Friendships That Last A Fiery Furnace

I’m reading the book of Daniel this week and thus far I’ve been so encouraged by the integrity and perseverance Daniel displays as he stands up for what he believes and trusts God to bring the outcome He desires. It’s been such a refreshing couple of days studying Daniel’s life and his impact on his fellow friends who were also in the same boat as him. These men who also went into exile with him were named Shadradch, Meshach and Abednego and later on we see they too display great courage and faith in the Lord.

A couple of days ago, I read the first two chapters before I went to bed, and I was so captivated with his character that I woke up thinking about it.  The purity of Daniel’s faith and his undeniably courageous character is one I long to have. Daniel’s faith & knowledge of God and His boldness didn’t start the moment he was summoned to interpret the king’s dream or when he was thrown into the lion’s den. He has been walking with the Lord way before that, when he was first selected as one of the King’s servants and had 3 years of preparation he chose to eat all vegetables and not defile himself with the royal foods and wine. Daniel’s boldness wasn’t the only one highlighted but of his three friends Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego.  They were able to keep their purity as well and God gave all four of them favor before the King’s men and later on before the king himself.

It’s evident that Daniel’s convictions rubbed off on his friends as well. I started thinking that morning, who do I have in my life that displays such courage, not because of what they have or who they are but WHOSE they are.  Who inspires me to follow after God whole heartedly.  I like asking this question once in a while because I believe in having heroes of faith that I personally know.  Not only people I’ve read about or I follow on social media, but those I dine with, laugh and cry with.  In this season of life the list is sadly very short, this contagious character has only come far in between and those friendships are once that will last a lifetime.

Scripture says that everything Daniel and his friends did God blessed and they did ten times better than anyone else in the kingdom. God’s favor goes before those who choose to set themselves apart for his work, those who are not afraid of the consequences of following Him, those who will blindly follow Him and will put boundary around what is His. I love the picture of unity and collaboration painted in  this passage.

When I think about Daniel and his friends, I think about a group of men who followed after God so faithfully and spurred each other onto good works. I long to be filled with wisdom and tact, like them to be quick to listen and slow to speak. But as I think about that, the reality of this season of life where most of my dearest friends live more than 200miles away strikes me and I wonder if God would AGAIN give me such community I once had.  They are too good to be true, would God STILL have more people like that?

We’ve moved twice in the past 3 years and are just starting to put roots down in Charlotte, NC. Moving isn’t a new thing for me, I’ve moved more times than I can count in the past 15 years, but these past two moves have been the hardest. Maybe because moving as a 3 person family, than one…all by myself fitting into whatever world I was thrown into is a new phenomenon, I don’ know. What I know is, I’m ready for my new normal to begin, to have those comforting talks and hugs.

I’m thankful God is here and he’s given me Himself first and my sweet family second to be my constant, but it’s time for me to find my Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego. As I mourn the loss of proximity to my old but still best friends, God is readying me to make room for new ones. Building community is all about making room for people, in our homes and in our hearts. We can’t receive love from others without giving it, we cannot establish trust without taking a risk. I’ve realized that I don’t want to miss out on the friendships God has for me that can withstand the fiery furnace because I’m still mourning the loss of old friendships.  It is my distrust in God’s unending goodness that keeps me from expecting more meaningful friendships to flourish.  Maybe I feel selfish for having all the wonderful people I know as my friends and I’m afraid to ask for more, I feel stingy but it’s a necessity and God is the giver of all good gifts.

As I look into the future, I am sure there will be many trials and joys awaiting me, thus why I am choosing to take the first step and pray for my new friends of this next season! Those who don’t defile themselves by the temptation of this world, those who have committed to standing for truth no matter how costly it is, those who are eager to pray and pursue christ with me and those that just want to laugh and enjoy a good movie.  Praying for friendships that last a fiery furnace and trusting my heavenly father to be walking in it with us.

_ Inspired by Daniel 1 & 2

 

He Gives the Courage to Pray

As I sat at the edge of my bed reading the work visa aka H-1B application restrictions and the cost of an immigration lawyer and filing fees, my heart sank. I remember thinking to my 23 year old self, why God? Why do I have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders at such a young age? It’s not fair God, I never asked for this, this wasn’t what I signed up for when you called me out of my comfortable home and loving family to pursue you and the promises you made me if I trusted and obeyed you. This was too hard, too painful, too expensive and too lonely and I don’t think I have the energy to pursue a visa process that I have a very slim chance of getting anyways and everyone around me is discouraging me to do. Everyone as in, my at the time boss who by the way should be the one saying we need you so let’s go for this, I was the one trying to convince him you need me because God said so. I wasn’t even convinced about why I should be there just that God wanted me there and it was an awkward situation for both of us.

H-1B visas are typically given to people with very unique skillsets that the U.S. labor force is in need of. Those that receive it typically hold a master’s degree, make at least $70,000 if not more and mainly are in the field of math and science. I think the salary amount has been increased to $130,000 recently. I on the other hand, was a Christian College graduate with a communications degree working in a non-profit and making almost $35,000, like thousands of Americans. How the heck am I to even consider going through a visa route that I have a really small to no chance of getting? It was more than I could have the courage to pray for, this one was too big and complex for my faith. Plus, I didn’t follow God for a prosperous and glamorous life in the U.S. I hated that mentality, I have a perfectly beautiful and hopeful dream of going back home to Ethiopia and serving God there, and a pride to show them(whoever they are) that I’m no beggar, I’m here because the owner of the universe decided this is where I should be. This whole thing felt like a trap, like God intentionally was making my life miserable, like he didn’t like me let alone love me. Like I was forgotten and no one, not even the one who gave me a mission remembered where I was.

Everything I read in my bible told me that God wanted me to have an abundant life, that he is not only concerned with my eternal salvation but the joy and contentment I find in and through him on earth. So why is it so complicated, unbearable and lonely? Why is it dehumanizing, why do I feel rejected, unwanted and unseen? I don’t want to fight to be seen by someone who refuses to see me, I have my pride too, I want to say “fine, I’ll go back and have a perfectly beautiful life” but I knew that would mean I would have to give up and not give God a chance to show his will through this painful process. In addition to that, there was a lingering doubt and fear in my mind, if he wants to, he could deny me joy on earth, I know I don’t deserve anything but God’s wrath, I know I’m saved by his amazing grace and his beautiful mercy, I know I’m a sinner and the joy that comes from my salvation is enough. So how do I pray, what do I say to the one who holds everything but who is rightfully able to grant or deny my requests? How do I preserve hope in him incase he denies my longings. It was frustrating and felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest with anguish.

I immediately got up from my bed and just fell on the ground, sobbing, I didn’t have words to pray through this complex pain I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it, pain is all that I could feel. But I knew God would understand my groan“for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthews 6:8

Have you ever cry prayed, or yell prayed? Those have been a few but very significant moments in my life. Where I have been so broken by my situation, hurt by people and the big one, disappointed by God that I just cry and yell but it’s directed to God and I’m alone in my room, in the dark. I turned off the lights because it’s too painful to see my surrounding and be reminded of the narrowing walls around me, in almost every aspect of life it seemed I was trapped. After several hours of this wordless but loud yell/cry prayer I remember getting up and wiping off my tears and turning off all my emotions except for one, hope. I’m not going to be angry, disappointed or frustrated with this process. I’m going to do whatever I can and when I reach the end of the rope, I’m going to take that as God’s way of saying to me, this is not where I want you. I’m also not going to pray about this issue anymore, nor discuss it with anyone. I’m just going to do what I can and see what comes out. Suddenly, I was no longer fearful, defeated or angry, it actually felt lighter, as if I’ve tossed all my burdens in an ocean and watch it go away, I didn’t care where as long as I didn’t have to carry it. If God is who he is, and I believe what the bible says about his unfailing love, his truthfulness, his GOODNESS then whatever he lets happen will be for my good and good gets defined by him and I’m ok with that.

I was no longer angry so I started reasoning in my head, if God has given me eternal security, this visa process is like a pile of dust, in his abilities he can blow it away so I’m not going to worry about that! But, there are other real things I wanted to pray for, things I have words to pray for, things that make my heart ache with longing, like seeing my mom first thing in the morning when I wake and enter our living room, on her knees praying, worship music in the background and her bible opened and me knowing that all is well in my world because of this courageous woman’s diligence and thanking God for a daily reminder of what faithfulness looks like. Or going to the library with my dad and picking out books and seeing who finishes it first and can summarize the story without skewing the main theme, how I longed to have those conversations with him, I love the way he reasons, the most brilliant man on earth. Or hanging out with my brothers and watching a movie together because the only thing that’ll keep them around me for longer than a few minutes without me talking their ears off, is a story on display where we watch QUIETLY (they have to remind me though). Or singing from an old hymn book in the rain with my sister, shouting so we can be louder than the sound of the rain hitting the aluminum roof top. All those beautiful and shaping memories circling in my mind I decided why not pray for those days to come back to reality again. My God is big enough and I chose to surrender my biggest questions under his feet. I guess I was thinking, while he’s at it he can answer these few BIG things too, why not, what do I have to lose right?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1

I don’t think I actually believed any of these things would come true, especially since I’ve been praying for them since day one in America, December 2003. Regardless, I started journaling and making a list; someone had encouraged me to keep a list of my prayer request and writing the answers when God shows up so I did. In all honesty, praying and hoping for a future made my life more meaningful than wallowing in my pain and despair so I chose to be joyful with hope and have faith in God’s goodness. What a turn one-cry/yell prayer can have on my emotions and outlook in life! You should try it sometime 🙂

Fast-forward, almost a decade later, two H-1Bs, marriage, a residency approval and one sweet baby later. I’m sitting in my living room, watching all that I’ve prayed for unfold and taken aback by the gratitude that has overtaken my heart. My God truly is a God that is close to the broken hearted; He truly hears the cries of his people and answers them promptly (well considering that a thousand years is like a day to him). I won’t lie, I had given up hope, I never, ever could have imagined that both my mom & dad, my aunt, hubby and I would sit in one room and talk about silly things like this happens everyday.   Watching them talk, I was thinking to myself, Lord you honored my prayer! It was like I was surprised he remembered, and tears filled my eyes so I decided to walk away as to not distract them from their light hearted chat and take this picture so I can freeze the moment and think of it when I am tempted to forget that my God is not just good but he is merciful and abounding in love.
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Words fail me, as emotions take over even as I write this on paper but let me leave you with the prayer of David which is the only thing that about comes close to expressing my gratitude and worship to this king who choses to love me, in ways only he can.  The type of love that heals the deep wounds of this messy fallen world inflicts to the heart and one that restores it to a perfect whole.  Leaving me with a healed heart, that rejoices in truth and giving me the courage to pray more hopeful prayers!

David’s Prayer of Gratitude

 “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD!  And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord GOD! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

……..

For you, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord GOD, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”

2 Samuel 6:18-22, 27-29

Lead Like a Woman, Fierce and Strong

As a wife and a mom of a little one, I find my life full of messages that demand to define my womanhood & motherhood.  If you’re a woman, a mom, a working mom, a wife and such, the list of what type of woman you must be is so overwhelming.  I’ve had seasons of life where I tried the whole staying at home mom thing because it was what everyone around me seemed to do and it felt like the christian thing to do.  Some even gave me their opinions based on the bible as to why life from now on must be just that for me, and as much as I would LOVE to be able to stay home with my sweet little one and I even gave it a try, I found out that I was not capable of doing it. My unique personality, gifting and impatience drove me crazy craving to do more, not that i didn’t have enough to do I did but I needed to add more.  I know it may sound exhausting but to me being able to go out and work and come home and spend the 3-4 hours I have with my baby giving her my undivided attention and loving on her was so much better than hiding in the bathroom a few times a day, praying for nap time to be longer than 2 hours and not being able to leave the house until after my husband came home to help out.  I felt trapped and I knew that wasn’t for me.  In that season the Lord taught me one thing, he taught me what it means to be a woman of God in my life for me and how I can honor him in this season of chaos and be joyful.

That’s when I decided to study Proverbs 31 in depth and really look into what it means to be “the proverbs 31” woman we all are killing ourselves to become.  I started asking God these questions: What does it mean to be a woman of Valor? Can a woman be a devout follower of Christ and be a strong woman? Why don’t we see strength being celebrated in women in the church?  Why don’t we see women leaders in the church? Why do I have to wonder if it’s biblical for me to go back to work after having my baby when everything within me wants to and I know plenty of followers of Jesus have done it? Why do I feel shame for wanting to? Why do I fear what others have to say about me when I’m speaking truth in love but FIRMLY? Why do I have to prove my intellect before entering a conversation with men in the church….why?

Reading Proverbs 31 in those few weeks and asking those questions allowed me to see the woman of valor, not the “good wife” “the virtuous woman” or the “quiet and gentle spirit” one I’ve always heard about but this woman who is fierce and strong.   A woman who contributes to the household income but who fully handles her business at home, her kids are well loved and cared for, the heart of  her husband trusts in her and he will have no lack of good and he praises her.

I especially love the parallel made about the city gates in vs. 23 & 31

Her husband is known in the gateswhen he sits among the elders of the land.”  

And “Give her of the fruit of her hands,and let her works praise her in the gates.” 

It shows how her influence on her husband and his success are well connected.  This is not a timid and unmotivated woman, she’s fierce and A BOSS LADY!

Learning about this strong, powerful, fierce, woman has been such a validation to how God has designed me and the cultural background He’s given me to be the woman I am today.  I am no where near this amazing woman I see in Proverbs 31 but I strive to be like her and see the gifts God has given me that gives me the strength to work towards being such a woman of Valor.

In a recent sermon I heard, I was reminded that the original word used in Proverbs 31 to describe the virtuous woman was a “Woman of Valor” or a “Woman of Strength”.  I thought it was very interesting how the original Hebrew word chayil which is pronounced HAAyil, is also a word used to describe God as a warrior in the bible. We see this woman of valor described in so many ways we typically separate and categorize.  we usually hear in the church about the quiet and gentle spirited woman and in my mind she is the type of woman who is super patient and has the gift to hold her tongue when in distress and I get the message I should strive to be like her.  Then we hear about the strong willed woman and the way she’s typically described is as the one who wears the pants at home and doesn’t take no for an answer and I should distance myself from her.  But this woman of Valor in Proverbs 31 seems like she’s neither. Being a woman of Valor is not a personality contest, it’s a character trait that is expressed through work, mentorship, creativity & wisdom.  She is strong & a hard worker … She manages her house well and ownes a business that she runs effectively…She is also tender and a nurturer at home.   We see in that chapter both her husband and children called her blessed, it also mentions how she rises early in the morning and makes food, how everyone is clothed for winter and how she laughed at the days ahead, meaning she’s well prepared.  To the outside world her household is well respected, because of the way she carried herself her husband was a respected man at the city gates, people knew who he was, he was the man who was strong enough to lead such a woman of valor with gentleness, respect and wisdom.  So why are we discouraged from becoming all of that? Especially for me, I’ve wondered why can’t I be all and celebrate all that God has given me as a strength. Why must I be put down for having an opinion, and why do people act surprised when they find out I’m a really good cook. Why can’t I be both?

Chayil resonates with me so much because the same word means strength in Amharic, which is my native language.  I grew up being told I was Hailegna 🙂 they meant to tell me I was stubborn but I didn’t mind. My dad always encouraged me to think for myself and my mom always asked me to make a decision based on what would honor the Lord so I never felt incapable of making up my own mind.  I knew I can ask hard questions and bring it to God’s word and find an answer. It doesn’t mean I’m never wrong, in fact I find that I am often, but God has allowed me to surround myself with amazing people who fact check me, and lovingly rebuke me which has served me so well. I wouldn’t be able to write and dare to speak into tough topics If I didn’t have the covering of my husband which usually is a series of grueling questions that makes me check my heart and invite the Holy Spirit in to take over my pride. But, my dependency on the Lord and my independency as a person are two strengths the Lord has built in me as I pursue to be a woman of Valor.

What does it mean to be a woman of Valor today? How do women lead when most of our lives we’ve been told to follow. When we’ve been taught our greatest achievement might be becoming a wife and a mother. Don’t get me wrong those are such great gifts from the Lord but it’s easy to make them our idol and identity if we don’t know what being a true woman of Valor is. I think being a woman of strength is being complete as is, whether single or married, she is God’s, she knows her purpose in life and practices it daily. She is a builder, a leader, a manager, an entrepreneur, an engineer, a doctor, a writer, an activist, a truth teller, a teacher, etc… most importantly she is a disciple of Jesus Christ. She follows the heart of her savior and fearlessly steps into the unknown. She loves deeply, cares deeply, fights deeply for what she believes in and she honors the Lord deeply.

This is the type of woman I see in Proverbs 31, it’s so liberating to me to read God’s word and grasp the whole picture. As I submit to the teaching of the bible and the order of God’s creation, I find the keys that unlock the beauties of being a woman, a warrior, a builder, and a woman of Valor.  To me I’ve found it in investing my time making disciples who make disciples, being a voice to the oppressed, creating space for my passions to freely be expressed and used for the Kingdom, loving and serving my family in the unique ways God has shaped us. I’ve learned that a woman of valor has no time to compare herself and time with someone else’s home. She’s too busy fulfilling the plenty of ways God has called her to serve him. She’s fighting the enemy’s lies that try to creep in around all the areas God has called her to follow him.  She’s too busy pleasing the Father that she doesn’t have time to wait for people’s approval. She is unapologetically content in fulfilling the role she’s received from God himself. She is fierce and she is content.

 

 

When Their Love is not Enough

Have you ever felt so alone, isolated and unloved by the very people that were supposed to love you? Have you felt misunderstood, ganged up on and victimized by those who were supposed to protect you and care for you.  I have, and I want to share with you how God uses those experiences in my life to Grow my understanding of the theology of total depravity. We are so incapable of loving on our own strength because we as humans are totally flawed and depraved of doing anything good apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us.  Even as believers we struggle to love and show the grace of God when we’ve been deeply wounded by those we most trusted.  In that moment when we feel pain in our deepest being unless we run to the Lord for strength of His spirit to hold us up over and over again, our love will not be enough for the survival of those relationships.

When I feel isolated, hurt and unloved by those I care for the most there is one place in the Bible I love to go to and immerse myself with the Truth of God. Psalms 25 as a whole is where I typically go to pray for God’s deliverance, forgiveness and Love to be poured out on me…specifically these verses:

16  Turn to me and be gracious to me,

for I am lonely and afflicted.

17  The troubles of my heart are enlarged;

bring me out of my distresses.

18  Consider my affliction and my trouble,

and forgive all my sins.

19  Consider how many are my foes,

and with what violent hatred they hate me.

20  Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!

Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.

21  May integrity and uprightness preserve me,

for I wait for you.

22  Redeem Israel, O God,

out of all his troubles.

So friends, I encourage you to run to the Lord when it seems all hope is lost and when those who “love” you the most fail you, remember they cannot love you apart from God’s power in and through them just like you cannot do it without Him.  God’s word says our righteousness is like a filthy rag and reminds us that

10 None is righteous, no, not one;

11  no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”in Romans 3: 10-12

We cannot and shouldn’t hold the sin of others against them because Christ has paid it for them on the cross just as He’s done it for you and me.  I know it’s a hard one to swallow and I’m preaching to myself as I write this but, in all honesty I cannot stand before christ and proclaim His blood cleanses us from ALL sin and be a hypocrite by not forgiving those who sinned against me.

So what’s next? How do we forgive and move on?

I’m learning that forgiveness is very difficult, especially when you have to forgive and open up your heart again for a possible hurt because you cannot avoid those who you love the most.  I’m learning it’s a step of faith, I believe we forgive the person because unless we do then we haven’t accepted Christ’s saving power, and we open up our hearts to that person as an obedience to Christ.  You may have a very valid reason for not trusting the people in your life at the moment but if God’s word instructs us to forgive one another then we must act out of obedience and faith.  Jesus did tell his disciples that People will know you’re my disciples by the way you love one another. There fore, if the evidence of our christianity is by the way we love others not being able to forgive shows we’re not God’s Children. It is a direct indication of our life of obedience to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sometimes we may forgive but not be able to reconcile with people because of their refusal to sit and talk through the hurt they’ve caused and their unrepentant heart that fails to recognize the damage they’ve caused and lack of willingness to mend what’s broken. In that sense, what the Lord requires of us is to forgive and move on…if we look at Matthew 18:15-17 it gives us a clear direction on how to deal with those who refuse to reconcile…“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidenceof two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This has been a very freeing verse for me because of the cultural context I live in.  

Ethiopia as most African countries has a communal culture and we are very much scared of confrontation.  Confrontation is treated as being evil or an instigator of fights…the idea of a loving, correcting, rebuking and restoring process of confrontation is not well practiced in our culture and because of that we struggle as a Christian community because we cover up sin and not talk about it.  We all know what happens when a wound is covered up without treatment, it spreads and gets infected and can even be deadly. God’s word in James 5: 16 tells us “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  There is no healing and reconciliation unless there is an admittance of sin and praying for one another, there fore if and when we find ourselves in these situations, we need to remember that we’re at a vulnerable stage for the enemy of our souls. when we experience, rejection, hurt and isolation he can easily enter our hearts and minds and control the situation unless we humbly present ourselves to the Lord and remember that we don’t follow a high priest who didn’t experience what we are experiencing. We can take refuge in knowing that Christ more than any human being has experienced rejection, conviction and even death for a crime He didn’t commit but on our behalf has given His life to death on a cross so we may be free of the enemy’s strong hold.

There fore, I encourage you friends to take refuge in the name of Christ who has defeated the enemy.  Seek to live peacefully with everyone if you can, and when  you can’t pray you’ll be able to extend so much grace.  Pray for a Christ like forgiveness which encompasses seeking to understand and forgive and allow reconciliation to take place. If done right, it brings healing to the soul and glory to the King of Kings but when done wrong the enemy will get a foot hold and make a field day out of it.  Seek the Lord, even if things have gone wrong, pray for reconciliation, pray for peace and look for the opportune time to extend grace.  After all we’re called to live by faith and not by sight and most of the time walking by faith hurts a little but that’s when we get to see the beauty of Christ revealed and His love so lavishly displayed in the way he leads us, so yes when their love is not enough His love is more than enough.