by; even when I'm not feeling well. I want to acknowldege the gift that each day innately holds. I still want to engage in some part of it if only from bed. Somedays all I can do is look out my window and take in the beauty of that given moment. Sometimes the gift of a day for me is found in savoring a cup of hot tea or listening to beautiful music. Sometimes its in hearing one of my nephew's voices on the phone. Or even in the words that a friend writes on my Facebook wall. Life is fleeting and I've come to see that simple things really do mean the most. And that, despite my circumstances, each new day is filled with fresh mercy from God (Lamentations 3:22-23). Now that is certainly a gift for all of us!


Truthfully, the Gift of a Day can hold something different for everyone. Maybe it's taking in the beauty of an early morning sunrise with your favorite coffee or tea. Maybe it's in moments of quiet solitude. Or maybe it's in enjoying an abundance of good health and energy.


Perhaps the Gift of a Day is being in the presence of those you love. Spending time with God; spending time with family; spending time with friends.

Maybe the Gift of a Day is found in giving; the giving of your time and resources to others who are in need; giving to your community; giving to your neighbor; giving to a stranger.

Or maybe the Gift of a Day is simply found in the time itself. The time to reflect. The time to listen. The time to appreciate. The time to laugh. The time to cry. The time to rest. The time to cherish. The time to pray. The time to discover. The time to embrace. The time to be present.


While none of us are on the proverbial mountaintop every single day, God in His goodness still sends us this precious gift at the start of each morning. And I truly believe there's something for all of us to discover within a new day. So don't overlook it or work through it. Instead, take the time to explore it.

With that thought in mind, I'll leave you with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it 'The Present'."

Michelle Holderman
Copyright © 2010

Photos: Photobucket.com and FreeFoto.com

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This Beautiful Mess

Messiah, I know You are there; within, without me, holding me. Messiah, I know You are there; catching and carrying this beautiful mess. (Sixpence None the Richer)

I remember many things about my old life. Those of us who are chronically ill, or care for someone who is, understand what I mean by that statement. Our “old lives” were filled with days that seemed more carefree and manageable. It was a time when life centered on our families, jobs, and living. It’s when we made plans on the spur of the minute and strived for the weekend. It was a time when feeling good was the common occurrence. A time when we could work a full day and run errands with plenty of energy left to expend; a time we knew no limitations and gave no other way of being a second thought. It is a time we now long for; moments we wish we could pull back and relive. But that isn't possible. We’re living in this mess, or as I've come to call it - this beautiful mess.

"Weeping Woman" by Picasso

It’s definitely a mess, you might be thinking, but beautiful is probably far from how you view illness and suffering. Honestly, I've felt the very same. It sounds like an oxymoron. How can you have a mess and it be beautiful? That’s like saying I’m depressed and happy about it. Mess and beauty seem a far stone’s-throw-away from complimenting each other. They don’t belong together, do they?

What happens if we factor God into our mess? What if we even ponder the possibility that He allowed our mess in the first place?

Looking back through the Bible, you’ll find the early Believers dealt with scores of problems and hardships. They had plenty of messes to deal with. I think Job comes to mind right away but consider Joseph, Moses, David, Nehemiah, Daniel or Hosea. What about Esther, Elijah or Jonah? How about John the Baptist, Peter or Thomas? Paul or Timothy? There must have been times when they, just like us, were rather frustrated by their circumstances.

Of course, there are times when the messes in our lives are a direct result of our own choices but oftentimes; messes happen regardless. Bad things do happen to good people and it’s messy.

So how could beauty possibly co-exist with a mess?

In a sense, beauty and mess could be compared to hope and despair and to good and evil. One is the flip side of the other; the complete opposite. Yet one can also drive a person to the other. Despair can drive someone straight into the arms of hope while evil sends a person running to find good. And as for the mess...well, it can reveal true beauty. So the question then becomes, how is that possible?

We could never rummage through our messes and find lasting beauty on our own; it’s too hard. Doubt pesters us. Discontentment nags at us. Discouragement can gain a tight grip and make it difficult to contemplate hope much less hold onto it (I’ve experienced that more times than I care to tell). My brain tells me it just seems so ridiculous to think of our suffering as anything but awful and tragic. IT’S JUST A MESS!!

Once when my oldest nephew, Isaac, was a bit younger, he took me into his room after a long, hard day of playing and said to me ever so sweetly, “Just wook at this mess!” Boy was he right. There were John Deere tractors, Lincoln logs, books, matchbox cars, and a whole myriad of other toys strewn across the floor everywhere. Being in a wheelchair, it was impossible for me to roll my way through. Even my nephew, who was 3 years old at the time, recognized a mess when he saw one!

It’s a good analogy of living life with a chronic illness. Our lives are strewn with all kinds of difficult struggles - physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational - they’re slung throughout every aspect of living. We stumble. We fall all over them. We try and crawl our way through. We get back up only to trip over another obstacle and fall again. It is a complete mess!

ENTER. GOD.

He sees our messes and all of the pain, suffering, and disappointment that go along with it. He feels our anguish. He knows our heart-wrenching questions. There’s no doubt He can clean it all up. Usually, though, He leaves it right where it is and instead, gives us His grace to endure it (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). And He does it in order to accomplish something greater than what we are going through; something that is a part of His divine plan. Something that will draw us closer to Him, benefit other people and bring Him glory.

However, if you’re like me, it can sometimes feel as if God is nowhere to be found; like He’s on an extended hiatus and didn't leave a number where we could reach Him. But thank goodness FAITH IS NOT AN EMOTION. We know that Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “He will never leave us or abandon us.” In other words, we are never alone. God is ever-present. He’s on call 24/7. He didn't say I was or I might be; He said, “I Am.” I just have to remind myself of that at times. But the point is, God is more than able to help us deal with our messes; regardless of how we might feel.

"Beautiful Pathway"

With God, a mess can take us to a beautiful place. It can open us up to new possibilities we never dreamt of before. It can present opportunities only made possible by our suffering. I've seen it in my own life. It’s been through my illness that the Lord has shown me and taught me things I never would have otherwise known. I've met so many wonderful people because of this illness. I've learned a lot about myself in this struggle. I’m more knowledgeable about good nutrition and live a much healthier lifestyle. And I have come to know Him in a much deeper way. I've grown closer to my Savior through this mess. As difficult as living life with a debilitating chronic illness and disability is, as challenging as this major adjustment in living has been, as hard as the days often are, there truly are some good things that have happened as a result of it. I've learned a mess can be a wonderful teacher and can lead you to the doorway of true beauty.

There are still times that I miss the way my life used to be. I miss having, what seems to me now, boundless amounts of energy. I simply miss feeling good and having the ability to balance and walk. I miss my independence. I miss the work I did. I miss the people that were a part of my old life but not my new one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The first wealth in life is health.” You can’t know how very true that statement is unless your health or the health of someone you love has been in jeopardy. However, as a follower of Christ, I feel I must clarify that a bit and say that the first wealth in life for me is knowing Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him. And then health follows thereafter.

There have certainly been many times that I wished none of this had ever happened. There have been so many losses and so much has changed through the years. My old life seems like a faded memory and I've often wondered what my life might have been like had this not occurred.

Yet I am grateful for all that I have gone through. I can only say that in retrospect. Having lived with an illness that has taken so much from me, I now see the one thing that it absolutely cannot take is my identity in Christ. In fact, it has only strengthened it and revealed it more to me. And that is priceless!

Suffering comes in many forms but it doesn't have to equal a terrible existence; not with God. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, we wonder why it happened to us. Yes, we don’t always understand. But as I've grown closer to Him, I see suffering is often the gateway God uses to shape us and build our character and faith. It really is what binds us more deeply to Christ (1 Peter 4). And through Christ is how we can discover the true beauty within our messes.

As I think back on the past sixteen years of my life, I realize how much suffering can be a catalyst for change. I realize there really is something to be discovered within the beautiful messes of our lives. And I realize if we’re willing, God will use it to bring transformation not only to us, but through us. He really does cause everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

~ Michelle

Michelle Holderman
Copyright © 2010