Before and After Christ

Over the last three years I had many questions answered that all relate to the change in my perspective. Questions such as what is love, what is true justice and mercy? And many more.

I used to think that God was a dormant distant being who created us and then left his clock to unwind for the rest of humanity to just play itself out. But He is the farthest thing from that. He longs to connect with his creation.  And it’s not that he needs us but because He loves us.  He is completely perfect and holy.  100% complete He is…not 99.999%.  There is no imperfection in Him and He will not allow any imperfection in His presence.  We are imperfect beings and that is why there is a great chasm between us and Him.  But he has made a way, a bridge to Him.  He himself is the bridge.  To think that we can close the gap between us and God through our works, our intentions, our goodness, or our thoughts is naivety.  If we believe that we become imperfect over time and add onto our list of sins then we are fooling ourselves.  After having my own children I observed that children are extremely self-absorbed. This is our nature.  You see the tiniest imperfection makes things spiral out of control.

A question I posed to you was “How Good is good enough?”

Here’s why this question matters:

Up to a certain age, growing up Muslim I believed that my good deeds had to outweigh my bad deeds in order for me to get to heaven.  I learned that He was just and merciful but I didn’t truly understand what that meant.

I learned God would judge me on the day of judgement and there was a likelihood that I would end up eternally damned unless I kept up with the 5 pillars and hope that there was a chance that he would show me mercy but uncertainty lingered in my mind.

With that mindset how could we really ever live without fear? Are we operating and serving God out of obligation or fear? If so, can we serve him freely and does he truly love us? Is there even such a thing as free-will and choice? I thought about death and suffering all the time but honestly the human mind would have to suppress the thought of eternal damnation in order to try to function which is what I did for many years.

Panic attacks were a frequent occurrence during my childhood. I have no doubt now that the reason was because of this fear.  Fear of the unknown was crippling. Can we truly live life and make life happen with that thought lingering in the back of our minds?

But there is freedom! And that freedom comes from grace. The glory that I’ve witnessed cannot be unseen.

ETERNITY RESIDES IN OUR SOULS!

Our view on the afterlife determines how we live on earth.  Our relationship with our creator determines:

-what happens to us after our physical death but also what happens to us while we live and how we live on earth.

-whether we live in freedom or bound up in shackles and

-whether we live in fear of the unknown or live LIFE and make LIFE happen.

I love God 🙂 he is my refuge, my savior and my everything.  The reasons for my zeal are countless.  But the main reason I love Him is because he loved me first. I know what He has done for me but more importantly for who He is. I know my identity does not come from my works, nor from others but only from Him. I don’t have to do things for others but now I want to and I get to. He has rescued my soul, welcomed me home and brought me into a correct relationship with Him (I am being sanctified(purified) by His spirit but that doesn’t mean that I am perfect by any means. I will continue to make mistakes but my desire is to be Christ-like and to share his love with others.

So what is love? God is love!

The foundation of Christianity is Christ and Christ is love.

The following is a part of my story, a part of the love story of God.

SELF-HELP

Crystal and I married in 2002 and you know the circumstances surrounding our marriage. You see, I had looked at our marriage as a contract while Crystal had looked at our marriage differently. The moment when the justice of the peace was performing the marriage Crystal realized that she was making a promise to God and that it was a holy covenant and not merely an agreement.

While I was going to use her to get the green card and after about 5 years be on my merry way. But I began to fall for her.  Her daughter Savanna turned four years old a month after our marriage. I struggled being a husband to Crystal and a father to Savanna. Savanna desperately needed a father (her biological father had abandoned her) and I was horrible to her and emotionally abusive. I was self-absorbed and did my thing for a while. Crystal waited for me faithfully while I pursued the desires of my flesh.  She attended Desi functions, was headstrong and able to overlook the fact that she was not welcomed by my family and community.

She was outright rejected! She never went to the mosque and I didn’t really push that on her.

There were less than a handful of people in my family that talked to her and that doesn’t say much especially since our family included uncles and aunties that aren’t even related to us.

In 2004 I decided that I wanted to truly be married to her and hoped that my family would be accepting. I wanted to appease my folks so after some coercion Crystal agreed to perform Nikkah going against her deeply held convictions. I kept telling her that the words in the dua didn’t mean anything.  At the time of the Nikkah we were expecting our first child. Following that ceremony within days she miscarried. There was much guilt she carried for years to follow. Before her pregnancy she had gone through a tumor removal on her ovaries. After her miscarriage the doctors informed us that if we’re going to want to have kids that we needed to have them soon because of the type of tumor she had that there was a high likelihood of a re-occurrence.

We took his words seriously and Zak arrived in 2006. In 2008 the tumor re-occurred and this time she only had one ovary so we decided to have another child before it was too late. Thankfully we were blessed with Nylah in 2009. After her birth Crystal had several surgeries and now there’s no chance of her becoming pregnant.

I know this is a lot of detail but bear with me, since all of this ties into the tapestry of His handiwork.

In 2007 I started working for an insurance company. With this company I was surrounded by inspiring men and women. By this time I was determined to be a better person, father, and husband. I immersed myself in self-help books. I surrounded myself with positive people and positive situations. Life seemed good. I felt that I was making progress. I had become an agnostic prior to this point. While I was with this company I was introduced to Eastern thought and I became more of a universalist thinking that as long you have goodness that you’ll be okay with your maker and that there were multiple paths to God. I practiced yoga for 2 years. May sound crazy but I was trying to get in touch with “my higher self.” I looking some into Rumi’s poetry and Sufism. I wanted to reconcile my learning and path with my heritage and familial identity.

But my relationship with Savanna had become volatile. My relationships with people outside of home seemed good but at home it was a different story.  I was still pretty self-absorbed. Most of these self-help gurus like Chopra, Oprah, and others talked about pursuing and “finding health, wealth, and happiness” but it led me to a path of being more and more self-absorbed.

I wanted to be “selfless” but at the core I was still very selfish. I controlled and manipulated my wife and situations to get what Rahim wanted. One of the biggest realizations I had was that I am a selfish being. Self-help is all about thinking about the now instead of all that is eternal. Self-help focuses on the creation rather than the creator. To love one’s life/self, to be wrapped up in self-fulfillment, self-actualization, self-enjoyment — this.is.selfishness.

Whatever I do I will never be good enough. Sounds like a self-defeating thought but here’s why I believe that.  With all the self-help, self-talk, meditation, and positive affirmations I was not able to change things at home. We went to several family and individual counseling sessions. The desire was there but no real lasting change came about.

In 2011 Crystal had Savanna move out to go live with her grandmother because our relationship had reached a boiling point.  During that time Crystal grew resentful towards me. To the point that she wanted a divorce. She had every reason to. Only In retrospect do I clearly see my mistakes.

Early of 2012, a lady came by my workplace needing assistance.  She wore a bracelet with crosses on it and I asked her about the bracelet thinking Crystal would appreciate something like that. That lady invited me to her church in Nacogdoches. At this point I’m thinking Crystal could benefit by getting connected with a church which in return could help our relationship. Truth be told, I was trying to fix her. I thought the problem was with her and not so much me. Boy was I wrong.  We went to Grace Bible Church and connected with a small group of Christians where we would do bible study once a week.  I would study with them and put in my two cents of what I believed to be spiritual.  I knew it was a good place to be and people seemed to genuinely care. These people seemed to actually converse with God out loud while I was there more as a spectator.

During our trials there was a couple Ben and Megan Dodson from the small group  that came beside us, loved on us and befriended us.  I spent a lot more time with Ben than Crystal did with Megan.  I met with him at least once a week.  I would share with him my problems and he listened to me, prayed with me and prayed for us.  He never once preached to me or told me that I was wrong with my belief systems.  I remember telling him that I had read the Quran and many self-help books but I was getting nowhere. He said that you can read all the books you want but you should give reading the gospel stories of Jesus a shot.  Ben truly cared for me and I wasn’t a project for him; someone who he was trying to convert.  You know almost all the self-help books that I had read would occasionally mention Jesus as a highly influential figure so I thought why not give Jesus and the Bible a shot.  At this point I was willing to try anything to help my family and my marriage.  But I didn’t start reading the Bible seriously until September 2012 which was following my suicide attempt.

SUICIDE ATTEMPT

I had dropped out of University several years earlier. When Savanna had moved out to go live with her grandmother I had decided to go back to SFA to finish my undergrad degree because I wasn’t happy with my career in the insurance industry.  I landed a job with AT&T working part-time which worked well with my school schedule.  Before fall semester was about to start, around the second week of August of 2012 while I was at work I had this urge to go through Crystal’s call logs on our cell phone bill.  She had mentioned divorce a couple of times but I thought that things were working out.  When I went through the call records I realized that she had been talking to someone (An old friend of mine who I had made the mistake of inviting into our lives.)  I was mad and thought to myself that no matter what I did there was nothing I could do to improve my relationship with my wife.  Up to this point I had worried about losing my kids and I didn’t want them to be in a broken household.  But this night I just thought about how much I was hurting.  I had popped some pills and then I went by a bar, got intoxicated before driving back home. When I got home I told her that I had discovered the call logs and she said she was done with the marriage.  I remember thinking that I wanted Crystal to hurt like I was hurting.  Honestly I don’t remember all that I was thinking but I wasn’t thinking clearly at all.  I remember shouting at her, running to the medicine cabinet and downing a full bottle of her anti-depressants.  I tried to run back to the medicine cabinet because I was just mad, sad, hurt, and just messed up.  Crystal’s nephew happened to be there who stopped me from taking any more of her meds.  I ran out the apartments in a mad dash.  While I was running away from them I was confronted by Keith Hawkins a police officer, a friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years.  He asked me “Rahim do you really want to die?” and my response to him was no.  He convinced me to go to the hospital.  Not too long after the paramedics took me to the hospital and flushing my system out, that I was out unconscious.  When I came around I found Crystal by my side.  I was informed that I had been in a drug induced coma, that I was “lucky” to be alive.  Interestingly, while I was in my coma I kept hearing worship songs, songs of praise that I had heard in the church.  My sister in-law told me this was a sign from God and that God and His Angels were looking after me but I dismissed her words.  A few days later we came home.  I knew that what I had done was wrong but I didn’t think about the consequences my actions would have on the people I love.

SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE

A couple of days after I came home from the hospital Crystal wanted to get away.  She had been through a lot mentally and I started to manipulate her again by telling her that I thought that I was still having suicidal thoughts.  She said that I needed to get institutionalized and I was like no way.  She said that it wasn’t safe for me to be there but I was playing games with her.  I just felt unloved.  Sounds pitiful but that’s the truth.

She ended up calling Ben and Megan to help intervene.  When they came over I talked to Ben privately.  I confided in him and told him that I was manipulating her because I was scared to lose her and the family that I had fought so hard for.  He told me two things which stuck with me.  He said “Rahim you are depending on another human being for your happiness and fulfillment.  There is no human being that can fulfill you except for God himself. You must promise to stop manipulating Crystal and always remember that Jesus loves you!”

I took those two words seriously.  But there was something about his words “Jesus loves you” which gave me a sense of peace.  It was hard to decipher what it was at that point.  The next week fall semester started, I got busy with school but things were different this time.  Unbeknownst to me I had registered for a course called Interpersonal Crisis Communication.   Dr. Jim Towns was teaching this class.  We were to share our crisis stories and how we dealt with our personal crisis.  This course came in my life at just the right time.  We talked about fear and anger.  I admitted that I struggled with anger management and Dr. Towns reminded me that all anger is rooted in fear.  And fear is rooted in control.  I thought isn’t that the truth?  I was afraid of losing my family. I had tried to control my wife and the situations in my life and when they seemed to be out of control I got enraged.  I had been stuck in a vicious cycle.

One day soon after the semester started Ben came by my house and gave me a copy of a student Bible.  I had read the Bible here and there periodically over the last 15 years but I didn’t know where to start.  After conversing with Ben he said to start with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The Student Bible itself was a bit overwhelming for me so I downloaded a digital version on my phone and started reading. Again it was overwhelming because the version I was trying to read was a King James Version in old English.  I brought that up and he suggested one that was translated in modern English like the NIV or ESV version.  Over the next few weeks I had read through all the gospels and I had reached the book of Acts, which is the fifth book of the New Testament (49th book in the Bible.)  While I read the Bible I was reading it through the lens of Islam.  Quran tells us that the Bible is not to be trusted because it has been corrupted.  I knew that the argument could be made both ways.  Therefore, I gave the Bible the benefit of the doubt.

SELF-HELP TO GRACE

As I read the gospels some things seemed a bit confusing but only came to clarification on and after January 1St, 2013. On New Years Eve Crystal wanted to go to a New Year’s Eve party at her cousin’s house. She wanted to meet her cousin but she also wanted to drown out her physical pain because she had ran out of her pain medication.  You see Crystal suffered from chronic pain for almost two or three years but she hadn’t any kind of diagnosis.  That night I promised to be the designated driver and was going to stay sober.  I saw things from a different perspective asking myself is this all there is to life?  I thought we work all year long and the highlight of our lives is this one day where we get wasted.  I didn’t get any answers that night.  But life itself seemed unsettling.  Over the years whenever I had questions Crystal would tell me you need to pray to God and he will answer your questions but it seemed that God hadn’t answered any questions but things were about to change.  After the party I stayed up all night pondering life, tossing and turning with no rest.

Have you heard someone say that God has a sense of humor?  Well he does.  I was in the restroom, yes in the restroom.  At around 7am in my desperation I said out loud “God if you’re there show me the truth.” And the following vision came to me:
In my vision I was shown space filled with stars.it was far far deep in space where no man could reach and from there in a flash I saw a new born baby.  I knew right there and then that was Jesus. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God was real, he heard me, and that He left His majesty to become a human being.  Why would he do that?  That wasn’t completely clear in that moment but all I knew is that God was truly real and that he had not only heard me but has responded to me. I understood from then on that He is everywhere.  I felt his loving presence and that presence hasn’t left me since.  I didn’t really understand the words of scripture but after this event I went back to the Bible and starting reading it again this time through a lens that wasn’t clouded with assumptions of other worldviews and religions or isms.

My friend, every single word in the Bible has come to life now.  The words literally jump out.  The words are full of life.  Jesus is the Way, The truth, and the Life.  All the stories that I was told as a child, the ones that seemed out of place and fragmented have all come to life in the Bible.
My perspective on life and death has not only changed but my life has been transformed. As for me and Crystal, me and Savanna, me and my kids, God’s at the center of our relationships. Without Him we would be empty vessels seeking to fulfill the desires of the flesh which always leave us seeking more with no lasting joy.

LIVES RADICCALY TRANSFORMED!

Don’t get me wrong.  We’ve had our struggles, but our trials and struggles are so much easier to bear with Jesus carrying our burdens.  A month after my conversion, we were visiting a house church where Crystal was finally able to overcome her guilt over the miscarriage.  I don’t have to worry about eternal damnation any longer.  I have assurance that I will be with my maker no matter what.

Jesus is the bridge that I mentioned earlier.  He has bridged the gap between humanity and God, because He is God. Only God who is perfect can make purify us in order to bring us into His loving presence, into his loving arms.  His arms are wide open.  He woke up not only my mind but also my heart. The strength to overcome this world and my own sinful nature comes only from the Lord.

So how good is good enough? We have to be 100% pure.  We can’t earn God’s forgiveness. We can’t buy God’s forgiveness with our good works which are like filthy rags to Him. We can only receive God’s forgiveness by faith through his grace and mercy.

You are loved. It’s not a question of if you are loved, it’s a question of if you are aware that you are loved. He sees you. He loves you and we must rest in that.

The world tells us that you deserve happiness and that you can have happiness. The difference between happiness and joy is immense. Lasting joy only comes through God and not from our works.

Now His love for us is His true masterpiece.  Love is a choice. Love gives us free will.  The choice to be able to come to God because we love Him not because he makes us.

I tried to find happiness in things and people. If you watch enough Bollywood or Hollywood movies you’ll start to believe that happiness is to be found in a relationship with another human being. But a marriage is not meant to make us happy. It is actually meant to make us holy and God has to be at the center.  He is after our hearts not our deeds.  The forgiveness that I am able to give doesn’t come from my heart but from the heart that has been forgiven first.  God’s words tell me that I’m forgiven. He made my fall his own.  He has paid the highest price.  He changes our life, our outlook, and our expressions. Material things come and go but his word remains forever.   The gospel aka “the good news” is that He has overcome death and we owe it all to Jesus.

Death has been defeated.  On the cross He took my shame and my guilt so that I can live freely.  Christ makes us good enough to be in the loving arms of God.

He came to earth. Took on flesh.
He died the death that we all deserve.
He resurrected!!!
He ascended back to heaven.
He. Is. Coming. Back.