Between the lines

For the past seven years, I have dedicated my life to writing poetry (and every other word that God gives me). Though I write mostly for myself, I have always had my focus on the reader. What would the reader need most? What would God want the reader to know? And even though this is not a bad concept, I have learned something more valuable over the years.

Over the years I have written over 250 English-languaged poems (and a handful of Dutch ones), give or take. Poems that contain a piece of God and a piece of myself. Whether God quoted it or I wrote it. It has always been a partnership where God receives all the credit. And for me, it works! For me it is the most functional way of working and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

During the years I have been through a lot. Not just the past seven years but ever since childhood. All of these struggles have found a way into my poetry. Don’t misinterpret these words though, because my poetry is not a summery of misery. With the struggles, God always handed me the solutions whether I was ready for it or not. I know the solution can sometimes overwhelm you and make you feel as if you will never be able to accomplish it. Therefore God often gives long-term solutions. Solution you can grow into as time passes by. Every day is a learning process. We are not expected to succeed in a day, week or year. God knows how long we need and that is the exact time he gives us.

Since my poetry has always treasured the solutions, they have always been my greatest comfort in times of need. Whenever I felt sad, lonely, frustrated or confused, the Holy Spirit would most often lead me to my own poetry. Between the lines I fely comfort, answers, peace and the love of my Heavenly Father. Reading these poems and feeling the great comfort they bring me, even though I wrote them myself, installed a greater understanding deep within my soul.

‘When the work you do for God heals you more than others, you’ve done something right!’

Isn’t it true that when God calls us to work in His Kingdom, we are so extremely focused on others. We need to save the world, heal mankind and bring them safe and sound into the arms of Jesus. But what if Jesus has a greater message for us than for others through the work we do? Aren’t we missing out on something?

I see so many of us make that mistake. We are so focussed on teaching that we forget to be taught. We are so focused on helping that we forget to be helped. We are so focussed on loving that we forvet to be loved. We so easily forget ourselves. How wonderful it is to know that even though we forget ourselves, God does not. He sees us and loves us. And through His everlasting love He wants to teach us every day, face to face, in the most personal way. And sometimes we don’t need to cross oceans to find it. The greatest lessons we learn are in our own handwriting. All we need is to be reminded of it.

Hannah’s courage

For as long as I can remember, I have loved the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Ever since I was a child, I had this affinity with Hannah – a certain connection. She is without a doubt one of my favorite biblical women. The reason I love her so much is her courage and dedication to God.

Hannah did not have an easy life, I believe. She had to share her husband with another woman who bullied her constantly because she was childless. In those days, being childless, was more or less a curse from God. People seriously believed that you had sinned against God, so God punished you by not giving you children. Besides children were your wealth. When people looked at your riches, they didn’t look at how much money you had or the size of your house you owned. They looked at your children. If you had many children, especially a son, you were rich and blessed.

So Hannah is in a difficult spot. Hannah’s situation is continuing for years. The bullying from Peninnah is hurting Hannah so much that she stops eating.  Even the love of her husband cannot cheer her up anymore. But instead of letting her problems defeat her, Hannah gets up and goes to the Lord’s House. She takes her problems to the only place where she can get true help. She takes it to God. The most inspiring part of this story to me is Hannah’s request. She could have asked for a child and left it at that. But she does not. Hannah promises God that if He gives her a son, she will give him back. I am not a mother but I can imagine the sacrifice Hannah makes here. All she ever wanted was a child. In fact she wants it so much that she is willing to give him up. It seems to me that all Hannah wanted was to know what it feels like to be a mother. Her heartache rises high above Penninah’s bullying. Hannah truly misses something in her heart, in her life, and she is willing to go the extra mile to make it happen. Her faith in God is astonishing. Her courage inspiring.

Would I be willing to give up what I wanted most? Would I be able to say, “God if you give me this, I will give it all back to you”? Hannah’s strength is extraordinary to me. In the world where we live in today, I don’t know if I could. But Hannah can. Her heartache becomes her greatest testimony.

What is inspiring about this story also, is Hannah’s courage to ignore other people’s opinion about her. As she is praying in the Lord’s House, the priest Eli thinks that Hannah is drunk. In those days people prayed aloud. When one prayed, he prayed so everybody could hear it. But not Hannah. Hannah does not hang her dirty laundry outside so to say. She prays silently. Only God is allowed to hear her grieve. Only God is allowed inside her heart, inside her deepest sorrow. When Eli wants to send her away, she remains calm and explains him why she prayed the way she did. Hannah was not afraid to do things her way. I see her as a strong woman. Her difficult situation definitely did not define who Hannah truly was. She was a smart, strong woman, who knew God and loved Him. And because of her faith, God gave Hannah what she asked for.

This story to me is incredible. Samuel is born and as soon as he is old enough, Hannah brings him to Silo, where the Lord’s House is situated. Samuel becomes a great prophet because of his mother’s courage and sacrifice. Hannah wrote history by her courageous act of faith and love. And in my opinion she does not get enough credit for it. Most people look at Mary the mother of Jesus or Mary Magdalene, Ruth or Esther, but not many look at Hannah the mother of Samuel. Would you be able to ask God for something only to give it back? How difficult must it have been for Hannah to bring young Samuel to Silo that day. To give her own child up. In Hannah’s prayer we can read that it actually brings her joy. God gave her what she asked for and that was enough. Hannah didn’t mind about the way how God gave it.

When I compare myself to Hannah, I can clearly see the flaws within myself. If I ask for something, I often want it my way. I am not open enough to God’s way of doing things. Besides when I have to give something up, I get sad and frustrated. I honestly cannot imagine asking God for a child and giving him back to God with a happy heart. I would probably be devastated. Imagine it yourself for a moment. Maybe you just become a mother or father after a series of IVF or after a long journey of adoption. Imagine taking your child to church and leaving him or her behind, so they can serve the Lord. You have to understand that Hannah only saw her son ones a year! It was not like she brought him there, he did what he had to do, and she brought him back home. No! She gave him up. Samuel stayed in Silo and Hannah went back home. Could you do that? I believe we can all learn so much from Hannah. From her courage and her sacrifice, but mostly, from her gratitude and joy.

You can read Hannah’s story in the bible, in 1 Samuel 1 and 2.
One last thing. God, in His love and goodness, gave Hannah three sons and two daughters after Samuel. Hannah’s reward for her willingness to give Samuel back to God. It teaches me personally that through all the sorrow in our own life, God will give us so much more in return, if only we are willing to have faith in Him!

 

In times of grieve

Exactly a week ago my grandmother (the last one I had on earth) passed away. Last thursday was her funeral. She reached the blessed age of 92. I loved my grandmother and I am so blessed to have some good memories of her. I know she is in a better place now. A place that she longed to go to. A place where my grandfather and my uncle were waiting for her.

In times of grieve we can be more sensitive towards words than at other times. So am I!  When Billy Graham passed away (also this week), people all over the internet were praising him for everything he has done. And he did do great things! But what stung me, was when I read in some responses that Heaven was throwing a big party right now and that Heaven was blessed to have him. No offense towards anyone but why do we think that Heaven will be happier with someone who had the opportunity to do more for Jesus? I am only being honest. It bothers me. Not everyone gets the opportunity to work in such a big way for Jesus. God has a personal plan with everyone. But when I lost my grandmother and I read these praises, I found it hard to take in. Was Billy Graham better than my grandmother? Was Heaven throwing a party when Mister Graham entered but with my grandmother, no one cared that much? I was struggling with this last week!

Believe me, this is not about Mister Graham or my grandmother. It happens with many famous or well-known people. When someone who was well-known passes away, Heaven is so blessed to have him/her. But we don’t say these things about a homeless person on the street or our nextdoor neighbor! And I get this deep sense of standing up for these people. Jesus always said, “The first will be the last and the last will be the first in the Kingdom of God”. And with this in mind I get the deep feeling to defend the unknown. Maybe it is my grieve speaking right now. But in the eyes of God everyone is exactly the same.

As I was struggling with these thoughts, a certain bible verse came to my mind that gave me a sense of peace. It is Matthew 11:11 which says, Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Jesus said these words shortly before John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod. Jesus loved John. They were even related in a sense. Jesus’s Mother Mary and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, were cousins. But Jesus has in mind that in Heaven, everything is different than here on earth. God the Father does not treat one better than the other. For the Father, everybody is equal. Here on earth we establish a certain hierarchy. The one who does the most for God is somehow also the best. But to me it was such a great comfort to know that God does not look at people this way? My grandmother was not an evangelist. She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. She was loved by many but did not have many conversations about Jesus. She was a believer, a sinner saved by grace, but not a well-known evangelist. And still God is as happy to have her in Heaven as He is with someone like Billy Graham (or Henri Nouwen, Thomas A. Kempis or anybody else). This thought gave me peace and understanding. Maybe I have always known this but I was grateful that God pointed it out to me anyway.

Like I said, we get very sensitive in times of grieve. Things that normally don’t get to us, do now! Normally I would have ignored the whole thing but now I couldn’t. And in this struggle, God was right there with me. He was comforting me and helping me to see things in a different way. Grieve can throw a blanket over our eyes and make our sight foggy. It can prevent us from thinking with a clear mind. In these moments of grieve, we may know that Jesus wants to comfort us and help us. We do not face this alone. We are never alone. Jesus love will always be with us. Even when nobody sees us.

 

A work in progress!

The other day I was visiting a friend of mine to meet her newborn baby. It is her fourth child and the sweetest little thing, as most babies are! I showed her my blog and she asked me a question. “Do you do all of the things you write about yourself”? “Yes I do”, I told her, “but I am still a work in progress though”. It is good to have a friend like her! A friend that is honest with you and not afraid to ask the right questions. I try to do everything I write about, however I am only human. Sometimes I am better at it, then other times. Especially when my fear is getting in the way.

When I was in my early twenties, I was diagnosed, by a psychologist, with a general anxiety disorder. After I had therapy, it died down until a year and a half ago. I had a traumatizing experience at the dentist and ever since it is back in full force. Again I am fighting a high dosis of fear every day. A fear that was almost gone. I know, with the help of God, that I can overcome this fear but it takes a lot of patience. And patience is one of my weak spots. Often I want to rush things when I should actually take it easy. I want things to happen right away, when God asks me to wait.

Fear will always be a part of my life…unfortunately. However often I have prayed for healing, it is something that I have come to terms with. After all, Jesus was afraid too when He was praying in Gethsemane garden! Right before Jesus was taken captive, He prayed to His Father if the cup could be taken from Him. Or in modern day language, if He could please be spared from what was awaiting Him. You know, many people say that Jesus was not afraid anymore after that. That after that prayer, He knew what to do and He did it without fear because He knew His journey. But you know what, I believe that He was still afraid. I don’t think the fear left Him. I believe that He simply decided to go through with it, regardless of His fear. And with the fear in His hands, He climbed on that cross. His love was bigger than His fear.

His love being bigger than His fear is something that I recognize. When I like what I have to do, it is easier than when I have to do something I don’t like. When your heart is passionate for something, fear reduces to a tiny flame, making it easier to do it. But the tiny flame becomes a huge fire when your heart is not fully in on it. Of course there is a difference between a healthy fear, like before a speaking engagement, or a fear that goes through the roof. Sometimes I can control my fear but there are also moments that I cannot.

For example, after the traumatizing experience at the dentist, I tried to ignore my fear for a long time. I went to the dentist again and even though I had a much better experience, the fear was so big that I could not control it anymore. The trick that God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit taught me is; with patience and relaxation you can overcome it. The fear never goes away overnight. This is a fact that I have to be fully aware of, but it will go away in the end. This thought gives me a lot of peace already. The second step I take is becoming rational. I tell myself to calm down. Jesus loves me and there is nothing on earth more important than that. I also skip things from my agenda when I feel in my heart that I need time for myself. To plan moments of calmth is very important. I am not superwoman. I cannot do everything and that is okay. My life is not easy and God is keeping a lot of things away from me, like a family. Just because I am not married and I don’t have children, does not mean that my life is easier. I have not been requested to do it all, but to do what I can. I focus on my talents and gifts and not on what I am not good at. But the biggest of all remains patience! With a lot of patience, and a lot of faith I overcome my fear. I cannot let it go away but I can make it smaller and that gives me room to breath.

Life remains a battle. Yet in this battle it is good to remind ourselves of one very important thing. Jesus love for us is everything! It is more important than our fear. And with that in mind we can overcome anything. Jesus’s love makes me get up every morning. Just the thought that, besides Jesus, I have a Father in Heaven who loves me so much, makes me want to try again. Of course I am not capable of doing everything. Like I said, I am not superwoman. There are some things that I am, and never will be, good at. But that is okay. God accepts me for who I am. And if I do the same; if I work hard and focus on the gifts and talents that the Father, in all His goodness, gave me, it will all work itself out in the end. Fear may be an ever present companion but at least I can shut him up whenever he talks to much!

A little more gratitude

As I was walking my dog this afternoon a Dutch children’s song came to my mind. I just couldn’t stop singing it. The song is about a helicopter. It is a request to the helicopter if you could please fly along with him because all you want is to be up in the sky. On and on I kept singing this song until it really drove me crazy. But when I really looked at the lyrics, I started thinking. In life we are all exactly like this song. All we want in life is to fly higher and higher. The highest place isn’t high enough. We want to be more successful. We want a bigger house. We want more money. We want more recognition. We want more friends. We want more fun. We want more adventure and so on. It is never really enough. When are we finally going to be grateful for what we have?

Think about it! Are you really grateful? Or are there things that would make your life just a little bit better? If I may answer this question for myself, I am not grateful enough! For the past month I have been complaining to God about my life. When God the Father audibly told me that He loved me, all I could think of was the things that aren’t going well in my life. Things that I hadn’t accomplished yet. Things that were still missing in my life. In reality I didn’t really listen.

Even when Jesus said, again audible, that He loved me, I started complaining about the fact that I haven’t gotten my book published yet. As if the publication of my book is more important than Jesus’s love for me. Of course, looking back, I can hit my head into a brick wall with piles of shame piled up on my shoulders but that is not going to help me now! Jesus taught me once, “An apology is merely a collection of words, only a change of heart can redeem the soul”. So I know that, especially with Jesus, an apology doesn’t really work. What Jesus rather sees is that I change my actions into the right ones. However that isn’t easy!

It is so difficult to not want more. In our own minds we simply need it. We need a roof over our head, food on the table, clothes to wear and, preferably, a stress-free life. And how we get it appears to be as important as what we get. We don’t settle for less. It has to be new. It has to be big, it has to be enough to our own standards. And in a way we do need all these things. We do! But God already knows that. God knows our needs long before we do! The point is that sometimes we just aren’t grateful enough. Instead of enjoying the moment, we are looking for our next problem. We keep searching for requests that we can lay down before God’s throne until we start making them up. But when are we going to stop and say, “Thank you”. When do we stop our lives and realize what we already have? When are we going to let the helicopter go without us because we have enough already?

A few years ago I made a rule for myself. During prayer I would thank God for at least one thing. In the evening for example, I would go through my day and thank God for as many things I could come up with. As time went by it became easier and easier to come up with things. In moments of difficulty it is extremely helpful. It allowed me to consciously think about that what God has given me. It made me see that God gives me more than I am often aware off. Maybe it can help you to? Another thing you could do to become more grateful is writing a prayer journal. You write down each prayer that you pray. Looking back on the prayers you can see what God has done for you. And so there are many more ideas to be more grateful.

Once a year we celebrate thanksgiving. It is a different date in most countries in the world. And each country celebrates it differently. In the United States for example it is highly celebrated with family diners. It is a public holiday that everyone celebrates. In Holland however, it is only celebrated in churches. Only Christians have a thanksgiving day. We don’t get a day off to celebrate and we have a church services in the evening. And I am pretty sure that some other countries don’t even have a thanksgiving day! But do we need a thanksgiving day? Do we need one day a year to be grateful? Maybe we do. However I think it is very important to be grateful every single day of your life.
Stop looking at what you don’t have and start realizing what God did give you. A little bit more positivity can brighten your soul more than you are aware of.

For me it remains a work in progress. When I feel down and alone it is a lot harder for me to be thankful for what I have. Those are the moments when I complain to God and I get frustrated with myself and my life. In those moments I will have to remind myself to look at what I do have, even if it is only one thing that I can come up with. Because I still believe that God is good and that He knows our needs! Besides, Philippians 4 verse 19 tells us, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” He is with us, taking care of us every day, to the very end of the age! And that alone is something to be grateful for!

Psalm 100

A psalm for giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Are you allowed to get angry at God?

Are you allowed to get angry at God? It is an interesting question, isn’t it? I wrestled with this question a lot when I was younger. As a teenager I had the feeling that anger was a sin. I wasn’t allowed to get angry at the people around me and especially not at God. I looked at God as this almighty being, high on His throne and judging the world. I had based this on the stories of Israel in the bible. The amount of times that God the Father got angry at the Israelites was downright astonishing. Read the old testament and see how often God gets angry after people made mistakes. The old testament is filled punishments in order to get reconciliation. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that my opinion of God shifted.

Sometimes we get angry at little things in our life, especially when we are stressed out or worried. But sometimes we get angry because we got hurt. In that case anger becomes part of a grieving process. Through anger we learn how to deal with something. And in other occasions we get angry because things aren’t fair. We feel a high sense of unjust at something in our own lives or in the lives of others. I think we can all recognize one of the three. We all get angry whether we like it or not. It is part of our sinful living. But is anger always wrong? I think not. I think we are allowed to get angry when we see or experience injustice. When I see the amount of children living in poverty, I get angry because I think it is unjust that the world has such a lack of equal sharing. If I hear that a mom died of cancer, leaving behind young children, I can get angry because it is unfair in my opinion. When I get angry, I am not saying that God is mean and didn’t do the right thing. Not at all! I get angry because of sin. Because we live in a dark world and we still didn’t learn how to listen to God and do His will. But this is not an answer to the question if we are allowed to get angry at God.

Look at the story of Jonah. I love this story. This is one of the few stories in the old testament that shows us how God responds at our anger.
Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh. The citizens of Nineveh sinned so much that God was pretty much done with them. Jonah had to go to Nineveh to tell the citizens that in three days God was going to destroy the city and all its inhabitants. Jonah however wasn’t willing to go. Instead He fled onto a ship that would sail in the opposite direction. But God wasn’t easy to fool. He provided a storm and Jonah was thrown overboard where a big fish swallowed him up. Three days Jonah sat in this fish to think about his actions. And Jonah ended up going to Nineveh after all. After Jonah told the citizens of Nineveh the message of God, he patiently waited for God to destroy the city. But God did not. The citizens of Nineveh changed their hearts and turned back to God. Because of this, God had mercy on Nineveh. This is where Jonah gets furious.
And what does God do? This is the part that I love so much. God calmly explains to Jonah exactly why He did what He did! God does not get angry at all, in fact He takes this moment of anger to teach Jonah more about Himself. Isn’t that amazing?

This story tells us that God does not mind our anger at all. In fact He takes it as an opportunity to teach us more about Himself. God’s heart is 100% love and God operates out of this love. His love is so big that we often don’t understand it.
Besides if God taught me one thing through my poetry, it is that God rather wants us to be honest! Our honesty, regardless of whether we are happy, sad or angry, means more to Him than anything else. We can keep a pretty facade but God knows our heart. If we would not be fully honest with God about what is going on inside of us, we would be lying to him. If we give God our anger and hurt, He is able to do something with that. God does not act unless we ask Him to. This also applies to our anger. God is fine with us being angry at Him as long as we keep an open mind to what He will do with that.

To me that is exactly the love of God. God loves us so much that He even wants to put up with our anger. For if we give our anger at Him, He can do something with that anger and turn it into something much more positive. So if you hold any grudges towards God, let Him know. He wants to do something with your anger. He wants to explain to you why He did what He did, but He cannot do that unless you tell Him. God is a God love, who will never force himself onto you. It is up to you to trust God. It is up to you to trust Him with your anger and your pain. He is already waiting for you, to shower you with His love and mercy. So don’t be afraid! Give God everything that you have inside your heart He is listening!