Through Suffering

My dad always told me that he thought the reason he was put on this planet was to raise his three kids and watch them grow up. (Personally, I believe he was selling himself short because he did so much more than that.) So when he died when I was only 20, technically an adult but not practically, I wasn’t only hurt, I was confused. How was I fully grown? I was still in school. I was old enough to vote, but I wasn’t old enough to drink. I was clueless about insurance, taxes, and other adult things. I still needed my dad. If his purpose was to raise me and help me, why did I lose him before he was finished?

I soon realized that even though my dad died decades before either of us thought he would, it was for a reason. If for no other reason, it was because my dad needed relief from his pain and God knew I’d be able to handle it with His help. About a year and a half later, I found out there was more to it than that.

A friend of mine told me that her grandfather had stage four lung cancer and that he didn’t have much time left. I told her that was exactly what I’d gone through with my dad. The more we talked, the more we discovered the similarities between my father and her grandfather. The situations were too similar to be a mere coincidence. This had God’s fingerprints all over it.

I listened to her talk about her grandfather and how much she loved him. It was beautiful. Her face lit up and she got a big smile on her face. I also listened to her talk about how hard it all was. Because I had been in her position before, I was able to give her advice and tell her how I dealt with it. She was kind enough to listen to me in return.

If she’s reading this, I’d like to officially extend my sincerest thanks to her. Not only did she give me a reason to talk about my dad, but she also helped me make sense of losing him.

She helped me realize that I would encounter situations like ours, although not always quite as similar, for the rest of my life. And while what happened to me was tragic, good could still come from it because now I could help others get through it. Both my friend and I handled the passing of our loved ones really well, and I’m proud of us, but not everyone handles it so well. Plus it’s always nice to have the option of talking to someone who’s been in your situation before, so if I could be that for anyone, I’d love to.

I can see why people think that being a Christian means you’re going to have this perfect life, although that’s definitely not true. It’s kind of a result of thinking of God as this omnipotent genie who gives you unlimited wishes. God’s all-powerful, right? And He loves you, right? So why wouldn’t He give you every single thing you ask for?

That’s fair. But what some people don’t realize is that God isn’t just interested in making all of us happy. That would mean that He serves us, and that’s incorrect. God is interested in each of us living the greatest life possible and us doing so as great people. That requires Him acting in our lives and a lot of growth on our part.

Growth never comes from comfort.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know why everything happens, that I have all the answers. That would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told. But I will tell you that I believe every hardship or setback we endure is for a reason, regardless of whether we know what that reason is or not, and that those awful times are an opportunity for us to grow as people and as believers.

Isaiah 64:8 (NRSV) says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

I took a pottery class in high school, and it left me with about ten mediocre pieces of pottery and a whole new way of looking at this verse. Being a human, I was used to being the clay. I understood the clay’s struggles, the pains of being centered, pulled, and sculpted. But for one semester, I was a potter, and I saw the pains and frustrations that came with it. If you don’t use enough water, your hands start to burn. You sit hunched over, which can get uncomfortable. You can never get all the dirt out from under your nails. Sometimes it’s really hard to center the piece. When you pull the clay up, it can be really uneven or too thin. If you make the slightest unintentional move with a tool, you can ruin a piece. But the most frustrating part is when something goes wrong right at the very end and you have to start all over.

That semester taught me that it also hurts to be the potter sometimes.

God is undoubtedly a much better potter than I am, but that doesn’t mean some of what He has to do to us doesn’t hurt Him as well.

God doesn’t just sit back and watch when we go through dreadful times. He isn’t laughing manically or wearing an evil smirk when they happen either. You going through a rough time doesn’t mean that God’s doing it for fun or that He doesn’t want to help you. He loves you too much for that.

Maybe you think that you can’t take much more. Maybe you think that it’s all worse than you imagined it could ever get, and you’re at the point of giving up. If you’re at the point where your faith is almost gone, hang on just a little bit longer. God is faithful. If He said He would make a way, He will make a way. If He told you He’d fix it, He’ll fix it. If He told you that it will get better, it will. Take God at His word. Hold on to His promises. At our lowest, there’s not much that we’ll trust and hold on to, but I can assure you that it is safe to hold on to God and what He’s told you. Trust God even if you don’t trust anything else.

Your bad times are necessary to get you to your greater life. That might not always make sense, and it certainly doesn’t feel awesome. But your suffering doesn’t go unnoticed, and it isn’t pointless. God will never put you through something that you hate for no reason at all.

By Carrie Prevette

Presence and Absence

I’m ordinarily very sorry when I post the blog late, but I’m not this time.

The bank I work at decided to open late Tuesday due to snow, so I was going to use my time wisely and work on the blog. The only problem was that I had writer’s block. It was bad. It’s the worst case I’ve had since college. I tried three or four different ways to start the post, and trust me, they were all terrible. I’m sorry I almost put you guys through that.

The bank opened late again Wednesday, but not as late, and I sort of slept in. Plus, I had no clue what I could write about that I hadn’t already said in a previous post. (Please note that I’m not sure that I’m not restating something in this blog, but it’s what God wants me to say, and I hope it’s a refreshing take on it.)

I didn’t have time on Thursday, and even if I did, I still didn’t know what to write about. The bank opened at its normal time, and right after work, I drove to Carrboro, accompanied by my sister, to see Aaron Carter. If Alan can move worship band practice to go see Garth Brooks then surely I can postpone the blog to see Aaron Carter, right?

Because let me tell you, about 15 years ago, my world revolved around Aaron Carter. Posters, magazines, every single CD he put out. If he was on TV, I was right there watching him. One day in the third grade, my sister got me out of school early to take me to a concert of his. It was my first concert, and I actually got to meet him. (I was speechless, which hardly ever happens.) Aaron was the only guy on the planet in my eyes. And yeah, many musicians and artists have come into my life since then, some of whom I’ve obsessed over, but Aaron was the first to captivate me and my heart in such a fashion. So regardless of how old I get or how hot of a mess he is, he’ll always have a place in my heart.

So I got home and in bed later than I usually do. I woke up on Friday morning after about six hours of sleep and was brushing my teeth when the theme of this post hit me.

I’m not sorry this is late because not only did I get to see the guy I once considered the love of my life (and am still in love with, I’ve found out), but I also have a much better blog post to share with you all because of it.

I finished a book called The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing. It was a good read. It doesn’t have a spot in my top five books or anything, but I’m not mad that it cost me time of my life that I’ll never get back. As you can tell from the fact that I read it, it’s not an actual guide to hunting and fishing. Anyway, at one point in the book, the speaker says that something was less defined by her presence than it was another woman’s absence.

I thought about how sad that was, how awful that feeling is. Then I thought about what Alan talked about on Sunday.

Alan talked about how God works with what we have to offer Him, and he said that the first step to a greater life is accepting Christ as your savior.

I knew when I read that line in the book that I could use it in this post, but I didn’t know that the entire post would go back to that one part or how close of a fit it was to what Alan said Sunday.

On Friday morning, as I was spitting out a mouthful of Colgate and reflecting on the night before, God showed me how it really should be all about presence instead of absence.

First, the focus of our lives and our relationships with God should be the presence of God, not the absence of what we’ve given up for Him. We are new creatures in Christ, which means we have to change from the creatures we were. If we’re going to pick up our crosses, we’ll have to lay some things down. In some sense, it doesn’t matter what you’ve put down. All that really matters is that you’ve now embraced God instead.

I’m not saying your testimony or the details of it are irrelevant because both are extremely important. What I’m saying is you shouldn’t focus on what you’ve given up. You shouldn’t let that define you. And you shouldn’t long after it. Drugs, promiscuity, gambling, a certain lifestyle, whatever it was that held you hostage before – regardless of how much you may think you miss it – does not compare to what God’s done for you and how much He loves you.

The first way is close to the second, which is to value the presence of the person you are now instead of frowning at the absence of who you were. If you legitimately think you’re worse off now in terms of where you are with God, it’s time to reevaluate some things and talk to God.

And there are people who are not so much frowning at the absence of who they were as they are focusing on who they were because they’re so ashamed that person ever existed. If that’s you, I just want to remind you that God’s forgiven you, and He wants you to forgive yourself. That person’s not you anymore, and that is something to rejoice over. Focus on who you are and wrap yourself up in God’s abundant love and grace.

Lastly, focus on the presence of what you have and not the absence of what you don’t have. It sounds a little silly when it’s put like that, but we let what we don’t have get us down or hold us back. The Bible is filled with people who told God they couldn’t do something because they lacked something. Seriously, if you read your Bible for a little while, it won’t take you too long to run into one of those people. And honestly, God didn’t care about what they didn’t have.

God chose you for what you have to offer, not to point out what you don’t have. He’s not interested in what you lack because He knows He’s bigger than any insufficiency you could ever have or possibly think of.

“Carrie, I don’t have much.”

That’s okay. It doesn’t take much with God. He loves you so much and is so excited about what the two of you can do together that He has taken every step you cannot take and will do everything you cannot do.

Don’t let the absences in your life define you. Look at who and what are present in your life. It’s another step to making your life even greater.

By Carrie Prevette

Temptation, Lies, and Destruction

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done is take lower level classes as a senior in college. I took a 100-level class for my Philosophy and Religion minor, and I took a 200-level class for my Literature minor. They made my work load lighter and easier to say the least.

The English class I took was British Literature and Criticism (I called it “Brit Lit and Crit”). Basically, we covered research papers, which was admittedly useless in the last semester of my academic career, and all of the famous, dead, white guys a lot of people dread to read.

One of those guys was Milton. We read a few pieces of Paradise Lost, which is about the Fall of Mankind, Eden, and Lucifer. I don’t think the newbies in the class understood the liberties that Milton took in making the story of the fall his own. There’s more about Lucifer and his squad, Eve’s feelings on her role in the grand scheme of the garden, etc., and you won’t find that sort of stuff in Genesis. When I overheard a girl say, “You can just read the Bible instead,” I felt bad for her in regards to how difficult the rest of her English classes would be if that was what she really thought.

I still haven’t read all of Paradise Lost. It’s one of those that I own but haven’t gotten around to yet. From what I have read of it, I do like Milton’s additions and flourishes. They’re thought provoking and make the characters more rounded and interesting. Milton’s take on the fall provides more information on why Eve ate the fruit – how she was feeling and why she was feeling that way, the fact that she did find a talking snake peculiar, and just how cunning and smooth Lucifer is.

I like it because I imagine the temptation had to be strong and crafty for Eve to disobey her Creator, which is exactly how it’s presented in Paradise Lost.

When I think about it, the first temptation was probably the hardest. Imagine the confusion of Eve and the persuasiveness of Lucifer. She went from “Whatever, talking snake. God said no,” to “Hmm. This fruit tastes sweeter than it looks,” in just one conversation.

Satan’s first attempt at temptation was award-winning, and he’s had nothing but time and energy fueled by hatred to perfect his craft.

Temptation isn’t his only livelihood. There’s also lying. Lies played a part in the fall, so Satan knew their power from the start. He knew that when said the right way and at the right time, his lies could hold us back from going down the right path or send us speeding down the wrong one, beat us down so that getting up seems impossible or set us up on such a high pedestal that everything else fades away altogether.

Then there’s destruction. Heaven itself was divided and torn over Satan. If you flip to the last book of the Bible, you’ll find that he’ll leave many things in ruins. At no point between the two events has he taken or will he take a vacation.

Using these three elements, Satan hopes to stop you from living the great life God has for you.

Just as God’s designed an outstanding, amazing life for you, Satan’s developed a plan to try and stop it. Roadblocks and misdirection and strongholds all along the path. Aches, insecurities, doubts, and desires strategically placed to turn you around or make you stop entirely.

It’s the same dilemma Eve faced long ago. Who are we going to believe? What are we going to pursue?

It’s so much easier when we put it like that, right? “Don’t do this,” or “Obviously, do that.” But there’s a big difference between theory and reality in this case. The temptation is pulling at us. The lies are convincing. The destruction can be subtle. It’s easy for me to say one thing when the context of how badly I want something or how truthful it felt or how messy it really is can’t seem to be put into words.

I’ve heard people give Satan too much credit, and I’ve heard people not give him enough. The truth is that Satan is very good at what he does, and what he does is never good. Another truth is that Satan is only as good at his job as we let him be. He only has power if we give it to him.

Those temptations to turn back to the substance that enslaved you to itself and left you alone? They’re compelling, but they’ll ease off if you cling to God.

That voice that whispers how disgusting you are, how irrelevant you are, how you should give up every time you look into the mirror can be silenced if you keep searching for God and finding your worth in Him.

The shambles your life has become can become a masterpiece. You just have to keep your eyes and ears on the Master.

It all takes practice, but that’s what life is for. Practicing for eternity. Taking time to learn what’s right and then taking time to get it right.

I often say that I think John 3:17 is just as lovely (if not lovelier) than John 3:16. It tells us that Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, but that He was sent so that we would be saved. God isn’t condemning you for giving into temptation or listening to the lies or continuing down a destructive path. That’s not His goal or His mission. He wants to save you from it because He loves you, and He hates what all of that is doing to you.

God can make it better. He can help you avoid all of the hurt and terror that Satan wants to put you through. If you stay with Him, you’ll be more than alright; you’ll be great. And there won’t be a single thing Satan can do about it on his own.

By Carrie Prevette

Bowing Down and Bowing Out

I don’t think I’ve ever told most of you the story of how I ended up attending Western Carolina University.

I became a Duke fan when I was eight years old. (Everyone in my family is a Duke and/or Carolina fan, so it was a 50/50 shot.) I loved their men’s basketball team, and I knew how good of a school they were. I decided that’s where I wanted to go to college not too long after that.

The older I got, the more into it I got. I was obsessed with more Duke players than you probably care to read about. I used to visit the campus once a year with my older sister as a member of the Junior Blue Devil Club, which allowed me to watch other Duke sports teams, meet athletes, wander around the campus, visit the chapel, and interact with members of the Duke community. I simply fell in love with the place.

I knew I would have to do unbelievably well in school to get there, so that’s what I tried to do. I did well enough in middle school to set myself up to do well in high school, and I did. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I will say that by the end of high school, I had been in five clubs, two honor societies, and had a poem published.

I applied to Duke, Lee University, Davidson, Western Carolina, and Evangel University. (That’s the order in which I wanted to attend them.)

I was surprised when Duke was wooing me. I was clearly wooing them, working hard, getting letters of recommendation, and even taking classes they wanted me to take that I didn’t necessarily want to take, but I guess I never thought they’d actually show interest in me. But they did. They sent me something weekly it seemed, one item of which was an invitation to tour the campus, prospective North and South Carolina students only. It made me feel good, like I wasn’t an idiot for thinking I could actually get in.

The entire time, I was praying for God’s will and guidance. I told Him if He didn’t want me to go to Duke that I shouldn’t be accepted because we both knew I would follow my will instead of His if it played out any other way.

Ironically, Duke was the first school I wanted and the last one I heard from. I got in to Lee, Western, and Evangel. I didn’t get in at Davidson, but it honestly didn’t bother me at all. Duke gave me my letter online at the very end of March. It was the day after the Duke/Carolina game. I was beyond nervous. Everything I’d wanted for the past ten years came down to a letter that I couldn’t even hold in my hands as I read it for the first time.

It was honestly the nicest rejection I’ve ever received.

The record for the number of first-year applicants had been broken, and everyone on the admissions staff had said how difficult the decisions were. If a lot of the people who didn’t get in had applied a year or two before, they would’ve gotten in. They physically did not have room for all the ones they wanted. They wished me well wherever I ended up, and they were sure I’d be successful in whatever endeavors I pursued.

To this day, I’ve never been so heartbroken over something that didn’t involve an actual human being other than myself. I cried on and off for two days. I didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere; I just wanted to curl up and be sad.

My parents wouldn’t let me do that. I still had to do homework and go to school (where I broke down three times the next day). And it was just as well because I had a month to figure out where I was going. (The decision deadline for Western was April 30th.)

Although Lee was second and Western was fourth, I prayed and thought about it a lot. It never came to me in a dream. No burning bush, no small whisper in my ear, no angel waking me in the night. God let me choose.

It seemed crazy to me, almost unbiblical. If God had a specific plan for me, how could I choose for myself? But it was the vibe I was getting, and it’s something that a dear family friend and man of God who’d been praying for me as well told me. It became clear that God was going to bless me either way.

Western was less expensive and closer to home, so with God not telling me otherwise, it’s where I went.

I don’t regret a second of it. No, WCU isn’t Duke (a point I gladly would’ve made five years ago), but it has many things Duke never will, and it provided opportunities Duke wouldn’t have. I feel oddly safe in saying that my life wouldn’t be as lovely now had I gone to Duke instead of Western.

God had greater plans for me than I had for myself.

There’s a lot to be said for obedience and sacrifice. I think many of us don’t like to hear those two words. They’re harsh words of God from the Old Testament, not loving words from Jesus in the New Testament.

Please know that I’m not trying to sing my own praises here (Trust me, you don’t want to hear me sing anything, but especially that), but I believe that part of the reason why my college experience was so great is because of the sacrifices I made, both in general and to pursue God’s will, and the obedience I showed God and was willing to show Him.

The words “obedience” and “sacrifice” have connotations and denotations that aren’t exactly fun. They give an image of bowing down to something or someone and bowing out of pursuing or maintaining something you want or love. Those images are strong, but accurate. Bowing down and bowing out make us feel or seem weak, and that’s no fun to us either.

But God told Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).

Also, look at who you’re obeying and sacrificing for.

If it’s the one living, true God, (to me) you automatically get a pass. It’s awesome, and it makes sense.

If anyone’s worth sacrificing for, it’s God. Being so loving, He’ll always bless you back. It might be in the form of a second chance or a long hug from that one person you really need it from or some other way. Regardless, it’ll be given in whatever form you most need it in.

If you were to obey anyone, it should be God. Obedience to God means accessing the best life you can have. God took time to design you and the best life for you. The only way to live that great life is to seek it by seeking and obeying God.

We may not like to say “obedience” and “sacrifice,” but whether or not we say it or think a lot about it or worry about what doing so will make others think of us, both must be done for God to make us and our lives greater. They’ll cultivate your relationship with God to the point where you’ll do them without thinking too much about them.

By Carrie Prevette

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