In the heartbreak

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you know what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 3:13-14

*     *     *

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

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

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

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

“God Help Me,” by Plumb

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

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

“Lord, Send Me Anywhere” by David Livingstone

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

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

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

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

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

“God Help Me,” by Plumb

Tracing the handiwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God knew.

Of course God knew.

And it is so exciting.

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

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

And He has. And He is.

He is faithful.

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

 

 

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

The close of a season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Hopes and dreams

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It’s beautiful tonight. All the doors to the house are open so the cool breeze can blow through, and the inside is melded with the outside. It’s quiet out here, the only sounds are palm fronds rustling in the air and crickets chirping.

I’ve been thinking. My friends laugh when I start a sentence with that, and say “Oh no, not again. She’s been thinking.” They know something big is about to follow.

I’ve been thinking about peace and rest. Peace is something we all long for, and rest is something we all find ourselves too busy for.

“A holy quiet grips the night, the morning of the last sunrise.”

Peace…though everything about me is shaken, though chaos threatens and worries crop up, though I’m tempted to rush rush rush, I can rest. Because God has said, it is finished.

I’ve been scared to let myself have any dreams or hopes for the future, out of fear of disappointment. But right now, I do have dreams. I have a vision for the far future, quite a few years from now, but I’m not going to get into that right now. I also have a dream for the foreseeable future, with dates attached to it.

I have a dream to go to the Netherlands. There’s a lot of backstory to this particular dream, but suffice to say several years ago, I made a friend who lived in the Netherlands and began learning the Dutch language and culture and along the way fell in love with the people. When God lit the flame for missions in my heart, the Netherlands just went along with it.

This year, I had the opportunity to apply for a missions internship in the Netherlands. It’d be next year, from the last week of June through the end of July. My application is nearly complete, and I’m excited. Before I began the process, I knew there were four main obstacles that would have to be overcome for this to come to pass.

  1. My parents and my pastor would have to approve. This has already been passed! My parents were supportive of this opportunity and my pastor checked out the missionary family I’d be working with and was impressed with their ministry.
  2. I’d have to be chosen by the missions board. This particular internship opportunity is only available to two people, and the application mentions that they usually accept people with at least two years of Bible college experience. I have none.
  3. I’d have to be able to get those five weeks off work. That’s a pretty serious amount of time for my employers to let me off work and still have a job waiting for me when I get back.
  4. I’d have to be able to raise the funds–about $2,500. And since notification of acceptance isn’t until April, that would only leave me just over two months to do the task.

From the looks of things, there’s a lot stacked against me. In the not-so-distant past, that would’ve been enough to make me shut down any hope and try to quell every hint of excitement. But you know what? Something is different this time.

“Broken slumber, blinding light; nations tremble at the sight. The Son of Man just split the sky…”

I’m not constantly wondering whether or not I’ll get to go on this trip. I’m not worried that my excitement and preparation will be for nothing. I have this peace about it. I am oddly confident that despite the obstacles in between me and this dream, God will clear them. And I am oddly content to wait. And I have this rest in my heart that even if God shuts the door somewhere along this path, it will be because He has something different for me next summer, something better, something part of His perfect plan.

“My life, Your grace
Here I exchange

Your life, my gain
Here I exchange

All of me for all You are”

I’ve finally started to experience what it’s like to trust God and move forward in that trust. Do I know what the outcome will be? No. I may not be going to the Netherlands next summer. But meanwhile, I am going to do all the missions preparation I can. I’m diving back into improving my Dutch, and I’m going to do all I can to learn from veteran missionaries and to know God better. And even if I don’t end up walking the streets of the low country next summer, all that preparation will benefit me elsewhere.

And my hopes and dreams? I don’t have to fear for them. After all, my heart is the Lord’s, and He will do with it what He wills. He will not let me be shaken.

Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. – Psalm 55:22


*Lyrics taken from Casting Crowns’ new album, The Very Next Thing. The first two quotes are from Hallelujah, and the last is from For All You Are.

Be not ashamed (2 Timothy study week 1)

Be not ashamed.png

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

uncertainty-is-not-the-enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Peggy's Cove 2Peggy's Cove 3Peggy's Cove 1

{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?

 

I cannot do anything

I cannot do anything

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.

***

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?