Sometimes we think we have God all figured out. Many of us base our spiritual fortitude on the fact that we’ve attended church for years, read the Bible cover to cover and lead a pretty solid prayer life. I was one of those Christians, and then I joined a ministry visiting institutionalized teens, and it rocked my world. After a life-changing journey of holding Bible studies within juvenile detention centers, I understood some concepts about God in a much deeper way.
When I think about the root cause of so many mistakes and spiritual pitfalls in my life, the source seems to be the one and only, the ugly, fear. Fear will cause us to buckle and settle for less than God’s best. It’ll cause us to disobey after diluting our trust in Him, and even when do stay strong, it’ll rob us of our peace and joy. Here are some of the best scriptures helping us overcome fear by increasing our faith. Read More…
I haven’t celebrated Father’s Day since 1991, when my dad passed away when I was 12. My last Father’s Day memory involved my sisters and I bursting into his study, adorning his head with a paper crown and a bed sheet around his neck, donning him “king for a day.” I can still hear his laughter, as all three of us piggybacked atop his back, while he commanded his loyal subjects to give hugs all day long.
It’s such a fitting memory, too. My dad always had this respectable, noble, presence about him, while at the same time having such a humble servant’s heart. And he was so strong, but had such a meekness about him. I’ll always remember him doing pushups or bench pressing in the basement, and then challenging each of us to give his biceps our “toughest punches.” My knuckles hurt just thinking about it. Such a juxtaposition to watching him become choked up when praying for people at church, or even a random stranger in public. One of my worst childhood punishments resulted after protesting him bringing a homeless woman to live with us. I wasn’t a Christian then, and didn’t understand my dad was simply living as Jesus did-not just loving with words, but in action-showing love to the “least of these” and giving God glory, instead of himself. I was always annoyed having to answer collect phone calls from inmates he’d ministered to in prison, and never understood his need to pray every morning in the basement closet-sometimes 5 a.m. when he had his grocery business.
I’m not sure whether it was his sudden passing of a heart attack at 38 years old, that turned my heart against God, or if I really never knew God to begin with, but after finally coming back to him in my mid-twenties, I get it now. My dad just loved loved the Lord, with all his heart. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have spiritual talks and get his advice on ministry work, along with the other thousands of memories I wish he could share. He’s missed so much. Eleven grandchildren and counting. My mom still as beautiful as the last day he saw her. My sisters following in his footsteps doing great things for God. My youngest sister literally talking with the same calm, rational inflection he did, without even realizing it. And his former friends-pastors, business people, ministry leaders-still stopping us to talk about what an impact he made on those around him. “He was the real deal,” they always say.
Some people have asked if I’m upset with God, or have a hard time trusting him, when he let such a good, Godly man leave us so soon. But now that I know God, it’s not even a question, because he actually is, and has been my father, ever since. Whether I knew it or not. I believe in God’s total sovereignty, which means he makes up for pain and suffering we’ve endured, and turns our situations around. I’m not sure all the details will completely make sense until we meet in heaven, but for me, God has been my complete protector, counselor, provider and father, in a way I’m not sure those with living earthly fathers can know. I feel those who’ve lost a parent are able to tap into a part of God’s heart that gives us a special sense of security and love we’d never get to experience without that deep loss. I’ve made the most ridiculous mistakes and continued some pretty bad patterns through life, but God has never failed to instantly forgive, pick me up, and continually shower blessings and goodness on my life. Over, and over again. Like a true father.
Nothing and no one can ever replace the bond between a parent and a child, but God can heal and fill that void, tenfold, if we allow him to. I might never truly understand why my dad’s time came so soon, but I know God will be my father every day, until I meet both of them in heaven.
Happy Father’s Day, dad. We love and miss you….
I realize Jesus said no one can predict the official end of days, but this week’s news of protesters a rage over the shooting of a gorilla to protect a 3- year-old boy might officially signal his near return.
What else can explain people losing their minds over the death of an ape, instead of a collective sigh of relief that a toddler wasn’t murdered by a 450-pound mammal in front of his parents and a few dozen field trippers? 2 Timothy describes end time people as “unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous and reckless.” In other words, they might not only grieve and hold a candlelight vigil for a caged primate, they might even criticize the family for not keeping their son on a leash. One angered animal nut went so far as to say the life of an animal is synonymous to a child’s. I think I hear an earthquake. Read More
Last New Year’s I decided to start the year off with a spiritual bang and commit a formerly-believed act of cheesiness by choosing a ‘year verse’ for myself. Why not. 2015 was less than memorable, aside from the blessings we take for granted like our children’s health and a steady job. Oh, and the kittens that still pee on the laundry. Super thankful. But I thought to myself, I really want this year to have more God in it. More of his involvement and spiritual ‘umph’ to my every day. So I made Matt. 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all else shall be added to you” my verse. I decided for the first time in a decade, to have ‘quiet time’ (Christian-ese for locking the kids out of your room for 20 minutes) and read the Bible, pray and worship every day.And within one single year- every dream of my life has come true.
There are certain unseemly rites of passages mothers experience, usually within their mid to late thirties and most always after multiple babies. For some it’s the dreaded stretch marks that defy nine months of aggressive coconut oil lubing. For others, it’s hip fat that’s here to stay despite every Paleo Diet promise or boobs that have waved the white flag to gravity after breastfeeding through a decade. For me, it was varicose veins, a hereditary blessing that results in thigh-long engorgements ruining any chances of wearing shorts, swimsuits or Victoria’s anything without visually offending the masses.
It’s awful for all, but I felt especially grieved when making it to my third child before looking downward one day to discover the first trace of bulging capillary. What the-awww HECK no!!! I’ve drunk a gallon of water a day, jogged through winters in CT to ensure circulatory perfection and this is what I get: green, veiny treachery running from my crotch to my knee cap. This mutiny against my own body might have been less disturbing if I had any other womanly assets intact. But since I’ve basically evolved to a 5’9 version of Skeletor, losing any boobs after nursing and any trace of Anglo-Saxon booty when I hit 32 (like, seriously, what the heck?), this veiny attack was unacceptable. The stems are all I got. Take them away, and I’m basically reduced to an extended femur bone. So with a few emboldened clicks on the worldwide web one solitary eve, I found my haven of hope: The Vein Center of Connecticut. Removes veins in the matter of hours. Hmmm…..
I felt a hardy sense of guilt, pondering this option at first. Spending money on such a vain endeavor. Being haunted by that II Peter verse with a virtuous woman’s beauty coming from the inside. Reminding myself I’ll never be a Sally Hansen Legs model, and the check engine light that’s been on since August begs more maintenance than my legs. But then I realized that wasn’t a sense of guilt I felt. It was the ever-present pressure weighing my dern leg down because of my gimpy blood flow. Nope, I’m not adorning my hair with jewels, or measuring my worth in fine linen, dear Peter. I’m takin’ back what the devil stole: my ability to wear trendy spring rompers this season.
So when I awoke last Friday I felt the exact opposite of the typical dread one might feel the day of microsurgery. It felt like Christmas, come early. I sped to that office with the gusto of a spring breaker set for Cancun.
“Are you nervous Ms. Kastner?”
“Heck no, yank these suckers out!” Kind of like childbirth being a “good pain,” where you know you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful baby at the end of the journey. Except in this case you get two summer-ready legs and a Motrin prescription. God is good, in both cases.
The only thing I slightly regretted was refusing the Xanax prescription for anxiety. Jesus is on my side, people, pedal it elsewhere. However there were moments, just fleeting moments, between the random poking of holes through my legs when it might have helped to have industrial strength flow of alprazolam to ease the tension.
But all in all, operation hot legs was a good experience. After the first hour of “prep,” when you’re needled to numbness, Magda the vein tugger takes over, literally pulling strands of veins through spaghetti sized holes in your legs. This woman plugged away at that leg with the fever and precision of a concert harpist. Hands from heaven, I tell you.
And the next three hours turned out to be the most productive, enjoyable time of my week. I knocked out a day’s worth of emails by propping my laptop on my stomach(my non-existent bosom enabling complete typing mobility, of course), then was moved to tears watching an online John Piper sermon, and even found a lawnmower on Craigslist. All while trading house hunting stories and pizza topping preferences with Magda.
Thank you Magda, and thank you Lord, for putting me on the Earth during a technological age allowing us to remove unsightly genetic fails, and thank you varicose veins, for carrying me through the birth of three children and 37 years of adventure. May you RIP.
During the half day I spent sitting in the airport with three kids after missing our 7 a.m. flight home from Orlando, I took a sliver of what seemed like eternity to reflect on good, the bad…the magic, of Disney.
For me, going to Disney is just one of those things you do because that’s where your parents took you, as a kid. So, come mid-April, we joined the thousands of other families choosing to spend school vacation at Disney. Grab your wallets and SPF 70…family fun, here we come.
But just as other childhood experiences go, like getting a family pet you never have to walk, and a pool you never have to vacuum, Disney takes on a whole other dimension from the eyes of a parent. There are a few more trials, challenges and truly hilarious experiences no brochure or YouTube link prepares you for. Here are my faves:
Priceless People Watching
I don’t care where in Disney heaven your path leads-Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot or the home of the mouse himself, you will without fail sight some dad so desperate for shade, he’s rocking a Minnie Mouse hat, or a Wall Street type sporting mouse ears, or even better, some severely overweight individuals huffing around in excessive mouse apparel, looking one Peter Pan flight away from a cardiac arrest. Disney consists of 5 lands on 10-mile property and it’s an all-out survivor race to get to your fast pass stations on time. There should seriously be some kind of pre-training to prepare these folks for the physical trials that await.
This comes in at a close second to those visitors clearly having the most fun on Earth, and they’re not afraid to show it. While waiting for 20 minutes for a soft pretzel in Tomorrowland, I spotted a dad making the very most of a live, interactive dance show led by Buzz Lightyear himself. This man-picture George, from Seinfeld- was doing the “watch me whip/nae nae” with his kids like his life depended on it. I mean, every step, hands in the air like he just don’t care, kind of boogying, in front of hundreds of on-looking strangers with a smile wider than Texas. He paid $500 to get the fam through those rodent gates, sacrificed the yearly golfing trip for this nonsense, and dern it, he’s getting his Disney on. Priceless.
When the Magic Turns to Mush
Proving God is as gracious as he is good, there were miraculously shorter lines at all the parks, despite going during the busiest time of the year. Either that, or the Obama economy has officially rid the world of family fun. However even when lines are manageable, there is always waiting. Waiting for food. Waiting for character signings. Waiting for…wait what ride is this again? Oh yea. Waiting for the Country Bear Jamboree. “No they’re not real bears, guys, but they’re spectacular. Trust.” Waiting for the endless pilgrimage it takes to get to Magic Kingdom-the parking lot tram-remember: Simba row 4, Simba row 41…- that eventually leads you to the gargantuan choice of traveling by monorail or ferry boat that complete your odyssey to the final park entrance. I swear illegals traverse the border with more ease.
And even when the lines are short, you will without fail become more acquainted with mutual line dwellers than your neighbors of 10 years after the Jungle Cruise temporarily stops for what seems like the new dawn. Spousal fights-“did you seriously not bring the sunscreen?!,” toddler meltdowns, and if you make your way to the more youth-driven Universal Studios…you’ll get a dose of PDA from the Brazilian couple that’d make a sailor blush. This is the Harry Potter ride, not Carnival, people…hands above the waist.
A Frugal Girl’s Nightmare
I hate unnecessary spending. Hate it. So my voyage to Disney included 10 pound backpack full of Luncheables, snack packs, soda and water I thought would resourcefully save the easy Benjamin it costs to feed a family of four for one day. Never happens. Your CheezeIt packs and warm PB & J stand no chance against Mousescream cones, super pretzels with mouse ears and strangely savory turkey legs the size of T Rex femurs around every turn. Same goes for the gifts. Guests are funneled through themed-gift shops after nearly every ride, decreasing your resolve to only buy ONE special souvenir for each kid for the whole vacation. My return home included a pirate sword, three Disney-themed Lego sets, two stuffed animals, an authentic Marvel comic book and some horribly overpriced Star Wars paraphernalia. And let’s not leave out the $10 rain ponchos you’re forced to buy for the whole fam after it suddenly pours buckets for two hours of tropical goodness. Yep, an easy $40 for hooded hefty bags that leave you smelling like rubber for a day.
Where the Yankees go to Fry
Anyone traversing to Florida from CT in April, where it snowed a week prior, might as well be journeying from northern Canada to the equator itself, and should plan on nothing less than repetitive applications of SPF 50. We, unfortunately severely overestimated our pasty skin’s tolerance for six hours at Cocoa beach, and paid the price for the next five days. The kids were okay, thank God, but not only was I so burned I couldn’t touch hot tub for the entire rest of the week, I was reduced to wearing my black yoga pants to Disney in 89 degree humidity. I think part of me melted on the west side of the Haunted Mansion. Near second degree burns.
Lost and Freaking Out
And of course no family trip goes disaster-free. When we were little, it was my sister having her first asthma attack the day we were scheduled for Disney. This year as an adult, it was my technologically-dependent teenager losing is iphone on Disney’s Carousel of Progress…never to be found that day. They found the phone two days later, thank God, but those days without was like witnessing a meth addict detox cold turkey. “Mooooom did you call lost and found again yet!?” Oh. My. Gee.
Yet the Magic Prevails
But somehow, despite the burns, blunders and investment properties you had to sell off just to visit, Disney is always worth it, and is still magical, especially for parents who grew up going to Disney. Something about it just makes you feel like a kid again. The tikki tikki tikki room. The Swiss Family Robinson House. When my boys refused to go in Cinderella’s castle, I might have made them anyways. C’mon guys, it’s the way to Frontierland anyways!
Especially in a world where most things change, and very few experiences and people stay the same, Disney remains classic, timeless and dedicated to the family. I love how in my favorite ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, that same dog is sitting there with the key in his mouth, taunting the prisoners for the past 30 years. That boat ride in Epcot’s Mexican restaurant still has those cheesy fake fireworks blazing the Cancun skies. And there’s that first and last glimpse of the castle after you arrive and leave I practically tear up leaving…”say goodbye to the castle guys…sniff.” The way every “cast member” says have a magical day/time/dinner/trip to the bathroom, and darn it, that’s the way it should be. It’s the one place that despite the heat, crowds, incredulously priced popcorn, and fanny-pack touting platoons of foreigners, you really do feel an indescribable sense of happiness only Disney brings. Worth every ounce of sweat and Aloe, I tell ya.
I’m 37 years old, and within the past year, three of my closet high school friends have suddenly passed away. Most people would be riddled with the why’s and how’s associated with so many unexplained, early deaths. But the only question I’m burdened with after every subsequent loss is this: why haven’t I shared my faith with the people who knew me best, before I knew the Lord? Read more…
In an instant-gratification-addicted world, where we need and want answers, meals, information and almost everything instantly, we sometimes treat our prayer life the same way. If we don’t get an answer or see a situation change in about a week, we assume God’s either not listening, or it’s just another failed prayer attempt. But looking back on life, I see now that some of my best prayers have been the unanswered ones. Read more…