Tracing the handiwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God knew.

Of course God knew.

And it is so exciting.

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

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

And He has. And He is.

He is faithful.

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

 

 

Coming home

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Coming home.

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

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

What about when your reality is messier than that?

*    *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was right. I noticed.

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

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

But I see things differently.

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

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

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

*     *     *

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

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

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

As he leads me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

When you cannot see

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we really believe that?

Do I really believe that?

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

I know. 

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

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

Beauty in every moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you join me?

 

What are some moments you treasure?

What are some ways you live intentionally?


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

2016, the year of peace

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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

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Contentment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ideas have consequences

Ideas have consequences

Before we get into what to do with ideas and viewpoints, we have to establish a foundation of what those are and how they affect the world around us.

First of all, let’s define worldview. If I were to ask one of you “What is a worldview?” chances are I’d get at least one smart-aleck who would answer, “It’s a view of the world.” And of course, they would be right. (Don’t you just hate when smart-alecks actually have the right answer?) But let’s get a little more specific.

According to John Stonestreet, a leader in apologetics and worldview, a worldview is “the framework of basic beliefs we have (whether we know it or not) that shapes our view of and for the world.”

The important thing to notice here is that worldview is twofold. It shapes two different aspects of our life: Our view of the world and our view for the world.

First, our worldview is descriptive of reality. It’s a mental image of what is real. It’s our perspective. When a small boy looks at his parent, the parent seems like a giant. From the child’s frame of reference–he had to tilt his head back really far to see the parent’s face–the parent is huge. However, the parent doesn’t feel like a giant. From the parent’s perspective, there are several other adults his size or even taller. Is the child wrong? Is the parent wrong? Well, there’s a dilemma called relativism. We’ll come back to that in an upcoming post, so keep an eye out!

Second, our worldview is our view for the world–it is prescriptive for how we live. If we perceive someone as easily angered, we will adjust our behavior to avoid setting them off. If we view people as out to get us, we will be suspicious of every action they take towards us, even if it seems good. If we consider people to be nothing more than the product of evolution, having come about by random processes, we have no reason to treat them well. See where this leads?

G.K. Chesterton once said, “A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.” As the sun and moon affect the lives of every creature on the planet, religion–or, worldview–affects every aspect of a person’s life and others’ lives as well. It’s absolutely crucial to realize that people’s ideas about the world aren’t just harmless opinions. Ideas have consequences.

The 20th century was a huge example of just how big the consequences of ideas can be. At the beginning of the century, optimism was high. Humankind had been “enlightened” by science, and science was going to fix everything. It was clear that God had no place in either the beginning of the world or the sustenance of it. Evolution was king, and the best way to fix all the world’s problems was to help natural selection out by getting rid of the weak and others unfit for survival.

We all know how the rest of the story goes. The rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s communist Russia caused the fall of millions upon millions of human beings. At the end of both regimes, an estimated 120 million people had lost their lives as a direct result of the ideas of Hitler and Karl Marx (the creator of communism). Far from utopia, the 20th century was a bloodbath of devastating proportions. Clearly, it matters which ideas and which worldview you possess. It’s not a question of sincerity. Hitler was plenty sincere. He was an incredibly dedicated man. But he was whole-heartedly dedicated to the wrong thing.

Here’s a thought: You can tell a lot about what someone thinks is the problem by what they offer as the solution. Marx thought the problem with the world was the separation of classes in society, so he thought that eliminating the economic differences between people would solve all the conflict. Instead, it resulted in the great oppression and poverty of the masses, while the ruling elite lived like pigs. However, if the problem with the world is each individual’s sin, it makes sense that the problem can only be solved by the taking away of the sin of the world and changed lives.

A person’s worldview is made up of answers to five big questions about reality:

  1. Origin–Where did we all come from?
  2. Identity–What is a human being? What makes them who they are?
  3. Meaning–What is the purpose in our existence? What’s the point?
  4. Morality–What is right and wrong, and how do we know that? Or, what’s wrong with the world?
  5. Destiny–Where is history headed?

How you answer one question affects how you answer another. If, for instance, you answer the origin question by saying we all evolved from bacteria, our identity then lies in our random genetic makeup, our existence is meaningless, and there is no standard for right and wrong. Do you see how these follow each other? Ideas don’t exist by themselves. That’s why they have consequences. Ideas interlock and change how we view and explain the world and how we react to it. Everyone has a worldview, whether they realize it or not.

Society wants to say that each person is entitled to believe what he or she wants, but that those beliefs are private and have nothing to do with the “real world.” Religion has no place in the political sphere, they say. And yet, everyone has a worldview, and that worldview affects their decisions within the public realm. That is why it’s so important to analyze both your own worldview and others’–because ideas, manifesting themselves in actions, change the world.

 

What are some ideas you hold about the world? What are your answers to the five “big questions,” and can you see how they tie in with each other and influence actions in your life?

If all we give them is a ‘heart’ religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a ‘brain’ religion–training in worldview and apologetics–to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home.” — Nancy Pearcey 

“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