I used to have this cute little thought that my life was going to be a breeze if I believed in God. If I just trust him, love him, and seek him, nothing bad would happen. I thought if something bad did happen, it meant I was doing something wrong and being punished. As I became an adult, I realized bad things happen all the time to everyone and it doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. So, then I started to ask that big question many of us face and many theologians have tackled:

Why would a loving God let me and all these other people suffer?

When this really hit home, it took a major toll on my faith. I would say this is the first thing that shook my faith before I let it go. Ironically, when I found God again, this was the first subject coming up in my bible studies (not even on purpose) and at church. It’s like God wanted to make sure I really understood this one this time so I wouldn’t give up on him again. So, in case you haven’t heard, here’s why you’ll still suffer, and what role God promises to play while you do.

I mentioned in my last post that after we’ve been given a new heart, one with Christ, our main objective in life becomes transforming as close to Christ’s image as we can get. What happened to Jesus? He was ridiculed, prosecuted, tortured, and killed. Sounds like some suffering, right? Unfortunately for us comfort seekers, this means if we are going to become like Christ we need to suffer like Christ. Fortunately for us, not many of us are meant to suffer that intensely.

1 Peter 4:18 says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good,” (ESV).

God’s ultimate will is for you to become like Christ, so if you are suffering so you can become more like Christ, you are suffering for a right reason. Let’s refresh, becoming like Christ means living in love, grace, mercy, righteousness, helping other people, and advancing the kingdom of God. Of course, everyone knows about “growing pains.” Our pain and suffering grows us and molds us. Your suffering is not in vain. It is a healthy tool God uses to help you become more than you believe you can ever be. Just like a coach pushing athletes, God will help us overcome future obstacles, self-doubts, and physical barriers by allowing us to suffer. He doesn’t enjoy it any more than you do, but he is highly aware of the end goal. You need to be too.

I know this is rough. Many of you are thinking, “Why become a Christian than if it basically promises suffering?”

Well, you are going to suffer no matter what. Just think for a moment about all the other things you could suffer for, things that happen when you are living an unrighteous life without Christ. You could suffer from a hangover and something mean you said while drunk. You could suffer from addiction, weight-loss, and health problems caused by drugs. You could suffer from cheating on your significant other or spouse. You could suffer from spreading gossip and hurting others with your words. You could suffer from lying to your employer, your kids, your friends, etc. There all sorts of things people suffer from today that are not beneficial to them in the long run. These things hurt you and the people around you, and they take you away from God’s plan for your life. Christ suffered for people’s salvation, not from drunkenness, addictions, maliciousness, gossip, or deceit.

Personally, I would rather suffer because I’m doing the right thing, not because I’m doing the wrong thing. It’s up to you. Will you suffer for a cause or from bad choices?

So, wait, what about healing? What does this have to do with the series topic at all?

This is a large subject. I will likely write more about suffering for Christ later, but for now, let’s tie this together. Part of emotional healing is understanding what I explained above. You have to keep yourself from thinking that suffering means God isn’t real, doesn’t care, or is mad at you. You will never find peace if every time life gets rough, you turn on God. Unless you are acting in total disobedience and throwing faith in the garbage can, your suffering is not an indicator that you are doing anything wrong or even that your faith is weak. People die, wars start, jobs are lost… it’s part of living in a fallen world. If you follow God, he is going to put meaning to your suffering. He’s also going to bring you comfort and emotional healing.

King David tells us a promise from God in Psalm 34:17-19:

“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

God will deliver the righteous out of their troubles. He’s going to draw close to them. He’s going to save their spirit. It still tells us there will be many problems in life, but if you are focused on God – loving him, serving him, and leaning on him – he’s going to see you through it.

Very important thing to note, he isn’t going to “spare” us from our troubles. He’s not even going to deliver us “from” our troubles. He is going to deliver us “out of” our troubles; this means we still have to go through it, but he is going to walk with us through it. He will be there suffering alongside us and carrying most of the weight. He will not let it crush you. He will only let you struggle enough that it makes you stronger, gives you a testimony, and grows your faith.

In Psalm 28:6-8 it says:

“Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The Lord is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed.”

Earlier in that psalm, David was crying out to God. He was telling him like it is. He told God exactly how he felt and exactly what he wanted God to do. God listened to him, and in the above verse, we see the outcome. God knew David’s heart and when he asked, he received. David trusted in God to help him so God did. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

When it comes to our emotions, when we are in the midst of suffering, it’s hard to just calm down and “be still” and know that he is God. If you’re angry, you probably don’t feel like talking to God right now. If you’re sad, you might not think he cares or wants to hear it anyway. I imagine David yelling in about half of the psalms… Just, “GOD WHERE ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING? LISTEN TO ME!!” or “HEY I THOUGHT YOU HAD THIS ONE?! WHAT HAPPENED?” But wow, God responds to our blunt honesty. I take my prayer tips from David all the way, and honestly, the more I just pour it out and stop trying to sound so “holy” the more God answers me.

What’s also important is that in order to receive God’s help, David not only had to trust in him, but he had to be grateful. Imagine if someone asked you for help, you gave it, they never thanked you, but kept coming back for help. Would you want to help them? No. God will decide what to do regardless, but keep in mind to be grateful, regardless. No matter what he does, he is doing it because it is ultimately what is best. Praise him! Thank him for keeping your best interest in mind!

This brings me to the next big wrecker of all peace and happiness. Want to spoil any good moment? Just dump some anxiety into it. I have an anxious mind. I am constantly tempted to just stew in my worries, even about things I know aren’t even true. For example, I know God’s called me to use my voice to sing for his glory, but then I get some allergies, get sick, and lose my voice and want to totally freak out because how will I ever fulfill my purpose now?!

Our friend, Apostle Paul, has a remedy: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:5b-7, ESV).

When you bring your worries to God, he will give you peace and guard your heart and mind. When we give all of our concerns to God, he promises to bring us peace. It makes sense – if you tell someone who can fix your problem about your problem, doesn’t it make you feel better? So imagine if you tell an all-powerful God about your anxieties. Won’t it bring you comfort to know that you are no longer in control of this thing, that someone who promises to bring good to you is in control?

This is a lot to take in, and I want to put more detail in, but I know it’s long enough already. Most of this is easy to agree with and understand in our minds. Most of us can read this and feel comforted right now. But, when the heat turns up in life and it’s time to endure some suffering, all this just sounds like a cute little idea. When my social anxiety kicks in in front of four people, I want to panic at thought of ever singing in front of a crowd. When my depression tries to come back and tell me I’m not good or pretty enough for my husband, I want to disappear off the face of the earth. But, when I cast these concerns on God, he guards my heart and calms me down. My spirit is healed and I have the strength of God within me. No level of emotional pain or worry is a match for God. We will all still struggle and suffer, but in those moments, know that is when God is closest to you. He will bring you through it.

Verses to Think About:

Romans 8:37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death not life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (ESV).

Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (ESV).

There comes a point where there is seemingly no solution to our pain. No matter what causes it, you just feel broken. You try to occupy yourself constantly with petty distractions – whether it’s hours of YouTube or Netflix or drinking or being around people constantly. Your emotional suffering can be anything from overwhelming to dull and dead. But it’s there. Always. And no distraction, no drug, no drink, no person, no medication is going to fix your broken heart.

If you’ve read my testimony, you know I have struggled with depression and anxiety on a deep level. I didn’t go wildly into detail but we will leave it at I was reaching a point where I was hoping to get smashed by a semi. My circumstances weren’t terrible, and certainly not the worst I’d ever seen. But my foundation in faith was gone and therefore I stood in quicksand, just waiting for it to pull me under, and sometimes hoping it would.

When I look out, I see a lot of broken hearts. Sometimes I see even worse – empty chests. That’s where I was. Dried up. Empty. And when your heart decays this much it affects everything. The relationships around you, your emotional state, your work ethic, your passions and hobbies, and even your physical health.

You can’t bandage your way to healing. You have to heal from the inside out. It starts with a new heart.

God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you,” (Ezekiel 36:26a, ESV).

This changed my life. God tells us that he will start us completely new on the inside. You can’t fix what you have, so he’s going to give you a new start. Whether you know Jesus or not, like him or don’t like him, you’ve probably heard that Christian’s become “born again” because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our salvation and rose again. That’s what God is talking about here. He’s going to completely resurrect us from the sin that is hurting us and bring us new life.

This means not only are we now saved from damnation, but we are changed here and now in our current life.

Ezekiel 36:26b-27 says, “And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a new heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules!” (ESV).

It just gets better! Now, God is telling us that he’s not just giving us a new heart and a new spirit, but he’s also going to put HIS Spirit in us. This is one of my absolute favorite things about God. He actually sends us his own Spirit to guide us and help us through our lives. Of course, many people may want to cringe at “obey my rules!”, but God is an orderly being. The rules are meant for our good and our protection. When we stray, we leave God’s protection and enter ourselves into a whole lot of trouble. If we listen to the Holy Spirit, we are led to things that will grow us, make us better and stronger, help other people, and advance the kingdom of God so that more people may know his incredible love. Sounds like a better path, right?

So what does this all mean for us? Ephesians 4:14-19 paints a nice picture:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (ESV)

The Apostle Paul is about as wordy as I am. So let’s break this down:

First of all, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit strengthens us with his power into our inner being. Divine, mystical strength? Um, yes please! This is how we endure our suffering right here. This is why once we have a new heart and spirit it will prevail through all trials and prosecutions. There is literally an all-powerful, all-mighty Spirit inside of me and all who allow him in. That means there is nothing, not one thing, that could ever stand between me and my salvation or my purpose given to me by God. That means when someone tells me off, when I am sick, when I am injured, when I feel weak, a living being inside me will hold me up. So stand down depression, stand down anxiety — no one has power over the Holy Spirit of God.

Secondly, Paul tells us that Christ is in our hearts. So what’s in my new heart I didn’t have before? Christ. What does that even mean? That now we can begin to be molded into his image. Jesus Christ was the only perfect human being to ever live. He is the ultimate role model and teacher. We can never be him, but with him in our hearts – his love, his compassion, his mercy, his wisdom, his understanding – we are able to become like him. So perfectionists, you wanna be perfect? Let Jesus into your heart and see how close to his image you can get, because he is the only perfect thing worth striving to be like. When you have this new heart of Christ, it becomes much easier to forgive others, move past your grudges and regrets, heal, and live a joyful and effective life. It becomes way more difficult to throw your heart and other peoples’ hearts into a blender, or live bitterly, or fall into pits of depression.

Lastly, Paul tells us that the ultimate key to this is love. “The love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge.” This means Jesus loves us beyond all reason and understanding and that if you let him into your heart, your love will grow and grow and grow until you start to experience the “fullness of God.” That is to say, God will work in you, around you, for you, and most importantly through you. You become a vessel baring the heart and spirit of God.

I could go on about this forever. There is nothing in all the world that will ever heal you like a heart transplant from God. If you are sick of feeling bitter, anxious, angry, sad, heavy, empty, lost, disconnected, broken, or depressed – you can go to the doctor, you can take a pill, you can see a counselor, or drown yourself in whatever you have to distract yourself. Or, you can give it to God. Tell him how you really feel, even if you have to scream it at him. He can handle whatever you have to say. Just know, he is there, full of mercy and healing. He wants to heal you from the inside out. He wants to make you feel alive and restore a purpose to you. Ask him for a new heart, for his strength, for his Spirit. The Lord never fails a promise and he will draw close to you if you draw close to him (James 4:8).

Verses to think about:

Philippians 4:11b-13: “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Colossians 1:11-12: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

As I wrote in my last post, losing my faith destroyed me on the inside. Regaining it, brought an incredible healing and ripped me from depression and a destructive path.

But what changed? What happened to shift my perspective and raise me from my ashes?

It started many years before. My dad, a fairly new pastor, mailed me a book called The Reason by Lacey Sturm, a Christian rock singer. At this time of my life, I was not close to my dad. I didn’t understand him. I didn’t like the decisions he made. I thought he had gone off the deep end with his religion and I just was not willing to go with him. So, I thanked him for the book, promised to read it, and tucked it away.
Well, if you read the last post, you know there came a point when I just couldn’t take my depression and anxiety anymore. I was miserable and probably miserable to be around. I did what every one does when they reach such a breaking point – I called my mom. She stayed on the phone with me for hours, listening to me cry and try to explain the depths of my pain and worry. She comforted me and related to me and gave me some really great advice about how to cope and heal. The best thing she told me was a subtle reminder that God was with me.

After I hung up, I felt this incredible need to pick up that book my dad sent me. I felt something stirring inside me as I read it. I could practically hear Lacey sitting there telling it to me with this light in her eyes as she talked about her very similar struggles to mine. At some point, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I set the book aside and started praying. And God was with me. I felt him there, guiding the words as they fell out of my mouth. I felt the tension of regret, anger, and hurt leaving my body. I just gave myself to God. Trusting him with all. It was incredible and I wept tears of gratitude and joy for the first time in a very long time.

But then, I woke up the next day feeling incredible conviction about my relationship. My boyfriend in many ways had replaced God in my life. It wasn’t anything he’d done on purpose or that I consciously done, but I had placed him high above everything in life, even God. That morning God reminded me of something I had realized long before but it never sunk in.

When I was a child, my dad had also urged me to start praying for whoever I would be with someday – that God would prepare us for one another and bring us together at the right time. Of course, being a little punk, I told him I wouldn’t be with anyone ever so why would I do that. But, actually, I prayed this most everyday of my life. Ironically, the same time I started praying was the same time my boyfriend had picked up his guitar and started learning to play. Then years of mirroring situations go by and here I am with this man. Music had brought us together and was the thing we believed we were called to do together. And, our lives had so well prepared us for each other that we can understand one another in ways a lot of others can’t.

So God reminds me of this. He reminds me that he made us for one another, prepared us through our lives, and that when the time came to be together it was a promise to me fulfilled by him and I had taken this beautiful blessing and used it to replace God.

This hurt. Faith is not a walk under the stars. There’s a lot of pain in growing and becoming someone better, and when God gets involved, he definiately pushes you to become more that you even meant to be.

I prayed for forgiveness and asked God to take control of my relationship. This honestly was the most terrifying prayer I’d ever prayed. I basically said to God, “You are in control and I am letting go, even if I lose this man so I can be closer to you.” The struggle really came when I told my boyfriend this. I was crying so much I could barely speak. I thought for sure if I told him that we had trampled on God’s blessing and were living in sin by living together and placing each other above God that he’d leave me. I knew his love was strong, but I didn’t expect him to stick around while I chased after something as “uncool” as a relationship with God.

Long story short, that’s not what happened. My boyfriend instead became my husband within the month. We started doing bible studies together, then found a church where the sermons actually directly tied into the Bible studies we had done (the Holy Spirit is so intricate and dedicated to each of us!). We pray together and have given our whole lives to God.

So this is how I know God is real. He healed me from my soul; something medications and counseling could never do. He prepared my husband and I for each other and for our destiny together since we were children. He used my dad to give me that book years before I needed it and used my mom to pull me back into His presence. He spared my relationship and turned it into something so much more beautiful than before. I hear his Holy Spirit guiding me, prompting and teaching me. I have strength when I don’t have strength. I have peace when I don’t have peace.

The more you give to God, the more blessing he pours over you. If God wasn’t real, the more you give away, the less you would have. But he provides. He is more than enough. And he is real.

This is the story of the 546 days. This is for those who were wounded in my fall and to those who need to see what happens when God lifts you out of yourself.

I grew up believing in Jesus Christ. I believed in the bible and went to church. My dad even became a pastor while I was still a child. I was a Christian because it’s what my parents told me to do and because I liked the idea of God. I made many mistakes and have plenty of horror stories of how I turned away from God while still thinking I was following Him (I’ll write on that another day). But the worst thing I ever did, happened in the last 546 days.

I stopped believing in Him altogether.

It started before I moved out of my mom and stepfather’s house. I started to simply doubt, then I questioned, then I couldn’t explain faith against science. Then a friend encouraged me to indulge in what psychics and tarot cards could offer. It was meant well. Meant to help me, and I honestly, was excited. She didn’t know how damaged my spirit was, and I didn’t bother to tell her. I just went with it, wanting to be accepted and hoping for some answers to my growing depression and my crippling anxiety.

I involved myself for awhile before remembering that as a “Christian” I shouldn’t turn to these things, and eventually out of fear alone of what God might do to me if He did exist, I told her I couldn’t partake in it any longer.

Not long after, I moved in with my best friend. A friend of over a decade that I had barely gone a day without talking to. I was co-dependent on her and no matter how much I tried to be a good friend and simply love her, I was also envious of her. I wanted to look like her, act like her, be brave like her, have her talents, and be as good of a friend as she was. I saw her as the better version of myself. Well, once we moved in together, I dealt with my lack of self-esteem every day. She tried to build me up and supported me. She did more than anyone I’d ever seen to help me. Yet, even her trying made me feel like a worse person than her. I couldn’t stop comparing us and it got to a point where I loathed myself whenever I was around her.

Well, she and my other friend became close as I started to pull away. They indulged in psychics, tarot cards, and other wiccan practices. I kept telling them I couldn’t join them and asking them to keep it all away, because “I’m a Christian.” Unfortunately, I wanted to join them and my faith had officially left me. I was becoming a shell of a person – denying my desire to join them simply because I didn’t want to not be a Christian, even if I already stopped believing.

In the meantime, I had fallen in love for the first time of my life. I had entered into my first real relationship and the warm fuzzy feelings were about the only thing keeping me from completely withering into depression from my spiritual decay. I didn’t compare myself to my boyfriend (now husband!) and I looked up to him. It was much easier to accept his encouragement and see how he loved me for me and feel like I was an okay person, than it was to go home to my best friend. Not because of him or her. Because of me.

I felt so guilty all the time. I always had to own all the conversations with my best friend and tell her about all the great things in my life just so I could eat away any chance she had sharing her good things – in case it gave me another reason to envy her.

Envy is a wicked thing. It tore the love out of my friendship until I didn’t want to be around her anymore simply because I didn’t want to see her “being better than me” or getting recognized for things I wanted to do. I couldn’t stand seeing her and my other friend involved in Wicca, mostly because I was watching them get answers and results God wasn’t giving me.

So, I moved out. I moved in with my boyfriend and stopped talking to both of my friends. I didn’t offer much of a reason. I’m sure they both think I just fell in love and forgot about them. Or that I decided I was “too holy” to be around a couple of “witches.” What they don’t know is that my spirit, my faith, the foundation of my life, my moral compass, the essence of my energy, the purpose for my future, the fabric of my identity had been lost. I totally lost myself and who I am meant to be. I forgot where my value lies and without the identity of being a Child of God, I didn’t know how to even like myself. I was so self-centered that even though I didn’t like myself, I walked away from my friends just to see if I’d feel better about myself. Why couldn’t I just be happy for them? Love them?

The next several months were painful. My anxiety and depression got worse. I had nightmares about people I love abandoning me, telling me to kill myself, wanting me murdered, wanting to betray me. I started to feel so empty and broken that I was physically wearing down. I went to a doctor and she gave me antidepressants. My body couldn’t tolerate them – fortunately – but she strongly urged me to find both a psychiatrist and a psychologist.

I was so humiliated. My boyfriend was my only friend besides a few people I talk to like friends at work. I had become distant from my family. I was told I required medication to handle my pain. I cried so much it felt like routine. I had to hide in the office at work so people wouldn’t see a manager in the store having meltdowns. I felt pathetic and hopeless. The only daily light I had was the love of my boyfriend, and as much as that meant, no man can heal a broken soul. No man could bare that weight. No man could be asked to do such a thing.

Except for one. Jesus Christ.

I realized it, finally. I wept. I had made so many mistakes. I hurt and abandoned my friends, distanced from family, and placed an enormous and unfair weight on my boyfriend. I cried to God to forgive me. I laid it at His feet. I prayed over everyone I was angry with, everyone I’d held a grudge against. I prayed and forgave and asked for strength. I asked for guidance and help. I gave my life back to Christ.

Since that day, my life has not been perfect. I’ve still cried and felt down at times. I still struggle. But, God has given me such peace and strength. I see my calling is to help his people. To love. Not to turn from people, hurt people, not to hate myself. To love. To love Him. To love each person He’s created. Including myself.

The more His Holy Spirit works in me, the closer I get to peace and joy. The more answers I receive. The more purpose is actualized in my life.

I want all who have wandered away, or never known God, to know what it feels like to have God raise your spirit from the dead. I don’t need therapy. I don’t need medication. I don’t need psychics. I don’t need to be as beautiful and brave as my best friend. I just need to have faith in God and love in my heart.

I now know who I am without God. I am nothing. I am weak, selfish, and envious. But with God, I am brave. With God, I am capable. With God, I can fulfill dreams beyond what I can imagine for myself. With God, I can help people I never would have noticed if it were just me.

With God, you can raise from ashes. You can start over. You can find new purpose and meaning. You can see your life and your identity through the eyes of the one who created you. He made you, every last detail, for something special. With God, you can have an impact that will change lives and raise others from their spiritual ashes. You are everything in Christ.

It’s been 546 days since I’ve written on this blog. I could break this down to the hours and  maybe even minutes since the last post, but I could never count the amount of ways my life has changed. The moments between where I sat then and where I sit now have rocked my life. I’ve seen the worst and best of myself. I’ve seen the worst and best of others.

Most importantly, I’ve seen why all of these moments mattered and who designed the path I’d be on. No matter how many times I walk away, my Father follows me. No matter how many doors I hide behind, He finds me. My life is inevitably His. And, at last, I’ve realized that every moment counts. Every conversation and every action I take. Every where I go, I am surrounded in opportunities to help the people around me – by listening, by helping, and by loving.

So here, 546 days later, I am redirecting this blog. This is no longer a blog about my art, my poetry, or my “life lessons.” This is about someone bigger than me –  greater artist and writer, and His beautiful book of life.