When you cannot see

When you cannot see.png

“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

Intentional rest.png

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

The close of a season.png

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

Love that overcomes.png

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.

Beauty in every moment

beauty-in-every-moment

The funny thing about moments is they don’t often stick around.

Half the time, by the time we notice something is a moment, it’s gone. The other half the time, it seems, we’re caught up wishing we could make it last forever.

What would it look like to live recognizing each moment for what it is, and treasure it while it exists, rather than wishing for its passing or for it to stay? 

It’s an absolutely beautiful day here in Florida. Mid 70s, sunny but not too bright, and windy. My day hasn’t gone quite as expected so far–my Dutch lesson was cancelled–but I am outside soaking up this moment.

Mondays at work are notoriously slow. A 7-hour shift often seems to drag by slower than a turtle on a hot day. But with the right attitude and a dash of good humor, those days can offer some of the best moments spent at Chick-fil-A. This week, one of my friends and I wondered just how much it would cost to buy one of everything on the menu. Eagerly, we approached one of the registers and began poking row after row of buttons, giggling like maniacs as we watched the total climb higher and higher. When we had finished, the “order” more than covered the entire screen at the station where orders are bagged. The receipt that printed when I cancelled the transaction was almost 3 feet long. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. (If you ever wondered this too, by the way, it’s $478.65.)

Sunday night a dear friend and I sat in our church’s coffee shop, sipping milkshakes and talking about the discussions on abortion we’d each had with a friend the week before. We kept getting interrupted and I lost my train of thought several times, and we laughed as we tried to chase that train down and get it back on the tracks. Our hearts ached over the topic and we longed that our friends would remember what we had shared with them.

Saturday at work I spent a moment on the floor, scrubbing baseboards, snatching my hand out of the way whenever another employee tromped by. It wasn’t the prettiest of jobs, but it needed doing, and I was the one available to do it. I found a nickel on the floor and washed it off, joking that it was my tip.

What does it mean to treasure a moment? I believe it means to be aware of what is going on around you. To be present with all that you are.

Wherever you are, be all there quote.png

To live with purpose. Not wasting away the moments God has given you. (Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”)

To live with joy. Choosing to treat each moment as precious and worthy of your best attitude and effort, because God has chosen it for you.

I’m re-reading an old favorite book called Perfect Glass. There’s a line in there I read this morning, when an old woman with a huge heart who has hardened it through bitterness for years is dying, and wants to share her regrets and last plea with the main character, Meg.

“If you have someone to love, then love. If you have someone to forgive, then forgive. You think, when you’re seventeen, there’s time enough for that, but there’s not. There’s no time at all.” – Jo Russell, from Perfect Glass by Laura Anderson Kurk

I’m seventeen. I will be seventeen for exactly 9 more days. And it’s true. I do catch myself thinking “there’s time enough for that.” For doing the things that are important, but not exactly pleasant. For putting in the effort to invest in the things that matter.

But time is the most precious commodity, not only because we can never get it back, but because it is limited and we don’t know how much of it we will be given. It’s uncertain. The grains of sand in the hourglass may all pass to the other side much sooner than we expect.

I don’t want to enter eternity to face the God of the universe and be making excuses about how I treated the precious moments He gave me. I don’t want to remember with regret the moments I treated with disgust or annoyance, the ones I took for granted and the ones I wished wouldn’t have happened. Each day is a gift and a responsibility. If I’m here, it means He has something for me today. My time on earth isn’t finished because my job isn’t. 

I want to live intentionally this year. I want to live with purpose, on purpose. I want to cherish the moments I’ve been given and make my best effort to seek God’s will for them, and then do it.

Will you join me?

 

What are some moments you treasure?

What are some ways you live intentionally?


P.S. I’m kicking off fundraising for my missions internship in the Netherlands this summer! I’d appreciate it if you check out my website and consider giving or sharing this with others who can.

2016, the year of peace

2016, the year of peace.png

I’m one of those people who enjoys looking back. I like remembering, and tracing the pieces and how they connect. I remember how I felt and what I was crying out to God about at various points in time. And most of all, I love seeing how He grew and changed me, how His hand was working in all the unknowns and uncertainties in my life.

This year, like every year, has been challenging. In many ways, I had to become an adult this year. It was an adventure, all right. Everything from driving to finances to dealing with relationships to college happened, and a lot of it was very overwhelming and stressful. So, so much was uncertain. There was a lack of stability in the things I had always found to be stable before.

But in the midst of all the chaos and the decisions to be made, I found my security and stability in the One who is unchanging. And somehow, in spite of all swirling around me, I found this incredible peace.

I’ve talked about peace here before. But this time I want to go into more personal detail. I want to share some of the many things I’ve walked through this year and show how God has been present through it all.

In January, I began my college adventure through College Plus (now Lumerit Education). I had the opportunity to go through a life purpose program called Navigate, designed to help you determine a direction for your college path, career, and life as a whole. It also walks you through developing a life purpose statement based on who you believe God is calling you to serve and how. Here’s mine:

Realizing that the community of the church is crucial to growth, I strive to build an intentional ministry of encouragement to those around me who are struggling alone inwardly. I aim to challenge them to be more open with others and bear each other’s burdens so they may grow in faith and Christlikeness. By strengthening others’ knowledge of, familiarity with, and trust in God’s truth through authentic relationships and passionate writing, I endeavor to establish young people in the firm foundation of a Christian worldview and open eyes to the hope for restoration found in Christ. My ultimate desire is that through constantly growing in my trust of God and being a living example of Christ’s restoring work, my life will be instrumental in building up others and bringing them to restoration with their Creator.

2 Corinthians 4:10 “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body.”

The very first college class I took was Comparative Worldviews, and it has by far been my favorite. It is a philosophy course, and introduces you to various religions and worldviews, but it was so much more than that. It was a foundation for me. It taught me how to think and question things, especially things people say that reveal their worldview. It taught me how to use questions to learn about people and their opinions, and how to use questions to lead people to the solution. I can’t put into words how important this was to me, but I can say this: It changed my life.

Truth has become something I am passionate about. I always knew it was important, but this year I really learned and saw how it impacts everything. I saw how it changed lives and wanted to share it with others to change their lives as well. Over the entire year, I learned ways to do that–through questions, conversations, writing, speaking, and music. And it made it into my life purpose statement.

In fact, that’s why I began Confident Assurance–to be a home for passing on these things that I have learned. Because I love teaching others things I am passionate about. I’m excited to get that website off the ground this year. It’s only the beginning of a dream God has placed in my heart.

Speaking of dreams…that is one of the beautiful things that came out of 2016, in the midst of all the college/future chaos. I thought I would never know what I wanted to do with my degree or what I even wanted that degree to be. But over the months, God began giving me bits and pieces of these crazy huge dreams. Dreams that combined many of the great number of things I’m interested in. I was left in awe that it was even possible to combine missions, business, apologetics, creative arts, and languages.

At the end of November, I did something crazy. I ended my enrollment with College Plus, quit my dog walking job of two years, and switched to working more day shifts at Chick-fil-A, among other things. All in the course of a few days. It took a toll on me emotionally, but I knew this was what God wanted me to do. And several days later, things started rolling in. I received my first college acceptance and also learned that I had been accepted to my dream mission’s internship–on that very day I had cut all those ties.

So I head into 2017 with a pretty interesting year ahead of me. I have almost no clue how the college situation is going to work out. There is still a lot of details to work out with the Netherlands trip. But I am not worried about what the future will hold. God holds my life in the palm of His hand, and He has been with me through it all.

Here’s to 2016, when the world did not end, despite all the cries to the contrary. And here’s to 2017, which holds still more adventures with the Author of them all.


Sorry for the somewhat disjointed thoughts. Very few things had specific dates attached to them in my head. It was a disjointed kind of year. 

Be content

be-content

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

Confident failure.png

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

Hopes and dreams.png

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

uncertainty-is-not-the-enemy

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.