Why Does God Allow Trials? (pt. 3)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

By the time I made it back to Texas that winter, I’d been wandering, physically, for only about 4 months. Spiritually, I’d been “wandering” for about half a year. On both counts, however, it felt much longer. I was a whole new kind of desperate after experiencing the drugs and homelessness and the loneliness that comes with that sort of wandering.

My parents accepted me again warmly, if hesitantly, after I returned from North Carolina. I was desperate enough to accept their help even though it came with conditions. The boy had to stay away, preferably in North Carolina. In the end, I felt so sorry for him that I paid his way to TX with money my parents had given me to help me get back on my feet. I stuck him into our house when he refused to stay at a shelter. Things happened that I’m very much not proud of, and then my parents caught on, and everything fell apart. I clung to the guy. Why to him? I really don’t know, but I clung hard until he cheated on me, and then I started to let go.

 

So what is the WHY behind the trials we face?

Christians believe that God has a purpose for everything – and often go as far as to say that there is no such thing as coincidence. Even bad things (trials) have a reason and purpose, and, if you’re a Christian, you know that God promises He “works all things together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

The Bible says that trials produce endurance and patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5). Hope is an interesting thing. It’s a lot like faith. It’s a very active belief in God – a “confident expectation.” How do we grow or increase our hope/faith? Well, the best way to see improvement in any skill is to use it, and trials give us the perfect opportunity to exercise and use our faith, our character, and our hope.

Sometimes, though, I think we get discouraged when we don’t see an immediate benefit from our trials. For me, at every turn, my trial became more unbearable. In addition to the fact that my running did nothing to help with my original pain, I found all kinds of new sources of pain. I found only more and more trouble as I moved through, even though all I was trying to do was make the pain stop, and that continued until I began to turn back to God.

So my point here is two-fold.

  1. There is a purpose to our pain, and that is growth.
  2. There is a choice we must make every time we come upon a trial, and that is which wisdom will we trust. Man’s worldly wisdom? Or God’s wisdom?

Man’s wisdom vs. God’s widsom

These verses describe how God would have us face trials:

  • James 1:12 – Be steadfast
  • Romans 12:12 – Rejoice, have hope, be patient, and pray
  • John 16:33 – Have peace and take heart
  • Phillippians 4 – Don’t be anxious, but pray about everything
  • Romans 5:3, Matthew 5:12, 1 Peter 4: 13 – Multiples verses say to REJOICE in suffering
  • Joshua 1:9 – Be strong and courageous.

 

When I was in the midst of this trial, I was faced with a choice. Would I continue to have faith in Him, or would I doubt? Would I trust in Him and His solutions for my life?

When God would say to pray, believing… the world would say to act. When God would say to honor your parents (period!)… the world would ask whether they are really deserving of honor. When God would say to turn the other cheek… the world would say that you must stand up for yourself. When God would say that trials produce character… the world would say that a loving God wouldn’t let bad things happen to good, undeserving people.

I handled my pain with man’s wisdom: by escaping in every way I could and eventually by turning away from God to every worldly solution I could find. I even physically ran away and clung to a person other than God, all in an effort to ease my pain.

I’m the example not to follow, but there’s another example in Matthew chapter 4. Jesus had been fasting. No food for 40 days. Then the Tempter comes. The Devil. The lord of this world. Basically, Satan offers Jesus some worldly solutions. He questions God’s power. “Turn this rock into bread.”

God was calling Jesus to continue His fast and to do the hard thing by trusting God to provide for his needs, his strength, and his food when it was time to eat. (Be steadfast!) The world said, “Come on, it’s been long enough, just perform a miracle and eat already. You’ve had it rough – it’s time for some easy. You deserve it.”

Jesus chose the unconventional path – God’s way. He stood up and said, no, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

God asks you to trust when you can’t see the way, to keep moving when you feel faint, and, sometimes, to do nothing when you’re in a state of hyperactive panic. Sometimes God’s way goes against every natural instinct. Sometimes it seems He is asking us to face more pain than should be necessary. However, I know now that there is a reason behind it, and there is always something really good on the other side.

When God is trying to help me grow, it’s worth it.

 

In my life it seems that God is willing to let me keep choosing the world’s way and reaping that pain until I’m ready to turn back to Him. That was me in this story, and during those times of pain I was just surviving.

Eventually, though, things began to change. It started when I came back to Texas, to my parents. After some more ups and downs and wanderings, I eventually made my way back to God, back to church, back to prayer, back to the Bible. These things happened slowly, one by one, but eventually I was in a place where I was relying on God and things started to improve. The messes I’d gotten myself into started to disappear as I exercised my trust in God’s solutions.

When I came out on the other side, somewhere around 2007, I was stronger, and my faith had increased by leaps and bounds. I wasn’t just surviving; I was thriving. I had been blessed with things I’d never dreamed I could have just a year before – the perfect (for me, at that time) job, a great apartment, awesome friends. As I received these blessings, knowing I’d done nothing to make them happen, knowing it was all His doing, I gained a new understanding of trust…faith…hope…endurance. I had to live it to begin to understand how awesome it was to experience God’s provision after turning trusting His way. I learned that when we choose worldly solutions and wisdom rather than God, our pain and suffering is compounded, we face more trials, and we create a vicious cycle.

And I think that’s why God allows trials. To allow us to grow and thrive. There is no shortcut to the kind of character produced by suffering. We just need to be sure to face the trials with God’s wisdom. That’s what I remind myself of as I continue to face trials in my life, my marriage, my living situations, and my work.

And I hope you will now remind yourself, as you face trials, to think about God’s infinite wisdom and grace. Trust Him to see you through, and don’t compound your pain by turning to man’s wisdom. You may not be able to see it now, but good things are coming. Growth, character, hope, and likely even physical blessings. Be steadfast!

Why Does God Allow Trials? (pt. 2)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

During my time away from God, the time I spent calling myself agnostic, I let down a lot of standards. Certain things weren’t temptations for me, so I stayed pure in some areas not because of my morals or standards but because I just had no interest. I did, however, try out (more) forms of self-medication and escapism. I left my family, turned my back on their attempts to help, and ran off to Arkansas where I moved in with a guy I barely knew. Then later I ran off with another guy I barely knew. I lied and snuck around and let things come out of my mouth that I’d not previously allowed.

My coming back to God was a process. It didn’t happen in a sudden transformation. In fact, it’s been an ongoing thing ever since its beginning, but I guess that’s how relationships work.

After several months of wandering, I hit a new low. My depression and anxiety were untreated because, of course, I had no insurance and no money. My Asperger’s had never been diagnosed, let alone had I learned how to handle it. I had no job. I was alone with a guy I’d only known a couple months with all my family hundreds of miles away. I had a suitcase of clothing and books, a pillow and blanket, and a tent with a leak, and it was winter. And it was in the mountains of North Carolina. And it was raining. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

For once, it wasn’t just me who was lying awake at night.

He was cold and frustrated and, now, wet from the leak in our tent. I was miserably curled up on the half-deflated air mattress, my precious Tempurpedic pillow hard as a rock from the cold. We had moved our camp down the mountain a bit, so it wasn’t quite as freezing as it had been the previous nights, but it was miserable nonetheless. My one beige blanket wasn’t enough to keep us warm.

It had taken hours, the first night, for my hip to touch the ground, but apparently the hole in the mattress had grown, and this time it only took half an hour. I couldn’t help but think of the waste of money both the tent and the air mattress had turned out to be. What useful things we could have bought when we arrived in Asheville, NC, if we hadn’t purchased these wastes. Food, for instance, would have been good. Shampoo, maybe. A camping stove. But we had none of those.

The rain began to fall harder, and we realized we couldn’t stay in the tent all night like this. Instead, we let ourselves out into the dark woods with our jackets and single  umbrella and began to walk into town. There was a 24-hour diner down the hill and about a half a mile past the Greyhound bus station (where we had arrived several days prior). We took seats and ordered coffee and hot chocolate, and I pulled out my old Nokia cellphone, grateful once again that my sister had let me remain on the family phone plan when I ran away.

While he lay down on the bench on his side of the table, I dialed my mom in Texas, and I told her about my miserable predicament, but it didn’t take long before I realized I couldn’t accept any offers of help from her since they would involve leaving him here, stranded and alone. My parents – no, actually, every one of my family and friends disapproved of my choice of companion. I could see their point. If I had not gotten involved with him, I would still be in Arkansas with a place to stay and a not-so-bad job at a daycare. Instead, I’d brought home a stray and decided to take care of him, sacrificing what little I had because he liked me and gave me attention.

The staff in the diner grew tired of us, of him sleeping in their booth, of the fact that we were obviously just using them as a place to hide from the weather even though we couldn’t afford any real purchases, and they told us we needed to leave. We ended up walking about 3 miles down to Walmart, the only other business open in the middle of the night, and we spent the rest of the night pacing around the store, killing time.

The next day, we were sitting in a church waiting for the attached soup kitchen to open for lunch, when I received a phone call from an angry-sounding man asking for my companion. My companion filled me in after the call, telling me it was nothing – a misunderstanding or a wrong number. They said he owed money, but he didn’t, and they had the wrong guy. They claimed to have a recording of his voice, but it wasn’t him. Feeling confused, I tried to shrug it off, but the ball dropped later that day as we were in the bus station.

It was my sister who called, this time. Michelle, I need to talk to you about the cellphone bill. I knew it was going to be bad. And it was. He had racked up hundreds of dollars on my phone, which was in my sister’s name. What was worse, the charges weren’t all innocent like the text messages that cost $0.10 per message or the calls to information (411). Most of the charges were from calls and texts to 900 numbers. Hotlines. Inappropriate, embarrassing secrets, all going on behind my own back on my own phone.

Finally, I was disgusted enough to agree to my mother’s offer. That same day, I got on  yet another Greyhound bus and headed back home to Texas, leaving my companion behind. (For a time.)

Mom and Michelle in 2006

(My mom and me eating cake for my Bday about a month after this story takes place.)

Why Does God Allow Trials? (pt. 1)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

The first time I really, honestly questioned God’s existence was when I was 18 and facing a rough spot in life, a trial. My trial was mostly internal and invisible. At the time, I wished I had been crippled or had cancer or something, anything that someone else might be able to see from the outside. I hated the fact that people could look at me and think, “She has it pretty good!”

I went through a long trial, and I was a Christian, so I prayed. I prayed things like, “God, I know you’re there, so please help me,” and like, “God, I’m not asking you to change my circumstance. Just help me through it. Please. I need you.”

But I felt nothing as I prayed. And I felt nothing after I prayed. And I saw no sign of any supernatural help from God.

I thought I wasn’t believing hard enough or wasn’t living perfectly enough, so I put more effort into doing the right things and praying the right way and believing harder because that’s what was supposed to help. Eventually, though, I crossed a line and allowed myself to consider something else.

My rationality became: If God exists, I believe He has to be the God of the Bible. I believe He is everything the Bible says He is. Therefore, God must be holy, just, omniscient, omnipotent, merciful, and loving – all these things I’ve always believed Him to be. I don’t doubt that He is those things. But a loving God wouldn’t do this to me. If God exists and loves me, He would be helping me, not ignoring me. I’ve been pleading for a year, and nothing has happened. There’s no chance that God is simply not those things; therefore I have to conclude that maybe God doesn’t exist at all.

After I figured that out, I started calling myself agnostic. I stopped going to church. Stopped praying. Let down my guard and my standards. Went about my life as best as I could without God. (For a time.)

Why Minimalism?

My current living situation begs the question: Why do I want to live on less? I talked about some of the benefits of living in a smaller space, but I haven’t really talked about the part of this experience where the hubby and I felt the need to downsize and get rid of a lot of our stuff. The idea of living on less stuff is really something that we hope carries over into the rest of our lives from this point on, even when we’re back in a “normal-sized” house.

The Reasoning

I have to ask myself: What is important to me? What benefits me, personally? What benefits my family? What benefits the world? Do I do my community – or my planet – any good when I’m sucked in to a “stuff” mentality?

How do I spend my time? This is a huge part of this whole minimalism idea. I can spend my time cleaning and picking up my stuff, playing with my stuff, watching my stuff, trying to get more stuff.

If I have cable TV available (usually this is only at a hotel), I will often turn to that over a book. If I have League of Legends available (and a good internet connection), I will often turn to that rather than set time aside to write or draw. If I need to wash and wax my fancy car, shine my silverware, get my nails manicured, pick up 50 little toys that my kids (or animals) play with once and then forget about, and fold ten loads of laundry every weekend, what time does that leave for anything else? When might I get a chance to plant a tree of volunteer for my community? When might I get a chance to invest time and attention into my family by taking them to the park? When might I get a chance to grow my mind and talents for God’s glory?

I don’t like the time-suck that is an abundance of stuff. But, more than that, I don’t like the FEELING of having tons of stuff. I don’t like it surrounding me; I don’t like how my atmosphere feels. Clutter feels bad, simply put. That’s the only way I know to say it. Clutter is both a time-suck and a. a. happiness-suck. Sucks the joy right out of me.

If you haven’t ever lived in a cluttered space, just imagine having to move junk from the table to the couch just so you can use the table for dinner or for a board game. Then imagine having to move the junk from the couch back to the table so you can have a place to sit. Or imagine having so many dishes that you can go a week without washing any, and by the end of the week you not only have a sink so full you can’t even use it but you have to spend an hour of your life catching up.

Clutter.sucks the joy right out.

By contrast, emptiness and cleanliness are peaceful and enjoyable states for me to live in. I like seeing the floor, seeing all the furniture, and being able to sit on any part of the couch (not just the side that doesn’t currently have stuff on it). I love being able to move around freely in my living space without tripping over things that have no place – or have a hard time staying in their places. I love being able to wash my hands easily in an empty sink. Less clutter feels good to me, and it frees up more time for me to spend on being creative, enjoying the outdoors, interacting with my husband and my animals.

I can almost hear some of your reactions:

“That’s great for you, but I don’t have a ‘stuff’ problem.”

“I don’t think the ‘minimalist’ thing is the way to go for me. I’m not in to volunteer work, and I’m not very creative. Besides, I get plenty of time together with my spouse.”

Do I think everyone could benefit from some downsizing?

Yeah, I really do think everyone could benefit from the experience.

But that doesn’t mean that getting rid of half your stuff and moving into an RV is the way to go for you. Maybe, for some, a mission trip is a good way to learn that lesson. Maybe regular camping trips are the way to go, because they help you shift your focus. I don’t know. But I have a strong suspicion that being forced (either by yourself or by another) into a life without stuff would make the situation less beneficial. If you’re doing it for the wrong reason (being forced vs wanting it) or from the wrong mindset (I’ll try this thing she’s doing but I doubt it will work out vs I think this will be good for me ), I don’t know how much good it will do you. Don’t set yourself up for failure by going into it with a closed mind.

I’ll say this, though. If you do want it, don’t be afraid. Don’t hesitate, wondering if you can really stand to part with all your stuff. Don’t plan to do it in a year or five years. JUMP IN!! Start today! Set up a box (or bag) for items “to donate.” Start in a closet and start to toss things in the box that  you don’t regularly use or wear. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Some more cool thoughts over on 7 Tips to Get With  a New Minimalist Mentality.

Feel free to leave more tips in the comments!

Are You Ready to Go Mini?

How big is your home? Our last place was a split-level rental home with 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms. I wish I knew the exact square footage, but I’d estimate it at about 1500.

Now. Now, we’re full-timers. We live in a space around 250 square feet. Far less than that is actual free space that you can walk through. Again, how big did you say your home was? Are you ready to downsize? If so, this is for you.

Why Choose to Live in Such a Small Space?

Maybe you’re alone and considering a small studio apartment. Maybe you’re a married couple thinking of going to a smaller apartment or an RV. Maybe you have kids, but you’re considering a small home for your first purchase. Maybe you, like us, want a change, want freedom, want to get away from the “stuff” mentality, and want to save money.leela moving

  • Money. Living in a smaller space saves you money. Payments are low. Can be very, very low. Energy consumption is considerably lower than in a large house, which means you save on utilities. Overall, you spend less on your living space – meaning that you can spend or save more on/for things that matter more.
  • Time. I could put a ton of time into cleaning and maintaining a 1500+ sq ft home. I was once in a 5 bed, 2.5 bath house, and luckily we only used half of it because it would have taken all my free time to keep it clean! Now, though, there’s just only so much space for messes to collect. It can get overwhelmingly messy if you don’t keep up, but it takes a fraction of the time to clean.
  • Stuff. We are too into our stuff. Or is that just me? Sometimes it seems as if all of my money, time, and energy either goes into my current stuff or into getting more stuff. I guess I’m just never satisfied. One thing we noticed when taking the RV for a test run (before deciding to move in) was that we spent much less time indoors playing with our stuff. Small spaces force you to get OUT, which is healthy for you both mentally and physically, and they take away some of the opportunity to collect more stuff because there’s just no place to put it!
  • Freedom. This goes a bit hand-in-hand with all of the three aspects I mentioned above, but small-space living also gives you a bit of freedom. especially if your small space has wheels, but even if it’s stationary. For us, it means freedom to live a 10 minute walk from a beautiful Florida beach – something we could never do otherwise (not at this stage in our lives, at least).

Are you convinced? You can do it! It can be a challenge, but it will pay off in the end. (I keep telling myself this!) Set your mind, and be ready to learn and adapt as you grow into your new, smaller living space.

Six Things You Can Do to Prepare to Go Mini

  1. Budget!

    Write down all your expenses and really crunch the numbers in advance to see exactly where you stand both currently as well as where you will stand after the move. Knowledge is power. I’ll be posting more about budgeting soon, so keep an eye out!

  2. Check out storage units.

    If you have the money, you can get a self-storage unit to house extra sentimental stuff that won’t fit. We have some sentimental items in storage, including a dining room set from my husband’s father – which we will be able to use in our future home. Prices on these can range from around $30-100.

  3. Aggressive downsizing.

    Be ruthless when you downsize right from the start. I’d recommend using the opportunity to really purge. Don’t keep things you don’t need or use. Be very realistic when it comes to the amount of storage available in your new living space and start 3-6 months in advance, especially if you work full time.

  4. Learn to live with less and consider the sacrifices you might be willing to make.

    I got rid of my coffee-maker and my toaster. There is just no space for them in the RV! Are there any “essentials” you can do without? Time for some self-evaluation!

  5. Make some lists.

    I’d suggest making a 3-part list for things to get rid of, things to keep, and things you’re not sure about. If you’re not sure about something, watch yourself over several weeks and see how much you really need/use it. Ask yourself : is it replaceable? And is there room for it? Prioritize your “not sure” list so you can see which things are more/less important for you to be able to keep. That way, if you discover some extra room, you’ll know which things should move from “maybe” to “definitely” keepers.

  6. Save up!!

    There are always unexpected expenses during moves. If you’re able, it would be wise to skip eating out too much and skip those expensive date nights for a while to give yourself a little cushion. Spend more time outside. Find free or cheap things to do with your partner/kids. Save the money-spending for after you settle in to your new abode and and the hidden costs are behind you.

Why I Pray

Why should I sing in the choir? Can’t I sing just as well from the congregation?

Why should I go to church? I can read the Bible and pray at home.

Why should I pray? I mean, God already knows my thoughts, right? He knows what I would ask for.

Do you wonder about those things, too?

Once Upon A Time…

There you are, sitting at Bible study/church/youth group. You’re not close friends with the everyone there, but you see them twice a week, every week. You’ve even spent some time alone hanging out with a couple of them. You sit together before the lesson and chat about how your week has been going, and you laugh about things that have happened at work. Afterwards, you eat a meal together and chat some more. You go home feeling good about the experience.

Next week, Bible study time comes, and when you arrive, everyone else from the group is already there. You find out by piecing together pieces of their conversations that they have spent the day hanging out. Elsewhere. You weren’t ever invited.

Sure, you get to hear about how much fun they had, but you weren’t included. And no one singled you out to tell you about it.

Aren’t you hurt? Don’t you feel disappointed? Excluded?

Wouldn’t God feel the same?

Including Him

What I consider real friendships – deep, close, meaningful friendships – are those in which I can sit and talk about what’s going on with me. Here’s what I’m excited about, here’s what I’m worried about, here’s what I could use a second opinion on. I can laugh with my real friends and sometimes even cry with them. We can seethe together over some injustice. We can put on silly hats at Walmart.

This is why we pray.

God knows what happens in our day-to-day lives. He know which parts we liked and disliked, what we’re excited about, and what we’re nervous about. He knows what parts we tell our best friends about and what we write in our journals. But he doesn’t want to hear it through the grapevine or overhear us telling someone else. He wants the intimacy that comes from sharing a relationship with us.

He wants to cry with you and seethe over that injustice; that stupid event that happened at work. He wants to nod in understanding and remind you that it will be okay. He wants to share your joy in triumphs and be included in your life!

And, of course, he wants to hear more than “Please bless Bobby and please give the Grants safe travel. Oh and please bless this food. Amen.” When that was the only praying I was doing, it was no wonder I had a hard time understanding its importance.

Drift Happens

However, even I, though I feel I understand the importance of prayer, find it hard to keep up the habit. A few days of skipping prayer is sometimes all it takes to break the habit, a few days of being too tired or too busy to get around to it. I figure, well God knew how I felt about that. He understands I was too tired. I’ll catch him tomorrow. Before I know it, sometimes it’s weeks or months down the road and I haven’t had any real sit-down time with him, and I’m wondering why I don’t feel as close.

I have to remind myself of the importance, and then I have to sometimes just force myself to do it. Then, at the end of a long conversation I can sit back and say ,“Wow! That was great! Man, I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed talking to him. Why did we ever drift apart?”

It’s natural to go through phases of feeling more distant from God, but it’s important to remember why and how we stay close. So, here I am, reminding you – and myself. 🙂

Faithfulness

I’m glad that God is faithful to me. Without fail, he is always there for me, always loving me, always strengthening me. He will never leave me nor forsake me.

Our culture seems to lack faithfulness. In fact, our culture lacks all of the fruit of the Spirit. These fruit, or qualities, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), and there is a very good reason that we don’t find these qualities abounding in society. They aren’t human nature.

Culture

I’m expecting that by the time I have teenaged children, the divorce rate in America will be between 60-75%. The signs are everywhere that marriage is failing. Know what I see all the time in movies and other media? Aside from divorce, what I see is people questioning the very idea of marriage. They ask, “How can I really say I’ll love one person for the rest of my life? How can I promise to stay with one person forever?”

The thing is, people are rebelling against marriage because it’s not natural to them. We all need to have human companionship, but this idea of one man and one woman committing to each other for a lifetime and becoming one flesh is a Biblical thing. Maybe it has been a process. Throughout time, ever since the Fall, creation has been constantly degrading, and maybe things like the fruit of the Spirit will become more and more difficult to grasp the further we fall. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I fear for future generations. Christians need to continue to strive to bear good fruit and set examples for their children and friends!

Our Example and Our Reason

Jesus was both fully man and fully God, thus making him literally a perfect example of how to behave as a human being. For one thing, he was human and someone we can emulate. Secondly, he was God, so he did not fall short the way we will. We aren’t divine; none of us is perfect. But we do have a perfect example, and if we strive for perfection, we may achieve excellence.

Jesus was faithful to his family and friends as well as to God the Father. Even unto death.

“Faithfulness matters because it matters to God. Period. The longer I walk with the Lord and the more I fall in love with Him, the more I am convinced that the core characteristic that He is looking for in us is faith(fulness).”
Why Faithfulness Matters – BeBroken.com

Living Loyally

As much as loyalty is highlighted as a virtue, it’s not always easy to be loyal. Still, it’s my goal to be known as a loyal person, with God’s help. I hope that my friends know that they can always count on me to stick by their sides and love them. I know my husband believes in me to always love and honor him. I pray that God continues to help me continually draw near to him and glorify him with my life.

But on a personal note, what I’m struggling with lately is believing in others’ loyalty to me. Sometimes it feels like friends are only friends as long as it’s convenient. People only seem to check up on you when you give them cause to worry, and people are only there for you if and only if you’re there for them. It’s a hard thing to deal with, but I must remind myself that faithfulness does not come naturally, even to me. I must remember that where humans fail, God never does. And I must continue striving to be faithful to my friends, not to earn their loyalty in return, but because God expects it of me. He expects me not to live a life that comes naturally, but rather to live a supernatural life, one that I can only live with his help.