Are you ready?

Are you ready

It’s cool outside with a somewhat eerie whistling wind. Gas stations have their prices zeroed out signifying no more fuel. Store shelves are emptier than the church parking lot at midnight. It’s pandemonium during the day, then a silence descends at night.

Everything echoes: “The storm is coming.”

*     *     *

The United States is in chaos from natural disasters.

The Pacific northwest is literally going up in flames.

Houston is buried underwater from Harvey.

Idaho is being jarred by earthquake after earthquake.

Irma is tearing up the Caribbean and barreling towards Florida as I write this.

Such devastation, and such a paradox that the water the West desperately needs is the very commodity drowning the East.

Over and over, the cry has been repeated in my state this week: Are you ready? GET READY! Be overprepared rather than underprepared!

*     *     *

You never expect it to be you living in a disaster zone. But when things like the events of the past weeks pile up…and there is a storm reported to be the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history…eventually you start thinking about what could very soon become your reality.

Even if only for a moment, some part of you wonders if this time next week, your life will be completely different. If maybe soon is the last time you’ll see someone. If perhaps next Wednesday it will be your church that is flooded, like the ones in Houston that members from your church just went to help. You wonder if the palm trees lining the roadway will soon be blocking it, or if the beautiful big trees on your college campus will be torn apart and leafless when you return.

And when your Bible reading plan brings you to the ending chapters of Matthew, specifically chapter 24, describing the last days…you wonder if Jesus’ return is much closer than you would’ve imagined even a month ago.

As I’ve been writing about here, God has really been driving home the reality of eternity for me this year. And here was my thought as I read His Word and contemplated the chaos across my nation: Am I ready for eternity? Am I ready for the day that will be so unexpected–the day when Christ will come like a thief in the night?

Something one of my classmates in my public speaking class said today hit me. In the opening of his speech, he asked, “How many of you are kinda scared about the upcoming hurricane?” Many of us raised our hands. The next question he asked was like flipping a switch. “But are you really scared of the hurricane, or is it more that you’re scared of the uncertainty of it?” Every single person in that room agreed that it was the uncertainty that was most frightening. Because quite frankly, despite all the talented folks at NOAA, and despite all the technology we have to predict where this storm is going and what it’ll do, we don’t really know for sure. We can’t know for sure.

How do you prepare for something when you don’t know the details of how or when it’s going to happen?

You follow the instructions given. You follow the wisdom of those who have gone before you. And you prepare for all possible scenarios, rather than trying to bet on one “most likely case.”

In short, you don’t try to figure it out. You go off of the information you are given. The good news is, God has given us all we need to prepare. It’s up to us to apply His Word and do the preparing. But more than just preparing one time, we need to be prepared at all times. Hurricane kits in Florida need updating and refilling at least once a year. Our lives need spiritual checkups, too.

And so as I am asking myself today, I also ask you: Are you ready? Not just for what life here on earth is about to be like, but for eternity. Because we do not know the day that we will suddenly be thrust into eternity.

If you’re not ready, won’t you make time to change that? To ask God to help you see what needs to change in your life, and for the power to help you change it?

Coming home

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Coming home.

At the end of a vacation or trip away to camp, you’re supposed to feel satisfied, like you had a wonderful time but are ready to come home. Coming home is supposed to feel like bringing your heart back to where it belongs. It’s supposed to be the comforting return to normal life, normal routines.

But what about when your heart and life doesn’t match up with what is “supposed to be”?

What about when your reality is messier than that?

*    *     *

The last few days in the Netherlands were hard. My return flight was looming and everything in me was crying out “I’m not ready to leave yet!” Of course I missed my family, and wanted to see my church again, but I didn’t want what I’d had to end.

So in a way, I didn’t want to come home.

(“Is it even coming home at this point? Can I have two homes? Because this feels like home.”)

And now that I’m back, I feel like I’m stuck with half my heart on another continent and my head in the clouds dreaming of the future (“bigger and better” than my everyday?).

It feels like a betrayal to my homeland and my family and friends to say that I didn’t want to come home. It feels like mixed allegiances, like sitting on the middle of a rope in tug-of-war.

It wasn’t so much a culture shock either way, at least not in big ways. It’s not like I’m returning from spending the summer in Nicaragua or Uganda. But if you spend enough time living “normal life” in another culture, and loving people there, it starts to become home. And for good reason–it’d be hard to have much of an impact on yourself or others if you spent the whole time in another place comparing it to your home and trying not to get attached. “If you do this right, you’re going to go home different,” David Boyd told me. “You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you will be different and you will notice and others will notice.”

He was right. I noticed.

This is how I know this summer changed my life: I’ve come home and home is largely the same (though I’m positive my siblings each grew half a foot while I was gone, and they changed the hand dryers in the bathrooms at the mall), but the way I see it is different. 

I came home and I still remember how to get around, I still remember how to do 98% of things at work correctly, I can still “do” normal life…

But I see things differently.

Something about me has changed as a result of my time away this summer. I had the chance to step outside of my normal, and live a different kind of normal for a while. I guess living out of a suitcase and a backpack on another continent for five weeks gives you a mental, as well as physical, separation from all the stuff back home. The material stuff, the stress stuff, and everything that keeps you in the rut of routine. Everything that keeps you busy and keeps you running on autopilot. Being approximately 4,595 miles away from everything you’ve ever known gives you the chance to step back and see things “zoomed out”–see things from the perspective of the sky above, rather than down in the trenches.

As you may have noticed, this summer I have gained the perspective of eternity. And that changes things. When you catch a glimpse of eternity, when you witness how God is working in every corner of the world, when you are able to step away from all the things that cloud your focus…you reevaluate things. You make changes in your life. You have to, because now that you have seen, you can’t unsee. And the seeing compels you to action.

Because God is real and He is waiting in eternity for us, we realize this life is, comparatively, a lesser reality and very short. But rather than taking that to mean what we do here doesn’t matter, we recognize that it matters infinitely more than the weight we often give it. Simultaneously, the things of normal life matter so much less and yet so much more than we thought. The choices we make and how we spend our time matters, but we don’t have to get caught up in the petty cares and the ruts of everyday life.

*     *     *

I guess I was warned that coming home would be a challenge, but I had no idea what that would look like. I had no idea that the battle would be in going back to normal schedules and normal jobs, when I had tasted and seen a different life. I didn’t expect the struggle of contentment with where God has me in this stage of my life. Because the reality is, I can’t go back to stay. Not right now. And I know that. I know that, and it’s hard to accept. It’s hard to let those five weeks that I had be enough.

I know I am meant to be here now–in this church, with this living situation, going to this college (although I still find it hard to believe sometimes, I can’t deny that it’s His plan). So I know God has a purpose for me here. Where I am right now is exactly where He wants me to be, and He is the same God here as He was when I was away this summer. That means I can take this perspective of eternity and come home. That house with the twisty spiral staircase and the family with three boys who became like my little brothers can still be home. And I can come home a different person, missing people on the other side of a big, big ocean. But just as He was with me in the going, He is with me in the return.

After all, isn’t this what eternity is about? Coming home. Coming home to be with Him and His people, forever.

Intentional rest

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A lot’s been going on in my life as of late. (Since that last post, I’ve become a shift leader at Chick-fil-A as well…as you can probably imagine, this adds a fair amount of craziness.) But is that really anything new? Often there’s so much going on that I forget all about resting. Or at least, I forget that it’s important and necessary. Rest? Isn’t that just laziness? I’m too busy to rest anyway. I’ll rest later.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I tell myself I’m going to do something “later”…it’s a long time before it happens, if it even happens at all. But a funny thing happens when I don’t rest: I hit a point in the day or week where I’m just not being productive anymore. I’ve told myself I don’t have time to rest, so I go go go until I burn out. Then instead of doing actual restful things, I crash and end up scrolling endlessly (and mindlessly) through Facebook or following link trails through the internet, meanwhile feeling like I should be doing this, that, or the other thing. And an hour or two later when I emerge from this mind-numbing state, I feel like I’ve wasted time. And you know what? I have. Because I don’t actually feel rested. Therefore, my brain equates “things that are not to-dos” as bad/not helpful, which includes rest.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Several things.

First, I need to realize that I need rest. Rest isn’t for the weak or the lazy. Rest is actually commanded by God (Exodus 34:21). During Jesus’ ministry, while His disciples were busy coming and going everywhere, He told them to come and rest a while (Mark 6:31). Jesus Himself promised to give rest to weary souls who come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

Rest is important because we have limits on our bodies. Rest is the way of restoring ourselves. Just as sleep is important for physical rest, we need to rest ourselves emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There is no such thing as too busy to rest. If you absolutely cannot set aside time to rest and recharge, you are too busy. This is something I’ve had to learn time and time again because my natural tendency is to fill up every second of every day, to be non-stop full speed ahead. Certainly, it’s good to not be sitting around bored or useless. But as soon as all of those things become immovable and unable to be paused, there is too much on my plate and some things have to go.

After realizing I need rest–really letting that sink in and change my schedule–I need to recognize what counts as rest. Remember earlier when I said scrolling through Facebook doesn’t count as rest? It may have been giving my brain a mental break, but it wasn’t beneficial to me in any way. Now, I’m not saying reading your social media newsfeeds are all bad. But using it as your go-to form of “rest and relaxation” isn’t helpful to you.

Activities that help you rest vary from person to person, but the principle is the same. Resting activities should help you change gears, relax, and refresh. They should build you up, restore your energy, and leave you calm. For example, if you’ve been straining your brain at some math problems for the past hour and a half and you’re so frustrated you are getting worse instead of better at solving the problems, you need a mental rest. Time to check out and watch a TV show, right? Um…no. Use the principle of changing gears and do something physical. Take a walk, ride your bike, shoot some hoops. Whatever it is should be something you enjoy that uses your body rather than your brain. Doesn’t this use energy? Absolutely, but it uses a different kind. This helps you rest by refocusing, by taking a break from what was taxing you and doing something else that helps you.

Maybe you’ve had a long hard day at work, on your feet hauling boxes around, climbing ladders, and contorting into strange positions to try to reach things (heh…me on Saturdays at work, stocking, because I’m short). When you get home, the last thing you’re going to want to do is anything involving muscle movement. That big squishy chair is calling your name. Surely now is the time to catch up on your favorite comic, right? Not so fast! When your body is tired, try using your brain. I’m not saying you have to tackle that chemistry homework the second you walk through the door. You’re resting, remember? But now might be a good time to read a chapter or two of a good book. I’m slowly working through G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. It’s a non-fiction book, best read a little at a time. It makes me think, but it’s still relaxing to read.

Getting the picture? Rest is something you do intentionally. It doesn’t happen accidentally. You have to deliberately choose to do it. It’s not something huge and complicated, and it’s not supposed to be exhausting. You just have to pick an activity that is beneficial to restoring whatever “tank” is running on empty at that moment. Also, not all your free time has to be resting time. You can still watch that TV show or read that novel. Just don’t confuse it with rest.

Finally, consider when to rest. God gave His people one whole day a week to rest. Obviously that’s a pretty big amount of time. Our world doesn’t always work that way now, unfortunately, but we can still use this as a guideline. I try not to deal with school stuff on the weekends, since those are filled with work and church events. During the weekdays, I try to give myself time to rest on days I work, and get school and most of the to-do list items done on the other days. But sometimes rest doesn’t always work out to be planned. Sometimes you need to listen to your body and do a check-up on your mind and see what it is you need at that point. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re stressed and frustrated and aren’t making any more progress on whatever the project is, you need a break. Aren’t sure? Ask God. He knows you better than you know yourself. And if rest isn’t convenient for you at that moment, or you feel like you’re too busy? Trust Him. If He commands us to rest, it’s for good reason, and we need to trust that He will work things out.

I’m speaking to myself, here. Resting at the right times and resting well is something I struggle with. Realizing that it needs to be done intentionally or it won’t get done at all is one of the most important things I’ve learned about rest in the past year. The other most important thing I’m learning is that my rest ultimately comes from God, and all the other methods are secondary to the rest from His Word. Neglecting my daily time with Him in the Bible is a sure-fire way to ensure resting is going to be a struggle for the rest of that day and week.

This week, I am working on recognizing when I need rest and trying to make wise choices about what that rest should look like.

What about you? Why is rest important to you, and how do you do it?

Love that overcomes

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Does it ever occur to you that the foundation of the story of the world is love?

Love was carried on the breath of God as He spoke the world into being. He formed each aspect of it with tender care.

Love was perfect bliss in the garden of Eden, as God walked with man. The innocence of that communion at the beginning.

Love was God’s mercy as He spared Adam and Eve from immediate death, and clothed them before sending them on their way.

Love was God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars scattered across the wide swath of Middle Eastern sky. Love was His special way of fulfilling that promise through the birth of Issac long past any reasonable hope. Because He specializes in unreasonable, crazy, extravagantly designed love.

Love was God’s rainbow, the promise of a new life He set in the sky after the great flood of destruction covered the earth.

Love was God’s deliverance of Israel from oppression in Egypt, dramatically displayed through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea that held the people back from freedom.

Love was God’s patience as the people He had just delivered complained and grumbled again and again in the desert, and rebelled against Him even in the Promised Land. Love was His persistence in drawing them back to Himself through the prophets.

Love was even in the 400 year silence, as generations lived and died, wondering what next?

Love was in asking a young girl to participate in the impossible–in the incredible. To carry a child not conceived of human seed. To bring into the world the very God-man in the flesh.

Love was Jesus forsaking the glory of heaven and allowing Himself to be wrapped in the humblest form known to the universe–the fragile, wrinkled skin of a baby.

Love was God allowing His only Son to grow up in a home devoid of material comforts. Allowing Him to suffer the sharp words of those who hated Him. Allowing Him to bear every temptation known to man. Allowing Him to feel the bitter betrayal of a friend.

Love was exemplified for all eternity in the agony and injustice of the cross that Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to…for us.

Love broke through all the evil and hate and darkness in the world at that moment that was the climax of all of history. Love overcame sin and death.

Love is God walking with us today. Being with us in every moment, in ease and in pain, in joy and in sorrow, in laughter and mourning.

Love’s power is in selflessness. 

Did you ever realize that?

Love that is selfish is not love at all (1 Corinthians 13:5, “love is not self-seeking”).

The power of love is in laying down your life.

Love is choosing to forgive those who hurt you. Choosing to forgive those people whose words cut into your heart. Love is choosing to be patient with those who frustrate you day in and day out. Love is listening–to those you agree with and those you do not. Love is sharing your home, your heart, your things, your money, your time. Love is being there. Love is crying with the one who is hurting and laughing with the one who is rejoicing.

Love is choosing to live each day not in pursuit of your own will, your own choices, and your own comfort, but in pursuit of giving life to others. Love is laying down your own life through small and big choices so that others might find the hope of Christ. Love is recognizing that because God so loved the world, because God so loved youyou can give that love to everyone around you (1 John 4:8).

This is how love overcomes.

This is how love wins, every single time:

Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die.

This is how love heals the deepest part of you:

Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds.

“How Love Wins” from The Story

Love that overcomes isn’t painless or easy or pretty. But though it is painful, it is simple, and it is beautiful. Love that overcomes is the love with which God saved us, and it is the love He fills us with each day to walk in new life. The foundation of life is love. And the rest of the story is what we choose to do with it.

Dear friend, do you know the love that overcomes? Has your life been washed to its very core by the love that is the foundation of the world? If not, I pray you’ll accept it, and let the hurt you’ve been carrying fall away. If so, let us extend that love to others. May we let it transform every part of us anew each day, as it is meant to. May we live our lives as vessels of that love that overcomes the world.


1 John 1:29 “…Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Be content

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Contentment.

It’s something I think we would all agree is lacking in the world today, especially in first-world countries, who, ironically, have so much.

Often, we equate being content with happiness. We chase happiness hoping to find contentment. How do I know we aren’t just looking for happiness, as everyone says? Because happiness is fleeting. And we know that. We experience moments of happiness, but we aren’t satisfied. We’re looking for a happiness that stays with us. We’re looking for satisfaction in the form of contentment.

Even if we are content in respect to our basic needs and material wants, we often struggle to be content with our current situation. We’re constantly wishing things would move a little faster, or smoother–wishing they would just go the way we want. And when they don’t…we are discontent.

What exactly is contentment? The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it as “internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.” Contentment is an attitude, a state of the heart. It involves being satisfied–not demanding changes in external circumstances, but rather trusting and accepting God’s directing in your life.

Paul writes about contentment in Philippians, from his position chained 18 inches away from a guard, under house arrest. Wow. Talk about a guy who knew the true meaning of contentment. Paul understood that even though his external circumstances were less than thrilling, God had a plan and a purpose for them. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul explains how his chains have actually served to further the gospel: the guards he has been chained to day and night have witnessed his contentment and peace and hope and gentleness. The gospel has spread throughout the palace as a result. Even the other Christians in churches Paul ministered to have become emboldened to speak the gospel.

Later on in his letter, Paul explains that he had learned to be content. This is an important concept to note. We aren’t born content, and we don’t suddenly become content later on in our lives. We don’t reach some point of attainment. It’s something you have to learn. And how do you learn to be content? Through life’s trials and hardships. In the ups and downs. In the times you have, and the times you have not (Philippians 4:10). You won’t “get it right” every time. It takes practice to develop an attitude and heart of contentment.

But what about happiness? Remember at the beginning when I said we chase happiness to find contentment? Well, you might ask, how could Paul be happy in these circumstances, even if he knew they were having some positive results? Here’s the thing: Contentment isn’t actually about being happy with your circumstances. It’s about being focused on the God who doesn’t change. 

My youth pastor gave a wonderful illustration of this. In a fun house he visited, one of the illusion rooms was set up to look like the entire room was doing barrel rolls, with only a small walkway through. If you let yourself look at the walls, you were constantly feeling the urge to duck and turn and stumble (and possibly lose your lunch). But the key to getting out was to fix your eyes on the light of the doorway, and walk straight ahead.

Friend, when all the world is spinning about you, fix your eyes on the God who doesn’t change. James 1:17 refers to God as the Father of lights, “with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.” He is the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars…but He does not change as they do. He is the Author of the seasons…but He does not shift as they do.

Can I ask you something? Are you content with the plans God has for you? Not just His plans for the future, but your future. Not just His plans for your future, but for your present. Are you content with where He has you right now–with the circumstances He has you in today? Are you content with the things He is teaching you?

To be honest with you, lately I have not been content with my todays. I’ve gotten caught up in stress and frustration, and have asked God why it’s so hard for me to stay focused and make it through school and life in general. I’ve been discontent with the interruptions to my day and the facets of my life that prevent me from making things go the way I prefer. Sometimes, I even look at others’ lives and wish this aspect or that aspect of my life was more like theirs. I tend to wish my life was easier.

But God didn’t call me to live an easy life. He’s not interested in making my life smooth and painless. He’s interested in making me like Jesus.

We often quote Romans 8:28…but we forget verse 29.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:28-29

What was God’s predestined plan for us? What was the purpose for which we were called? That we “be conformed to the image of his Son.” The circumstances in our lives are there to teach us to be content. 

Instead of fighting my circumstances the whole way, and complaining about them to anyone who will listen, I need to recognize that this is God’s plan for me. I must believe that He is using this for my good. And trusting Him allows me to be content, no matter what the circumstances may be.

I want to point out one last thing. Philippians 4:13 is another verse we often quote out of context. You know the one. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The context is contentment. It is given as Paul’s secret of being content.

We can’t do this on our own. But the good news is, God never asked us to.

Trust Him. Really trust His plan. And you will find yourself able to be content, no matter the situations you find yourself in.


Partially inspired by my youth pastor’s incredible message on contentment, which you can listen to here.

Confident failure

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So much comes down to confidence.

No, this is not a lecture on self-esteem, or a proposition that you should dig deep within yourself and find self-confidence, or anything like that. Bear with me, here.

Something my Bible Quiz coach said a couple years ago that stuck with me was to stand up and give your answer clear and proud. “Be confident, even if you’re confidently wrong,” she said. Not that being wrong was a good thing, but that you shouldn’t let fear of being wrong get in the way of being confident.

Other things I’ve picked up throughout the years– “What’s the point of making a point if you’re going to hedge your bets on a ‘safe’ one?” “Sell me on it.” “Use strong words when you write. Not wish-washy, politically and socially correct words.” And of course, the old adage “fake it ’til you make it.”

Last Saturday at work, one of my coworkers asked me to pour the lemonade he’d brought up into the lemonade fountain. “To be honest, I just can’t do it,” he admitted sheepishly. I told him it was all right and poured it promptly. Watching, he asked, “How do you just do it?” “Confidence,” I replied. “Confidence and practice.”

I’ve never placed much stock in the “believe and you can achieve” idea, but it’s partially true. While learning how to do something, you need to consciously decide to get over your shaky hands and your fear of inadequacy. Of course you’re going to be inadequate. Of course you’re going to fail. You’re learning! You need the boldness and confidence to keep trying. To be confidently wrong. Not full of pride or being obstinate when someone tells you you have done it wrong. But not being afraid to try and to make mistakes, either.

Confidence and practice go hand-in-hand. The more confident you are, the more you will practice. And the more you practice, the more confident you will become.

Going back to the lemonade, the first couple times I tried, I knew I was going to spill it. The mouth of the machine was way over my head, and the bucket of lemonade was very full and weighed almost 25 pounds. My hands shook as I lifted the sloshing container of liquid above my head, and sure enough, I spilled a ton of lemonade everywhere. It was quite a mess. But you know what? I cleaned it up and went on with life. Another day, someone showed me a different way I could try to pour the lemonade, and I tried again.

That was the key–I wasn’t confident in my abilities yet, because I didn’t have any. I recognized that, but chose not to let fear of failure keep me from learning. Instead of confidence in my ability to pour lemonade, I had confidence in my ability to learn, given enough practice. And eventually, I did it right for the first time. The practice had paid off and given me a huge boost in confidence, which encouraged me to keep practicing and perfecting my technique until I could do it every time. As a result of that, on Saturdays when I’m on stock now, and have to pour lemonade twice an hour, I have the confidence of experience–the confidence that enables me to just pick up the bucket and go every time.

I think we all know confidence is important. We just don’t always know where to find it. A lot of times we think of confidence as only naive arrogance–“I know I can do this perfectly on the first try”–or the confidence that comes through experience–“I know I can do this because I’ve done it before.” But this provides nothing to start from. How do we find confidence in the face of a seemingly insurmountable task? Where do we get the confidence to simply begin?

This is what I’d like to offer you today. I actually already mentioned it in passing earlier. Rather than trying to scrounge up confidence in abilities you don’t yet have, be confident that you can learn them if you will just start. Have confidence that failures will not keep you from your goal. Find confidence in your past experience of starting things with no skill whatsoever, yet seeing them through to fruitful completion. Look to others who have successfully accomplished what it is you’re setting out to do and be encouraged. Seek out their wisdom if you can. Gather tips and information and formulate a game plan.

Lastly, recognize that although failure is at some point inevitable, it doesn’t have to keep you from your goal. Give yourself the freedom to be confident enough to take action, even if it results in confident failure.

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

 

Hopes and dreams

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It’s beautiful tonight. All the doors to the house are open so the cool breeze can blow through, and the inside is melded with the outside. It’s quiet out here, the only sounds are palm fronds rustling in the air and crickets chirping.

I’ve been thinking. My friends laugh when I start a sentence with that, and say “Oh no, not again. She’s been thinking.” They know something big is about to follow.

I’ve been thinking about peace and rest. Peace is something we all long for, and rest is something we all find ourselves too busy for.

“A holy quiet grips the night, the morning of the last sunrise.”

Peace…though everything about me is shaken, though chaos threatens and worries crop up, though I’m tempted to rush rush rush, I can rest. Because God has said, it is finished.

I’ve been scared to let myself have any dreams or hopes for the future, out of fear of disappointment. But right now, I do have dreams. I have a vision for the far future, quite a few years from now, but I’m not going to get into that right now. I also have a dream for the foreseeable future, with dates attached to it.

I have a dream to go to the Netherlands. There’s a lot of backstory to this particular dream, but suffice to say several years ago, I made a friend who lived in the Netherlands and began learning the Dutch language and culture and along the way fell in love with the people. When God lit the flame for missions in my heart, the Netherlands just went along with it.

This year, I had the opportunity to apply for a missions internship in the Netherlands. It’d be next year, from the last week of June through the end of July. My application is nearly complete, and I’m excited. Before I began the process, I knew there were four main obstacles that would have to be overcome for this to come to pass.

  1. My parents and my pastor would have to approve. This has already been passed! My parents were supportive of this opportunity and my pastor checked out the missionary family I’d be working with and was impressed with their ministry.
  2. I’d have to be chosen by the missions board. This particular internship opportunity is only available to two people, and the application mentions that they usually accept people with at least two years of Bible college experience. I have none.
  3. I’d have to be able to get those five weeks off work. That’s a pretty serious amount of time for my employers to let me off work and still have a job waiting for me when I get back.
  4. I’d have to be able to raise the funds–about $2,500. And since notification of acceptance isn’t until April, that would only leave me just over two months to do the task.

From the looks of things, there’s a lot stacked against me. In the not-so-distant past, that would’ve been enough to make me shut down any hope and try to quell every hint of excitement. But you know what? Something is different this time.

“Broken slumber, blinding light; nations tremble at the sight. The Son of Man just split the sky…”

I’m not constantly wondering whether or not I’ll get to go on this trip. I’m not worried that my excitement and preparation will be for nothing. I have this peace about it. I am oddly confident that despite the obstacles in between me and this dream, God will clear them. And I am oddly content to wait. And I have this rest in my heart that even if God shuts the door somewhere along this path, it will be because He has something different for me next summer, something better, something part of His perfect plan.

“My life, Your grace
Here I exchange

Your life, my gain
Here I exchange

All of me for all You are”

I’ve finally started to experience what it’s like to trust God and move forward in that trust. Do I know what the outcome will be? No. I may not be going to the Netherlands next summer. But meanwhile, I am going to do all the missions preparation I can. I’m diving back into improving my Dutch, and I’m going to do all I can to learn from veteran missionaries and to know God better. And even if I don’t end up walking the streets of the low country next summer, all that preparation will benefit me elsewhere.

And my hopes and dreams? I don’t have to fear for them. After all, my heart is the Lord’s, and He will do with it what He wills. He will not let me be shaken.

Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. – Psalm 55:22


*Lyrics taken from Casting Crowns’ new album, The Very Next Thing. The first two quotes are from Hallelujah, and the last is from For All You Are.

Uncertainty is not the enemy

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Here’s something I’m learning: uncertainty is not the enemy.

The past year has been a crazy mess of college stress as I try to figure out what I’m doing, where I’m going, and how I can afford to get there. It’s involved a lot of switching here, there, and everywhere and a lot of confusion and complicated puzzles to try to find the most efficient and least expensive way to get the college credits I need before I transfer to…some college somewhere. Yeah, that’s not even decided.

Honestly, I’m so fed up with all the college and financial uncertainty, and I’m just about wanting to throw the towel in and be a “normal” student who goes to the local community college and takes normal classes there before transferring somewhere, if anywhere. But I’m trying to take a deep breath and move past that to keep making progress. And to stop stressing so much about it all.

Because you know what? Uncertainty is a fact of life. And that’s okay.

Uncertainty means surprises later on when I see how something worked out for good. Uncertainty means I’m learning how to make smart choices now. Uncertainty means I have more freedom and opportunities to learn new things. And most of all, uncertainty means I can practice trust.

How do you live in the middle of uncertainty? I think most of us tend to want to shut down and sit down until we know where exactly it is we’re going and how we’re going to get there. We’re scared to take a single step if we can’t see where our foot will land, because what if it’s the wrong decision? Because what if I accidentally wreck my whole life and God is mad at me?

I’m serious! I know it sounds silly, but I have definitely thought things like that before. But you know what? God doesn’t show us the whole plan beforehand for a reason. And staging a sit-in until He changes His mind and spills the beans is a terrible idea for how to respond to the fog of the future. Instead of complaining because we can’t see where we’ll end up, we need to get on our feet and start walking, trusting that He will guide us as we take each step. God is not going to push you across the floor when you’re sitting on your behind, refusing to move. He works through willing, active people. I’m not saying “God helps those who help themselves,” but I am saying we need to take steps in faith that He will do as He has promised and guide us.

What do those steps look like, though? Obviously it’s different in every situation, but for me currently, it looks like carrying on with my CLEP test studies and my online general education classes so I can make the most of my time and save money. Is there some risk involved? Of course. Not all of the credits I earn may apply to my degree or transfer to the college I end up attending. However, the time and energy I put into studying those subjects won’t be a waste, even if it feels like it at the time. Even if I end up having to repeat the subject in college, it should be a breeze for me! And the important thing is, even if several classes don’t transfer, many more will. And that’ll be many more classes than if I’d sat in the corner too worried about messing up to make a move.

Does that mean I don’t need to pray about the many academic choices I’m making weekly, even daily? Of course not! I must seek God’s wisdom and leading every step of the way. But I do still need to keep moving forward. I must never let myself grow stagnant.

This applies in the spiritual aspect of our lives as well. If we spend our days hiding out in our homes, too scared to go into the world lest we be stained or corrupted, how will we be a light? As Christians we are not called to remove ourselves from the world; we are called to be in it—just not of it. If we choose not to share the gospel with others out of fear we’ll “mess up,” we’ve done a far worse job in the end.

What is it that keeps us back from taking action? It may be apathy in some cases, but a lot of times, I think it’s this fear of messing up. Friends, our adversary wants nothing more than to relegate us to a life of inaction. We have to realize that even our small, feeble, utterly human efforts are something that God can and will use. It’s not up to us to get everything perfect. We are not trusting in ourselves to work things out, but in Him.

So in the midst of uncertainty, let us remember: uncertainty is not the enemy. When we cannot see where the path ahead leads, we can lean on the one who will guide us, and carry onward. We don’t have to fear “messing up,” because our God is a God who turns our human mess into something beautiful and part of His grand design.

I press on

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That little girl in the center of the picture is… (you guessed it!) me.

I was eight years old that summer. I attended my church’s track and field camp. Every day after morning stretches, we had to run a lap on that gravel track. Wasn’t a problem for most of us–we were little kids, after all. Kids can run.

The problem was, although it wasn’t a competition, they way they set up this lap made it the perfect opportunity for one. They sent out the kids one age group at a time, and it became a source of pride and honor to us kids to pass the age group that was older than us. For me that was the “purple shirts,” as seen in the picture–the nine-year-olds. Especially since I had a friend in that age group, I was determined to pump those little legs of mine and pass them.

Pass them I did, but as I glanced triumphantly over my shoulder, I tripped and found myself sprawled out on the gravelly ground as other kids streamed around me. I was more stunned than hurt at this point, so I didn’t cry. I just slowly picked myself up and hobbled off the track as a concerned worker approached me, asking me if I was okay and leading me to the first aid tent.

I had scraped up my hands and badly cut open one knee. They asked me if I wanted my mom to come take me home and I fiercely shook my head. I wanted to go right back out there with my group and do the long jump. And so I did.

I came back the next day with a slight limp, but I completed my stretches like everyone else, in a drizzle this time. When it was time to run, my friends gathered around me, asking me if I was sure I’d be okay, and making me promise to be careful. When the air horn sounded to start us off, the drizzle had picked up a bit, and we were warned not to go faster than a jog on the now-slippery gravel.

And I didn’t. I really didn’t. But I managed to slip anyway, this time cutting up my other knee and scraping my elbow. They had to help me up this time, and I could barely see through the rain and tear-blurred eyes. I thought for sure they were going to send me home and not let me come back the rest of the week–that’s why I was so upset. I didn’t want to let this beat me.

They didn’t really let me participate in much the rest of that day, and the rest of the week I had to be “extra careful.” But I kept coming back. I was determined to keep pressing on. And at the end of the week, Friday night, I competed in the eagerly anticipated track meet. I ran the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter hurdles, taking fourth place in the hurdles and fifth in the sprint. Not as well as I would’ve liked to have done, but I was proud for sticking it out. I ended that week with a green ribbon and a white ribbon, scrapes all over my face, hands, and elbows, and two messed-up knees. But besides those things, I left the field late that Friday night with something important: Perseverance. 

Perseverance–stick-to-it-ive-ness, as some call it. The dictionary definition says:

Perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

To have perseverance, then, you need to have a goal in mind, and idea of what constitutes success. There’s no point to persevering if there’s no end to achieve. But for us as believers, there is. Philippians 3:14 says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe the race is getting tough for you, and you’re wondering why you should bother keeping on. Life disappoints you, the world tears against you, and people fail you.

Can I be your encouragement today? Don’t give up, my friend. God has promised He will never leave you. He will give you His strength to run this race, and it’s worth it. Beyond what you could ever imagine, it’s worth it. At the end of your days, may you like Paul say…

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 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 

— 2 Timothy 4:7-8

The life of the unexpected

Forest Glen Collage

{Forest Glen Bible Camp, Nova Scotia}

It’s a Saturday afternoon. I should be at work. I’m not because I’m quite sick. Instead, I’ve spent the day sitting weakly in this squishy brown chair, coughing my lungs out and trying not to move too much so my muscles won’t ache as badly.

I just reached the end of a crazy month. I spent a week and a half in the North Carolina mountains towards the middle of July, then worked like crazy for the week after I got home, then left again for a week in Nova Scotia on a mission trip.

Both trips were great experiences. I spent so much time outside, which is rare for me. The mountains were beautiful (although those roller-coaster roads were a little less than thrilling to me…), and Nova Scotia’s coast was absolutely breathtaking.

North Carolina

{Lake Toxaway/Brevard, North Carolina}

But these trips weren’t without their difficulties and complications.

I was supposed to get some studying done on the first trip, so I’d be ready to finish up and take the test the week I was home. But those crazy mountain roads didn’t pair too well with taking copious notes. And I returned home to a crazy work schedule and meetings for the mission trip and appointments galore. I had no time to even so much as touch my textbook.

Well, somehow I made it through that week, then it was time to head off for Canada. Our team had been warned we’d need to be prepared to be flexible, and boy, did we ever. We flexed so much we could’ve been Olympic gymnasts. Instead of just working with the kids at this family camp, we did everything from painting porches to rebuilding swing sets to hauling bags of winter clothes out of a basement to cleaning cabins to serving meals. It was quite the week and we had a blast, but it did involve some trying unexpected situations. The things you take for granted…we had no cell phone data up in Canada and couldn’t find a Walmart! We had to call home to get someone to Google it for us and read off the directions.

Also while in Nova Scotia, I faced some unexpecteds with people. From the two older ladies in our group who only met the day of our departure spending the whole week giggling together like kindergartners, to surprising conversations I had with other camp staff and “my” kids, I was forced to come to terms with my preconceived notions and then some. 

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{Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia}

But perhaps the most difficult unexpecteds were the ones that involved expectations and hopes being let down. I had to take several of those hard-to-swallow experiences this summer, and am facing a few more this week as a result of being sick. I think we all know these sort of things happen to everyone, but in reality we tend to forget they will happen to us as well. We forget how much confusion and hurt permeates the experiences until we’re in the thick of them.

When you’re hit with a huge disappointment or even a small letdown, how do you respond? Can you find a way to praise God even in the midst of pain? Can you trust Him with the outcome, even though you can’t see past the smoke?

Trusting God with your circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be any less painful. What it means is that you’re living surrendered to Him, knowing He knows best and letting Him lead rather than trying to snatch back control of your life. It means choosing to say, “God, I don’t know what You’re doing, but I’m trusting You in this moment. I know You are faithful. I will depend on You to get me through this and lead me to whatever You have for me.”

It’s not easy. But if it were easy to trust, would trust really mean so much? It’s through trusting God in the painful moments that we really show our devotion.

And so, despite these difficulties and letdowns, I will keep pressing on and trusting Him to work it out into a greater picture than I can imagine.

How have you been learning to trust God recently?