Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I’ve been reading through the Old Testament all year (not consistently enough….I’m only in 1 Chronicles!), and one of the things I’ve been doing as I read is taking note of the names of God that are used. For example, one of the first times God is referred to as “Father” is in 2 Samuel 7 when He promises to be a Father to David’s son.

I love that one of God’s names for Himself is Father. It’s one of my favorites! But I actually want to talk about a different name of God – one that I have become increasingly grateful for over the past couple of years: God as Haggo’el (the Redeemer, in Hebrew).

If I remember right, my journey of learning this name started one day in the fall of 2012, as I sat out in the woods reading through Psalm 139. I was reading it out loud, my heart echoing ‘amen’ to each truth. But suddenly, when I got to the verse “Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well,” (vs. 14b) I came to a full stop. I couldn’t even read it, let alone affirm the truth of it in my own life.

It was one of those moments when I realized there are still areas in my life where I have a hard time trusting God….a hard time believing that His plan and what He has allowed are good. There are old hurts and regrets I still hold onto. It was that day I began to realize that I blamed God for those things.

I wish I had all my journals here with me so that I could go back and look at those entries. I think it took a couple weeks for me to think about it and process it…..but I think later in that final JBU year I was able to go back to that verse and read it aloud, instructing my heart to believe its truth.

Perhaps that didn’t come until after this next bit. It was in April of 2013, as a group of us were road tripping back from an academic conference in Wisconsin, that the above concept took on a more concrete form. I was reading through Joel at the time, and there in the backseat of the van I read Joel 2:25, where the LORD says “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…My great army which I sent among you.” It was like a light of spiritual understanding went on in my mind.

God had sent the locust. He had allowed—no, He had caused—a calamity to happen to His chosen people, in this case as a judgment for their sin. But when His people repented and turned back to Him (2:12-17), He promised to forgive them and to redeem the loss that they had endured.

During the nearly two years since that day, the concept of God’s work as our Redeemer has become increasingly real and special to me. Of course, a major aspect of God’s redemptive work is His sacrificing His Son to buy us back (to redeem us) from the grasp of the devil. But I believe we can see from passages such as Joel 2:25 and Romans 8:28 that God’s redeeming grace does not apply only to eternity future….it applies to our lives here and now as well.

There have been several times in the past year and a half when I have been filled with regrets over how the choices I have made have impacted others or even just my own outlook on things. It was actually thinking about one of those occasions that has brought on this blog post. As I lay there last night, tears running down my face as I wished things had turned out differently, it was the truth of God’s redeeming power that brought peace to my heart.

That is not to say that God’s redemption means what I did was right or even good. God’s work as Redeemer also rarely works on my time schedule! But when choices have been made in the past—when I can’t go back and undo them, as much as I wish I could—then, after I have repented before God and men my Father asks me to trust Him. To trust that He will redeem all things for His glory and for the good of all of His children, in His time and in His way (see this blog post for more about that).

I may not see the full outworking of that until I stand in His presence. If that is the case, He calls me to go forward free from guilt, counting on Him to work all things for good. Even those things that hurt me or others, that the devil probably laughed with glee over when they happened. BUT GOD – He takes each thing and uses it in the refining, molding process—and in the end, every vessel (each one of us individually) will be beautiful.

For He is Haggo'el, our Redeemer.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Refiner’s Fire

{I just wrote this in my journal this morning, but felt I should share it here too. It’s all by His grace. Without Him, I am nothing.}

It’s been a month now since Jill fell and broke her arm. And it has been a hard, hard month. Of course there have been good moments and times when I have felt God’s blessings….but most of the time I have been stressed and/or frustrated.

I know that’s not the right response. I know I’ve got to trust GOD to work all things for Good and to {help me} live each moment righteously through Him….but my flesh so so so easily takes charge, I try to do it on my own, and I usually end up so angry that I’m nearly shaking {when things go wrong, when things happen that are outside of my control}.

Abba Father! I come to You because there is nowhere else to go. Abba, if there’s one thing I’m being confronted with every day here, it is that I am not in control. Father, I confess that my hunger for control is sin. It’s pride. It’s evidence of a failure to trust You.

God, I spent months {last year} asking You to break me, to strip away everything from my life that was not of You. I can feel the heat of the fire, Refiner of my soul. I can feel it and I want so badly to run away, to escape it.

Abba Father! Please don’t let me go! Please don’t let me pull away from Your sanctifying grasp. Abba, I beg You, please keep me – no, please make me to be humble and soft before You, my Master and my King of Glory.

For God, You are Good! And Father, I am thankful. Even though my flesh quivers as I write that….I am thankful to You. I thank You and praise You for Your grace, Your patience with my frail stumblings.

Jesus, You are the Christ. You alone have eternal life. And so, no matter what, help me soul to trust in You.

There is nowhere else—no one else to whom—I would rather turn.

Satisfy me in every moment with Your love, Your peace, Your grace. May Your indestructible Joy be my only strength.

For Your glory alone.

{As I finish typing this in and prepare to get ready for the day, I don’t want to leave this moment, this place of my soul. Because I know that there will be trials and temptations in this day, probably before I even reach the office and get this posted before starting work. And I forget so easily! But those next steps of physical life must be taken, and it’s an opportunity to trust God and to put my faith into practice. That’s how our Creator made life work. But He is also always there to turn to in prayer each moment. Live through me, Abba.}

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Best of All Possible Worlds

A card from one of my special ladies back home that "just happened" to arrive yesterday, and that I opened this morning after writing this post :)

I actually woke up ahead of my alarm today. These cool, foggy mornings we have been having here in Uganda recently always make me think of Arkansas and miss my “family” there.

On Monday, I was thinking of other things from back in my college days….and yesterday the thoughts kept tumbling around in my brain….so this morning I am sitting down to put “pen to paper” and break my blogging silence.

In the past 11 months that I have been affiliated with New Hope Uganda, the organization has gone through a lot. In my most recent newsletter, I wrote asking people for prayers as we here seem to be in the midst of spiritual warfare. Thank you to each one who responded back with words of encouragement! I really appreciated those.

Yesterday, we saw off one of our staff members. This year she has been battling cancer, and last month (two days after we lost a son to kidney failure) she was declared cancer free! But then other health concerns arose, and more tests revealed tumors….inoperable tumors, which are seriously affecting her quality of life. Yesterday she returned to Nairobi (Kenya), where she had previously received radiation, for further tests and care.

In my personal life, the past 18 months since graduation have rarely gone as I expected them to. Every season seems to bring another bend in the road, sometimes sending me on a trajectory I never expected. While I am so blessed and grateful to have the opportunity to minister here in this community, it was honestly never in my plans to move to Africa for most of 2014.

During these past months, there have been a myriad of frustrations and discouragements. While none of them come close to the struggles of so many of my brothers and sisters, it has still been often challenging to maintain a proper perspective—eyes fixed on Christ—in these times. Over and over, I have felt His call to trust Him and surrender my life to His plan….and maybe, just maybe I am “slowly by slowly” learning that lesson.

On Monday, it was one of my personal minor letdowns which got me to thinking. I was tempted to be in a complaining mood because of something which was not going as I had hoped/wished it might. And I just felt Paraclete speaking to my heart: “Esther, you need to trust God in this. To trust that what is happening is the best plan for all involved.”

It took me back to something a staff member had forwarded the Wednesday before. A week after my supervisor had fallen and broken her arm so seriously that she returned to her home in England for surgery, it was a day when I felt totally overwhelmed. I read this devotional and saw the truth in it, but I still allowed my human circumstances to dictate my feelings.

The devotional concluded:
Remember this: If any other condition had been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you could choose your lot, you would soon cry, "Lord, choose my heritage for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows." Be content with the things you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Busy self and proud impatience must be put down; it is not for them to choose, but for the Lord of Love!1

This idea of trusting the God who works ALL THINGS for His glory and our sanctification, our good has been a theme in my life for quite a while. But as I sat thinking and praying through it again on Monday, another comparison came to mind.

Twice in college I read Candide, a satirical tale written by Voltaire, an Enlightenment thinker of the 1700s. In it, Voltaire criticizes a view from that period that this is the “best of all possible worlds” by taking his characters through a ridiculous amount of challenges and suffering. The teacher in the group reiterates over and over that even in the face of everything, this still must be the best of all possible worlds. Even though Candide is a comedy because of the absurdity of what the characters go through, it felt so much more like a depressing tragedy to me, because on every page there are tales of woe.

But on Monday as I thought of trusting God in my petty little problems—and in the bigger, serious concerns facing others I know—that is the line that came back to me. That this is the “best of all possible worlds.” Certainly NOT because everything that happens is perfect! Far from it…there is much hurt and tragedy and brokenness in this world.

This is the best of all possible worlds, however, because of the HOPE that I and my fellow believers have! We serve a God who is an incarnational Redeemer—through Christ, He came down to us in our mess, and He won the victory!!!!!!!!!  And because He rose from the dead, defeating Satan, death, and sin, we can KNOW that He is able to work everything for good. Even the worst situation I can imagine He can take that and turn it for His glory.

Of course, this doesn’t make life easy. Yesterday, as we saw our sister off to Kenya there were tears in many hearts. We prayed and are praying for a miracle. Last month, as we laid our son to rest, there were sobs from his family and those close to him. We continue praying for his widowed mother and his young siblings, who have lost one who could have helped provide for them if he were still here. But through it all, we can choose to stake our confidence in our Redeeming, Victorious Father. And we can thank Him for everything that comes to pass in this, the best of all possible worlds.

1 Taken from Morning and Evening by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Confession

On Saturday, when all those thoughts that became my previous blog post were rumbling around in my head, I must confess that I was frustrated and angry. I don’t know if it came through to you, my readers—I felt that I was calmer about it when I actually put it all into words—but I know my heart & mind had been vigorously and selfishly decrying the unfairness of it all.

I didn’t fully realize this until I was sitting in church Sunday morning and the sermon “just happened” to be about Asaph and Psalm 73. I sat there listening, and it suddenly hit me that I had been feeling and acting a lot like Asaph, although the circumstances are different. But I was still jealous of others who seem to have a better life. Questioning why they get it good while I have to give up more to follow where God is leading me.

Even on Saturday, the Lord had opened my eyes to the selfishness of my attitude, as I wrote about at the end of my post. In light of what our Savior did, I am sacrificing nothing. But the sermon on Sunday showed me even more clearly the trap I had fallen into, and it pointed out that nothing in this life tells the full story.

I was questioning God “why?” again, based on what I see in the physical reality. And that’s wrong on two counts. One, I don’t have a right to ask God why He acts in the way He does. Two, judging things based on what happens in this life is like judging a book by its cover alone. In the light of eternity, I am beyond blessed simply because I am a child of the King. That should be more than enough satisfaction for me.

And so I have a new verse to remember, to keep me perspective right:
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.
Psalm 73:28

Trust God and declare His goodness: that is to be sufficient for me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Know Nothing of Sacrifice

{Warning – this is a rant that has been coming on for a while.}

In three weeks, I’ll be getting on a plane to go back to the bush of Uganda, and I couldn’t be more excited to do it! Yes, there will be luxuries and conveniences that I will certainly miss…but I will also get to see friends again, and I will get to be joining a ministry which seeks to help kids know the Fatherhood of God by experiencing it through us.

Sometimes, though, the thoughts—thoughts of what I’m leaving behind, thoughts of what I’m missing out on—are challenging to accept.

The other day, I received an email from a friend making a referral of a job possibility for me. When I first read the email, I didn’t think too much of it. I am committed to Uganda for at least 14 months, and I am eager to fulfill that commitment, especially because I am confident Kasana is where God is leading me!

But last night, when I opened up an email to let the person know I wasn’t available, it hit me more. Here was a job opportunity. A “real,” “big-girl” job. One in my degree field. One that would—I assume—allow me to provide for myself financially….to be fully independent for the first time since graduation.

In some ways, it was very tempting. It was a moment where I had to let go of my desire to be self-sufficient on my own. A moment where I had to once again trust God’s leading…trust Him to provide for me as I go into this place where I will be 100% counting on the support and donations of friends.

Today, I sent the email refusing the job opportunity, and there was no serious hesitation in that choice. But it did get me thinking.

Because it feels so unfair. It seems as though I am sacrificing a lot to go where I will have intermittent electricity and internet. Where there is no air conditioning other than the breeze. Where my freedom to move about will be somewhat hampered by basic safety concerns. Where there are no washing machines, dryers, microwaves, or dishwashers. Where I must count on people’s generosity for everything.

This is especially true when I think about other bigger missions organizations I know about which pay their staff members comfortable incomes. My mind goes to at least one “non-profit” whose president and handful of VPs each make six-figure annual incomes. Yes, they do good, good work. But how many MORE people could they help if those organizational leaders chose to live more modest lives?

We Americans think—I so often think—that we/I “deserve” a certain standard of living. We have a huge sense of entitlement that honestly is a bunch of bologna.

One job I applied for last fall here in the States probably would have paid me more in one year than some of my friends in Uganda—the better employed ones!—could dream of making, even if they worked for 50 years (in a country where the life expectancy is 58). I can go to a fast food place here and blow more money on one meal than day laborers there can make in a week.

And when I think of that, it makes me sick. And it makes me realize that I know nothing of sacrifice.
 Sure, in the bush of Uganda I will lack a lot of conveniences. But I will still be living the “good life.” I have friends who live in the village who have no power at all. No Internet, definitely no cable, probably no TV at all. Who probably do not have bathroom facilities. Who probably have to walk a good distance just to fetch water.

I don’t write this so that you will pity them. They don’t need your pity. Many of them know more about living an intentional, communitarian life than most Americans. Relationally, I believe they lead much richer lives. Because when someone has a need, they do what they can to help fulfill it. They care for one another and help bear one another burdens on a daily basis, and it is beautiful to witness.

Earlier today, as I was holding this rant in the recesses of my own mind, a thought struck me.

I definitely do not really know anything of sacrifice. Even my friends in Uganda do not know all there is of sacrifice.

We each know different parts of sacrifice. They know what it is to truly be in want. But they did not choose that station in life, and many of them wish to better their circumstances. For me, I am choosing to give up certain things. But as I said, I will still be living a comfortable life compared to parts of the world. What’s more, I have the certain opportunity to return to my plush, fancy (albeit middle-class) life in America.

But there is Another who knows everything that sacrifice entails. One who gave up the riches of the universe for a peasant’s life—who during His sojourn here did not even have a place to lay His heavenly head.

And that was only the beginning of the Truest Sacrifice.

Because not only was He poor. Not only was He misunderstood and often rejected. Not only was He bound for the first time in eternity by the constraints and weaknesses of a human body. On top of all these—each a sacrifice bigger than any I could possibly make, even if I lost everything and went to live in the poorest streets of the world—On top of all these, He willingly chose to relinquish His right to command angel armies. His right to be worshipped for Who He was. He gave up His very life. For what? For His glory, yes. But it was also for His enemies that He made this sacrifice. For you and me.

Because what do we as human beings actually, truly deserve?

We deserve to be destroyed, to be banished from God’s presence forever. We deserve nothing other than the wrath and judgment of God. This very instant. Every breath any human breathes—the fact that the world still exists and we are alive—is a gift of God’s grace. But the fact that He has made me His own dear child—and that at such a high cost……there are no words for such grace and love.

The innumerable physical luxuries I am enjoying this very moment? Sitting here in my room of a house, with lights, AC, laptop, music, a closet full of clothes, a satisfied stomach, money in my purse, clean from a running water shower…….Those are not things that I deserve. They are gifts. But at worst, they can be horrible distractions.

And as I think of all this, I can’t wait to go back to Uganda. To go back to a place where I am reminded on a daily basis that I must depend on God for the strength to face each moment. Where I am confronted every day with how enormously blessed I am.

What’s more, I’ll be following in the footsteps of my Savior. Not because of how good I am, but because of His grace and mercy at work in my life. And it’s all for His glory, for the sake of His great name.

There’s nothing else to say to that.

Monday, August 4, 2014

God's Grace in my Brokenness

{I wrote this last Tuesday in the rawness of the moment. But I've kept coming back to in my mind...feeling that I should post it here. And so I share it with you, not because it puts me in a good light, but because it shows the Glory and Grace of my heavenly Father, that He would receive one such as me.}

It’s all gonna burn.

I can imagine myself torching my room in a moment of fed-up frustration and watching with a look of smug satisfaction as it all—every bit—gets reduced to ashes.

None of this STUFF lasts into eternity. And yet I’ve spent so so so much time in collecting this stuff. In organizing this stuff. In cleaning this stuff.

And for what end? Because in this stuff I trust? Because in this stuff I hold onto the past? Because this stuff carries my memories?

I’m struck again by the tension of living in the light of eternity vs. being too involved in the perishable things of this life.

It’s all gonna burn.

And as I try to answer the NHICF application question of what motivates me, the tears roll down my face. I reach out a tentative hand

“God, are You there?”

This time, this time at home. It’s supposed to be a time of preparation. It’s supposed to be a time of relating to people here, of reconnecting with them. Of gathering a support team so that I can return to ministry in Kasana.

But I’ve squandered so much. I wake with a headache so many mornings, because of staying up too late, usually binge watching my TV show addiction.

Last night I was watching as I finished cards…but the night before that, when I was up until 2 a.m.? There was no profit there.

“God, I want to stop running.” This is when the tears came. Because it feels like no matter how many times I come to this point, no matter how many times I say this, still I go back.

I am no different than the Israelites. They turn away. They forget the Lord who has done wonders among them. Even when it’s right in their face, still they question and go the way of their own stubborn hearts.

I say I want to go back to be in community with people. I say I want to touch the lives of others.
In the past two months, what have I done?

My life doesn’t start when my feet touch the Ugandan soil once more. My life is NOW.
And those choices I’ve been making NOW to indulge, to relax?
Those have been establishing patterns and addictions.

And yes, idols.

Distractions and stumbling blocks.
I know this. I know it all too well from years of experience.
And still. Still I go back. Still I wander away from the only One who is my root & anchor.

“Abba, please rip out this selfish heart of mine.”
“I’m sorry.”

There’s nothing else to say.
I feel the weakness of my own soul. I know the promises are vain on my lips.
How long until I fall back in? Maybe a week, maybe a day.

But the answer to that first question is yes. Yes, my God is here with me. He kneels beside me in my brokenness. He reaches out to touch my heaving shoulders.

Does He perhaps cry with me in my disappointment and regret?
But He doesn’t want me to stay there.
The broken self-heart turned to Him, yes. But not being stuck in the regret of the past.

Tomorrow is a new day, the next moment is a new opportunity.
And He extends that grace to me once more. Oh, but my heart trembles and fears the thought of taking unrighteous advantage of His grace.

I can do nothing.
I am no one.
But God.
But God offers unto us the resurrection power of Christ.

His work is available to change our hearts—to change my heart.

And each moment, every breath is a new chance to say no to self and yes to His conforming, redeeming work.

Abba, I confess my weakness to You. I confess that I am undeserving of Your grace. And yet I ask for it once again—I know there is no other place to stand. Paraclete, please renew Your Spirit within me. Guide me in Your ways, let me not go down my own selfish path.

Thank You that You can and will. To You be the glory.

{When I came back to my computer from eating lunch, I found this email waiting from a dear sister:
I love you Esther Carey. I want to remind you that God's grace is enough today even in our weaknesses and mistakes. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).
"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 2 Corinthians 4:7.
I'm telling this to myself too. Trust his power today.

My first thought was “wait, how did she know???” I hadn’t posted anything anywhere, but she spoke exactly the words I needed to hear. Praise the Lord J}

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lord's Presence

“It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said” (Joshua 14:12b).

This morning, as I read Joshua 14 (about the dividing of the land among the tribes) this verse leapt out at me. I think I’ve either heard a talk on it, or I’ve noticed this when I’ve read the chapter before.

The context is that Caleb is making a request of Joshua. Moses had promised Caleb a particular mountain, because he was one of only two spies who were faithful to God when the 12 spies were sent out from Kadesh Barnea. And now, 45 years later, the time had finally come when Caleb could receive that inheritance.

Caleb was 85 years old. He had spent the first 35+ years of his life as a slave in Egypt. He, with all the other Israelites, had seen God’s power and glory there and at Mount Sinai. He had walked in the Promised Land and seen its bounty. He took God at His word and trusted that God could overcome the Canaanites. But because the people did not, Caleb joined them in their wilderness wanderings for 40 years, until everyone of his generation except for himself and Joshua had died.

And now that they were finally in the land and had, in two major sweeps of conquest, cleared out most of the Canaanites—now it was finally time for Caleb to settle down and enjoy retirement, right?

That’s not what he had in mind.

Instead, he intentionally asked for an area where the people had not yet been driven out:

“As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said” (Joshua 14:11-12).

Even at 85 years of age, Caleb still wanted to carry out the mission which his brethren had rejected 45 years before.

God said that Caleb was His servant, that he had a different spirit in him, and that he had followed God fully. Therefore Caleb would receive an inheritance while the others never set foot in the land (Numbers 14:24).

Reading this today, I couldn’t help but think about my own life. Since the coming of Christ to save and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, I don’t have to wonder if God is with me. I know He is. But it still takes the same sort of trust and confidence, the same willingness to step out and face challenges that Caleb had.

I want to have a different spirit in me. I want to follow the Lord fully. And this morning, God used this passage to call me back to that, to remind me to be satisfied in Him rather than running away to my own attempts at living this life.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why Uganda?

{In case you haven’t heard, last month I officially accepted an offer from New Hope Uganda to come serve in the role of assistant sponsorship coordinator at Kasana, Uganda. I plan to return the second week of September. Like other foreign staff, I am responsible for providing my own support.}

A couple weeks ago, after I had sent out a letter to my Uganda updates mailing list about my upcoming return plans, I got a call from a friend & trusted adviser. We chatted for a while, and then she asked me about how God has called me to this particular opportunity, and how He has confirmed that calling.

I didn’t really know what to tell her.

I had waited an entire month from the day I had been offered the position to respond “yes!” even though I knew I wanted to say yes from the moment, sitting in my hut, when I was invited back. I waited, saying I would pray about it. Wanting to be sure. Hoping for a sign.

But if I’m being honest with myself and you, I didn’t really spend dedicated time praying about it, and I hesitated because of fear and distrust. If this is really what God wants me to do, then He’ll make it obvious and plain, right?

The Sunday morning before I responded back to New Hope, as I sat in church, I felt God saying that the choice was up to me. He had set before me an open door, what more did I want? Last fall I had three doors I wanted to go through, and all three ended up closing. Now I wanted to return to Uganda, and God had used His people to open that door. It was my choice to walk through it. I sent my acceptance email.

A couple days after having said “yes!” I found myself second guessing. Thinking about other times over the years when I have set my hand at something, only to have it fall through or not turn out as I wished. And I felt God calling me again to trust Him—even if for some reason I didn’t end up back in Uganda, as I expected to. Rejecting the rising fear, I prayed to Him—choosing to trust whatever He had planned.

After my friend’s inquiry a few days later, I pondered how I would answer the question. I knew I had fallen in love with Uganda and the people I met at Kasana during the first five months of the year. I knew I yearned to go back and be reunited with these friends, to continue growing in relationship with them. But what calling did I have from God?

As I drove around Dallas, running errands, I asked Him—if He wouldn’t mind—for confirmation of what I instinctively felt…of what felt like the obvious “yes” answer to the opportunity.

Waiting at a Half Price Books moments later for a quote on some textbooks I was trying to sell, I perused the newly-discovered clearance section. Looking on the “nature” shelf, my eye fell on a thin booklet. Curious, I pulled it out and read the title: “Black Eagle.” Flipping it open, I saw a map of the western coast of Africa: Ghana and the surrounding countries. A glance at the first page showed that whoever had shelved this book hadn’t paid much attention—it appeared at first glance to be a book of African parables/legends.

Turning forward from the back of the booklet, I read a passage that nearly gave me goose bumps:
“Consider going to Ghana as a missionary when you have completed your education. Ask God to guide you in making your decisions about your future….the American young person considers his own life and God’s will for him…”

It may seem a small thing, especially considering that my plans are toward Uganda, not Ghana. But deep in my heart, I knew. It wasn’t an accident that I had come across the clearance section after using the restroom. It wasn’t an accident that this booklet about the history of Christian missions in Ghana was mistakenly shelved with the books about birds. It wasn’t an accident that it caught my eye, that I turned to that particular page. It was the confirmation God sent in His grace and mercy for even my questioning heart.

And as I have thought about it all in the days since, I can see so many other pointers…so many other heart nudges by which God has led me to this point, even when I didn’t plan for this path a year ago.
  • Reading Kisses from Katie in January 2012 – as I wrote in my diary, reading the book about this young lady who moved to Uganda to volunteer made me “want to jump on the next plane to some underprivileged place & start pouring my life into those kids.”
  • Listening to missionaries from Africa share at my church during my last semester of college – finding my heart strangely stirred and even being brought to tears at the thought.
  • God shutting the doors I wanted open last summer and early fall – I was so very frustrated, but I felt Him asking me to give up my hunger to get a “good job” and live for the American version of “success.”
  • God opening the door I wouldn’t have seen: to go to Uganda for five months in a short-term volunteer capacity.
  • Getting to meet so many wonderful, encouraging people. God placing them—and the Ugandan kids in the Worcester family—into such a special part of my heart.
  • Support from friends back home – and people telling me that somehow, by God’s grace, what I write from there speaks to them too.
  • Just a couple days ago, getting an email from a friend I met at Kasana, offering encouragement in my choice to go back.
There have been other moments as well. And though my life the past year has so often felt like a roller coaster, with unexpected twists and turns…I know that God is the one leading and guiding. And so I seek to take one step at a time on this path He has given me, that all the glory may go to Him.

{If you would like to receive more information about my upcoming work with New Hope Uganda, or if you felt led to join me as a prayer or financial partner, please contact me! If you do not have my email address or phone number, you can leave a comment here or Facebook message me.}

{See also this Facebook note about how God has led me to missions}

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Reminder to Hold Loosely

I like my stuff.

I sit here, in this room that has been “mine” for nearly 11 years. My closet is filled with clothes (more are in a tub under my bed) and with storage drawers stuffed with my college apartment kitchen items.

Two bookshelves hold rows and rows of books, as well as knick knacks. My windowsill holds more of the latter, as does another tub under my bed.

So much stuff.

And sometimes I can feel it weighing me down. But the thought of getting rid of it all feels too big and hard. Besides, I like it. And I may want/need it sometime.

Spending five months in Uganda and my plans to go back in September serve as a constant reminder that all this stuff can’t go with me everywhere. Especially at the end of time, when much of it and what it represents will simply burn (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

This morning I decided to work on a project that is fairly mindless: Making “refrigerator” birthday cards for my teacher-boss to use for her new students. I decided I may as well listen to an audio book while I did, so I finally opened a folder I had put on my desktop back in November—Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage

I’m not sure what I was expecting…..but I guess I wasn’t expecting what I got: what felt like a personalized message just for me. I identify with a lot of what the author, Allison Vesterfelt, talks about. I’ve only listened to about a third of the book, but I can tell it will join the {long} list of influential/favorite books in my life.

What happens when a 20-something gets urged by a friend to drop her outwardly good/perfect life and embark on a road trip journey to all 50 states?  I don’t want to spoil the book for you (because you should read it!), so I won’t tell you much of the answer to that. Hey, you can even get the audio book for free if you subscribe to Moody Collective’s email list! Go do it here, I’ll wait J

I will share with you a little bit about how, in light of the tension between my stuff and my plans for the next year and a half, God’s using this book in my life today.

Early on in her book, Vesterfelt offers up an interesting take on the parable of the rich young ruler that I found applicable and compelling in my current situation. As I listened, I remembered wrestling with a similar feeling last fall as I contemplated giving up/putting on hold my desire to get settled down into what American culture seems to advertise as the good life of working a regular, salaried job. {You can read my posts about thinking through that here and here.}

Vesterfelt suggests that perhaps the rich young ruler wasn’t just looking for self-affirmation. Maybe he came to Jesus asking what he needed to inherit eternal life because he felt the emptiness of the life he was living. Maybe he felt like something was missing, even in the midst of keeping the commandments Jesus listed off for him.

Perhaps, even though he was doing everything he knew to do—even though he had material blessings—perhaps his life still felt lacking. Maybe he wanted to know why, maybe he wanted to change that.

Jesus basically told him to give up his hold on his possessions, to come join Christ in His ministry, to be willing to travel light except for the weight of a cross (Mark 10:21). But the young man couldn’t bring himself to commit to that. The thought of the sacrifice was too great.

I don’t know if Vesterfelt’s interpretation of this parable is any more or less correct than the more traditional picture of an arrogant young man with a moral that can tend toward “don’t be rich.” But when I quit working and listening to go make lunch, a question kept weighing on the back of my mind:

Esther, are you willing to pack light? Are you willing to leave baggage—both material and emotional—behind? Are you willing to be soft clay? To continue being stretched and kneaded and molded?

And, at the root of it all, are you willing to trust Me with and for everything?

These questions aren’t just for the next 18 months. They’re not just about this next step of going back to Uganda. These are questions that must be answered and decisions to trust that must be made every moment of every day for the rest of my earthly life.

Because, as much as I wish it were otherwise, life simply doesn’t automatically fall into a super dependable, easy pattern just because I graduated from college. And yes, I see now just how silly that assumption was. But somehow that’s what I wanted and expected a year ago.

I could have made choices that would have been more likely to get me on that route. But I felt God calling me to a different adventure. I felt a tug on my heart to places I didn’t expect and things I don’t feel equipped for. I don’t have the answers of where my life’s ship is sailing. The end harbor that I desire most of all…that I know God will bring me to…is to become like Him, to bring Him glory through His work in my life—to know, to love, and to serve Him and His people.

What route will that take me on? What will be the midpoint destinations between here and there? I don’t feel like I have a clue.

And my soul can feel the fearfulness of that lack of the ability to control my destiny on my own. But as I stood in the kitchen, stirring tuna, noodles, and sauce…I knew there was only one answer. That despite the fear of what sacrifice that choice would ask, there was only one thing I desired with my deepest being.

Yes Lord. Take me and make me Thine. There is nothing else I truly want more. Thine be the glory.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Slowly by Slowly

{I’m taking a wee break from the informal “series” I’ve been working my way through here, because this came to mind. And as I posted on Facebook this evening, I’m seeking to live in the moment, rooted in God.}

I’m a slow learner.

It might be that sometimes I’m good at hiding it, because I always try to look like I have everything together. But that doesn’t change the facts.

I’m still a slow learner.

Especially when it comes to the most critical lessons of all: those in the spiritual realm—relating to God, and those in the community realm—relating to others.

I so easily forget so many things.

Like conveying messages for people. Like the fact that my roommate wouldn’t be here tonight. Things slip through cracks in my mind so very easily, usually because I’m focused and consumed with myself and my own issues.

Lessons that I “ought” to have learned must be repeated over and over, because I have failed to learn them with my heart.

My head knows the truth—I like being able to have all the doctrinal boxes checked: God is good. God is in charge. My life is in His hands. I’m trusting Him. My satisfaction is found in Him alone. He’s doing all things for His glory. He’s the one who controls my life. He’s on the throne of the Universe.

Still, somehow, there’s a communication breakdown. Not with my mouth (or in many cases, my fingers—writing or typing). I can say all the right words.

But how often does my heart believe it? How often do my actions show it? As I look back on the past months and years, even as I review my journal from last fall….I must admit not as often as I would like.

Sometimes I get so caught up in analyzing what I’m thinking, feeling, doing…I get so busy trying to process the things I’ve been through, that I forget to love people. I forget to live as Christ’s ambassador…because I’m examining myself under a microscope.

How does one trust God in daily life? How does one reflect His image to others?

Honestly, I feel like I don’t know how to do that very well.

But I want to learn. And I hope I am, bit by bit (or as they say here, "slowly by slowly").

Sometimes (oftentimes), it gets to a point where I’m too full. Where I can’t read another chapter, where I can’t digest another article from someone’s blog. But I’m bad at actively seeking and finding outlets for what I’m taking in. I try to process it through writing, and end up questioning what good that does.

As an introvert, I physically don’t feel like it’s possible for me to be around people all the time. But people are what matter most after God, right? How am I to live a life of total service and love? Obviously, I can’t in my own strength.

Today I was catching up on a friend’s blog. I was working on a major processing project. I’m in the middle of a blog “series” that I want to write the next one of. I’ve got a couple work assignments I could work on. So many directions I could go, so many ways I could spend my time.

But instead, I went and lay out under the stars for a while. I sought to take a breath, to be still before my Creator. And I took comfort that Christ, my model – even He had to take times when He got away from ministering to the people around Him, times of prayer and spiritual nourishment alone with His Father.

Most certainly, I am not saying that I have been serving like my Master served. Not nearly. I often think much about reaching out to people and touching their lives in a way that will have eternal value. But usually I end up in my hut, sometimes trying to satisfy my own selfish desires…sometimes in activities with a nobler goal but still with a me-centered practical result.

So this post doesn’t pretend to have the answers.

It’s just me being real…recognizing an issue.

But I don’t want it to stop there. It so often does with me. Last fall, I recognized a path my thoughts and feelings were leading me down. And my actions continued taking me down that same path. And that had consequences.

I have 17 full days left here at Kasana. I don’t want to waste those days. Abba Father, show me how to invest the time You have given me here. Help me listen to Your conviction & promptings. Teach me to trust.

I am simply a shooting star in the sky of God’s plan. A momentary blip. But I am a person over whom God has made claim. I have been bought with a price—my life is not my own. I want to spend it in His service. For the sake of His great name.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cast Your Burdens

{This is a continuation of my previous couple of posts}

So what is to be done with the burdens we all carry, especially the burdens of sin Paul referred to in Galatians 6? As I thought about all of this a couple weeks ago, a couple different thoughts and connections flew through my mind.

One was a song I first remember hearing about a month ago at church here. It hit me deep in my heart:
I’d trade these ashes in for beauty,
And wear forgiveness like a crown;
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy,
I lay every burden down:
At the foot of the cross.

The second (and closely related) was thinking about Pilgrim’s Progress – his heavy heavy burden fell away off of his back as he worshipped at the cross.

It’s not like were expected to deal with our burdens on our own! In fact, trying to do so will only end up in disappointment, because there is no way that we can do this life—especially no way that we can lighten the burden of our sin—on our own. The fact is that Jesus has already done that work!

As Paul writes in another letter: “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6, emphasis mine). Christ came and lived and died and rose again to take the burden away. The work is finished!!!

It’s like that old kid’s song I listened to as a child (anyone else remember Donut Man? :D) “Cast your burden unto Jesus, for He cares for you!”[1] I’ve heard it a few times here in Uganda, so maybe that’s part of the reason it’s on my mind J

The song mostly comes from 1 Peter 5:6, though it could also partly come from Psalm 55:22. In 1 Peter 5, the verse (“casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”) directly follows his admonition to submit to one another and to “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5 and 6). I heard a really good message on this passage my junior year of college while resting in bed, and I’ve always meant to go back and give it a listen when I have my full brain power…..

At any rate, another relevant passage to this topic is Matthew 11:28-30, the oft quoted “come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”—but don’t forget the next verses, the admonition to “Take My yoke….for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Now, I don’t claim to have much theological training or to be an expert on interpreting Scripture….but take a look at the rest of Matthew 11 that proceeds these verses (and yes, I know chapter divisions aren’t inspired either…).

The chapter starts with John the Baptist sending two of his disciples from prison. It continues with Jesus rebuking cities that did not repent of their sin even after seeing the signs of Christ. The verses mentioned in the previous paragraph, examined in this context could be seen in a new light.

The beginning of the chapter shows that wearing the yoke of being Christ’s messenger—while much better than bearing the weight of sin—is not all happy-go-lucky. John was in prison…John was beheaded, simply for declaring God’s truth about sin. And we can wonder at God’s wonders all we want, but unless we repent….we’re worse off than Tyre and Sidon, worse off even than Sodom. That’s a pretty damning view of things, and it comes straight from what Jesus said!

I guess my point here is that God doesn’t take our burden of sins off of our shoulders for our own sakes or so that we can have an easy life. He saves us for a reason: For HIS GLORY, and so that we may SERVE HIM and His people. So YES, we should celebrate the fact that we are no longer burdened by sin! But obviously, we should not use that freedom as license to run off and do our own thing in our own way.

I would say that my general tendency has been to swing too far on the side of still carrying around guilt for my sin….although I know there have certainly been times when I have swung to the “then I’ll do what I want!” extreme. I’ll talk about the former in my next post, and tie in a song that’s currently pretty popular. Any guesses as to what song? ;-)

[1] If you missed out on this classic of my childhood, you can check it out on YouTube here. This is exactly the version I watched on VHS who knows how many times, down to the cute little girls at 1:00 and 1:45 :D

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

{written 4/20}

The other morning I was thinking/processing through all this and journaling about it. And a couple verses came to mind, which is where this post comes from. I was specifically thinking about what an amazing example my roommate had been of the verse about “bearing one another’s burdens”….but also about how I had taken advantage of that, and not been helping her bear her burden.

I looked up the verse, and was kind of surprised by what I found. It’s Galatians 6:2, but only the first half is the familiar line tossed about in the Christian community. The full verse reads “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (NKJV). In my head, I’ve always thought of this verse as a way to help friends feel better about themselves, to help them carry their cares and sorrows.

But that’s not what the context says! The previous verse refers to a person “overtaken in trespass” who should be restored “in a spirit of gentleness,” and the following verses continue that theme of looking at one’s choices and actions.

The previous chapter also references this: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1, emphasis mine). So the burdens Paul is referring to are not “merely” the burdens of daily sorrows and difficulties. Paul’s teaching here goes much deeper. Just this morning in church, one of the pastors was teaching about how the deepest darkest prison is the prison of SIN. And THAT is the yoke Paul was addressing!

My next post or two will be looking more at that…but I wanted to mention it here for the sake of context.

The idea of “bearing one another’s burdens” takes on a whole different light for me once I see the verse within the setting that Paul originally wrote it in! He is not simply calling us to sympathize with one another. No, instead he is instructing his readers to call one another out on habitual sins, to help one another live in the liberty of Christ! He’s talking about a process of discipleship and sanctification, not just someone to listen to the woes of your day.

I am so thankful for the people who God has placed in my life who He has also equipped to do both. I have been blessed with several good listeners who then also turn around and speak truth into me. Because very often I am venting to people when my perspective is off. When I’m not wanting to submit to God’s will, or when I’m just “stuck” in a certain view of a situation. And in all of the above, I often need to hear someone else tell me what I know with my head but what I’m not feeling in my heart.

But, as I wrote in my previous post, I must be careful that I do not look solely or even primarily to those people. And Paul addresses this too: “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3). I’m not entirely positive if by this verse Paul is referring to the person in sin, or to the person trying to help him (vs. 1). I’m guessing it applies either way.

The person in sin would obviously be deceiving himself if he tried to proudly act like he didn’t need help and had it all together. But the person trying to help and disciple would also be deceiving himself if he tried to do so out of his own strength. And that’s the direction this verse took me in my musings the other day.

As I thought about the people who had helped me to bear my burdens, I knew they weren’t relying on themselves to do that. They weren’t listening to my burdened heart and then taking and carrying those heavy loads themselves. Instead, they were relying on God’s strength and truth. They were helping me to carry my burdens to Him.

So yes, we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” But that does not mean taking everything from everyone else onto ourselves and then continuing to carry it around with us. We are called to be free!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sources of Satisfaction

In the past week/month, God has used a variety of things to call me out on something which has been an issue in my life for the past several years: Where am I looking for support & fulfillment & satisfaction?

Of course, I know what the answer ought to be – I should be looking to God for those things. But the reality is that over the last weeks/months/even a couple of years, I have been looking to the people around me. Back in high school, I was looking to myself—building walls keeping others out. Neither of these two personal realities is good on their own. I cannot satisfy myself, and other people cannot either. Only God can.

But that requires trusting Him, even when we know that His plans may take us through tough times. I don’t quite know how to articulate this….but in the past couple years my relational life has done a pendulum swing. I started in high school with not letting anyone in….in the middle of college I was maybe closer to a balanced center of finding love and satisfaction in the grace of God….and in the past year the pendulum swung to leaning too heavily on people around me.

Part of the latter is a symptom of the sinful distrust in God which has tried to sprout in my heart as things have not gone as I thought they should since graduation. It’s been a crazy year, full of roller coaster ups and downs. And especially in the months here in Uganda, I’ve been looking to individual people to fulfill my needs rather than truly finding my strength in God alone.

As I said in the first paragraph, God’s been giving me a wakeup call on that. He’s opened my eyes to better see the consequences of me seeking satisfaction primarily from other people. And writing this post isn’t to say I have it perfectly figured out. But I hope that in the coming weeks I will be less needy/demanding and more intentionally caring/loving toward those around me.

Early last month, I read the first chapter of a women’s devotional book[1] that I had “just happened” to find and download for my Kindle app. And it contained a message I greatly needed to hear…but even in the weeks between then and now I have been a very very slow learner in practicing what it taught/reminded me.

In that chapter, Beth Moore tells her readers that she has discovered “what makes life work.” Taking verses from Deuteronomy 7, Colossians 3, and Psalm 63, she challenges us to think about if we have truly taken God as our God, if He is truly our refuge and strength. We should yearn to have relationship and intimacy with Him, not out of a discipline or “have to” attitude, but because we hunger for Him.

“God made our souls to long for Him, and we are not fully satisfied without His presence in our lives,” she writes. She goes on to say that just because we have received salvation through Christ does not guarantee that we are choosing to receive our fulfillment from Him. We can be saved and yet still trying to “do life” by our own power.

She continues, “We are not satisfied by simply accepting salvation and then ascending to heaven when the time comes. Instead, God wants us to have a relationship with Him during our lifetime.” This is certainly something that I have struggled with, because (especially in high school) I often wished I could just escape this life and be done with it all. I just wanted to be home free, in God’s presence. But I’m not. I’m still here.

Rereading this chapter yesterday (when I wrote this) I was again convicted about how much I have tried the two “alternatives” she talks about: “subsistence living” (begging others to fill the vacuum only Christ was meant to fill) and “substitute living” (turning to idols rather than to Christ). Neither of which truly satisfies.

Her application is that we must daily make the choice to very intentionally seek the fulfillment of our needs from God, especially partaking of the food He has given us (His Word) and seeking to have that abide in us. It’s only then that we can be solid and secure, whether people are loving and helpful (which is still nice!) or whether people let us down (which they sometimes/often will, because they are human).

Beth Moore concludes that God’s love is totally unconditional and perfect, and it is better than life (Ps. 63:3). God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us – and that’s why we know that He can be trusted to supply our daily needs. All we need to do is ask!

The weekend before I read this chapter, I had come across this blog post about hungering for God. As I read this young woman’s raw writing, I felt my own heart convicted…and so I began to pray a similar prayer. But in the weeks since then, as God has allowed a variety of circumstances which have tested my response, over and over I have thrown self-pity parties or gone running to people rather than turning to Him. And that is a sin against Him (and others) which I have had to confess this week.

And even though this week has been another hard week, following up on weeks and months of challenges, changes, uncertainties….this time He got my priorities a little straighter. I went to God first. Did it still hurt/cause confusion? For sure. Did I still cry while talking to my mom on the phone about stuff? Oh yeah, I did. Is it still a battle not to be consumed with questioning “why???” or “what if?” and trying to figure out how to make things work my way? Yes, it definitely is.

But I was also able to come to a place—at least for one moment the other morning—where I submitted myself in prayer to whatever God has. And where I found peace in Him. And I pray that I can continue to abide in the Truth and security I found in that moment, no matter how the storms may rage. Because He is the only valid source of true satisfaction.

[1] A Woman and Her God, ©2003 – each chapter by a different author

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Journey to Trusting a Little More

{This is the backstory of the puzzle pieces God brought together this month and that I published a LONG blog post about the other day. Written at the end of March.}

It started a year ago. In the spring semester of 2013 (my last before graduation), the JBU campus experienced a tragedy which impacted most of our small community, at least to some extent. A little less than two weeks later, I experienced a personal tragedy. Nothing in comparison, but it impacted me. That same day, I had to turn in the application to intern with Samaritan’s Purse.

Needless to say—and for even more factors than listed above—it was an emotional semester. On March 3, with the above three happenings swirling in my head, I went on a labyrinth walk as part of a class I was taking. For a bit more about the class, see this post. That day in the labyrinth, seeking God’s peace and wisdom, He brought me to an important realization from Micah 6:8. To quote from the response paper I wrote for the class:
Thinking that I deserve to know why things happen the way they do—or wanting so badly to know what will happen ahead of time—is a sign of pride. God calls us to walk humbly before Him – that includes trusting Him and surrendering our “right” to know why and our ideal plans and dreams.
{You can read the rest of the response here on my other blog.}

There were still a lot of ups and downs in the two months leading to my college graduation…but I hope that truth stuck with me through at least a few of those days. May 4 came, closing out my time of being a student at JBU. At that point, I knew I would be going to N.Ireland with a JBU mission team for the month of June, then interning with SP {yep, they had accepted me!} for July and August. I kind of assumed that I would like SP and would want to get a job there, but I knew that was not for sure.

I also expected to cry at graduation, or at some point during the following week that I stayed in Siloam Springs, but no tears came even as I said goodbye to the place that had been home for four years and to some of my best friends…not knowing if/when I would see them again. The tears started instead on an observation platform in the beautiful N.Ireland (almost exactly nine months ago) as the truth came home that I wouldn’t be back with the team and the rest of my JBU friends in the fall.

And the tears continued raining down as the next two months turned out more confusing than I expected; as I still ended up applying for a job opening (that I had been basically filling) but then was not chosen; as I found myself back home with no easy “real” job leads; as I felt led to offer myself as a teacher (though without any traditional qualifications) to fill a need expressed by a new missionary family; as God provided abundantly and got me here three months later; as I have faced the daily challenges of living in the African bush (plus sickness/a couple injuries); and as I made mistakes and things here have not gone as well as I wish they had.

I feel sorry for my mom and my roommate here (and my pillow, haha), who have faced most of my crying episodes. {And I must not be looking to them (or any people) as my sole source of comfort and satisfaction!} But I am so thankful for the love and encouragement they have consistently provided, pointing me toward the Truth.

On the mountain where I lived in North Carolina during July and August, the question (“Do you trust Me?”) which had been a recurring theme became a command in my heart and mind. Going back and reading those two posts is so convicting, because it’s a lesson I still haven’t finished learning.

Which was a post in and of itself – about how I thought I’d reach a spiritual graduation of sorts concurrent with my college graduation. Even just now, reading the two-part post I wrote in September, it feels like I’m just going around and around, coming back to the same things over and over. But I hope and pray that each time the lesson goes a little deeper—peels back another onion-like layer of my selfishly-inclined heart.

Because even through these past nine months, full of frustration and emotion, God has proved Himself faithful. When I didn’t want to be “stuck” in Dallas without knowing what was coming next, He provided a part-time job and He used that time at home to continue bringing deeper healing to decade-old wounds. When He called me to come to Uganda – even when I was reluctant and distrustful – He poured out His blessings.

When I’ve been tempted to question His goodness, He has brought peace. When things have not gone my way, He has called me to surrender and trust. When I’ve been trying to do things in my own strength, He has convicted me of my natural patterns that are not fully in line with Truth and His best. Because He is a God full of grace and never-ending second chances….if my heart is seeking Him and crying out for His humility. And it’s all for the sake of His great name…so that we may know that He is God. For His glory alone.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Trust Test

Since I know that God is good, will I be willing to trust Him to do what is best—first for His glory, but also for myself and each of His children?

That question has been developing in the background of my mind a LOT over the past year. And in the past nine months—full of ups and downs and unexpected turns—a lot of my times of tears and frustration (and there have been many….) have resulted from the answer to this very important question being “no” in my practical, daily life/thoughts/attitude.

If you want all the background and the long explanation that demonstrates my “context” strength,[1] I was halfway done writing it before I remembered that looking back and being stuck in the past can also be part of my problem. This blog started with Philippians 3….and part of that is “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” (vs. 13b-14). At the same time, God does tell His people over and over to “Remember” what He has done. I’m just not always good at maintaining a balance there.

Enough about me. In this case (or at least for this post), I’m going to work harder to error on the side of leaving the past behind and just talk about the Truth and the present. But mentions of the past will creep in, and I may post the “full” backstory another day.

A couple Saturdays ago, I was blessed with a beautiful time of meditating on God’s Word and fellowshipping with/worshipping Him. We needed to have a long talk, so I headed out to the Enterprise farm and stayed there for a couple hours. During that time, He brought together ideas from a year ago and ideas from the past couple months, and it’s like someone had fit a bunch of tiny puzzle pieces together and then zoomed out to show a more complete picture as a result. And today God brought me back to that picture again.

I struggle with demanding “why??” of God. Over the past year, He has been in the process of calling me out on that and instructing me to trust Him. And He has been bringing healing to some old, deep wounds that I had tried to stuff and ignore for a long, long time.

To quote from my journal entry that Saturday morning, even though mistakes and bad things will happen in life, “God will use and redeem all situations (past, present, and future) for the Ultimate Good: His Glory. We are called to walk in humility in light of that truth (Micah 6:8 and the labyrinth walk almost exactly a year ago), and we do NOT have the right to demand “WHY?” in a self-centered way.”

My mind flew to the verse about “does the clay have the right to ask of the potter, ‘why have you made me like this?’” That’s the Esther paraphrase, so it took a little searching to find it….but thankfully I did, in Romans 9:20-21:
“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”
My journaling continued: “That’s the key. And suddenly so very many pieces from the past months and years fall into place. Yes, that truth is very Calvinistic. But it is true, and in the end it’s what brings peace to my stirred-up heart….And it is in the Ultimate Truth of God’s goodness and sovereignty that I can REJOICE,” referring to Philippians 4:4 which “just happened” to be printed on that page of my journal.

Yesterday morning before church I had already felt that like writing this post. And then in church, we sang this song that says, in part, “We love You Lord, we worship You / You are our God, You alone are good.” That brought together so perfectly my Enterprise farm time and my island reflections that I couldn’t not write about it.

Because it’s certainly not a mistake that those passages—“all things work together for good,” we are predestined to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” and “O man, who are you…?”—are in such close proximity (Romans 8:28-29, 9:20-21). Paul recognized that this was a hard thing! In fact, his topic in Romans 9 (Israel’s rejection of God) brought him “great sorrow and continual grief in [his] heart” (9:2). He was probably preaching to himself just as much as to his audience when he wrote about the potter having power over the clay.

He longed and yearned with all his being for his brethren and fellow countrymen to recognize the truth he wrote of in 8:37-39 – that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, which was preached on yesterday, he talks about the lengths to which he was willing to go for just such a purpose. {I confess that my life is deeply lacking of a similar concern.}

So knowing the truth of God’s goodness and sovereignty does NOT mean that suddenly I am happy-go-lucky and without a care in the world. It also does NOT mean that my freewill decisions and actions are without effects/consequences. Another part of the song above references this too:

You asked Your Son to carry this,
The heavy cross, our weight of sin.
I love You Lord, I worship You;
Hope which was lost, now stands renewed.
I give my life to honor this:
The love of Christ, the Savior King.

My brain is kind of going in circles (that’s what happens when I don’t plan these out before writing)…because that takes us right back to Romans 8:37-39, which is why we can claim to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” not through our own striving, effort, or strength.

The past couple weeks, as it has felt like I have made a huge mess of things, this is the only thing I know I can hold onto—that even when I have acted in my own self-interest….or that even when trying my hardest to do what is right and best has seemed to back fire instead—that even there in the midst of my mess Christ is standing before God, who still sits on the throne. And God sees in me Christ’s righteousness. And it is all undeserved grace and forgiveness. And it is beautiful.

Do I wish I had made different decisions so that there would be different results now? For sure. If I could rewind the clock and redo things, I would in a heartbeat. But I can’t. What I am given charge of is the present, going forward from this moment. And in so many ways it’s depressing to know that tomorrow or the next day….or even right now or later tonight….I will make mistakes again.

And I definitely do not want to be flippant and say “Who cares if we sin! There’s grace!” (Romans 6:1, Esther paraphrase). But I do tend to “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” and get stuck in guilt. Some second cousins of mine taught me a great old-style song that combats the former so well. Give it a listen here!

At the same time, I do need to be careful in what I say and do, and I must rely on the Holy Spirit’s strength and wisdom and not my own…. So much harder to do in the moment than it is to say and know and believe. But, by the grace of God, we “press on,” trusting the One who began the good work and promises to complete it (Philippians 3:12, 1:6). And amazingly, He promises to use all things for His glory and the good of each of His children—in His eternal economy.

That is where my faith and confidence and trust are to rest, even if (when) the results do not look like I wish they did in this life. No matter what, God is good all the time.

[1] According to my results this summer from the Gallup “StrengthsQuest” inventory, this is my #1 strength. The poll’s “Quick Reference Card” describes it as follows: “People especially talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.”