Closed Doors

We all have our share of failed plans. Grand plans that just didn’t work out. Plans to study abroad or have kids or make it big in that band right out of high school or get on the fast track to promotion at work. Plans that – no matter how ridiculous they sounded or how encouraged they were – would have certainly changed our lives.

But doors close, right? There are certain things that I want to do that I shouldn’t do, regardless of whether or not I know why. And my understanding of that doesn’t necessarily change how upset I get about those paths being closed off. It does mean, though, that if I trust God enough to ask Him to guide me, I should trust Him enough to actually let Him do it. If I claim to believe He knows better than me, I should at least try to let Him lead me to “better.”

Paul, evidently, was pretty good at that. Or at least he was at the time of Acts 16. Paul and his people originally wanted to go to Asia, but were redirected by the Holy Spirit to Phrygia and Galatia. Then they wanted to go to the province of Bithynia but were redirected to Troas. That’s where Paul had a vision from God to go to Macedonia, and he did. Specifically, Paul’s group went to Philippi in the district of Macedonia (Acts 16:6-12).

“Why?” is probably the most human of questions. We always want to know the reason for something. And as much of an uber human as Paul was, I also find Paul pretty relatable at times. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t say that Paul questioned God here, but it would’ve been understandable if he had.

So Paul and his crew are in Philippi, speaking to people, even doing a little baptizing. One day they’re on their way to the place where they pray when they encounter a demon-possessed fortune-teller. She was good, but she got on Paul’s nerves. He eventually cast the demon out of her. The guys she worked for were mad and took Paul and Silas to the authorities. Everyone was all worked up to the point that a mob formed. So Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten badly, and put not only in prison, but into the inner dungeon of the prison and into stocks (Acts 16:13-24).

This is why I’m God’s problem child: at this point in the story, I would be mad. In every way, Paul is not where he wants to be. He’s in the most secure part of a prison in Macedonia, not preaching to people in Asia. God gave Paul a vision after He closed two doors, and Paul followed, and now he’s seemingly stuck in a bad situation. I would be scared and grumpy and ready to just get through it and go.

Paul and Silas’ situation seems very hopeless. But hopeless is where God shines brightest.

Paul, unlike me, didn’t dwell on his bad circumstances and failed plans. Unlike me, he didn’t question or doubt. No, Paul prayed and sang. Everyone listened to them, and around midnight, there was an earthquake. The foundations shook, doors opened, chains fell off. The guard thought everyone had left and was going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him. And the guard asked what he had to do to be saved. Paul told him to believe in Jesus. After his conversion, the guard washed their wounds and took them to his house where they baptized him and all of his family. And the next day, the authorities let Paul and Silas go (Acts 16: 25-36).

Thinking of what we wanted to happen but never did rarely puts us in a great mood. Thinking of opportunities missed and roads not taken cause us to look behind and not forward.

In December, I’ll have been on this Earth for a quarter of a century. And despite the fleeting feelings of awe and aging I have towards that fact from time to time, I think most of us, if not all of us, can agree that’s not very long. Yet I find myself owning up to the fact that I haven’t done some things I would’ve liked to by now, items on the bucket list that I thought would be crossed off already, like having a book published or traveling to certain places. It’s not to say that I’m running out of time so much as I sometimes worry that the timeline doesn’t look good someone like myself who gets comfortable and stuck in ruts a lot. So at almost 25, I already look back too much.

What good does that do me? What can I do to change anything that’s already happened even if I wanted to. And would I really want to considering all of my experiences from both successful and failed plans have made me who I am?

Plus, how does that make God feel? I say I trust Him and want Him in control, but the second our plans for my life differ, I huff and pout and try to compromise. Surely it must hurt Him to know I’m not trusting Him, to know that something like that could affect how I see Him or how I feel about Him. And to know that I look back at failed plans that I made for myself like they could’ve been better than His? How does He still love me like He does?

Because He’s God.

Paul must have known this because he doesn’t dwell on what he wanted. He was focused on what was right in front of him. But Paul saw just as much value and potential in Macedonia as Asia. He was open to God and had faith in Him.

Paul’s faith even carried him though the dungeon. Dark, dank, secluded, and guarded. Had God not shook the foundations, Paul would have stayed there, but Paul’s faith in God’s faithfulness was bigger than Paul’s opinion of his circumstances.

Let’s try something crazy. Let’s trust God. Let’s have faith in Him. Let’s be bold enough to see what “better” looks like. Take God up on His promises and plans. Be open and obedient to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Psalms: Sixteen

When I was in high school, I was known for two things: my love of Duke basketball and my love of Jesus, and it was probably in that order.

It would’ve been hard to not know that I was a Duke fan in high school. I literally had enough Duke shirts to wear a different one every day for a month. My friends knew not to call me during games. I had pictures taped up in my locker of myself with Duke players that were taken when I met them and the 8×10 team picture displayed in the front of my binder. The teachers I had that were basketball fans talked sports with me, and those who were UNC fans picked on me in a friendly way. When one of my Spanish classes did Secret Santa, my friend Matt told me he wished he had my name for it because all he’d have to do is get me something with “Duke” on it.

You could tell I was a Duke fan from looking at me, but you could tell I loved Jesus from talking to me. I took my relationship with God very seriously. So when I reached the point of applying to college, praying for God’s guidance was natural.

This was a crucial point for me and in my relationship with God. I didn’t get into my first choice school, Duke University, which was probably for the best. I told God to not let me be accepted if He didn’t want me there because we both knew I would go there anyway if I could. I ended up attending Western Carolina University, never visiting once prior to orientation. And while my heart still pines for Duke on some level and probably always will, I wouldn’t trade my four years at WCU for anything in the world. The people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned, the ways I’ve grown, and my fondness for the mountains are invaluable to me and never would’ve happened if I’d gone to Duke. The plot twist of me attending Western Carolina strengthened my trust in God and His guidance.

I think we speak so much about the guidance of God that it’s become almost cliché when the benefits of God’s guidance are actually underrated.

And I think that David would agree with at least the latter part of that. Let’s join him about halfway through Psalm 16 (although I encourage you to read the entirety of it) where he says, “I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever” (Psalm 16:7-11, NLT).

One could argue the when David writes “night” that he literally means night, but let’s look at it here as more of a symbol. Nighttime is dark. Without any sort of tool that sheds light or adjusts your vision, you can’t see in darkness. Not being able to see is one thing, but it’s not knowing what’s around us or what’s coming due to being unable to see that’s scary. So if we take the word “night” in this scripture to mean in the darkness when one can’t see ahead, it takes on a new meaning.

David is saying that God is guiding him at all times and that is why he praises God. It’s also why he trusts God, why his faith in God is so strong. David knows there’s nothing he’s going to face without God and nothing that can defeat him when God is with him.

Not that the faith we find here isn’t good at face value, but it reads a lot like faith that is tried. This is faith that has experience and knows, as if second nature, to trust God.

Experience is a great supplement to faith, and by that I mean that my faith has grown and been reinforced through my experiences. Experience is not a substitute for faith, though. While it may enhance your faith, it cannot replace your faith because experience has already happened with certainty whereas faith looks to an uncertain future.

If we pray for God’s guidance, whether it’s new to us or not, God will guide us. It might not be to the paths that we want to take and it may be to a road that we can’t see very far along. That’s where faith comes in, and although faith must be worked out like a muscle, it must have a foundation to start with. So whether you’re a new believer or a longtime friend of God’s, He wants to guide you and help you reach what’s best for you. If you do it enough, it’ll become second nature to you as it was for David.

Has my life turned out as my 18-year-old self would’ve wanted? No, it hasn’t. But it has turned out better than I could’ve hoped, and that is only because I asked God for His guidance and had enough faith to take Him up on what He presented to me. The very same can happen for you. I won’t tell you that it’ll be easy or that it’ll always be fun, but I can tell you that it’s worth it and it strengthens your relationship with God immensely.

As uncertain as the future may be, we know that if God is guiding us, we can also be unshaken and rejoice. We can face what we don’t know with peace because we do know that God is with us and won’t leave us. And when we stand in the light on the mountain, we can look back in the dark of the valley and celebrate the grace and goodness of God.

 By Carrie Prevette

 

Psalms: Eleven

To be so simple, hope is sort of complex. It’s simple in that we all want and need hope and that we can all experience it. It’s complex in that it isn’t always constant and consistent.

I’ll give you an example. Every year, Western Carolina University holds the Spring Literary Festival, which is when a lot of writers come to the campus to speak and read some of their work. It’s basically Christmas for English majors. Most English professors cancel class so students can go to an event instead. It also means that students are exposed to a wealth of talent and experience for four days, which is completely invaluable, especially to aspiring writers. Plus, the local (and lovely) bookstore, City Lights, sets up a few tables outside of the theater or auditorium so you can buy the authors’ books if you like what you hear. It’s a phenomenal time, especially if you’re a literary nerd.

Nick Flynn came to speak my sophomore year. Flynn is an incredible writer and a kind, interesting person. After he read and spoke, he signed autographs, and when I went to get my book signed, he talked to me a little bit about what I studied and what my aspirations were. When I told him that I wanted to be a writer, he encouraged me, and he said to remember that a lot of writers aren’t published and distinguished until their late thirties or forties.

So there stood Nick Flynn – a man who, as far as I’m concerned, is living the dream – telling me – a 20-year-old girl who’s only really good at writing and loves it – that it could be 20 more years before my stories and words could reach the world.

I wasn’t hurt by his words at all, but I was a little bummed out. Call it innocence or call it optimism, but I felt a little underestimated. Regardless, I didn’t feel hopeful.

Now at age 24, I find Flynn’s words extremely hopeful and comforting. In fact, of all the things anyone’s ever told me in regards to writing, Flynn’s words sound out the loudest and the clearest. I’ve grown to treasure them and the pleasant exchange they’re encased in.

As I said, hope is both simple and complex, and I believe that to be shown plainly in Psalm 11.

David starts in verses 1-3 (NLT), “I trust in the Lord for protection. So why do you say to me, ‘Fly like a bird to the mountains for safety! The wicked are stringing their bows and fitting their arrows on the bowstings. They shoot from the shadows at those whose hearts are right. The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?’”

I don’t know the circumstances behind this psalm, but the situation doesn’t sound too good. Maybe it was a wave of persecution that was set to fall on David or a personal vendetta or something else altogether. Whatever the case may be, David seems to be sticking around when other people would not. They’re telling him to bail, to get out before it gets worse, but David doesn’t. He plans to stay because he firmly trusts in God.

David goes on to explain in verses 4-7, “But the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven. He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth. The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence. He will rain down blazing coals and burning sulfur on the wicked, punishing them with scorching winds. For the righteous Lord loves justice. The virtuous will see his face.”

This is David’s rebuttal to all of the people telling him to head out of whatever this bad situation is. He says that God’s still watching over everyone, no matter how bad things have gotten. His point is that God sees and God knows, and He’s going to fight by David’s side because David is in the right. David has hope where others do not because He’s putting his faith in something that everyone else isn’t. Where their lack of faith has left them hopeless, David’s faith has made him hopeful because he knows the outcome doesn’t rest in his hands.

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? God has been there for him before, so He’ll be there again and again. After all, God is faithful even when we’re not, constant even when we’re erratic.

But doesn’t applying this to our own lives complicate things?

When it comes to our faith, it’s easy to lose sight of hope and forget the times God’s brought us through. And even if we don’t forget, it’s easy to feel like this time’s different or maybe our luck is running out. But God is greater than luck, and He isn’t some meter or allotment that can be depleted. And even if this time is different, God is not. He’s the same, His abilities are the same, and His love for you is the same.

Wherever you find your hope, hold onto it. Hope is a jewel, especially in the state the world is in today. But know that whatever gives you hope, it cannot and does not compare to the hope found in God. David stuck to his beliefs, and made it out of that troublesome time and the next and the next. It wasn’t easy, but it happened because of who he was placing his trust in. It was the same God that wants to help you now. And isn’t that at least worth a shot?

By Carrie Prevette

James: Faith Alive

“Am I alive or just breathing?” is a line from one of my favorite songs by a band called TEAM. I find the entire song “Am I Alive” beautiful, but this refrain really strikes me whenever I listen to it. It’s about asking yourself if you’re just going through life in the literal sense and merely surviving or if you’re doing the things you love and really experiencing the world around you. It reminds me of what Jesus said in John 10:10 when He says that he came to give us life more abundantly. And when I thought of this week’s blog, it was the first thing that came to my mind and wouldn’t leave.

James tells us that faith without works isn’t even breathing, it’s dead.

I’ve often said that a relationship with God is like running on a treadmill. You either keep going by moving forward or you stop and get pulled back. In my experiences, you can’t really take a break from God. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to step away for a bit and then come back and pick right up where you left off. Faith is a muscle. It has to be used and worked to stay in the shape it’s in or to grow. If it goes unused, it loses its strength.

Seems pretty simple, right? In order to keep and grow the faith we have, we have to use it, to exercise it. But how?

There’s prayer, for one. Let’s not discount or underrate prayer. It’s our primary form of communication with God, so it’s a very clear way to put faith in Him. By praying, we exercise faith that God is there, that He’s listening, that He cares, and that He can do something about whatever we bring to Him. Prayer is a huge way to exercise faith.

Then, as James points out, there’s works.

James talks about faith and works going hand in hand in 2:14-26. A lot of people misinterpret what James says in 2:14 (NRSV), “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” And in verses 17-18, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” And in verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” Some people take this to mean that works alone without an already existing faith can earn salvation and redemption.

Doesn’t that cheapen God? Honestly, doesn’t it make it sound like God is someone who can be bought and with our ideas of righteousness and goodness at that? God’s not interested in what we have to offer, nor is He surprised by what we bring to the table. He created us and basically gave us all that we’re offering back to Him. If He was after what we can give Him, what we can use to “earn” anything from Him, He would’ve just kept it for Himself.

No, as always, God is after our hearts. And it is the heart we put into our works that show and grow our faith.

Take what James says in verses 15-16. He writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” James isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with well-wishes or prayers or encouraging words on their own. He’s saying if we have the means to help someone, to legitimately improve their situation on a real and practical level and choose not to do it, that doesn’t show a heart full of love and faith. It doesn’t show that we have faith that God will use that moment to turn things around for that person. It doesn’t show that we have faith that people will help serve in God’s method to answer the prayers we offer Him for the individual’s case. After all, we could act in a way to help answer such a prayer and we’re not even doing so ourselves.

Alan said Sunday that a faith that works is a faith that transforms. That doesn’t mean that your faith just transforms you and your life. It transforms those you interact with, and it transforms every part of the world that you touch.

Let’s look at faith at two different levels and as two different definitions. The first is belief. To have faith means to believe something or someone. If I say, “I believe in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith in His existence for sure, and maybe depending on how I act or the context of the conversation, it also means that I have faith in His abilities. The funny thing is, even though I’m stating that I believe in God, the sentence somehow says more about me, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the vagueness of the word “believe.” Or maybe it’s that belief in God is a pretty basic thing. Growing up in the South, almost everyone native believes in God’s existence as much as their own, and we often hear people from various places in the world be sure enough or willing to admit belief in the existence of God. James says in 2:19 (NIV), “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” So faith in the sense of belief, acknowledging existence or power, alone isn’t that impressive.

The second level and definition is confident. To have faith in someone or something means to have confidence in him/her/it to do something. If I say, “I’m confident in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith that He can and will do something. The structure of this sentence is the same as the other; I am the subject and God is the object. The sentence itself doesn’t change the meaning. Yet this second level and second sentence tells more about God because He’s the recipient of my confidence. “Confident” is a more specific word that requires more faith. What is impressive isn’t that I have confidence; it’s who I have confidence in that matters.

Are you stuck somewhere between belief and confidence? Is your faith alive, just breathing, or actually dead? How much work are you doing for God?

Faith produces works because it spills over in our lives so much that it causes us to want to do more. We feel compelled to show people instead of just telling them. And we instinctively want to make our faith and place in the Kingdom of God active. No, works will never earn us salvation, but they are certainly a product of it.

By Carrie Prevette

Faith for Pain

Our associate pastor, Scott, gave a beautiful sermon on Sunday about pain and growth. He spoke of the birth of his son, Jackson, and the many health issues Jackson has had in the short amount of time He’s been alive. (Jackson’s not even a year old.) Jackson has spent most of his life in the hospital, although he’s home now, and that means that Scott has had plenty of trips to the hospital and an abundance of opportunity to get mad at God.

Scott didn’t see this as God picking on him or punishing him like some would. He saw it as an opportunity to lean on God and trust that it’d all work for His glory. I’m sure Scott was many things during this difficult time – upset, exhausted, ready for good news. But through it all, he was also faithful.

The man who could’ve lost his son is almost the same man who stood in front of the congregation Sunday and advised, “Don’t waste your pain.” I say “almost” because this Scott is more tried-and-true, stronger, than he was before.

You probably have a story like Scott’s. Maybe not one as universally bad as almost losing a child, but I’m sure you have a story of a time in your life that was dark and, at least in your eyes, potentially earth-shattering.

I’ve wrote about my dad’s passing several times on this blog because that was my darkest time. When my dad went to the doctor because of back pain, I had no idea that it was cancer and that I only had two months left with him. I wandered the world (well, my world) concerned about him but blissfully unaware that I was soon going to lose the man who passed on to me a lot of my personality traits and who always loved and believed in me.

I was merely 20 when he died and not even a mature, capable 20. I’d never imagined my life without my dad, so I was stunned and scared. Heartbroken. How could the world keep spinning and functioning without Charles Prevette’s presence? And what was I supposed to do? Who was going to relay the adventures of Othello, our adorable dog, to me when I was at college? Who was going to make sure I was taking proper care of my car? Who was going to tell me corny jokes and funny stories? Who was I going to watch action movies with or get into pointless arguments with? Who was I going to watch sports and yell at the refs and players with? Who was going to tell me how proud they were of me all the time?

I’ve had people ask me how I did it, how I made it through. I’ve given advice to friends in similar situations to the one I was in. All I know to say is that I wouldn’t have made it on my own. I had family who shared my pain, friends who wouldn’t leave me for the world, and a God who I leaned on so much that I practically laid down on Him. I knew I had to live the rest of my life without my dad, but I tried not to focus on that. I focused on getting through day after day, even moment after moment, without him with the help of those I love.

We read in Lamentations 3:22-23 (NRSV), “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NRSV), “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

He writes a few chapters later in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV), “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

David writes in Psalm 63:7 (NLV), “For You have been my help. And I sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings.”

And Psalm 147:3 (NLT) reads, “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.”

God tells us in Isaiah 41:10 (NLT), “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

We’re given all these lovely promises and more by God, so why not take Him up on them? Seriously. Take Him at His word. I dare you to. I dare you to give faith a chance. Be crazy enough to believe Him.

When I think of faith, I think of that scene in Indiana Jones when he has to cross a chasm on a bridge he can’t see. The viewer can see if from other angles, but from where Indy’s standing, there doesn’t appear to be anything to help him cross. Sweaty and nervous, he steps out anyway.

There was something there to catch his foot when he stepped although he couldn’t see it. Likewise, God is there to catch you. He could be sitting right in front of you, obvious to everyone else but you oblivious to Him. He could be seen by no one but be there all along. Regardless, God is there to love you and watch after you and embrace you, even if you fall into Him. You just have to trust Him.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – The Bible is a goldmine of inspirational, hopeful verses. I’ve listed a few above, but I would love to know what scripture has been a light for you through the dark. Feel free to share the scripture in the comments. It may help another reader like it helps you.

Promises

Promises are porcelain treasures. We love them and want to keep them. We’re careful when we handle them, and we’re careful about who we let handle them. We don’t pass one out to everyone. If we look at them and see a crack, our hearts sink. They might as well be ruined because they’ll eventually break. And when they do break, so do our hopes. We’re left with pieces and powder, dust and chips, and not a lot of faith left in the one who did the breaking.

I don’t have the best track record of keeping promises, and I’m sort of ashamed of that. I now only make promises I know I can keep or will truly try to keep, but I’ve let a lot of people down by breaking promises to them.

I can also say that it’s no fun being on the receiving end of a broken promise. High hopes turn to letdowns, and in that void, there’s a lot of room for bitterness, anger, and depression. We start to feel like we don’t mean that much to whoever hurt us, or at least that our feelings don’t.

Like Alan said Sunday, there are several aspects of having a relationship with God that seem too good to be true. We feel that we have to earn salvation because we’re not used to free, inclusive gifts. We feel that we have works and obligations to fulfill in order to find favor with God because that’s how we’re used to winning favor with our fellow man. Sometimes we’re skeptical or forgetful of God’s promises because our earthly experiences have taught us to do so in regards to any promise.

Life has taught us to take some things with a grain of salt for fear of them seeming or being too sweet, and someone else’s promise is one of those things.

Numbers 23:19 (NLT) says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NLT) says, “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:23 (NLT) says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”

God will never break His promise. It’s simply not who He is; it’s against His nature to do so. He’ll never tell us what we want to hear if it’s untrue. He won’t turn on us one day or change His mind. He means what He says, and what He says is true and will come to pass.

Our old nemesis, doubt, cannot live in the same place as faith.

When we doubt God’s desire or even His ability to keep His word, we doubt Him as a being. We doubt that He is who He says He is. We doubt His nature.

Sometimes we don’t trust God enough with something to even pray about it.

We say things like, “It’s not that big of a deal. I can handle it,” or “God’s got other things to deal with. I won’t bother Him with something so small.” Maybe we mean those things, but often it’s a matter of us wanting to control the situation or not believing that God will come through for us.

Our doubt always says more about us than it says about God.

The beautiful thing is that God is faithful even when we’re not. Our doubt doesn’t affect God’s ability to keep His promises. Our capacity to believe and hope doesn’t change who God is. His faithfulness should breathe faith into us, but even if it doesn’t, it won’t change anything. He’ll love us and look out for us all the same.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. — I found this picture a while back, and this seems like the right time to share it with you all. I believe this image to be accurate. And my prayer is that we’ll all trust God enough to give us what we truly want that we won’t let what we think we want stand in our way.

trustme1

Shapeshifter

There’s a guy in Asheville who turned my whole weekend around on Saturday, and he doesn’t even know it.

I have no clue who he is, although we chatted in such a way that my sister thought we did know each other. All I know about him is that he works at Farm Burger, he ran the cash register on Saturday, he is a redhead, he has a mustache that was actually kind of nice and wasn’t creepy, and he was kind. And he was a really big blessing to me.

I started out happy and excited on Saturday, but it changed. At every turn, I was being ignored or forgotten about, and I know that sounds exaggerated, but I promise it’s not. No one listened when I talked, and I had to repeat myself a lot because no one cared to listen the first time. So we were at the Asheville Comic Expo, which was very busy and filled with people, and I felt like a ghost that was trying to tag along.

Now, I’m a big girl with bright red hair. I look very different, and I take up a lot of space. I’m also very loud and opinionated, qualities that individual people and society as a whole tend to critique me on. So you can understand why I think it’s hard to flat-out ignore me without trying to on some level.

It wasn’t until someone actually looked at me and saw that I was just about ready to cry very publically, despite the fact that I hate crying in front of people, that anyone even realized something was wrong, let alone bothering me.

I know this probably sounds like a little kid whining that no one’s paying attention to him or her, but it was more than that. I felt so insignificant to everyone and everything around me; I doubted that I mattered, that my presence made any sort of difference at all.

We went to lunch at Farm Burger, which was new to me and completely crowded. I was feeling the contrast of being ignored and being big, so I felt bad about myself and bad about being in the way. I’m also a tad claustrophobic, so I started hyperventilating a little. As we moved forward in the winding line, I calmed down and started to feel a little better, like maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

When I got to the front of the line, I was prepared to just order and move on, but when I asked the cashier how he was doing, he spoke honestly about how they were busy and how he sort of wanted it to calm down a little. He sounded overwhelmed, and I could relate, so I told him about how dreadful the back of the line was compared to the front. I think it was just the case of two friendly talkers who needed someone to talk to. Although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, I think he made me feel better because he was nice enough to act like he cared even if he didn’t, and out of everyone in that place, he vented to me. Even if I didn’t matter to anyone else, for a moment, I mattered to him because he seemed to feel better after our interaction. I know I did.

Doubt is one of the worst monsters because at some point, it comes after us all, and it comes with different faces to attack us. It’s a shapeshifter.

We doubt if we matter. We doubt our choices. We doubt ourselves. We doubt if God’s listening to us. We doubt if God loves us. We doubt God and His promises.

Faith is the opposite of doubt. Where doubt cripples us, faith heals us. Doubt harms and faith helps.

In our spiritual lives, we’re constantly practicing one or the other. Either we’re believing in God for something or we’re telling Him we don’t quite think He’s up to the task.

When Jesus invited Peter for a little stroll on the waves in Matthew 14:22-33, Peter stepped out in faith. When he got out of the boat, his mind, his eyes, and his heart were all set on Jesus. He’d seen Jesus do so many wild and weird things that, for a moment, walking on water seemed as normal as walking down the street.

Then the wind caught Peter’s attention. He began paying attention to the storm around him instead of his God in front of him. Doubt poured on deck, and our pal Pete began to sink.

Peter’s walk on the water and our walks with God were/are totally dependent on whether we have faith in God or whether we doubt Him.

If we believe in God, we need to act like it. We need to pray about things and speak encouragingly when we talk about them. Our mindset needs to be positive, and if any doubt tries to seep in, we need to pray that God would remove it.

Praying does no good if we don’t have faith.

I know a girl whose parents got divorced, and a few years later, she told me, “I pray they’ll get back together, but I know it’s not going to happen.”

I actually chuckled (rude, I know) and replied, “Then what’s the point of praying?”

If we have enough faith to believe that God loves and listens to us, if we have enough faith to pray, why not have faith that God will answer our prayers? Why not have faith that He’ll give us our hearts’ desires?

Doubt is a huge monster, and it pursues us all. It’s hard to beat regardless of the form it takes, but all it takes to defeat it is prayer and faith. Yes, it’s hard to take down doubt, but when it goes down, it goes down hard.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S.- I’d also like to thank the cosplayers at ACE who were dressed as Jack Sparrow, Robin, and Aang because they also made me very happy.

Prized Possession

I’m a sucker for a good image.

There are pictures saved on my phone right now that exist in my world solely because I enjoy looking at them. I won’t use them as my lockscreen or set them as my cover photo on Facebook or anything like that. They have no great meaning in my life. But if I’m sad or bored, I’ll look through my pictures and find them and smile.

I have a photographic memory. Details will stick out in my mind when I remember things, like the color of someone’s shirt or the number of pens on a desk. This also helps me remember what people say because I can remember how much sunlight was coming in the window behind them or how chipped my nail polish was when I looked down at my hands. (Three and a half years ago in my Philosophy of the Mind class, our professor, Dr. Hoyt, told us that there’s a study that proves people who doodle when they take notes tend to retain more information. As a doodler, I found this comforting, but as a person whose memory seems to work that way most of the time, I shouldn’t have been surprised.)

I’m a visual learner. If you tell me how to do something, there are plenty of ways I can mess it up between what you tell me and how I perform your instructions. But if you show me how to do something, I can compare what you did to what I did and make my own notes. I can see and remember.

It’s probably no surprise that my favorite literary element is imagery. I love it when someone chooses just the right words and weaves them together well enough to form a picture in my mind.

James 1:16-18 (NLT) reads, “So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.”

Verse 17 is one of my favorite pieces of scripture in the Bible because it evokes this image of God that I truly love. It makes me think of God in heaven surrounded by various sources and colors of light, looking down on us with pure love and smiling. It’s an image that comforts me.

These three verses have a lot to show us. The beginning of verse 17 says that God only gives what is good and perfect, and I think that’s difficult for a lot of people. Humans are creatures who like to blame and properly place fault. We like to know where our troubles originate so that we can know who or what to be mad at. I think that’s why God so wrongly receives blame when something’s not right in our lives. We blame our heartbreaks, our financial ruin, our bad health, our daily struggle on Him when if it wasn’t for Him, there would be nothing left of us.

Life can be painful. And I’m not trying to get into whether or not God’s the reason behind bad things like hurricanes or cancer or any other travesties. I’m simply saying that God can use the pain that comes from those travesties for a purpose. I’m also saying that it’s not right that we blame God for all the bad stuff but hardly ever credit Him for the good stuff.

If there’s anything good in your life, it’s a gift from God. It’s a gift born out of unchanging love for the purpose of making you happy, of making you glad you’re alive. Even if it’s just one thing, it’s reason enough to thank God. When we go back to the root of it all, He’s the cause of every bit of positivity and every smile in our lives.

Verse 18 begins by saying God chose to birth us by His Word. That can be taken two different ways, Him creating us physically through His Word and breath and Him recreating us spiritually though the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Either way (or both ways), the point is that God chose us.

I’m a loud, blunt, sarcastic know-it-all. The fact that God chose to create and then recreate me proves His intrinsic, unconditional love.

I have many flaws, and I’m sure you have some too. Everyone does. We’re not a perfect species. Our time on this earth is filled with slip ups, unsavory moments, and ugly truths. But James tells us at the end of verse 18, “And we, out of all creation, became [God’s] prized possession.”

God could love something more dazzling or more loyal or smarter far more than He loves mankind, but He doesn’t. We’re His favorite.

James starts this section of scripture by telling us not to be misled, which must mean something or someone will come along and try to persuade us that we’re wrong. Yes, there’ll be plenty of people and things that’ll try to shake your faith. But they’ll only shake you as much as you let them.

We must exercise our faith in order to maintain and grow it. Hold on to God’s promises. Read and remember scriptures. Pray about everything – your troubles, your doubts, others and their problems. Communicate honestly with God. All of this builds your relationship with God and your faith in Him. When all else fails, remember what James tells us: Everything good is from God, He chose us, and out of everything, we’re His favorite.

By Carrie Prevette

Opportunity

There are many things I miss about college, and one of them is free pancakes at the Presbyterian Center.

Every semester on the Sunday night before Exam Week, the Presby Center right by the WCU property line served all-you-can-eat pancakes and punch for free. The people were kind, and the building was filled with the happiness only pancakes can bring and the anxiousness that only comes with imminent exams. I went to the Pancake Dinner seven of my eight semesters there, and the last one was one of the most memorable.

I had been emotional for about two or three weeks when that Sunday came around. The week after it wasn’t just Finals Week, it was the final week. I was aware it would be my last Presby Pancake Dinner, as was my best friend Becca, whose brain has thought in terms of final events just like mine.

We were so excited and emotional that we arrived too early for pancakes.

Not wanting to go back to our dorms or just sit around for 15 minutes, we decided to take a nostalgic drive.

If you leave Western’s campus from the main entrance and go left, the road will eventually take you through winding curves and small towns and put you in South Carolina. The sun was going down, and I thought it would be nice to use its last rays for one last drive down that way. The we could turn around, come back, and cry in our pancakes together.

We drove down and turned around. On our way back, a loud noise similar to a flat tire happened on the passenger side of my car. I pulled over. Becca and I got out of the car. With the flashlight on Becca’s phone and the flashlight from my roadside safety kit, we investigated.

No flat tire. Not a single problem with any of the tires.

So we checked under the hood. There we found that the left edge of my steering belt had not only ripped right off, but had also wound itself around another part of the car. It became very clear very quickly that the situation could not be fixed without tools, which I did not possess. Becca called AAA for me while I called home to report the sad news.

If my mom or my brother had answered the phone, I would’ve been fine, but my sister answered the phone, and my heart sank.

I love my sister deeply. I really do. I’d take a speeding bullet in a vital organ for her without thinking twice about it. But if something bad happens, I’m not eager to tell her because she worries too much. I mean, too much. She stresses out about almost everything.

I hardly ever truly worry. I’ve developed the habit of rarely worrying about things I can’t control and hating myself on the occasions that I do. I plan out a course of action, maybe two, to what I can of the situation and leave the rest up to God.

My sister got worked up about my car and even accused me of not taking the situation seriously because I was choosing to be lighthearted about it all instead of freaking out. I told her the plan and that I would keep her and the rest of the family updated. Then I got the blanket from my roadside kit, covered up in it, and sat in the car with Becca, waiting and eating the chocolate chips she’d bought to put on her pancakes.

We thought we’d have to wait at least an hour (more like two) as the AAA man was coming from Asheville. Long before then, however, came a nice and capable guy named Derek (Same as my brother. Ironic, huh?) in a truck that had both a toolbox and a cute dog in it. He was kind enough to look at my car and fix it for me. He wouldn’t accept any monetary payment for the job he did. I was so overcome with gladness and gratitude that I asked him if I could give him a hug. He laughed and said yes, so I did. Then we said goodbye, and he left. Becca called to tell AAA that the visit wouldn’t be necessary while I reported home. Then we left to laugh at the situation over free, delicious pancakes.

(Just as I had never seen Derek before, I haven’t seen him since. If by yet another miracle you’re reading this, Derek, I’d like to thank you once more. Really, I’d like to hug you again from just recalling the story, but I’m afraid a simple written appreciation will have to suffice here. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’re just lovely.)

We’re often presented with opportunities to exercise our faith, although they aren’t always so grand as your car breaking down right as night arrives and only six days before your trip home. Sometimes these opportunities are as small as believing that God will make your bad day better or that He’ll relieve the pain from your hangnail. On the other hand, sometimes they’re gigantic, like believing He’ll help you make rent and have a place to live or that He’ll make sure you don’t fall into your old, bad habits and way of life.

I’ve come to realize that bad things are going to happen to us. They just are. They’re going to happen regardless of whether or not we have faith. Then why shouldn’t we have faith? Aren’t the chances of us turning our awful circumstances and problems around significantly better with faith than they are without it? And really, what do we have to lose from just believing and being positive?

It would’ve been easy for me to put or pace around in circles about my car. I love my car. His name is Bartholomew, and we’ve been having adventures together for five years now. He was my ride to and from college, and he was for a few other kids who lived in the area as well. It would’ve been terribly easy to worry.

But as much love and faith as I have in Bartholomew, I have even more in God. I knew He wouldn’t leave me stranded on the side of the road. Whether it was with the help of a AAA employee, a kind soul like Derek, or God Himself guiding my own hands, I knew Bartholomew, Becca, and I would be out there before the night was over.

The other opportunity as seen in my story is the one to give out a little faith. I’m eternally grateful for Derek and what he did for me, and I’m sure many (if not most or all) of you have a similar feeling towards someone who has gotten you out of a jam before. And I’d just like to encourage you to be that for someone else. Maybe you’ll restore their faith in humanity. Maybe you’ll restore their faith in God. Either way, you’ll both be better off for it because God rewards those who demonstrate His love and grace. Even if it’s as small as buying someone’s lunch for them or giving them a ride somewhere. It could mean nothing to you, but it could mean everything to them.

Life is largely opportunities and consequences leading to other opportunities and consequences. What we choose to do with those opportunities will determine the path our lives take. Will you choose to condition yourself to automatically worry about something or to calmly hand it over to God? Will you choose to repeatedly restore people’s faith or will you become part of the problem because you’re not part of the solution? Never underestimate an opportunity and always make the most of one.

By Carrie Prevette

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