Friday, December 2, 2011

The (Brutally) Honest Truth

Just a caution, if you can't handle someone being brutally honest with where they stand with God, pretend you never saw this post.  The whole point of this blog has been to honestly share what God is doing in my life, through my struggles and triumphs.  This is one of the struggles and I'm not exactly sugar-coating it.

I cannot catch a break.  I know I've said this before to some friends and I might have even said it in a post.  I feel like every time I am doing what God led me to do in the first place, he starts loading me with more and more until I can't handle it anymore.  I have surpassed my breaking point.  A couple days ago, I was approaching it and now it feels like that invisible threshold is miles behind where I am now.  I am so angry I can barely make it from one minute to the next without showing it in some way, whether through body language, the way I talk to the people I love, or just flat-out crying for no observable reason.  I am falling apart at the seams.  

Here's what I know some of you are probably thinking right now, "God will take care of you if you let him."  The reason I know that's the Christian thought-process is because I have been coached to automatically think like that for as long as I can remember.  This type of automatic thinking just isn't cutting it.  I'm still not denying God or walking away from Him, but I have reached the point where I can't even think about Him without being angry.  I need to be able to move past the automaticity to something that is more meaningful, but I just can't get there.

What happened to put me over the edge?  One of my children picked up a stomach bug, something that I do not handle very well, especially when it happens in the middle of all the other stressors I am dealing with.  I was driving home from work and I remember just begging God to just let it be just the one child.  After all, with four kids in the house, this could easily turn into a weeks-long marathon of no sleep and cleaning up messes.  Add to that a diabetic husband, and my worry level goes through the roof.  Scott could easily end up hospitalized from something as simple as a stomach virus.  So, as I almost never do, I asked God to just take this one thing away from us.  Let us handle fevers, colds, coughs, just not a stomach virus.  I felt a release.  I felt a peace.  Two things I don't generally feel when I pray recently.  Usually I feel, well, nothing.  So, I trusted that God really would let this end with the one child.

No more than 24 hours later, another child develops the same stomach bug and my fragile trust was broken.

I can already think of dozens of arguments against my current thinking.  You might be thinking them, too.

It's just life; it's not like God is making the stomach bug go around.  But, the all-powerful God, whom I have been worshiping since I was a kid could have cut me a break on this particular round of stress because I asked.  He just didn't.

I'm just overreacting because of my current, temporary circumstances.  It goes deeper than that.  Whether it's stomach bugs or other things that just happen to go wrong, for years I have been loaded past the breaking point when I'm actively trying to follow God.

Satan is just trying to keep you from God.  So why is God letting him when our relationship is already so tenuous.

I just need to "give it up to God."  Why?  In the recent past, that seems to be the times when things get the worst.

Even if I'm thinking these things, I shouldn't publicize them.  That could make people stumble or turn people away from God.  I'm not giving up on God.  If anything, this blog is proof that I would rather struggle through my relationship with Him than give up on Him.  Maybe someone can even relate to the struggle.

Am I anywhere close to renouncing my faith?  Absolutely not.  Am I struggling with it?  Definitely.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Psalm 16 - Therefore

There's something I left out of my last post about Psalm 16 because I felt like it was a significant enough thought to stand alone and not be buried among other musings.  It's a relatively simple idea based on the word, "therefore."

Therefore is a transition word that not only signifies a switch from one thought to another, but also shows causation.  The following thought is caused by the previous thought.  "I forgot to study.  Therefore I failed the test."  "I forgot to put away the leftovers.  Therefore my dog thought it was acceptable to climb on the table and eat them."  Or, you could read those backwards.  "I failed the test because I forgot to study."  "My dog climbed on the table because I forgot to put away the leftovers."

So, when I get to verse 9, I think the same way.  "My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices" because of whatever is mentioned previously.  So, what is mentioned in the preceding verses?

  • Verse 1 - "I take refuge."  I act.  I have an entire post that talks about this idea of taking refuge.  
  • Verse 2 - I recognize that "apart from [God] I have no good thing."
  • Verse 4 - I do not worship false Gods.
  • Verse 5 - I recognize God as "my portion and my cup."  I admit that He is everything that I need to sustain me.
  • Verse 6 - I praise the Lord because he counsels me.
  • Verse 7 - "I keep my eyes always on the Lord."  My focus is unwavering.
THEREFORE "I will rest secure."

I will rest secure because I keep my focus on God, praise Him, accept His counseling, recognize that he will sustain me, do not worship other gods, realize that apart from God I have no good thing, and take refuge.

Taking refuge, recognizing God's power and provision, praising Him, and keeping my focus on Him will allow me to rest secure.

I think I'm just going to let that sink in for a little while.

Psalm 16 - More About Refuge

If you've kept up with this blog, you will recognize this recurring theme of refuge.  My inability to experience refuge is what prompted the blog in the first place and I've mentioned repeatedly how the whole blog seems to be a journey focused on finding that safe refuge I used to so easily fall into.

To be honest, even with some of the new understandings about refuge that have settled into my heart, I still get uneasy when I come across another psalm focused on the topic.  It's like when you are already feeling self-conscious about the only clean outfit you could find that morning and then you get to work and someone mentions that there is a stain on the front of the shirt.  It makes you cringe and want to pick a fight all at the same time.  That might not be the best analogy, but I'm struggling to define exactly why it is so hard to read a psalm that deals with the purpose of the blog - refuge.

I guess the main reason reading about refuge is uncomfortable to me is because it is so obviously lacking from my life.  I try hard to have faith, but it's not always easy when things are tough and I can't seem to grasp onto the refuge I used to so easily take hold of.  I read about how refuge means a safe place and get frustrated because I can't seem to find that safe place.  Then, I wonder why I can't find refuge.  What am I doing wrong?  Why is God ignoring me?  Is he ignoring me?  When will things finally change?  The list continues and I have no answers.  At all.

So, Psalm 16 is no different than the previous refuge-focused psalms to me.  It's tough.  I see what refuge should look like and I long for it and I become frustrated because I can't reach it.  Then, I beat myself up.  If only I did this or this, God might let me have the refuge I desire.  Maybe if I wasn't so _____ or _____, I could feel close to God again.  Then I wonder, how much of this thinking is God trying to point me back toward him and how much of it is Satan trying to pull me away.

If you know me well, you know that I'm a very analytical person.  I spend a lot of time thinking and making decisions.  My brain and my heart do not handle unanswered questions very well.  I am used to understanding things and understanding them easily.  The current state of my relationship with God, however, seems incomprehensible.  How did I get here and how do I get out?  I think Psalm 16 helps illuminate some of those answers, even if the answers aren't exactly what I'm looking for.

Verse 4 says, "those who run after other gods will suffer more and more."  I could go on for a while about this idea of other gods, or idols, but I'll keep this brief.  While I don't chase down other deities, I do let my focus stray from the true God.  I don't worship things other than God, but I do let other things block the focus that should be directed toward Him.

I want to be able to say that God is "my portion and my cup," like David says in verse 5.  I know that once I am able to say that with honesty, I will be able to stop focusing on the circumstances in my life that seem so difficult at times.  Just like in verse 6, I want to praise the Lord and the instruction of God in my heart always.  I want to keep my eyes on the Lord and remain firm, unshaken, like in verse 7.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Psalm 15 - Mission Impossible

I've been avoiding this one for two reasons: 1) I wrote it once on a piece of notebook paper and lost it.  I was hoping to have found it.  2) It's almost depressing thinking about how short I fall on a daily basis.

In Psalm 15, David starts by asking God, "Who may dwell in your sacred tent?  Who may live on your holy mountain?"  In other words, who is able to live in communion with God - to have a connection with Him?  Here comes the depressing part: the answer.  To be connected to God, I must:

  1. Walk blamelessly
  2. Act righteously
  3. Speak honestly, but with compassion
  4. Refrain from slander
  5. Avoid wronging anyone else
  6. Abstain from speaking ill of anyone
  7. Despise those who are vile
  8. Honor those who fear God
  9. Keep my promises even when it is beyond difficult
  10. Remain steadfast in my thinking
  11. Lend money to those less fortunate without interest
  12. Avoid accepting bribes against the innocent
If I can do these 12 things, then the psalm says I will never be shaken.  I guess that explains why I have felt so shaken so often recently.  Quick confession:
  1. My walk is anything but blameless.  I stumble so often that it probably doesn't qualify as a walk that often.
  2. Acting righteously means acting in an upright manner, being virtuous, being good and honest.  I can easily think of times today I couldn't qualify myself as any of those things.
  3. Sometimes my honesty comes across as being condescending and judgmental
  4. As hard as I try not to be a gossip or say things about people behind their back, I'd be lying if I said it didn't happen.  In fact, it happened today. 
  5. Anyone who knows me even remotely well can probably think of a time when I wronged them or someone they know, even if it was inadvertently.
  6. See number 4.
  7. I'm not sure about this one, to be honest.
  8. Sometimes I look up to people who fear God and sometimes I think to myself, "It must be easy to have it all together when..."
  9. Judging by the number of times I've been behind with posting, we all know how keeping difficult promises is going.
  10. See number 9.
  11. Not quite sure about this one.
  12. Or this one.
So I guess it makes perfect sense that I feel shaken.  By the way, here are some synonyms for shaken:
  • agitated
  • disturbed
  • jolted
  • perturbed
  • unsteady
  • upset
  • flustered
  • overcome
  • rattled
  • bewildered
  • overwhelmed
  • beaten
  • defeated
  • conquered
  • overpowered
There's no way for me to really put this next part into words, so I think I'm going to have to stick with a few verses that come to mind.  I'm sorry, but that's all I can manage right now. 

"Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them." -Romans 4:7-8

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." -1 Timothy 1:12-17

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -Ephesians 2:1-10

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


As some people have noticed, I have been extremely delayed in my posting.  Okay, let me rephrase.  I have not posted in over a month.  I do, however, have several posts that I wrote out and never got around to typing and posting, but I have been majorly neglectful of the blog.  My life is a little nuts right now and things seem to keep coming up.  Every time I turn around, we have somewhere we have to be or Scott has class, or there is some other random, lame excuse.  These other things are important, but I could have made time.  I should have made time.

I think I figured something out, though.  I don't fail at things and I stick to my commitments.  I am loyal.  Usually.  Sometimes I get distracted by life and I honestly, unintentionally forget something, like a blog.  Days go by and the blog doesn't even enter my mind.  By the time I think about it days later, I'm able to convince myself that tomorrow will be easier, better, more meaningful.

More time goes by and, before I know it, a month has passed and I hit the point of embarrassment.  I think, "No one has noticed that I've not been writing.  If I write the blog now, people will realize that I've been slacking this whole time.  People will get the wrong impression of me and think that I'm lazy or uncommitted.  It's better just to keep things quiet and hope to be unnoticeable."

I'm not saying that this is sound logic, but it's what goes through my head.  It's not even always a conscious thought process, but as I sat down to actually write a blog (because a couple people started pestering me), I realized how difficult it was to put myself out there again.  It's not easy in the first place to put my deepest,  most honest thoughts on the internet for anyone to read, but it's a challenge I felt called to take on.  That challenge becomes even harder when, because of my own shortcomings, I have failed in a public way.  Putting myself back out there again involves letting other people in on not only my thoughts, but also my faults.

So, I take ownership of my faults, but I hope you are able to see past them.  I promise to have the next post on the Psalms up soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Psalm 14 - A Study in Contrast

This psalm is pretty much the opposite of Psalm 8, which proclaims how glorious man is.  In stark contrast, Psalm 14 exposes how foolish and corrupt man is.  This contradiction serves to clarify the depth of how far man has fallen.

Psalm 8
Psalm 14
Verse 1
How majestic and glorious is God’s name
Verse 1
Fools say there is no God
Verse 2
God has ordained praise to silence foes
Verses 2 and 3
God notices that no one seeks him – they
Verse 3
God’s works are awe-inspiring
Verses 6 and 7
He needs to be a refuge and restore his people
Verse 4
What is man?
Verses 1 -7
Corrupt and evil!
Verse 5
Man is glorious, made in God’s image and rules over Earth
Verse 1
Man is corrupt and vile – no one is good
Verse 9
How majestic is God’s name
Verse 5
He is present with the righteous

I think I can summarize like this:
How majestic and glorious is God's name?  And yet, fools say there is no God.  These fools are evildoers, but the Lord has ordained praise to silence them.  Unfortunately, mankind has turned aside and no longer seeks God. 
Since God is capable of such awe-inspiring works, he needs to restore his people and provide refuge to them.  Mankind is in need of this refuge because they have become corrupt and evil.  The same mankind that God has created to be glorious, made in his image, has become corrupt and vile.  Now good is left in them.   
But still, God is majestic and has everything under control.  He is present with the righteous in the midst of all the chaos, corruption, and evil.
Want to know the scariest part of all this?  I can be described more aptly by corruption and evil than by glory and majesty most of the time.  It's not like I'm constantly purposefully denying God or choosing a path apart from him, but I'm not purposefully choosing him, either.  I want to be one of the people who seeks God, not one that has turned away.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Psalm 13 - Far More Questions than Answers

Time to "break it down" again.

Verses 1-2
How long...

  • Will God forget me?
  • Will he hide his face from me?
  • Must I wrestle with my thoughts?
  • Must I have sorrow in my heart?
  • Will my enemy triumph?
Verse 3a
A demand for God to answer

Verses 3b-4
Why God needs to answer

Verses 5-6
Statement of trust and praise

This psalm really does summarize my feelings.  I'm no longer angry at God (except every now and then), but I definitely understand questioning him.  I still feel like he is far off.  Really, I could echo most of the first two verses, claiming them as my own.  Then even put into words things I've had trouble explaining adequately.

For example, "Will [God] forget me forever?"  Are things ever going to get better, meaning am I ever going to get to the point where I no longer feel abandoned or distant?  "How long will [He] hide his face from me?"  And, why does it feel as if God is hiding his face from me?  Finally, "How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?"  Really, how long do I need to wrestle through the Psalms before God feels near to me again?  I really do feel like wrestling is the most apt description as I am battling for each and every minuscule amount of progress.

I wonder if David's demands for an answer were, in fact, answered.  He tells God to look on him and answer him, two very bold commands.  It encourages me to know that I can be equally as bold in asking God to answer me.  But, I also wonder, have I not been bold enough yet?  Or, have I been too bold?  Or, maybe it's just going to be awhile.  Did David get answered quickly?

David also had reasons to back up his demands.  What reasons do I have?  It's not killing me, as David alludes to in his own psalm.  I don't think the distance I'm feeling is making any enemies triumph over me.  What reasons could I possibly claim?

Finally, as I've noted repeatedly, David ends the psalm with praise and a promise of trust, even though no answer had been given.  It seems odd to me that he chooses to say he trusts in God because of his unfailing love, though.  After all, he was just complaining that God had basically turned away from him.  How could that possibly make him trust in God's unfailing love?  Could he perhaps have been only restating a long-ago accepted truth about God to reassure himself that God was, in fact, trustworthy?

Then, to end it all, David says he will sing praises because God has been good to him.  Again, it doesn't mesh with the previous verses.  Is David intentionally reminding himself of his blessings?

This, to me, is very frustrating.  I know I went into reading the psalms ready and willing to ask the tough questions and I said that I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up with even more questions.  However, I did not fully estimate the frustration that could come from 1) ending up with more questions than answers, and 2) not feeling any closer to God - at all.  I'm committed to keep working at it, but it's quite possibly even harder than I expected.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Psalm 12

Well, I guess I can't put it off any longer.  I have been trying to figure out Psalm 12 now for a couple weeks and I just can't figure out how it relates to me.  I just can't seem to find the right perspective with which to read it.  You see, the psalm deals with unfaithfulness and disloyalty, deception and boasting.  Things that don't seem to be relevant to my life at the moment.

So, I'm going to resort to a previous strategy and break the psalm down into broad sections:

  1. David requests help from God (verses 1-4).
  2. David quotes God as saying he will protect the weak and needy.  Then, he asserts that the words of the Lord are "flawless," meaning that if God said it, it must be true (verses 5-6).
  3. David's prayer of confidence to God.  He states that God will be true to his word (verses 7-8).
Breaking the psalm down in this way helps me to generalize the meaning.  I may not be able to relate to unfaithfulness and deception, but I can relate to feeling the need to make requests of God.  My requests are just different.  I'm asking for relief, stamina, refuge.  

I really like that David goes straight from his request to quoting God.  And then, straight to saying that God's word is flawless and pure.  I think this is something I need to remind myself of.  A lot of times when I feel like my requests are unheard, my brain automatically quotes a familiar scripture about God's faithfulness and I cringe because, at the time, it doesn't ring true.  Then, I move on to the next thought.  I can't remember the last time I actually reminded myself that I can trust scripture and have fought back against my instinct to bristle at the "churchy" answers.   

That last insight may seem odd to you, or maybe even off-putting.  But, because of my perceived lack of refuge, I am having to fight to trust God.  I know that he has never been untrustworthy, but I have to constantly remind myself of that and even create arguments to prove to myself that God has indeed been faithful.  

Now that I've been honest about that, I'm going to challenge you.  If you have ever felt that way, please leave a comment letting me know if you found successful ways to re-trust in God.  Your support will be appreciated immensely.  If you can't relate to what I'm saying, please ask questions.  I'm serious.  Every single person who has asked me questions about the blog has helped me to reflect and make another tiny step toward complete faith.  So, thanks again to anyone who has pushed me to think more about my journey.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let Faith Arise

This post should be about Psalm 12 since my last one was about Psalm 11, but for many reasons I am not ready to move on (one of them being that I have no idea how to relate Psalm 12 to my life right now).  So, for today, I am going to post something that I have been thinking about posting for at least two weeks.

Now, I'm not usually one who gets wrapped up in whatever song is "trendy" or makes a habit of calling songs "mine."  I know plenty of people who do and it suits them, it's just not in my personality.  But, for weeks, there has been a song that I just can't get out of my head, probably because of how much it relates to my faith recently.  So, without further ado, here is a "trendy" (in Christian radio) song that I am starting to think of as "mine," Chris Tomlin's "Let Faith Arise."

If you know me well or have been keeping up with the blog, you will probably immediately recognize some parts of the song that I'm relating to.  There is so much that I could say to explain everything that I think I could ramble on for pages.  So, in the hopes of keeping everything as succinct as possible, I'm going to start from the beginning.

The very first verse says, "Be still, there is a Healer/His love is deeper than the sea/His mercy is unfailing/His arms, a fortress for the weak."  Never in my life have I felt such a need for healing and mercy as I have in the past months.  I have certainly not spent any time being still.  Sure, my life has been hectic without a doubt.  But, in reality, I have felt broken and have distracted myself from the desperation by keeping myself busy, not leaving any time to feel the disconnect from God.  Is this why I haven't felt the healing, love, and mercy I have been so desperate to have?

Then, there is a simple pre-chorus: "Let faith arise."  Let.  Again, has my faith been so weak because I have been stifling it, not letting it arise?

The chorus is what struck me so hard the first time I heard the song.  It starts with, "I lift my hands to believe again."  I have to take action.  If I want to believe God and trust Him again whole-heartedly, I need to act, to lift my hands.  You know, even thinking about that at this very moment is stressful.  I am anxious typing this because the thought of lifting my hands means a vulnerability toward God that I don't feel ready for.  It means I can't protect myself anymore.  To believe again, I have to raise my arms as a statement of faith to God.  I know this isn't necessarily a literal lifting of my arms, but right now my heart is pounding and I feel like I have a 30 pound weight sitting on my arms.

The next line is one that I probably don't need to explain, considering the content of pretty much every other blog post.  It says, "You are my refuge.  You are my strength."

Then, "As I pour out my heart, these things I remember/You are faithful, God, forever."  Well, I think my blog qualifies as pouring out my heart, but when I think about the recent struggles I have been dealing with, I am blind to all the times God has been faithful - to me and to those around me.  But still, the stubborn, hurt, part of me wants to demand, "If You are so faithful, God, why did I feel deserted when ____ happened?"  And my arms still feel weighed down.

Then, it hits me.  How much more faithful can I ask God to be?  As the next verse says, "Be still, there is a river/That flows from Calvary's tree/A fountain for the thirsty/Your grace that washes over me."  Jesus let his blood flow freely for me.  He experienced COMPLETE separation from his own Father.  For me.  A little lighter.

Let faith arise.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Psalm 11 - An Epiphany about Refuge, Finally

This is the last Psalm that I read when I started reading through them back in February and I have been excited about sharing it since I started the blog.  It was an "aha" moment and I hope it brings you some insight, too.

Psalm 11 starts with the line, "in the Lord I take refuge."  If you've read any other post, you have probably heard me talk about refuge as being elusive: something I expect from God, but never really find.  It has been a source of great frustration to me to feel like I was missing something that I so desperately wanted (for more on this, see my post about Psalm 5).  So, when the word refuge came up yet again, I decided to do something of a word study to see all the times it is mentioned in the Psalms.

It's a lengthy list, so I'm only going to include the parts of the verses that relate to my "epiphany," even though that might leave out some of the context of each verse.  After all, I'll get to these Psalms later.

  • Psalm 2:12 - "Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
  • Psalm 5:11 - "But let all who take refuge in you be glad..."
  • Psalm 7:1 - "LORD my God, I take refuge in you..."
  • Psalm 9:9 - "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." 
  • Psalm 11:1 - "In the LORD I take refuge."
  • Psalm 16:1 - "Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge."
  • Psalm 17:7 - "Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes."
  • Psalm 18:2 - "My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge..." 
  • Psalm 31:2 - "Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me." 
  • Psalm 34:8 - "Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him." 
  • Psalm 36:7 - "People take refuge in the shadow of your wings." 
  • Psalm 46:1 - "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." 
  • Psalm 62:8 - "...for God is our refuge."
  • Psalm 71:1 - "In you, LORD, I have taken refuge..."
  • Psalm 91:2 - "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
  • Psalm 144:2 - " shield, in whom I take refuge..." 
According to my concordance, I found 16 places where the word "refuge" is used in the Psalms.  Of those 16 times, the word refuge is used in the context of "taking refuge" 10 times.  An additional time, refuge is in the context of "finding refuge."  

So, perhaps all this time, the thing that has been missing hasn't been God's provision of refuge, but my own action of seeking it out and grabbing on to it.  Have I not been taking advantage of the refuge he's already providing?  It gives a whole new perspective to my anger at God, realizing that maybe his promises of refuge weren't empty after all.  Maybe my anger and desperation has blinded me to all the ways he was trying to give me a refuge.  God is safety, deliverance, peace - all those things I associate with refuge.  But somewhere between college and now, I have somehow stopped actually taking refuge in God.  

I don't know if anyone can fully understand the relief this brings unless they have ever been torn between trusting in God's character and feeling like he's breaking with that character.  It's humbling to think that all this time my pride might have been the thing making me feel like God was standoffish.  That isn't to say that my feelings of anger and bitterness are completely resolved, because they are not, but it at least gives me something to think about.

Psalm 10

If you've been wondering if I've been slacking, I have been.  I went back to work this week and I have not mastered fitting this devotion time into a work day.  I need to find a way to take some time away without feeling like I'm missing precious time with my family.  Ideas?

Anyways, on to Psalm 10.  The very first verse grabbed my attention.  It says, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"  This is exactly what I have been trying to put into words for the past several months.  In some of the previous posts, I have mentioned feeling "abandoned" or "deserted" by God, always being clear that I knew all along that God would never desert me.  However, describing God as being standoffish seems to be a pretty good description without going against any truths I know about God.  So, why did it feel like he was hiding himself from me in the times I was most troubled?  I wish I had an answer, but I don't - and the rest of Psalm 10 doesn't seem to help.

I have a hard time finding a way to relate to the rest of the psalm if I'm being honest.  Verses 2 through 11 talk about what the wicked do and who they are.  Verses 12 through 15 tell God to hold the wicked accountable.  Then, verses 16 through 18 show conviction that God will indeed defend the helpless.  I know there is wicked in the world everywhere, but I also don't think "wickedness" is what has made me feel like God is standing "far off."  I feel like I've been battling difficult circumstances, not wicked people.  It just doesn't seem to speak to where I am.

It's disappointing to get to Psalm 10 and not really feel a connection to it, especially since Psalms 1 through 9 have seemed so relevant to what I've been going through.  I don't know if I'm just not looking hard enough or if there really is not much to connect with, but it's still discouraging.  

The whole reason I started reading the Psalms was to feel like God wasn't actually so "far off" and, in Psalm 10, I find a verse that completely summarizes how I have been feeling.  But, just like nearly every effort I have made in the past few years, being able to verbalize the issue has gotten me no closer to any sort of answer.  I still feel like God is hiding from me and I don't know why.  And the Psalmist doesn't give an answer, either.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Psalm 9 and the Thermometer

Since I started this blog, I have said many times that there are certain things that I have been taught that are considered truths about God.  These truths are things that I have grown up believing, but that had never really been tested in any real way.  While my faith was being tested, I held on to these beliefs, but as much as I've tried, I didn't feel it in any real way.

This might be difficult to understand if you've never felt that way before, so let me try to help.  It's like being outside in the middle of winter, completely bundled up from head to toe, leaving no skin exposed to the elements.  You're holding a thermometer and you know for a fact that it's 10 degrees outside, which, obviously, is frigid.  But, despite the cold outside, you don't feel the effects of the cold at all.  In fact, had you not been holding on to that thermometer, you never would have believed the truth about the temperature.

That's the way it's been with me.  I've felt like I've been "out in the cold" with God.  As part of a defense mechanism, I've added layer upon protective layer to keep out the "cold", whether cold means the distance I've felt between God and I or the situations I've been in.  Fortunately, I've experienced enough with God to be able to believe the truth about his goodness, or, to hold on to the thermometer.  If I had not been able to hold on to past experiences with God, I may not have been able to keep my faith.

This might not seem to relate to Psalm 9 at all, but when I look at the psalm, I see truths about God: things I have held on to as being truth, but that I haven't really had any sort of visceral, meaningful connection to.  This, of course, makes it more difficult to handle some of the situations I've been forced to deal with.  Imagine hanging on to a romantic relationship when your significant other no longer says that you are loved in ways that you can understand and also starts to do things that make life difficult and, at times, miserable for you.  You might eventually start to lose faith that your mate loves you at all.

Here are some of the examples of the "truths" that I am talking about:

  • Verse 1 mentions "wonderful deeds."  I am no stranger to the wonderful things God has done for me or people around me, but in these difficult times, it was hard to be able to point out any "wonderful deeds" that were being done in my life.
  • Verses 7 and 8 talk about how God rules from his throne with "righteousness" and judges with "equity."  I know this is true, but it goes against what I understand to be "fair."  God may have been ruling righteously and judging with equity, but I didn't understand the standards that he was using.
  • Verse 9 says "the Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble."   I have believed this for years, but in the times of my life that can be most described as "troubled," I felt a distinct absence of God, not a refuge or stronghold.  I'll talk more about this in a later post; I don't want anyone thinking that I'm saying anything negative about God because I'm not.
  • Verse 10 says that God has "never forsaken those who seek [him]."  That might be true, but I certainly felt forsaken.  
  • Verse 18 says that God doesn't "forget the needy" and that the "hope of the afflicted will never perish."  So, why did I feel forgotten and hopeless?
I'm going to leave it at that for tonight, but I want to make sure I reiterate something one more time: I am NOT saying anything negative about God.  Like I said at the beginning of the post, these are things I know to be true about God.  I am just trying to convey what my thought process has been these last few years while I have felt so separated from God most of the time.  Like the thermometer analogy, I am beginning to think it takes a stronger faith to believe it's 10 degrees outside when you can't feel the effects of the weather, just like it takes a stronger faith to believe certain truths about God when you can't feel the visceral effects of those truths.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Psalm 8 - Majesty

Well, this is a little different from the previous few psalms, even though it is still written by David.  Here's what I understand to be the basic ideas of Psalm 8:

  • Verse 1 - The Lord is majestic. 
  • Verse 2 - He has ordained the praise of children to silence his foes.
  • Verse 4 - Man is nothing in comparison to the awesomeness of God's creation.
  • Verse 5 - God has put man in a place of honor.
  • Verse 9 - The Lord is majestic.
When I was growing up, my church used to sing a song based on Psalm 8 - all the time. The video below isn't exactly high quality, but the singing reminds me of what it was like at church growing up.

The song is so simple and repetitive and while there's nothing innately wrong with that, I think that combined with the frequency with which we sang the song made me immune to the complexity of what Psalm 8 is saying.  

I did a quick search on Bible Gateway and found that the word "majestic" is used only 14 times in the entire NIV translation of the Bible, six of those times being in Psalms.  The word majestic is an adjective meaning showing majesty.  According to the Google online dictionary, majesty means "impressive stateliness, dignity, or beauty" or "royal power."

In thinking about just the words majesty and majestic, I know that I have never taken the time to truly let this psalm sink in.  Majesty is a HUGE word.  It's awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping power and beauty.  It's supreme dignity and worthiness.  How could I ever have let myself believe that Psalm 8:1 could be written off as being a simple statement, neatly wrapped up in a repetitive song?

I'm not going to pretend I have this at all sorted out in my head.  It says that "through the praise of children and infants [God] has established a stronghold against [his] enemies, to silence the foe and avenger."  So, God makes children praise him, which quiets his enemies?  How and why would that work?  I feel like I'm missing something here, so if you have any insight into this, share it with me.  

I challenge you to read Psalm 8:3-4 and NOT feel small and insignificant.  God made every intricate working of the universe, from the things we can see and generally understand to things we can't even begin to comprehend, even things we aren't even aware exist.  Then, he made humans.  

Keeping in mind how much significance I should have (none) I read Psalm 8:5-8.  What a startling contrast to the last two verses.  Man should mean nothing in comparison to the enormity of creation.  Yet, God created man to be just a little bit lower than angels.  He made man to rule over everything he created.  What responsibility.

Now that I've taken time to really start digging in to Psalm 8, I can't believe I ever just skimmed through it, thinking, "Oh yes, here's the one about how majestic God is.  It reminds me of that song..."  The very last verse of the psalm repeats the first one, "Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"  For the first time in a very long time, I understand how inconceivable the majesty of God really is- and more than that, I feel it.  

Do you know that feeling you get when you're trying to remember something, but you just can't.  Well, when I try to think of a way to explain how thinking about the majesty of God has made me feel tonight, I get that tip-of-the-tongue feeling.  So, I'm just going to end with a list of synonyms for the word majesty:
  • grandeur
  • greatness
  • illustriousness
  • nobility
  • stateliness
  • power
  • sovereignty
  • supremacy
  • excellence
  • perfection 
  • loftiness
  • eminence
  • prestige
  • splendor
  • merit
Maybe that will help someone else comprehend how incomprehensible the majesty of God truly is.  I've been blindsided by it tonight.  It's seemed like forever since I've felt like I could praise God this easily, without a hint of cynicism or bitterness.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Psalm 7 - Separating My Praise from My Struggle

I know I've done this with nearly every entry, but I am once again going to divide this psalm into sections because that seems to be an easy way for me to make it more personal.

  • David asks for refuge (verses 1-2)
  • David claims he is innocent (verses 3-5)
  • David appeals to God for justice and vindication (verses 6-9)
  • David proclaims confidence that God will reply (verses 10-13)
  • David asserts that the evil with suffer (verses 14-16)
  • David praises God (verse 17)
I mentioned before that I started reading through the Psalms in January, quit, and then began again with the blog to hold me accountable.  Ever since I first read Psalm 5 on February 17, I have clung to the word "refuge" and David uses the word once again in Psalm 7:1.  I'm not going to focus on it right now, but have an insight to share when I post about Psalm 11.  That insight is something that started a major shift in my thinking, but I digress.

David points out that he did nothing that could make himself guilty, and that if he had done evil, he would feel as if he deserved what was happening in his life.  

I understand this feeling.  In many ways, I feel like I did nothing to deserve some of the burdens I've faced in the past and recently - the burdens that have ultimately pushed me farther from God than I ever have been in my life.  In fact, the struggles recently have seemed to be because I followed God's direction.  If I hadn't done what I felt God was calling me to do in becoming a foster parent, I never would have dealt with many of my recent struggles.  Please don't take this to mean that I regret any of the placements we have accepted so far, just that they come with an understandable amount of added stress.  That stress is compounded because I have felt like God has abandoned me at the most difficult moments.

David once again makes demands of God, telling God to rise up against the wicked and bring an end to their evil.  He demands that God also make the righteous secure.

I have trouble sometimes seeing God as a "just" God based on my own experiences and things I've witnessed.  So, when I struggle so much because I follow God, I don't understand why it seems like God's wrath is focused on me instead of the evil around me.  From my perspective, it's not fair, and as a human, I equate fairness with justice.  I have so many questions for God on this topic, but I don't think now is the time for me to dive into searching for answers on that particular topic.  We'll see what the rest of the Psalms bring for me in that area.

David knows that God is his shield and will save him.  He also knows that he will defend him from evil and let loose his wrath on the wicked.

I know these things also, but only on an intellectual level.  I know God will protect me and will bring wrath against wickedness, but it's all in my head.  Where did David's confidence come from?  Was it just something he believed intellectually, but didn't really feel in the moment?  Is intellectual belief enough to be called faith?

When you read this, I know a lot of you are experiencing the urge to answer those questions or say something to defend God in this area.  Trust me, I think all those things too, even as I'm honestly writing what is in my heart.  I know the textbook "churchy" answers, but, as mentioned before, this is my chance to be sincere about what I'm dealing with, and I have faith that God can handle my questioning and even appreciates that I'm seeking.  So, please, if you want to give me something else to ponder, that would be awesome.  Just don't expect neatly packaged answers to be earth-shattering to me at the moment.

David uses common sense and modern wisdom to reinforce his earlier confidence.  It's almost like he is giving himself a little pep-talk so that he can keep his earlier confidence.

This leads me to believe that maybe David's confidence in the earlier section really was intellectually based. Otherwise, why would he need this section of verses to bolster his earlier claims?  So, maybe my problem has been that when my trust and confidence in God is merely intellectual, I automatically assume that means my faith is weak and sometimes give up.  Perhaps there is significance to a faith that is based on clinging to truths you know about God even when you can't feel them.

David ends by saying he will give thanks and praise God because of God's righteousness.  It's almost like he's convincing himself that he will still thank and praise God, even though things are falling apart.  He also says he will do this because of God's righteousness.   

It's interesting that he picks this one attribute of God to focus on.  It's almost like it was one thing he was able to agree with intellectually, so he focused his praise on that.  It wouldn't make sense to praise God for refuge at this time, so he doesn't.  Instead, he asks for refuge and deliverance, but praises God for righteousness.  That way, his praise and thanksgiving remain honest and sincere.  He's not having to lie to himself or to God.

This gives me hope as I have been finding it hard to praise God without feeling insincere.  I beat myself up at church for singing words that don't seem to honestly reflect the state of my heart, just because that's what I'm supposed to do on Sunday.  Looking at Psalm 7 leads me to the conclusion that it's okay to separate your requests from your praise.  I can ask for what I need, be honest about my struggle, and still praise God for what I know to be true.  Sincerity doesn't demand that I can't praise God unless my faith is perfectly unshaken or radiating freely from my heart; it just means that I might be praising him for the beauty of his creation while I am begging for refuge that doesn't seem forthcoming.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Own Psalm 6

This is by far the hardest post I have written as of yet.  At the end of the previous post, I mentioned wondering what it would be like if I wrote my own version of Psalm 6 based on bold demands, bold honesty, and bold confidence.  So, I did it.  Before you read it, though, please keep in mind that it is not at all easy for me to make myself vulnerable, especially not at this level.  First of all, I truly am being boldly honest.  Second, even though I love to write and have always possessed some level of talent, I never let anyone read something that is still a draft, and I feel like this is.  I am a perfectionist and rarely let anyone in on something that is anything less than nearly perfect.  

Psalm 6 - A Psalm of Katie

Lord, do not neglect me in your indifference 
   or ignore me in your apathy.  
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am desperate;
   renew me, Lord, for my soul is unfeeling.
My faith is in tatters.
   How long, O Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
   reach out to me because of your unfailing love.
I cannot remember you when you feel so distant.
   Who praises you when it echoes back, seemingly unheard?

I am worn out from trying.

For years I have scattered my days with frustrated weeping
   and drenched my face with hopeless tears.
My heart grows weak with futility;
   it stagnates because there is no discernible response.

Come back to me, God of my youth;
   I know you have heard my weeping.
You have heard my demand for connection;
   you accept my prayer.
All my years of distance will not be wasted by insignificance;
   they will be used to strengthen my faith.

Psalm 6 - Bold Demands, Bold Honesty, and Bold Confidence

The notes in my Bible say that David is requesting relief from an illness brought about as a rebuke for sin.  I'm not sure how they know that exactly, but I'm curious to know what was going on in David's life at the time.  What had he done?  How long had it been going on?  How long was he ill before he actually prayed this?

When I look at the way Psalm 6 is set up, I immediately notice the format.  There are two halves split in the middle by the beginning of verse 6 which says, "I am worn out from my groaning."  Because I was curious, I looked it up and this same literary device is used in Psalms 8, 21, 23, 34, 42, 47, 48, 54, 71, 74, 76, 82, 86, 92, 97, 113, 138, and 141.  The format of this psalm makes the sentence "I am worn out from my groaning" the climax, or turning point of the poem.  And when I read more carefully, I find that it really is the turning point.

For the first half of the psalm, David is begging for mercy.  He uses verbs, commanding God to do something:

  • "Do not rebuke me"
  • "Have mercy on me"
  • "Heal me"
  • "Turn and deliver me"
  • "Save me"
This is bold.  David does not say, "Hey, if you wouldn't mind, would you please help me out a little."  He says, "Have mercy on me."  He even goes so far as to tell God no one can praise God from the grave.  

Then, the turning point, during which David is no less bold and honest.  He's straight-forward about being worn out.  He doesn't say he's felt better or pretend that things really aren't that bad as I tend to do when asked how I'm doing.  He feels miserable, so he tells God.

The second half of the psalm is just as bold, but in a different way.  David displays remarkable confidence that God has heard him, even though he has yet to be healed:
  • "Away from me evil"
  • "The Lord has heard"
  • "The Lord accepts my prayer"
  • "My enemies will be ashamed and disgraced"
He still has no relief from his agony or assurance of healing, yet he triumphantly tells evil to be gone and says that the Lord has heard his prayer and accepted it.  He confidently proclaims that his enemies will be ashamed and disgraced.  

Psalm 6 has given me a lot to think about.  I know I started reading the Psalms because I knew they were bold and honest, but I suppose I forgot just how frank they were and how supremely confident the authors sometimes seem in the midst of their honesty.  It makes me wonder:
  • Where does this confidence come from?
  • How does David seem to know that God has heard him and accepted his prayer even though he's still not healed?
  • If I were to write a similarly honest psalm to God containing bold demands, bold honesty, and bold confidence, what would it look like?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Psalm 5 - Refuge

There was a time when I knew what it felt like to have refuge in God, but I haven't felt that way in a long time.  If I had to pinpoint one word to say what I feel like I've been missing in my life, it would be refuge.  That word means so much to me that it's hard to even define, so I tried to define it visually.

When I hear the word refuge, I have a temporary physical reaction: a deep breath, a relaxed posture, and my eyes momentarily drift closed.  A refuge is a place of complete unburdening, the ability to let go of everything that is weighing down my heart and my mind.

And then, I feel frustration, anger, and bitterness.  Why is God only letting me have refuge so infrequently, for a few seconds here and there?  Why can I not carry that sense of refuge with me like I used to when dealing with difficult situations?  

An excellent friend pointed out to me a couple days ago that it might be a good idea for me to forget about what things used to be like for me and look toward the future instead.  She is absolutely right.  I think it's healthy for me to want to examine why I am in the place I currently am in, but not for me to use it as more fuel for any anger and bitterness I have towards God.  So yes, I have felt as if God is holding out on me, letting me see glimpses of what I desire so badly, but always keeping complete refuge and unburdening just out of reach.  But now I want to look at my past as a way to understand where I am at present so that I can move on.

It's not that I expect my circumstances to be easy because I have faith in God, because I don't.  But, ever since things started getting difficult between God and I way back in college, I've felt like God is allowing dozens of stressors and horrible circumstances to pound away at my faith and sense of well-being without providing me that sense of refuge - that feeling that I have somewhere I can retreat to in a moment and experience safety and peace in the midst of chaos.

Maybe I haven't looked for it hard enough (more on that in a later post) or in the right places.  Maybe there really haven't been many opportunities for refuge after all.  Maybe my memory is too short and I'm too quickly forgetting the times when I have been able to unburden completely.

Whatever the reason, I realize that my heart has become hardened towards God because I have perceived a lack of refuge so often since my freshman year of college.  After a while, I think I quit looking for God to provide refuge and even stopped asking for it.  (If you want to read more about the process of hardening my heart, read the entry from July 19 called "Psalm 1").

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Quick Request

If you are following my blog and haven't become a member yet, please consider doing so.  Also, if you are already a member, please invite someone else to become a member.  It can be someone I know or someone I don't, I just want more people to help keep me accountable.

For those of you who have encouraged me in this or kept me accountable so far, thank you so much.  Your support has meant more than I let on.  

Psalm 4 - Answer Me When I Call

Here's some advanced warning: This is a long blog entry.  I understand you might not have the time or desire to read it in it's entirety, although I think there are some good insights in there.  However, if you don't want to read all of it, read the first three paragraphs and the last one.

Like Psalm 3, Psalm 4 is divided into three sections that I can see:

  1. A demand for God to provide relief from distress.  This demand is directed towards God as David says, "Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God."  
  2. Knowledge that God has set apart the godly and will hear their prayers, including David's own prayer for relief.  Also, a command to search your own heart and not lay blame elsewhere.  This section is directed towards people.
  3. Trust in God because he can provide even greater joy than prosperity can.  He will allow you to sleep in peace, even in troubled times.  Again, this section is directed towards people.
This is where things get difficult for me.  My life is easier now than it was when I started this.  I don't feet the same pressure as I was earlier this year.  Therefore, it's going to be hard for me to look deeper instead of focusing on all the "Sunday School Answers" I've learned my whole life.  I'm going to have to really take my time and look at what I'm really supposed to be learning.  After all, my goal was to develop a real relationship with God based on honesty.

When I look deeper into this psalm, what immediately strikes me is the way David almost commands God to take action.  He says "answer me" and "give me relief" and "have mercy on me" and "hear my prayer." It seems gutsy almost to the point of being impertinent - and that's just in the first verse!  These four commands resonate with me in a way that not much else has over the past year as those are the exact same things I have felt like I have needed.  I need for God to answer me and give me relief and have mercy on me and hear my prayer, but what I want to focus on first is the first part of the verse where David says, "Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God."

The line struck me as almost unusual and made me wonder if there are any other places where the same phrasing is used.  There are.  According to my study Bible, there are seven times David uses this particular phrasing, not to mention the times other authors used it in the Bible.  I want to take a minute to look at the times when David uses it.
  • Psalm 3:4 - "I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain."
  • Psalm 4:1 - "Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God."
  • Psalm 17:6 - "I call on you, my God, for you will answer me."
  • Psalm 22:2 - "My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest."
  • Psalm 27:7 - "Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me."
  • Psalm 86:7 - "When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me."
  • Psalm 138:3 - "When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me."
The bold verses above are ones where David doesn't mention an answer or even a possible answer from God.    Obviously, David knew that God would answer him because there are four other specific times where he uses the same language but added that God answered.  So, why did he leave that hopeful part out of the other three verses?  Based on my own experiences, I see at least four options:
  1. He didn't feel like God was answering or would be answering soon.
  2. He knew that God would answer based on his knowledge of God and past experiences, but saying it in that moment seemed forced, so he left it out.
  3. He was feeling desperate and perhaps a little angry.
  4. He knew the truth, but had a hard time believing it in the moment.
I can relate to all those explanations.  I know what it feels like to feel like God's not answering.  I still don't feel God's presence.  The only difference is, at this particular time in my life, I don't feel the same desperation I was feeling not long ago.  

If you skimmed over all of that because it seemed tedious to you, here's the part I'd like you to read.  From reading Psalm 4:1 and other verses from David like it, I've reached some conclusions.  First, it's acceptable to God to feel desperate and demand answers.  It's also fine not to verbally acknowledge the truths you know about God in those moments.  Second, even when it's not acknowledged or felt, the truth remains that God does answer my cries.  Lastly, it's easier to see those answers during times when I am farther removed from the pressure that caused the desperation in the first place.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Psalm 3

If you read my last blog entry, you would know that it took me literally two weeks to get to any application of Psalm 3 to my life because I spent that much time looking at the history of David's life.  I've decided not to go into any sort of detail here because my purpose is to keep my focus on the personal rather than the intellectual.  However, if you haven't read the accounts about David found in 1 and 2 Samuel, read it.  Even if you weren't trying to discern any spiritual lessons from those books, you could still read it just for entertainment.  It has all the elements of a current television, movie, or book drama or suspense.

I see three major parts to the Psalm:

  1. I have so many enemies.
  2. God shields me from those enemies and answers my cries for help.
  3. Therefore, I am not afraid because my victory comes from God.
Even though my purpose isn't really to add to my store of biblical knowledge, the context of David's situation is helpful to me in making this psalm more personal.  David really did have so many enemies and when he writes this psalm, he is specifically referring to Absalom, his own son, who had started a revolution against him.  So, not only is David dealing with being physically in danger, fleeing, and fighting, he is also dealing with the betrayal of his own son turning against him.

Still, somehow David is able to say confidently that God is protecting him.  Beyond that, he says that God is his glory and is helping him to hold his head high.  He has 100 percent confidence in God when everything around him that could be construed as a sign is pointing toward being deserted by God.  

When I think in those terms, the parallel to my own life is unmistakeable and a psalm that seemed to be relatively irrelevant comes to life.  But, there is a huge difference between David and I.  There have been many times recently where I have felt desperate and deserted.  From years of biblical upbringing, I can say that I believe in my head that God is watching over me, but in reality my faith has been shaken.  I did not have that supreme confidence in God as David did and I certainly did not feel victorious.  Even now, removed from the situations that caused such acute stress, I feel relief, but not victory.  It's like the pressure has been removed, but I'm still wondering, "What was the point?"

Again, I have more questions than answers.  Why has God let me feel deserted?  Why have I had to deal with all the things that have led me to being so distant from God?  Why can't I be like other people (or like I used to be) and feel close to God through struggle?  How can I get close to God if I have a hard time trusting that He won't desert me?  How can my faith be renewed when I feel let down that all my knowledge of God didn't mesh with my real life experiences?  

And, perhaps most importantly, how can I come out of these last several years feeling victorious?