Saturday, July 30, 2011

Vacation Time (What I Was Discovering During My Time In Michigan)

As I was sitting on the porch of the cabin we stay in during our vacations to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I began to think about things. I originally intended to sit down and read a book, but I ended up thinking instead (as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to realize that this is what usually happens when I sit down and try to do something productive). Over the past few weeks, and probably months, or maybe even years, I’ve begun to worry much more about the death of my relatives. I figure that this worry must have started after my dad passed away two years ago. Ever since then, I’ve worried myself sick wondering if any of my relatives will die suddenly. How many will die within the next year? The next 2 years? The next 10 years? I begin to worry about this, then I think about how old they are and how long they have left, which causes me to think about how many funerals I’ll have to go to in the next twenty years, and then I shut down and can’t handle it anymore.

I guess I better first mention that all of my family members are unusually old compared to my age. You see, my mother gave birth to me at age 40 and had twins at age 42, so that means that all of our relatives are old. Katie, Marco and I have always been the youngest in both of our families. On my dad’s side of the family, my uncle is 72, my aunt is 70, my cousins are all around the age of 50, and my second cousin is 8. On my mom’s side, my uncles are in their late 50’s and early 60’s, my mom is about to turn 60, and my cousins have all already graduated from college. My families are so old compared to my siblings and I that I no longer have any living grandparents, nor do I have a dad.

I sometimes start to think about how much longer my relatives will live according to how old they are. For instance, my aunt and uncle on my dad’s side have already surpassed the age of 70. According to the span of the typical human life, they may have anywhere from 10 to 20 years left to live. When I think about this, I get frustrated. I love my aunt and uncle both dearly. I’ve been on some awesome road trips with my aunt, and sometimes I really don’t even think she’s 70. As for my uncle, he is one of the most generous people I know. Trust me, we never starve when we come up here for vacation.

So, this worries me. It worries me way too much. Many of you don’t have to deal with this because your mothers had you in their mid 20’s, but my situation is different because I was born 20 years later than most children are to their parents. Sometimes I actually believe that I’m supposed to be 6 or 7 years older than I currently am.

And no, I don’t blame my mom for this because it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. I’ve come to realize that God must have wanted it this way for a reason, so it has to be this way, and I have to deal with it. No, I don’t like it very much, but I know that God knows me best and that somehow, He knows this was best for me. Sometimes the things that are best for you are not the ones that make you happy.

Anyways, going through this whole thing with my dad being gone has been tough, and it’s been even tougher this summer for some reason. When I arrived in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula for vacation, the toughness just escalated because of where I had arrived- in my father’s hometown. Calumet and the Keweenaw Peninsula were such a big part of my dad and his character, which then became a huge part of my life as I began to grow up. Every summer, it was copper, thimbleberry jam, Lake Superior, and Italian polkas. I didn’t expect this particular visit to be this hard, but I guess the grief process works in different ways for different people.

Every day I’ve been up here so far, I’ve dwelled on how much I want my dad back here, and how it would be different if he was. Coming up this year, it just seemed like there was a hole in the family, a hole where my dad was supposed to be. I’ve cried a lot too, and probably felt sad every single day.

When I think of the hole my dad left in our family and the pain and grief I went through (and we all went through) after he died, I can’t bear to lose anyone else, seriously, for at least 10 years. I just don’t want that to happen again- I’m not ready for it. Because all of my family members are so old, I always worry and brace myself for them dropping dead any day. And this thinking process kills me inside. It leaves me with a headache and twisted insides. It makes me feel like I’m chained to the floor and will never be able to move on. That’s what the pain of loss does to you.

Usually, this is how my thought process goes- I begin to think about it. Then I think about how I’m not ready for it to happen and how I couldn’t handle it if it did. Then I think about God and how He wouldn’t let this happen to me if I wasn’t ready for it to happen. But then I think of the other side of the argument, that maybe through this, God knows this is best for me and He’s doing it for a reason I may not know about.

This usually leaves me in a jail cell of thought. Like I said, it’s a vicious cycle of thought that keeps me trapped and chained to a chair every day of my life. So I thought, if I feel like I’m trapped and jailed inside my mind, then God must be trying to tell me something, because I’m sure He doesn’t really intend for this to be happening.

As I was thinking this evening, I thought of trust. I’m not trusting God enough to know that He knows I’m not ready for another death to happen and He’s not going to let it happen. Sometimes I do think of this, but then again I think of the other side and justify my worries, saying that it’s logical for me to be worrying. I mean, it seems like it really is. You never know when someone you’re close to could be whisked off this earth, just like a feather in the wind- here today and gone tomorrow.

But I KNOW that my worrying isn’t justified, because I know it’s a sin. Sounds weird, right? But a sin is classified as anything that makes you turn away from God, and by worrying, I’m not trusting in God, which means I’m turning away from Him. It kind of reminds me of the American trust in all Islamic people after 9/11. After that terrible day, Americans just seemed to have the inability to trust anyone who was Islamic or wore a turban. It’s understandable, but of course it’s not right.

So I begin to wonder, how can we put our trust in someone who might not be trustworthy or has broken our trust in the past (say Casey Anthony. She lied to the judges. How can we even try to trust her even though she was convicted not guilty?), but we can’t trust God, the creator of the universe? I’m sure someone has broken your trust before, probably multiple times, but you’ve tried to trust that person again. Am I right? It’s probably a vicious cycle of breaking trust and trying to regain it, and we know that whoever that person is, we just simply can’t trust them again even though we try to.

So my question is, how can we not trust God if He’s never broken our trust before? Take the story of Noah’s Ark for instance. God makes a decision to strike down all human beings on the Earth because all of the humans had created such evil. Everything was a mess, so God decided to clean it up, however He knew that He couldn’t wipe everyone out because if He did, humans wouldn’t exist anymore, so He chose Noah to build an ark for his family and two types of every creature on earth, in order that life could still continue after the flood. After the flood had subsided, God made a covenant with Noah and all humans, declaring that:

“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me an you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” – Genesis 9:11-13

So, God made the rainbow His covenant to us, and don’t we still see it all the time? Occasionally, after it rains, a rainbow will appear. I feel like this is God saying, “Woah! Don’t worry; I won’t let it rain enough to flood the earth. Check out this covenant!” He stops the rain before it can ever wipe anyone out.

That gives us a pretty good reason to trust God, and this is what I’ve been learning. I have to trust that God won’t let any of my relatives die if I’m not ready. My only choice is to trust Him, because if I don’t, I know that I may be stuck in this dark jail cell of thoughts for a long while.

And as I look out onto the waters of Portage Lake from the cabin porch, I think, how could I not trust Him? Upper Michigan is a place for big thoughts. If you’ve ever been out to Lake Superior, you would know. Even looking out onto this lake makes me think big. I can’t even fathom how wide or long the lake really is because I can’t see that far, nor can I fathom how deep the lake is because I can’t swim that deep, but I know that God knows and understands.

And then I think about the enormity of Lake Superior. It’s the largest fresh water lake in the United States and the largest freshwater lake in the World by surface area. Because it’s so large, it has undercurrents like an ocean. It’s beautiful, powerful, graceful, and dangerous all at the same time. Its depths are unfathomable, probably thousands of feet deep, and its width is the same way. If God created and knows all about the great widths and depths of Lake Superior, then He should be able to know absolutely everything about us.

And if He knows all about us, then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t trust Him with our lives. And this trust is truly what will set us free.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Santa Claus and his Elves

Today, I was reading Hebrews and trying to understand it, when I came across an interesting discovery.

Since Hebrews was becoming very confusing to me, I decided to look up the background of this New Testament book online. The book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were becoming very discouraged and were in contemplation of leaving their newfound faith due to all of the persecution they had to endure because of the choice they had made to leave the Jewish faith and follow Christ.

This suddenly made sense with what I had read so far, and resounded with the first chapter of Hebrews, which I had originally found very interesting.

In this first chapter of Hebrews, the author (whoever he is, generally thought to be the apostle Paul) talks about the difference between angels and the Son of God/ His people on Earth. The author goes through a list of comparisons he makes between what God says about angels and what he says about the Son of God.

At the end, the author comes to the conclusion that Angels are all “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). In other words, angels are a completely different breed from humans and the Son of God.

This is clearly shown through the comparisons the author makes. About the Son of God, he explains that God considers Jesus to be His Son and appoints him to the throne at His right hand. About the angels, God says that they are to worship the Son of God and are to be winds to God’s ministers on earth, who are considered flames of fire.

So, the author’s conclusion is pretty accurate according to what he explained in the first chapter of Hebrews. But, do you realize what this means? Humans will not become angels when they enter Heaven upon their deaths because the two, let’s call them species, are completely different. It’s like a bear and a monkey, or a spider and a cat, or whatever you can think of.

I thought that this was very similar to the legend of Santa Claus and his elves. Santa Claus would represent God, and his elves would represent God’s angels. Just as the elves help Santa Claus make toys for all the little children on Earth, the angels help God spread His word across the Earth to all of His children.

Now think about the difference between Santa’s elves and humans. Elves are really short people who typically have strangely shaped noses and wear green uniforms with caps. On the other hand, humans are much taller and have what we consider normal noses and wear what we consider normal clothes. A human can’t just up and turn into an elf, or vice versa. In the same way, humans can’t just turn into angels upon their entry to Heaven.

This also means that maybe our deceased friends and family members cannot visit us after death, even though we think they do, and can claim that they have. Strange compared to what we have been taught, but it might be true. If those spirits of family members and friends are not angels, then they could be anything. I cannot say, because I do not know, but that’s just interesting to think about.

So in conclusion, angels are here to protect us and minister to us. They are sent by God to Earth, and they help Him bring people to believe in Him. They spread the flames of the ministers (God’s appointed people) here on Earth, and create a forest fire of good news that cannot be stopped.

So, I really just thought this was interesting. No big sermon or whatnot, just a pretty cool discovery, and a small breakthrough to the honest truth that God has in store for us. I’d love to hear your opinion on this!