Thursday, February 28, 2008

Holly Turns 34; Oh, Happy Day!

It’s my birthday, and my only plans were to work on a research paper. And write this blog.

This is most unusual—I usually make a huge deal out of my birthday. I typically spend six weeks planning my party. One month prior, I start a “countdown”: My friends receive an email that says, “Only 31 more shopping days until Holly’s birthday!” In the past, I’ve ordered custom t-shirts and themed party favors. (At my 80s party last year, guests received Rubik’s cubes and jelly bracelets in their goody bags.)

Additionally, I typically spend the entire week of my birthday engaging in “mini-celebrations”: I take myself out to my favorite restaurant, I give myself a day of beauty at the salon, I buy a new outfit. This is in addition to all the gifts and other parties I get from family and friends.

But this year, I didn’t remind anyone about my birthday. I didn’t plan a party. Instead, I spent the day doing homework. By choice. As much as I love my birthday (and I truly do!), I’m so enamored with school right now, nothing could be better than studying.

Honestly. I LOVE grad school! (I'm working on a master's in Christian Apologetics.) And I love my research paper. It’s on the holes in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution; specifically, I argue against his idea life arose through purely natural means. In other words, Darwin theorized there was no supernatural involvement. No creator, no design, no plan—we simply won the cosmic lottery, and we’re lucky to be here. Francis Crick, a Darwinist who received the Nobel Prize for being a co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA, wrote, “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going." I wonder why Crick couldn't make the leap from thinking life seemed miraculous to believing it actually is.

I’ve been reflecting on my life—as we usually do when birthdays roll around—and I’m amazed at how truly miraculous and planned it is. Some folks would prefer to say I’m the recipient of good fortune. But in reviewing the evidence, I don’t think luck has much to do with it. Through a series of specific events, I find myself back in school at the perfect time. I wouldn’t have been ready for it a year ago, wouldn’t have considered it two years ago, and couldn’t have considered it five years ago. I started H-n-T two years ago as a way to stay in touch with a friend, and it turned into something amazing—something I never would have dreamed. Then, after reading H-n-T, the editors at Today’s Christian Woman asked me to blog for them. And thanks to my Today’s Christian Woman blog, traffic to H-n-T in the last eight months has grown from about 125 visitors a month to nearly 700.

Even bad circumstances have turned out to be good this year. In October 2006, I started having vision problems. I lost part of the sight in my left eye, and my doctor told me it was permanent and untreatable. For two months, it was a struggle to read—I briefly considered giving up writing because it seemed too hard. Then some friends started praying for me. I made up my mind that no matter how difficult it became, I was going to keep writing stories about my faith journey and God’s goodness. And I asked God to help me persevere.

As you may remember, my eyesight was restored without any treatment—other than lots of prayer from friends! It’s been just over a year since that happened. My vision was 20/200 in my left eye in December 2006; I couldn’t see the big “E” at the top of the eye chart. At my last eye exam, my doctor told me I was seeing 20/40 of out my left eye.

Since 2004, when I left Christianity Today International so hubby and I could move to California for his job, I wondered what God was going to do with my life. I was jobless, bored and miserable. And it seemed God was closing every door, which I couldn’t understand. I was making myself available! I was trying to tackle projects it seemed God was placing in front of me! But every time I got excited about some prospective work opportunity, it seemed to crash and burn. At times, I thought, Maybe God doesn’t have any plans for me. Or maybe I’m supposed to come up with my own plans. Or maybe I’m supposed to wait patiently … I just didn’t know what was going to happen.

I’m beginning to understand why I had to wait. Waiting is HARD. That’s why my birthday parties were so important in the past. They gave me something to look forward to. I’d celebrate that I’d gotten through another miserable year of waiting.

This year, I didn’t make any big plans for my birthday. I didn’t need to celebrate my survival or buy myself toys to feel better. This year I’m excited and expectant for stuff I see God lining up before me.

Guess I’m completely satisfied with the plans God is giving me. It’s been worth the wait, and then some.

To ponder:
1) Have you ever had to wait on God for something? How did this make you feel?

2) How did you deal (or how are you dealing) with the waiting time?

3) If you're presently waiting on God: Consider these words God had Jeremiah tell the Israelites: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart'" (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

How do these words make you feel? (Some will find the passage encouraging, other will view it as discouraging, and some will feel a mix of the two.) Then, tell God how the passage made you feel.

4) If you had to wait in the past: In retrospect, could you see how God used the wait? What would you say to someone who feels like they’re in a holding pattern? If it seems difficult to come up with encouraging words, consider: What do you wish someone had said to you or done for you?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Christians Behaving Badly

Holly's latest blog entry on Today's Christian Woman magazine's website is now up:

Christians Behaving Badly
Who’s giving the church a bad reputation? Perhaps I am.

To ponder:
1) How do you respond when other Christians behave badly?

2) Is recognizing bad behaviors in yourself difficult?

3) What’s helped you recognize and change these thoughts or behaviors?

4) How do you respond when someone who isn't a Christian points out bad behavior by groups like the Phelps family? Do you respond differently when this bad behavior is from an esteemed Christian or group?

5) If someone said, "Christians aren't perfect, but they seem to think they are," how would you respond? Consider using your own mistakes to illustrate your response.

Monday, February 04, 2008

North Korea Named No. 1 Persecutor of Christians

According to Open Doors’ 2008 World Watch List, North Korea remains the No. 1 persecutor of Christians. The organization identifies the following 10 countries as having the greatest intensity of Christian persecution:

1) North Korea (2007 ranking: 1)
2) Saudi Arabia (2)
3) Iran (3)
4) Maldives (5)
5) Bhutan (7)
6) Yemen (6)
7) Afghanistan (10)
8) Laos (9)
9) Uzbekistan (11)
10) China (12)

To compile the list, Open Doors compares answers given by indigenous contacts, field workers, and persecuted believers on 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom.

Open Doors serves persecuted believers throughout the world through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry, and advocacy.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Find the Presidential Candidate of Your Dreams

My friend Brooke sent me a link to an interesting website. By answering a few questions on the site, you can find out which presidential candidate most closely lines up with your views.

Not surprisingly, the candidate I was already leaning toward was the closest match for me. And according to my results, the top two candidates who's views most closely align with mine are both from my political party. So perhaps I really am a dyed-in-the-wool.

Check it out:

Friday, February 01, 2008

Election 2008: More Than One Christian Candidate

Super Tuesday is a'comin'! Here's a little something I wrote in response to comments on my election blog on the Today's Christian Woman website:

I'd prefer our country’s leader believe in God. But if faith is all we're demanding in a president, we're demanding too little.

Whether or not a presidential candidate is likely to turn to God for wisdom is hugely important to me. I do want to know the candidate's faith, but that's all the information I need. I believe the American people do not benefit from a prove-your-faith contest—it is a waste of time that could be better utilized to discuss the issues affecting our country.

And I believe it does not edify the church for political candidates to rattle off a few Bible verses come election time. Consider the perception these candidates are creating when, having not been vocal about their beliefs in the past, they suddenly start discussing Scripture and hymns during an election. I have a feeling they won't be talking about these things in a year. Will this make faith look like something to be put on when it is useful? Will this make faith appear to be shallow or surface? Will it make Christianity look like a mere social affiliation? The overuse of faith as a political buzzword dilutes its real meaning.

We shouldn't be analyzing the perceived depth of faith of a candidate, then choosing based on whoever seems like the "best Christian." If my church were interviewing for a pastor, the candidate's depth of faith would be my primary concern. Conversely, in considering my vote for president, faith may be a must-have quality, but that quality still plays a tiny role in my decision.

Here's a simple illustration of what I mean. If I go out for lunch one day and see I have many choices, I might think to myself, "I want to eat something hot, not cold." I've decided my food must be hot. But beyond that, I have a lot more decision-making to do. I've really only ruled out a few choices.

In the current presidential race, almost all of the candidates profess Christian faith. So we've got a whole lot of choices to make.

Misplaced Faith
Is faith the most important issue in the 2008 presidential race?