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'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!