Intentional rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth’s dynamic impact (2 Timothy study week 2)

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Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you missed last week’s introduction, you can catch up here.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith.
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed.
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine.

Today we’ll be going through 2 Timothy 2. Take a moment to read it before you continue.

Here are the main themes I gathered from this chapter.

1. The word of God goes forth through teaching

After continuing to encourage Timothy in the call to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v.1), Paul instructs Timothy to commit the teachings of the faith to “faithful men,” so they could in turn teach others (v.2). How did you learn about God? Someone had to teach you, obviously. But did you know that you don’t have to wait to be an adult or a Bible college graduate to teach others about God? You can start teaching what you’ve learned to others right now. Start a conversation about what you’ve been learning from God’s word recently with a friend or two. Host a Bible study of your own. Be a student of God’s word so you can answer questions others have (more on that later).

I also want to point out verse 9, where Paul makes a powerful statement. He says that although he is in bonds, “the word of God is not bound.” Despite the great leader of the Christian faith spending his days locked up, the word of God continues to go forth. God will accomplish His purposes, no matter what kind of circumstances seem to be in the way.

2. How the truth impacts the Christian’s life

Paul uses some vivid illustrations to portray the need for holiness in the Christian’s life. In verses 3 and 4, he describes a soldier enduring hardness and not letting himself get caught up in trivialities of life. As the solider has a single-minded focus, Paul implies, so we should keep our focus on God and push away distractions that don’t have eternal value.

In verse 5, Paul talks about an athlete who must follow the rules in order to claim his prize. We cannot live as we wish and still expect God to be pleased at the end of the day. God takes holiness seriously.

In verse 6, Paul concludes by mentioning a farmer who receives the fruits (literally) of his labor. Paul reminds Timothy that living God’s way brings treasures in heaven.

Later on in the chapter, verses 20-22 offer another illustration, this time of a house containing many vessels. If you get rid of the evil, dishonoring vessels, you will be “a vessel of honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (v.21). Verse 22 continues this theme, as Paul instructs Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” and instead pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace—but not alone! Paul emphasizes that Timothy should take on this quest “with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

How does the truth of God’s word impact your life in visible, practical ways? Who are you joining with to pursue righteousness?

3. How to properly handle the truth

(or, a primer in Christian debate and apologetics)

This theme is one of my favorites in this letter. If you’ve hung around my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed by now that apologetics and reasoning are topics I’m particularly interested in. Well, in this chapter, Paul has several things to say about arguments, debate, and defense of the truth.

First, let’s cover his warnings. Verses 14, 16, and 23 all contain warnings about arguments. Paul tells Timothy to make sure his church members “strive not about words to no profit” (v.14), “shun profane and vain babblings” (v.16), and avoid “foolish and unlearned questions” (v.23). Clearly, some people were having trouble recognizing when to stop arguing! But let’s take a closer look at why Paul gives these warnings. The reason he gives for shunning vain babblings is that “they will increase unto more ungodliness,” and the reason to avoid foolish and unlearned questions is because they cause strife and division—not good things to have, especially in a church.

If we’d only read these verses, I think we’d be pretty well scared off from having any kind of verbal conflict. But that’s definitely not what Paul’s goal is here. He’s simply instructing us to avoid unprofitable and divisive squabbles.

Verse 15 tells us how we should handle the truth and the spreading of it.

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We learn a few things from this verse. First of all, we need to put effort into the truth. The word “study” here does not only means actual studying; more literally it means “be zealous for.” We are not to have a halfhearted commitment to the truth—it’s the truth! It’s the foundation of all we think, believe, and are! Surely that merits our passion.

Secondly, if we study the truth, we will understand it and be able to explain it correctly. And if we explain it correctly, we will not need to be ashamed. In verses 17 and 18, Paul mentions two men who were apparently spreading false teachings. He says “concerning the truth [they] have erred” (v.18), and then mentions the devastating effects of this error: the faith of some has been overthrown.

These verses serve as both an encouragement and a sobering warning of the disastrous consequences of mixing the truth with error.

Lastly, in verses 24 and 25, Paul describes the characteristics of those who would teach the truth:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.

Did you catch that at the end? We are to share the truth with others who oppose us patiently, with meekness, so that they may acknowledge the truth and repent. Our goal isn’t to “win,” to be right, and to make ourselves look good. It’s to urge people towards repentance, towards restoration with God.

Whew! That’s a lot we covered. To summarize, we must be careful to avoid pointless arguments, we must study the truth passionately, and we must keep a proper heart motive for sharing the truth with others. How are you making studying the truth a priority in your life? Are you being careful to keep your confrontations tempered with patience, gentleness, and meekness?

Let’s recap:

  1. Despite obstacles or opposition, the word of God will continue to go forth through faithful teachers. Who are you teaching about God? What could you do to create or make use of opportunities to share the truth you’ve learned with others?
  2. Truth isn’t just relegated to philosophy—it dramatically impacts our lives. How is your life different after exposure to God’s truth? Who are you partnering with on your journey to righteousness?
  3. There’s a right and a wrong way to handle the truth. Are you careful to avoid useless arguments? Are you constantly studying the truth?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 2 in the comments below!

 

Be not ashamed (2 Timothy study week 1)

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Hey, y’all! Welcome to the first day of my first blog series. I’m borrowing an idea from my friend Amanda Beguerie and hosting a blog Bible study for the next several weeks. The way it works is simple: I’ll be posting my study of the week’s passage on Tuesdays (hopefully) with a list of questions for discussion and further study. Then you do a little digging of your own and answer them in the comments or in your own study post (leave a link in the comments!), and we all learn from God’s Word together! Fun, right?

I’d like to start off with a little introduction of 2 Timothy, the book we’ll be studying. This book is the last published letter Paul wrote before he was executed in Rome, with a generally accepted date of 66 A.D. Unlike most of Paul’s letters, 2 Timothy is written to an individual, in this case, a young pastor—kind of Paul’s protégé in the faith. The letter takes on an exhortative tone, but is unique in that it is incredibly personal. In it we read Paul’s sorrow for those who have forsaken the faith, and his tiredness and readiness to go home to be with God.

Before I begin with lessons from chapter 1, take a moment to read it through. See if you detect Paul’s emotions and focus as he writes to Timothy.

I’d like to highlight three main lessons from 2 Timothy 1:

1. Paul praises Timothy’s unfeigned faith

Even a glance at this passage makes it obvious Paul greatly cares for Timothy. In verse 2, he calls Timothy his “dearly beloved son.” In verse 3, Paul tells Timothy he prays for him “night and day.” And in verse 4, Paul expresses a desire to see his young friend.

In verse 5, Paul goes beyond expressions of love and friendship, and mentions Timothy’s “unfeigned faith.” What does unfeigned mean? It means sincere, genuine, honest, and wholehearted. Paul is saying Timothy isn’t putting on a “good Christian” show—his heart is right.

It’s all too easy to slip into going through the motions, isn’t it? Are you careful to check the motivations in your heart for your actions?

2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has given us to accomplish it

Paul reminds Timothy that God has “saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace” (verse 9). What is our calling? To spread the gospel and bring glory to God. It sounds simple, perhaps even easy, but we know in reality such is not the case.

Paul is writing this letter from a Roman jail cell. It’s near the very end of his life, and he has suffered countless abuses for the sake of the gospel. He knows it’s not easy to take a stand and speak up. That’s why he encourages Timothy that God has equipped us for the trials we will face by sending the Holy Spirit. I love verse 7:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

He continues, saying, because of this Spirit God has given us, we are not to be ashamed of “the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” but instead be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel. The Greek phrase for “be a partaker of the afflictions” means to suffer hardship as one with. It carries the idea of joining in unity with others who are also partakers. Paul is reminding Timothy, “You’re not in this alone.”

In verse 12, after beautifully describing the gospel, Paul powerfully states why he is not ashamed of it:

For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

I recently learned that the word “believed” here is so much more than just a “blind faith.” It is closely related to the word “persuaded” following it here; it has the meaning of being convinced of the truth of something, of placing confidence in something. It’s not just a hopeful guess. It’s a certainty. What Paul is saying here is that he is absolutely sure he can trust God to keep what he has committed (his soul—see Luke 23:46 and 1 Peter 4:19) until the end of time.

Wow. Talk about a firm foundation. Are you absolutely persuaded that God is trustworthy? If you’re going to fulfill your calling and be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, you’re going to have to have rock-solid certainty.

3. Paul emphasizes the importance of the gospel and sound doctrine

Paul concludes this chapter by urging Timothy to hold fast to “the form of sound words” (verse 13), which is doctrine, and to keep (hold secure, protect) “that good thing which was committed unto thee,” which is the gospel. As previously mentioned, in verses 9 and 10, Paul briefly but powerfully states the gospel, and how it is crucial to our life and calling.

The importance of steadfast faith and consistent preaching of sound doctrine is a theme that will continue to come up later in this letter. Paul really wanted to emphasize to Timothy the critical necessity of standing firm when others fall away, as he briefly notes in verse 15.

How careful are you to keep your doctrine straight and pure? Is it “sound”—would it hold up to being shaken or dragged hither and yon in the storm of competing ideas in the world today? Are you taking care to remember the importance of the gospel for which we sacrifice our lives?

Let’s recap:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith. Is your faith sincere, without hidden motives and masks?
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed. Are you absolutely sure, heart and mind, that God is trustworthy? Are you living unashamed of the gospel?
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine. Do you know the doctrines of the faith? Are you careful to keep those central values sound, unshakeable by the world?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 1 in the comments below!

Uncertainty is not the enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I press on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— 2 Timothy 4:7-8

The life of the unexpected

Forest Glen Collage

{Forest Glen Bible Camp, Nova Scotia}

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

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

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

North Carolina

{Lake Toxaway/Brevard, North Carolina}

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

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

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

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

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{Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia}

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

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

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

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

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

How have you been learning to trust God recently?

 

Living integrified

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It’s interesting how God helps us grow. We ask Him to make us more patient, He gives us opportunities to be patient. Uncomfortable, annoying opportunities. We ask Him to make us solid through and through, a person of integrity, and He puts us in tough situations where we want to compromise.

I was supposed to work 4-9 the other day, with a break. Now, that’s an odd shift, because it doesn’t make much sense from a business standpoint, but I just shrugged and said to myself, “Hey, I’ll take an easy shift.” Well, I walked into work at 3:57 and checked the daily schedule sheet. Instead of 4-9 next to my name, there was a 4-8. With no break.

Did anyone call me and tell me about this? No. No notice whatsoever. And I hadn’t eaten anything since 12:30. I was a little annoyed. This wasn’t the first time this has happened. But I took a deep breath and tried to calmly talk to the manager on duty about it. She was understanding and apologized. And then she offered to let me eat something on the clock, in the back out of the way somewhere. Now, I had a choice to make.

Integrity–doing the right thing even when your manager is going to let you go ahead and do something you really want to do, but can’t in good conscience.

That’s how we grow.

So I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, but said, “I can’t do that.” She just shrugged and that was that. I worked hard through my shift and pressed on when my stomach started growling. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t feel great or righteous doing it. But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Doing right no matter how you feel about it at the time.

What exactly is integrity? One of the definitions of having integrity is being whole, undivided. That’s the definition we use for a piece of pottery or a wall. “It was well made; it had integrity.” But it applies to people as well. Integrity is being undivided in your life. You walk what you talk. You do what’s right even when you won’t necessarily get in trouble for doing the wrong thing.

Why is integrity important? Because if I’m going to tell people to be honest, I have to be honest. That’s being whole. Without cracks. Undivided in my loyalties. Jesus said you cannot serve both God and money (or, really, yourself). You have to choose. And not just hypothetically, in your heart, saying “Yes, God, I’ll serve You.” He will test that decision through opportunities like the example I shared. He wants to refine us. And when we choose to do right even when it doesn’t seem to make sense, we stand out as stars in the blackness of the sky. Not every decision to act with integrity is going to be witnessed by others, but plenty will be. And that tells people around us that we are committed to doing right even when it seems crazy to do so. “But it’s just some food,” one coworker said to me in confusion. “What’s the big deal? She was going to let you do it.”

While eating food on the clock may not be a “big deal,” my response to the offer absolutely was in God’s eyes. There’s no such thing as a “little compromise” in God’s book. And the last time I checked, He made the rules. It’s God who gets to judge what’s a big deal.

The stories of Daniel and his three friends carry the theme of integrity pretty strongly. We admire and respect them for their refusal to compromise and bow down to the king’s idol. But sometimes we forget that in order to stand firm on the big things, we need to be in the habit of acting with integrity in the small things.

You may see only small opportunities to stand up and stand firm in your life, but that is how God grows us. Be faithful in the “little” things, and He will entrust you with far greater things. Realize that God doesn’t measure our devotion to Him in size or “greatness” of actions. He cares about our hearts.

What ways can you see God working in your life?

I cannot do anything

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Note: This is the first post I ever wrote for this blog, way back around September. But for some reason, every time I stumbled on it in the drafts folder, I felt like it wasn’t the right time to share it. Today, however, I was again reminded of the principle in this post, and so I’m sharing it with you. I hope it will be an encouragement to someone today.

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It’s been over two years.

From the beginning, I knew I was getting into something huge, something complicated, something that would be difficult.

People always are.

But I also knew it would be worth it.

People always are.

There’s a saying, “The older I get, the more I realize I do not know anything.” And that has already proved to be true in my life. Because over the days and weeks, months and years, I have learned that much of what I thought I knew was actually wrong. It’s a difficult thing to understand people, sometimes. Every time I think I finally understand something, later something else comes to light and I realize I was wrong. I did not understand. And, inevitably, sometimes I wonder if I ever will.

It’s a complicated and messy and confusing and just plain hard thing to love people, sometimes. Especially those with life stories so different from my own.

When people trust me enough to talk about the beyond-surface level of their lives, I consider it a privilege. I try to understand them and where they’re coming from as best as I can. And I try to share truth with them as it relates to their situation. And I pray. I always, always pray. But sometimes…sometimes I feel helpless.

If you care about someone, naturally, you want to be able to make their life better and fix their problems.

But that’s not the way it works.

It took me a long time to learn that. To learn that it’s not my job to fix things, to always have the perfect word of advice, or anything like that. It took until a moment of understanding, a moment where things finally “clicked” and I understood why things were the way they were with someone, and a moment of cold, hard realization–I cannot do anything about this.

I think as humans, our reaction to things that we see as problems is to fix them. To figure out what’s wrong and what happened and how to make things the way we think they should be.  It’s kind of an instinct. And that’s not always bad. In fact, sometimes it’s a very good thing. If someone never wanted to fix problems in life, I would be very worried about them, because they must have a serious case of apathy.

But sometimes, this intense desire to fix things can be just another way we try to control our lives and the lives of those around us. We forget so often that we are not in control, don’t we? We forget that God is in control.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17

“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” – Psalm 147:5

“The LORD works out everything to its proper end.” – Proverbs 16:4a

We can make all the plans we want. We can desperately brainstorm and try to come up with a solution. But God is the one who knows exactly what’s going on and has a plan for it.

When we come to the realization that we are not in control–that we cannot do anything–we are finally ready to let God work. How did that night go for me? I realized the only thing I could do was pray and continue to love. But then the other thing that hit me was, “that’s all I’ve ever been able to do.”

Nothing had changed about the situation. The only thing that had changed was my understanding of it.

Jesus didn’t command “love your neighbor and.” There was no and. No “love your neighbor and…fix all their problems.” No “love your neighbor and…be sure you always have something to say about their life situation.” No “love your neighbor and…it’s your fault if they don’t become a Christian.”

There simply is no and.

All we are commanded to do is love.

Do you see how freeing this is? It means it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter if we spend months or a year or two years or ten years or our whole lives loving someone who’s lost only to die without seeing them trust Christ. It doesn’t matter if we can’t see the results, as long as we are faithful to love.

All God asks of us is to love the people around us. We trust Him for the rest.

Loving people is still hard. It’s still confusing and uncertain and painful and patience-trying. But if we remember it’s not about us and what we can do, and leave the rest to God…it’s so much less complicated.

Have you ever had that moment before, where you looked at a situation in your life or someone else’s life and realized you just couldn’t do anything? Take heart, friend. Nothing changed. God is still God, and He is still in control. Trust Him.

What are some of God’s commandments you’ve recently seen in a new light? How do you think realizing we cannot do anything helps us to live freely?

“Your words can change the world”

It’s that time of year when the school year is drawing to a close. Programs are winding down, and schedules are changing.

Tomorrow is the end-of-year party for our homeschool co-op. It’s a bittersweet moment. Because of how school is shaping up for me, it’s looking like I’m not going back to co-op next year.

This is it. This is…the end.

It’s been an interesting year, junior year. It’s been really rough and has worn me down at times as I’ve learned how to balance work and school and other commitments. And I’ve grown so weary of the ever-present college debate. I’ve written much about that recently, but some things are still waiting to be finalized and I’m not sharing those words with the whole world just yet. But I will say this: What an opportunity it has been to learn how God works! In the moments I have needed it most, He has sent me overwhelming love and encouragement from others, including some who didn’t even know me.

One of the greatest things about co-op this year was the opportunity to teach a class. Last May, when the whole registration process began, I saw an opportunity to realize a dream I’d had for a while–to teach a class of young writers. How it all came about is a God story in and of itself, and that’ll be for another time. But in any case, September 11, day one of co-op, rolled around and I found myself starting last period with a table full of eager faces.

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It’s been a year full of laughter and head-banging and joy with these fourth and fifth graders. They never fail to make me smile. I’ve learned a lot about teaching and specifically working with a group from them. And I’ve been blessed to be a part of their writing journeys that are only just beginning.

Over the year, I read them lots of snippets from a wonderful book that was monumental in encouraging and teaching me as I started writing: Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. And so, for the end of the year, I’m giving each of the remaining students a copy of the book. I had fun writing in them this afternoon.

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The best part, though, was turning to the last page of the book where I knew a special encouragement was printed, and adding my own.

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If there’s one thing I want my students to come away from the class having learned, it’s this:

Your words matter.

Your words are powerful.

Your words can change the world.

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May this be a reminder to all of us today: Our words matter. Our words are powerful. Our words can change the world.

Let’s make sure we choose wisely.

 

 

 

How dirty is your towel?

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On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus took on the role of a servant–the lowest servant, at that–and washed the grime from his disciples’ feet.

The King of kings humbled himself enough to do the job none of the disciples would step in to do. The dirty job. He knelt down with a towel and washed each one’s feet.

Wow.

Washing feet may not have the same cultural relevance today, but it still sounds like a pretty dirty job to me.

“How dirty is your towel?” This question refers to Jesus’ willingness to get dirty and do the job relegated to the lowliest servant in the house. It’s a question meant to cause us to consider our own lives and our own willingness–or, more often, unwillingness–to serve those around us.

Working at Chick-fil-A has been teaching me a lot about having a dirty towel.

Servant leadership is a huge part of the company’s model. But more than leadership, the “how we give” page on the company website states the principle they teach each employee: “We firmly believe in treating every person who comes through our doors with honor, dignity, and respect.”

Sounds great, right? Sounds like it shouldn’t be so hard. And it isn’t, most of the time.

But you know what?

One thing that hit me several months ago was it’s not so much that we’re unwilling to serve anyone, at any time. It’s that we put these exceptions on a list in our mind. We get this attitude of feeling “above” certain tasks, or certain people, whether we’re consciously aware of the attitude or not. 

Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are snippy with me when I make a mistake. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are talking on their phone the whole time I’m trying to take their order. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are interrupting and demanding things unreasonably. And sometimes, I even have to serve people with profane t-shirts. And it is hard, so hard, to treat them with honor, dignity, and respect.

But looking back at the example of Jesus…He served the people who deserved it the least. He consistently served the ones who were the “untouchables” of society.

At the beginning of the year, I was praying about 2016. I asked God to make me a servant. I said, “I’m not going to qualify that with ‘leader’ on the end, though that would be nice. Just a servant, God. Humble and meek.” And sometime not too long afterward, I had a day at work with several rude customers and one with a repulsive shirt. And as I complained silently to God, I felt Him gently remind me: Honor, dignity, and respect.

I called that young man “sir” several times as I took his order.

Respect.

Usually, I reserve “sir” and “ma’am” for the older crowd. But that day, something changed. And I began to see those “untouchable” people in a different way. I now make it a point to address customers who irk me in extra patient tones and with “sir” or “ma’am.” To keep me humble. To keep growing me as a servant.

That day I also remembered a time my pastor preached on a servant’s heart. He asked this question–a more blunt and direct version of “how dirty is your towel”: Whose feet are you unwilling to wash? That really hit me. I went home and thought about it. And by the end of the day, I had to ashamedly admit that there were very few people in my life whose feet I would even consider washing.

I remembered that question when I returned home from work that night I called the young man sir. And I again asked God to change me. To take away my list of infinite exceptions and give me a humble spirit, loving each person He put in my path in a self-sacrificing way.

I’ve been able to watch Him answer that prayer, little by little. I’m seeing opportunities to be a servant more and more often, especially as I begin taking them. And slowly but surely, God has been doing a work in my heart. I don’t say this to boast, for as He knows, I have much room for improvement. But I say this as a testimony of God’s grace, and as an encouragement that He does change hearts and lives.

How dirty is your towel? — I’m asking myself this question today as a check-up, this Passion Week. If my Lord would suffer the scorn of His creations, and not only bear it, but also serve them…how could I refuse to do the same?

But besides reminding myself today, I challenge you with these questions: Whose feet are you refusing to wash?

How dirty is your towel?

 Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28