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.

 

 

Are you ready?

Are you ready

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

Everything echoes: “The storm is coming.”

*     *     *

The United States is in chaos from natural disasters.

The Pacific northwest is literally going up in flames.

Houston is buried underwater from Harvey.

Idaho is being jarred by earthquake after earthquake.

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

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

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

*     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Make heaven more real to me.png

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

2016, the year of peace

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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.