Month: February 2016

The Fear of Answered Prayers

So like I mentioned earlier, the past few months have been a season of growth in prayer. Which has been good for me. I’m learning that being faithful in the little things is a really big thing. It’s amazing how differently my day pans out when I keep an open line of constant communication with God.

But I’m not gonna lie. These past few months have also been difficult ones. Ones of doubt and questions and wondering if maybe I heard the wrong calling.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m a med student. I spent about two years away from everyone I loved so I could sit in a classroom and study for 15+ hours a day (everyday, even weekends, even Sundays, even during nap time) while all my hair turned grey, my body got fatter, and my wallet got thinner. Y’all, it was hard. But I did it and I didn’t regret it because it was part of the process. I needed to learn these things so I could come home, take my boards, do rotations in a hospital for two years, take some more boards and then finally, finally be an MD.

You guys. Studying for boards is hard. I’ve been home for a while now but I haven’t started rotations yet because studying is taking so much longer than I anticipated. And it’s hard. Did I mention that? Med school is hard.

Med school is so hard that I did pretty awful on my last exam and had to ask for approval to take it again. And as in all things, waiting for an answer was the hardest part.

I think back on the years I’ve spent working towards this goal. It’s been such a long journey and I’ve faced more obstacles than I ever could have expected. Waiting to hear about my retake gave me some time to reflect on them. Well, maybe less reflecting and more agonizing. Because when you look back on your failures in isolation, it makes it hard to imagine a successful future. I started to question if God really did want me to be a doctor. Could I have gotten it all wrong?

So I prayed my fears. I asked God that if He truly called me into medicine, He needed to remind me of it. Make me sure. Give me a sign that this is Your will by letting this approval come through. I literally wrote down those words in a journaled prayer. And I told God that if this wasn’t what He wanted for me, He needed to open doors to show me what the next move was.

I received word last week that I was approved to take my exam again in a few months.

And I had no idea how to feel.

I waited to feel a sense of elation. Triumph. Validation. Something.

But all I was met with was a distinct sense of fear. I had essentially been told that I had another chance to study for the hardest exam I’ve ever had to take. Another few months of stretching my brain to its farthest limits, without any assurance that I’d see a different outcome.

I am so well acquainted with failure. What if failure is all I will know?

So I prayed again. I asked God why I was afraid. And as soon as I did, I remembered Peter.

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 
Matthew 14:22-31 (NASB)

I think Peter is such a crowd favorite when it comes to the disciples because he’s so flawed. Sure, now he’s the gatekeeper of Heaven, but back in the day, Peter was a little bit of a psycho. He was impulsive. He spoke without thinking and he had a tendency towards violence. Yet there is something rather endearing about a man who was passionate and eager but who got things wrong sometimes. It reminds me that God has long been in the business of using imperfect people.

But I have always had an issue with Peter in this story. Peter. Buddy. Listen. You have no right to complain about drowning in the sea because you asked for it. You literally asked for it. You asked Jesus to command you to walk on water with him. So He did, obviously. And only then does it occur to you to be afraid? Why would you ask for something, get what you asked for, and then be scared that Jesus did what you asked?

Oh. Oh.

Sometimes the weight of God’s revelation hits me so hard and so fast, it leaves me a little breathless.

Beloved, what if our deepest fear isn’t that God will say no to our prayers, but that He will invite us into miracles to say yes? What if we are scared for our turn to walk on water?

I wonder if I am too quick to throw out a bold prayer at times. I’m faced with uncertainty and almost without thinking, I ask God to intervene. But I don’t know if I always believe that He’s going follow through. If I’m honest, I think I was praying about my exam with a bit of an empty faith. Have I made God so small that part of me believed there was no way I would get a second chance?

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

When I quiet my heart, I can feel Jesus ask me this question. And the thing is, it’s about so much more than med school. There are moments when my faith is so frail that I doubt if God is able to see me safely to the other side.

But I believe that faith, like a mustard seed, can grow.

In this season, I’m learning that faith is believing in the sovereignty of God. Not only can He answer my prayer in the way He knows to be best but He can also use me in the process. And really, that’s been the story since the beginning of mankind. God calls us to be intricately entangled in the fulfillment of His will, even and especially when it seems humanly impossible. Which means that Jesus will invite me into scary situations sometimes. Places where I cannot stand in my own strength. But He is still Lord over all. When the waves seem too big and when the storm seems too wild, I can be sure that He knows what He’s doing. He will not let me sink. He’s holding on.

So I’m back to studying, y’all. And I’ll admit, it’s still scary. I have no assurances that things will turn out differently this time. But I’m trusting that the God who answers my prayers will be faithful to accomplish the work He started in me.

And out on the water, in the midst of the sea, my faith will grow.

On Valentine’s Day

It is the evening of Valentine’s Day and I am in my parents’ house where my presence is always welcome and the food is always free. I’m wearing my comfiest pajamas, have no makeup on and my hair is knotted in a mess at the top of my head. It’s only 8 pm but I’m nestled under warm sheets with a movie loading on my laptop and I have no intention of getting up until tomorrow morning. I am gloriously, wonderfully alone.

Most people think there is something wrong with that.

What is our aversion to singleness, you guys? Why is the only good version of Valentine’s day the one where you’re out on a date? And why, WHY, do I want that version so bad?

Oh, I’m sorry. Were you looking for a post teeming with self-confidence and assurances that I am perfectly happy not having someone to call my Valentine? Better keep looking, y’all.

The truth is I don’t know if I could say I’m perfectly happy being single. In fact, sometimes being single really sucks. It sucks when I pass a couple arm in arm and I realize I have nowhere to put my hand except my pocket. It sucks when I want to go out but my best friends have significant others or, even worse, spouses to go home to. (You know who you are.) It sucks when I outwardly roll my eyes at the over commercialized shamble Valentine’s Day has become but secretly think it might not be so bad to have someone send me flowers and chocolate and a sappy card to boot.

And these sucky parts of being single on Valentine’s Day? They started many, many moons ago. Back when we used to exchange valentines in elementary school and I realized some kids had bigger piles of cards than I did. Or middle school when we upgraded to candy grams and cheap carnations and I’d sit hoping that someone would drop a package on my desk. Just one, please, please, please. But they didn’t.

I think at the core of it, being single on Valentine’s Day brings up fears that perhaps I am not wanted. Perhaps I’m not good enough. Perhaps I am inherently less than because I’m not part of a pair.

This deep-rooted fear of mine has provided the soil for some of Satan’s biggest lies. And like most lies, they start out sounding kind of charming. A little idealistic. Like something you read out of a fairytale.

“You complete me.”

Umm, you guys? What? You “complete” me? What does that even mean? That I’m walking around like a fraction of myself, hoping that someone will show up with the missing piece?

I don’t buy it, you guys. It doesn’t make sense because it contradicts what we read in the Word, which is the living truth and an account of the One who is trustworthy. The Word tells us that in marriage, “two become one flesh.” Two become one. Not one half and another half become one. Two, completely separate yet completely whole individuals, become one.

The truth is, even in my singleness, I am complete. Not because I have it all together, but because Christ crucified lives in me. The fullness of my identity is hidden in Him and by understanding more of who He is, I find more of who I am. And who I am is already loved. Loved to death.

So to all my single friends: you are not lacking because you are not in a relationship. You are not any less of yourself. I know it can be lonely but I will be here for you like you are here for me and we’re going to be fine.

And to all my friends who are not single: forgive me for my moments of jealousy. Please be patient with me. Know that I am truly happy for you and I’m grateful for the lessons you and your loved one teach me.

To all of us: Happy Valentine’s Day. May we always know that perfect Love has already chosen us. May we always know that He is enough.

A Rabbi Walked Into a Classroom…

One of the most profound seasons of growth I have experienced as a Christian was when I was being taught by a Rabbi.

I was a couple years into undergrad when I found myself with a few gaps in my schedule and extra time to add some electives. I was indecisive and classes were filling up fast so I kind of chose one at random. The first day of the semester, I sat down at my seat and watched as a middle-aged Cuban man wearing a yamaka walked into the classroom and wrote “Rabbi Viñas” on the chalkboard. I had no idea what I was in for.

Thus started one of the most interesting semesters I’ve ever had. The sheer irony of it, you know? A devoted Christian taking notes on the spiritual teachings of an equally devoted Jew. And it only took Rabbi Viñas about three minutes to figure out I was Christian because I pulled out my Bible to follow along when he started lecturing from Genesis.

Whoopsies.

To his credit, Rabbi Viñas had no complaints about my Bible.

He also had no complaints about my faith. Or my questions about his.

You see, friends, there is a strange phenomenon that happens in the early days of undergrad. You go in feeling pretty cocky, having freshly conquered high school and sometimes having graduated among the top of your class. And then you have your first university lecture by a professor who is the leading expert in his field and you start to wonder whether you’re as smart as you think you are. You have your first university exam and your fears are confirmed.

So somewhere along that first semester of college, you swallow down some pride and start wearing some humility. But I got lost in the process, you guys, and instead of humility, I got acquainted with passivity. And complacency. And a not-so-healthy dose of self-doubt. I stopped thinking for myself and began to blindly accept whatever my professors taught.

But put a Jesus-lover in a class about Judaism and rusted wheels start turning again. She starts to wonder if the words she hears really agree with the words written on her heart. The Sunday School lessons of her childhood return to her memory. New Testament covenants spill from her tongue.

She starts to question.


It’s been a few years since I graduated with a minor in Jewish Studies. I have a Torah with English translation running alongside the original Hebrew. Unfortunately, I can’t read any Hebrew. Or write it or speak it. Still, I have a deep appreciation for the history of the Jewish people. I embrace it as part of my own heritage because I am an adopted daughter of the King and a co-heir with Christ.

And in the most unexpected turn of events, I learned more than just Torah as a Jewish Studies student. I learned the Gospel.

You see, Christians sometimes get a bad rap for being less intellectual than non-Christians. And you guys, part of me believes there is truth to that. Perhaps we’ve put on this cloak of spiritual complacency and become content with letting the apologetics and the great theologians and the world-famous speakers study the Bible while we just sit back and listen.

I know I’m guilty of it. I spent a long time reading books and listening to sermons as I tried to figure out what I personally believed about Christianity. There’s nothing inherently wrong in doing so.

The problem arises when we start relying on everyone and everything else to tell us what our faith should be and start neglecting the Word of God. We’ve been given this invaluable resource that reveals to us the nature of God and what He desires for us. When we’re presented with different theologies and conflicting ideas, it is only this Bible that harbors the irrefutable truths of God. And the best way for me to know them is to read them for myself.

Let’s be honest, though. Studying the Bible is hard, y’all. It can come off as repetitive on one page and contradictory on another. Some of those Old Testament laws seem outdated and I wonder if they really describe the God I know today, the God who is supposed to be unchanging. Then there are times when I read a portion and know there’s something I need to learn here, something that is relevant to my circumstance, but the essence of it evades me. There are parts of the Bible that have surprised me. And there are parts of the Bible that have broken my heart.

Yet of this I am sure: The truths I proclaim having wrestled with God are so much sweeter than the ones I have been spoon fed.

So maybe we need to start examining the words we hear. Maybe we need to stop accepting them as truth just because they come from someone with a fancier title than us. Maybe we need to stop believing people just because they’re New York Times best sellers. Maybe we need to stop trusting speakers just because they lead super trendy, super hipster mega-churches.

I know, I know. Shots fired. But you know what? The Jesus I read of in the Bible called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and warned against wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Maybe part of being sure of what you believe is having the courage to call people out on their crap.

Jesus, the one they called Rabbi, used Judaism to teach me that.


Rabbi Viñas once gave us a reading on the Jewish traditions of sacrifice and told us to write a response paper for him. I was having a hard time with it so I sat with him after class and tried to talk it out. He listened to me for a few minutes and then asked, “What do you think of when you hear ‘sacrifice’?”

I paused for a moment and remembered a Gospel truth. “I think of a Lamb who was sacrificed for me. But more than that, I think of a veil torn in two. Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing separates me from God.”

Rabbi Viñas smiled and said, “Go. Write about this Jesus you know.”

Six

Six years.

Six years ago today, a dear presence in my life left this world. Six years and I still get a lump in my throat when I date my page February 1st. Oh, friends. So many of us know what it means to feel a terrible, terrible loss.

Loss.

Is that the right word?

I think sometimes I say things without really deciding if that is what I mean. Or what I believe.

For some reason, when someone dies, we say we “lost” them. And to me, that doesn’t make much sense because “lost” implies we don’t know where they have gone. But I believe in an eternity after this breath we call life. I don’t know for sure what it looks like but I know Jesus is there and He’s so psyched to spend forever with us.

I think about Heaven a lot these days. (No, I don’t have any plans to rush up there. But I mean, you never know. Best to be prepared, I’d say.) Some people think it’s going to be all of us wearing white robes and singing the Hallelujah chorus. All. The. Time.

I think not, friends.

I think Heaven will be about us loving on God and Him loving on us, which I also think acts as a definition of worship. I think it’ll be full of the very best parts of this life and more because Daddy God knows each of our hearts so intimately. He knows what makes us smile and laugh and I think He’ll want to enjoy it all with us.

So I imagine there will be puppies and kittens and bubble wrap in Heaven. Probably a never ending chocolate fountain for us sweets lovers to feast on without fear of tooth decay or diabetes. The smell of old books and clean laundry. Crunchy autumn leaves to step on.

And my dear one who is already there? I like to think he is singing with the angels and reminding them of the lyrics in case anyone forgets because he always seemed to know every line of every song.

I still have a lump in my throat. I still feel sad but I don’t think it’s because of “loss.” I’m just sad we can’t see each other right now. And the sadness doesn’t cancel out the hope I have that one day, we will be reunited and it will be beyond anything I could ever imagine.

In the meantime, I’ll hold on to the memories. Memories of going to the first Harry Potter movie and of celebrating birthdays. Of sharing meals and getting fried chicken from the Chinese place. Of growing up with a daughter of yours who is the sweetest friend.

I think of you every time I sing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

Rest in peace.