For Religious Freedom

I am a Christian. Simply put, I believe in God, Jesus, and the veracity of the Bible. I also love science. I do not think those two things are mutually exclusive. You may disagree. That’s fine with me. I am … Continue reading

Feeling Blessed & Guilty

Growing up in a poor neighborhood, I knew I was blessed to go to school with the wealthy. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for my neighborhood’s public schools. I would have been too insecure and deferential to flourish. But for as blessed as I felt to have Ph.D.’s for teachers, get textbooks I could keep, and have a bountiful spread of food to choose from at lunch (at no additional cost), I also felt guilty. Why me?

All of the kids in my neighborhood weren’t going to an elite private school. All of the kids in my church didn’t have testimonies about kind benefactors funding trips to Europe. These were incredible experiences. I felt very blessed. However, I also felt guilty. Why me? What made me worthy?

It helped to ascribe some of the blessing to my mother’s prayerful, faith-filled living. I knew that she and God were buddies. But what about all the other poor kids whose moms were also best friends with God? Why weren’t they all experiencing the same perks I was?

Every time I was prompted to share my latest testimony, I worried that those listening would feel jilted or jealous. I worried that my testimonies sounded like bragging. I shared them with reluctance. I toned things down so I wouldn’t sound arrogant. I was embarrassed by my blessings in the face of so much want in the world.

What I’ve come to realize (and this is an ongoing struggle for me—feeling blessed and guilty) is that just as I can be genuinely happy for a loved one who gets something I want, others can be genuinely happy for me. I might feel wistful and wishful, but I’m not envious, especially when I keep things in perspective. Plus, everyone’s idea of a blessing is not the same. So it’s fruitless to get mired in comparisons. You might want a boyfriend. I might want a house. She might want a promotion. He might want time off. It’s not worthwhile worrying that others are jealous of what I have. Everyone’s hopes and dreams are different.

Furthermore, blessings are about the one who blesses, not the blessed. It’s about God, not me. I haven’t earned any of it. When I look back at my life, I see how much this is true. I haven’t felled any literal Goliaths with a stone, but God has equipped me to do more than I could have done on my own. I’ve never wielded a slingshot, but I have seen the meager finances of my family fell many a financial foe.

For example, my parents bought a home in New York City without a mortgage, and they weren’t wealthy at all. They were a young, immigrant couple with a toddler (me). They both worked hard. My father worked multiple jobs (almost never taking a day off) to put himself through college and law school. They were renting when a neighbor they’d been kind to decided to sell her home directly to them.

My two siblings and I all went to prestigious private schools—again, not because my parents were affluent, but because doors (and scholarships) opened up for us. Even when my financial footing wasn’t secure, I flourished. Although I spent a couple of post-college years without a fulltime job, I was still able to pay rent, buy a car, visit my grandparents in Grenada every year, and pay off my student loans so that I’d be debt-free by the time I got married. (That last one even came several years early.)

All of these experiences and achievements (improbable, if not impossible, by the world’s natural standards) have strengthened my faith, and that faith is a constant source of encouragement and peace. Some might call it luck or karma or coincidence, but I see it as God-affirming evidence. Especially when a loss gives me more than I had before—as after the fire or my husband’s car accident. In both of those cases certain losses also led to upgrades. In both of those cases a difficulty also led to blessings.

Why me? Why are some lives so full of hardships while others seem to have it easy? Well, I’ve begun to answer my own question—it’s in the word seem. The reality of a life and how it appears to onlookers are two different things. Just because someone appears to have it all doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering. And many we might be tempted to feel sorry for don’t covet our lives or want our pity. Wealth isn’t happiness. Fame isn’t friendship. No one life is all good or all bad. It’s why I try so hard to not be envious. Who am I to begrudge the good another person enjoys? In the same manner, I shouldn’t let my life’s blessings make me feel embarrassed.

Feeling guilty is usually an indication that I am looking at things from the wrong perspective. Why me? Why you? I don’t actually know. But I don’t think why is the important part. First of all, my life’s blessings do not take anything away from anyone else—especially if they afford me the ability to be generous. Secondly, life is not a competition. It’s a gift. We haven’t been called to earn, but to receive, enjoy, and share it.

 

“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

~ 2 Corinthians 9:11

“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

~ Marianne Willaimson

If You Are

If you are the night’s sky, I am the distant star.

If you are the mighty mountain, I am the chiseled rock.

If you are the long winter, I am the flake of snow.

If you are the raging river, I am the flooded shore.

 

If you are the lush forest, I am the seed of faith.

If you are the promise, I am she who waits.

If you’re the vibrant sunset, I’m the breath that is held.

If you’re the destination, I’m the tentative step.

 

If you are the orchard at harvest, I am the ripening plum.

If you are the safe haven, I’m the refugee who comes.

If you are forever, I’ll release the hands of the clock.

When yours is the heart that is broken, I’ll be the tear that drops.

 

Note: This poem was inspired by Octavio Paz’s “Motion” as translated by Eliot Weinberger.

 

Hopes & Dreams

I’ve been thinking about this lately: I believe in God, but do I trust Him with my dreams? Can I find more reasons for faith than for doubt? Do I really believe He cares about what I want and won’t take my hopes and dreams away from me—or turn them against me? And if I get that far, can I trust myself? Will I take the steps and leaps of faith required to put myself where I need and want to be? And what about patience? Am I able and willing to wait? Sometimes pursuing a dream feels like doing nothing—or like throwing efforts into an abyss.

I want to be content and ambitious. I want to have my dreams for the future, but without letting them obscure or invalidate how my life looks at the moment. I don’t want “right now” to feel like a letdown in light of my hopes and dreams for tomorrow. I want to be happy with today while looking forward to the future. I don’t want to be so focused on where I want to go in life that I overlook the journey.

Let me not shy away from success or be overburdened by failures. Life will have its challenges—its hard parts—its seasons of darkness. There will be times when my dreams feel foolish and my hopes seem hopeless. But there will also be triumphs and celebrations.

It can be frightening to dream because not all dreams come true. Some dreams fade until they’re forgotten, while others are willfully put aside. But some dreams defy the dreamer—refusing to materialize while also declining to die. Even though dreaming can be difficult, I don’t ever want to stop. I never want to run out of dreams or faith or hope.

We Need God for Life

Sometimes when I’m feeling inadequate, I think about bananas and plantains. Bad bananas make the best banana bread. Similarly, when a plantain looks its most rotten (black and shriveled and dusty), that’s when it’s sweetest.

It is from this that I draw some understanding of redemption, not only the saving of our souls, but the good that can come from the corrupted.

I am aware of how much in Christianity (or faiths claiming to be Christianity) has been contorted into cruel and harmful words, practices, and beliefs. Even with the best of intentions, anything touched by human hands is inherently lacking. We’re all imperfect beings.

What I find truly miraculous and hopeful, however, is how we broken people, we sinners, we betrayers of love, can be used for things that are better than the sum of our lying, stealing, coveting, conceited, violent, or otherwise unloving parts.

We are like rotten bananas in God’s hands. He doesn’t erase our weaknesses (although sometimes that is exactly what happens), often He leaves us flawed and puts us in a position where that event, experience, or characteristic (e.g., a past hurt, loss, or mistake) is beneficial in some way. Like rotten bananas making good banana bread, because of (not just in spite of) our hurts and imperfections, we inspire each other, support each other, guide, confide in, and advise each other. We gain and share wisdom and empathy. We are role models. We are cautionary stories.

Years ago I was watching an episode of Wife Swap in which a God-fearing, black woman was switching places with a white (multi-colored, actually—she had so many tattoos) atheist. One thing the atheist said reverberated in my mind: she accused Christians of using God and their faith in Him as a crutch. I had heard that indictment before, and it had never sat well with me, but this time I heard it from a different vantage point: Who says needing a crutch is a bad thing?

God is indeed my crutch, and that’s a good thing. I am limping through life because I am broken. I need His support. He literally sustains me every day. The atheist on Wife Swap was acting as though humans are completely healthy—emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually—but we’re not. Everyone in this world is broken in one way or another—internally or by an outside force.

We all need a crutch to get through life. Some of us develop defense mechanisms like sarcasm or seek insight through therapy. Some of us turn to hobbies, addictions, or habits—anything that keeps us in the shallows of our minds—distracted. Some strive after wealth, health, popularity, perfection, or knowledge. Others try to feel better by making others feel worse. There are a lot of things out there that people can cling to in an attempt to prop themselves up. We’re all self-medicating something. I choose God. I am broken, and He is my benevolent crutch.

Like a crutch, God is not necessarily an instantaneous fix for what ails us (although that too is possible). The crutch is not the cure; it is a complement to the healing. The crutch is there so that as our body mends, we’re still able to make progress—to proceed despite our pain and injury. Similarly, God comes to support us, to bear us up so that—despite our brokenness—we can move through life. And as we lean on Him, we find that the healing is able to begin because we’re not putting all our weight on whatever part of us isn’t able to bear all that pressure—the burden.

Now most people need a crutch for a discrete amount of time. Unfortunately, what’s wrong with us (humanity) isn’t temporary. We’re maimed for life. So we’re not like the woman who has broken her leg and only needs crutches for a finite length of time. We’re more akin to the man with cerebral palsy or someone who’s had an amputation. We need God for life.

And here’s the brilliant thing about God—the thing that makes Him infinitely better than a crutch—He uses us just as we are. We’re not sidelined by our flaws or benched because we’re not good enough. He sees us limping along, trying to depend on Him, but not quite comfortable in that position—still wanting to assert our independence—perhaps even resisting Him, and He uses it all.

Consider how much we’d praise a physician who could not just heal patients, but use their maladies to improve the prognosis for others who are ailing. That’s what God does. He uses hurting and broken people to help heal the hurting and broken. He empowers the damaged to repair the damage that has been done to, by, and for others. Ignorance, intolerance, inequality, violence, exploitation, addiction, abuse, and more—all the things that have broken our world, the broken are trying to fix them.

Don’t worry that you’re inadequate or flawed. Learn from, but don’t dwell on, your past—what you have or haven’t done. Just as you are, you can help. All of who you are—the good, the bad, and the broken—is relevant. We’re all rotten bananas—soft, bruised, and blemished. But if we’re honest and loving, we “bad bananas” will make good banana bread.