Thursday, November 24, 2011

God's Puzzle: Afterward

{Forgot to post this last night - sorry! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day :) }

Honestly, I feel at the moment as though my future is a big question mark. God taught me at the beginning of this semester that I am to be in submission to His will for my life – that I am His, not mine. I don’t think living that out will always make sense to me or to those around me.

One may ask why I took all the time to write this all down tonight/this morning [Nov. 16/17] when I have papers I should probably be working on. Simply speaking, the answer is that I needed to. This is how I process stuff. I’ve been meaning to do it for months, as I said, and tonight I felt like it was the right time to sit down and actually do it.

Tonight (Wed. Nov. 16) didn’t go at all like I thought it would – just goes to show that God’s got plans for us we don’t always understand. But I don’t regret a moment of it, which is sadly pretty unusual for my life this semester.

If you’ve read all 3,400 words of this monologue, you most certainly deserve a medal. If you make proper application (involving applicable comments on each post), I will try to get you one ;-)

But really - please do let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 6

October and November have been tough months for me. I’ve allowed myself to stress about nearly everything. I’ve not done a couple of [small] homework assignments. Most papers have been done the night before or day that they are due. For a multiplicity of various reasons, I didn’t go to a single church service at my church here in Siloam Springs between Sept. 11 and Nov. 6. Most of those weekends I was out of town, but a couple of times I chose not to attend.

The lesson from these trying past couple of months—although I am only just now recognizing it—is that it is not enough to say “yes” when I hear the question “Do you trust Me?” or to say “I am Thine.” I must make the choice, through God’s strength, to live that out in my actions if I am to find the rest and the satisfaction in life that I learned last spring is possible.

The process of learning this hasn’t been easy…October’s musings filled 16 pages of my journal…but standing here I am thankful to be able to look back and finally see that there has been a lesson in all the hiccups I feel like I’ve been through. Again, I don’t feel like talking about it in detail here…it’s still too recent I guess. To some extent, God used spring semester to ground me in His love—the summer to teach me that He is trustworthy—September to show me what He calls me to—and October and November have been something of a test to see if I am ready to live it out.

And frankly, I’ve failed quite a few times. Because even with the past 11 months of learning, I still forget. The weekends of Oct. 9 and Nov. 5 were, honestly, horrible. Last weekend was amazing. This weekend may not be so great because I have one paper due Sunday night and two others due Monday. But I have the tools to succeed – well, one tool really: God’s strength. If I choose to trust Him and to work diligently, I can do well. I don’t have to be stressed. God is faithful – it is up to me to live in recognition of His faithfulness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 5

While last spring was all about love and the summer was all about trust, this semester (when I’ve been paying attention) has been about surrender. I say “when I’ve been listening” because I haven’t been doing all that great a job at it. But God is STILL faithful, even then.

Spiritual Emphasis Week in chapel was what picked up from the ideas that had started in August and really brought home the idea that I am a slave to Christ. Singer Michael Card came and talked to us for three days – and I was very blessed by his ministry to us. I tried to write a post about it that I realized at the time didn’t nearly do it justice.

This semester I am learning the importance for me of making time to be still before God. To process and reflect on what is going on in my life. Frequently, those times happen when I escape my dorm room and go to one of my growing number of retreat areas. Being outside and in communion with God works within my soul at a deep level – and that’s important for me. I’ve also started occasionally picking up small objects as mementos – like the memorial altars the Israelites built.

Anyhow, that’s what I did a few days after the slavery blog post – spent time out at the Hundred Stairs praying through some things. I also rode my bike out to a state park in Oklahoma where I spent all day Saturday Sept. 24 enjoying being out in “the wild.” A lot of that time didn’t have anything particularly spiritual about it – but it was a relaxing and refreshing experience. The next day was my birthday – the big 21. I was blessed by the love of several friends that day, and the Gathering that night dove-tailed well with the lesson on surrender I had been learning.

On Sept. 28, I bought one of the necklaces made by women in Africa that were being sold to help them earn money. I didn't think of it at the moment I picked it out, but I soon felt nudged to use it as a daily reminder that I am not my own – I am God's. I have worn it most of the time since then, and often as I put it on I am thinking about the fact that I am a mere vessel in the use of my Master. "I am Thine" has been the recurring thought of my heart in the weeks since. Not that those weeks have been easy – they haven't.

Monday, November 21, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 4

Last summer was a lot like a roller coaster. I had many high points and more lessons – but I also had some deep lows and griefs, mostly from my main job. I don’t talk about particulars because I feel that would be gossiping. Suffice it to say I am no longer under any illusion that parenting is an easy job. I did post about it on a general level here.

The big picture theme for my summer was that my home church services were alive in a way I had never experienced before. I actually felt that they were profitable – that I wasn’t just going through the motions to be there. Now, that is not to say that they weren’t good before. I think the change was more in me than it was in the church. But I was thankful for the new me who appreciated church at a deeper level than before. I posted about some of the church services here and here.

Also, while the spring semester’s lessons had focused around the fact that I am loved and accepted by God, the summer focused on what that means on a very practical level. Over and over again all summer, I heard the question in my head: “Do you trust Me?” No matter how bad I thought things might be, no matter how hard it was, that question was the center. And God never failed me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t fail, but God was always there for me when I was willing to turn to Him. At the beginning of August, I wrote a post about it that also started hinting at what the theme of the fall semester would be. Another post expanded more on the theme.

But as part of the summer, God had another reminder planned about His love. The college group at my church went through Tim Keller’s Prodigal God video series. We also spent a relaxing weekend with our leaders at a lake house. While there were still struggles even there, God led me to read 1 John 4 focusing on love. There’s so much in that chapter about God’s love for us – I would encourage you to read it if you’re ever discouraged…or even if you’re not. It’s a convicting reminder that we are called to love as we have been loved, and that we do not need to fear anything because “perfect love casts out fear.”

My summer ended with an emotional rollicking kaboom – and although I was somewhat excited to come back to college and see all my friends I was already starting to dread what will happen after I graduate. After all, I was half way done! Which is why this semester's lessons have been so perfect.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 3

Back on February 6, a girlfriend’s brother had been killed when a gun he was cleaning went off. On April 12, a family friend’s husband had been found dead at his parking garage. He was, I think, in his early 30’s. Both of these deaths were somewhat shocking to me. I wasn’t especially close to either man, but it still weighed on me. Then, on April 18, I heard that another girlfriend’s boyfriend had been killed in a private plane crash. They had both graduated from the Air Force Academy the past May and were hoping to get married soon.

It really hit me hard. There had only been one other time in my life where I had known someone about my age who had died – and that was someone I didn’t know very well. Now, all of a sudden, three young men in the prime of their lives had been suddenly snatched away. After a long Tuesday night, Wednesday morning was a down time. “I just felt so tired & weighed down & overwhelmed,” I wrote in my journal the next day. A trip to the prayer room for a good cry ended in God’s peace flowing in and covering over my fear and sadness.

On May 10 I blogged again about that day and also about the rest of the spring semester. Twice, on April 21 & 30, I had been flooded with joy and a more real sense of God's love than I had ever felt. As I remember writing somewhere, "I was blessed by the Holy Spirit, without even consciously asking for Him."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 2

About a week later, the next event came, again, from my Student Leadership class. I had just gone through a couple of crazy homework weeks, evidently. I was getting use to working as News Editor for the campus newspaper (which involves working in the office for 7-9 hours every Tuesday night), so that was a big adjustment. Anyhow, I had failed to do any of the reading for the Wednesday afternoon class – which was, ironically enough, about the dangers of over-committing ourselves. And so, to put that into practice, I proceeded to skip the small group time of the class and instead go out to the 100 stairs—one of my best retreat places on campus—and think, pray, journal, etc.

God had already rescued me from a bit of my own craziness and volunteering to stretch myself too far. I had applied to be an RA and to be the HSP secretary, but by God’s grace I thankfully received neither position. Most of my journal entry that day (March 9) was praying that I would focus on God and on what was truly important rather than all the stuff I thought I could do to make the world a better place. The lesson was simple and clear: “Be Still & Know.”

Spring Break came and went, much too fast for my liking. But even in that, there was a lesson, which I blogged about. It was one of the rough patches that have still come up even in this Spring of my relationship with God. To use something more recent to explain it – last week I read through papers on C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters as part of my work study TA job. One of the temptations many students referred to was what Lewis had Screwtape label the “Law of Undulation” – that our lives are full of peaks and troughs. It is in the troughs, Screwtape wrote, that humans can learn the most and that the most danger to a demon’s plan can occur.

So yes - I have still had rough times since January. But now there is a deep underlying peace and certainty of God's love and involvement in my life that I didn't feel as much before. I especially came to realize that the next month when the full weight of a series of tragedies hit me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

God's Puzzle: Part 1

{Checkout the prologue from last night if you haven't seen it :) }

It started, oddly enough, with homework for a class. I took the Student Leadership class, and we read a book by Henri Nouwen entitled “In the Name of Jesus.” I wrote in my journal about it on Jan. 23 – and although it caused me to end up crying again this time the tears were not tears of frustration that God didn’t seem to be meeting me where I was. Instead, this time the tears were more of repentance for my sin that was blocking me from the good God had in store for me. I was finally beginning to gain a more correct perspective. It is never a question of if God loves me. He does! “Only He is capable of loving me despite my failings,” I wrote. “Not even I can do that. Only He is capable of keeping me out of my deep, self-made rut.”

Two days later, Jill Briscoe came to speak in chapel for Spiritual Renewal Week. She talked about people losing their spiritual edge. As I had been standing there singing (I think before she talked…but I’m not positive), the thought had come to my mind – “What I do is not a question of earning God’s love. I don’t need to earn it. He already loves me, no matter what. Salvation really is a gift – I really can’t earn it. Anything I do for Him is a gift of love.” That reminder/realization was the beginning of my personal revival. Yes, of course I knew that in my head before that moment. But I hadn’t been living it out.

From there, everything kind of started happening at once. There’s no way I can compile a record here of everything I feel God has taught me in the months since then. Early on, when I was first intending to write this post, I wanted to call it “God doesn’t work in a vacuum.” On a frequent basis throughout last spring, I would have what I’ve come to call “Lessons of the Day” (LotD) that usually get put onto my Twitter account (Esther0925). Although it seems odd now looking back that such a drastic change would happen so quickly, I kept thinking of things that applied to what I was going through and that I believe have been promptings of the Holy Spirit. I kind of feel as though I’m walking a thin line here, because I don’t believe I have received some sort of “special revelation.” At the same time, I think God has been teaching me and I want to share what I have learned with others in the hope that God may use it in their lives as well.

The only bad thing about my Twitter LotD’s is that when I look back at them I frequently have no context. But on Feb. 24 I tweeted: “Lord, teach me how to love You. First and foremost, You alone. My life will never truly work out until You are at the center.” That weekend was the women’s retreat that I talked about a bit earlier. It was the next big step in the process. The subject was authenticity. I’m not going to write much about it here because it was an intensely personal and reflective time that, frankly, I’m not willing to be vulnerable enough with the world wide web to put here. Suffice it to say I filled up 8.5 pages with notes in my chapel notebook and another 8.5 pages of reflection in my journal. Again, I closed with a prayer that September’s rereading showed had been answered. “I pray that You would continue to quicken my awareness of You….Refresh me with Your presence each moment, I pray.” And as the days and weeks continued, He did.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

God's Puzzle: Prologue

I’ve been meaning to do this post for at least six months. This is going to be a {hopefully} brief post {imagine that red text is crossed out – brief...who was I kidding!} simply tracing what God has been teaching me over the past year – because it’s been an amazing time of growth for me.

First, a bit of background. This isn’t easy for me to admit – but I’d have to say that during most of high school and the first year and a half of college my spiritual life was, for the most part, stagnant. I had plenty of head knowledge about God, but I felt an almost complete lack of any real relationship with Him. And I desperately wanted that relationship. There were plenty of times I would shut myself into my room and cry at nights because I didn’t feel God and I wanted to so badly. It never made any sense to me. God wants a relationship with me, right??? Then why don’t I seem to have one if He wants it and I want it? I don’t have the answer to that question – but this post is going to focus on the growth I have had since then to a time when I have felt that relationship in a more real and tangible way than ever before. Yes, I know feelings aren’t everything. But I am human and feelings are part of the equation.

This next part is a bit out of place, but it will help explain things. In February of last year, one of the JBU professors spoke at the campus women’s retreat. She talked about knowing God in three ways: Intellectually, Experientially, and Affectively (Emotionally). As I wrote in my journal reflecting on that, “I’ve known about God intellectually all my life, in a growing sense. I would say that I started to know Him experientially when we went to China. I saw and experienced how He provided for us in the years afterward, and there were things like the NO, LA {New Orleans, Louisiana} trip too. I’d say I really started knowing God affectively once I came to JBU and especially this semester. Things like chapel and The Furnace and then everything this semester has shown me a side of God I hadn’t really thought about or connected with before.”

So anyway, in September 2010 I wrote my first post on this blog after a year of silence. It’s like the prologue to everything that has happened since. Let me just say here that it has been so important for me personally to write about what God is doing in my life. It can be so encouraging to go back and look through what I was thinking and feeling and see how God has been faithful in answering my heart’s cry – even when I felt at the time as though He wasn’t listening.

I didn’t blog or really journal much again until December. When I finally did journal, it was an entry full of the frustration I expressed in my “background” paragraph above. My sophomore fall was a tough semester – not because of difficult school work, but because of apathy…about everything. I ended with a plea to God that He would “grant me the ability to rest & trust in You and to STOP trying to live it out on my own.” When I reread that in September, it struck me that God answered that cry the next semester – Spring 2011, the semester that has honestly changed my spiritual life.

[Please note – all of this was written late night/early morning of Nov. 16/17. I’m just breaking it up into sections and posting it during the next week or so, so that maybe people won’t feel as overwhelmed by it….

The title comes from the fact that it seems each lesson and event has been a puzzle piece that has fit perfectly into the bigger picture of what God has been doing in my life.]