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Secrets and Regrets

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about the past.  It’s interesting to notice the memories that stick out more than others, and how some things, if we don’t think about them long enough, we are bound to never remember them again.  However, there are those instances that repeatedly come back to mind, triggered by a car alarm or a certain phrase said by a complete stranger.  They are the secret pain and past regrets that seem to grip us and never let go.

I have realized that there are several things that I have held onto and they have held onto me, the “secrets and regrets” of my past.  I seem stuck in the same mentality as I was back then and it frustrates me.  There are past friendships and relationships that have gone sour, stupid decisions that I have made, and things out of my control that haunt me and have taught me to fear.  I constantly respond to people around me with these instances in mind, afraid to repeat the mistakes of my past.  However, all that I am doing is reacting from my woundedness and creating a whole new slew of secrets and regrets for tomorrow.

I have often wondered how circumstances that I have given to God can still bother me daily.  Sometimes it seems like there was no benefit of giving it to Him at all.  The struggle continues on and on, like a broken record or a scratched CD.  I am stuck, disillusioned, and unhappy.  It took someone else bringing to my attention the true source of this internal battle:  I have not forgiven myself for the things that have taken place.

You see, in two broken friendships in particular, I had done everything in my power to make things right.  I had taken on the responsibility for all that had happened and as a result, I inherited all the guilt as well.  I bore the burden and shame for the actions done, though I was only half the relationship.  I had forgiven them even though the pain continued, but I had not laid down the burden that I had been carrying ever since.

There is also a person that I allowed into my life for quite some time that all reason, wisdom, and intuition told me to close that door and walk the other direction.  I chose to ignore the voices I should have listened to, tired of being alone and desperately wanting someone to listen.  It was grace that protected me from a lot of “could-have-beens” as I chose to walk a path I knew better than to walk.  Talk about a regret that was my own doing.  How do you justify something like that?

In high school, I had a friend that committed suicide.  Not long before this happened, she and I were alone in our Algebra classroom.  All the other students had left and for some reason, we were the only ones there.  I distinctly remember the voice of God telling me to stay and talk to her, but I was in a hurry and going somewhere as always.  I stopped at the door, looked back at her, and as our eyes met, I continued out the door.  For years, I blamed myself for her death, knowing that I had willing disobeyed the voice of God calling me to take a priceless opportunity to be a friend.  Even after I reconciled in my mind that suicide was her decision, not mine, and sought forgiveness from God, I lived my life by the philosophy of “never again.”  Anyone that came into my life that was broken became my mission of salvation.  When things did not always turn out for the better in these instances, I took on additional responsibility and guilt.  I tried my hand at being “savior of the world” and found that it’s a good thing that God sent Jesus for this purpose and not me, because He was a lot more successful at the job.

Also in high school, I dated a guy for a year and a half.  He always was and will be an incredible guy, and it was an honor to be a part of his life.  When we started dating, he went to church but the idea of a personal relationship with God was something new to him.  We spent hours and days and weeks debating theology and the deep mysteries of life and one day I received a phone call from him saying that he had asked Jesus (for lack of a better phrase) into his heart.  I was so excited and I went into full-blown “discipleship mode.”  I bought workbooks that went through the whole “understanding your decision” process, and I can only imagine what he was thinking through the whole thing.  When the time came that our relationship ended, it was not long before I received a very different kind of phone call.  He had decided that this whole “Jesus thing” was not for him, and the conversations that we have had about it since usually contain the phrase “worse decision of my life” when referring to the few months he spent “exploring Christianity.”  It is one thing to have someone that you deeply care about never accept your beliefs.  It is another thing when they reject them completely; to celebrate a victory then face the attitude of disgust is hard to bear.  You know the drill, I blamed myself.  Did I misrepresent Christ to him?  Was his whole idea of who God is wrapped around who he understood me to be?  Had I become the savior rather than someone else who had been saved by grace?  I could probably answer “maybe” to all these questions, but as I have struggled to deal the best way with all of these situations, I have begun to realize the importance of things such as truth, free will, and grace.

Pillar has a song called “Secrets and Regrets” and the chorus begins, “Your secrets and regrets are keeping you from going very far, and you can’t let all this get you down and keep you living in the dark.”  I have learned that it is one thing to learn from our mistakes; it is another to let them control our decisions, relationships, and future.  Once we have laid our sin at the foot of the cross and found the forgiveness of Christ, we can leave it there.  Just as others have the free will to make the decision to be bitter, to give in to the pain, and walk away from God, we have the ability to choose to become people that operate from a different perspective.  If God’s grace is enough for everyone else, then surely it is enough for us.  We can live in victory.

The truth is that God has a passionate love for all of us, and He does not taunt us with the memories of the past.  What He has forgiven, He has chosen to send them as the Bible says, “as far as the east is from the west.”  His grace picks us up and says, “See how I make all things new!”  The old has gone, the new has come.  It is the enemy that reminds us of the times that we have failed and listening to his voice teaches us to hesitate and shrink back at obeying the voice of God.  God’s truth tells us that we are His “masterpiece” and by the grace of God, what has been broken can be restored in Him.

Until this point, I have juggled the voice of God and the voice of the enemy.  I heard God’s truth, but I also saw how much He had to save.  My fear of repeating past mistakes put me in a cycle of “better at some things, worse at others.”  I was living as a result of my experiences, rather than as a reflection of God’s grace.

The truth is, we all do stupid things.  When Jesus repeatedly referred to us as sheep, it was not meant as an insult.  He was simply stating things as they are.  However, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus laid down His life for us, His sheep, and His grace is sufficient for all of us, regardless of the secrets and regrets we face every day.  His love picks us up and makes us new.

From this day on, I refuse to live my life governed by my decisions and circumstances of the past.  I choose to listen to the voice of truth that says it is grace that opens the door for me to come to God with confidence and leave all that was broken at His feet.  I have no idea how the circumstances will turn out or if they will ever be resolved, but they are now in the hands of the real Savior of the world.  I want to live my life as a true reflection of my God, where His love flows freely through me and is not filtered through the pains of my yesterdays.  I want to sing the song that the angels only long to sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy rains
Unending love, amazing grace.

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Like A Mist

This morning is the funeral for my grandma’s sister.  It’s up in Nebraska so I am not able to go.  A couple days ago, my grandma woke up just like it was another day and walked into her sister’s apartment and found her on the floor.  Just like that.

I read chapter 2 of Crazy Love this week and it reminded and convicted me of so many things.  When I was in Jr. High, a girl I knew in my youth group had a brain aneurism and died.  She was 17 years old.  She was one of the most amazing girls I have ever met.  Her life held such promise, and then it was over.  What if I died today?  What would people remember about me?  I honestly have no idea.  I know how I hope that they’d remember me.

I’ve thought a lot about dying over the past few years.  Living every moment as if it was my last has been the philosophy of my life.  Being sick makes you think about that stuff.  However, living every moment as if it might not be my last is something that has been a huge struggle for me.

Honestly, living scares me more than waking up and seeing Jesus.  Him I trust, and He has never let me down or failed to prove His love to me.  I live my life for Him.  He and I, we’re ok.

It’s all these people I live with on earth that I struggle with.  How do I know if I can trust someone?  I’ve had some pretty significant blunders, so I have lived most of my life adding bricks to the wall around my heart.  Sure, I’ll be a friend to others, be their listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.  However, when I cry, I lock myself in a room.  Being vulnerable with someone…well, I’ve done that, and it didn’t turn out too well.
So I can write these general blogs with all the deep thoughts I’m having and it’s all good.  I’m leaving out the personal details.  Sometimes it’s easier for me to write about my feelings and put it out there, thinking well, maybe my mom will read this.  If someone else does, whatever.  It’s much harder for me to sit across the table from a friend and tell them, because it’s no longer just some words on a website.  There are two eyes staring back at me.  Those eyes might see me cry.  They might see the ugly things about me.  And what if I died tomorrow and that was her last memory of me?  What would she think of me then?  “Oh, she seemed like a great person, but…”  No, it’s much easier to deal with things alone and let everyone “respect” me.  What is respect?  What is honor anyway?

This is what I have been thinking about lately.  Honestly, it’s been bugging me a lot.  Living life with Jesus…at the end of the day, I know where we’ll stand.  However, I don’t know where I will stand with anyone else, especially if I allow them to see the deepest parts of my heart.  Does anybody else struggle with this?

Life Is A Scary Thing, Don’t You Think?

This is something that has been on my mind the past couple days.  Who in the world really understands life or time?  None of us has a clue if we will be alive in five minutes, let alone five years.  Life is so short…and it can be over so fast.

And how do we become the people we are?  We are born with personalities, but every single choice we make sends us down particular paths.  Everywhere we go, we meet different people and encounter different opportunities.  Going to one college over another could determine where someone lives, what job they settle on, and for many people, who they will marry.  How often do we ponder how we came to where we are?

And then there are the little decisions that change our lives forever:  to get in the car with those people, to walk home alone with that guy, or to run inside to grab something quick while the toddler is outside.  One stop light, one night, and one moment can leave us wounded for the rest of our lives.  We could drive ourselves crazy with the “could have beens.”

And what about the things we can’t control, like what family we are born into and all the messes that each one holds?  One child is born into a Christian family, one into an abusive family, and one left in a dumpster on a street in Africa.  The things they all will need to overcome and learn, the choices they will make to become people of excellence or victims of their circumstances, and the people that have the opportunity to step into their lives and encourage them down either path is astounding.  On one hand, we have such little power; on the other hand, all the power in the world.

There are times in life for all people where they reach a crossroads between what is comfortable, fairly predictable and safe, and the road that is better.  The better road will set them apart, cause them to tread through waters they have only dreamed about, and lead them to either a fabulous victory or a fabulous defeat.  It is the one opportunity taken that can change a life forever, and it is frightening.

Some people think that God’s will for their lives means that every single choice and decision has a right and wrong answer.  A person can literally drive herself insane trying to live by this philosophy.  Does God have specific plans for us, or is His will for us to be in relationship wtih Him and the rest of life how we respond with wisdom to the decisions and opportunities that come our way?  Does God have specific plans for some and not for others?  What about someone called to be a pastor?  Is someone called to be a plumber?

And how does someone realize God’s will for his or her life?  A terrible accident leaves a man crippled, and he spends the rest of his life ministering to disabled people.  One person chooses to leave everything, goes to another country, and opens an orphanage just because that has always been the passion of her heart.  Two completely different ways of response, one to circumstances and the other to a deep internal longing, yet they both believe they are living out the purpose for their lives.

I could literally go on all day…these are just a few of the thoughts on my heart…more to come.

My Savior, My Healer

Last night a friend and I had a pretty intense conversation about something.  We often have deep theological discussions, but last night was a bit of a special conversation.  It was difficult to discuss for me, because it hit very close to home in something that I have had to personally work through.  So to my friend, I apologize if I spoke out of emotion at any point in our conversation.  I want to show you respect in answering your question in the most complete way I know how.

For those of you who are just joining our discussion, the subject is Divine healing for physical sickness and how God chooses to respond to illness.

Just a background on why this is such a personal subject for me:  I have struggled with a very painful illness for over 8 years.  (An update for those who are wondering:  the prognosis is very good.  Treatment is going well, and I truly believe I am on the other side of the storm now.)  Throughout this journey I have wrestled with a lot of these questions about God:  Does God like to see His children suffer?  If not, then why does He allow it?  Am I not healed because I have a lack of faith?  Or maybe even the most common question:  Why?  For a long time, I thought it was wrong to question God.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned through this is how to be completely honest with God.  Until last year, I hardly told anyone about my illness.  The last thing I wanted to be in the world was weak.  I hated the thought of people feeling sorry for me or giving me special treatment because I “wasn’t like the other kids.”  I was so sick of thinking about it, and was tired of talking about it.  I got enough questions from doctors.  I hated the attention.  I just wanted to be normal.  There’s so much more I could share, but I wanted to include this because it’s important to understand that many people who are sick do not want to be this way.  (Some people do, and that is a completely different matter.)

So let’s tackle the tough questions.  I hate dancing around the real questions and being the good Sunday School kid by saying, “There’s always a reason for everything that happens.”  Maybe that’s true, but there is FAR MORE TO IT than a simplistic answer like that.  I believe it places blame in the wrong place, and I am about to dive into some really big things, so please take a deep breath before continuing.

Does God like to see His children suffer?  My answer is:  NO.  Now for the explanation, at least in part and it will continue throughout the rest of this essay.  One verse that has given me considerable comfort is Psalm 56:8.  The New Living Translation says it best:  “You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book.”  In fact, a lot of the Psalms deal with David (or one of the other authors) crying out for comfort, relief, and salvation from enemies.  Sometimes the song ends and there is no response from heaven.  If God is aware and He cares enough to capture and see as precious every tear that falls from our eyes, then why is He silent, often for years on end?  Why do some die without seeing relief when they have trusted God so deeply?

The question of God’s silence and permission for pain to linger is a difficult one to face and wrestle with.  Everyone who has faced any kind of suffering, not just illness, has to deal with these questions personally and in their own context.  I have never known an exception.  Now, in order to deal with this subject, we need to switch gears and discuss something else and work our way back to this point.

Here is the age old question:  What is the meaning of life?  My simplistic answer:  to worship God and bring Him glory.  If we look back in Genesis when God created man, chapter 1 verse 27 says that He created humans in His image.  In the beginning, before sin came into the world, Adam and Eve enjoyed walking and talking with God Himself in the garden.  Think about being able to stand in the presence of God Himself.  I get shivers down my spine just trying to imagine what that would be like.  It took humans only 2 chapters (who knows how much time) to fall for the appeal of being as great as God, knowing and understanding all things.  They chose to disobey God and eat from the one tree that He had told them not to eat from.  This is when sin came, and God had to enforce consequences.  This is the first time pain is mentioned and when death came into the world:  3:19c:  “For dust you are and to dust you will return.”  God put man in his proper place and reminded him that God is Creator; man is creation.  God is sovereign; man is dust.

Then comes Abraham, when God delivers His first covenant:  He will bring forth His chosen nation from Abraham, and God takes the responsibility for the sin of humans and promises a Savior to come and make all things right.  For the rest of the Old Testament, God established with Moses a law for the Hebrew nation to follow, to give them protective guidelines for life.  They notoriously rebelled against this law, and God through His love and justice allowed them to experience the consequences of their actions.  They were even taken into exile by the Babylonians for many years and the silence of God seemed to echo off the mountains.  However, He sent prophet after prophet, reminding the people that He had not forgotten them and if they would learn to follow Him, He would restore them once again.

Eventually, Jesus comes and just about the time the Teachers of the Law have the way to live down to a science (and I mean a science), Jesus turns their world upside down with talk of a new covenant (which seemed completely opposite from the old, but really was the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham).  Jesus walks around healing a ton of people and talking about a Kingdom of God, which was a familiar term to them, but they had come to misunderstand what it was all about.  They expected a national revolution.  Instead, they got the Son of God on a donkey, and that ticked them off to say the least.

It is because the idea of the Kingdom of God was so familiar to the Hebrew people that He never flat out says what the Kingdom of God really is.  He instead spent His 3 years in ministry describing through His stories, His life, and ultimately His death what the Kingdom of God is like.  He compared it to a mustard seed, a little bit of yeast, and a pearl.  He was trying to set the record straight:  the Kingdom of God isn’t about trying to be the greatest; it is about being the least.  It is not about being strong; it is about being weak.  It is not about being equal to God; it is seeing God in His proper place and us in ours:  at His feet, the creation worshiping the Creator.  Everything we are and everything we have is because God is and He gave.

This idea of free will is a hard one to reconcile.  If God created us to worship Him and give Him glory, then why did He even give us the option to reject Him?  That is where love comes in.  1 John 4:8b says that “God is love.”  It does not say that love is something God does; it is who He is.  True love is recognized when someone else could walk another path but they choose to love you instead.  True love is faithfulness even when the other party does not always return the favor, like God and the Israelites when they disobeyed Him time and again.  Finally, love is true when sacrifice is offered.  John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

So how does this relate to the subject of suffering and healing?  First of all, we need to understand everything within the greater picture of both the purpose of life:  to worship God and bring Him glory and also the Kingdom of God:  Jesus’ principle purpose in coming and the greatest message He wanted to get across.  If we as Christians are a part of this “Kingdom of God” and have been born again into this “upside-down reality”, where the least is the greatest, the faith of a child is required, and God is Sovereign, then we must understand what it means to capture the “mind of the Kingdom.”  In all of this, we MUST REMEMBER:  it is not about US.  It is ALL about GOD.

We as humans are not very good judges of what is GOOD.  We think that chocolate and ice cream are GOOD (and indeed, I fall into this category).  However, our bodies can’t handle a whole lot of these delicious desserts, and eating them often will cause our bodies to deteriorate and not function well.  We see exercising and holding a job as tiresome and a drag.  However, without doing these things, our lives would be at about the same level as if we ate chocolate and ice cream all the time.

On a much more serious level, we see pain and suffering as bad things, and it is true when we look at Genesis, we see that God created the world without these things and did not intend for them to come into the world.  Pain was never in the plan.  Pain was a result of man’s decision to disobey God.  Here is where actions and consequences were set into place.  Consequences are meant to teach us what to do and what not to do again.  Truth (at least in our minds) only makes sense when we see the action and the response (for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction).  Therefore, lest we fall into the trap of believing that God causes pain and suffering, we must understand that this came about from our decision to put ourselves in a place we do not belong:  as equals to God.  God is Creator; we are creation.  We are and we have because God is and He gave.

So what are you saying, Chelsea?  People get sick and they suffer because they rejected God?  Our illnesses are a consequence of what we have done?  So our suffering is our fault?  Here is where we need to discuss what the Kingdom of God is all about, and we need to handle some issues very carefully.

First of all, we need to understand that God does not give us “special treatment” because we are Christians.  Matthew 5:45b says, “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  The idea of partiality is a misuse of God’s love.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (emphasis added).”  Just like the Good Shepherd will leave the 99 sheep that are found and search for the ONE that is lost, so His love is passionate about the unrighteous like it is for the righteous.  The driving purpose of the Kingdom of God is to bring all those who do not know God into a saving relationship with Him, that they might experience His relentless love for them.  God is about restoring things to the way they should be and the way He created them all the way back in Genesis when a holy and Almighty God walked openly in the garden with man, and man felt no shame.  God does not cause pain nor did He create it.  Rather, through the suffering Romans 8:28 says, “God works for the GOOD of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (emphasis added).”  There’s that word GOOD again.  What is GOOD?  To be in relationship with God.  Who is called?  According to John 3:16, the invitation is made to everyone, and “whoever believes in Him.”

To be a part of the Kingdom means that we no longer live for our individual desires, but for the purposes of God.  We know the purpose of God is to bring everyone into a relationship with Him and restore the brokenness of the world.  Therefore, the things that we suffer are not only the result of being part of a broken world, and they not only grow in us personal qualities like Paul talks about in Romans 5:3-4:  “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.”  Our suffering has the possibility of growing us into Christlikeness, and therefore making us witnesses to others of the faithfulness and love of God.  Paul says in Romans 12:1 to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”  He also says, “this is your spiritual act of worship.’  When we gain the “mind of the Kingdom”, we understand the value of the eternal over the temporary.  Our bodies are temporary.  We will all die.  Our life here on earth is but a breath in light of eternity spent in the presence of God.  We are therefore called to, “store up…treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:20)”  As we trust God with the things we do not understand and serve Him though the road is painful, we store up eternal treasures in heaven that do not fade away when our bodies die and all that we possess and accumulate on earth are no longer ours.  This “mind of the Kingdom” is the kind of witness God desires from His Creation.  Paul calls it the “mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).”  We value the eternal over the temporary.  We live for the bigger picture and the greater purpose:  the Kingdom of God.

Therefore we can hold onto this promise from God in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

I rejoice in God:  my Savior and my Healer.  I now understand that my salvation and my healing run much deeper than the pain or comfort I feel from day to day.  I rejoice in the opportunity to be a part of the Kingdom of God.  I rejoice in my sufferings, because they have eternal worth and value.  I rejoice in the love of God that covers all.

I Promise

I just returned last weekend from Minnesota, where I had the privilege of being a part of one of my best friends’ wedding.  The weekend was insane with all the details and errands.  It was worth it, however, when the wedding actually took place, and seeing the joy in my friend’s eyes as she looked at her new husband brought happy tears to a lot of our faces.

I ended up driving back to Kansas alone, which turned out to be a good thing, because God and I had a pretty special time.  As I was going through my IPod, I came across many songs that held a lot of significance to me at certain points in my life.  It’s amazing looking at my journey over the past few years in relation to where I am now.  Being at the wedding reminded me of memories, both good and bad, of my pursuit of love.

I remember a few years ago, my developing of an extensive list of “what I want in a husband.”  I came across that list a couple weeks ago and I was apalled at how perfectionistic I was in looking for someone.  It’s not that I have lower expectations now; I have just discovered over time what is more important in someone.  The thing that I was most disturbed with was how my list was almost entirely focused on what my future husband could give and do for ME.  I realized right then and there that I had missed the whole point of love and marriage, along with the rest of our society.

Maybe I’ll write more on the purpose of marriage if I get married and know a little more about the subject.  However, it seems to me that marriage is a team; a companionship meant to glorify God.  When one is struggling, the other can hold him up, and vice versa.  It is shared sacrifice and gain, and most of all a representation of God’s love for the church.  I could go on, but I’m afraid I might be treading in waters I do not belong in at this point.

Romantic love seems to be the ultimate goal for most people; at least it is for girls (guys, I don’t even want to know what you do at YOUR slumber parties).  It’s fun to like a guy and dream about the future.  Every girl has in mind the perfect “knight in shining armor” and there are a million chick flicks to prove it.  Looking back over my journey, I definitely fell into the “hopeless romantic” track.  I shake my head at that girl back then, and in many ways I wish I could knock her over the head with a 2×4.  What was I THINKING?  I remember one time in the middle of the loneliness of being single that God taught me a special lesson about love.

I was in Ecuador and having a VERY rough time.  Take a girl that’s lonely to begin with and then place her in another country for 7 weeks.  Brilliant.  Well, God really used that time to plant some seeds of truth in my life that I couldn’t even grasp the significance of at the time.  I gave up my calling because I did not see how I was worthy or desireable for the job, and God chased me down and showed me that His love for me made me worthy.  What a significant time in my life that was.

The most life-changing time for me, however, was during a trip to the jungle.  This was a very personal time with God, and before now, I haven’t shared this with very many people.  In fact, I am almost positive this experience was never written in my Ecuador report.  God met me one night in the little hostel room upstairs and I will never be the same.  He showed me His heart and how He wanted me to learn how to fall in love with Him and allow Him to fall in love with me.  He gave me a secret promise that I hold onto every day.

That night I felt more loved than I have in my whole lifetime put together and those few hours spent in the presence of God is my most precious memory.  During that time, I was 4 years into my illness, and those who have battled chronic illness understand how even more alienating that struggle can be.  God gave me a song in Ecuador that really comforted me and helped me see His constant presence:

You’re Not Alone by Meredith Andrews

“I searched for love when the night came and it closed in
I was alone, but you found me where I was hiding
And now I’ll never ever be the same
It was the sweetest voice that called my name, saying,

‘You’re not alone, for I am here
Let me wipe away your every fear
My love, I’ve never left your side
I have seen you through the darkest night
And I’m the One who’s loved you all your life
All of your life.’

You cry yourself to sleep, cause the hurt is real and the pain cuts deep
All hope seems lost, with heartache your closest friend
And everyone else long gone
You’ve had to face the music on your own
But there is a sweeter song that calls you home, saying,

‘You’re not alone, for I am here
Let me wipe away your every tear
My love, I’ve never left your side
I have seen you through the darkest night
And I’m the One who’s loved you all your life
All of your life.’

Faithful and true forever
My love will carry you.”

Falling in love with God and being cherished by Him has been such an incredible journey, especially this last year.  In so many ways He has pursued my heart and been patient with me as I learned to trust Him.

As I was nearing Kansas City, a song played that I had not heard in a long time.  I must have repeated it 10 times.  It spoke the exact words that I wish to pray to God, and I wish every girl who is in this season of waiting could hear and embrace these simple words:

I Promise by Jaci Velasquez

“Lord, you know my heart and all my desires
And the secret things I’ll never tell
Lord, you know them well.
Though I may be young, I see and understand
That at times like sheep we go astray
And things get out of hand.

So I promise to be true to You
To live my life in purity as unto You
Waiting for the day when I hear You say
Here is the one I have created
Just for you.

Until then, O Lord, I will be content
Knowing that true love will come someday
It will only come from You
‘Cause I have seen the suffering
That loneliness can cause
When we choose to give our love away
Without a righteous cause

So I promise to be true to You
To live my life in purity as unto You
Waiting for the day when I hear You say
Here is the one I have created
Just for you.”

I love the quote from Max Lucado, “A woman’s heart should be so close to God that a man must seek Him to find her.”  It is my deepest prayer that I will seek God above all else and only step into a relationship that is God-focused and ordained.  I pray this for all the single girls out there:  wait.  Waiting isn’t sitting on your hands either.  Fall in love with God.  Seek His heart, and He will mold you and shape you into a woman of excellence.  Then you will be a jewel worth finding, and a blessing to that man when your paths stumble across each other unexpectedly.

Justice

Reading the news tonight about Libya is making me sick.  I don’t know what to think or how to feel, and honestly, I am sad at how little I know about what is going on.  It’s hard to know the truth, knowing the media can make things look however they want to.  Politics is always a little shady too.  I don’t understand any of it.

I hate war, and honestly I think God hates war too.  However, He loves justice.  He also asked the Israelites to engage in battle on many occasions.  When is war right?  How are we called to establish justice?

The justice of God is something I have never quite understood and I guess maybe I never will.  I do know that in order for life to make sense, there has to be truth.  The truth is that God gave us a choice to either choose Him or reject Him, and that has eternal consequences, both good and bad.  That demonstrates both God’s justice and love, since we have all rejected Him.  His justice had to be satisfied, so Jesus came to die.  So therefore, God’s justice and truth must be linked, as well as His love.

The truth is that God loves us.  That is the subject that is discussed most in church.  That’s nice to think about.  However, there are a lot of bad things that go on in the world, like trafficking, child labor, and orphans on the street.  SO MANY other things fit into this category.  How do we respond to that?  I know that these atrocities must anger God and He weeps for the innocent who suffer.  If He loves both the abuser and the abused, then how do we be agents of God’s justice to both parties?

To make it even more complicated, how do we handle genocide that occurs in other countries?  Like Apartheid in South Africa and the killing of over 800,000 people in Rwanda over tribal wars?  Surely it isn’t right to sit by and do nothing.  However, how do we decide which injustices to respond to and which to leave alone?  Some people believe we would be sticking our nose where it does not belong.  I don’t know how you pick your fights, because if I see someone hurting someone else, I might see it as my responsibility to intervene.

I’d better figure out where I stand on these issues, especially since my calling is to work with orphans in central Africa.  I know that I hate war.  However, I also hate it when someone who has the power to help stands by and watches the innocent suffer.  Some situations are easier to deal with than others.  If anybody reads this post, you should let me know what you think about this.

Thoughts About Family

So I had Starbucks with my friend Leslie this morning, and we started talking about something that I wanted to think about further.  We were discussing the kinds of traditions we desire for our future families and the ways we want to raise our children.  I have thought some about this, and how I want to raise my children a little more counter cultural than most people in the U.S….
Obviously, I don’t know who I’m going to marry, or if I will get married, but since this is based on having children and that requires a second party, I’m going to pursue the hypothetical and say that I did marry someone that enjoys thinking outside of the box like I do.  If I could raise my children completely “my way”…this is how I would do it.
Christmas would look very different.  We would celebrate the season of Advent together, talking about the significance of all the activities that went on during the birth of Christ in a longer time frame than just the week of Christmas.  The other big focus (which I kind of got this idea from a caller on K-LOVE) is that each member of the family would have a night that was theirs and they could choose what service project the family would do together.  Maybe little Josie wants to make cookies for our neighbor.  We would make the cookies and decorate them together.  Maybe Hezekiah (which I would not name my child this) would like to serve in a soup kitchen or go to a nursing home and spend time with the residents, etc.  We would do that together as a family.  We would not receive any gifts, but spend the season together building memories and giving to those around us.
I really want to teach my children that “stuff” is not important.  I want them to grow to see how they can use the gifts that they have been given to be a blessing in the world, and how to love and grow in our family and community.  I want them to sharpen the skills and interests that they have.  I want the focus to be on becoming who we were meant to be, not passing the time and waiting to grow up.  I think so many kids spend so many hours in front of the TV watching cartoons and shows, and though as a babysitter I am thankful for movies, I want my kids to grow up being active in the world and believing that they can truly make a difference.
Maybe I’m weird, but I would be completely open to not even owning a TV.  This sounds so strange, because I own so many movies, but as I have been refocusing my life during this Lent time, I have seen so much how I have fallen in love with life away from watching movies.  I have discovered things that I love to do, skills that I have, and ways that I can serve God and connect with Him.  I want my kids to grow up outside, learning about God’s creation and maintaining a child-like wonder at the beauty of God.  I want to give them opportunities to be creative and to think big.  I want them to dream, to fall in love with God’s dreams, and make them happen.
This little essay is so disorganized because I am just writing as I am thinking.  Since I have not watched movies or TV, I have enjoyed life so much more.  I have discovered things that I would so much rather do with my time.  I love photography and trying to capture in just a small way the beauty of God.  I love writing and sharing the things that God is teaching me.  I love sitting by the lakeside and watching the ducks swim in the water.  I love relaxing on the dock and watching the sun set over the railroad tracks and see the colors reflect off the water.  I love sitting in the dark and looking at the moon and listening for the gentle whisper of God.  I want my kids to know what it’s like to live life like this.  I want them to see my love and passion for God in the way I live my life.  I also don’t want them to fall into the trap that they need to be busy every second of every day to make their lives matter.  The most important thing we could ever learn is how to just “be” in God’s presence, and spending time with Him is a more valuable way to spend our time then constantly moving up the ladder to be successful.
I think sometimes too as parents, we (I say we even though I don’t have kids) tend to move toward what is easy, because life is hard and exhausting and when we have a full-time job, all we want to do when we get home is collapse.  I truly believe though, and I want to live this with my life, that when I have kids, to see them as a gift from God, and that He is entrusting me with these little “people” to not only teach them how to live, but also how to become who God created them to be.  Every child is born with a unique personality and a unique set of gifts.  I see in so many ways how I am so different from my parents.  Sometimes I wonder how that happens.  However, I want to give my children the freedom to discover what they love, to sharpen their talents, and to find their place in the world.  I want to raise them to have responsibility and maturity, but not impose my own ideas about who they should become.  If my kid does not like bowling, then I will not make them bowl.  If they really like acting, then I will help them find ways to be in drama clubs and plays.  I’m probably just talking off the wall, but this is my blog, so I guess I’m allowed to.  You can stop reading anytime you want to.
Most of all, I want to teach my children the value of falling in love with God.  I don’t want to simply train them to go to church on Sundays.  I want to show through my life how to live in relationship with Him, to be obedient to Him, how to hear His voice and follow His leading.  I want to teach them how to be leaders if that is their gift, or how to serve God behind the scenes if that is who they were made to be.  Through any activity that we do as a family, I want to show them that they are not only a valuable part of our family, but also a valuable part of the Kingdom of God, and even as a young child, they have a place in His family.
Ok…that’s the end of my ranting.  Just some very disorganized and interesting thoughts I’m having today.

The Passion of My Heart

I have been having a really hard time lately.  I don’t even know how to explain the struggle, except to say that I am reevaluating a lot of things in my life.  What is really important to me?  What is the passion of my heart?

You want to know the thing that breaks my heart every day?  Well, if you don’t, stop reading now.

It breaks my heart that there are children in the world that do not have a family.  When I was in South Africa, I learned that there are children that live even in the graveyards, and because they do not have a birth certificate, the government does not know they exist.  No child deserves to live like that.  Every child should know what it’s like to have a mom and dad, to have shelter and food and to know God’s love.  That has been the cry of my heart for years.  I want to give those children a home, to show them that they are so loved by God, and they have a future and hope in Him.

Call me crazy.  Call me a dreamer, I don’t care.  I’m just being honest.  I cannot express how deeply my passion for dedicating my life to orphan care really is.

So I have been thinking a lot about the things that I have allowed to take priority in my life.  A good object lesson is my apartment.  I have SO MUCH STUFF, mostly because I never take the time to go through stuff and organize or decide what I really need.  My place looks like I’m a hoarder, not because I keep everything that “might be useful someday”, but because I literally don’t care about things.  I’ve realized that if I don’t need something, then I need to get rid of it.  If my apartment resembled how I really feel about stuff, it would be pretty empty.  Seems hilarious to some people who figured this out at age 3, but that is something I am working on.

I have also been evaluating why I am so busy and why I feel the constant need to say yes to everything someone asks of me.  I have not prioritized my time well, and I have worked God into little slots in my life instead of making Him my life.  So when He becomes the focus and the highest priority in my life, how will the way I spend my time look different?

And what kind of boxes have I put God in?  Growing up in the Church of the Nazarene, going to a Nazarene college, working at a Nazarene church, going through ordination classes in the Church of the Nazarene…have I been building my entire idea of the Church around the Nazarene church or around the Kingdom of God?  I love my church and my denomination and they have “raised” me well.  However, I don’t want to miss God in all this church.  Is it preposterous for me to even say this?

Have I been living in my own understanding of how God is going to fulfill His call in my life?  I’m a planner, and like chess, my mind is always 3 steps ahead.  Have I put words in the mouth of God?  Am I shutting the door in His face by not considering that maybe He thinks a little more unconventionally than I do?  I don’t want to miss Him.  This time has been excruciating, because I can’t even fathom the next step.  I have to be patient and wait for God to speak and lead me where He desires.  I am not handling it well to say the least.  He’s really working on me, and I’m finding He has a lot of work left to do, because in a lot of ways I’m a mess.

So in all of this, all the uncertainty and cloudiness in the future, I have to say this:  What I desire more than ANYTHING is to serve God and to love Him with everything I am.  I want to see the world as He does and to be used by Him in whatever way He desires and leads.  I want this more than my dreams and goals.  I want this more than my comfort and safety.  I have one life to live and I choose to give it to Him, praying that He will honor the desire of my heart to serve Him.  He is my everything and all that I live for.  Whatever the next step is, I pray that God will keep my heart purely devoted to Him.

I want to be in a place where I am actively serving God and using the gifts and talents He gave me to glorify Him.  I am praying that if this place is not here, He will lead me to wherever that is.  If that place is here, I pray He will give me the passion for the work and open up opportunities for me to glorify Him where I am.  Waiting on God to speak is hard, especially when my heart is restless and discontent.  I want to be responsible and wise, and for my actions in everything to resemble God’s love and presence.  I am praying that He gives me the grace to do that, whatever the outcome.

So these are my thoughts.  This is me being honest.  At this point, I’m trusting God to honor my transparency.  I don’t know what He wants for me right now.  It’s a little scary, especially for someone who likes to have it all figured out and thought she did.  However, when I sense that God is gearing up to speak to me, I have to listen.  I don’t want to miss all that He has planned for my life.  I want to lose myself in His Kingdom.  He is the passion of my heart above all else.  Please pray for me through these difficult days.

I Skipped Church to Spend Time With God

So today I’m skipping church to spend time with God.  I used to think that God tamed the wild hearts as they matured.  However, I am learning, as C.S. Lewis puts it:  “He is not a tame lion.”  God is crazy wild, and the closer I get to Him, the wilder my heart becomes.  This inevitably causes those around me to question my sanity.  That’s ok, because I follow God, not my spiritual mentors, my church or my friends.  They all have their place and importance, but I find sometimes I get sucked into the reality that I can see and touch and feel, and I lose touch with the eternal reality of the soul.  God’s voice becomes fainter and fainter as I hear all the other voices around me.

So I am learning how to use wisdom in how I manage this wild heart.  However, I am trying to tune into God’s wisdom, and it might not make sense to those around me.  For a person who has lived to please everybody else, this is a hard concept.  I wind up disappointing the people whose support I want the most.  However, whose support do I really desire?  My family and friends or God?  It’s all nice and rosy for the first part of the journey when it’s one and the same.  Do I have the strength to stand against those I love in order to follow what I believe to be God’s will?  Could I really leave behind some things that have become my comfort zone?  I believe that maybe following God is a lot bigger and farther reaching than I had imagined it to be.

Today I put down one of my devotionals for good.  I have felt this whole year it was saying the same thing over and over, and today I realized the source of my frustration.  The devotional revolved around the idea that God is out for our best interests, and we need to trust through the hard times that He is in control.  This statement is mostly true, but what we “westerners” sometimes lose sight of is this:  IT IS NOT ABOUT US.

So what is this life about?  We cling to verses like Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This verse is true, but that leads us to ask the question:  What is the GOOD this verse is talking about?  Reading Paul’s work is beneficial, but sometimes we read Paul more than we read Jesus’ words, mostly because Paul is a little easier to understand.  Quite honestly, some of the stuff Jesus said really disturbs me.

Matthew chapter 10 puts me on edge.  It makes me question the beautifully wrapped present of “Jesus loves me, so He died that I can live with Him forever.”  I have often wondered why the message of Jesus’ love is so offensive to so many people, that they would go to the extreme of killing Christians just to shut them up.  As I watched the Passion of the Christ yesterday, it started to become clear.

It’s about a whole ‘nother Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.  They didn’t kill Jesus because He loved them.  Most people appreciate it when someone loves them.  They killed Him because He was establishing a new Kingdom and was attacking the one that was in power.  The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were at the center of Jesus’ criticism.  The truth is sometimes hard to believe and accept, especially when it’s in direct opposition to the truth you have chosen to believe and follow.

However, it was not a battle between Jesus and the Pharisees.  It was a battle between God and Satan, good and evil.  There is so much going on in the world behind the scenes.  Things aren’t always as they seem to be, and although we want to ignore the forces at work around us, to be a part of the Kingdom of God requires us to be armed and ready for battle.  The weapons of God are necessary, because whether we want to believe it or not, we are standing on the battlefield and war is raging around us.

You see, Jesus didn’t come to die for us just to make us feel good.  He came to pay the penalty for us choosing to be a part of the kingdom of sin.  Everyone who has ever lived has made a decision against God’s Kingdom and has been a part of the other.  Jesus was the only man who had never chosen to join the kingdom of the world, so His sacrifice and victory through His resurrection gives us the opportunity to come back to the Kingdom that we were created to be a part of.  He wants to restore what was broken.  So the battle begins.

The lies of Satan vary with each one of us, but they are very real and threaten to consume our lives.  He wants to render us powerless.  If he can disconnect us from our purpose and the image of God in which we were made, then he has won the victory in our lives.  God, however, tells us we are made for so much more.  In our weakness before Him, He makes us strong and fit for battle in His Kingdom until all things are made right someday.  The battle is eternally important because many of the people we see every day are buying into the lies of Satan and are held captive by him.  God has called and is conditioning us to be agents of His Kingdom and His Spirit.

So why did I question the word GOOD in Romans 8:28?  Well, I am discovering that we are not the best judges of what is GOOD for us.  We think of being healthy or safe or rich as GOOD things, but God isn’t about OUR purposes.  Romans 8:28 says that we are called according to HIS purpose.  Matthew 10:24-25a says, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.”  We need to understand that we serve God, not the other way around.

What is GOOD for us is to be one in Spirit with God, to be like our Teacher and Master.  He created us for a purpose, and it is GOOD for us to carry out that purpose in every way.  It is all about the KINGDOM OF GOD.  It is about HIS glory.  It is about HIM.  When we truly grasp what this is about, well “Goodbye Ordinary” as MercyMe would say.  We are in for a ride.

So as you consider whether you will be a part of the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world, count the cost.  When you follow God, it WILL cost you everything.  It may even cost you your life, which may not seem very GOOD.  I have the best news for you though:  Jesus says in Matthew 10:39:  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Choosing the kingdom of the world will also cost you everything, but it will cost you an eternity of the GOOD that God is offering you.  There is no neutral team.  It is one or the other.  Therefore, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  Joshua 24:15b,d

What Is the Kingdom of God?

I am just overwhelmed by how AMAZING God is.  He is SO big and wonderful and good and powerful and oh my goodness-I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that this INCREDIBLE God would put on skin and pay the penalty that OUR actions have deserved, satisfying HIS OWN justice, the very thing that holds everything together.

And what is this KINGDOM OF GOD?  It’s like a mustard seed that became a huge tree or a little yeast working its way through the whole batch of dough.  It is this pearl of great price that is worth selling everything to have.  It is backwards and upside down.  It is the irony of ironies that the Kingdom of God is so big and complex that all the knowledge in the world cannot even fathom yet the faith of a child is required to be a part of it.  It is a farmer sowing seed along the path.  It is the greatest becoming the least, the God of all becoming a servant to man.  It is the towel and the basin.  It is humility over pride.  It is surprising and important that what we do means nothing yet following God requires everything.  What has God entrusted to us?  HIS KINGDOM, and it is advancing and living and active.

Wow!  What in the WORLD is this box that I have put God and His Kingdom in?  He fits nicely in three songs and a sermon and a night serving soup at the homeless shelter.  Or does He?  Maybe I’ll be radical and give a large sum of money to the missions fund.  There, now I am a part of the Kingdom.

Who am I kidding?  Well, maybe I’ll dedicate my life to missionary service or to be a pastor.  Maybe I’ll even be imprisoned and die for His name.  That will make me a part of the Kingdom for sure.

But is the Kingdom of God really about SACRIFICE?  It is said many times in the Bible, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” and “To obey is better than sacrifice.”  If sacrifice has been our ultimate measure of someone’s committment to the Kingdom, then maybe we are missing the point.

You see the Kingdom of God cannot be measured, and it cannot be fit around our own ideas of it.  The Kingdom of God already is and is also coming.  There is something inherently dangerous about even speaking about the Kingdom of God.  It is a reality that surpasses all realities and will last through eternity while the reality we live in will pass away.  Do we think we understand it?  We are only kidding ourselves.  It’s no wonder Jesus says we need to be “born again.”  When we become a part of the Kingdom of God, we are entering another reality, where “the wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3:8)  A picture that I have of the Kingdom of God is the East Australian Current (EAC) from Finding Nemo.  It is there, it is moving.  I’m jumping in.

God is “blowing me away” with all of this.  It’s like the Bible is completely rewritten for me.  I always skipped over the Kingdom of God parts because I didn’t understand it.  However, I am discovering that this is why it is SO AMAZING.

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