“My time is not yet here, but the time is always right for you.” John 7:6 “The school of Christ is the school of love. In the last day, when the general examination takes place…Love will be the whole syllabus.” -St. Robert Bellarmine My husband always tells me to stop worrying about God’s plan. We […]
It has been almost two months that I have been in the dark. I have been there before. It is dark and lonely and void of God’s presence, at least to those of us who live there.
I have spent the time twisting and turning and writhing to find my place. Saying to myself, this is part of the journey, allowing myself to accept the time in the desert. But this time felt different. In the deserts that I have experienced before it was not God’s presence that was lacking but my own. I wouldn’t say I was alone this time. I would say that the black hole that consumed me was something beyond me. Something I had never experienced.
It wasn’t until a trip to the Blessed Sacrament that I cried out. I could not contain it. I went there specifically to cry and to beg God to come back to me, even though I know that he never left. But this daunting darkness consumed me and I hoped it wasn’t what Mother Teresa had experienced. I am no saint and I knew that I was not ready for all of that. I asked God in one breath to show up. I thought how nice it would be if the lights went dark in that chapel. Then they did. Then Father walked in. 1- God, Melissa-0.
And I left that place full of hope, knowing that in that tiny prayer, I could expect God to answer. That a single visit in the darkness could bring light. That things, they could change.
It was 5:30 am when my eyes opened. I was at peace, different from my emotional outcry the day before. I needed a good meditative piece to read and I thought of Elizabeth Scalia and checked aleteia. There it was staring me in the face- the reason for my darkness.
The piece was entitled, Are all these sexual abuse revelations triggering you? They are Me! I read it quick and with bated breath. That there could be another human on earth who could be sent to decipher my pain. We forget about one another. We don’t take the time to listen to one another. We are wild beasts ravaging around this crazy world.
It was that sentence, the one that freed me. The one that diagnosed me. The one that let me out of my prison sentence. Two months hard labor in the darkness had been two months too long. But the words, her words, brought that first ray of light.
if you are lately feeling out of sorts — if you are feeling unaccountably sad, moody, unfocused, angry, ashamed — if you have that cloud hovering over you, consider that perhaps you are being triggered, all subconsciously.
The weight of the Weinsteins and the Matt Lauer’s was all-consuming. The women who were getting justice while I was not. The lingering effects of sexual abuse that seep in like the bite from a poisonous snake as you slowly die without even realizing it. It is a deadly poison and a scary thought to think that you are dying and nobody has noticed. Oh how well we as victims can hide the pain.
So I pass Elizabeth’s message on to you. For those who have been living in a subconscious darkness. For predators. For the empathetic who are effected by the headlines. And for my brothers and sisters who still suffer the vile effects of sexual abuse. Know that God hasn’t left you. He is present, we need only move away the cloud.
It’s never easy to say goodbye to a dear friend, to a loving sister in Christ, and yet there are times when we must do just that. Like so many of you, I was shocked by the news that our sister and friend Susan Irene Fox passed away earlier this week; what does one say at such a time?
Susan’s writings here on WordPress were a blessing to all of us, both on her blog and on Church Set Free, and when you read those posts of hers it’s almost impossible to miss the love that fills each and every line. I recall when a group of us came together via Skype to discuss the establishment of the site, back in 2015. Susan was part of that group and more than anything else, she wanted it to be a place where anyone could go and experience the love of Christ without judgment or condemnation from any of us who participated. She wanted it to be a place where anyone could ask a question or post a comment without feeling out of place or inadequate; she wanted it to become a place where any Christian as well as any seeker could feel safe and secure.
In the months that followed, a bunch of us got together regularly on Skype to discuss not only the site, but life in general, and while I never met Susan face-to-face, I felt as though I got to know her. I’ll never forget her smile and her sense of humor, and her ability to treat everyone as an equal as a loved brother or sister.
It seems to me that Susan in so many ways personified what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Many who read this may have known her longer than I did; many may have known her better than I. Yet I will be eternally grateful for the time I had for her to touch my life. In the final analysis, I know only one thing: Heaven is a much richer place today because Susan Irene Fox has come to stay for all eternity, and one day we will all be reunited there in the loving arms of Lord.
Why do you suppose it is that some churches are considered to be “loving” while others aren’t? Maybe a better question would be, “Why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?”
I remember one time several years ago when I received a phone call one Saturday evening from a very ticked off woman from church who spent at least 20 minutes yelling at me because someone else in our church had been rude to her: “What happened to the love in this church?” she demanded to know.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t exactly feeling the love in that moment either. She abruptly ended the call by telling me that unless I did something pretty darn quick that she was leaving for good.
So often I hear things like this…
Why are some churches “loving” and others aren’t why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?
I don’t know about anybody else, but I think the answer to these questions lies in the very nature of love itself. Perhaps we can find a clue in the great “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13…
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (13:4-7 emphasis added)
These are some of the most beautiful and familiar verses in all of Scripture, and I’m sure that if anyone reads these verses and then goes back to the little incident I just recounted, you’ll come up with a working theory on the questions I posed… I hope that before going further, everyone will read the entirety of the chapter for context… Of course, speaking of context, this chapter is in a larger section on spiritual gifts that runs from chapter 12-15 and thus love is a side note. Theologically speaking the real “Love Chapter” in the New Testament is 1 John 4, a very interesting bit of writing to say the least.
In verses 1-6 John is speaking about the spirit of antichrist which is afoot in this world and that may seem odd in a chapter about love, yet God’s love in us is the perfect antidote for the spirit of antichrist. John tells us that we have overcome that dark spirit already (4:4).
At first glance vv. 7 ff. appear to be redundant in the extreme. Yet upon closer examination this isn’t the case, for John in these verses is making the case for love itself, and he is doing so in a manner that is simplicity itself: God loved us and sent his Son to die for us, therefore we love Him. God loves our brothers and sisters, therefore so do we. Since all of this is true, anyone who does not love their brother and sister does not love God.
Notice how John links God’s love to us in 4:10 to Christ as “atoning sacrifice”, and recall that it is by his atoning sacrifice that our sins can be forgiven tying God’s love together with His forgiveness. Look carefully and you will see the same approach again in verse 14 where John tells us that by God’s love we have received the Holy spirit and give testimony that Jesus is Savior (by forgiveness of sins). Notice the same linkage in both verse 17 and verse 18 by making reference to the connection between love and forgiveness on the day of judgment. And then go back to the end of verse 17:
In this world we are like Jesus.
What was Jesus like? Jesus was the very embodiment of love in action who brought forgiveness into the world.
The chapter ends with this:
Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (4:21b)
We are commanded to love one another, and what is plain in 1 John 4 is that love is inexorably linked to forgiveness, and how many times should we forgive our brother, seven times?
Well, I think you already know the answer to that one.
Combine this with 1 Corinthians 13:5… love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love forgives first and foremost.
“Church” is not an institution. Rather it is a community of people who love Jesus Christ and wish to follow Him. Yet it is the human condition that as long as each of us is imperfect, we will all sooner or later say or do something that we shouldn’t have said or done. If anyone who reads this believes him or herself immune from error, please let us know in a comment so that we might recognize you for your achievement of perfection!
If on the other hand, you like I myself have not quite achieved such an exalted status just yet, them please understand that you will need forgiveness right along with everyone else at some point in time, and that all of us need to forgive if indeed we love one another, for there is no love without forgiveness. Since church is not an institution, but instead is a collection of believers in community, when someone stumbles, it is our place to love them, not to complain about them to others. If they have upset us, then it is our place to forgive them, not to condemn them, and if we feel that our local congregation is not loving enough, then it is for us to love more and forgive more, not for us to complain more and to become angry, for anger and complaining are not the actions of love.
Does that sound crazy to you?
If so, please remember this: You ARE the church; if you don’t love, then who will?
I wrote this post the other day for CSF. When I was finished writing it, I answered the phone, completed the call, and then posted it to the Life Project, and didn’t give it another thought until a few minutes ago… oops!
How would you approach such a quandary as a Christian? Would you approach it as a legalist and say that a person is sacred if they have behaved themselves and done certain other things that make them “cool” in the church? Perhaps one might say that a person who is a Christian is sacred, but that the lost are not, or maybe that people who are really good are sacred, while the rest are not. Some might suggest that a person is sacred if they are a member in good standing in their particular denomination, or even that no one is sacred until they die and go to heaven.
Yet, I wonder how God looks at this; would He see it the way we do?
Maybe God would say that a person whose sins are forgiven is sacred, and those who remain in their sins are unclean…
I wouldn’t presume to tell you that I am privy to all of God’s thoughts, but I can suggest that Scripture might give us some insight on this topic that can lead us to draw some conclusions.
As we have seen in a previous series of posts, all humans are created by God in His image, and yes, even after sin entered the world in Genesis 3, we still bear His image. With that being the case, and the image of God being in itself sacred, we all have an element of sacredness inherent in our beings; His image. Each of us was conceived in the mind of God and created in every detail with His intentional purpose in mind with talents and gifts, not to mention intelligence as God saw fit to give, and I doubt that God is in the habit of creating that which is unclean or inherently bad.
Yet in spite of this, we make choices as we walk through life, and sooner or later each one of us makes choices that are at odds with the ways of God; some really go out on a dark extreme and really make a mess of things. Yet even in such a dark place, distant and far from God’s presence and will, He still loved us:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Because of God’s amazing love, He sent His Son to die for each one of us, while humanity was still in its sinful rebellion. I don’t know about you, but offhand, I can’t think of any cases in Scripture when God was said to have loved that which was evil, bad or unclean. In fact, the second greatest commandment was that we love our neighbor as ourselves; He made no mention of our neighbor needing to be perfect first, did He?
In fact, which of the patriarchs was so perfect? How about the great Israelite kings David and Solomon; were they perfect? No, I didn’t think so.
I would maintain that every single human being is sacred in God’s sight, not because of the way we behave, but because we were created by God in His image with a purpose that transcends this world. Of course, there are many sacred ones out there who aren’t all that attractive, and some behave in really nasty ways, in rebellion against everything God is and stands for. Yet I really don’t believe for an instant that this sad state of affairs means that they aren’t sacred in God’s sight; can you guess why that is?
Two reasons: First, they are precisely the ones Jesus gave His life to save, and second, because God has gone to all of the trouble to put you and me in this world to take the good news to such people, that they might be brought into His light. Imagine for a moment how different this world might be if more of us saw such people through God’s eyes and took our commission more seriously.
Come to think of it, I have another question to ponder: Who grieves God’s heart more, the lost person who dwells in darkness and acts accordingly, or the Christian who dwells in the light with all of the riches of Christ at his or her disposal, but who is afraid to get their hands dirty taking the light to those dark places where so many need it so desperately?
Yes, I’ll need to ponder that one for some time…
It has been almost three months for me that it has been dark. Not just dim or lights out, but an all-consuming darkness. I have asked God to lift it, take it away, but the shadows have endured. I can see the sun outside, but on the inside there is no light.
In the midst of all of this, God asked me to make some of the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life. Actually, He didn’t ask me, He told me. It wasn’t in the usual way He spoke to me either. It was soft, subtle, barely a whisper, so much so that I felt myself putting my spiritual ears to the wall saying, God I can barely hear you!
I chased after the whispers like a wild, hungry animal desperate for food, but the whispers only became softer. The prayers I was praying were not in desperation but were now in full belief that God would answer, even when the timing seemed way off. But God said He would, and He did, and now I just want to run away…
The darkness has not lifted, the enemy is fierce. As my soul lifts up and magnifies the Lord, the devil denies Him and his plans for me. Not that I believe him. But Like Job, my spiritual outsides seem to be collapsing, even though I know they are not. When the walls come tumbling down, where then do you run?
It was in my prayers this morning after Morning Lauds that the sky started to open. It is amazing what singing God’s praises can do for your spiritual life, even when you don’t feel like doing it. But today was different. Today I felt a glimpse of joy return to me, call my name, beckoning, we are almost there. It was that small slither of hope that I hung onto like a precious medallion from God, an inch of rope, an anchor. And I followed that into my prayer closet and in praying this prayer: Why now God? Why now in the midst of all of this are you answering this big prayer of mine? I sat back and closed my eyes, soaking in the warmth of the silence, a gift. And He said back to me with a smile on His face, “Yes the timing is very important. What day is it today on the Jewish calendar. This is your answer.”
With the Holy Spirit still vibrant and burning within me, I quickly rushed to check today’s calendar in Israel. It is the 17th day of Tammuz, a dark month for the Jews, a reminder of their unbelief.
Tammuz was supposed to be a time of blessing for the Jewish people. Moses had received the 10 commandments and was ready to bring it to God’s people. But when He was delayed (of course divinely so), the Israelites were inpatient and their unbelief became prominent. Instead of waiting, they decided to make for themselves a golden calf. And we know the rest of the story, the tablets that God had given us were broken and destroyed and we missed this divine miracle. It was a short delay that Moses had in coming down the mountain, but it was enough to turn the Jewish people to worship a man-made idol. It was enough to turn them away from God.
So the month of Tammuz is known for our fall. It exposes our sin and our falling away from God. But it also provides for us great insight into how we can repent, especially in the midst of darkness.
Today, the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the “Three weeks of sorrow.” Today also is a day of fasting, to instill a sense of repentance in God’s people; to remember the darkness, the tragedy, the idolatry- to instill in us a time of reflection. As Christians, we refer to this spiritual exercise as an examination of conscience, something we should strive to accomplish daily. A time to repent, to ask God to help us in the areas we need help, a daily spiritual housecleaning, a learning to see in the dark.
God’s answer to me was this, How can I be glorified if you do not learn to see me in the dark? If you don’t repent of your unbelief and glorify me in this very time, how will you lead others to me? It is easy to see me in the light, but in the darkness requires a special kind of faith. It requires you to believe me.
So I say to you my brothers and sisters, let us repent of our unbelief for the world is a liar! We have the hope of Christ within us, yearning to be set free! Do not believe the lies of the darkness but instead lift up your hands in glory to our King! Christ has risen my friends, we are free! I pray that you will open your eyes and come out of your slumber and see Him in the darkness. This of course requires you to believe Him.
The challenges of motherhood are many, but it is who I am. I never asked God to make me famous, rich or powerful. I never asked him for a big house or lots of friends. I grew up with a sense of knowing, what I now know is my vocation, motherhood. There was never anything I wanted more than that. But I had a sense from a young age that would be a struggle. The Holy Spirit was present and alive to me ever before I knew who Jesus Christ was, and even though I was not a believer in Christ, I knew God and saw His hand in my life. So when I struggled to have children I found it a curse, cruel, a God that didn’t hear my shouts for mercy, my Hannah prayers, my desperation.
For those that have not grappled with infertility, I am glad for you. Out of all the things I have contended with in my life, this by far was the greatest fight for my soul. I wanted children like I wanted water, it wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity.
After several opinions, I stumbled across a doctor willing to help me. His name was Dr. Christie, I can’t make this stuff up. I was not a believer in Christ at the time but even I as a Jewish girl recognized the name. It was subtle. God doesn’t bulldoze his way through, He glides gently. It was one of a series of small whispers, God’s call to me. Subtle.
Dr. Christie was my third opinion. I came armed and prepared with my research and data. I had by this time diagnosed myself. I had come from a doctor who told me I’d never have children unless I paid him $25,000. The world of infertility is legalized extortion. I told myself that this time around with this doctor, I would put him to the test.
But he wasn’t like the others. He was quiet, kind… unassuming. At the time he was working in a small infertility office. He had been at the job exactly one week. The specialist that owned the practice brought him on. That specialist was booked up for six months. But not Dr. Christie- he was available right away.
I hesitated to make the appointment. The words “he’s wide open because he’s new” are not usually a good sign. But something drew me in. I knew it was his name.
I sat down with the good doctor. He was visibly nervous. He had just moved his whole life to Florida and he was a true southern boy, accent and all. But his presence was calming to me. We spoke, and he rattled off his diagnosis- the same one I had come up with. I told him he was hired. He told me he couldn’t guarantee me anything, but that I was a good candidate for an alternative to IVF. He told me with a smile that he had a good feeling.
We started the process, Shlomi and I. It was a perpetual wave of emotions. We started out with pills, then moved on when I told Dr.Christie that I was ready to go for it, full force. He smiled again. He knew why.
More drugs this time in the form of shots. What an emotional time. Your husband injecting you in the hopes for a baby. He was so gentle. I would cry out of sheer emotional pain. It wasn’t the needle that hurt me, it was the reminder of the needle that hurt me. But Shlomi was there encouraging me, telling me, I was going to be a mother, He was sure of it. Another subtle reminder. Another subtle reminder of Jesus.
Several months, lots of drugs, emotions high and the blood test that changed my life. A call from Dr. Christie. I was on edge. I had been pregnant twice before and lost those within a couple of weeks. I closed my eyes.
I was pregnant, and he had a suspicion that it was multiples.
I felt the sting of the needle, unsure of God, could He be this cruel? It was my birthday, 2008.
7 weeks in I entered the room. There were three. Shlomi, Dr. Christie and me. Dr. Christie had inadvertently become an inextricable part of my journey. I trusted him. And before I looked up to see the ultrasound, to hope for a baby and not an empty sac or no heartbeat, I looked over at Dr. Christie. He told me he had a good feeling.
And there it was. His good feeling on a screen. His instinct. My pain. The needles. My husband’s confidence in God. And my husband was an atheist at best. Two sacs. Two heartbeats. Two babies in my belly. That is when I knew God had not left me. That is the moment I knew that God had not forgotten me, my destiny, to be a mother. And He didn’t stop there. Three months after I delivered my twins I found out I was pregnant with my third. No drugs or doctors or needles. God filled my belly. Why? The first prayer I ever prayed from my heart that I understood, not in Hebrew.
God I want another baby. Please God give me another baby, and He did.
Although my third was not the result of any intervention, I only trusted Dr. Christie. With my condition, I knew there was a high chance I’d lose this one too. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t lose this one. And he happily agreed to monitor me for Meadow’s first 12 weeks of life. He was there when I heard her heartbeat too. I knew it was a miracle. Only God could do that…
I believe I was destined for the cross, destined for Christ. I believe God chose me before I ever chose Him. I believe God picked my vocation and filled my belly with three babies. I believe in divine providence and its many and numerous gifts. I believe He dresses me in sacred vestments. I believe His altar is wherever He meets you.
Exodus 30:6, “This altar you are to place in front of the veil that hangs before the ark of the covenant where I will meet you.”