12/30/13

Things I've Learned in 2013

How to process events, thoughts, and emotions with the Lord. He knows your heart better than anyone (Psalm 33:15) and is the greatest Counselor and Comforter in helping you work through what needs to be worked through. The greatest peace I have felt this year has come not when I have had answers, but in the lonely moments when I've poured my heart out to a seemingly empty space, only to feel afterward that God has taken all of my spewed-out words, put them in order in His little book, wrapped His big arms around me, and said, "I know; I understand; I see; I've got it; I will help you; trust me."

How to give others the same grace God gives me. God is so faithful to work deeply and gently in our hearts (Ephesians 3:20-21). I've experience this beyond measure this year. And when I am tempted to look at others and ask, "How could they do that?" God reminds me of all the times this year that I have wished to receive grace from others and haven't. He reminds me of how patient He has been with me (and He has been patient, my friends). And He asks me to trust that He will work in their hearts as deeply and gently and patiently as He has worked in mine (Romans 14:4). My only responsibility is to love, too, let Him do what He will in His own time, and allow Him to keep working in me.

How to keep a tender heart amidst loss. This has been one of the hardest lessons of all. Hardening your heart to avoid pain is a much more appealing option. It gives you a sense of control and confidence. I like both of those things! But hardening your heart to avoid pain hardens your heart to be met by God, too. And in being met by God, you are given a deeper, unshakable confidence in the Lord that has nothing to do with control and everything to do with surrender. And the ironic thing? Freedom comes in surrender. (Warning, however: Keeping a tender heart also means you may cry at ridiculous times, like when you see a dead chipmunk on the sidewalk, or when you pass a broken highway sign, or when watching Edward Scissorhands.)

How to find Jesus as my place of safety and protection. I must've repeated Psalm 91:2 hundreds of times over the course of September. "You are my place of safety and protection; you are my God and I trust you." A "place" should be something tangible, like a house or a church or a city; something you can see on a map. But God shows me that He is a place. This supernatural, undefinable place that we can hide in and find rest in and run to (Psalm 32:7, Proverbs 18:10). This place that He actually asks us to set aside all achievements and accomplishments before we enter into. The only place we are defined apart from our successes and failures (Jennie Allen*).

How to be defined apart from my successes and failures. Applying for jobs and going on interviews and writing up countless cover letters is nothing but selling yourself, talking yourself up, and trying to prove you are something and someone and valuable and an asset. But God has used this season of barrenness to show me how valuable I am with nothing. When I present Him with all that I have and ask, "Does this make me somebody?" Desperately hoping He approves of my efforts, because I try so hard, He pushes it all aside, pulls me onto His lap, and says, "I make you somebody. You are mine."

How to let things die with hope. Lots of things have died around me this year. I have battled a lot of hopelessness and fear. I have tried hoping that things will get better. I have tried hoping that people will act a certain way. I have tried hoping that I won't lose one more thing. But hoping in all those things makes my hope a very fragile thing that is easily broken, and I am left reeling in wreckage all over again. So instead, I hope that God will make me new. I hope that God will keep doing a work in me and making me more like Jesus. I hope that God will use what little I have to glorify Himself and build His Kingdom and bring people to Him. And that kind of hope never disappoints, because God is true to all He promises (Romans 5:5, Psalm 119:114), and He makes things new (Romans 12:1-2). You cannot control what dies around you, but you can control how much you allow God to grow within you.

I will still fail and forget and make mistakes. But I am thankful for, beyond thankful for, sometimes breathless at, God's grace, nearness, love, and ever-faithfulness, that picks me up and helps me try again.

So that is what I do.
"Who is to say what is good or bad anymore? Not till heaven will we know. From his eternal perspective, it's tolerable to allow our temporary dreams to fall apart. But we seize more of God when he seizes us through our broken dreams. He is wildly unpredictable, and learning to question and accept his ways is part of the journey of following an unsafe, invisible God. He calls the shots on what happens to us in this short stint here. He calls them, whether we want to let him or not. Our faith must remain greater than our pain and our fears." - Jennie Allen
* Readings throughout this season:
Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul by Jennie Allen
Victory Over the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson
Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley
Until the Day Breaks by Dana Candler

11/14/13

all to Thee, my Blessed Saviour

What words or images come to your mind when you think of "surrender"?

I think of submission. I think of resigning. I think of giving up.

When people are struggling, Christians really like to quote Exodus 14:14, when the Israelites are freaking out and Moses says, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." Basically: Quit trying and let God take care of it!

What Christians don't usually quote is the next verse, when God responds, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!" Basically: Um, hey Lazy Bones, I can't part the Red Sea if y'all aren't walking through it.

Because here's what I'm learning about surrender: it has nothing to do with giving up. Submission does not mean having no will, no ideas, no desires of your own. But surrender has everything to do with humility, and fear of the Lord above all other fears, and desire for His will above your own.

Abraham was completely surrendered to God while arguing that He wouldn't destroy Sodom (Genesis 18); David was completely surrendered to God while begging that his son wouldn't die (2 Samuel 12); and Jesus was completely surrendered to God while pleading that He wouldn't have to suffer (Matthew 26).

'Cause you know how you can tell someone's surrendered? It's not that they don't want anything, don't fight for anything, and don't strive to accomplish anything. It's when what they want, what they're striving for, and what they're fighting for doesn't pan out, and they accept it, trust the Lord, believe that He is good and better than what they're asking for, and move on.

Jesus ended each of His pleas for a way out with the words, "But I want your will to be done, not mine."

When David's son died despite his fasting and weeping and begging, he got up, took a shower, went into a worship service to worship God, then went home and ate dinner.

And I think the reason God let Abraham argue with Him in the first place was because He knew that Abraham respected and feared the Lord even in the midst of arguing with Him.

Surrender doesn't mean not trying or asking for things. It means humbly trying and asking for things. It means having the right perspective of who you are & what part you play in the grand story that is God's (not yours). It means praising God whether or not things turn out the way you want them to, because you know it's not about you anyway, and that even while it's not about you, God still values you and wants to give you the best. What better God to be surrendered to?
I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that, which is the reason he made me his. Brothers and sisters, I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me through Christ to the life above. - Philippians 3:12-14 NCV

11/9/13

one thing remains

This past weekend at church the pastor spoke about gratitude. How it can dispel entitlement. How it fights discontentment. How it gives joy. How it brings emotional healing. He challenged us all to keep a list of the things we're thankful for, defining envy as "resenting God's goodness in someone else's life while ignoring His goodness in our own lives."

I admit that my first response was cynicism about "grateful lists," which melted into sadness (since cynicism is often a product of some unhealed pain in our lives), which then became a plea that God would show me His goodness in my life over this past year.

Sometimes, at my barrenest, I can only be thankful for the love Jesus displayed on the cross. Because when I don't feel the love of God, I remind myself that Jesus didn't brutally die and rise again just to abandon me 2,000 years later.

Sometimes I can only be thankful that God loves me every day. That He sings over me when I do not feel like singing (Zephaniah 3:17), that He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), that He wants me to come take walks with Him and sit by the window with Him and just talk to Him (Psalm 27:8).

I don't think this is a bad place to be. I also don't think God wants us to walk around blind to and ungrateful for the brilliant colors of the changing leaves. But I think He knows that those leaves will die and fall off and blow away in the wind, and that it is when our roots grow deep into Him and His love that we overflow with thankfulness (Colossians 2:7).
Constant through the trial and the change, one thing remains: Your love never fails. - Bethel Music

11/4/13

a single opinion

I don't usually write my opinions on this blog. Usually I write about what God's teaching me, to further engrain it into my own heart and perhaps encourage someone else's heart.

HOWEVER. I have an opinion about this and I want to write about it.

The other day I read this tweet:

And here are my thoughts:

1. This tweet could have very easily also said: "Married? You're complete in Christ. Have six kids? You're complete in Christ. Have the most loving and fulfilling marriage on the face of the earth? You're complete in Christ." You don't only need to know you're complete in Christ when you don't have something or someone. Maybe if more people knew they were complete in Christ when they have a lot, they wouldn't need to be reminded so much when they don't have it. Because….

2. From what I gather from Colossians 2, being "complete in Christ" means that Christ has done everything that is needed for us to be children of God; that we have nothing to accomplish, because it has already been accomplished - or completed - for us; and that in our identity as children of God, we are able to live a life free from sin and alive in Him. It's an identity thing, and it seems to me that all Christians need to grasp their identity in Christ, regardless of life situation or relationship status or what they have and don't have. Because as the NCV translates Colossians 2:9-10, 
"All of God lives fully in Christ (even when Christ was on earth), and you have a full and true life in Christ, who is ruler over all rulers and powers."
3. I don't like that being single has the same negative connotation as being abandoned by a spouse. As though single people need to be comforted and consoled and reminded that their time will come and things won't always be this bad. Listen: Being single can be very difficult and lonely, BUT so can being in a relationship and being married and having kids. Being single is not a painful situation that needs to be worked through. It's a season of life, just like kindergarten, college, career choices, summer, football, etc. I like being single. I will like being married. I will like having kids. But the more people try to console me for being single, the more I feel like singleness is an unnatural and distasteful part of life, and the more I feel the opposite of consoled.

That's my opinion.

(Note: I know that Joyce was just offering encouragement to those going through a rough time. I have nothing against Joyce. She's a very nice lady, and her Battlefield of the Mind book has been very helpful to me. End note.)

10/24/13

theirs not to reason why

(my StrengthsFinder personality profile)
We all want reasons for why things happen. We want to believe there's a reason for everything. That God brought us here so we could meet this person and this person would introduce us to this job which would help us gain this experience so that, eventually, we end up exactly where we're supposed to be, saving the world.

It's easier to deal with the things that happen, especially when they're bad, if we believe they're leading us to some ultimate, better destination.

But last night my friend Micah said something really profound. "Sometimes," he said, "things just happen."

Lots of people, including myself, have given me possible explanations for all the tough stuff in the past year. "Maybe God's taking ______ away to give you ______." "Maybe God knows that you're too ______, and He wants to make you more ______." "Maybe ______ will prepare you for ______."

Somehow we feel that, if we just know why, or at least know that there's a reason, we can trust God easier. It makes Him seem more sovereign or something, to know that everything is a part of His plan. It makes Him seem more faithful if we can point to why we went through what we went through.

But you know what I have discovered? It doesn't matter. Sometimes things just happen. Maybe they're the result of your own decisions, or the result of someone else's decisions, or the result of weather or the economy or bears. The point is, I think God's plan for us is a lot broader than we're comfortable with. And even though He daily carries us in His arms, I think He is less concerned with all the tiny decisions that consume our lives, and more concerned with whether we're loving Him, serving Him, and desiring Him above all else in all the decisions that we do make.

Sometimes God has very specific plans for certain parts of our lives, and sometimes He doesn't. He is still sovereign, He is still trustworthy, He is still faithful, even when we don't seem to hear Him leading or directing in any particular direction. And just because God has a plan doesn't mean that everything that happens is the perfect piece to fit into the next stage of our puzzly lives. It just means that God is really good at molding, shaping, and sculpting the things that do happen in our lives into the beautiful masterpiece He intends it to be. 
God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time. - Ecclesiastes 3:11 NET

10/11/13

The F-Word

Twenty-six years of hearing sermons, speeches, and workshops about forgiveness, and I still don't quite understand it.

Probably because it's this intangible thing that doesn't quite have a "follow these seven steps to forgiveness in 30 days" instructions guide. And when someone asks me, "Do you forgive me?" there's no gauge I can check or meter I can read that proves I've accomplished all seven steps and forgiveness has been achieved.

I have always considered myself a forgiving person. I like when brothers dwell together in harmony. I like conflict only because it produces resolution. I like peace and healthy relationships. I like loving people, because we all make mistakes, and I don't like dwelling on unpleasant things. I like being happy! Let's all be happy.

But a few weeks ago I realized that this whole time I've been forgiving all wrong.  See, I thought I was forgiving because:

a.) I continued to love that person even after she hurt me.
b.) I gave that person a second, third, or fourth chance.
c.) I understood why the person did what he did.
d.) I still wanted to be with that person, and around that person, and have that person in my life.
e.) I know that Jesus has forgiven me for much worse, and continues to forgive me every day.

Then I realized that all of the above can be true while still harboring unforgiveness. Which is exactly what I've been doing.

Here I thought that forgiveness was something you bestow upon the other person, as in, "Here you go, I am forgiving you, take this gift and let it water the barren ground of your thirsty heart." That by giving forgiveness to someone, you are packaging up all the hurt, anger, fear, and brokenness and giving it away so that you don't feel it anymore.

That's not forgiveness.

That list up there, that's how you treat someone even when they deserve to be punished, and we call that grace. Grace is what you give the other person. But forgiveness is what happens in your own heart.

I realized that I haven't truly forgiven people for things they did to me years ago. I don't walk around begrudgingly and curmudgeonly, fostering hateful thoughts towards them, but I still get angry when I think about it. I still feel like chiming in on discussions about their faults. Sometimes I still want the world to know what they've done to me and how they've hurt me.

That's not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the process of letting go of the anger every time you feel it. (As defined by my friend Courtney.) And that's something that happens in me, and has very little to do with anyone else.

I'm thankful for a God who is more patient with me than I am with myself. I'm thankful for a God who I can trust to work in other peoples' hearts as kindly, graciously, and firmly as He works in mine. It's not my job to show other people where they've screwed up. It's only my job to ask God to continue to reveal what needs to change in my own heart, and ask Him for grace and strength to change it.
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. - Proverbs 17:9 NLT

9/17/13

God's provision

I have been thinking about God's provision lately, and what it means to be taken care of.

Last night in my Bible study we were talking about steps of faith. One girl shared that she was so afraid to move away from home, but once she did things started happening to show her that God was taking care of her. "It was so difficult to take that first step," she said, "but once I did, that first step was like a springboard for so many other things to happen." All the other ladies in the room nodded like they all had similar experiences.

I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Excuse me, but what if God doesn't provide?"

It has been four months since I lost my job and church. Three months since I came down with Mono. Two months since I wrecked my car. And a week since my relationship ended.

And every morning I wake up and walk, and every single step is by faith. I cannot turn to the left or to the right without it being by faith. I have no other choice. But where is the springboard? It seems to me like bad things keep happening. It seems to me like the faith I build is never a springboard for some sort of destination, but merely preparation for more difficulty I'm about to face.

I am tired of people saying, "As soon as I became content with being single, I found my husband," and, "As soon as I stopped looking for it, it came," and, "As soon as I stepped out in faith, my whole future became bright."

Sometimes it works that way. But it doesn't always work that way.

I'm looking through the Old and New Testaments, and I'm not really seeing any springboards. I'm seeing 40 years of waiting in wilderness, 40 days of waiting in deserts, and hundreds of years of waiting for a Redeemer. I see a lot of waiting. I don't see a lot of God promising, "As soon as _____, then _____." I see more verses like Habakkuk 3:17-19, where we promise, "Even though _____, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in the God of my salvation."

God provides. I see it every day through friends who care about me and family who love me. But more than that, I see it in the intangible ways He is with me. We often define God's provision by where He takes us, what He gives us, how we end up where we do. But God's provision, at its basest form, is Himself.

My life seems to be not-so-slowly crumbling all around me, and it would be easy for me to cry out that God is not taking care of me. He is not providing. If the formula for God's provision were, "As soon as _____, then _____," then I could definitely argue that He is not providing for me.

But God's provision is not a formula. He does not handle everybody's life the same way. For me, it seems as though He has this plan that is taking a super long time to refine. And I must say, "Even though I can't find a job, even though I don't have a home church anymore, even though I still owe money on my car, even though I am losing people I love, YET I will rejoice in the Lord. I will trust that He loves me, fights for me, and works for my good, no matter what or how long it takes."

That's provision. Sometimes all the other stuff takes a little longer (or A LOT longer) to happen, but God's presence is always with you.
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. - Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

8/23/13

sing a new song

I read this this morning:
I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my songand he has become my salvation. - Isaiah 12:2 ESV
Depending on the translation, that word "song" is also "defense" and "protection."

This past weekend I got to hear from Aaron Keyes. One thought, among many great thoughts on worship he shared, was that we have the ability to sing something God has never heard before. Our voices singing what's on our hearts in whatever melody we choose is an offering more pleasing and intimate to the Lord than singing the words that somebody else writes.

So I look at the correlation between "trust" and "singing." How song can be a defense and a protection. Why Matt Maher sings, "Teach my song to rise to You when temptation comes my way," instead of "teach my prayer" or "my plea" or "my thoughts."

There is something very valuable and very powerful about singing to the Lord. Something freeing. Something that proclaims trust more than just speaking it or writing it or thinking it.

Sing a new song to the Lord (Psalm 96:1), and just see. See that the Lord is good. And see what a difference it makes in your heart and in your trust.
When you start to feel afraid, affirm your trust in me....Speak or sing praises to me, and my face will shine radiantly upon you. - Jesus Calling

6/17/13

directional thoughts


I miss creating. I read somewhere that humans long to create because they are made in the image of God, who is Creator. We create because He created and creates. But then I also read (maybe in the same place?) that we don’t really create anything, because everything has already been created – we just innovate.

Whatever. I miss making stuff.

The doctor at the walk-in clinic told me I should write more. Because obviously in the 5 seconds that he shone a light in my ear he learned a lot about my brain.

“If you find yourself writing all the time, maybe you should consider being a writer,” he said.

I don’t find myself writing all the time, I wanted to say back. I find myself sitting on my porch watching wasps fly into this whole in my wall and wondering how little wasp eyes see the world.

At first I was perturbed at Dr. Burns, whose large glasses and skinny body made him look like a guest star on a Saved By the Bell or Full House episode. You don’t know me, I thought. Stop trying to diagnose me psychologically and just give me something to make the glands in my neck stop mimicking golf balls.

But it’s been two weeks and I can’t stop thinking about his words.

Oh, transitions. Adjusting. Figuring out who you are amidst change, and what about you is foundational regardless of the soil you set your feet on. How much of who you are do you become through discipline, practice, and education, and how much of who you are, you just are?

This will be the prologue to my memoir. I’m currently accepting title suggestions.

6/10/13

why God gives good things

I have not been able to stop listening to, singing, and thinking about this song since I first heard it four weeks ago. It was at the end of a season I never thought would end - which is silly, I guess, because seasons always end and I should know that by now.

I am still trying to figure out what comes next, but yesterday God let me in on a little secret that has kind of ravished the way I think about His plans for me. Because here's what the song says:

All Your plans are for Your glory
Yes, we can know You are good

If all His plans were for our glory, they'd be contingent on our performance, behavior, and worthiness.

But GUESS WHAT: His plans are for His glory, and He is always worthy, so His plans will always be good.

He plans things for the good of His name, to bring glory to Himself.

HEY. (This is me trying to figure out how to tell you how revolutionary this news is.) God will never plan evil or bad things for you, because He will never be untrue to who He is, and He will never bring evil or bad to Himself. He is pure. He is good. He is holy. And WE get the promise of good things because HE is good.

Am I talking in circles?

God is good. It is who He is. And it is more comforting to me to know that He will always plan good things for me because He wants to bring glory to His name, than if I were to believe that He plans good things for me because I deserve them. Because I don't deserve them. And I would much rather trust in a God who is worthy of glory than in my own feeble efforts to do good things.

I hope it brings comfort to you, too.
Our purpose is to bring glory to God. So if He's taking you from here to there, it must be because you will bring Him more glory there than you will here. - my friend Katie


5/20/13

be still, and know

I was sitting by my bedroom window, journaling prayers like, "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it," and "I'm so tired of thinking about this." Why. What. How. It isn't fair. I don't get it. Tell me.

Outside on the sidewalk, a little girl in bright pink capris and a pale pink hoody, her blonde hair in sloppy pigtails, pushed herself down the center of the apartment complex on her scooter. She must've hit a stone or a crack in the sidewalk, because she toppled over and just sat there, stunned.

Her pre-teen brother came up behind her on his skateboard. "Uh-oh. Are you okay?"

She started to wail like both her hands had been cut off. I remember those sidewalk falls: The way that pebbles and dirt would leave craters and scrapes on your palms and knees. Painful enough for tears, yes, but not for amputation-worthy screams.

"Come on, let's go inside." Her brother pulled her up by her elbow and she staggered into the grass as though now both her ankles had been broken.

She screamed louder, and I was amused. Children.

Then her dad came around the corner. "Are you okay?" He asked calmly. "Let Daddy see."
She howled.
"Roxine. Let Daddy see."
More wailing.
"Roxine."
Intense, gut-deep screams.
"ROXINE."
Silence.
"Let Daddy see."
He looked at her hands and led her inside their apartment.

That's when I started laughing. I had judged this little girl like a righteous adult thinking, "Oh, how wee little ones overreact to their surroundings."

But then I realized that I am that tiny pink girl, focusing so hard on the little scrapes and screaming so loudly, and God just so patiently stands by waiting for me to calm down enough for Him to heal me.

I think that "be still, and know that I am God" could also be translated into the profound, soul-changing truth that the Lord is trustworthy to be completely vulnerable with.

He knows you, heart and soul, and He will never stop loving you. He never asks you to figure it out or transform yourself. He just wants to be the fullness of who He is, in you. It's up to us to let Him.

Let Daddy see.

5/2/13

encouragement

Thankful that the Holy Spirit gives us words months before we even know we'll need them. Proof that God goes before us and knows what we'll need in order to walk through whatever is ahead.

Here's what I wrote in my journal on December 31st, 2012:

TRUTHS TO CARRY INTO 2013:

 - The Lord knows you, heart and soul.
 - As long as you are trusting the Lord, you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing.
 - Your successes and your failures answer to no one but God - He is your judge.
 - God is aware of everything, and He sees what others may never see.
 - He is all you need, but you must trust Him to receive Him.
 - When your soul rests in Him, no outside tumult can shake you.

He is faithful, y'all. And sometimes that is all He gives us to hold onto in the change and transition and uncertainty.

But it's more than enough.
Even if I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid, because you are with me. - Psalm 23:4a NCV

2/16/13

Lent

Remember Twila Paris? Please take a moment and listen to this song. Then let me welcome you to my childhood.

I have always known that God is in control. I have always believed that God is in control. But it's pretty easy to walk along and live your own life, knowing and believing that God is in control, all the while making your own decisions and doing your own thing.

Then something happens that you did not plan. Maybe it's bad, like somebody dies or breaks up with you or you lose your job. And you're forced to face the reality that you are completely dependent on God. That your life is not your own.

For me, it's not what I've been losing but what I keep being given.

Being given something you did not expect can be just as difficult to trust God with as when you lose something you did not expect.

I was thinking yesterday morning about the job I have, the relationships I have, the life I have. They are all vastly different than I ever imagined. And God keeps giving me things, and I keep saying, "I did not ask for this," and He keeps saying, "Trust Me with it."

Being given something makes you just as dependent on God as when you lose something.

This is why I love that it is Lent. It's a season specifically designed to show us how dependent we are on God. And I take so much comfort in knowing that the One who is in control of my life is completely and wholly trustworthy. It's only when we completely depend on Him that He is able to show Himself dependable.

Cling to Him.
"While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the Lord came to him a second time: 'This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."'" Jeremiah 33:1-3 NIV84