Monday, August 20, 2018

Before God Answers my Prayers, what am I supposed to do?

I don't want to relive the summer of 2017. My husband and I had no jobs and the prospects were few. All we had was the assurance that God was going to see us through.

What do you do before God answers your prayers? You basically go on with life. I decided the clothes were going to get washed. The kids were going to get fed. I did pray about provision a lot. I didn't ask friends or family for money because I didn't feel like it was God's plan for us.

He did provide in magnificent ways. Money didn't fly inside my pockets, yet, there was always a temp job for my husband. I learned that the righteous will not be forsaken nor his seed will beg bread. I read this verse in the Bible countless times but I experienced it last summer.

God is faithful to His word. Sometimes, His word is all we have. What do I do before God answers my prayers? I heavily rely on His promises.

I wish that last summer was the last time I had a big challenge. I'm walking through a challenging season right now. I am heavily relying on God's promises because His word does not return to Him void.

I often think about His promises when I'm out for a run. This week I told God (during my run): "it was Your idea, not mine so I'm going to trust You."

It is wise to know His promises and to rely on them. He will be faithful in His timing.

One lesson I learned last summer was to manage stress well when I'm waiting for God's answers. The waiting time was long for my husband: 5 entire months. For me, it took around 2 months to land a job.

I swam a lot with the kids and by myself. I made sure I did not get sick due to stress as I was waited on God's answer. Sure, life was stressful. Managing stress well got me to a place of peace. My peace is my power as I wait in trust.

I don't know if you are waiting for God to answer your prayers right now. I certainly am. What I do know is that God is brilliant in His timing. He is the master of making water come out of rocks: He makes the impossible possible.

My job is to wait in complete trust and dependence on His promises.

Prayer: God, when I don't know what to do, give me the strength to wait on You. You have the answers because you know the end from the beginning. I worship you in trust, I wait in perfect peace. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

7 years of Houston: Discovery

We’ve been in Houston for 7 years. God has helped us progressively put down roots and make this place our home. What have I learned this past year?

I still believe that moving to a new community includes a 3-step process: transition, adaptation, and discovery. Transition is painful and it can last longer because of the emotional weight it brings. Adaptation starts when you have cried all the tears and made peace with where you are. Discovery starts when you have accepted the physical distance between you and your friends. It also includes discovering your new favorite grocery store.

Funny enough, I think that at year 7, I’m still in the discovery phase. Last summer was a challenging time for our family. My husband and I were interviewing jobs outside of Texas. We really were not sure where we were going for many months.

Living in the unknown caused us to question if we were staying daily. Once we knew God wanted us to be here, we continued in the Discovery phase. Discovery happens when your eyes are open as if you just added two shots of espresso to your Americano. You are alert and you are very observant of everything. I feel a sense of alertness, of newness and I thank God for it.

This newness came as my husband was blessed with a new job in our area and I started working full-time last Fall. Discovering Houston anew has been great! We both work in areas we didn’t know before. We’re finding so many new things to do. We are also meeting a great crew of new people.

Houston is big town and one can discover it for a long, long time. This past year I grew in appreciation for where we live, work and worship.

I’m still sensitive to the stories of recent transplants. I’m still thankful that God allowed us to stay and bear fruit where He planted us.

I know that at some point, I’m going to stop this series. A question I am asking myself is, “when does home become home?” My answer has to be, home has been home when God sent me here. My process of growing roots is what made all the difference.

I don’t know where you are in your process my friend. Here is what I know: your feelings are valid. Your desire to hurry and make this new place yours, very valid as well. I encourage you to think about the transition, adaptation and discovery phases. Each phase is unique. You can find peace and joy in each one of them. Be at peace with the fact that God, who called you to be where you are, loves you and has a magnificent plan for you and your family.

More in this Series:
6 years of Houston: adapting to a new community
• 5 years of Houston: stuff I can say
• Isolation

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How to Deal with Shallow Friendships

It took nine years but I’m finally confident in my children’s swimming abilities. Before this summer, shallow waters were the safest. When we go to the beach, we remind them to stay in the shallow part. First of all, it’s easier for us to get to them if they don’t go deeper. It is also easier for them, who are still small and who need guidance navigating all bodies of water.

Friendships work the same way. There’s nothing wrong with shallow friendships. I believe that most people can only support a certain amount of deep friendships. Dunbar zeroed this amount to be 150 people.

Think about your relationship circle for a minute. In my case, my primary relationship commitment is with Zeke and our kids. Outside of this circle is my extended family. Outside of that circle are friends who don’t need to read my social media updates to know how I’m doing. We make the effort to communicate so that we stay in touch. We are committed to each other because our friendship is valuable. Outside of that circle are friends I see all the time. We know details on each other’s lives but we don’t go much deeper than that. Do you see where I’m doing with that? We can honestly support a limited amount of friendships, no matter what our social media accounts say.

Each friendship circle has its importance. My biggest friendship mistake happens when I assign great value to a shallow friendship. I've never been good at assigning value to things.

When I was in North Carolina, I had an unsuccessful yard sale. I separated every item I wanted to sell, I organized it nicely the day before and I was ready to go on Saturday morning. A few people walked by but I didn’t sell anything. The problem? One was the weather. The other, my prices. I priced my items too high. If the weather was warmer and the prices lower, that yard sale would have been a success. I created the habit of treating friendships the same way. I neglected both the weather and value.

When it comes to weather, the Bible says in Proverbs 17:17 that a friend loves at all times. I have friends who only love me when it’s convenient for them. They only contact me when they need something from me. My mistake was assigning great value to these friendships.

I’m only responsible for my behavior, therefore, I’m determined to place the appropriate value to these friendships.

The friends who only look for me when they have a need, get my understanding. Understanding because their behavior is predictable. Understanding because the relationship will not get any deeper than it is. Understanding because I know I have sisters who love me at all times.

The second part of Proverbs 17:17 tells us that a brother is born for adversity. These are the friends who are part of my inner friendship circle. They are committed to our friendship. They hear my heart. They look for me just because. They get a nudge from God and they text me asking me, “how can I pray for you?” They are me during my time of adversity, they just don't hear about it afterward. Our bond deepens as we continue to invest in a friendship that increases in value.

My mistake was forgetting that such friends exist. In the past, I’ve been so upset with shallow friendships that I neglected to remember that God graciously gave me sisters for adversity - and for ordinary times as well.

It’s taken a while but I am confidently navigating the waters of friendship. Giving understanding to shallow friends has been wise. Embracing sisters who were born for adversity has been a joy. Knowing the difference, life-saving.

More in this Series:
How to deal with Unfulfilled Dreams
How to deal with those who Mistreat You

More Friendship Posts:
Dissolving Friendships
How to maintain a Friendship when you're Busy
The open arm friendship
The closed door of friendship

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How to Deal with those who Mistreat You

A year ago, my family walked through a series of mistreatments. While we are still processing the events of those sad days, we can identify the cards we used to deal with that situation.

Here’s what I know: every mistreatment is major. Whether active or passive, mistreatment is just toxic to the soul.

I remember being passively mistreated by someone a few years ago. It was one of those situations I couldn’t escape because we were stuck together in the same job. I asked myself: what do I do? Act out? Use the same cards she was showing me? I chose the higher ground: prayer and Biblical meditation.

Prayer, because it is my first defense against any evil directed toward me. Believe it or not, there are evil forces out there behind the people who are mistreating us. The evil one is really wanting us to stumble. In Psalm 140:4-8, you can read about such a situation.

Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
Preserve me from violent men,
Who have purposed to make my steps stumble.
The proud have hidden a snare for me, and cords;
They have spread a net by the wayside;
They have set traps for me. Selah
I said to the Lord: “You are my God;
Hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord.
O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation,
You have covered my head in the day of battle.
Do not grant, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
Do not further his wicked scheme,
Lest they be exalted. Selah

It is always worth talking to God about your mistreatment. He hears, He cares and He has a plan.

During the time of my passive mistreatment, I was reading the One Year Bible (I've kept that good habit since). I decided that instead of 'just reading,' I was going to grab a hold of the words of God so that the ways of God would become my ways.

Here is a great example. I learned that God doesn’t hide from anyone. When Jesus was around, the only times He retreated was to give Himself to prayer. He also retreated when the multitude tried to speed up God’s plans on their own terms and elect Him to an earthly throne. My situation with that person was nothing like Jesus’ so I took His approach and decided I was not going to hide.

Jesus had a great sense of boundaries. He was known to leave others to pray by Himself. I decided to practice good boundaries. I learned when to be in that person’s presence and when to walk away. I had no idea it was okay to walk away. This simple act really helped the rest of our time together.

Another Bible commandment I couldn’t escape when being mistreated was Forgiveness. A decade ago, as I struggled with extended family issues, a mentor told me: “Cintia, you know the only option is forgiveness, right?” That question awakened my spirit. I can tell you that I turned towards forgiveness and I haven’t turned back.

As a young married couple, my husband and I were convicted of the importance of forgiveness. We always prayed that our children would learn how to quickly release forgiveness. We have recently prayed the same prayer for ourselves.

Forgiveness has given me a clean heart towards God regarding any mistreatment. I know it can be hard. I know that taking revenge sounds like a great option. Because of the Bible I digest daily, I know that vengeance belongs to God and forgiveness belongs to my will. Forgiveness has freed me more effectively and quicker than any earthly force ever will. Forgiveness is freedom.

Whether you are receiving passive or active mistreatment, remember Jesus. Oh, please don’t even use the “Jesus turned the tables” argument because let’s be honest, that’s not the correct interpretation for that passage. It was the zeal for God’s house that was at work, not earthly anger.

Choose to forgive and do it quickly. Give yourself to prayer and read the Bible like a thirsty ultramarathoner running the four deserts race. God will open your eyes to His character and He will guide you in the way you should go. He will give you a strategy that will make you look just like Him. That’s what we ultimately want: to look like Jesus did when He was mistreated.

More in this Series:
How to deal with Unfulfilled Dreams
How to deal with Shallow Friendships

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

How to Deal with Unfulfilled Dreams

My second year in college was frustrating: I couldn’t pursue my dream of being a CNN anchor. My accent was my weakness: people couldn’t understand me when I read the news. I was told that a career on TV wasn’t for me, so I had a good cry and moved on.

That was my introduction to unfulfilled dreams. I was used to succeeding. I knew how to mix faith with hard work, yet, my dream of being in broadcast journalism was dead.

Unfulfilled dreams give us the chance to dwell in the land of failure or we can choose to explore the land of expectation. It took a while but I learned that God’s eyes were on me: He had a plan. I was just missing the details.

When I think about God watching me, Psalm 32:8 comes to mind. It says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.”

This verse is so personal. When God guides me with His eye, He is assuring me that He is attentive to every detail of my life. Nothing is too small for His guiding eye.

Both the Old and New Testament are filled with verses about God’s eye. You and I don’t have to wonder if God is ever missing an important event in our lives (or in the world). His eyes are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3). God’s eye sees our ways and He sees all our steps (Job 34:21).

Recently, at a Christian counseling session, I was reminded that God saw the racism done to me 20 years ago. It brought me a lot of comfort to know that God was there with me at that low moment. In Revelation 1:14, God’s eyes are described as a flame of fire. I very much like that visual. The intensity of God’s eyes are watching my every step. I find security and joy in this thought.

God’s eyes are active. There is nothing passive about Him. In 2 Chronicles 16:9a we read, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”

My friend, I choose to believe that in the midst of unfulfilled dreams and the pain they bring, God will show Himself strong on our behalf. If we can trust His plan, we will be okay.

I know that sometimes, dreams don’t come true as fast as we want - if at all. The way to deal with that is to know that God sees you and God has a plan.

My friend, let me make something clear: it’s okay to have a personal plan. I heard someone say that "if you don't have a target you will hit it every time." Plans are important. I also hear that “plans are the links in the chain that connect activity to accomplishment.” Plans give us direction, keep us focused and accountable.

The Bible says God will establish our plans if we include Him in the process. "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans," Proverbs 16:3. God will also direct us. "A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps," Proverbs 16:9.

It's good to know that God is not against plans. Yet, if you are breathing, you probably experienced plans not going your way. How do you deal with it?

You realize that God has a plan and it must be better than yours.

Although I’m not a CNN anchor, my unfulfilled dream in college led me to earn two degrees instead of one. God’s plan paved my way to a wonderful career in print journalism and marketing. God has opened doors for me to do things I couldn’t imagine that day I was crying because someone didn’t like my accent. Once the tears stop, it’s time to focus on God’s plan for your life.

Another natural question is, how do you know when to persist and when to give up on your dreams? The answer is, God will establish your plans and He will direct your steps.

God wants us to be in a relationship with Him. He will guide us, He will establish us and He will forever watch us with His eye.

More in this Series:
How to Deal with those who Mistreat You
How to Deal with Shallow Friendships