In the heartbreak

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What do you do when you don’t get to say goodbye like you thought you would, when things don’t end all neat and pretty like you planned, when you’re left sobbing your heart out in your car in a parking lot late at night, because it’s the end and you never knew it was going to be.

When you suffered through a rough shift at work, but you comforted yourself (and others) with the expectation of having a good week next week and getting to savor last moments and say goodbye to these people, this place.

And then you get one text message in that car right after close, and it shatters every hope you had and takes your heart with it. “They wanted me to tell you that we no longer need you for next week, you’ve served your two weeks, and the new managers we’ve been training are ready, so you’re done. Today was your last day. Good luck.”

And you immediately press call and you try not to sound hysterical or start crying into the phone as you desperately grasp for shreds of understanding only to get nothing, and you try not to shout but the volume of your voice is creeping up as you say “I don’t care about the shifts! It’s the people! I CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE!

I have labored with these people for up to two years and it was going to be hard enough to say goodbye. But then the opportunity to say goodbye to many of them was taken from me in such a way that I could do absolutely nothing about it. And I was upset. This stung. I was left feeling betrayed and helpless, because my plans had been changed and things were thoroughly out of my control.

Like many of us, my first instinct when feeling hurt and helpless is anger. Why would this happen? This wasn’t what I wanted! It’s not fair!

But you know what?

I am not the only one who has ever been denied a goodbye.

Over the past five or six weeks, I’ve been listening to Evidence Not Seen, the autobiography of missionary Darlene Deibler Rose. It’s her testimony of her ministry in the Netherlands East Indies (present-day Papua New Guinea) and her experience as a POW in Japanese prison camps. I just finished it today. It’s an incredibly moving story, both encouraging and challenging personally. But here’s my point: Darlene didn’t get to say goodbye to her husband. He died in the men’s prison camp, and she didn’t get to say goodbye. And oh, how she wrestled with these tumultuous feelings of anger and bitterness and pain and sorrow. But in the end, she could always say, “Lord, I still trust You. You are still good.”

I don’t think Mary, Jesus’ mother, got to say goodbye to Him either. He was taken in the garden, where He was with His disciples, and Mary wasn’t there. How it must have made her frantic to learn what had happened, that He was arrested, to realize that He would be killed and she hadn’t gotten to say goodbye.

There are countless others. Like Corrie ten Boom, who didn’t get to say goodbye to her siblings and nieces and nephews as she was taken away to prison. Like Joseph being taken from his family, and his father who wouldn’t know for a long time what had happened to him. Like Daniel and his three friends, who were captured and carried away to Babylon. Even if they got to say goodbye to their families, it certainly wasn’t a lengthy or expected one.

It’s a fact of life in this world that sometimes seasons and relationships end without warning. We have it all planned out the way we think it should look. Either these things aren’t going to end yet, or they’re going to end in a controlled way, with an appropriate amount of notice, and with reasonable levels of sentimentality (fond farewells) and forward momentum. But sometimes the story God is writing in our lives doesn’t look neat and pretty.

“We desire to live completely surrendered of our plans, laying down the way we would write the story in exchange for eyes wide open to see how He is writing it.” (Katie Davis Majors) When we surrender the way we have decided things should be, we are free to open our eyes and truly see what God is doing in our lives. That doesn’t mean we immediately know what He was doing or why, but it does mean we are freer to walk forward, trusting that even though we are not in control, He is–and that’s better.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

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There’s a song I heard today that resonated with me.

There is a wrestling in my heart and my mind
A disturbance and a tension I cannot seem to drive
And if I’m honest, there’s quite a bit of fear
To sit here in this silence and really hear You

What will You ask of me?
Will I listen to Your voice when You speak?

Help me to move, help me to see
Help me to do whatever You would ask of me
Help me to go, God help me to stay

“God Help Me,” by Plumb

It reminded me of the chorus to the song my church has been singing as the theme for our mission’s month this year.

Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me;
Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.
Sever any tie, save the tie that binds me to Thy heart—
Lord Jesus, my King, I consecrate my life, Lord, to Thee.

“Lord, Send Me Anywhere” by David Livingstone

There’s a certain sense of fear that usually comes with surrendering your control, your plans, and your present and future to the Lord. We are only human, after all. So when we talk with Him of surrendering ourselves, and being willing to go anywhere and do anything, we often mean “Anything reasonable. Anything relatively painless. After all, You said it’s going to be good, so that means things will go more perfectly than I could even think of. You said You would give me the desires of my heart.” This is the fear, the hesitancy that the song speaks of with the question “What will You ask of me?”

We miss the fact that things being good, things going better than we could think of, doesn’t mean that God’s plan for us will be painless. In fact, I would say that it actually is a pretty clear guarantee that it won’t be painless at all! Jesus promised that in this world we would have trouble! And yet, we are to take heart, for He has overcome the world, and He will be with us at every moment, closer than the breath we inhale.

This is the meaning of Livingstone’s prayer that God would sever any tie except the tie that binds us to the heart of God. He is saying that when we consecrate our lives to God, we can endure anything, for He is with us. And we have no need for fear. We may enter His presence with that hesitancy, that worry over what He will ask of us, but in His nearness we find that it doesn’t matter. Whatever He asks of us, He will supply the strength we need to complete it.

These are the thoughts that have been running through my mind and heart as I let go of what has happened in the past and trust Him to move me forward, and as I contemplate His will for my present and my future. With the change of my focus in my school studies to linguistics, and the consideration of Bible translation, my vision of my involvement missions is broadening. And it’s including some “scary” places. This has caused me to face some reality–that sometimes missionaries don’t get to say goodbye. That sometimes God calls you to places you hadn’t even known existed. That sometimes what begins as a terrifying journey ends at the very place your heart belongs, because He is there with you. It may not look like that I would’ve chosen or expected, but I can trust him in the heartbreak, that it is all part of His beautiful story, and that I am never alone.

I don’t know the future, it’s one day at a time
But I know I’ll be okay with Your hand holding mine
So take all my resistance
Oh God I need Your grace
One step and then the other
Show me the way
Show me the way!

“God Help Me,” by Plumb

Tracing the handiwork

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When I sat on the first flight home from the Netherlands, I had 8+ hours to think about what (and who) I was leaving behind and what (and who) I was going home to.

It was hard. I came home and immediately had to spring into action getting ready for school and going back to work. And all the while I was dealing with that “reentry dissonance” feeling. I was thinking through many questions and not finding many answers. 

For that first month or so, God was using this situation to do a lot of work in my life in the areas of trusting Him and being content with His plan, even though I couldn’t see what that plan would be yet or how it would be good for me.

School started. I had to get used to using the verb “to be homeschooled” in past tense, and start saying “Yes, I’m a bull.” I had to get used to getting up at 5:45 a.m. and driving an hour to school each morning, living in the library between and after classes, and juggling the expectations of five different teachers along with work and other responsibilities. It was stressful at times, but overall not as impossible as I’d thought. Turns out, you get used to most things fairly quickly, and you become a master at just doing what you have to do. 

Then the hurricane(s) happened. Here we were, not three weeks into my school year and over a quarter of the state evacuated ahead of Irma and her expected devastation, my family included. Thankfully, much more of the state was spared than the meteorologists were predicting, although the southern part of the state experienced utter devastation. For the rest of us, life went back to normal after about a week. But it wasn’t as if Irma had never happened. Because these types of events change your perspective. 

Remember perspective? That’s what I learned this summer. The kind of lesson that manifests itself in your life and really changes how you look at and do things.

Here’s the perspective I gained from Irma: life can change with almost no warning, and material things aren’t as important or special as we think they are.

When school started up again, the next few weeks were spent scrambling to regain our grasp on routine and catch up the lessons and assignments missed during the closure. My homeschooler flexibility really came in handy.

Meanwhile, God began to show how He has been working in my life. His handiwork often shows up in the small things, seemingly insignificant or coincidental, yet awe inspiring in how they fit together.

First, I’ve been redeeming the time of those commutes. At first I listened to Chinese lessons, then I finished The Pursuit of God by listening to it one of those weeks. Now, in the mornings I listen to and meditate on a Bible passage, then talk with God the rest of the way to school. In the afternoons, I’m listening to an autobiography of a missionary whose story I hadn’t heard before–it’s called Evidence Not Seen, about Darlene Deibler Rose. It’s incredible how much in my life has changed just by spending those driving hours with God. (By the way, driving is an incredible time for thinking out loud/brainstorming, too. Planned all my speeches for class so far and a Bible lesson that way.)

Second, I keep mentioning that I am so sure God wants me at USF this year. I know this because He keeps showing me in many small ways. Some days it’s the conversation I have with a girl over lunch about God and the Christians standing outside shouting and waving signs saying “you’re all going to hell.” Other days it’s the members of Christian organizations on campus that I see out talking to people with love and respect. Once last week it was the girl who “randomly” sat next to me and remarked, “Isn’t it a beautiful day God has given us today? I love sitting outside and just enjoying creation on display.” Or that girl I met who is from Suriname (and they speak Dutch in Suriname).  Sometimes it looks like the fact that of all the wonderful professors I have, the one who seems to most take a liking to me and talk to me specifically is my earth science professor.

Lately, it’s been looking more and more like the kind of crazy, future-changing, blowing-me-away things. I knew God wanted me at this school, but I was waiting for the reasons why to be revealed. Well, I think He’s starting to reveal at least one of them.

Who knew that by taking an Introductory Linguistics class this semester, I would find I actually enjoyed this…but more than just enjoying it, I felt like I could do it. (I know that’s hopelessly vague, but I can’t really explain it without using a cheesy expression like “I felt that I was born to do it.”) Who knew that a trip to a Bible translation organization’s headquarters a couple years ago would come back to memory, in a new light thanks to this class? Who knew that when I’d contact a representative from that organization, she would tell me that what they are really looking for is people who studied applied linguistics, and that most schools don’t have that… “But mine does,” I told her, much to her shock. And who knew that there was already a group of students at my school interested in being a part of Bible translation?

God knew.

Of course God knew.

And it is so exciting.

Of all the parts of this Christian life that I love, one that I find the most thrilling and beautiful is this. This tracing of God’s brushstrokes in the painting He is creating in my life.

After so much uncertainty and the headaches and stress that came with it, I let go and let Him teach me to trust and wait. I followed His leading to the University of South Florida when it seemed crazy and so very much the opposite of what I had planned for and wanted. I followed Him across the ocean to the Netherlands, then leaned on Him as I cried my way back home. I walked in step with Him throughout my first weeks of this new adventure, throughout trying times at work, wondering what would be my purpose there now. Waiting expectantly for Him to show me what He has for me here.

And He has. And He is.

He is faithful.

I don’t know where this road that seems to be being paved before me will lead. But I don’t need to know. I just need to trust and follow one step at a time. I get it now. I have seen His handiwork. And for all He has done in me and around me in these last months, I have much to be grateful for.

 

 

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.

At the edge of eternity

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This past week in the Netherlands I was a guest member of the teen Bible camp run by the missionaries. It was a mentally and physically tiring week, but it was so worth it to get to be with these incredible teens and staff members.

Thursday night we ended with a campfire song and testimony service. It was a beautiful time of reflection together, and was also a sobering time as everyone considered the situations they would be walking back into the next day. But for one night more, these teens were surrounded by people who loved and supported them and encouraged them to walk closer with God. For one night more they were challenged to make their short lives here on earth count.

Friday morning after one last breakfast, everyone gathered together for the final quiet time. We finished Romans 13:

“…Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11-12)

Together we sang “Er is een dag” (there is a day) with hearts simultaneously rejoicing and longing for that day to come, when we will step into the other side of eternity and see His face. A day when there will be no more difficulties, no more loneliness, no more tears, no more pain. A day when we will be surrounded by the children of God worshiping Him together.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

Soon we will see Him
And forever be like Him
And know Jesus as He is, amen!
No more tears, no more pain
Because we will live with Him
In His nearness, forever.
Amen, amen!

(translation is mine, so forgive any errors and approximations)

It was a beautiful week. It was not always what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t easy. Long days with constant Dutch tended to fry my brain as well as leave me physically tired. Sometimes Dutch would be a breeze, and other times I could barely put together a sentence, or someone would have to repeat a simple sentence three times before I could understand. It wasn’t immediately easy to interact with the teens or join their conversations–I had to go out of my way to start them. And understanding the instructions for the games was always a struggle. But what an outstanding week. I had the incredible opportunity to love these teens and staff and be a part of their lives for 7 special days, as well as to learn and grow, myself.

Thursday night as I was up late laughing with the teens and failing miserably at a card game for the tenth or so time, yet somehow managing Dutch quite well for 1 a.m., I realized that this was a place I felt like I belonged. They made me feel like I belonged. And I can’t even tell you how many people asked if I would come back next year or if I would move there. As I sat on the floor outside my cabin’s room processing the week I wrote these words…

I found my gal. I knew it was her when I first talked to her one-on-one earlier this week and she told me she was not so good with English. I knew she was the one I’d been praying for, the one I’d been expecting before this week even began.

And I held her in a hug tonight after the campfire service while tears slid down her face and she forced out barely intelligible words in Dutch. And when she was finished speaking, I was able to tell her in her own language, “You know what? I was learning Dutch before I even knew I would come here. And I stuck with it, even though almost everyone thought it was crazy. People told me ‘everyone there speaks English and no one anywhere else speaks Dutch, so learning that language is useless.’ And that made me a bit frustrated. You know what I told them? I said that if there was only one person who didn’t in fact speak English, it would be worth it to learn Dutch. I hadn’t met that person yet. I didn’t know if I would or not. But something made me keep learning anyway. And now I’m here. Now I’m here and maybe you were that person God had me learn Dutch for all along. Just so I could come all the way from Florida and speak in Dutch with you here and tell you how much Jesus loves you no matter what.”

“Heel mooi,” she breathed. “Voor mij? Echt?”

Yes, very beautiful.

This crazy kind of love, that God would choose to send His own Son for us. And that he would have a Florida girl learn a “small, unimportant” language for three years before sending her to a small camp in a small country to speak with a small girl.

It’s so…not huge and yet unbelievably wonderful at the same time. It wasn’t a dramatic conversion story. Just a girl who needed a hug and some comfort, and she wanted to hear it from me.

This is missions, I think. I think of Katie Davis in Africa. You can’t change the world for everyone, and in fact, not even for one person. God does that. But you can be there. And you can love them. And in “foreign missions”? You can learn to love their country, their language, their ways–you can learn to eat without using a napkin, and eat all kinds of stuff on bread. You can learn to speak your mind in a very frank and honest way. You can learn to be one of them. And you can love them. I think that is my greatest takeaway from this week–LOVE THEM with all that you have and are, in the best way you can, and in whatever opportunities God gives you. I can see that Daniel loves them so, so much. I’ve watched as he speaks and his heart breaks over them. I’ve listened as he prays and asks God to open their eyes and their hearts. And he enjoys being with them. He is there for them. And he speaks truth to them.

And this is THE mission.

How beautiful indeed. How very worth it all. Worth every speck and drop of life I have to give. Wherever I am. Whenever I am there. For the King who holds the whole world and yet also holds my redeemed heart. 


 

This is what it is like to catch a realization of eternity:

The long long long rope of which you can see only one end. A bit of tape on that visible end that represents life on earth. So much contained in eternity, and compared to that, life here is so…short.

This is what it is like to see a glimpse of eternity:

“Small” moments that are utterly life-changing. Moments you wish would go on forever in their simple existence. Singing softly around a campfire, grateful words spoken, tears dribbling on the dusty ground. Tissues passed around. Togetherness. Moments of silence. Love that is so real, so tangible, you feel you could reach out and grab hold of it.

This is what it is like to stand at the edge of eternity:

To realize that Jesus is coming and He is coming soon. To read with awe and wonder about the moment when He will take us up to be with Him, and to close your eyes to better envision the streets of gold and gates of gems. But most of all to savor the thought of one day seeing His face.

This is what it is like to live in the hope of eternity:

Knowing there will be a day…a day when the end of life as we know it shall come, and all the sorrow and the pain and devastation and striving of this life shall come to a close. To sing with joy and longing about the day we will see Him and know Him the way we were always meant to know Him. To rejoice in the parting, knowing we will see each other again in heaven, if nowhere else on this earth.

We walk. With certainty of knowing the Eternal One is with us every moment.

We sing. With the joy of this eternal hope.

We stand. With eyes gazing upward, fixed on the edge of eternity.

More real to me

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One of the most pressing questions we often have about things in life is Is it real? When we are scared, we want to know if the threat is real. When we are presented with a new idea or a crazy sounding story, we demand to see the evidence before we will believe it is real. When we are awed, we cry in wonder, “Is it real? How can this be?”

When we first decide to put our hope and trust in God for our salvation, we are reckoning on the fact that it is real. We have heard the good news, asked “how can this be” and probably requested some reasoning or evidence for this incredible truth. At the moment we choose to take His offer of life and give Him ourselves, we must trust with every fiber of our being that He is real and so is the salvation He offers. And so, every true Christian, at the very least at this one point in his life, has seen and been convinced that what he cannot see is nevertheless very much reality.

And yet, the plague of forgetfulness reaches us all. We are so used to having our senses assaulted with the reality of this physical world that the absence of such a clear picture of the spiritual world leaves us blind to it. And so, “for millions of Christians, nevertheless, God is no more real than He is to the non-Christian. They go through life trying to love an ideal and be loyal to a mere principle” (this and all quotes from A.W. Tozer).

Reality is “that which has existence apart from any idea any mind may have of it.” It is something that exists, and is going to exist in such a way no matter what you think of it.

The sincere plain man knows that the world is real. He finds it here when he wakes into consciousness, and he knows that he did not think it into being. It was here waiting for him when he came, and he knows that when he prepares to leave this earthly scene it will be here still to bid him good-bye as he departs. By the deep wisdom of life he is wiser than a thousand men who doubt. He stands upon the earth and feels the wind and rain in his face and knows that they are real. He sees the sun by day and the stars by night. He sees the hot lightning play out of the dark thundercloud. He hears the sounds of nature and the cries of human joy and pain. These he knows are real. He lies down on the cool earth at night and has no fear that it will prove illusory or fail him while he sleeps. In the morning the firm ground will be under him, the blue sky above him and the rocks and trees around him as when he closed his eyes the night before. So he lives and rejoices in a world of reality. — A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Clearly, the earth is real, but though we cannot see Him, God is also real. He exists whether we realize it or not. We know this earth is real because we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell it. But God, and the spiritual world…we cannot use our physical senses to assure ourselves of its reality. This is why we must have faith (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is not our way of imagining the spiritual world, or hoping that it is real. It is the trust we must exercise to live knowing it is real. “Imagination projects unreal images out of the mind and seeks to attach reality to them. Faith creates nothing; it simply reckons upon that which is already there.”

And so, if we know that God is real, and, in fact, far more permanently real than that which surrounds us on earth, this calls for a seismic shift in our focus.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:18

Now, God didn’t create this world to be ignored. We aren’t to go to the extreme of staying inside meditating all the time. The world is where we carry out our lives and how we learn to walk out our faith. But we shouldn’t be living as if this world is all there is. As if this was the goal and end of the story.

If we really, truly understood the reality of what is unseen and how it impacts our lives, wouldn’t we live differently? Wouldn’t we be quicker to let petty squabbles go? Wouldn’t we be more careful not to get caught up in the stress of our to-do lists of things that aren’t going to matter in a few weeks or months? Wouldn’t we choose to spend more of our time pouring into people with eternal souls, and less of it on mindless entertainment?

But more than just how we spend our time, wouldn’t we see God differently? Wouldn’t we be more in awe of Him? Wouldn’t we seek Him as best as we could? Wouldn’t we recognize the war being waged all around us and join the battle with our prayers?

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I think a crucial thing Tozer points out in this chapter of his book is that this “other world” is not in the future. We may not be living in heaven yet, but the reality of it is here and now. And when we do not have the spiritual eyes to see or ears to hear the unseen world around us, we must ask God to give us the faith to know.

I’m in the Netherlands this month, at long last. And I’ve been praying that God will show Himself more and more real to me. This past Wednesday night, at prayer meeting with a few members of the church here, I prayed in Dutch for the first time. My sentences were simple and my voice hesitating, and sometimes I couldn’t find the word I needed so I had to pause. But it left me with a sense of wonder, that I, an American girl thousands of miles from home, could be sitting here on that Wednesday evening praying in another language with God’s people in this corner of the world. And He could understand me just the same. And He was with me just the same.

In that moment, heaven was indeed more real to me than any earthly thing surrounding me. I pray that as I continue to seek God and walk in faith, my “heavenly vision” will sharpen and I will see Him before me each step of the way.

As he leads me

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Life is busy, always so busy, that it seems if I want a moment to be still, I have to make one. I must hew my quietness, my solitude, out of the whirlwind of life. Sometimes this threatens my ability to function well, as it is so difficult to find the moments I need to slow down and rest. But as I think about it, the necessity of intention is not a bad thing. If I am going to get a moment like this, I have to choose it. I have to decide to leave space in my day and then fill it with what matters.

Following God is like the rhythm of a dance. He leads with a step, and I take a step to match it. At first my step is uncertain, half a beat behind. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know I don’t want to mess it up, so I pour all my concentration into doing just that–not messing up. My nerves jitter in the pit of my stomach and I sweat anxiously, tensing up as I desperately try to keep up with the steps I can’t anticipate. In my determination to not mess up, I’m struggling and trying to force what is supposed to be a thing of beauty and relaxed proficiency. I’m stressing over something that is supposed to be enjoyable. And I’ve utterly forgotten–no, ignored–the one I’m dancing with.

But here’s the thing with dancing: tensing up and focusing so hard on what you are doing doesn’t help you catch up, and it certainly doesn’t allow you to enjoy yourself. The best way to move in a dance you don’t know with a partner who knows what they’re doing is to relax and follow their lead. Focus on them, not on your stumbling feet and awkward movements. Listen to the music and allow it to carry you along. Trust the one you know who knows what they are doing and meekly follow. And do not allow yourself to get flustered and stressed over the steps you miss or the fumbles you create. Just keep going.

God orchestrated the dance we call life. He knows all the steps, He could have His pick of partners, and yet He chose you. He wants to walk with you. He wants to spend that time with you. He wants to hold you and guide you through every step you cannot seem to get right on your own. And He wants you to focus on Him, not on what you are doing. He wants you to step closer, relax, and trust.

And yet, He will not drag you with Him onto the dance floor. He will come to find you, and ask you to take His hand and trust Him. But He will not force you to walk with Him. If you decline and say you want to handle things on your own, He will sadly nod farewell and leave you, as you wish. But He is never too far. He is watching as you struggle through the music alone, fighting for every step. And He stands ready to, at any moment, respond to your cry for help. In an instant He will be beside you with open arms. Until then, however, He waits for you to seek Him.

A necessary intention is not a bad thing. Intention is the choice that causes us to examine our own hearts to find what we really want. We are all given the same twenty-four hours in a day, and we must choose how to fill the hours and minutes as they fly by, slipping through our fingers like the wind that slices between the stalks of reeds on the shore. In every moment, we choose how we are going to live. We choose who we are going to serve with every action we take. When God created us, He gave us that precious capability of choice. He wants us to want Him. He gave us the liberty of choice because He wants us to love Him freely, only by our own choice to seek Him above all else that clamors for our heart.

This is why, in the midst of the chaos and the busyness of life, I have to choose to pause. I have to make the effort to be alone, to be still, to be quiet. And listen. He is near me every moment, but if I really want to hear Him, I must take extra effort to be still so that I can listen intently. Purposefully.

If I wait to feel like it, or wait until I just “find time,” I will never end up coming to Him. But if I want to know Him…if I want to be with Him…I must, out of love, make the choice to step onto the dance floor and then let Him lead. I will never be able to make life or my relationship with God work if I will not choose Him, or if, when I come, I am caught up with what my tripping feet are doing rather than what He is doing. I must practice first choosing Him, and then coming with a meek and open heart, willing for Him to lead me and change me.

If this feels rather like being a child (and it does), then I must be doing something right. After all, Jesus said if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become as little children (Matthew 18:3). God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-8). And in the end, the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

It is not complicated to follow God. In fact, it is rather like the beauty of a dance. But this life, this walk with Him, requires of me that I come humbly. I must choose Him first, choose Him above all, and approach with open hands and an open heart, willing to relax and let Him lead me.


A beautiful Dutch hymn, “Hij Leidt Mij” (He leads me).

Speaking of Dutch, I’m leaving for my missions internship in the Netherlands in just seven days. Wow. If you haven’t already, be sure to like my Facebook page and sign up for my email updates!

When you cannot see

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“Trust the God you cannot see to faithfully accomplish what only He can see.” — Andy Gleiser

Sometimes, this life just doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?

When we’re in the middle of the muck, we can’t see anything except all the mire that surrounds us. We have no perspective save that which looks out at the chaos or within at the confusion. So what do we do? We cry out to God and demand to know why He’s failed us, leaving us to wallow in this mud pit. Can you believe our audacity? Marvel at it with me for a moment. We, the finite beings, because we cannot see, assume God has left us.

***

My silence on this blog for the past nearly six weeks has not been for want of noteworthy things going on. There were numerous times I considered things at hand and contemplated trying to write them into a post. Some of what prevented it was general busyness, but some of it was lack of words.

It has been a difficult couple of months, and a lot of the situations are laden with emotional turmoil and are otherwise not conducive to the nature of this blog. I am still in the thick of some of it, and still processing all that has happened. But as I’ve wrestled with these situations in my life affecting so many more than just me, God is working. God is there, and He is faithful.

***

You know, sometimes you just don’t feel like God is there. Or if He’s there, that He’s doing anything at this present moment. Sometimes you are so frustrated with yourself for the hundredth time today, and you’re just tired of fighting. You don’t feel like it’s doing any good. You get discouraged, and you just want to lay down your sword and shield and go with the flow for a while.

Sometimes, that kind of surrender can be a very good thing, when it’s God you’ve been fighting. That kind of surrender can be letting go of your death-grip on your plans and your desires, and letting Him take the throne in your heart again.

But sometimes, that kind of surrender is plain-old giving up, steeped in the bitter taste of discouragement. You’ve said yes to God at last, and now it’s time for some life change to happen. But it’s not instantaneous. And it’s not easy. It’s war. Spiritual battles are no less exhausting than physical ones. And as a matter of fact, they can be combined with physical ones sometimes, making for an even more grueling slog!

I’ve been there. I am there. I am in the place where so much in my life is changing at once, inside and out. Things are changing around me and within me and between me and others. And it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been what I would’ve chosen. Right now it feels like there’s an angry gray mountain of clouds billowing over the choppy sea and swirling closer and closer to me with every moment, the wind bringing them forward also whipping around me, threatening to push me off my course. Right now uncertainty makes my step hesitate, and fear presents blockages in the path ahead. My sword arm is battle weary, and my heart, body, and mind are tired. I’ve finally reached the peaks of accomplishment I had worked so hard for–high school graduation has finally happened, and it’s a mere 30 more days until I leave for the trip I had hardly dared to dream for and then worked so hard to prepare for. And yet…it doesn’t satisfy. When the accomplishments are complete, and there is no longer something material to work towards, and I am left drifting listless…what then?

Perhaps it is in these moments that people finally grasp the realization of what He has been speaking all along–He is the only one who satisfies. When all else is uncertain, He is certain. When all else is in disarray, He is the one who is orderly and unchanging. When everything is said and done, He patiently waits as the one who has been there the whole time. He has just been waiting for me to come home, ever so much like Peter from the time Jesus walked on the earth. He has been waiting for me to see that He is the only one who will ever be worth living for…that He is the only one who can change my life. He is the only one who can give me purpose and direction. He is the only one who can give me strength to fight these battles through to the completion.

***

The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the Church is famishing for want of His Presence. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Why is it that we who have found the truth are often those who seem so starved of it? Famished, and dying of thirst while surrounded by the Living Water.

Why is it that I, who have grown up surrounded by the truth of the Living Water, still seem to lack enough of its power in my life?

Why do some persons ‘find’ God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course the will of God is the same for all. He has no favorites within His household. All He has ever done for any of His children He will do for all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

The difference lies with us. It has always been our choice, from the beginning of creation. Are we going to come to Him at all? And once we have done so, are we going to continue to seek Him? Are we going to come closer?

It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless, to break our fallen hearts of their selfish desires and loves. But He is gentle. He is love. And He is worth it.

Do we really believe that?

Do I really believe that?

i want to say it’s done. to fling aside these grave trappings and run into the sweet air, gasping and dancing. or maybe it’s more of throwing aside things i thought would satisfy. i want to give up the truths buried deep within, but how can i? you remind me of your faithfulness. but i don’t hear your voice. it doesn’t matter, though. it doesn’t matter. because emotion does not dictate faith. i don’t have to feel to know. and i know. i know and i will stay. (do you really know? you’re just tricking yourself into knowing, into believing the truth.) i know. – Melody

I know. 

When I cannot see, I don’t need to panic. I have no cause for fear. He cradles me in His hands. I can trust Him with every fiber of my being because He made it, after all. And when I find myself restless and unsatisfied…may I be reminded of who and what I was created for. I was created to know the heart of very God.

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

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?

The close of a season

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For the past year and two months, I have been fighting my way through college mess and college stress. Trying to get a head start on a degree, I quickly realized I had no idea what that degree would be… Cue a year-long journey to discover who I am and who I want to be and how college fits into all that. It has been a year full of frustration with the system, frustration over money and scholarships and policies and unfair government assessments of my family’s situation and countless people telling me what they thought I should do but never truly understanding.

So many times I thought I had come to a decision, only to be second-guessing it within the hour or week, and to have changed my mind within a month. It overwhelmed me. The lack of control threatened to drive me crazy. I found myself longing to be normal, loving yet hating the way I had been flying through credits with as much flexibility as I needed. School had always been something I could control and now it was most definitely not. Everything felt upended constantly, and majorly complicated despite my many attempts to simplify it enough to settle on something.

In short, this year was a huge test of faith. 

I’m a high school senior now. I graduate in less than two months. My last courses of high school finish in a month. I’ve had all the colleges bugging me to send in my reservation deposits and schedule my visit and register to attend orientation. I have felt the pressure of time ticking away since January. And I was stressed and annoyed that I was being “pushed into” a decision I didn’t feel ready to make.

But a friend said something to me last week that really helped reset my thoughts. “God’s timing is perfect. He isn’t forcing you to make this decision too early. He’s closed some doors and opened others. Now you are ready to make this choice, even if you don’t feel like it.”

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was right. I identified a few more steps I could take to gather information about my options, and then…there was nothing left to do that would actually help me move towards picking a college. Waiting endlessly wasn’t going to help anything. So I prayed through my options some more, and talked the situation through with several people, and then with the help of my parents, I made my decision.

I’m not going to a private Christian college, like I originally thought.

I’m not going to earn more credit in hopes of someday later transferring to a private Christian college like I planned at the beginning of last year.

I’m not going to do the rest of my degree entirely online like I considered for a while last fall.

No, instead I’m doing perhaps the most unfamiliar and unexpected thing of all.

I’m going to attend the University of South Florida, which is a local public university. It’s close enough to home that I’ll be commuting there. The tuition will be almost entirely paid by the scholarship they have awarded me and two substantial other potential ones.

It’ll be different, it’ll be terrifying and exciting all in one. So. many. people there but maybe that will be a good thing. I’m expecting to feel lost and overwhelmed at first but also I’m also excited at the prospects of being somewhere while still being here. 

I feel like I can really do it–be the introverted homeschooler who has become more outgoing this year and enjoyed having friends here, who goes to tackle a huge public university and actually thrives.

Who knows what that Amanda will look like? All I know is what this Amanda looks like and who she has become, and I know it’s not the same as thirteen year old Amanda who would’ve been horrified and probably fainted at the thought of even setting foot in such a place.

And I know she will be okay. She will not faint. She will not be blown away into some wacky beliefs. She will stand on the Rock, on her true foundation. And she will shine like the stars. And she will love people there, as she has grown to dearly love her unsaved coworkers. She will hurt for their hurt, and be grieved over the life they are walking through in darkness. But she will hold forth the light and hope of truth. And she will make a difference.

I don’t know what all it’s going to look like yet. And it’s not what I would have chosen at first. But I know this: God’s plan isn’t second rate. It isn’t a last resort. And if this is what He has for me, it will be glorious. He will mold me into the person I need to be for this life. I don’t need to go to college to find myself–I know God knows me, and He will be with me. And that is enough.

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.