Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reminded of Blessing, Reoriented to Grace

It’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to slip back into old habits, into old ruts. Over and over and over, God told the Israelites to REMEMBER. To remember the wonders He had done in setting them free. To remember His provision for them again and again.

It is the same today—it is the same in my life. God has proven His faithfulness so many times, in so many ways, and yet so often I find myself sliding back into the mentality that I have to take care of myself. Fretting about the future. Worried that God won’t come through.

But the amazing thing is that God has ALREADY filled my MOST ULTIMATE need. OUR deepest need! Because, obviously, this isn’t just about me. From eternity past, God worked each piece of His plan, leading up to the pinnacle moment of earthly history: the coming of God’s Son in flesh, His sacrificial death, His victorious resurrection. It is all for His glory—and yet amazingly it is simultaneously for our blessing, that we may be redeemed.

SO THAT we may then live our lives to the glory of our King, serving for His sake, and that one day we may enjoy Him fully FOREVER. Because HE IS AWESOME.

It is so amazing, so beautiful, SO PERFECT!

I know many of you who are likely to read this share this great knowledge with me. And yet, as I said earlier, we so easily forget. We rush from here to there, lost in the hustle and the bustle—gazing so hard at the flurry of the snow globe that we miss the bigger picture. The better, the more beautiful picture.

It happened to me yesterday morning. As I got up and started getting ready for church, I was consumed with worry, fretting over the financial needs and deadlines looming. I needed $2,000 by Dec. 1 to pay for my plane ticket, and my NHU account had less than $500. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what I could do to make it work. And yes, I tried to pray and remind myself to trust God for this too—after all, He’s the one who has called me to Uganda, so He will provide—but my mind still went around and around trying to logically figure it out.

I get to church, and within 30 minutes the amount of donations I had received tripled. I was overwhelmed. But I’m sad to admit to you that it was only after that happened that I woke up to how I had been acting. Our worship service focused even more than usual on Christ’s redeeming work, and I found myself ashamed of my morning behavior. I had been so focused on how things didn’t seem to be working out on my timeline. And I had failed to remember how undeservingly blessed I am simply to be a member of God’s family.

I’m thankful that God’s call through the worship service reoriented me back to what matters most. I’m also grateful for His faithful and generous servants who are coming forward to partner with me. But most of all, I am hopeful that I will remember the lesson of that Sunday morning. I pray that I’ll be focused on the truth of God’s provision, rather than on what I don’t have. And I am so blessed by my Savior’s love. Amen.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

True Success

{This is a follow up to what I posted yesterday}

So what does true success look like? As a Christian, what is the goal at which I should be aiming? Most importantly, how does GOD define success?

The past two weeks, the teaching elder at my church has been especially “meddlesome” with his sermons. In a really really good way—it’s just convicting rather than comfortable! (As it should be J) He is doing a topical series in Proverbs, and the past two weeks have been about humility. Last week he looked at how God defines pride and humility, while this week focused on the application of humility in the Christian’s life—both towards God and towards our fellow men. Good, but hard, stuff!

One of the things he emphasized this Sunday was that Christ’s humility is to be our model—that is what God calls us to (see Philippians 2 if you need a refresher on what that looks like). To paraphrase a small section of his straight shooting sermon: The path Jesus paved for us means that the cross comes before the crown. In our culture, people are always racing to the top—trying to control things in their lives and trying to avoid pain. In Christianity, it should be a race to the bottom. God leaves us on earth, after He saves us, to suffer for the sake of Christ. He was despised by men and suffered grievous injustice – it is only sinful pride which makes us think we deserve better than that. We are called to have an audience of ONE – protecting my own reputation is not to be my goal or concern.

His last sentence there ties into something I had already been thinking about in the past week or two. As this topic of success—in culture’s eyes vs. what God calls us to—had been ruminating in my brain, I couldn’t help but think of Os Guinness’ book “Rising to the Call.” I first read it four years ago in Honors Orientation, one of my favorite college classes, and reviewed it twice more mentoring for the class. Having an audience of One (God) is one of the things which Guinness discusses.

Another of his points which is especially relevant in this discussion comes when he makes a distinction between the primary and secondary calling of a Christian. “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by Him, to Him, and for Him,” Guinness said (pg. 24). In other words, calling becomes a question of WHO I am called TO, not WHAT I am called to DO.

Even Guinness’ description of secondary calling does not exactly paint a picture of success which lines up with what I talked about in my previous post. Instead, Guinness wrote that “Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for Him” (pg. 25). Guinness’ definition of calling, and thus of what to aim for in our quest for success, is entirely God-centered rather than self-focused.

Guinness ends his book with this quote from his last paragraph: “Answering the call of Jesus is the greatest adventure, the deepest romance, and the most fascinating journey of our lives….In giving up everything for this one way, you will find yourself fulfilled in every way—until one day when the ‘last call’ will sound and you will see the Caller face to face…” (pg. 99).

But stepping out on that journey feels a whole lot scarier than the “safety” of pursuing a more typical American dream. Because it requires sacrificing a lot more that I would so much rather cling to. I should include the fact that Guinness is quick to point out this does not close off any field of work. It does not mean that every Christian must drop what they are doing and go translate the Bible. That is not what Guinness is saying at all.

If God’s calling leads me to a job where I am writing, I am to write in such a way that will bring glory to God rather than glorifying self. Over the past several weeks, though, I have been sensing His leading in a completely different direction. A direction asking me to lay down more of my wants and myself—a direction requiring absolute faith in God to continue guiding and providing. I don’t know yet exactly what that looks like. It remains to be seen how God will work. And in some ways, that is scary to me.

I’m not in control. I don’t know what my life will look like from one year to the next. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing (although I must confess that my flesh certainly wishes it were otherwise) because lacking that certainty forces me to be more in tune with God’s calling in my life.

Success is not really about what I do in an earthly sense. Success is knowing God (John 17:3). Success is being conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Success is pressing on toward the upward call of Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil. 3:12-14). Success is being available for His service (Is. 6:8, Luke 1:38). Success is joining the long line of His humble servants (Luke 17:10) who serve for His glory and not their own.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Lure of Success

This post is one of those that has been rolling around in my head for a while. I think it will have two parts, but we’ll see how it actually ends up.

SUCCESS. What is it really? How does one achieve it? What is one’s purpose in life?

I guess it’s not too surprising that I’ve been thinking about this recently. I graduated from college five months ago, and as a result I’m greeted by my perception of all these expectations which the people I care about and the culture have of me. To get a great job in my career field. To make good on everything that got poured into me the past four years. To make my degree, with its $100,000+ sticker price, “worth it.” To hopefully get married and have a wonderful family life. Etc, etc.

And a good part of me would like nothing better than to land that job and to know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing for a good long while. To feed my hunger to be able to identify myself by what I do—to be able to support myself and to be “in control” of my present. It would be so seemingly easy if God would just get on board and go along with my plan. Or, I would be well on the way to being married by now, and would have reached my view of “success” that way.

But it seems as though just as soon as I create a vision of what I think I want and what would work out well, something doesn’t go my way and I wind up back at square one all over again. Because ever since I graduated, nothing has truly gone the way I expected it too. That hunger I have to “succeed,” to somehow meet people’s (including my own) high expectations of me—it feels like I have failed at it.

As I have spent the past two months waiting to hear back from SP, then trying to figure my life out after that door closed……..I’ve been thinking about what I see as “success” for my life. And I begin to see the trap I’ve fallen into. I yearn for the apparent stability of either my own “real” job that I can identify myself by, or of a family of my own that I can pour myself into. But thus far, neither has worked out. Instead, I’m still “bumming” off my parents, five months after graduation. I definitely didn’t think it would come to this. I didn’t want it to.

At any rate, I had this picture of success in which my identity was bound up in WHAT I did. Thinking about what success is, I’ve been reminded it goes much deeper than that. My next post will look at what I’m relearning about that. But it is so much harder than the “easy” way that our American culture seems to tantalize me with, settling down into a good career and staying there for forever (though I know that’s becoming less common anyway).

Ever since high school, though, I’ve said I don’t really want to have a career like that. I had my reasons for that, but I’m beginning to see something different. Last month—even before I heard back from SP—I had a sense that God was asking me to lay down my desire for certainty about where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be doing five years from now – or two, or one. For a long time—as I’ve written about before—He’s been calling me to trust Him and to give up my hunger for control. But it is hard—because for me, at least, the lure of success is strong.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beyond This Moment

Tonight, going through some old files, I came across one of my Word document rambles, written on March 3, 2012. I had never posted it, for some reason, though it had run in the campus newspaper as a column. Reading it, it was as though the Esther from 18 months ago--how much farther back that seems--was preaching to the Esther in the present. And it was a message I needed to hear.

For a bit of context, this older post came just a couple weeks before. Some things don't really change.... {sigh}

I’m glad our college campus is located near a graveyard.  I don’t typically think about that fact, but this morning (March 2) I wanted to get out for a walk…a desire which ended up with me wandering through the cemetery on the roads.  It got me thinking (which really is a dangerous thing).

God has been working in my life a lot over the past 12-14 months – teaching/reminding me of many things about Him and about myself.  As I was meandering through the headstones spotted throughout the plot of land to our south, I couldn’t help but consider the question “What does my life really count for?”

Surrounded by stone monuments bearing the names of people who have lived and died—some more than a hundred years ago—it’s a relevant question.  There are probably few people who could tell you anything about some of the folks the older markers commemorate.  But they, like me, had hopes, plans, ambitions.  They, like me, probably had lives which they hoped to use to benefit the world somehow.

But for many of them, their only memorial is a slab of rock with some words chiseled into it.  So many people – so many stories – where does mine fit in the grand scheme of things?  My head knows the answer easily, and my heart echoes it with conviction: my life, as with each person’s, has some role to play in God’s grand plan.

I may not see it right now.  I may never understand it fully here on earth.  I will most likely end up someday like one of the people buried down the street – an unremembered name carved into stone which cannot even endure 200 years of weathering.  Nevertheless, my life does have a purpose.

But what is that purpose, I wondered as I walked, the cold wind blowing my face.  Life can seem so fleeting.  It comes and goes so fast – what am I doing that matters?  Throughout my walk, I noticed patches of small wildflowers which have sprung up with the wondrous coming of spring.  They too made me consider my life.

Those little flowers spend their whole existence trying to poke through the dead grass, searching for some sunlight.  Or they slowly develop from budded branches of trees.  They open up their small flower faces, for what purpose?  They may fall off of the tree and land on the ground, as the flowers I wore in my ponytail did.  Often, they get stepped on and trampled by beings much larger than themselves.  They may be eaten or simply shrivel up and die when their time is done.

And yet they bloom.  Their beauty is on display for those who take the time to see it.  And even if no person ever recognizes it, these small treasures serve a purpose: they carry on a gift to the next generation.  The Bible compares our lives to the lifecycle of flowers.  Isaiah 40:6-8 contrasts the transient nature of the plants with the everlasting Word of God.  In 1 Peter 1:22-25, Peter references the Isaiah passage and urges his readers to be incorruptible.

How?  What is it that I am called to do that will last beyond the short days of my life?

The answer is love.  And, surprisingly, this can be expressed using the lyrics of two pop songs, one old and one new.  Frequently when I listen to secular music, I find myself discovering a potential deeper, spiritual meaning.  Such is the case with these two.  Both were written to refer to sexual love (I would assume), but today they offered a broader lesson.

The first was “Who Wants to Live Forever?”, a 1986 song by the rock band Queen.  The lyrics remind the listener that people don’t live forever.  “Who dares to live forever?” the song asks, as it informs that “love must die.”  In the writer’s world view, that may be true.  But I believe that there is more to my existence than this brief life.  The love I have been given, I am to share with all people I come in contact with.  It then becomes like the little flowers – a gift that keeps on giving even when my short spring is over.

The second song that came to mind as I walked back to my last class of the week was Justin Bieber’s “I Just Need Somebody to Love.”  And there is some extent to which that is true.  I have been entrusted with a treasure, a gift.  To keep it to myself would be selfish and wasteful.  A self-preserving life is the epitome of a useless life.  I am called to follow in my Savior’s footsteps – to share the love which I have been given.

I don’t have to go out and change the world to make my life have meaning.  I do need simply to show individuals their importance and worth.  I am called to share God’s gift with others.  The rest is up to Him.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Giving up CONTROL pt. 2

A week ago, I was in Siloam Springs visiting my college friends for a long weekend. I decided to go ahead and go to the Gathering, although I ended up coming in a little late. I “just happened” to find an empty seat right in front of Laura, one of my dearest JBU friends. God knew I needed to be there, and He made sure she was right there.

The student speaker talked about serving God, as a kick-off message for the JBU service groups. And honestly, it made me really frustrated. Not because of what he was saying, but because of what I was feeling.
Back in July and August, I felt like God was leading me toward something that was much much bigger than me. I had an idea of how I was going to serve God, and I really wanted it to work out in my timing. I knew it would be hard – really hard in many ways. But I also knew that if God opened those doors, He would provide the resources and the strength for me to carry it out.

I thought I was willing to make that sacrifice, to take that step of faith. Instead, the door closed—at least for now—just as the door to applying for the job I had been filling during my internship opened up. That was a huge process in and of itself! But by the time I sat in chapel last Sunday, it seemed obvious that God was leading me toward SP and not toward the other opportunity. Which is why the chapel talk annoyed me. Here I had been willing to put myself through a lot to go and serve God. And He had shut the door! What was up with that? We’re supposed to serve God and all that, so why did He close it down??

Yes, that feeling really is as immature and selfish as it sounds. I think part of it is that I wanted to serve God on my terms, in a way that would draw attention and praise to myself. I wasn’t consciously thinking that….but it probably played a subliminal role.

God had been clear though – that chance was a definite “not now.” So I had applied and interviewed for the job before I left my internship, two weeks before my visit to JBU. And in my mind, it was obvious what ought to happen next. God had clearly led me to the internship, and He had finally brought me to a place where I felt good about staying on there and looked forward to returning to the roots I had started putting down for the past two months.

When the speaker finished, the band came up and played “Oceans” by Hillsong. I had never heard the song before, but man it sure hit me right between the eyes. As I’ve said before, for quite a while God has been teaching me about trusting Him and surrendering my plans to His. And this song really summed it up. And I didn’t know whether or not I could sing it. I knew in the back of my head that I may or may not actually get the job from SP. And here God was, asking me to surrender my plans and expectations to Him, to come to a place “where my trust is without borders.” I didn’t want to say it, because I didn’t want to mean it.

I like knowing what’s going on and what I’m doing. I don’t like change, I despise the unknown. I want to be in control of my own future, partly as a defense mechanism from 10-year old baggage that I know is not healthy and that I’m trying to let go of. And this summer, God has been working in mighty ways to show me that I cling so hard to the control because I don’t trust Him to take care of me and protect me. I don’t trust Him to have my best at heart because of how He’s let things hurt me before. And that’s hard for me to admit out loud.

So I sat there as most everyone else stood and sang. I sat and I wrestled and I cried. Because I was not willing to give up my {albeit false} sense of control. I didn’t want to go “wherever You call me” – I wanted to go back to SP where I had finally become comfortable after two long, hard months.

But He kept asking—gently and yet insistently—for me to lay it down. And I was scared. Scared that if I did, He would just slam the SP door shut in my face too. But deeper down inside, I knew that His plan would be better—even if it wouldn’t be to my ideal liking.

As I wrestled, my mind flashed back to the previous night. I had gone to the Swing Dance Society’s first swing dance evening of the semester. I don’t really know how to dance – I don’t think of myself as a very well-coordinated dancer. But the several guys who had asked me to dance with them had all been patient teachers. They put me through the paces pretty quick, trying to teach me several of the basic moves. And I had to trust them. I didn’t know what I was doing, or where I was going when they initiated a step. I just had to pay close attention to their explanations and/or the signals they made by gently tugging on one arm or the other. A lot of times, I made mistakes. Many times, I also made assumptions about what their next moves were going to be, and sometimes that got me in trouble.

As those thoughts flashed through my mind, I could see the relation between the two—trying to learn swing dance and deciding to trust Christ’s plan for my life. Pardon the analogy, but it’s as though God was holding out His hand, asking me if I would like to dance. Would I trust Him enough to place my hands in His and listen to His leading and guiding? Or would I jump to conclusions and try to do things my way, which typically ends up in me being at the wrong place in the step?

In the end, I had to give in. God thankfully has a tight enough hold on my heart that I could not truly refuse His request, even though my fleshly desires didn’t want to let go of my supposed control. The second song we sang was “Rise,” also by Hillsong. It focuses on praising God. I didn’t want to stand up and sing that song either. I wanted to stay “stuck” in a place of pitying myself for what I had to lay down.

And that too was very selfish. Who do I think I am??? Even Jesus had to submit His desires to God. And even He didn’t think it was an easy or flippant thing (see the Garden of Gethsemane!). But even He—God’s own Son—humbled Himself and submitted to one of the hardest and cruelest forms of death man has ever created (see Phil. 2). And we’re right back to the same perspective thing I was talking about in my previous post.

It’s God’s glory that matters. And thanks be to His grace and patience – He’s not going to give up on me until He has stripped me down of my selfish ambitions and pride. And no, it’s not a fun process. But He is worth so very much more. And in the good moments, I can remember what truly matters. And it’s not what I’m going to be doing at any point in the future.

Laura was wonderful and sat with me for a while afterward – we talked about letting go of the past. She came up with several good analogies that helped explain how I was feeling J She’s the best J

And you know what? I was right. God did end up shutting the SP door too. I got the call Thursday that they picked someone else. Last Sunday night helped me be prepared for that, but it’s still been hard. Friday especially I was really frustrated with God for not coming through on this and doing things my way. There were definitely lots of tears and some internal yelling going on. And I don’t confess that lightly. I forget His lessons soooo easily……

But He is still faithful, and His plan remains unchanged—His plan to bring Himself glory and to conform me to the image of His Son. To the praise of His glorious name.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Giving up CONTROL

Just read over my posts on here from the last couple months. And am reminded again of the truths God has been teaching me.

And this time, I’m going to start this in the right place: Focused on HIM.

GOD’S GLORY. That’s what is number one, that’s what is MOST important. But this morning I have had to confess to Him, once again, that my focus is often consumed with myself and what I am doing.

God’s plan is so vast and so huge, and it is centered around one thing: His Person and His work of bringing Himself glory, and of redeeming the world. It sounds so prideful and selfish of Him – but that’s the big difference. God OUGHT to be “prideful” and “selfish,” because He is the ONE who is worthy of being at the center of ALL THINGS.

It’s hard for us humans (or at least for this human….) to not be so very self-focused. I think that my life and what I am doing with it is so very important – and it’s just not. Certainly not in comparison with all of human history. I’m one teensy tiny piece of the much bigger puzzle. But I blow that little piece way way out of proportion.

But isn’t that the earliest human sin? To want to be like God, to have the freedom to choose whatever we want. To do things OUR WAY, rather than surrendering to God’s plan and trusting in what He has commanded us. This may be reading a little bit into Genesis 3, but I definitely think that selfishness is the most basic human sin. Selfishness and independence. Because when Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit, they were making the choice to not trust what God had chosen. They wanted to know for themselves. They wanted to be independent operators, to have the right to be like God.

And that foundational sin still plagues us. We lose perspective on the big picture of GOD’S holiness and worth and awesomeness, and we become consumed with our little insignificant lives. Because it’s annoying that He can be focused on His own glory, but all the rest of us are supposed to be serving Him. And yes, that attitude is a very very dangerous sin. But if I look at my own life carefully, that’s what I’m doing so much of the time…though not necessarily with an outright rebellious attitude, but that’s what is at the core of it.

It’s scary to recognize that in myself, and I have to get down on my knees and confess that to God.

But in that moment, I am reminded that in some ways this is all a big circle. Christ Jesus came to the world and died for all sinners. The payment has been made, the sin has been atoned for. Christ has won the victory. I cannot fight in my own strength and overcome the core sin in my life—but I don’t need to: because Jesus already did. And so the choice which stands before me is to trust in His completed work, to place Him on the throne of my heart, and to bare my soul to His redemption and sanctification. A big part of which is daily dying to myself and making the decision to live for HIM.

God is good. God is faithful. God alone is worthy. I am called to “simple” surrender and trust, faith and obedience. And I can rest in Christ, knowing that He has triumphed. For the sake of His own glory! J

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Whatever You're Doing...."

I’m tired of travelling. I want to arrive already. To be mature. To know. To get to the peak.

And I know that’s not going to happen. I know that my life will continue to be a journey, that I will always always have more to learn and more areas to grow. But it’s hard to let go of that expectation that someday, finally, I’ll have arrived and not have to worry about learning and being willing to accept more changes.

If you’ve been following my life at all this summer, you know I’ve had a roller coaster time of it. Graduating. N.Ireland. Fast transition to North Carolina and SP internship. And now the rest of my life stands before me. I think that so far this calendar year I’ve literally been home in Dallas for less than a month. Well, maybe it’s been as much as six weeks. But especially since May, I’ve been constantly on the go. Four places I’ve come to call home, even for a short time. It’s a lot for someone who doesn’t much like change. And it’s definitely wearing on me.

And yes, this feeling is aggravated by the fact that I am currently sitting in an airport where I ended up with a three-hour wait time for my flight back to Dallas. And that there’s still so much I don’t know about the future. I’ve applied for a job with SP that I really hope to get (man was that ever a journey in itself!!!), but it will probably be several weeks before I find out if they decide to offer me the job or give it to someone else.

It’s been a hard summer in a lot of ways. Just crazy, really. And I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated the friends who have been there to listen to me trying to process through everything that’s been going on. It’s been a yo-yo time a lot, and I know that the prayers of many people are what helped bring me through.

God has been so incredibly, amazingly faithful. And I can recognize that. He has been at work in my life in mighty ways. But it hasn’t been easy. Last weekend I bought a decorative sign that says “FAITH makes things possible… not easy.” Boy, isn’t that the truth. And so I guess I’m writing all this for a couple reasons. One, to admit to the world what is obvious: That I don’t have a handle on life—that I’m still learning and growing, that I still have a long ways to go. Two, to remind myself of God’s faithfulness and how He has proved Himself over and over; that HE will continue to refine me through each step He brings. Three, to see how far God has brought me, and to give myself room for improvement and to have patience with the continuance of the process.

For months, I had been praying that God would break me, would refine me into who He wants me to be. I knew it was a “dangerous” prayer. But I knew it is what I was called to as a Christ-follower, and it really is the deepest, truest wish I have. I knew the process would be hard. And it has been. God has definitely been answering that prayer. I think maybe I expected to “graduate” from that lesson a lot quicker. And I’m realizing the only graduation that will ever come is when I truly get to go home, promoted to glory, to see God face to face.

Yesterday at work as I tried to process through all the last-day emotions which crowded my mind, one line of a song popped into my head: “Whatever You’re doing, fulfill it in me” is how I remembered it. I knew it was from a Christian song, that I must have heard a time or two on the radio or something. This afternoon sitting here in the airport, I looked it up to read the lyrics and then listened to it. And it so completely fits what I’m feeling right now.

Over the past year, and even yesterday afternoon, God has brought me to a place where He has shown me the areas in my life where I am still afraid to trust Him, because of a whole variety of factors, including some past baggage that I’d been stuffing for a long, long time. And it’s still hard to let go of that sense that I need to stay in control, that only I can bring about the “safety” I desire and the goals that I want to reach.

Yes, the attitude I subconsciously had about trusting God for a long time was not healthy. In fact, it is sin. And yesterday, thinking about the fact that when I left work for the last time at the end of my internship I didn’t know if I would come back….I had to admit to myself and to God that I did not want to trust His plan in that. There’s a plan that seems so right and perfect to me, but I cannot make that happen on my own.** It has to be God’s will in order for it to go forward. And I am not enjoying the waiting or the trusting that is, by necessity, involved in that process.

But you know what? God is good. And whatever He has, wherever He takes me, I know that will be good. Probably not easy, and not necessarily my first choice. But good. And I am thankful to Him that He has brought me to a place of at least recognizing my distrust as sin and reminding me again and again that in each moment, each situation, He calls for trust and surrender.

Because He is worthy. And that’s another piece of this that He has been bringing to my attention again and again in this season: The sin and selfishness of my natural tendency to focus on myself and what I will be doing rather than to be focused on Who God is, and the importance of focusing on His Person and Glory. I’m “lucky” (blessed) simply to be a tool, a channel. I’m not the source, I’m not the end goal. He is both.

To Him be the glory.

**sound vaguely familiar? Check out Prov 16:9, 25.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What Hath God Wrought? Postscript

Guess what? God’s still at work :D

On Tuesday when I posted the second half of what I had written Monday night, I already knew it was, in a sense, “out of date.” God’s timing is so perfect…even when I think He should hurry up more.

Tuesday morning, the day after I had felt at peace with where I was for the first time in nearly seven weeks, I was called in to talk to the boss of communications and my supervisors. They officially informed me of what I had already heard hints of…that there was an open job position that I had basically been filling during my internship. And they asked me if I was interested in applying, saying that I had done good work so far. They also told me there are other people who are interested.

Because of what GOD had done the day before, I was able to tell them that yes, I did want to apply. At that point, I still was unsure about how I would respond if/when a job offer came, but unlike the week before I was open to pursuing the opportunity. And so, after weeks of uncertainty, one of the doors I was staring down opened up a bit wider.

God wasn’t done yet (He still isn’t, haha…as much as I dislike it, I’ll always be a work in progress….). The next morning, on Wednesday, nearly the whole staff had a mini retreat to hear Anne Graham Lotz speak. She taught us about the series of questions she uses to study the Bible, and then she gave us a message on the same passage she had used to present the method: Isaiah 6:1-8.

It was really good to hear, and it felt especially so for me right now. She started off by talking about how sometimes in our lives we only see the dark storm clouds or the ugly brown packages of hard time. But storm clouds bring rain (a frequent symbol of blessing in the Bible), and packages can have precious treasures in them. I’m not going to summarize her whole talk…I wouldn’t nearly do it justice. But it was really great!

Her application focused in on being willing to recognize and confess our sins so that then we can be available to God’s purposes, which I found to be quite a “coincidence,” since I had just felt convicted about that from a completely different angle a few days before.

So yes – God continues to work, and I am continuing to have an increasing sense of peace about applying for the job, and maybe—and I can finally say hopefully!—staying on here. But I am being reminded that it is all in God’s hands, and the call is still and always will be to trust Him and His timing! And saying yes to one thing does mean saying no to others…..I was just reminded tonight that I’m not really emotionally ready to do that. So I am thankful I do not have to make a decision right now.

Praying for His continued peace as I ask what He has for me and wait for the doors to open or close. As a good friend of mine reminded me last night, God’s got me. He’s got a plan, and it’s going to be good because He is a good God. Probably not easy, but good.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Hath God Wrought? Pt. 2

This summer, the idea of trust has become even more important, if possible, because it is even more real/pressing—and yet also harder for me mentally and emotionally. I’ve got these options in front of me, as I talked about in a previous post. I just looked back at it and realized that in some ways, I’m just rewriting that same post here. But it’s another step in the journey. Anyway, back on July 11 I went up the mountain and journaled for quite a while, laying out my three options and trying to sort through it all rationally. Then I went up higher on the mountain, half expecting God to have some definite answer for me. I climbed up on top of a rock, kind of waiting for the writing in the clouds. I know, it sounds silly. And it was, as well as demanding.

What I felt in my soul was not at all the answer I was looking for. The only thing I heard in my heart was “Trust Me.” And honestly, I was annoyed and disappointed. It took me a little while to realize that this time, for the first time that I remember, it had been a directive/command rather than a question. It’s kind of like God has proved His faithfulness over and over, and that He’s now asking me to keep stepping forward in faith, even when I don’t have the definite answers I want.

Through God’s Grace and the continuing working of the Holy Spirit in me, this sunk deeply into my soul. Because of that, when last Monday was so hard, I was able to eventually stop, back up, refocus my perspective on Him, and say “God, I don’t get what You’re doing, but I want to choose to trust You anyway.” And that was the fruit of His Spirit, because that’s not what I was feeling like doing at all.

So yeah – I left on my trip to New York. And as I was driving down to Charlotte that Wednesday, I heard a program on the radio and one of the things the speaker talked about was how heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people—how God’s primary goal in our lives is to conform us to the image of His Son. That really resonated with me. The Holy Spirit used that to show me, once again, that my perspective for the past few months has been really off. I’ve been so focused on what I am going to do with MY life, when what I should be focused on is the greater picture of what God is doing throughout the world, including—in a minuscule part—in and through me.

On Sunday, that reminder returned. From my reading through a really great devotional on 1 Corinthians 13 before church, God called me to take some time to really search my heart before Him and to intentionally confess recurrent sin patterns in my life. That’s something I really haven’t done much before, except rather superficially. That afternoon, I climbed up the mountain and found a place to do just that. I wasn’t excited about doing it, because of the whole having to admit my failures thing—even though I know God knows them, and even though I know they have already been forgiven and that He is not sitting over me in an attitude of judgment.

After a little while of doing that and praying through some things, I felt a sense of release—that God had shown me what He wanted to for that day. I know it will be an ongoing process. As I leaned back against a rock, I experienced a greater sense of peace and a better outlook on everything that had happened this summer. And for the first time, I was able to practice thanksgiving—for the ups and the downs. I tweeted my “Lesson of the Day” from that – “I choose to trust Him because I DO know what He's doing—conforming me to His Son's image—even if I don't understand/like His methods.” Because the process still doesn’t FEEL easy or fun! It’s still hard.

So Sunday evening I was really thankful for God’s continued faithfulness in my life, and reminded of how much broader of a perspective I am called to have. I was encouraged, but I was also really apprehensive about how the next day would go at the office. The last time I came back to the office after a trip out to the field, I had a really tough day. Lots of discontentment. So Monday morning during our staff devotions, I felt that nauseated feeling again, wondering how the day would go.

I went to my cubicle and started plugging away. I had lots to do – two hours of interview recordings from NY to transcribe so that I could write a story, plus sending some emails to try to gather more information to write an article about work one of our field offices is doing. I don’t remember whether it was mid-morning or mid-afternoon…but at one point I was walking back to my desk from refilling my water bottle, and I suddenly realized that I was completely at peace and had been ever since I started my work for the day.

It helped a lot that I knew exactly what to work on and didn’t have to wonder what to do….but I firmly believe the peace that I experienced yesterday went much deeper than that. I definitely believe it was an answer to the prayers of so many people who have been encouraging me throughout this process. On Saturday evening, as I was praying/reflecting, I asked God in prayer—really for the first time—“What is it that You would have me to do?” Sure, I’d been fretting about it all, and I’d been talking about waiting to see what God had for me, but I don’t think I had honestly just asked Him what He wanted.

And yes, it is a choice that He may leave up to me. But right now, I can’t make that choice because there are no doors that are definitely opened. And yesterday, there was no new information about where I’ll be headed 14 days from now. While my mind is still definitely keeping close tabs on the fact that I do feel a lot of pressure because of that, God is bringing me to a place where I am beginning to learn to be ok with that and to truly wait patiently for His timing in opening or closing doors.

I know there will still be ups and downs. That’s inevitable. But I write all this as an Ebenezer, a reminder of what God has done in my life and the journey He has brought me through. On Monday at work, “Hold On” played on my Pandora. And it pretty much summed up how I was feeling. Like I said at the beginning of this, it’s been a stormy seven weeks. But God has proved so very faithful, often despite my attitude. And I hope—and seek to trust His timing even in the midst of that hope—that the sun is beginning to break through J

I certainly appreciate your continued prayers!!!!! Primarily that my focus would be on God’s glory rather than being so wrapped up in my circumstantial worries. God gave me an object lesson on that too, on August 4 when I was out hiking with my parents. We were on a rough trail (the part I took a picture of was super smooth compared to most of what we went on, but we had finished the rough part when I thought of the analogy), and I found myself with my eyes constantly focused downward. And that’s what staring at and trying to figure out all the details of life does. It detracts from looking around at the beauty of what God is doing, or even more importantly, from looking up to glory and delight in WHO HE IS! So that is my prayer going forward. May I remember HIM first and foremost.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Hath God Wrought? Pt. 1

{This was originally going to be a short Facebook status update, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it wouldn't be. So instead it became a blog post...and the words just kept coming, and it became a two-part post. The second installment will get posted tomorrow evening! J}

I am so very thankful to God for the work which He has been doing in my life this summer—and all the glory and honor and praise for that certainly goes to HIM and not to me, not at all. The last seven weeks have been hard – probably one of the hardest times of my life. And I haven’t always wanted to listen to God’s still small voice or to be willing to give Him thanks for what He was teaching me through the process.

Last week, I asked a bunch of friends to pray for me…I was at a low point with my internship, and finally realized that I needed to be willing to ask for help and not just try to keep pushing through and doing it all on my own. As I talked about in my last post, it hasn’t always been easy for me to admit my struggles to other people.

But today stands as a testimony to the fact that God honors the prayers of His people. J

Last Monday ended with me breaking down and crying at work. It came from a whole variety of reasons, primarily the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on this year (especially since graduation) and the adjustments I’ve had to make at work. I didn’t realize I had strong expectations coming into this internship, but I definitely did. And the reality has been a lot different than what I expected. Not in a bad way, it’s just a big transition.

I’ve also had the stress hanging over my head, especially since I got back from N.Ireland, about what I’m doing after August 23. I’ve got options, but they all have pros and cons, and none of them is a solid offer—at least not yet. I’m a planner, and it has been super hard to literally not be able to plan and to have no clue where I’ll be headed next (well, that is an exaggeration since I do have ideas…). Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had a few physical “attacks,” in a sense, of deep-seated nausea that I think is from my fretting about not knowing. As I thought about it, I remembered that happened a lot during my senior year of high school too.

There have been lots of people who have been very supportive of me throughout the process, both here at work (even during/after my crying fit) and friends in other places who are so willing to lend a listening ear. That has meant so very much to me!!! So Tuesday was a better day, and then Wednesday I headed out for a work trip to New York. I got back Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday God really did some important work on my soul/spirit, in His timing and His way. J Let me back up a bit before I get into that though.

Ever since the April of my junior year at JBU, trust has been a huge lesson for me. People tell me it always will be—and I believe it! But for me, it really started about 18 months ago. I got senioritis bad my junior year, and part of me was tired of being in school. Another part of me felt like God was asking me if I would be willing to drop out of school if He asked me to. And while I did want to be done with it, I also wanted to finish. I would feel too much like a failure otherwise. I went around and around in circles for months that spring.

In early April, things came to a head. I was just in turmoil. That Good Friday we didn’t have classes – so I took off on my bike and rode for an hour to get to a beautiful state park across the border in Oklahoma. I hiked and enjoyed being outdoors, and I sat and prayed and journaled. And God brought me to a place of showing me that what He wanted was my surrender and trust. The college thing was simply a method to show me that I was still trying to hold onto control, that I had too much fear to truly trust Him. I wrote a post that month with more of an explanation of that day.

For months and months after that, all the way up until last month, the question from that day would often re-echo in my head: “Do you trust Me?” God was so very patient throughout that process. For a while, I would say “yes” reflexively, because that was the “right” answer. Finally, due in part to what I wrote about in my post last week, He brought me to a point where I was more honest with myself and Him and would have to say “no.” Often, my heart’s cry would be Mark 9:24 – “Immediately the father of the [demon-possessed] child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”

{So that's where I'll end tonight's post...it's the best breaking point there is in this thought process....}

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Building Confidence

I’ve been writing and rewriting this post in my head for several months. And somehow, tonight just feels right to actually write it. So here goes {deep breath}. But first, let me introduce you to two girls.

Eleanor was not a typical teenager. Sure, she had dreams and ambitions like any young person…but she had also been through a set of experiences which made her unique. Everyone has, but Eleanor’s life made her think that was more so the case in her instance than in the general populations. After all, how many “normal” 13-year-olds can lay claim to the adventure of living in a different country for 6+ months??

Of course, not all the experiences which shaped Eleanor’s personality were positive. She was a very reserved/withdrawn person. She was not inclined to go hang out with friends. She frankly hated the phone (I don’t know why). The friends she did have were all, like her, super focused on and rather overwhelmed by school. Eleanor was a pretty private person. She didn’t share herself—especially her weaknesses/failures—easily with anyone. Not anyone. If she knew I was sharing this, it would make her very uncomfortable.

On the other hand is Ellie. She just graduated from college. She’s also not a “regular” American 20-something. The ideas of either clothes shopping for fun or spending long periods of time getting hair and makeup perfect are—quite frankly—very confusing to her. Ellie is an introvert, and once in a while if she feels too lost in a big group of people she can just go into shut down mode. She’s a perfectionist, and expects a lot of herself—she wants to do things well. In some ways, Ellie is pretty similar to Eleanor.

But at the same time, they are dis-similar. Ellie needs her alone time, but she also needs time with her friends. And that can be either on Skype, texting, or in a phone conversation! In college (especially the last two years), Ellie frequently made the choice to toss her homework aside for “later” while she spent time with friends. That’s something Eleanor couldn’t conceive of. Ellie also values other people’s input, and she is more willing to share about what she struggles with. She often finds herself questioning what other people think of her—but she has close friends who she trusts completely and with whom she finds it easy to be open.

So here we have these two different people. But if you know me very well, you probably picked up on the fact that these are not actually two separate girls. It’s just me, though at two very different times of my life. It’s amazing what a difference 5+ years can make. And believe me, it’s been quite the process. And not always a fun one, that’s for sure. But as I look back, I am thankful for where God has brought me and how He has grown me.

I’ve noticed just in the past 6ish months that I have become a lot more confident—I think in a good way. Last summer, when I interned in DC, my supervisor’s main negative critique on a feedback form was that I was hesitant to step up and introduce myself to people. Now, I certainly don’t claim to have reached perfection on that. As I said above, I’m still an introvert. But I am currently on my second work trip where I go to a location and have the job of interviewing people most of whom I have never met before. (True, I was freaking out/worried about it before Joplin…but that trip went amazingly well and gave me a big confidence boost!) Not to mention that when I came to this job, I knew basically no one. Are there still moments when I am not as outgoing as I sometimes wish I were? Oh yeah, for sure. Ellie is still a perfectionist with high self-expectations! And it’s still an area where I can grow.

But that’s not the only type of confidence I’ve grown in. I’ve also learned to be more self-confident, especially in the area of opening up to the people I trust and sharing my bad times in addition to the good times. And I’ve learned the immense value of friends who will take time to meet you where you’re at and join you on the journey, wherever life has you at the moment. I didn’t have that before I came to college. It wasn’t the fault of the friends I had, it was much more my fault. I didn’t really let any of my friendships in high school get past a pretty shallow “safe zone,” because I didn’t trust people—not anyone specifically, I just didn’t trust anybody in general.

Including God. Which is still hard for me to admit. I only just realized that component of it in January, when the professor for my “Capstone Seminar in Christian Life” class asked us to write “Here I Am” papers discussing our spiritual biographies. Well…I had started to be aware of it a couple months prior when one day, reading through Psalm 139 I realized that I couldn’t say verses 14 and 16 with belief and conviction. Then in January I realized when the breakdown had begun. There was still a lot of hurt and pain I was holding onto—and still am sometimes—a truth I only started realizing fully in April. One day that month, tears flowed as I finally came to grips with and grieved the emotional/spiritual damage done nearly 10 years before to my young self.

To explain the source of that would take too long here…and it would require telling a tale that is 90% not mine to tell. Suffice it to say that although it was not my personal actions or choices which caused the vast majority of what happened, it 100% had an effect on shaping who I am. It deeply impacted me, my family, and other people. And it was hard. And it was painful. And I still feel the resulting wounds. No, I was not a helpless victim in the process. I chose how I responded and acted, and even though I was only 13 at the time and didn’t understand what was happening or how it was affecting me, I am still responsible for the choices I made. {Just to clarify, I was never directly targeted or physically harmed in any way. This was not a physical incident at all, it was “only” relational. And I was a fairly uninvolved bystander who was nevertheless heavily affected by the fallout.}

I now believe that it was my disappointment that God didn’t “fix” everything and put it back to the way that it had been which led to my spiritual “dark age” of 2003 and beyond. And I believe it was my resulting trickle-down distrust of people—in addition to personality tendencies such as perfection—that led to me building a fortress stronghold all around my heart. If I didn’t let anybody in, I couldn’t get hurt, right? If I guarded my emotions and didn’t tell anyone what I struggled with, I would be safer, wouldn’t I? Looking back, I think that’s what my unconscious thought process was.

This obviously affected my whole life—all of my relationships. God, parents, friends—I tried to keep all at a safe distance, tried to make sure that I always only put my best foot forward. It was emotionally and spiritually exhausting, and I felt so very lonely. But for such a long time, I didn’t realize where the breakdown had occurred. Oh, I knew there was a problem. I just didn’t know how to fix it. And my way (trying harder) was NOT working.

But God didn’t leave me there. Finally, on Jan. 25, 2011 His message of GRACE broke through loud and clear. It has still often seemed like a long/tedious/difficult/painful process since then…but once God got my vertical relationship onto the foundation that it should be on, my horizontal relationships also started shifting.

August 28, 2009 was my second day of classes at John Brown University as a pretty clueless freshman. It was also my first regular chapel, the first of many many in my undergraduate career! But I will always remember that chapel. President Pollard spoke, as he always does on the first chapel of the semester. He shared from John 9, about the miracle where Jesus spit, made mud to put on a blind guy’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The name of the town that came to be a second home over the next four years is Siloam Springs, after that pool.

At that early date, I was still clueless about how much healing God was going to do in my life. In fact, I didn’t realize how much healing I needed. Looking back at John 9 tonight, I noticed something I hadn’t connected before. In verse 7, John tells us that “Siloam” meant “sent.” I don’t know that I’ve really blogged about it before…but I was definitely sent to JBU—even though I didn’t recognize it as that at the time. I honestly went to the school because a friend at church “just happened” to suggest I look into it, and it’s where I ended up receiving the best financial aid package from, plus having the major I wanted to pursue. I only applied to three schools – so it’s not like I really looked into that many options. But I firmly believe God sent me to exactly the right place!

During my last semester this past spring, as this realization was growing in my mind, I noticed a sign that perfectly summed up why JBU is now such an important part of my life. A couple days after graduation, a good friend of mine from church took me out to Fayetteville for breakfast. As we came back into town, I asked if we could stop to take a picture by the sign. She was kind enough to oblige J

So that’s my story. But it’s really not my story. It’s a story of what GOD has done in my life, through the work of a whole variety of influences. And I can now say that I am thankful for all of it—the parts which were good and beautiful, and even those parts that I don’t understand and which were/still are painful to remember.

God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. And He is ALWAYS faithful to do His work!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Winding Road

I just spent two and a half hours reading back through a lot of my old posts on here. It’s so very amazing to look back and see God’s faithfulness on display in that. The last five years of my life have had a lot of ups and downs, so very many lessons learned, so many weaknesses realized. And through every bit of it, I can see the evidences of God’s love and grace. I am so very thankful to Him, and He certainly deserves all the glory J

Reviewing my spiritual journey this morning made me realize again just how little life really works as a checklist. Which is so very annoying to type-A people like me! But the things God has been teaching me about and refining in me have primarily remained the same throughout the last several years – just revisited over and over, maybe from a different angle or to a different depth.

In a lot of ways, I expected that after graduating from college, I would have reached some pinnacle. That my spiritual learning and growing would have reached completion, just as my academic learning has ended. That’s laughable, really. I hadn’t realized that I was expecting to hit some plateau……but I’m pretty sure I was. The almost three months since graduation have proved very obviously that my spiritual journey is nowhere near the end, and won’t end in this life. I will always need God’s gentle—or sometimes not so gentle—reminders to be focused on Him and trust in Him.

As a college senior and now as a recent graduate, the obvious question I get asked a lot is “what’s next?” Through a couple of ways (Ireland and SP internship), I’ve managed to procrastinate on actually coming to a solid answer on that, pushing my “deadline” further into the future by nearly four months. But that hasn’t been overly helpful. Instead, I find myself rather less certain about what I want than I did back in April and May. But that is a good thing—even if it is rather uncomfortable—because it’s been God’s leading and guiding that has been throwing a monkey wrench into what I thought was a pretty perfect plan. Things have not gone as I expected, but He is still in charge of that.

In that process, God has been reminding/teaching me a lot about living out surrender and practicing trust in Him day by day. This month has been a tough lesson in that. I currently have three options before me of what I am interested in doing next. Each one is something that God has laid on my heart in different ways, but I can’t do all three—at least not at the same time. One is more rational. One is more comfortable. One is something only God could bring about. I catch myself planning as if each one is what I’ll be doing in September. But right now I really don’t know which way the compass is actually pointing.

A couple weeks ago, I posted about that on Facebook. When I got on the next day, several of my mentors and close friends had posted comments on the status. Most of them were reminding me that God gives us free will, and that this may be an area where He would be leaving the choice up to me. That was a really good reminder for me, because honestly I’d been wanting and waiting for God to write some big message up in the sky of what I was supposed to do with my life.

TIME OUT. I should add here that something else God reminded me of the past couple of weeks is that He doesn’t “need” me anywhere. I need to have a proper perspective about this all and remember that it’s not like I am some required resource, without which God can’t do His work. Whichever choice I make, God will continue His plan in all three places. I think part of the reason I’m so tempted to stress out about where I’m going to end up comes from trying to carry WAY too much responsibility about it. As if God’s work in other people’s lives depends on me being there. And it just plain doesn’t! Sure, He may choose to use me – but I am not a required tool that will make or break any situation.

So back to what I was saying – God may leave the choice of my next step up to me. I hadn’t been thinking about that side of the equation at all, and it’s true. I may get to a point where I have three wide open doors, and I have to make a decision on which one to walk through. Right now that’s not the case…right now I’m still knocking on a couple of the doors, waiting to see if they’re actually going to open. But there may come a point when it’s all up to me.

And yet even in that moment, if/when it comes, I don’t want to make a choice based on what would be most rational or most comfortable or what I “ought” to do. God has been teaching me so much about trust and surrender over the last couple of years. And while those will both always be part of my life, it seems especially applicable now. He’s brought me to this place in my life and been teaching me these things up to this moment for a reason. My desire is to be available for Him to use however He pleases.

Four years ago, I would never have pictured myself standing where I am. The things I’m looking at really weren’t on my radar. It is amazing to look back and see how He has been leading and guiding, placing various things in my life. After the Facebook post I mentioned, one of my mentors posted a link to the next morning’s “Our Daily Bread” reading on my wall. It was called “The Winding Road,” and I obviously stole the title for this blog post. It was a really perfect reminder, and just what I needed to hear.

And so I end with the prayer that concluded that reading.

Dear Lord, sometimes life seems to be full of perilous and winding roads. Thank You for giving us the assurance that You have our course plotted and are watching over our every step.
Troubles are unknown; God's providence is certain.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What I Learned in Ireland

It’s amazing how much impact one month can have. Just four weeks – but for me it really was the capstone (thus far) of almost 2.5 years of deep heart work that God has been doing. Writing the title of this post, I knew there’s no way I can truly do justice in trying to put down everything I learned….especially because a lot of it is just the fruit of a much longer process.

So what did I gain from my time in the “emerald isle”?

First off, the overarching theme through all of this is God's incredible faithfulness. Obviously, none of this could have happened without His working - and I am so immensely thankful to Him for that!

~~I learned again my own fallenness – in my own strength, I can do nothing. In my flesh, I am a me-focused, selfish, prideful person. Even writing this out and sharing it could be done in a way seeking self-gratification – but my desire here is to share what God’s GRACE has been at work doing in my life, often in spite of me.

~~For about a year, the idea of dying daily has been rolling around in my head. Songs such as “Lead Me to the Cross” and “King of My Life” have kept coming up in my mind. And I’ve been praying that Christ would bring me to a point of consistently crucifying my old man. In Ireland, I came to understand more how truly difficult and painful that can be – but so very worth it. The seed of this was planted way back in 2008, and created the foundation for the name of this blog.

~~Related to that is the concept of control and ownership. I’m a control freak, and very dependent on MY ownership of MY stuff. But during the past year and a half plus, surrender has been an important concept that God keeps bringing back to the forefront of my mind. This has come to be signified in my mind by the phrase “I am Thine,” a reminder that the God who redeemed me by shedding His Son’s blood is the only one who has any real claim on my life.

~~Another closely connected theme is that of TRUST. This is something else God’s been working on in my life for about 15 months. Part of surrender is choosing to trust God’s plan rather than trying to make my own work. The day I left Dallas for Boone, the teacher at my church in Dallas preached a message hitting this nail right on the head. I would encourage you to listen to it here.

~~Freedom – when I do come to a point of surrendering my own will and placing my trust in God, it does bring relief. Because suddenly, it’s His work that He will accomplish in His time and His way. In some ways, that takes all of the pressure off of me! Of course, it’s not an easy process at all to trust Him so completely (though I certainly wish it were – because He’s worthy of that). But I’m no longer the one who has to make something of myself. Instead, I simply have to make myself available to Him.

~~God’s GRACE and PATIENCE are truly boundless. I was reminded by this over and over again in Ireland. All those moments when I would be focused on my ideas and on myself, and His Spirit would catch me on it, pointing my perspective back to Him. He always stood by, waiting patiently for me to let go of myself and cling to Him. No matter how many times I stumbled, He was always right there.

~~Reality of fear. This is naturally related to trust…..for quite a while, God has asked me—often at the most inconvenient of moments—“Do you trust Me?” And oftentimes, if I’m being honest, I have to say no. Last semester I realized for the first time that my willingness to trust had been deeply injured by stuff that had happened…and I feared voluntarily relinquishing my sense of control because of that. It’s a long story…one I’ve been contemplating blogging about but haven’t yet.

~~The blessing of healing: I’ve been a very introverted person for a long time – and I still am. But this year God has finally brought me to a place where I am confident enough in who I am that I am willing to open up and share with others about what I struggle with. I’m finally beginning to learn to accept my flaws and imperfections—not as in allowing them to remain in my life, but as in being willing to honestly share about the challenges God has brought me through and the ways He is continuing to sanctify me.

~~The depths of love. Two summers ago, God taught me a lot about being willing to love unconditionally, from 1 John 4. Before we ever left for Ireland, I prayed—and asked people to pray for me—that God would fill me with His love for the kids of Killyleagh. And He did – so very much. Even though I was often annoyed at their apparent lack of listening abilities, and often discouraged by the feeling that I wasn’t getting through to them, I love them. I often wished I could just find ways to show them each just how much God cares for them.

~~Lessons for me…..  I learned on the very first day of ministry in Killyleagh that I needed to learn and be reminded of the importance of the characteristics of God that we were teaching just as much as the kids did. Compassion: meeting someone’s needs, not just shushing them to do your own thing. Humility: caring about others and putting their needs above your own. And so many others!

~~God answers prayer. I’ve already alluded to this a couple of times. Another “dangerous” prayer I’ve been praying for a while is that God would break me and strip me of myself. And there were definitely times in the past month where I have felt so very broken before Him. But He doesn’t leave me there. He brings cleansing and healing, building me up into a tool for His use, for His glory.

Coming back stateside has been a whole process in and of itself. The first couple of days I was honestly an emotional wreck. So many feelings and experiences I was trying to process, plus being tired from travelling. Over the weekend I just felt full – like I’d taken in everything I possibly could, like I couldn’t hold another drop. And now I’m in a whole new place with whole new lessons to learn, and it would be so easy to stay focused on the past. But the sanctification process doesn’t stop – God just keeps on refining. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

At dinner the evening before we left Ireland, Becci asked several of us what were three words we would use to describe our time in Ireland. It wasn’t too hard for me to answer that: WRESTLING. BEAUTY. CRAZINESS. This whole post is an attempted explanation, a try at unwinding all three of those, but especially the first one. And that’s why, if you ask me how my trip to Ireland was, I’ll respond that it was wonderful and fantastic – really hard in some ways, but so very good. And if I seem reluctant to go into details, it’s because all of this whole post—or at least parts of it—are running through my mind. And I just don’t know how much you really want to know. But now you have the rest of the story. And yet even this is merely a scratch on the surface of the work God’s been doing in me. All praise goes to Him J

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Phil. 3:12-14)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Learning to Give Thanks for Trials

I am currently making my way through 31 Days of Praise by Ruth Myers. This morning, the selection I read was really important for me to hear....this is definitely something that is still very "in process" in my life.

Thank You, my gracious and sovereign God, that You have been with me and carried me from the day of my birth until today...that You have known my whole life, from beginning to end, since before I was born...and that You wrote in Your book all the days that You ordained for me before one of them came to be.

Thank You that in Your gracious plan to bless and use me, You've allowed me to go through hard times, through trials that many people go through in this fallen world. How glad I am that You're so good at reaching down and making something beautiful out of even the worst situations! How encouraged I am when I think how You did this for Joseph...how his brothers hated and abused and betrayed him, and how You worked these things out for blessing, both for Joseph and his family and for countless other people.

I praise You that the things that happened in my past, both enjoyable and painful, are raw materials for blessings, both in my life and in the lives of others. So I thank You for the specific family (or lack of family) into which I was born and the opportunities You did or did not provide. And thank You for the things in my past that appear to be limitations, hindrances, bad breaks...the wounds of old hurts, the unmet emotional needs, the mistakes or neglect of other people--even their cruelty to me, their abuse.

How comforting to know that in all my distresses You were distressed. And how I thank You, Lord Jesus, that on the cross You bore my griefs and carried my sorrows, as well as my sins...that I can kneel at the cross and worship You as the One who took on Yourself all my pain and experienced it to the full. And how comforting to know that in the present, day by day, You feel with me any pain, confusion, inner bondage, or struggles that stem from my past. Thank You that all those seeming disadvantages are a backdrop for the special, unfolding plan You have in mind for me...and that if my past still handicaps me, You are able to lead me to the kind of help I need.

I'm so grateful that all my past circumstances were permitted by You to make me see my need of You and prepare my heart for Your Word...to draw me to Yourself, and to work out Your good purposes for my life. I rejoice that You are the Blessed Controller of all things--You are now, You will be throughout the future, and You always were. All my days had Your touch of love and wisdom, whether or not I can as yet fully see it.

And Lord, I choose to look beyond my past and present troubles in this life--this temporary life--and fix my eyes on the unseen things that will last forever. I praise You for the eternal glory these things are piling up for me as I choose to trust You.

Good stuff.....may I remember and hold onto the truths contained in this.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Confirmation - God Proving His Faithfulness

It’s nice when God puts resources in my path which confirm what He’s been teaching me for the last few months. That happened to me in a double way over Christmas Break.

I’ve been feeling for a long time that God is drawing me into a much deeper, much more “real” and “alive” relationship with Him. Sometimes that’s kind of scary, because it doesn’t fit what I’ve grown up with. It feels less safe because suddenly God is breaking out of the boxes I had Him so neatly packed into as a kid. But it is so very worth it – because it fulfills a deep need and longing I had for a long time in high school.

I knew there was a disconnect somewhere. I’ve written about this before. Just this evening, though, I was doing some reading for my “Capstone Seminar in Christian Life” class that I’m taking this semester (which is AMAZING!), and it finally helped make sense of the confusion I’ve felt for so long (explained in the second paragraph of the post linked above).

In a chapter of his book Invitation to a Journey, Robert Mulholland takes the Myers-Briggs test and applies it to the choices Christians make in their spiritual practices (chapter 5). You can tell he’s studied/thought about it a lot because he nails several of his points. In his next chapter, he turns to the “shadow side” of one’s personality. His point is that people can tend to start thinking that their own personality type is the “best”/”right”/”only” way to do things. As a result, we can start thinking about the opposite way of doing things as wrong and maybe even evil (pg. 55-56).

Reading through the first section, I couldn’t initially figure out where I landed on the sensing/intuition category or the thinking/feeling one. But then he went on to discuss the dangers of the “one-sided spirituality” which can result from the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph. When we only stick to what we are familiar with, to what feels safe and comfortable for our personality type, our spiritual practices can end up disintegrating (pg. 62). Mulholland points out that this can happen in two ways – either people fall away from their faith, or they continue through the motions of spiritual practices but face feelings of stagnation (pg. 63).

Yep, stagnation – that’s the same word I used over a year ago to describe how I felt in high school. From what I’ve read so far of Mulholland, I now think this was primarily because I was only feeding the “thinking” side of processing data (pg. 52), and I was starving the “feeling” side to death. But it wouldn’t die. Instead, it filled my heart with cravings that I couldn’t satisfy through my typical “thinking” approach. It took a year and a half of college, but when the moment was right God stepped in and started pouring out His love and fulfilling that need of my heart.

Anyway, that’s not the direction I had intended this post to take {don’t you love when God hijacks something and takes it a completely different direction? J}. I thought I was just sitting down to write about the two books I read/started reading over break that helped verify for me that seeking and desiring a more experiential relationship with God wasn’t just me going off the deep end into some mystical something or other. And no, Mulholland’s books wasn’t one of the two I had in mind!

The first is Heart’s Cry: Principles of Prayer, a book about how to develop a prayerful relationship with God. While most of the chapters do focus on aspects of prayer, it’s also a wonderful, encouraging, challenging book about deepening one’s relationship with God in general. Even the fact that I have the book is a testimony to God’s leading and faithfulness. One day in October, I was taking some time in the prayer room to try to process something that had happened the night before. Afterward, I “randomly” decided to go into the JBU bookstore and look at their bargain books. As soon as I laid eyes on this one, I knew I should get it.

God knew what He was doing {obviously} because He has been using it to guide me into a very intentional growing of how I relate to Him. I’ve known for a while that my prayer practices could use improvement and growth, and this is what God is using to bring that about!

The other book was Night with a Perfect Stranger: The Conversation that Changed Everything, a fictional book by David Gregory. It is a sequel to his book Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, in which a typical modern businessman receives an invitation to have a dinner with Jesus – Christ in the flesh. The first book is more about Christianity in general, while the second is focused on how to practically live out a relationship with God.

As I said earlier, both of these books have been very encouraging to me over Christmas break. I read Gregory’s two books in one morning (they are very easy reads), and I’ve been working my way through Heart’s Cry a chapter a day as a devotional. I’ve also been reading through Ephesians, which has been filled with great reminders.

So God has been once again proving His faithfulness to me by encouraging me. He’s pretty good at that JHeaH