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Faithfully Thinking: More thoughts on the doubts even Christians have

Last week I wrote about feeling fake as a Christian when I find myself doubting my faith because of the suffering some people face.

I never know if anyone will read my posts when I write them but I write anyhow, I guess as a form of catharsis for myself and also in case someone else feels they are alone in the same thoughts.

I don't often receive a response to my more melancholy posts, which is okay because I assume my friends are simply praying for me and aren't sure how to respond. When a friend or reader does respond it is usually to thank me because they have felt the same way but never knew how to say it or even if they should.  

The private message I received from a friend in response to that post was heartfelt, deep and thought provoking.

With his permission I am sharing part of that response here today. 

"I read your blog post about sometimes we are fake. I wanted to share some thoughts on it and thank you for authenticity.

Suffering and struggle and doubt do not make us less Christian. St. Thomas doubted the ultimate hope until he was knuckle deep in the wounds of Christ. The Apostles huddled in doubt and fear and would not believe the first message of the Resurrection. Face to face with Christ in life and in glorified resurrection....the denied and doubted.

Lisa R. Howeler

We are weak. That is not an indictment of humanity, but one of the gifts. If we were not weak, we would not need each other. We would not know we need Christ. In Scripture and the history of Saints many of those who are loved and called by Him scream at Him in rage, doubt...run....weep.

When I was ten my mother was dying. No one would say it out loud. But there I was, a little kid good at theology, pious  to a fault. Everyone said I would be a priest. I thought I would. But I asked Mom, because I could not understand..."Why are you going to die? Why are you sick?"

And she said that when God forms us it is art and sometimes it is like a painting...painless. Sometimes it is like pottery. Sometimes there is fire and there is pain. But the potter alone knows the form of the clay and what will make it the best it can be. And pottery, even with the suffering because of the suffering, is stronger than a painting.

She said if someone else had her cancer maybe they would lose faith in Him. And if that was so, she was glad to have it.

Glad to have it.

I remember even then thinking, 'I will never be her. I will never be that much of a Christian.'

I did not understand it all.

And I asked her why God would fire her like pottery into death. And she said, "Love, my life was a painting. I'm not the one He's forming right now."

Through the pains and poverty of my life, that continue in many ways, I have held on to the fact that the most Christian woman I knew faced slow painful death, fading from her children, without blinking, without hate or accusations at God. And she held herself weaker than others. She, to herself, was a painting. Wonderfully made and beautiful but less hard, tested and worked than pottery. She was telling me, it will be ok to doubt, grieve, scream at the heavens. It will not make you less a Christian. It will make you a stronger member of His army.

When my brother died at age 35, his two daughters were just younger than my sister and I were when Mom died. My sister had been so angry at God for years after mom died. So angry before dealing with it all. And our youngest niece (not knowing how her aunt had been) asked if it was ok to be mad at God. And my sister knelt to get eye to eye with her and said, "God's big enough to handle it. He wants you to give it to Him. And if you do that by being angry with Him, doubting Him...it's ok. He loves you."

As Christians we walk a balance between the weakness of our humanity and the strength of being made in the Image of God.

Tolkien puts it best in this work "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" in the history of Middle Earth books.

It is a debate between the human wise woman Andreth and the Elven lord Finrod on the nature of things.

Andreth: They say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end. This they say also, or they feign, is a rumour that has come down through years uncounted, even from the days of our undoing.

And earlier Finrod gives a perfect description of Christian Hope:

'Have ye then no hope?’ said Finrod.

'What is hope?’ she said. 'An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.’

'That is one thing that Men call “hope”,’ said Finrod. ’Amdir we call it, “looking up”. But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust”. It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?’

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The History of Middle-earth X: Morgoth’s Ring, “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth”

So our hope..is in the Resurrection we have Estel. But it is not less Christian to have failings in Amdir.

We all doubt. We all wonder why at times. We all scream it inside at time until our heart breaks. Thank you for mentioning it out loud because I do believe God wants us to - because that shows us we are not alone, we need each other in this world.

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He could take all suffering in this world away. He could make reward and prosperity and joy here a point by point reward for goodness. He does not. There are many reasons Theology lists for why that is. But those reasons are flat and tasteless to a suffering heart. And that suffering heart is united to the Cross. So that alone means it can never make us less Christian. Even though we often worry about that."

He could take all suffering in this world away. He could make reward and prosperity and joy here a point by point reward for goodness. He does not. There are many reasons Theology lists for why that is. But those reasons are flat and tasteless to a suffering heart. And that suffering heart is united to the Cross. So that alone means it can never make us less Christian. Even though we often worry about that."

Photographing families in their own environment | Athens, Pennsylvania photographer

Lisa R. Howeler


I've heard it said that if you have a dream you should speak it out loud.

I have a dream that sounds self serving but I'm speaking it anyhow.

I want to photograph families in their homes and capture the real moments of interaction.

There, I wrote it and when I wrote it I spoke it out loud.

Photographing people in their homes is a hard sale anywhere but especially where I live. It's a hard sale because, I guess, people worry their house won't look nice. They don't want to clean or worry about cleaning and if they have photos taken with their family they want to do it the way everyone seems to - standing and posing next to a pretty tree or two, in a field or by a fence or a waterfall or - somewhere staged, you know? Somewhere life looks good and perfect and without wrinkles.

But sometimes, life is good and perfect even with the wrinkles.

So I am offering Family At Home Sessions this year.

Families at home.

Maybe your family is you and your children.

Maybe your family is you and your dog.

Maybe your family is you and your husband or you and your wife.

That's who I want to photograph.
Sessions don't have to be held in your home, they can also be held in your backyard or your front yard or wherever you make memories.

Try something unique and different.

Do you want to learn more? Then contact me or see the details page and we can talk about a new, fun, real experience in family photography.

I am going to be a writer today or what is really like to be a writer.

Lisa R. Howeler

I am going to be a writer today.

I am going to write.

I am going to make things happen.

I am going to - wait for my computer to install updates for 15 minutes. 

I am going to get breakfast. 

I am going to notice the living room is a mess.

I am going to pick up the living room. I am going to sit with the toddler because she wants to cuddle. 

I am going to make tea for the boy because he is sick today. 

I am going to make tea for myself because the boy is sick today.

I am going to feed the cat, who keeps wrapping her paws around my ankles and biting my toes, apparently trying to knock me to the ground so she can kill me and eat me.

 Oh! Computer is updated!

I am going to write. 

I am going to be a writer today. 

I am going to write. 

I am going to make things happen. 

And then I am going to keyword my stock photos to get them up for sale. All 300 of them. With 50 keywords each. 

Oh yes, I am.

And then I am going to start drafts for a weeks worth of blog posts and resize all the images I want to use for each post.  

Yep.

Here I go.

I am going to -

wait for the computer to restart and install more updates. 

I am going to bounce my forehead off this desk seven times because I once read seven is the number of God and only God can keep me from throwing this computer into the street in front of one of those gigantic hillbilly pick up trucks that rumble by every half hour.

Things I never, ever thought I'd ever, ever have to say

Lisa R. Howeler

I thought I'd share a list of things my children have recently said or things I've said to them that I never thought I'd say.

One night my daughter stepped on her brother's back and I thought she hit his rear so I asked her to apologize and joked that she needed to kiss his butt to make it feel better. His butt was clothed but still, I was kidding.

She will be 3-years old in a couple more weeks so of course she took me literally. She kissed his underwear clad butt and kept doing it while giggling.

It might have been funny except it was another chance to procrastinate for bedtime. 

"Hey!" I said. "No more kissing your brother s butt! It's bedtime! Now lay down!"

Another night at bedtime my little brute, who often pushes her older brother away when he wants a hug, sometimes even delivering a throat punch or two, decided she would volunteer a hug for him.

 "Come here, Jonathan. Let me hug you," she said in the sweetest little, mothering-tone of voice.  

"Awwww!" He said, touched by the gesture and ready for a long, drawn out cuddle session like he and I sometimes have.  

She hugged him maybe 20 seconds, pulled away and said curtly "Okay. We're done here."

Yet another night and the lights were off, time for bed.

Jonathan, 10, says: "Stars are made out of burning gas."

Grace, sounding annoyed: "Stars are made out of stars not burning gas."

Jonathan: "No. Stars are made out of burning gas."

Long pause.

Grace: "Stars are not made out of burning farts."

Jonathan: "I said burning gas."

Silence.

Then . . .

Giggle.

Grace: "Stars are made out of burning poop."

Jonathan: "Grace! They are not made out of burning poop!"

Sigh.

Real life.

Remembering all those people on Sept. 11

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The story behind the image: this is from a local remembrance ceremony in 2010. The woman in the photograph is the Chaplin of a local fire department. The ceremony made me think about where I was on Sept. 11, 2001.

I was at home that day, stomach flu, working for a small town paper and ready to call in.. I sat up and turned the TV on to try to distract myself from feeling sick. I figured mindless morning show chatter was what I needed because back then it used to be mindless. The first plane had hit maybe five minutes before and newscasters were discussing it. I called my mom to tell her a plane had hit a building in New York. I watched, on the phone with her, when the second plane hit. "That's no accident," she said.

Ten minutes later the Pentagon was on fire and she said "we're under attack." I will never forget the anguish in my mom's voice when the first tower fell.

"All those people. All those people."

And we cried together into the phone.

We cried for those people, for their souls that had evaporated before us, live on TV, for their innocence lost, for our innocence lost.

I called my boss and my sick day was abandoned for a 12 hour day at work interviewing local residents who were there, the shock of what they had just seen leaving their voices hollow and lost.

For "all those people" we can never forget what was lost that day.

Never forget.

 

10 on 10 September: the summer that went too fast

Summer flew by before it even started it seems.

Suddenly here we are in September and the weather is letting us know to prepare for winter as temperatures are dropping. I completely missed the 10 on 10 in August but I'm glad to be hosting one for September with a great group of photographers. This is a blog circle so you can follow each post to the next, each one full of beautiful photos and stories. See the bottom of my post for the link to the next person. We are also open to new members in the coming months so if you  want to participate,  find our group on Facebook .
This month I thought I'd share some photos from summer's end, or our last couple of weeks of summer when we tried to cram in as many outside  activities as we could.

Ithaca NY Taughannock Park
Ithaca NY
Lisa R. Howeler

On this day we headed to a state park in Ithaca, N.Y. and visited a large waterfall. I blogged about this day in a post called The Doom And Gloom Park Ranger And The Kindness Of Strangers

children in summer Lisa R. Howeler
children in summer Lisa R. Howeler
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We visited a favorite campground with a pool and some friends before school started. My daughter and a friend's daughter like to hang on the fence around the  pool and small splash pad.  I have a similar image from the same spot last year. 

For the rest of the summer we mainly spent time in our backyard, enjoying the warmer and longer days.

Lisa R. Howeler
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We also enjoyed time at my parents in the country, tasting blueberries off my dad's blueberry tree and eating  watermelon.

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Be sure to continue the circle by visiting Anna Hurley's post.

 

 

Sometimes we are fake

Sometimes I feel like such a fake.

I write blog posts about trusting things will work out and having faith and enjoying every moment and there are days – seriously – where I just don’t feel it.

Like right now I am writing this on a computer that randomly pauses and freezes and only works if it is plugged in because the charger port or battery or something is broken and there is no money in the budget to replace it.

And it isn't from a lack of praying  for the funds to replace it, or believing God provides all our needs. The changes in our situation simply don't come, for whatever reason. 

I say none of this in an effort to illicit pity because computer issues and financial woes are something many deal with and quite frankly it is nothing compared to people running for their lives or not having food to eat or clean water to drink.  

I write this to do my best to be authentic because honestly I’m tired of the lack of it on social media and in the world today.

How many times will we put on a good face and smile and kick out 10 Bible verses a day to show how positive and faithful we are all while we are dying inside and questioning God and wondering why we thought we heard Him clearly tell us to take one path but then He never blessed it? Or we are questioning why a family member is suffering physically or why a young child suffered for so many years and then died in his mother's arms.

Here we sit with empty bank accounts and broken dreams and smashed-to-smithereens budgets we attempted but fell apart from unexpected expenses. Here we sit with empty and aching hearts and minds jumbled with a thousand thoughts.

And here we sit with a thousand questions of why we can’t seem to make this thing called life work and how we got here, moving money from this account to that account, and trying to stay sane and happy like everyone else while feeling guilty about being depressed about things that seem so trivial compared to the trials of others.

 

Lisa R. Howeler 2017

It’s hard to be positive sometimes and to share struggles and then tie it up in the end in a neat little bow, like a sitcom or a Hallmark movie.

Sometimes there are no good endings, or at least not yet.

Sometimes we just sit in the midst of the struggle and we can’t fake it anymore.

We can’t say ‘God’s got this’ when there are days we simply don’t know or trust He does.

Do doubts make us any less of a Christian?

There are thoughts in my mind that tell me they do.

But there are other thoughts that tell me no, because many in the Bible doubted and didn’t trust and learned to live life the hard way. They were real and honest and never hid their doubts. David is one of those people who come to mind when I think of the doubters, the struggling ones, the ones who paused and had the audacity to ask God just what he thought He was doing.

Scrolling through Facebook there are quick little memes from well known pastors or authors or speakers and they are meant to be encouraging but one Wednesday morning I just sat there like a loon and I yelled at my phone “I know! I get it! And that’s what I’m trying to do but nothing is happening! I prayed and I asked God and I’m trying to stay calm and I even got a prayer journal and I watched that movie about a prayer closet and I’ll make one if I have to but NOTHING IS HAPPENING!!! I'm tired of jumping through hoops.”

My toddler, who sleeps in our room because our house is too small to make her a room of her own, woke up and looked at me and said “Well….that was just crazy…”

And it was crazy.

A crazy moment of saying “Thanks for all the cute little posts with cute little phrases but sometimes it just gets old to see these reminders over and over and over and over but feel like it’s all lip service.”

I can say something over and over and until I’m blue in the face and I can believe it, but guess what? Sometimes even that doesn’t work and sometimes even that doesn’t launch us over the road block we have hit in our lives.

I listened to a blogger talk about her struggles recently  and when she got to the part where she said “I mean for like three months we like really like struggled with our finances and like it was like hard” my head almost exploded.

Then she said “And so we like prayed and I like got up every morning and like over night we were making three figure salaries every week and it was like amazing.”

Again. My head. Ow.

Because – like – I have been on my knees about several looming life issues for YEARS not three months and I still am wandering like a lost sheep in the wilderness.

So why does California girl get her miracle “like over night” and mine hasn’t even come in 800 some nights?

I don’t know.

Yep, that’s right.

I don’t have an answer for you or for me.

Not yet anyhow.

And maybe never.

I don’t know why God chooses some to struggle for years and others to find relief in hours. I don’t know why some of us struggle with health, some with finances, some with marriage, some with loss after loss, some with self-esteem and some don't.

Lisa R. Howeler

Right now, right here, I am supposed to say “all I know is God is good.”

But sometimes?

I don’t feel like God is good.

And right there I bet a few people decided I should have my Christian card taken away.

But sometimes I feel like He is very far away and like good people die too early and that if He is God then why has He let this world go on with so much pain in it for so long?

I mean, seriously, don’t you ever feel that way?

Yet even as I feel that way I see my daughter and my son, children I never thought I’d have, and I remember moments in my life where I prayed and in minutes a prayer was answered.

 I remind myself that no, I don’t have all the answers, and yes, I may often feel frustrated and lost and doubt, but even when I’m ready to say it’s all pointless, like I am today, I feel something inside me urging me not to miss out on the joy of life, even with the sadness of it seems to be pushing me down.

So, I keep listening to the sermon podcasts, even when I yell at them THAT I AM TRYING BUT APPARENTLY I’M JUST NOT DOING IT RIGHT!

And I keep reading the encouraging blog posts even when I want to say “Whatever. I bet your life isn’t really that good and you probably have doubts too but you’re afraid of being marched out of the Positive Christian Mom Blogger Club.”

And I keep looking at the memes and reading the devotionals and listening to the positive songs.

Because what is the alternative?

Filling my mind with more darkness, more negativity, more hopelessness?

Seeing only the bad of life?

Seeing only failure?

Seeing only mistakes?

Seeing only sadness?

It’s not an alternative I’m willing to grab ahold of.

The negatives, the sadness and the feeling of hopelessness will be there.

But the joy, the smiles, the light peeking through the clouds will also be there and I will try my best to focus on those bright spots as well.

Do I promise I will showcase only the light times and speak as if it is like a walk along the beach at sunset? No. Because to do so is dishonest, it's an illusion, it's not what life really is.

Life is not all cotton candy and rainbows and sunlight.

For anyone.

No matter what they show on Facebook, instagram or to your face.

Life is not all those good things all the time but there is joy and I hope it doesn't sound like I don't want that joy celebrated because I do, I very much do.

But if some of your moments aren't joyful know you're not alone.