Over the past few days, thoughts have been marinating in my mind about a certain cloud – a weight, a heaviness – that seems to call my shoulder home. I can distinctly recall thinking and cynically snickering to myself as I walked up my three flights of stairs with all of my groceries (because, #onetripordie), this is like every day I come home from work, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I remember flipping from my left side to my ride side in bed over and over whispering to myself, “Why does it seem like the past few years, I’ve been struggling?” I even sat down and went through my life from January 2014 until now, detailing each struggle that I went through: depression, recovery, heaviness, loss of relationships, recovery, spiritual attacks, joblessness, hopelessness, weariness, more spiritual attacks, severing of relationships, and now back to this mist of heaviness. There were long periods of time where I would cry every couple of days, simply because it became too heavy to carry. And there were times when my only reprieve was behind the lids of my eyes. Continue reading “Purpose in Pain”
As my husband and I prepare to build our first home, I am reminded of the children’s song “Don’t Build Your House on the Sandy Land” by Public Domain, cautioning us that though we may build a pretty house, unless it’s built on the Rock (with Him as our firm foundation), we will have to rebuild. This reminder has set me to thinking about how often we build the things of life on a whim, especially in this age of immediate gratification and impulse. Oh how I have had to learn this lesson, time and time again!
We are born into a culture of practices and expectations. A fact that as a young child and teenager had never entered my mind. And then I married a southerner.
At nineteen, I married that southerner, an older man of twenty-three! I was excited, yet anxious, as we traveled to Mississippi for our first family holiday as a married couple. The setting was my husband’s grandmother’s very small farmhouse in rural, very rural, Mississippi.
Wanting to show my willingness to be a helper, I wisely watched to see what my role would be. Immediately the men took their seats at the large circular table in the kitchen. There was chatter by the men about hunting, planting, and the weather. There were bowls, pots, and pans all around the kitchen. There was not a shred of counter left uncovered – they even had homemade yeast rolls on top of the refrigerator.
As I waited, I observed the women fixing plates. I found this odd since the men had sat prior to preparing their plates. It quickly became apparent the women were fixing plates for their husbands! This had never been part of my cultural experience, but I followed their lead. The smells were so enticing and I was starving, so when the men were served, I assumed we would fix our plates.
I spent a large amount of my adult years limiting the amount of friendships I developed. At some point, (I’m not sure when) I decided that I could only have 2 or 3 close friends at a time. I would say “I prefer quality over quantity” or “There’s no way you can have real friendships with so many people.” I’m an only child, so I’m very comfortable being alone. I actually need alone time in order to be at my best. Because I’m comfortable being alone, I convinced myself I didn’t need to enlarge my friendship circle. I couldn’t see the benefits of having several close friendships. I thought I was satisfied with my quality few.
One of the ways I limited my number of friendships was avoiding being vulnerable. There were very few people who had the opportunity to see the real Chrystol. I kept my heart very well guarded. Due to my insecurities, I didn’t think most people would accept me if they really knew who I was. My lack of intimate friendships wasn’t due to the lack of trying on other people’s part. Women would try to befriend me. They would talk to me about any and everything, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings and I’d share just enough to appease them. So I became a friendly sounding board to some, but rarely a friend.
If you grew up in America, chances are you grew up accustomed to stuff. We get stuff for every holiday. We get stuff just because. People list “shopping” as a favorite hobby. No matter your income level in our culture, you can get your hands on stuff. In and out of church circles, it is expected that your home’s walls be covered and you have the required things for any and every event.
At eighteen, I went out of the country for the first time. I experienced poverty on a level I had never personally seen before. But with blank walls and free space, I heard God more clearly than I ever had in my life. I came home to my room full of stuff and was completely disgusted. I gave away everything but my mattress. I slimmed down my closet to just what I could fit in a large backpack. Continue reading “Minimalism in Life & Faith”
It’s Monday morning and I can hear my 7 am alarm. My son got up four times during the night, we got in late from church the night before and I’m exhausted, so I hit snooze. Five minutes later the alarm goes off again and the internal struggle begins. I could turn off the alarm. I’m a Stay-At-Home Mom, after all. I could sleep until my son wakes up which could secure me another hour and a half of sleep. Precious, precious sleep. Or I could get up now and have at least an hour to drink my coffee, spend some time in the Word, and start my day in the presence of God. Today, my spirit won, but that’s often not the case.
As a parent (especially of a small child) I have built-in excuse to not prioritize my devotional time. My son needs me in order to do almost anything, so it’s understandable that he takes up a lot of my time. I think God understands that children are time-consuming (he does have a lot of children himself), but He still expects us to make Him a priority. And not just a priority, but our top priority. Above our job, above our significant other, and, yes, above our children.
I think for many people the idea of idolatry is a bit foreign. I don’t worship any other gods. There are no statues in my home. I’m not a slave to any substance, habit, or circumstance. In fact, I go to church every Sunday and Wednesday and often many times in between. I prioritize God. But where is he on my priority list? Just because he’s on the list, doesn’t mean he’s first and whatever we have ahead of him, well, those are idols. We might not bow down to them or pray to them, but we put them before God. And many of these “idols” are good things that should be priorities and are important which is why it is so difficult to identify them as idols.
Some common idols for the average American Christian can be found by identifying where you spend your time. I understand that there are only so many hours in the day, but how do you spend them? Obviously if you’re spending more time watching TV or scrolling through Facebook, those are things that can be sacrificed to spend time with the one who saved you. But what about exercising? That’s not a bad thing, the Bible tells us to respect our bodies, but does gym time come before God time? Or maybe you need that extra hour of sleep in the morning. Sleep is essential to keep our bodies functioning at an optimum level, but are we idolizing our flesh over our God?
You can see why the issue of idolatry is tricky business, right? And let’s get back to our family. When my mother was recently visiting I decided not to go to prayer meeting to spend more time with her. I put her before my time in prayer – my time with God. I made her an idol. I love my husband so fiercely and would do anything for him, but I can’t put time with him before time with my Maker. My husband’s prayers and quiet time can’t build me my mansion in Heaven or help me access my blessings on Earth. He can’t put the Word in my heart. I have to do that. And then there’s my child, my son. Don’t let your children keep you from receiving your blessings from God. And it happens so easily.
We have been blessed to have evangelist Ted Shuttlesworth ministering at our church for over a week. He is a powerful man of God who has been anointed by God as a prophet and operates strongly in the healing anointing. We have seen awesome, miraculous healings in our services (something that is relatively new to me), but we’ve also been at church every day for over a week. My son is 11 months old and we haven’t been leaving church until after nine every night. If you have children, you know that this makes for an exhausted baby. So yesterday morning I put him down for a nap just before 10 am and thirty minutes later we needed to get him ready for church. We had to decide whether we would break our rule of waking a sleeping baby or one of us would stay behind and stream the service in our home. Praise God that this concept of not idolizing my child has been stirring in spirit. My husband didn’t want to wake him and offered to stay behind, but I insisted we all go to church, so we woke up our son and went to church. In that very service (the one my husband almost missed), this Prophet of God called my husband out from among the hundreds in the service and he received healing for a recurring pain in his back and legs. We almost missed that service and almost missed that blessing because we were going to put our son before our God.
Some of you may be thinking that I am taking this to the extreme. And you’re not wrong. I am being intense because I am passionate about serving my God, obeying his commandments, and putting Him first above all else. You might even be thinking that I am a bad mother, but I know that I am setting an example for my son that will be an eternal blessing in his life. So maybe his schedule gets a little bit off and he’s a bit fussier than usual, but his parents are growing in their faith and being built up in their spirit which far outweighs a bit of fussiness.
I can’t tell you what is best for your family. For your life. I don’t know where you are in your walk. But for me, I need to seek God above all else. I need to make sure I don’t allow my son, a blessing from God, to supersede my relationship with God. I love my son and I would give my life for him, but he can never be my Savior.
It’s a soft morning. Outside my window the sun is beaming boldly with soft edges. The sky is light blue, marked by gentle clouds. And even though I’m looking over a parking lot and at other apartments, the world feels still. The stillness out there makes our world here in our apartment seem all the more lively. The squealing baby, whistling kettle, snoring husband. The bold colors of the activity mat, bright glow of the computer screen, and melodic tones of Pandora. Everything around me seems to ooze fullness and life.
Maybe that’s how we are meant to be in this world. Our inner man, our spirit should be our focus. It should be where we find our vibrancy , our strength, our purpose. Instead of focusing on the world outside the window, we should look within. Because, ultimately, it’s what we find within that we’ll carry with us. Beyond the parking lots or the sandy beaches or the shopping malls. Rather than worrying about what we see when we look out the window or even what the world sees when they look at the window, we should be concerned with what we see when we look into the window. What the world sees when they look into the window. And what God sees when he looks at us.
Is my spirit vibrant? Bustling with life and drive? Is it full of love and kindness and compassion? Does it look like Christ? Does the world see Christ? Do I see Christ?
This year I want to work out my inner man (maybe along with my outer). But, ultimately, this body will pass away and the spirit will remain. Build up your spirit, revive your inner self and look out your window into softness.
In the Christian community we have a language. As a Christian you might not realize that you have your own language, but you do. And it becomes very apparent when you’re conversing with someone outside of your faith. And, like all proper languages, there are different dialects. It varies based on your denomination or your church or even your geographic location. But there are some phrases that seem to transcend dialects. One that most, both Christians and non-Christians alike, are familiar with would be: God is in control. You can find it on bumper stickers, church signs, t-shirts, social media memes. I think it’s a phrase that nearly every Christian has used at one point or another, including me. But now I must question, is He?
Before you get all hot and bothered, hear me out. I’m not questioning the existence of God. This is not an existential conversation. I worship my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ, my Savior. But let’s get real. If you are telling someone who doesn’t share your faith that your God is in control, then why would they want to come to your church? Terrible, awful, heartbreaking atrocities are happening every day in this world. Ebola has taken out almost 8,500 people, Boko Haram just decimated an entire city killing an estimated 2,000 people (mostly women, children, and elderly), and in 2014 alone an estimated 2,000 teenagers committed suicide. And I don’t see God, my God, in any of that. So, if I were a non-Christian and you told me that God was in control of this world, I would question your sanity to worship a god that is in control of these tragedies. Continue reading “God is NOT in Control”