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.

 

 

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.

Intentional rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Confident failure

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So much comes down to confidence.

No, this is not a lecture on self-esteem, or a proposition that you should dig deep within yourself and find self-confidence, or anything like that. Bear with me, here.

Something my Bible Quiz coach said a couple years ago that stuck with me was to stand up and give your answer clear and proud. “Be confident, even if you’re confidently wrong,” she said. Not that being wrong was a good thing, but that you shouldn’t let fear of being wrong get in the way of being confident.

Other things I’ve picked up throughout the years– “What’s the point of making a point if you’re going to hedge your bets on a ‘safe’ one?” “Sell me on it.” “Use strong words when you write. Not wish-washy, politically and socially correct words.” And of course, the old adage “fake it ’til you make it.”

Last Saturday at work, one of my coworkers asked me to pour the lemonade he’d brought up into the lemonade fountain. “To be honest, I just can’t do it,” he admitted sheepishly. I told him it was all right and poured it promptly. Watching, he asked, “How do you just do it?” “Confidence,” I replied. “Confidence and practice.”

I’ve never placed much stock in the “believe and you can achieve” idea, but it’s partially true. While learning how to do something, you need to consciously decide to get over your shaky hands and your fear of inadequacy. Of course you’re going to be inadequate. Of course you’re going to fail. You’re learning! You need the boldness and confidence to keep trying. To be confidently wrong. Not full of pride or being obstinate when someone tells you you have done it wrong. But not being afraid to try and to make mistakes, either.

Confidence and practice go hand-in-hand. The more confident you are, the more you will practice. And the more you practice, the more confident you will become.

Going back to the lemonade, the first couple times I tried, I knew I was going to spill it. The mouth of the machine was way over my head, and the bucket of lemonade was very full and weighed almost 25 pounds. My hands shook as I lifted the sloshing container of liquid above my head, and sure enough, I spilled a ton of lemonade everywhere. It was quite a mess. But you know what? I cleaned it up and went on with life. Another day, someone showed me a different way I could try to pour the lemonade, and I tried again.

That was the key–I wasn’t confident in my abilities yet, because I didn’t have any. I recognized that, but chose not to let fear of failure keep me from learning. Instead of confidence in my ability to pour lemonade, I had confidence in my ability to learn, given enough practice. And eventually, I did it right for the first time. The practice had paid off and given me a huge boost in confidence, which encouraged me to keep practicing and perfecting my technique until I could do it every time. As a result of that, on Saturdays when I’m on stock now, and have to pour lemonade twice an hour, I have the confidence of experience–the confidence that enables me to just pick up the bucket and go every time.

I think we all know confidence is important. We just don’t always know where to find it. A lot of times we think of confidence as only naive arrogance–“I know I can do this perfectly on the first try”–or the confidence that comes through experience–“I know I can do this because I’ve done it before.” But this provides nothing to start from. How do we find confidence in the face of a seemingly insurmountable task? Where do we get the confidence to simply begin?

This is what I’d like to offer you today. I actually already mentioned it in passing earlier. Rather than trying to scrounge up confidence in abilities you don’t yet have, be confident that you can learn them if you will just start. Have confidence that failures will not keep you from your goal. Find confidence in your past experience of starting things with no skill whatsoever, yet seeing them through to fruitful completion. Look to others who have successfully accomplished what it is you’re setting out to do and be encouraged. Seek out their wisdom if you can. Gather tips and information and formulate a game plan.

Lastly, recognize that although failure is at some point inevitable, it doesn’t have to keep you from your goal. Give yourself the freedom to be confident enough to take action, even if it results in confident failure.

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

 

Living integrified

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

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

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

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

That’s how we grow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What ways can you see God working in your life?