In the Midst of it All

I so often find myself sinking into what I like to call the “now what” trap. I sit down and think about my life (what’s happened, where I’m at now, etc.)  and then I turn around to God and say “ok buddy (we’re tight) – I see all this stuff we’ve done but….now what are we doing? Where are we going? I’ve done all these things and come this far – what do I do NOW?”

I keep expecting that because I follow God I will be led onto new things or have new opportunities on a regular basis or that my life in general will have this divine direction given to it (which, I know, sounds pretty silly as I type it). I find myself constantly shocked that I’m still in the exact same place as I was a few months ago (talk about a short time frame). I know that part of why I feel like this is because I am a goal oriented person – I really like to know where I’m going and why I’m doing what I’m doing. I can do pretty much any menial task over and over again as long as I can see where it’s getting me. (In fact, I LOVE “chipper” workouts – the obscenely long ones where you just “chip away” at it until you’re done).

However, I’ve come to realize that when I’m impatiently asking the “now what?” question, I’m really saying “Hey God, I don’t think you’re doing anything in my life and I’m kinda feeling like you forgot about me so….if you could like, do something cool that would be great. Even better, if you could do this thing that I think should be the next thing to work out in my life that would be super great.” I am constantly wanting another new thing, another sign, another step. I don’t believe that he could possibly want me to stay here longer – haven’t I done enough, yet? Haven’t I given enough yet? Don’t I deserve a new vision yet?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
– Psalm 13:1-2a

Fortunately, God doesn’t get swayed by my (probably super annoying) questions because he doesn’t really work that way. In fact, he did a complete 180 last time I was asking these questions (more on that later). I think that instead of being focussed on what we think of as the “next steps” or what we think qualifies as the “next thing” we are supposed to be doing (i.e. all those big things we expect from people’s lives – getting engaged/married, buying a house, having a kid, getting your masters, buying another house, moving, having another kid, renovating, going on a big trip, retiring, etc.), God is focussed on the next piece of us that needs transforming. That could be through one of those things I mentioned, but that can also be through sleepless nights, a stressful job, living at home, staying single, not having a kid yet, etc. He waits for the perfect timing for these things because his end goal isn’t that we have huge things-oriented monumental lives – he wants us to be further shaped into Christ-likeness.

If we could only see what we’re becoming
To the Dreamers, For King & Country

In the summer I consistently expressed to people (and I even wrote about it on my church’s blog) that I felt like I was just sitting around waiting – as if I was dangling on the precipice of my life’s next step but something was holding me back from moving on. It felt like there were loose ends in my life everywhere I looked, but none of them seemed to be being tied up or even wiggled around a bit. I was desperately asking God what was next – and could he just hurry up about it? I would have accepted pretty much ANYTHING other than “wait” (which was all I kept getting, ironically).

The tail end of 2017 was not the best time of my life. I ended up overcommitted, stressed out in my personal life, and overwhelmed on so many levels – I felt (and still do feel, in a way) broken and incomplete and confused and less than – and for so much of the time I felt like God had just abandoned me because I failed some sort of test. That my failure to do what he wanted/be who he wanted meant that I was suddenly unworthy of his presence and the fact that I was having difficulty understanding and grasping the Bible passages I was reading in my personal studying

I’m a huge journal-er, and one of the things I really like to do (when I’m not so overcommitted that I have time to actually do it properly) is bullet journal. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, it’s basically a journal/planner hybrid system. One of the key things you do, number all the pages to create an index – something I carried over into my actual journal. (Yes, I have multiple journals I carry around on a regular basis. I don’t I have a problem…) While I love the index system, sometimes I forgot to fill in the index after I write. And then I put off filling it in for 2 weeks (or um….3 months) and then I have to go back and fill in the index so my future self can find what I’m looking for later.

As I read back through the last four months (oops) of entries to fill in my index, do you know what I found? I found a woman who was falling apart in many ways. I found a skeptic. I found tears. I found confusion. I found frustration. I found some really hard questions. But through every entry and the Bible passages I was struggling through I started to see a story. My prayer for so long had been that as I wandered and drifted and tried to figure things out that God would never let me go – literally had written the words “hold on to me”.

And in the midst of turmoil and heartbreak and feelings of worthlessness and being overwhelmed and a lot more heartbreak…I saw in the pages of my journal the continual presence of God. In a song lyric I jotted down or a story I reflected on or in poetry as I processed my feelings, there were glimmers of a God guiding me and holding my hand, trying to show me something. And he did. Not only did he remind me that he has never once let me go, he reminded me of who I am.

Part of me wonders if all of this was for a reason – if I had to go through all of this to become the person he wanted me to be. I had been so focussed on the what and the why that I had forgotten the who. As in the “Who does God want me to be?” question – in fact I think I lost myself being so wrapped up in everything else!

I don’t know who I will end up being, but I do know that the person I am now is different than the person I was a year ago, or even 4 months ago. And I am filled with hope that even though the what and the why and the where aren’t being answered quite as timely as I would like, in the midst of it all God is still working and shaping me into who he wants me to be. Trusting that as I am formed he will put me where he wants me to be.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
– Ephesians 2:10

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Where you stay I’ll stay

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a mover and a shaker. I am definitely not the person in a group who gets everyone else jazzed about what we’re going to do, I’m not the person who has the great ideas, and I don’t always see where we want to go. I like repetition and comfort, and I am totally ok with a long haul of living in a space God has called me to.

I just didn’t think that place would be here.

I grew up hearing that joke on mission Sundays that “God would call me to where I least wanted to go.” (you know, if you’re terrified of snakes he calls you to the Amazon, etc). So, naturally, my young, overachiever self decided that the best way to ensure I would be ok wherever God called me was to say I would go anywhere. Even if it had snakes (maybe he would see my willingness and let me go somewhere without them…?). I wanted to be able to go wherever he wanted and move however he was moving. When he said “jump” I would say “how high?” – it was all planned out.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.
– Ruth 1:16-17

I read a lot as a kid, and we ran out of kids books in my house to read at one point so I read a lot of my parent’s Biblical fiction for a while … and I loved the tellings of Ruth. She was this amazing woman who just left everything she knew and loved to follow Naomi back to Israel (ok so the fictionalized versions might have made her a little cooler than the Biblical version says but I mean, the woman’s husband died and she followed her also widowed mother in law through the desert when she could have just gone home and remarried another nice guy in town so….). I thought following God would be like that – involving physically leaving a place to serve him elsewhere.

We used to sing this Chris Tomlin song pretty often at my old church that uses the words of what Ruth said for the chorus. I always sang the song thinking I would give up where I was. I never, ever thought he would say “stay”…until I sang it yesterday and that line hit me like a brick wall. It’s like I was standing at the starting line for a marathon and my coach walked over and said “Yea, I know you thought we were training for this race but I don’t know, you must have missed my emails because this isn’t your race…or really even your event. You’re actually competing in standing long jump………” #awkward

I’m not even that even picky at this point. I don’t need to hear Sao Paulo, Cape Town, or Dublin. I don’t need to hear Miami or even Chicago (not that I would say no either….?). Pretty much anything – even just “Hamilton” would be enough for me right now.

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you
Who you love, I’ll love
How you serve I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you.
– I will Follow, Chris Tomlin 

I know for a lot of people staying would be the best scenario – the easiest. But it’s one of the hardest things God has made me do (and it’s not like this is new, either. I had to stay for school, stay for a job, etc. I’ve been wanting to go run that race for 6 years now and I’m still being told to stay.) Beyond that, I don’t always feel like I have a ton of roots built up where I am (perfect for moving, right God?) I’m not close friends with anyone I’ve known my whole life (moving halfway across a country at the age of 8 does that to a person), but even beyond that, I’ve been in multiple churches since then, switched school zones, worked at a camp in the US … and instead of “deep roots” in one spot, I feel as though have lots of tiny, shallow ones spread over a huge area (and if you have lots of friends spread all over the place, you know how over time the depth of those collective friendships tends to weaken through no fault of your own, just distance).

All that to say it doesn’t feel like there’s much holding me back…and my desire to go makes me hesitant to begin to put down the roots that will make me want to stay. But I keep hearing stay.

Stay? Stay. Just stay. The one place you don’t want to go – I want you to stay.

He probably thinks he’s funny…and I’ll probably agree in 10 years (or, like, 20). But right now I don’t find it funny. I find it hard. Maybe you have a similar struggle – is he asking you to move? Near or far, moves can be hard when you have things you love that make you want to stay. Maybe you’re like me and all you want is a “GO” and you’ll go. The shoes are on, bags are packed…but the call just doesn’t seem to be coming.

I am trying so hard to be ok with staying. To embrace where I am. To let him work changes in my heart to be ok with being here. To find places to invest in and find fulfillment and a lot of the time I’m fine … and some days (and weeks) I’m not. And in those moments all I ask is that he holds onto me. That he would strengthen my faith and give me hope to rise and trust that this, right here, is the best place I can be. To stop looking at the grass on the other side, and realize that the grass here under my feet is pretty green and luscious too…

On His Love for Me (1 Year sans Purity Ring)

Fourteen year old me went through a pure freedom class (like oh so many others) and at the end did what everyone else did and chose to get a purity ring and make the commitment to go along with it. Sixteen year old me recommitted to the promise and bought a new prettier ring.

Eight years of wearing a ring later, 22 year old me decided to take it off.

I don’t hate my purity ring. In fact, I really don’t hold much resentment towards anything I was taught about it all when I was younger – I don’t feel as though I’ve been hurt because of the popular teachings of the day (though I recognize many were). I’m also not going back on the commitment I made, nor am I necessarily saying other people should stop wearing theirs. The literal only reason I took it off is because I was tired of waiting. Tired of the physical reminder of my single-ness, tired of weighing life decisions by “what if I meet someone?”, and tired of feeling like I was watching my life go by as I sat around.

So I’m still waiting but I’m not waiting. Which has got me to thinking – if I go through my whole life single (which we know can’t be a BAD thing because Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 7), am I missing out? Is God depriving me of something that would make me more complete?

No, I can’t believe that. First, because God is good and has set good plans for me to walk in that will bring him glory (Ephesian 2) – if me being married will bring him more glory, then that’s what will happen. Second, because marriage doesn’t make us more complete as humans – we are still the same messy incomplete humans who are unfulfilled and incomplete without God. So if that is true, then I can I not experience all the fullness and love I need to from God? God IS love after all, so don’t all forms of it come from him?

And so I come to this fall, ruminating on a year without a purity ring, and I find myself pondering the love God has for me. All my married friends tell me about how God uses their marriages to draw them closer to him and experience his love in new ways, So I’ve found myself listening to love songs (because lets be honest, like 95% of all songs ever are about this, and somehow they all ended up on my fall playlist…), and instead of lamenting my life (don’t lie, you know what I’m talking about), I’m trying to see if and how they relate to God and my relationship with him.

It’s been wildly different than doing this with worship songs because I find the secular songs sing about slightly more tangible aspects while worship ones stay really abstract. It’s odd – you would think it makes it easier to put God in a box with the tangible, but singing so abstract-ly sometimes makes him seem so much farther off, rather than close.

It sounds a little unorthodox until you realize that generally what people are singing about and looking for is a missing part of them, a person who understands them, a person who loves all of them, someone who encourages them to be a better person…and last I checked God fills all of those boxes. In fact, he does more. He loves with a passionate love, an endless love, a perfect love, he casts out fear, he is a rock when storms come. His love is fierce and it is tender.

I read a book by Greg Paul called Close Enough to Hear God Breath when I was university (he also wrote God in the Alley, both of which I would recommend). In it, he explores the aspects of “divine intimacy”, and one of the pictures I still remember him describing is God holding us close to him as a father holds his child to his chest and we can hear the softness of his breathing and his whispers to us over the noise of the world. (I would quote him here but my friend has had the book for over 3 years and “doesn’t know where it is”).

One of my standout songs from the last month has been Everywhere by Michelle Branch. It challenges me to think about how God is everywhere around me and in everything I see, but it’s the bridge brings it together for me:

And when I touch your hand
It’s then I understand the beauty that’s within
It’s now that we begin
You always light my way
I hope there never comes a day
No matter where I go
I always feel you so

Is there anything more beautiful than the love God has for us? I am thankful to see the reflection of it in relationships here on earth, but everything is only that – a reflection. A still from picture that lacks the vibrancy, nuances, and life that the real thing has. Seeing the glimpses reminds me that there is more to come. That his love is deeper still. It reminds me that the most important thing to do is to live for him and with him beside me everywhere I go.

On Fear

I’ve read this one article a few times, and seen it shared on various platforms as well in the past few months. The first time I read it I skimmed it and thought parts of it were ok and parts were meh. Then I read it again later and saw some things that maybe I should be taking to heart. I’m all about practically applying head knowledge, so I decided to try out the first challenge — eliminating fear, scared, and terrified from my vocabulary. Well, I tried…

When I started trying to get rid of those words, two things started to happen.

  1. I started being more aware of when I used those words. And felt those feelings. And how often I had them. And it sucked.
  2. I started thinking more about why I was afraid. Picking apart my fears. And it both sucked and was awesome.

So it sucked because I felt a little bit like my fears were dumb. I mean, real talks. I’m afraid of driving. Not like the childhood “I’m afraid of snakes and spiders” feeling (this is still relevant – I don’t like these animals thx). I’ve felt fear in a crippling, heart wrenching, sometimes-I-can’t-even-think fear. Sometimes it would keep me awake at night. Or, debatably worse, it would hit me while I was driving. (I have other common fears too, but this is the most predominant in my life right now).

It was awesome because I started wondering why I was afraid. And seeking ways to not be afraid. I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I was still going to FEEL these feelings. I can’t stop feeling them, just like how when something you find funny happens you can’t not be amused. You found it funny, therefore, you are amused. It is how I deal with the feeling that matters.

When you’re amused you can smile, laugh, type “lolololololol” into your phone etc. You can even whip out the smirking emoji. When I am afraid, I can dwell on my fear and let it overwhelm me, or I can harness it, and turn it around into prayer and praise to God.

Last weekend I was in a foodcourt at the mall with a bunch of other people and a little girl. While we were there, the fire alarm went off. No one was worried, and the staff made announcements over the PA system that there was nothing to worry about currently. The little girl, however, didn’t understand or trust the announcements and was scared. It took a lot of assurances from her mother for her to calm down and eat her lunch without worrying about how we were all going to get caught in a fire. (Also the fire alarm stopped…)

When I am afraid, I am turned inward to myself. When I am not afraid, I can turn outwards to others. When I am scared I am only thinking about the here and now. When I am not scared, I can remember there is a larger story I’m a part of that I can’t see. When I am terrified, I can’t see what is going on around me. When I’m not terrified, I can see other people and things that God is calling me to pour into and serve.

It isn’t easy. I’ve been dealing with this particular fear for a long time and I don’t think I would have been very good at this “let it go” stuff at the beginning. But working through it and starting to approach it with this mindset has helped me. It’s also crossed over into other fears I have — being single forever, not making enough money to support myself, those darn snakes that are everywhere and nowhere..

If I believe God is in control of my life and knows what he’s doing (if I believe he is who he says he is — and if he wasn’t why would I put my faith in him?????), then I do not need to be afraid. I may still have the feelings of panic and fear, but I don’t need to let them dictate my life and make my decisions for me. I need to put them aside and let God dictate those decisions instead. And I hope that one day, in the face of fear, I will not be afraid.

 

Faith and Works (James 1-2)

What a coincidence. I actually wanted to do a study on James myself…it’s actually SO good. So many things to write about…

James raises interesting points in regards to faith without works being dead. While we know that our salvation comes by grace alone, we cannot earn it ourselves, we are still called into action with our faith. If you think about it, it is sort of the difference between believing in something and trusting in something. When we believe in something, we say it exists, but that is the extent of our “faith” if you will. Example: I believe that this chair exists, it is right there. However, trusting in something requires the next stage – we actually put that belief or faith into action. Example: I believe this chair exists, and it will hold me up. Now I will sit in this chair.

By pairing actions, or works, with our faith, we are moving past simply saying it is true into actively showing that it is true (note, works without faith would also be dead in this scenario). Therefore, we can take the things James talks about in chapter one and actually put them into practice, knowing that as we continue to put our faith into action we continue in the process of continual growth in Christ Jesus.

Citizens of the Kingdom (Hebrews 11-12)

There are so many things to talk about from this passage, I’m not sure what to write about.

The part that stood out to me today was 11:24-25:

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

I know chapter 11 focuses on faith and how we receive things through said faith, but can we just stop and actually look at what Moses did here? I think it’s a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live contrary to what the rest of the world says. He chose to be mistreated as one God’s people instead of the good feelings of sin. Pain>Pleasure. He saw Christ worth more than all the treasures of a great and mighty nation.  He even defied said nation further and instead relied on the king of the invisible country (which, coincidentally, is mentioned in chapter 12).

How many times today do we face the choice to trust God and act as citizens of his kingdom or follow the “fleeting pleasures of sin”? And how many times do we actually pick the right answer? Our actions should be able to speak for us here. As citizens of the kingdom, our actions should set us apart. Knowing is one thing, doing is another. And it is only by faith and continually relying on God that we can succeed.

Faith and Knowledge (1 Timothy 1-2)

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” – 1 Timothy 1:5

The goal of this whole mission is pure hearts and sincere faith. It seems so simple, how could the church be missing it? Because things get in the way. There’s a reason we get hit in the face every time we read about childlike faith. Doctrine and theology are cool and important and all that jazz, but head knowledge is worthless if the heart is not sincere in love and faith. Both aspects are necessary, but it is easy to miss one or the other.

Faith must equal knowledge; we must learn to walk the way we talk. I find that I continually must refocus myself on God and remind myself that simple trust is necessary, even though all the complicated things seem to be pulling me in other directions.

Need and Faith (Romans 3-4)

As we move on in Paul’s exposition to Rome, we are reminded that we are all sinners. Every single last one of us. We have a need for salvation. There is a distinct need for a way to be saved since we are all condemned to die. But there is hope moving on into chapter 4!

Paul tells us that we are saved by faith, not through physical circumcision, with the example of Abraham (which I coincidentally had not caught before), and the law. Instead, faith. Faith and faith alone. What gets me is that Abraham took the promise of God, and confidently moved forward on it. He was “ fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (4:21). How many times do I doubt that God can do what he promised? And in doing so call God a liar! So instead, we take the promises and gifts from God confidently and walk in them, knowing full well that God will fulfil everything he says he will.

Thoughts and Tangents (John 11-12)

I hope that I am able to have the faith of Martha. I get that everyone tells us to be Marys and learn how to sit and rest and stuff, but I would like to have a story like Martha who learns and grows in her faith over time. I would like to be able to grow to have faith to both believe and trust that God can do anything he pleases.

Point to ponder: technically the Pharisees were doing the will of God, even though they understood it to be something different. God uses everyone in his master plan, whether they know it or not.

Also, darn John and his non chronological order business.

It confuses me how people can choose to still look at the negative side of all of this. They want to kill Lazarus, they go run off and tattle to the Pharisees… He does his triumphal entry and all these signs, and they are hardened. Some believe, but some don’t. I guess that’s the way it is … but it just seems so odd at this point in the narrative for people to still be turning away from the one who came to save

Also also, another side rant, what is with this fear of the Jewish leaders business? I realize that they could exile you from your entire community and they had a huge amount of power and stuff … but like … come onnnn.

Inside Out (Acts 19-20)

In this passage, I am struck more by the fact that we must believe and trust in our hearts, not just our words. It is the heart that makes or breaks it. So many of the Ephesians are wrapped up in the identity and who they “are” that they can;t handle the actual God who made them. Their hearts are hardened.

Contrast with Paul. The narrative of Acts stands out here as Luke describes what Paul was doing. As such, we are only given his actions (and words), not his thoughts. However, we still see that everything he does points to God. He has found his identity in Christ and it is evident to others that this is so. And to top it all off, he’s humble about it. What a blessing it would have been to see that type of faith in action. I can only hope to one day grow enough to be similar in emulating Christ’s love and passion from the inside out.