God, Disney World, and Unanswered Prayer

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By Bindu Adai Mathew

Every year my company rewards its employees with a two night stay at 5 Star hotel and two tickets to any of the Universal or Disney Parks in Orlando. It’s one of my favorite company perks and always a good time to celebrate and relax. This past year’s trip was no exception. It was November, and November is typically a time in Florida where you can finally brag about living in Florida. After a rainy, hot, humid summer that often stretches well into mid-October, November is a reminder of why we all live here. The temperatures drop to the upper 70s and low 80s… the sunny is shining brightly… cool island breezes… aaaahhh… yes, life is good.

Except that Friday night at the Welcome reception one of my co-workers told me that the forecast was to be cold and rainy. I was aghast! What?! Nooooo! How could that be?! I almost laughed when she said temperatures were supposed to be in the upper 60s and low 70s! Cold?! Ha! I’m from Texas and while it rarely snows there, temperatures are only considered cold when it hits the 40s and 50s.  But rain… yes, that was going to definitely be a bummer since Disney’s Magic Kingdom is basically an outdoor park. Later that night, I told my 4 year old daughter, “Honey, we may not get to go to the park tomorrow because it’s supposed to be stormy and rainy.”  Her face immediately fell. I smiled and patted her hand, “You want to pray to God about it? He can stop the rain.” She nodded her head and together we said a short prayer.

The next morning I woke up to a very wet Saturday. Our hotel concierge advised us that the rain was supposed to let up around mid-morning so we decided to head out for breakfast and then to Disney. But an hour later the rain was still going strong and looked like it wasn’t stopping anytime soon. Disappointed, we decided to save our free passes for another day and drove around Orlando looking for an indoor park. Ava was understandably the most disappointed and turned to me with her sad, puppy dog eyes, “But mommy, we prayed. Why didn’t God stop the rain?”  I shook my head and shrugged. “I don’t know, baby, but when God doesn’t do what we ask, that means He’s going to do something better…” While I believed what I said, I, too, was disappointed that God hadn’t answered our prayers.

In the meantime, we decided to make a pit stop at a luxury theme hotel that we had heard a lot about and we spent the next hour exploring their Florida-themed atrium that resembled Key West, St. Augustine, and the Everglades. Before we left, the hotel concierge advised us that the rain had mostly lifted and that this was probably the best time to visit Disney as the lines wouldn’t be as long. I frowned as I glanced at my watch. Shorter lines, yes, but it was already past 1… I recalled the previous year how a posted 30 minute-wait time at Dumbo ended up being a two hour wait for a 2 minute ride. I sighed as I just knew that with half the day almost gone, we’d probably not be able to go on many of the rides. The previous year, we’d gone on less than half the rides available at the park even though we’d gotten there at 9am and stayed until 10pm. I resigned myself to the situation, trying to remember to be grateful that we were even here.


Eight hours later

We shuffled into our car, exhausted, and collapsed happily into our seats. Although it had been overcast, it had still been a great day. It had only drizzled twice, and only as we were leaving the park did the rain start coming down heavily again. But due to the morning rain, luckily for us, many other people had obviously cancelled their plans to visit the park so even though we only had a half day there, not only had we had a shorter wait time, but in the end, we probably went on more than twice as many rides.

I glanced at Ava, who sat quietly, probably from exhaustion, in her car and seat and stared out the window. “Ava, did you have a good time?”

She turned to me and smiled from ear to ear, “I did, mommy. It was a fun day!”

I recalled the mini kids roller coaster we went on five times, the spinning tea cups we rode on four times, and the countless other rides we never even touched the previous year. I then recalled what I had told her earlier that morning, and I smiled as a small light bulb went off in my head. “Ava, remember how we thought God didn’t answer us when we prayed that the rain would stop? See, if it hadn’t rained all morning, then we would have waited a long time in line and wouldn’t have ridden on all those rides. So it looked like God didn’t answer our prayers, but He did something better than what we had asked!”

I smiled to myself and said an internal thank you for the reminder that we shouldn’t fret when God doesn’t answer our prayers in the exact way we prayed then. We should always trust that He truly wants the best for us.

More than twice the rides in less than half the time. I love how God’s math works.

Spring Cleansing

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By Bindu Adai Mathew

As I began to prepare to move out of our downtown condo that has been our home for the last 8 years, I realize that I’m not just cleaning out the clutter of the last 8 years of my life… I’m also cleaning out the clutter that I brought with me when I moved in 8 years ago as well. 

As I sit, literally sit, in my walk-in closet and reach for the stacks of notebooks and paper that have remained hidden in the corners of my closet, I begin to quickly feel overwhelmed, realizing that what should only take me a couple of minutes is actually going to take me hours. Part of my brain rebels and reminds me that since I hadn’t looked at them in that many years, then I should probably just grab it all and chunk it into the abyss of the oversized trashbag next to me. I should, but a still, small voice booms louder than my conscience. It is the voice that has ensnared and imprisoned me for years and labeled me as a “packrat.” I give in, as I always do, and start digging through the stacks.  An electricity bill from 2007. I hesitate for a moment… “But what if I need it?” I shake my head at myself, ashamed that the thought has even crossed my mind. Before it can repeat itself, I thrust the paper into the black abyss. Some receipts from a store purchase that I won’t even mention the year they’re from. I assure myself since I no longer plan to return those items, yes, these receipts can go into the trash as well. A journal from my single days when I was lamenting the woes of unrequited love. Yes, this one is a keeper and could be potential inspiration for my next novel! Not to mention it’s my journal, for goodness sake! I set it aside to my right, creating a new fresh pile of keepsakes. On and on, I go…I’m embarrassed to know that yes, while the contents of my trash bag grew so did the pile of keepsakes. While some things were easy to let go, others were painful, even if I knew I no longer needed them and probably wouldn’t have the time to look at them until I had to clean my closets yet again. I consider just throwing these keepsakes into a moving box to reckon with them later. After a heavy sigh and the feeling of dread, I look at my keepsake file and begin anew, making another pile of things I can’t part with. I slowly whittle away at the original keepsake file and soon it becomes something more manageable. While it has been painful, tedious, and long, I have to admit, I do feel more free…less burdened… 

In my quiet time later that night, God prods my heart. No…not my heart, too, Lord! Wasn’t my closet enough for today? I sigh, knowing that my spring cleaning isn’t complete. If I don’t purge my heart as well of the unnecessary clutter, I will carry that with me indefinitely as well. As I pray, I began sorting through some of it. The betrayal of a once good friend. The letdown of another. The critical words of an inlaw.  The stinging words of a sibling. The disappointment of a setback. Yes, there are countless things that I have hoarded and held onto in the dark recesses of my mind and heart. Things I should throw out, things I should let go of…but like the piles of paper in my closet, I have allowed myself to hold onto it, allowing it to fill unnecessary space in my life, clouding it, crowding it. I want to feel that freedom I felt earlier when I looked at my closet and saw the cleanliness and tidiness of it after my spring cleaning. Yes, it was time…more than time to spring clean my heart as well.

 

Forgive me, Lord, for being so unforgiving. Help me let go of the hurt, the pain, and the bitterness of some of those memories. Cleanse me, Lord, and renew my spirit. Lord, you’ve promised me joy for my ashes. You’ve promised me that you will use everything, even the bad, for my good. Lord, I choose to believe that. I choose You over my hurt and bitterness. Renew me, Lord.

 

 

 

The Real Meaning of Love

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By Bindu Adai Mathew

Love. The world defines love as an emotion…a feeling. From fairy tales to Hollywood love stories, we are taught from childhood through adulthood that love is this intense, electric emotion that consumes us and sends us to the stratosphere, robbing of us all sense and thought .

The Bible, however, defines love differently:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7.

We have all probably heard these verses multiple times in our life…and more often than not, they are read at weddings. However, it probably wasn’t until I was married myself that I truly understood what those verses meant.  The first time he squeezed the toothpaste from the middle instead of the end? (Sigh) The first time he left the toilet seat up?  (Head shake) The first time he stayed up late after I meticulously cleaned the kitchen and went to sleep,  only for me to wake up in the morning to find random dishes, glasses, frozen food and chips wrappings, crumbs, etc. strewn across the kitchen counter and living room table? (Steam coming out of my ears) During those early years, I found it very difficult to be loving at times. Loving=patience=forgiveness…neither of which I was good at. But thank God, even when I wasn’t acting very loving, my husband continued to love on me.

Love, I’ve come to realize over the years, is not just a feeling…it is an action. Forgive. Sacrifice. Protect. Trust. All actions that God has done for us: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13.

As always, Jesus is our example. He loved us so much that he sacrificed his life so we can a chance at eternity in heaven. He loved us so much that even in the midst of intense suffering and pain at our hands, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34.

Wow. Sacrifice. Forgiveness. Love.

One Year Ago…

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By Bindu Adai Mathew

One year ago, I was dreading the new year. My heart was full of stress as I sat on pins and needles as I worried whether my job would be affected by a merger my company underwent a few months before. My manager had already left, along with two other co-workers.

And then one month later, I got the dreaded news. As I feared, I was part of the “synergy” (a fancy word for layoff) that was a direct result of larger international company buying our already substantial national company. My role was deemed redundant, the VP informed me, and while he hated to let me go, he had little choice.

I began the dreaded job search with a heavy heart. As much as I tried to be positive, it wasn’t an easy time. But I had hope…because I had God’s promise that He could turn any situation around, even one that initially looked negative, to thrust me forward. I recall telling a co-worker that something good, even better was going to come out of this situation. While I truly believed that, I honestly didn’t always feel that in the weeks to come. Some days were hard and discouraging while other days, I just stood on God’s promise that He could bless me with an even better job.

And sure enough, that is exactly what He did. Just as my other job was coming to an end, I was offered a position with a much better company…one nationally ranked by Forbes magazine as “One of the Best Companies to Work For.” That meant an increase in salary as well as 100% of my insurance covered. Yep, even now, months later, I am amazed. Only God could have done that because I know those were doors I myself could never have pushed open. But that is the God we serve, my friends. A faithful, merciful, loving God. So whatever you’re facing today, remember that God can change your situation around, no matter how impossible or negative the situation appears to be. And one hour, one week, one month, or even one year from now, you may be looking back at your own life, in awe of where God has brought you.

This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. Psalms 118:23

A New Year’s Resolution Resolved!

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By Bindu Adai Mathew

So one of my previous New Year’s resolutions (I just won’t admit to which year that was!) has been to publish. Well, truthfully, it goes beyond just being a yearly resolution but something I’ve always “dreamed” of doing.

Well, this is the year! My memoir “38 Candles” has been published to Amazon!

http://www.amazon.com/38-Candles-ebook/dp/B00AOY0RNC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357043233&sr=8-1&keywords=38+Candles

And I’d like to share the first chapter with you…

Chapter 1:  The Birthday Candles

The flames of 38 candles dance in front of me, flickering and twisting. The happy, smiling faces of my husband and Ava, my one-year old daughter, look on as they eagerly wait for me to make my wish and blow out the candles. I stare mindlessly at the candles, each a marker of a year in my life. So many candles! Are there really 38 candles on that cake? Is it even possible that I have celebrated that many birthdays?

I close my eyes momentarily, silently making my not-so-secret wish, and then breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with air. I manage to blow out all the candles (except a few) as my husband claps. Ava, sensing the excitement, quickly joins in, her tiny hands clapping enthusiastically…and my husband and I both momentarily pause, sharing a look and a smile, as we both marvel at how together we have created such a beautiful, perfect being.

After gorging on the vanilla cake with too much buttercream icing, my husband puts Ava to bed for her afternoon nap while I clean up. As I put the dishes away and wipe down the counter, I gaze at the cake, again troubled by the sheer number of candles on it. It truly seems unfathomable. In a feeble attempt to reassure myself that I have truly celebrated 38 birthdays, as I remove each candle, I quickly attempt to recall what I did for each birthday. Some birthdays 1…2…3…4 are probably forever lost in my childhood subconscious…5 was my first birthday in America, having emigrated from India just a few months earlier. I remember it vividly, probably due to all the pictures taken by my parents. Birthdays 6…7…8…9…10…11 are all a blur, and 12 was my first and only real birthday party with all my friends from school. It was also the year my mom told me that it would be my last birthday celebration. She patted her burgeoning stomach, reminding me that at twelve years old, I was about to be a big sister and far too old now to be having birthday parties…13…14…15…16…17…18 were probably all small family celebrations with a simple homemade birthday cake after dinner…19 was when my college suitemates surprised me with cake and a song at the end of the night after I was convinced they had all forgotten…20 was uneventful as well with nothing more than good wishes from all my friends. My 21st birthday was when my roommate and I watched The Age of Innocence starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis. At that time, it was much more appealing than celebrating it at a bar or a club. I ushered in my 22nd with friends having dinner and planning our life milestones (Meet my future husband at 24, get married by 25, and have kids by 27—I had it all planned!). My 23rd birthday was another evening spent hanging out with friends, followed by a lecture the next day from my dad about the fact that I was getting older and should consider going to India to look for a husband since I wasn’t finding one in the U.S. Birthday number 24 was spent with friends, discussing why Mr. Right still hadn’t shown up in any of our lives and how even my trip to India a few months earlier, which I dubbed as Husband Search #1, had been unsuccessful…25 was spent tweaking my life timeline (Okay, meet my future husband by age 24 26, get married by 25 27, have kids by 27 29.). It was also my first birthday in grad school and I spent it alone…26 was when my grad school friends threw me my first real surprise party…27 was spent with friends again, followed by another talking-to the next day from my dad on how time was running out and I needed to get married ASAP and should consider going to India again….28 was spent with friends, moping about still being single. After another unsuccessful trip to India a few months earlier (Husband Search #2), which almost resulted in marriage (another long story), I came back alone, this time vowing never to go back to India just to look for a husband…29 was spent recovering from another disappointing setup, followed by a cathartic shredding of the paper that detailed the dates I would be married, have kids, etc.,…30 was my amazing trip to Italy as I celebrated the “fabulousness” of my single life. It was my “I don’t need a man” trip…31 was spent busily planning my wedding (I met my husband just four months after my “I don’t need a man” trip to Italy)…32 was my first birthday after marriage where I had a surprise full course breakfast in bed…33 was lunch at Chili’s with hubby…34 was lunch again with just my hubby at Islamorada…35 was my second real surprise party, thrown by my hubby, followed by a weekend trip to Naples, Florida, in an ocean-front suite at the Ritz Carlton…36 was spent in a cozy hotel room overlooking Niagara Falls with subzero temperatures outside…37 was spent recouping at home with my mom and enjoying the birth of Ava just the week before…and now, I was 38!

38.

3838…38…The numbers echo in my head like the rhythmic chiming of a grandfather clock.

38.

Just twelve years from 50. I cringe inwardly as I also realize that I am now officially closer to 50 than to 25.

The irony of it is that to twenty-somethings and teens, I am “old,” an almost forty-something in their eyes. But to the forty-somethings and older people, I am still relatively young, a summer chicken (as opposed to a spring chicken) with her whole life still in front of her.

As for me, I still look at myself and life through a twenty-something’s eye.

But it’s not the number that haunts me…well, at least not just the number, for it is a reminder—not only of what I’ve done each year of my 38 years – but more important, it is a reminder of what I’ve not done.

I think of the career woman I am not. The career ladder I never quite climbed. The six-figure income that I’m still shy of…and worst of all, that deep sinking feeling that at 38 years old, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I think of the one argument my husband and I have had over and over again about his desire for me to go back to college to get a different master’s degree, something that I have been determined to put off until I figure out what I am meant to do with my life.

Most of all, I think of the 400-plus-page manuscript stored on my computer hard drive, the one that I finally completed after 10 years of just talking about how I wanted to write a novel. After years of procrastination, a lack of discipline, and countless distractions, I knew the time had come to just do it. So finally, using every spare moment on weekends and evenings, I finally made time to write the novel I had always known I was meant to write, certain I was destined to be on the New York Times bestseller list. I completed it just before Ava was born. But now that same novel, post rejection by several agents, remains untouched on my computer hard drive, on the brink of being shelved and forgotten somewhere in cyberspace.

38.

For the rest of the day and into the night, the number hangs over me like a black cloud. It rings in my head over and over again, like a death knell, reminding me that time is running out.

Hearing God’s Voice

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By Bindu Adai-Mathew

Have you ever heard God’s voice? What does He sound like to you? Is it distinct or do you sometimes worry that it is your own conscience or inner voice speaking to you that you mistake for God?

As a child, I imagined if I ever heard God’s voice, it would sound something like James Earl Jones (aka the voice of Darth Vader, minus the heavy mechanical breathing, of course)…you know, a deep, rich, resounding,  low baritone.  Or maybe even like Charlton Heston.

But as I got older, I can’t recall audibly hearing God’s voice.  Often I  “heard” God speak through other people…a pastor whose sermon either convicted me or gave me food for thought or a friend whose advice was not only Biblical but also very practical. Even more often, I would read a scripture verse that I felt was directly speaking to me or even go through a situation where God would close all doors except the one that He wanted for me to walk through. While all those are legitimate examples of how God can speak to us, I wanted more…I wanted to audibly hear God. I wanted to hear his voice like I would hear my own husband’s voice. I wanted to hear His voice like Joyce Meyers or pastors often describe distinctly hearing God’s voice.

It wasn’t until recently when a friend told me about a  Bible study she was going through that was helping her discern God’s voice. Curious, I asked her to tell me about it because I knew this was something she, too, had struggled with.  One of the practical exercises that she shared was directly asking God what He wanted her to do.  Okay, I thought to myself, that is something I’ve definitely prayed for. So I wasn’t too far off then.  But then she added, “But after you ask God that, don’t say anything else. Just be quiet and wait for Him to answer.”

Whoa! I stared dumbfounded at my friend as that simple statement hit me like a ton of bricks. Ask God a question and then wait for Him to answer?! It sounded like something we’d do with anyone else, but when it comes to God, how often do we really give Him the chance to speak?

If I had to reflect on my prayers, I would have to admit how one-sided they always are. While I’m a good listener with friends, when I pray, I have diarrhea of the mouth.  I pray for my family, my friends, myself, and whatever world events are on my heart. I give God my prayers and petitions list which often read out like a “honey do” list. God fix this…help me with that…please do this…  As quickly as I let God know what’s on my heart, I say a quick Amen and go about my business. I never wait to hear what’s on God’s heart. How ironic that I, who had wanted to hear God’s voice, had never given God the chance to speak! Perhaps, if I were even more honest with myself, I would have realized that while I wanted to hear Him, I didn’t believe I really could or that He would even speak to me in a way distinct, audible voice.

So let me challenge you as I challenge myself…starting this week, as you pray, ask God to speak to you. And then be quiet and listen…you never know how God will choose to answer!

 Jeremiah 29:13You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

The Fire

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By Bindu Adai-Mathew

The fire is the situation or circumstance in your life that promises to overtake you, consuming you in its flames. We’ve all been through the fire in our personal lives in various situations. You know, when the stress of your situation seems so overwhelming that you can’t sleep at night. Your stomach is in constant knots, and your heart rate palpitates erratically at any given time.

The fire is stressfully uncomfortable. The fire is hot and pressure-filled and going through it can feel like a slow, never-ending torture. Our natural inclination is to avoid the fire at all costs.  We often think that when we go through the fire, we did something wrong.  And sometimes that is the case. Sometimes the situation we’re in is nothing less than the consequence for a poor decision we made. But sometimes, like Job, the fire sneaks up on us like a lion about the devour its prey. It stealthily envelops us despite our innocence.

In either case, fire can be refining. Like pouring alcohol into an open wound, the fire, too, refines and purifies. It takes our spirit to the place where we seek God and experience the peace that only He can provide.

But the Bible promises us 2 things when we are in the midst of the fire:  1. He is with us.  2. He will bring us through.

The Book of Daniel talks about 3 men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who also went through the fire—literally! King Nebuchadnezzar had built a gold idol ninety feet high and commanded everyone to bow before it any time they hear music. Three Jews— Meshach, and Abednego—refused to worship the idol and as punishment, were thrown into a fiery furnace.

19Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

24Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, O king.”

25He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

26Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

If He wanted, God could have easily prevented them from being thrown in the fire. But rather than preventing it, He allowed them to go through it. My favorite part is that He not only sustained them, but He was with them. And I love how when they were released from the furnance, not only were their bodies and clothes unharmed but they didn’t even smell of smoke.

Wow. Only our God could do that. Now the question is do you believe He can do that for your life? Do you believe you, too, can come out of your “fire” unscathed, even to the point where the circumstance does not even linger on your life in the smallest way?

Miracles always begin with faith and obedience. Before they were thrown into the furnace, look at the attitude of the three men:

14and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

They believed that God could rescue them, but they also acknowledged that even if He, in His Divine Will, chose not to help them, that He was still the one and true God.

Although God is infinitely able, He may not rescue you the way you’d prefer. I’ve also been disappointed that God has allowed me to go through certain circumstances in my life. But if it weren’t for those circumstances, neither would I have seen His Hand working in my life. I wouldn’t have seen His Hand of Providence providing for my every need at the right time…His time, not mine…

Challenge yourself to see the “fires” of your life differently. View them, not as punishment, but as refinement…as purification. Because that is what He does with all of us…remaking us into His own image.