Joyful Suffering

April 20, 2017

My alarm went off at 3:00 this morning. I brushed my teeth and my hair. I threw some make-up on, finished packing my bag, and walked out the door where my friend was waiting to take me to the airport. Yesterday I got the call I had been dreading. My dad told me there weren’t many days left. I got the quickest flight home. My parents picked me up at about 8:30 Oklahoma time, next stop: the hospital.

Today was a rough one. Today I saw my aunt, my second mother, in so much pain she was incoherent. The cancer was literally eating her bones. Her lungs were full of fluid. She could hardly breath. I watched her grasp for air, hold her cancer ridden rib cage, and heard her moans of pain. I watched a woman, who I had leaned on for strength more times than I could count, strain to recognize me as I attempted to convince her to drink some water with childish choo-choo noises (she was coherent enough I got a version of an eye roll for that).

Today was a rough one. Today half my heart was shipped overseas to serve our country. Today I cried tears as I saw pictures of him boarding the plane for what would be his “home” for the next 9 months, pictures of the rifle he’d be carrying, pictures of the boy who had to become a man. I watched the man I have loved, fought, and relentlessly prayed for leave me with a phrase I will cling too in the few messages I got the night before he left: “You’re strong hun, you can handle anything thrown at you”. That phrase and a hoodie was all I was left with. He left behind a single, broken-hearted girl who was forced to become a strong woman.

I’ve shed more tears in the last few days then I care to admit. I have found myself praying in any quite moment I might have. I cling to my phone waiting for the next aunt or deployment update. I have found my stomach churning as I see a Snapchat story instead of receiving the text from him that I desire on his whereabouts and his safety. I have been a hot mess express. The anxiety is high right now. I wonder when I got old enough to handle all of this as I help my mother take care of business for the upcoming experiences my poor cousins are going to have to face. I didn’t really have a choice, I was called to grow up and be mature for my loved ones.

May 16, 2017

I got to Oklahoma at 4:30 this morning. I was up by 8. I had errands to run before I met the family for lunch. I put my dress on, fixed my hair and make-up and met my parents down stairs to head to the funeral home. I didn’t get to make it for family night so my dad took me to see her before we ate lunch. Cancer had eaten away the beautiful woman I once knew but she looked good. My brother kept his sun glasses on. I cried, but I held back so many tears too. I had to be strong. I was about to see my cousins and they had just lost their mom. I was about to see my grandparents and they had just lost their daughter. They all knew how close JoAnn and I were but still I felt the need to be strong for them. I walk in and my papaw hugs me and kisses my forehead. That was something I hadn’t experienced before but I knew he was struggling to express himself. He wouldn’t shed a tear the whole day.

From the moment I walked into the funeral home and saw how many people were there the tears began to flow. I sat between my dad and papaw. My dad hugged me the whole time. I can still count how many times I have seen him cry on one hand, but that day was different. He lost his little sister. I grabbed and held my papaws hand through the whole funeral. It was happy, it was sad, and they played the rock music just like she wanted. It captured her beautifully. My dad walked me up to the casket to see her before we left. I just started bawling and hugging him. When we hit the people outside the emotions just kept coming. I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I was told I had to breathe or I would hyperventilate many times.

May 31, 2017

Its been two weeks since the funeral and I still feel the urge to pick up the phone and call her. I put off writing this because I just didn’t know what to say. Aunt JoAnn is in a better place. She asked my dad to take care of her kids so that means I gained a brother and sister. We were really more like siblings anyways. I’ve seen my family take care of each other in the most inspiring way. Although we grew closer as a family it still doesn’t take the pain away.

I beg God to enlighten me on what his plan for my life is. I have experienced so much loss this year that the weight upon my shoulders is making me question if I am strong enough to handle all of it. How could God put the two things that I have been dreading the most on the same day? How could he put my brothers wedding and my aunts funeral in the same week? God what are you doing?!

Here I am reminded of Hannah. Hannah was verbally taunted by her sister wife because she could have children but Hannah could not. Her husband, Elkana, favored Hannah regardless. Hannah went to the temple weeping and begging for God to give her a child. Eli, the priest, saw her and in her distraught state thought she was a drunkard. Eli tried to get rid of her but then quickly realized the situation. He then proceeded to bless Hannah; he said:
“Go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.” 1 Samuel 1:17

Then came the waiting period. 1 Samuel 1:20 says that before the year was out she conceived. As I’ve read this passage before I have always been like “wow how miraculous it only took a year!” As I read that now and go through my current life situations I am like, “holy cow, how did Hannah do it?” I have almost no patience. I have been in my current struggle for months and still I feel distraught, I am still wondering when this wave of bad happenings is going to end. Like most people in my generation I want what I want when I want it. I am so used to having almost everything I need at my fingertips. Have a question: Google it. Want to talk to my family from 12hrs away: pick up the phone. Typically these things are simple. So, when it comes to God answering my prayers I think that it should happen right now too. I know just like Hannah the things that He has promised me. I know this without a shadow of a doubt! I understand I am being bold but I just know! Yet, I have not mastered the art of joyful suffering (James 1:2-4). Crying is my new norm.

Here I desire to be more like Hannah. I want to joyfully suffer because that is what God is asking of me. I want to lay my worries down at his feet and leave them. Why should I worry if I know what God has promised? He promised He would always protect me and I could take refuge when I need strength. He told me that when I couldn’t be strong that He would be strong for me. He knew this time was coming. He knew I’d be tested to the point that I was unsure if I was strong enough. He knew that I would need the confirmation that I was strong enough from the person that means the most to me. He was answering my prayers, just not how I thought He would. My goal: although I may be facing some of the most difficult life situations in my young life, I will suffer with joy that only comes from my Heavenly Father.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

A Letter to the Struggling Loved One

To my struggling loved one,

For the first time in months when I looked at that picture of us I smiled. I didn’t feel hurt or pain. I simply smiled. That picture was the start of something wonderful, and glorious, but also something extremely painful. The last four months have been agonizing for me. Like my heart was yanked out of my chest. I wasn’t sure what else there was for God to teach me through hurts because I have been hurt so much in the last year. I have lost one thing after the other and honestly have faced some of the most terrible times in my life. I have fallen to the floor in uncontrollable sobs, cried myself to sleep, and called my mom and bestfriends crying more times than I would like to mention. This year my strength has been tested but I also watched my prayer life with God grow. I had forgotten that throughout life you are always learning; there will never be a time you are not learning. I made a prayer wall. I spent hours upon hours upon hours praying for you, my family, and friends. I start my day with a prayer. I sit in my office and type it out every morning because most of the time if I speak it, it just comes out jumbled. I not only learned to pray but I learned to listen to God too. I learned from times in the past where I thought I had heard God and was wrong and now as I listen I can hear him ever so clearly. He’s given me visions of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. God has revealed how He will bring some of my hearts deepest desire, desires He planted in my heart, to fruition. He is teaching me faith and patience as I wait for those visions to be fulfilled and to be blessed with the things he has promised me. Waiting isn’t easy. Matter of fact it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I trust God. My God is a BIG God, but sometimes I still cry. After all I am only human. But when I start praying and a sense of peace washes over me because I remember what I have heard. This hasn’t been easy for me. People say that if we trust God then we shouldn’t worry. I lay down my worries at his feet constantly. I have to do it over and over and over again but I also have to fight doubt with myself. I fight the doubt in myself that Satan has planted and continues to plant as other people question whether I heard God right. I’ve heard God wrong before, maybe I heard him wrong this time too? Then it goes away, because I have never been so certain about something in my life. I pray that you develop the same relationship with God as I have. I know you’re struggling right now too. I know that the reason you have hurt me is because you are struggling and “Hurt people, hurt people” – Levi Lusko. I have a very forgiving heart. I have already forgiven you. Can you forgive me for the times I have put you down when I became angry with you? I hate the animosity that has developed between us when we used to have so much fun together. I miss you. Just because I don’t talk to you doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. I just can’t get through to you anymore so I choose to do all my fighting through prayer. I lift you up in prayer daily. Do you pray for me? I hope you remember how much you are loved. I hope you remember that you deserve to be happy. I hope you find your way again. Most importantly, I hope you turn to God to lead you. You can always return to God. His arms are always open. He is waiting for you.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” Luke 15: 22-24

Sincerely,

Someone who cares about you.

Not Today Satan

By 7:30am this morning I needed a Dr. Pepper (DP) something fierce. DP is my go to when I’m stressed out. I LOVE me some DP. At approximately 6:12 this morning the tire of my tractor swiped the concrete mount of a fence post while I was feeding the cattle in the feedlot. I didn’t even realize I had done it; I couldn’t even feel it. I make that pass twice a week on my feed rounds. If you look at the tire there you can see the mark where several graduate students have scraped the side of the tire, it just happened to pop with me. At 7:15 I realized I had a flat tire. Yay.

Sometimes it’s a bad day. That’s all it is, a bad day. I fall into this rut when things are somewhat rough where I am just exhausted, mentally and physically. Then, I remember a conversation my dad and I had on the first day of my senior year in college:

Dad: How was your day?

Me: Eh, fine I guess.

Dad: Shiann, life isn’t that bad.

It was so simple, but it stuck with me. It kind of slapped me in the face and woke me up. Life is what you make it and honestly it isn’t that bad.

About the time the tractor tire popped is when I realized Satan was attacking me and he had been all week. Through a series of emotionally exhausting events Satan had managed to get me very discouraged, then I thought, “If Satan is attacking me then I must be doing what God wants me too, why else would Satan try to steer me away?” That has given me some encouragement to keep praying and following God even as it gets difficult. God never promised us that following him would be easy, only that it would be worth it. Sometimes life is just hard; thank goodness we have an awesome God.

Several days before this happened I told Satan that he was no longer allowed in my life, he must have laughed and said, “I’ll show you.” But I hope God said the same about me as he said about Job, “Have you considered my servant Shiann?” (Job 1:8) I had been praying for confirmation, this morning Satan showed me that I was following His path. Instead of deterring me, Satan momentarily discouraged me and, oddly enough, encouraged me to continue on this path. He may have gotten me down, he may even keep trying but my God is big and I have faith that he’ll help me pull through.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I Still Need My Father

Driving always gives me time to think and pray about the things that have been occurring in my life. Today as I started my 8 hour journey north God and I had a little chat. This semester has been extremely emotionally challenging and for the majority of the semester I turned to God to help me get through the tough times, right up until everything exploded and I began to heal again. I was reading my bible every night, doing multiple daily devotional, spending a significant amount of time in prayer, attending weekly bible study, and having in depth conversations with fellow Christians, all of which was truly helping me grow in my walk with Christ. But, as I began healing from the stress that I faced these past few months all of those things began to fall to the wayside. I was so emotionally exhausted that I essentially began putting off my walk with Christ. This morning during my prayers I asked God what I needed to do and for him to help guide me to get my walk back on track. A moment later the song Fix My Eyes comes on the radio. I just smiled and said, “I hear ya, Father.”

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me.” Psalm 138:7

Time doesn’t heal us, God does. I had made the tragic mistake of focusing on healing instead of serving my Father and I overlooked the fact that serving Him would heal me. I prayed to be shown what to do, what to say, how to act and through this song God showed me that too: “Love like you’re not scared, give when it’s not fair, live life for another, take time for a brother. Fight for the weak ones, speak out for freedom, stand tall but above it all fix my eyes, my eyes on you.”

When we fail to put God #1 we miss out on, or prolong, the blessings that He has for us.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” Psalm 37:4-5

No matter how many times I try to do things on my own I always come to the same conclusion: I am always happier when I do everything with God, in his way, in his time. Everything always works out according to his plan. Although, remember to keep an open mind, often his plan is different than our own.

“A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

I never thought in a million years I would end up in Las Cruces; 12 hours from everyone I love. Although I fought it, God made sure I made it here. I have learned so much from this journey, made some amazing friends, and grown way more through this transition than I could have ever imagined.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

I have found that Cruces is a blessing and there is a reason that God wanted me here. No, life isn’t troublesome free but it never will be. There will always be challenges to face in our lives. Our attention will always be spread between careers, loved ones, making ends meet, and the curve balls life tends to throw at us. But if we turn to God for every situation in life we will handle these situations much more gracefully.

Dry Bones

“We call out to dry bones come alive, we call out to dead hearts come alive.”

When I first heard Come Alive by Lauren Daigle I was in complete awe. The song struck a cord with me. I couldn’t shake it. I sang it over and over in my head, listened to it on repeat, and belted it around my house more times than I care to admit. It just moved me! Although, until I heard Lauren explain it herself I am unsure that I was completely clear on what the song was saying.

“Lets write this song for that mom who is praying for her son. That mom that is sitting there every night just weeping before the Lord saying, “God take my son back into your arms.””

Then it clicked why I connected with this song so much. I have been vigorously praying for lost loved ones. The writers wanted to put courage into those, like me, who are actively watching the prodigals around them, fervently praying for the Lord to bring them back. The theme of the song, dry bones, came from Ezekiel 37:

“The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”
Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.” Ezekiel 37:1-10

As I set and ponder life this morning I have come to a realization: as Christians, we ask big things of God. Why shouldn’t we? After all he is a BIG God. We ask him to do things such as healing sick loved ones, changing someone’s heart, bringing prodigals home, and so much more. The aweing thing is, so often he does it, at least in a round about way. So, then why are we so appalled when He asks us to do big things? How big are those things he really asks us to do compared to the things we ask of Him?

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

With the help of God Ezekiel literally brought an army back from the grave. If God can ask something so big of Ezekiel and Ezekiel act in complete trust of God than surely we can do the same. Surely, we can do something so small as to love and forgive others. Christ calls us to love and forgive. We as humans find this so incredibly difficult to accomplish. We fail to look past human mistakes yet we all make them. It’s a part of how we are wired. In our human eyes, some mistakes are bigger than others however, in God’s eyes, they are all equal. A mistake is a mistake and a sin is a sin; it is all the same to Him.

We hear all of the testimonies of the struggles some Christians have faced in their lives. Liars, cheaters, addicts, judgers of men, and so many more heart breaking testimonies. God changed their hearts and looking at them now you would never imagine the life paths they have been down but just as importantly you can’t fathom the things that the people who love them went through also. God asked those people to do big things and they had faith and took on the challenge. As Christians we have to take off our colored glasses, soften our hearts, and love those around us. He is asking us to have faith that through him we can do big things, just like Ezekiel. God is asking us to call out to dry bones.

Washed White as Snow

Nowhere in the bible did God say that it would be easy. Following God’s will for your life, not easy. Each step in God’s direction is another target Satan puts on your back. Living for God when everyone else wants to live of the world, not easy. Put downs can flood your way when you are trying to live for Christ because the things of this world are “so satisfying”. Having a Christ like heart, not easy. That heart that forgives and loves others so much is sure to be broken. No following God is far from easy, that is why many simply do not do it or only do it half way. As we recollect on the stories from the bible it is easy to see that having faith isn’t easy. God promises big things and if we believe in the world than it is hard to imagine seeing those things He has promised come to fruition. God promised Sarai a child well into her old age. It would have been so easy for her to laugh at God and believe it not possible from her earthly perspective.

Believing God would follow through on his promise to Sarai, not easy, however, he did just that. He followed through on his promise even after Sarai disobeyed and tried to take matters into her own hands as she handed over her maidservant to have a child with her own husband. She tried to speed God’s process along yet, she only brought more pain and suffering to herself and lengthened the process. Even so, God still blessed Sarai with a child, just as he promised. This brings me to my second point: if we truly have a heart for Christ, than we are not big enough to mess up God’s plans for us. We make take a few wrong turns here and there but God can always bring us back to His path if our heart is willing to let him.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24

As humans we are destined to sin and fall short of the glory of God but our God is a big God and through grace alone he can restore us. If you have been faced with trials, have made a wrong turn, or have made mistakes remember that God forgives.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18

He loves all his children equally no matter their wrong doings. Just like the prodigal son He wants His children to return home. Remember, you can always turn back to Christ and make your way pure again!

 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”  Luke 15:31-32

Pray About It

I am constantly in awe of God. I see miracles happen constantly and every time I am in awe at just how awesome our God is. Lets just say my life has been rough lately, to put it lightly. I moved 12 hours away from my beloved home and loved ones, only for things at home to go completely awry shortly after I settled in here at Las Cruces. On top of that I am a fixer. I tend to want to take charge and “mother hen” the situation. I want to take care of my loved ones and fix the situations. That gets complicated when you are 12 hours away, and things are more than slightly out of your control anyways. And let me tell you I am not good with out of control. I like for everything to have its place, I want a plan. I want to know what is going on. I like everything neatly packaged with a nice little bow but basically, life is anything but neatly packaged with a nice little bow. I think it is easy to say that what I am currently going through is the roughest time of my young life but God has done something amazing for me.

Let me rewind for a second. I want to share a snippet of my testimony because, to me, it is just so aweing. I had an unofficial deal worked out so that I would be able to get my Masters at Oklahoma State, and then it fell through; little did I know God was at work. A few weeks later I would board a plane for a conference with the Auburn Animal Science Department Head. The next morning I received an email from a professor there with a graduate offer. The following week I was in Alabama. Several days after receiving this offer, before I made my voyage to Auburn I had also received an offer to New Mexico State with my current undergraduate advisors from OSU. So, I had a lot to contemplate on this 13-hour journey. I knew immediately that Auburn was not for me. Nothing against the school, the campus was gorgeous and the people were great, but I just knew. Shortly after, I made my visit to New Mexico and fell in love. The tell-tell sign that gave it away was I saw my opportunity in my meeting to bring up churches in the area, to which the professor replied, “I am glad you asked! Many of us go to church together and one of the professors holds bible study at his house every week for the graduate students.” I was sold. This is where God wanted me. But God had to take me to Auburn to open my heart up to be willing to move to New Mexico (I tend to want to keep my feet firmly planted at home). The fact that God took all of these intricate steps to get my heart in the right place is just astounding to me.

Now back to the original story. It is these amazing people at this amazing bible study that have not only helped me through this tough time but also opened my eyes. When I came to them with my difficult situation there was nothing but wide-open, loving arms, and acceptance and ever since then the advice has always been to “follow God, listen to what he has to say, and pray.” Wow! I am literally surrounded by such a great cohort (yes, this is an animal science term, I had to throw it in there somewhere) of people that I get to call my friends. They have truly opened my eyes to how I want to be. I was once the opinionated person that when someone would come to me for advice I had no problem giving it to them but I am learning to simply listen and provide the kind words that simply say “pray about it”.

“Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.” Philippians 4:6

Life is tough. We live in a new day and age where we as young adults are experiencing challenges that the older generation doesn’t really know how to cope with. Life simply isn’t black and white and to learn how to deal with the gray we have to turn to God. I have been blessed to be surrounded by so many open minded, loving, Godly people. Not only here at NMSU but literally around the U.S. In bible study this week we read a passage from Job where his friend is essentially telling him he is a sinner and he should repent. His friend thought he was giving Godly advice. However, this friend didn’t know the full situation, only God did. To me this was a reminder to keep an open mind and to not only turn to God for advice but to also remember to advise others to seek God’s advice instead of interjecting my own. You never know what is going on behind the scenes, just like with Job. Only you know what God is speaking to you. In closing, I’ll leave you this:

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31