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Mansions of the Heart: Chapter Six

In what ways have you learned to follow Jesus, using the gifts of the Spirit?
Well, I am not sure how to answer this question.  It has been a while since I have taken a spiritual gifts test (many years).  I do feel that certain gifts that come naturally, like discernment, have really helped, but I’m not sure that I know to what extent.  It’s hard for me to pinpoint these things…and I’m not sure I necessarily need to.  I am learning how to live in response to God’s leading in every situation; and I trust that He will develop in me the characteristics and gifts that are needed to fulfill whatever plan He has for me.
Recall the teachers and mentors God has brought into your life, to show you what true discipleship is like, who encouraged you to risk actually following Jesus.  Thank God for them and pray for them.
What “holy dissatisfactions” are you dealing with right now?  How do they point to the spiritual growth that God wants for you?
Oh my goodness.  I would direct whoever wants to know the answer to this question to the rest of my blog.  That’s about all I have to say on that.
Among the “keys to growth” listed earlier, which ones appear to be good next steps in your cooperation with God’s work of spiritual formation within you?
Since I am not currently in Mansion Three anymore, I would probably say as far as a next step, these work as general pieces of advice for me, but not necessarily where God is leading me to focus right now.  Things such as being still before God and detachment, are good general practices, because we can gradually get away from these things.  We need to understand these things are important in most times in our lives.  However, this does not speak to me at this particular point in my life.
I will say that this chapter was very significant to read.  I identified HUGELY with everything that was said, because it was not that long ago that I was really busy in doing and disillusioned by responsibilities.  I wondered why I was not at peace if I was giving my everything for God.  This chapter helped me to know that it was a normal phase and necessary for spiritual development.  I’m sure I will struggle with this again in the future.  This chapter is a must read for every Christian, and most of the people I know are in this stage of spiritual development.
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Just Me Thinking

There are a lot of things I wonder about that maybe I shouldn’t be questioning.  I guess that makes me an imperfect human that struggles sometimes to have faith.  I wonder why God doesn’t answer some prayers when He knows the longings of our hearts.  I have asked what motives are not right and pure, but I have received no answer.  Maybe I have not been persistent enough, like the widow demanding justice.  I am afraid to be persistent, because I am afraid that I am wanting something different than what God wants.  I don’t want anything less than His will.  So how do I pray?  Do I beg?  Do I give up and allow whatever will happen to happen?  The Bible says I do not have because I do not ask.  It also says whatever I ask for in the name of Jesus I will receive.  It also says to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to me as well.  I will continue to seek His kingdom, but the question remains:  how do I pray?

Although this season in my life is amazing, I am also struggling through it.  For one, I’m not finding many people I know to understand the place I’m at right now, and that is rather lonely.  Most people are busy doing things and exhausted because of their responsibilities.  I understand that, and I was there for years.  However, God has moved me to a place of being–being in Him, listening intently to Him, and wrestling through the many questions in my heart that previously I made no time to pose to Him.  This place in my life is so contrary to everything I was not so very long ago.  I used to be a planner.  I used to be involved in everything.  I used to be overly committed to good things, like my church and Sunday School class.  It scares me to let go of some things, especially when I can’t figure out what God is doing.  It feels like I’m floating through outer space with light years of nothing in every direction.  There is no friction, so I cannot move myself.  I am just floating at the mercy of God.  I have no idea where I am going.  I can’t have plans.  For the first time I think I understand how silly plans can be when we don’t even know what the next five minutes hold.  So what is life?  I haven’t the slightest idea.  I used to live with the illusion that I had some control.  Maybe I do, but in my relationship with God right now, I have no control.  At least I have some degree of peace in knowing this is where He wants me.

I had a strange dream last night that becomes even more strange the longer I think about it.  I don’t really know what to make of it, except that now I realize that I desire the kind of community I read about in the Bible.  However, that kind of community, though fascinating, doesn’t make any sense within our culture.  Maybe our culture doesn’t lend itself to creating communities or holding onto them.  I am so thankful for our country and what we stand for.  I love that we can become anything we dream of becoming.  However, how do I have dreams and yet not live this life for myself?  We talk so much about “balance” and having a “balanced life.”  However, Jesus always spoke in extremes.  He wants all or nothing from us.  He told the rich young man to go sell everything he had and follow Him, not sell everything he might not need later.  When Jesus sent His disciples out, He told them not to take anything for the journey but what they were wearing.  I guess I am trying to grasp following Jesus within our culture, and it simply doesn’t make sense.

The desires of my heart are becoming clearer and clearer, yet I only see them at a distance.  In a way I’d rather go back to only thinking of them occasionally.  It didn’t hurt so much then.  How do I live in expectation, yet hold on in faith?  How do I dream and still trust?  How do I trust God with the desires of my heart?  I thought I did, but that was before I really wanted them.  Lord, please help me in this.

How do I live as a child of God in a complacent world?  Children are starving and dying every day and yet we are content to go to our air-conditioned jobs and complain about the weather.  How do I deal with having to be in this place right now?  I am one of them.  The world keeps turning and it seems I have no choice.  It breaks my heart.

In what ways do I still need to grow?  God, please teach me, I want to learn.  Please speak, for Your servant is listening.  I’m tired of meaningless years.  I’m tired of this selfishness.  Am I ever tired of this selfishness!  Lord, heal me and send me out.  I will follow you forever.  My heart is growing impatient.  I want to jump into the deep of the ocean with you.  Help me, Lord, please help me.

After I finished writing this, I opened up my devotional, and here is today’s message from the Daily God Book by Erin Keeley Marshall:

“No matter where you come from, I have beautiful plans for the rest of your story.”

“I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel.” -1 Chronicles 17:7

For anyone who has ever felt small or overlooked-like minor news in a top-story world-God is the best news around.  Actually the best news, period.  He has always found delight in taking unknowns and making headline successes of their lives.

King David is just one example.  His headline could read many ways.  How about “Shepherd Boy Makes It Big”? “Country Boy Takes Over Palace Duty”? “Stone Slinger Sings Psalms from Throne”?

God excels at creating beautiful stories with people’s lives.  Yours is no exception.

Far from leaving us trapped by the limitations, mistakes, and even the sins of our pasts, God wants to use those events to shape us into people suited for His specific plans for us.

No one has your experiences.  No one has your heartaches.  No one has grown exactly as you have through them.  And because of them, no one else can go exactly where God wants to take you from here.

Your history does not define you.  What you think of as hindrances to your future God sees as opportunities to make an even greater difference in your life and to send a greater message to the world about His goodness and power.

God chose a shepherd boy to be king in the line of His Son, Jesus, our Savior.  Regardless of whether you came from the lap of luxury or from the wrong side of the tracks, God has a wonderful story to tell through you.

Your beginning was only a blank page, far from the whole story.  Let God have the keyboard and write the rest of your life.

It’s sure to be a page turner.

Lord, there are parts of my past that bother me, even though I’ve tried to release them to You.  Please heal the areas that need it, reform the broken parts, and piece together a story that shows others Your skills at authoring a beautiful life.”

Lord, let it be so.

If Ever I Loved Thee

I was trying to think about how to share the things that have been on my heart today, and I finally decided that clever ways would not explain as well as just telling it like it is.  So here is the story from today.
This morning at 8:15 I had a doctor’s appointment.  This could be a long story all on its own, so I will try to make it concise.  Basically, my body is still reeling from the medicine the doctor put me on three weeks ago and consequently took me off two weeks ago.  The medicine essentially weakened my immune system (which was the point, I learned today), and I got at least two infections over the weekend.  After explaining all this to my doctor, I asked him what the road ahead looked like from his perspective.  He explained to me that he believes I have some form of a fibromyalgia where the immune system attacks itself, but because my system is so sensitive, we would basically dose me up on vitamins and hope for the best.  After eight years of fighting and trying, that was one of the most discouraging things I could have imagined a doctor saying to me.  He too was discouraged, confused, and tongue-tied.  Finally, after some discussion, he decided to refer me to Mayo clinic.  Now it’s a waiting game to see if I will be able to get in.  It could be this week; it may not even be this year.
It seemed like basically everyone (the few people I talked to about it) seemed pretty happy about this idea.  It kind of came as a shock to my dad, though my mom and I have been expecting it for several months now.  I drove straight to work after the appointment, and within fifteen minutes of being at work, I had laughed, entered shock phase, and cried my eyes out both with my coworkers around and in a room by myself.  Several people asked me how I felt about the decision.  I simply didn’t have an answer for them.  Finally, after a few hours, I admitted to someone that how I felt was scared.  Who wants to go to a big name hospital and be poked and prodded for a week or two straight while explaining over and over to people they don’t even know a pain that is impossible to describe?  It’s enough to drive anyone mad.  I’m not so sure I haven’t gone mad.
Through the “grieving process” today, I had a couple pretty significant conversations and a God moment alone in my bedroom in my apartment.  Although I was frustrated with the fact that today’s “lesson from God” was a rather selfish one, I couldn’t walk away from what He was confirming in my life.  If there’s one thing that annoys me more than it annoys anyone else, it’s sharing about being sick.  If I had my way, I wouldn’t talk about it at all.  However, it seems like God has other plans, and really my life is His story anyway, so I’m trying to be obedient by being open about the things that He is teaching me.
Lately, I’ve been spending my lunch hours at home listening to music.  Today, I happened upon the song “My Jesus, I Love Thee”.  This song has been so familiar to me over the years, but I had not thought about it in a few months.  For some reason, the words hit me today in a special way and I wanted to share this with you.  Here are the lyrics for the first two verses, for those who do not know them:
  1. My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
    For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
    My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
    If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
  1. I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
    And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
    I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
    If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
This song is so simple, but so INCREDIBLE.  I could sit and read the words all day.  I feel like it really matches what I have been going through, because as I have looked back on the different stages of my life and my view of God during those times, I see how my love for Him has grown stronger.  The first verse talks about the beginning, when we first start the journey of following Him.  We decide to leave our lives behind for the love of our Savior.  For me, the longer I know God, the more aware I am of the price He paid for me on Calvary.  If I thought I loved Him before, I love Him more now.  However, the first two verses do not compare to the last two verses, but we will come back to that later.
As I was talking to our executive pastor today and making him aware of what is going on and that I may need to leave work suddenly for a couple weeks, he told me about a lecture from one of his professors in college that has stuck in my mind all day.  This professor was going through a time of deep sadness, and it seemed to linger on and on.  He struggled to hear God or to sense His presence at all during this period, and it led him to cry out to God.  When he received no answer, he finally made this statement to God:  “If You never speak to me again, still I will follow You.”  This sounds eerily similar to Job’s “though He slay me” statement.
For me, this question has been settled in my heart for quite some time now, though my resolve has been attacked in serious ways lately.  I sensed God moving in my heart today to sit down before Him and renew my commitment.  Sometimes in the midst of battle, we need to hear that cry from our leader to keep fighting because victory is near.  Like in The Patriot when Mel Gibson grabs the flag and runs through the field of warriors waving it with all his might, I need to grab the flag of my faith and be reminded of what it is that I am fighting for, because war makes even the strongest soldiers weary.
As I was driving to my doctor’s appointment today, I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen.  I turned off the radio and prayed something to the effect of, “God, You alone know what is wrong with me and why I have had to suffer so long.  I assume You have a good reason for not letting anyone else in on the great secret, because I have to believe that You have a reason for everything You do.  Please give me the strength to hold onto You and to trust You in what I don’t understand.  Give me an open heart to see the wonderful things You are doing and will do through all of this.”  I have continued to pray this prayer all day.
I can honestly say that I have never in my life loved Jesus more than I do today.  Nothing that could ever happen to me could ever change that.  You know how I know this?  Because when I have not had the strength to hold onto God, I have found His loving arms to be holding me.  No matter the depth of the valley (and maybe I have seen nothing yet), I have found His grace to be sufficient and His love to be faithful.  Like gold forged in the fire, the joy He gives grows stronger through the storms.  There is not a reality more true.  Although the pain is real, His love is even more real.
When I heard the last two verses of the song “My Jesus, I Love Thee”, I thought to myself, “Exactly.”  Here are the words:
3.    I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
  1. In mansions of glory and endless delight,
    I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
    I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
    If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
I noticed how many times the author uses the word “brow”, and even though he probably used it because it was one of the few words in the English language at the time that rhymed with “now”, I think he wanted us to pay special attention to the crown.  How interesting it is that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords was crowned with a crown of thorns in love for us, so that someday we might wear a glittering crown in heaven.  There is a song by Michael English called “There’s Not A Crown” that has meant a lot to me since the first time I heard it:
To every life there comes the question of the heart
For extraordinary pain
Struggle greets you on the mountains that you climb
A war within the soul – for every step you gain

Remember when the winds of sorrow strike you down
And leave you hopeless and afraid
The proof of battle is the wounds that you will bear
The scars that build you strong for the journey that you make

CHORUS:
There’s not a victory without a fight
There’s not a sunrise without a night
There’s not a purchase without a cost
There’s not a crown without a cross

No greater anguish ever came upon a man
Than when the Son of Glory died
The sins of all of us were nails that pierced His hands
An act of sacrifice – the pain within the price

His crown was fashioned from his suffering and travail
Shone like the Son when He arose
He showed us triumph even when all hope was lost
He carried out a plan so that every man would know

Repeat CHORUS

God will guide you when you cling to His hand
Strength will find you when you learn how to stand
To persevere to the end

This song brings to mind some really important things.  There is no victory without a fight and there is no purchase without a cost.  When we think about all the things in life that we have to “suffer”, God did not even make Himself exempt from that.  He definitely could have left us all to our own doom and gloom here on earth.  However, He fought the hardest fight out there.  He carried the weight of the sin of the whole world.  No man had ever borne a burden like that.  If we think our God does not understand our meager suffering, we are sorely wrong.  He showed us with His very life and death that there is no crown without a cross.
Is it any wonder that He would say that to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our own cross?  Paul says in Philippians 3:10-11:  “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead.”  How many times in my life have I said to God, “I want to KNOW YOU” and yet I cringe at the idea of suffering.  What better way is there to identify with the person of Jesus than in knowing in just a small way the pain that He bore for me?  I wonder if He still feels that pain as He watches the one He loves pray for something and struggle to accept His answer.  There is no greater gift that God could give me than the gift of suffering with Him.  If I really meant what I prayed, then I will accept His answer with humility and gratitude.
At the end of my life, when the death dew lies cold on my brow, I want to be able to say that never in my life had I loved Him more.  I want to love Him more on that day than I do even right now.  If the things that are important to me in this life are taken away:  my family, friends, home, and health, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  (Philippians 3:8-9)  If I say that He is MY EVERYTHING, then I must be able to say that when my everything else is taken away.
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul gives his famous speech about his thorn in the flesh.  Through a conversation with someone else today, I was reminded of God’s timeless answer to Paul through His decision to not take away the thing that pained Paul most.  He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  How many times in church do we praise God for His power and ask Him for His strength to show itself?  How many times do we pray for God to make us weak?  Maybe we have so much yet to learn.  However, the truth remains:  it is God’s grace that is sufficient. 
Grace is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it is God giving us blessings that we do not deserve, and certainly salvation falls into this category.  However, grace is also borne through the wheel of the Potter as He is molding and shaping us more into the image of Him.  His grace shows us a love that does not leave us where it found us; but rather it is transforming us in the perfect power of God.  This truth is sometimes hard to accept, because the process is often excruciating.  However, what an honor it is to be held in the Potter’s hand, that He would see in us what we could be in Him and give the sacrifice of His very Self to see the final product!  If we could only see through the eyes of eternity, we might recognize what a gift we have been given!
My friend used the word “opportunity” to describe the doctor’s decision today to refer me to Mayo.  That’s a funny word, but it is so perfect for the situation.  In every trial that God allows in my life, He is also allowing an opportunity for me to know Him more, to love Him more, and to show His power perfect in my life.  I pray that every day He would bring Himself glory in the way I live, and that my attitude would always be thankful for the good things He gives me that often disguise themselves as trials.  I want this to be my statement at the end of every day until the moment I look in the face of my Savior and Best Friend:  If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.

A Tender Heart

This is going to be a really short blog post (and everyone shouts Hallelujah!), but what God has been doing in my life today is causing me to have a more tender heart.  I am beginning to realize all the people around me that I take for granted every day.  How many times have I told the receptionist that I like her smile, or my boss how much I appreciate him?  It seems like there is a lot of negative talk that goes on everywhere, and it’s easy to get sucked in and join the crowd.  Sitting around the break table or passing conversations in the hallway often tend to tear others down rather than build them up.  However, if we are to follow God’s calling to live grateful lives, then surely that involves more than simply staying away from the bad things.  What if we were to recognize the good in people and call special attention to it?  What can we do to encourage someone around us every day?  It could be in the simplest way, like a card in their mailbox.  It seems to me that if we set for ourselves a lifestyle of looking for the good in others rather than complaining about the bad, not only would we be more pleasant to be around, but our world would be a better place.  Please join me in this prayer:  Lord, please give me a tender heart to recognize the good in others around me, and the creativity to know how to encourage them best.

Mansions of the Heart: Chapter Five

Here are the reflection questions for the second mansion:

-Where are you experiencing conflicts between God’s way and the world’s way in your life at the present time?
-What lies is the enemy using to attempt to convince you that these instances of the world’s way will best meet your needs, or that there is no real alternative?
-When you talk to God about this battle, do you ask for help doing it His way, or do you make excuses, defending the devil’s lies?
-What steps is God asking you to take now?

I really really struggled reading this chapter, because my “second mansion” experience was DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT than the ones described.  I saw some similarities, but only vaguely.  Here they are:
-Although I didn’t really have a desire for “worldly things”, I started to discover ways that I had “failed God.”  Satan (I use this term loosely) reminded me of those every day.  I couldn’t possibly follow God further, because I wasn’t “strong enough.”  I may be getting into the third mansion with this statement.
-I really believed deceptions thrown at me when they had to do with my self-worth and fear (I’ll talk more about this later).
-I can understand to an extent the “mixed motives.”
-I agree that many churches don’t encourage people through this time of spiritual growth.  New believers are told to “shape up”, but in this, I have only observed this in others.  My journey has been very different.
-I do agree that the best advice for anyone in this stage is to draw close to other Christians further along in the journey.  Everyone needs encouragement through this phase.

I don’t feel like I ever identified with the reflection questions at the end of this chapter.  In my mind, I can’t remember ever wanting anything other than to follow God.  That’s not to say that there weren’t times when I didn’t understand what I was going through (and in fact I still don’t understand some things).  The battle in my soul was never for my allegiance; it was for my effectiveness.

I am about to share something that is highly difficult to share, but is a very real part of my journey.  Please don’t lock me up; I’m not insane.  I have met VERY FEW people who can understand what I’m about to explain.

Spiritual warfare means something entirely different to me than it does to most people.  I once had a college professor say something to the effect of “Demons don’t act the way they used to in Bible times.  They don’t show themselves, at least not in our culture.”  Maybe for the most part, that’s true.  I find for a lot of people, the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis to be very helpful.  For most people, spiritual attacks are subtle and disguise themselves as other things, even God.  However, I can’t identify with that, and it’s really hard for me.

Since I was little, and I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t true, I was very aware of the presence of demons.  I’m not going to go into detail about this.  I say this only to explain that for some reason, God has allowed my eyes to be opened to spiritual realities, at least in ways that He has determined “safe” at the time, but I never felt safe.  It was only after I journeyed much further into the mansions when I finally grasped what it meant to “feel safe.”  Spiritual warfare for me was literal and physical, and still is, but to a differing degree.  I understand Mansion #2’s defenseless feeling, because as a young child, teenager, and eventually college student (because I don’t think I started to explore Mansion #3 until college) I did not yet understand how to defend myself against attacks.  These were very terrifying years of my life.  I have struggled this past year with some serious emotional wounds from what I experienced so young, and many questions have arisen in my mind as to why God would allow something so scary into the life of a defenseless child.  Yesterday God asked me to follow Him down the dangerous path of discovering why He has given me this “gift” (I refer to it as a curse, but often there is a fine line between the two).  And I need to add a disclaimer to all of this that you MUST READ.

I do not share this as a means to “sensationalize” evil.  What I mean is this:  I am not being open about this so that others can ask questions like “What do demons look like?”  I will not answer questions like that, and as far as specific attacks and what was felt or done I will not share but with very few as the Lord reveals to me that they need to hear.  I share this to pose that there are other dimensions of spiritual warfare than the typical experienced by Christians, and understand that my faith has come in a drastically different way than presented by the book will help you understand why I answer some questions the way I do.

That’s all for now.

Mansions of the Heart: Chapter Four

Q:  How would you characterize your years in the first mansion?

Honestly, in many ways it is hard to remember that time in my life, though some aspects of the first mansion I can definitely see in myself and those around me.  I’m not sure I ever saw God as out for my own interests in giving me things or blessing me.  I think I found myself on the opposite end of the spectrum in the shame category.  I didn’t think God would give me what I asked for, because surely I had so much to learn.  I bordered hardly ever asking God for anything at all, not because I thought He didn’t care, but because I didn’t think I had earned a right to ask yet.  I had not been faithful enough yet.  (Amazing, in a lot of ways, I still think that way).  Plus, I was a nobody.  I was just content with salvation.  That was more than I deserved.  Why would I ever ask for anything else?  How prideful of me!

I can definitely relate to the honesty of the prayer life in this mansion.  I was so thankful there was somebody interested in listening to me ramble, could handle my questions, and cared about the details of my life.  I don’t really remember being tempted by “earthly pleasures” as much; probably because I was taught those things were wrong.  My faith was very rigid and rules based; everything was black and white, but this probably corresponded with my age during this mansion.

My prayer times were pretty random, and I went in phases.  I would talk to God every free moment I had for maybe a week, then another week would go by and I would realize I hadn’t even thought about God, and I would be filled with guilt for being such a “bad Christian.”

I should also mention my relationship with God was very “me” based.  Even though I wasn’t asking for things for myself, my concept of humility was incredibly flawed.  I believed a lie that I was worthless, despicable, and unworthy of anyone’s love.  This was selfishness on the other end of the spectrum, as I constantly refused the idea that I might have worth in God’s eyes.  That works for everyone else, but not for me.  I was somehow exempt from the whole “for God so loved the world” thing.  In the end, it was still all about me.

Lewis Smedes’ quote really struck me:  “If you wonder where God’s grace can be found, find yourself a critical friend.  A friend who wants you to be as good a person as you can be, a friend who dares to confront your flaws and failures, and then accepts the whole of you in grace.”  I don’t remember having anyone in my life growing up that I felt loved me just because of who I am.  Now that I am older, I realize that my perception was a little skewed, but I believed that I had to earn everyone’s love, acceptance, and respect.  My philosophy was “guilty until proven innocent.”  Working hard (first water phase) I could definitely identify with.  Although I would say that grace was something I couldn’t earn, I lived the philosophy that I needed to prove myself deserving, and I didn’t even realize I was living that way.  I needed to respect myself before God could respect me, and the former was just never going to happen.  I had set the bar at perfection, and boy, did I ever fail!

A Love Like That

I want to share something with you, not to make me look great or anything.  I am just so overwhelmed by this thought, I have to share it.  I have been thinking a lot lately about the passion of my heart:  to work with orphans.  I don’t know if I have outright said this or not, but what I want to do for the rest of my life is to run an orphanage in central Africa.  It is my dream to have it be a family style home, so the kids can know what it is like to have a mom and a dad.  I want to give them an education, health care, and the opportunity to someday go to college or trade school and make a difference in their communities.  I want to give children the opportunity to know God’s love for them, to know what it means to have a family, and the chance to dream and become everything they were created to be.
This is a vision that I have had since high school, and God has confirmed it in many ways over the years.  You know what is so unusual about this?  God actually asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and this was my answer.  He has truly blessed my dream, and I know that someday He will allow me the opportunity to do this.  He has given me such an intense passion for orphan care, I can literally hardly contain myself.
Mother Teresa has always been my “hero” so to speak.  I know this sounds really cliché, but she truly lived the kind of life I desire to live.  She gave everything of herself to love those who could never give back to her what she had sacrificed for them, and ultimately for Jesus.
Malcom Muggeridge wrote in his book Something Beautiful for God about Mother Teresa with these words:
“ [She was a woman] with this Christian love shining about her; in her heart and on her lips.  Just prepared to follow her Lord, and in accordance with His instructions, regard every derelict left to die in the streets as Him; to hear in the cry of every abandoned child, even in the tiny squeak of the discarded fetus, the cry of the Bethlehem child; to recognize in every leper’s stumps the hands which once touched sightless eyes and made them see, rested on distracted heads and made them calm, brought health to sick flesh and twisted limbs.”
I really want a love like that.

Mansions of the Heart: Chapter Three

This first section I have already thoroughly assessed through the writing of my “autobiography” so to speak called Set the World On Fire.  I finished this I think in December of 2010.  So far I have only shared this with a few select people.  I do not know what God will do with it in the future, but it really did help me to answer these questions listed at the end of Chapter 3 and many more:
Recall your spiritual experiences, both pleasant and difficult, that brought you to where you are now.  Here are some aspects to consider:
-Begin with your family heritage, moving on to your first memories of God or church
-List key events, mentors, doubting and faithful times, and milestones
-Note how God was present, in retrospect, in major transitions, in difficult or hurtful experiences, and in your celebrations and successes
-Describe your relationship with God at these milestones in your life
Here are the five reflection questions and my answers to them:
1.        What means has God used most to get through to you?
I think the times that God has used the most are when He physically moves me from one place to another.  For example, when I traveled to South Africa, when I worked at Mount Rushmore, when I lived in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, etc.  However, I think also God works on my heart in times of confusion.  Not too long ago, I was thinking seriously about getting a different job, and through this God really showed me a lot and spoke a lot to my heart.  Also, as I was seeking God’s will about seminary, I spent a lot of time talking to people I trusted and listening to the voice of God.  It helped me to realize how God was moving me forward in my walk with Him.  It woke me up in a sense.  Also, going through the interview process and everything of ordination the last few years has grown me.  For the last two years specifically I struggled with whether or not I should continue with the process.  Last year I decided to do it, and I was glad that I did.  I met a lot of amazing people and learned a lot about God’s place for me in ministry.  However, once I learned that lesson, He shook it up again, and this year I felt led to quit the process, at least for this point in my life.  I have no idea what God is doing right now, but I feel very sure about the fact that I am in the center of His will for my life right now and that I am truly listening to Him.
I have been thinking a lot about the times that I have felt that I was exactly where God wanted me to be.  I know there were times when I was there and I did not feel like it, like when I was working at Mount Rushmore and I had my emotional fit for about a month and a half.  When I was in the Dominican Republic, in the midst of a lot of things, I knew that God was pleased that I was there, seeking His heart and His will for my life.  This past year, I knew that God wanted me in the ordination process, and now, just 6 months later, I know that He does not want me there.  If I understood the plan and will of God as linear, then that would make no sense at all.  However, I am content in knowing that God leads me specific places at specific times for specific reasons.  There were things that I needed to learn in all those places.  There were ways that He changed my life in all those places, just as He is continuing to change me. 
2.       In what situations do you experience God most easily?
I think there are several places, depending on the point in life I am in.  I have always experienced God clearly in nature, and especially around water.  There is just something about the power and cleansing of water that speaks so purely to my heart.  Also, God speaks to me when I am around people and not necessarily communicating with them, but merely observing them.  That is one of the reasons why I love to spend time at the restaurant.  Maybe it is my deep desire for community that does it.  I don’t really know what it is, but the chaos of screaming children, the smell of scrambled eggs, and laughing waiters and waitresses gives me a sense of peace.
I think God also speaks to me in deep ways through children.  I have such a deep desire to be with children for the rest of my life.  I love the way they see things.  I love their innocence and passion for living.  I love the way they love, so deeply and without reservation.  There is something pure about the eyes of a child.  There is so much promise.
God speaks to me through piano music.  I love listening to Tom Ameen.  I think he is one of the best artists I have found to take me away and draw close to God.  In fact, as I am writing this, I am listening to him.  Along the same lines (and I haven’t done this for several months) but I used to go once a week or so to a nursing home in the area and just play piano for their dinnertime.  God really grew me through those times, especially when I seemed to make a ton of mistakes, and several of the people came up to me and told me how much they appreciated my coming and spending the evening with them.  It reminded me of the passage in James where he says that “religion that is pure and faultless is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  It is through ministering to those two groups that I have realized the pureness of loving God.
Sometimes God speaks to me in really random ways.  Like today as I was walking into Walmart, this little girl looked at me and a huge smile came to her face and she said excitedly, “Hi!  What’s your name?”  The other day I saw my friend Patty in her electric wheelchair going home from the grocery store.  I saw her on the sidewalk and God told me to stop and walk with her.  That was one of the neatest walks.  At first, I was afraid for her safety, as she was crossing several streets on her way back to her apartment, but I realized that God moved me to walk with her more for my benefit than for hers.  If anyone has a reason to be sad or to feel sorry for herself, it is Patty.  Her body is so distorted from the many illnesses she has had.  Her neck muscles have no strength in them, so her head lies to the side.  She now is battling cancer on top of everything else; this sweet lady who is always joyful, never misses church, and is always concerned about the wellbeing of those around her.  She is a sponsor for the junior high students at the church and they absolutely love her.  The other night I went to the altar to pray with her, and she reached up and grabbed my hand.  Her grip was so strong and full of life.  I literally started crying as she said, “You know, someday in heaven if you see someone doing somersaults, that’s me!  I can’t wait for that day when I go home!”  What a lady.  What a God that has so touched her life and speaks through her to everyone around her.  I want a love like that.
3.       When do you feel most loved by God?
Hmmm…I think I’m going to make a list:
-When I glance out my window in the morning and see the sunrise, or when I go to the lake and watch the sunset.
-When I come home and my fish gets really excited to see me
-When I spend time thinking and writing about God and how much He has done in my life
-Through my friends who have been so wonderful, especially lately
-When I listen to music
-When I color pictures
-When I take time and think about all the ways that God has blessed me…I am overwhelmed by His love for me
4.       What barriers or obstacles have tended to keep you from deeper intimacy with God?
I think definitely my busy schedule kept me from that, and through God’s leading, I have spent this Lenten season away from that.  I don’t think I’ll ever go back.  Also, I think I can keep myself from deeper intimacy with God.  Sometimes I get in moods where all I want to do is complain to Him.  It’s good to be honest with Him, but there’s a difference between being honest with God and just complaining that life isn’t going the way you want it to go.  Usually during these times, God tells me that I need an attitude adjustment and I agree with Him.  I think my desire to be admired and respected by those around me is a huge obstacle.  I am so concerned all the time what other people are thinking of me, everyone that is except God.  We’re working on that.  I think in the past, not so much now, the fact that I have a tendency to be a workaholic can be an obstacle.  I used to spend so much time at work that I had no life outside of work.  If I didn’t finish a project that day, then I would stay until it was done, and neglect my needs.  I grew very tired of work (for obvious reasons), but my workaholicness (is that a word?) and my perfectionism really has a tendency to stand in the way.  I think fear is a big one for me.  There is a lot more to this than I want to share right now (perhaps I will share a little more when I come to the chapter about the Dark Night of the Soul), but fear on every level has been a huge obstacle.  I really think I’m going to wait to explain this one.  That is a little more personal than I want to get publicly right now.  Sometimes lack of discipline gets in the way.  I often would “rather be doing something else” and so I choose to not spend time with God.  There are probably more, but this is what I can come up with right now.
5.       What patterns in you, and in God’s work in you, seem apparent?
Hmm…that is a very good question.  Is unpredictability a pattern?  God is notoriously unpredictable in my life, which is really what I’ve always wanted.  My biggest reason for not serving God more in high school was because I was afraid I would be boring, that God would ask me to be a Sunday School teacher and work a 9-5 job and that’s it.  I wanted far more out of life.  I wanted to do something crazy.  I told God that, and you know what He told me?  “Don’t worry, your life with me will be anything but boring.”  I didn’t really believe Him, but I told Him “ok” anyway, and it turns out He was right (as He always is).  So in this whole paragraph:  God is unpredictable and always right.
I don’t mean this in a prideful way at all, but I do feel that my heart is always seeking God, even when I am ticked off at Him or struggling.  No matter what I’m going through, I always love Him, and I always seek to keep my heart open to hearing whatever it is that He has to say.  Even when I was angry with God for sending me to Mount Rushmore, God still broke through and taught me a valuable lesson.  I really did want to hear His voice even though I was angry with Him.  And I have always wanted to obey Him, even when I did not like what He was asking of me and I did not want to do what He wanted me to do.  Even through times that I don’t understand why I’m going through what I’m going through, I feel that with the help of God, my heart has always been tender to learn from Him and to rest in Him.  He has not spared me the pain that accompanies suffering, but He has given me such a peace and blessings beyond compare.  I do see my openness to Him to be a pattern, and I pray that with the help of God that will never change.
I do see in myself a tendency to freak out when God changes my plans, but when I freak out, I run to Him.  I think for about half my life, He is up in heaven laughing at me and my idiosyncrasies.  Sometimes He says to me, “Chelsea, you prayed for this.  Why are you complaining that I gave it to you?”  That’s a humbling question if you’ve ever heard one.
I could go on…but this is a little further into my heart…and next chapter starts the first of the seven mansions. 

Mansions of the Heart: Chapter Two

1.  Which of the dead-end roads of holiness, service, wholeness, or enlightened understanding have you been most tempted to pursue?  What was your result?

I would have to say all four of them to some degree, but the most temptation I have is to walk down the holiness road.  A lot of this probably comes from my background in the Church of the Nazarene, where the subject of “holiness of heart and life” was literally the denominational emphasis and goal.  This has always been a struggle for me, for many reasons.  First, even in our short life as a denomination, the Nazarene church has changed so much in its description of what a holy life looks like.  We started out saying it was wrong to dance, wear jewelry, wear pants, play cards, or go to the movies.  Now, the Church of the Nazarene just released “The Grace Card” which came to a lot of theaters around the country.  I wear jeans to church (and basically every other day for that matter), I play cards, I wear jewelry, and I dance in the comfort and secrecy of my bedroom.  Also, something that I could never seem to get out of anybody was the definition of “righteousness.”  It always seemed to me that there was a lot more to it than that.  However, when it came to the subject of the Trinity, everyone got flustered and started talking about eggs and the fact that my grandpa played different roles depending on who he was with.  However, intellectually, none of that made sense to me.  I would say confusion and emptiness were the results.

2.  What is it that makes it hard for you to really accept personally that God’s goal for you is simply a deepening love relationship?

Honestly, it’s not difficult for me to accept this.  However, the hardest thing for me is feeling like I need to justify my actions and priorities to those around me who see themselves as my spiritual elders.  Maybe it’s the mindset of proving myself that I’ve always had, but when I feel that someone is looking down on me or seeing me as going in the wrong direction, I think I need to prove to them that I am right or at least my heart is right.  In my mind, this goes beyond testifying to what God is doing in my life because I am placing the priority on my reputation rather than on obeying the voice of God.  I think this is something that God has been working on purging in my life.  He wants me to know that all He desires from me is that my sense of responsibility lies only in Him.  He doesn’t even want my responsibility to lie primarily in Him; rather, my entire life and allegiance should find their meanings in my relationship with God.  This has been a lot harder of a concept to grasp than I initially thought it would be.

Mansions of the Heart: Chapter One

I am reading the book called Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook.  This is an intensive book on Spiritual Growth (and when I say intensive, I don’t mean it lightly) and should be handled and read very carefully.  This book is exactly what God has been preparing my heart to read, and I know that He will transform my life through reading this.  At the end of these chapters, there are several reflection questions.  I don’t know what kinds of questions will be asked in the future, but for now, I am going to be posting my responses, because as I journey deeper into the heart of God, I wish to be transparent and to encourage others to journey along with me.  So, deep breath, here we go.

1.  What has God used, most powerfully, to increase your hunger and thirst for spiritual growth?

I am not quite sure how to answer this question, but the first thing that comes to mind is my illness.  If I had not been sick these few years, it is very possible I would have continued with my busy and world-conquering lifestyle.  Because of the nature of my illness, I have had to slow down my life and face some serious questions, like:  What if I die today?  I could write a book of questions.  It has also led me to evaluate what things are most important in life.  As I have searched, I have discovered the answer in Jesus’ commands to:  Love God with all that I am and love others with the same intensity.  This has caused me to put some things on hold in my life (and I think most people think I’m crazy) and truly focus on knowing God.  I don’t know how long this intensive season will last; maybe it will be for the rest of my life.  However, the greatest and deepest desire of my heart is to know God more.

I think my physical battle has been a real object lesson to me of my spiritual battle.  Both are very painful and plagued with questions.  Both involve other people, though I long to not be a burden on someone else.  Both go much deeper than I have dared to tread, though I am getting the feeling I will be led deeper into these mysteries very soon.

I have always felt that my illness had a deep spiritual purpose in my life, but I did not know how to go down the road of figuring out exactly what it is.  Hopefully through this book I’ll be able to understand the Refiner’s fire even more.

2.  When you think of the “ultimate” in a relationship with Jesus, what things come to mind?

I think about a “closeness” and a “oneness” with Him.  I think about being responsive to each other and knowing each other’s heart so deeply that we are aware of it every moment.  I want to be His trustworthy confidant, a keeper of His secrets, a lover of His soul.  I imagine basking in His love, confident of His presence regardless of the emotion of the moment or the present circumstances.  I long for the deep joy and peace that permeates my very being in every way, creating in me a light that shines so bright that no one around me could possibly miss the presence of Jesus in my life.

3.  What might backsliding look and feel like in your spiritual journey?

I feel like the subject of backsliding has been big in my life recently.  I remember telling my friend years ago that sometimes we need to backslide in order to draw closer to God.  That wisdom, at 19 years of age, could only have come from God Himself.  I have discovered lately, through my own “backsliding” of sorts, that this is so very true.

I grew up in a family that went to church every time the doors were open, and we even had keys to the church, so we would go other times as well.  The idea of ever missing church except for the occasional out of town vacation (very, very, very occasional, like twice) or road trip was a no-no.  Real, growing Christians go to church.  Lately, as I have been reevaluating my life, I have been led by God to do some things that have seriously concerned those around me, especially my boss.  There have been a couple times when I simply did not go to church (for reasons other than illness).  I think he believes I’m turning heathen or something.  I have not been participating in the denomination-wide Ashes to Fire devotional for Lent, and trying to explain that to my pastor was no easy task.  My heart is searching to grab hold of what is real in the midst of so many fakes all around me.  I need to know that I am listening to and serving God, not my church, or my pastor, or my boss.  Previously as well, I was on track for ordination in my denomination and planning on going to seminary.  I recently backed out of both of these, and this has led many people (including myself) to believe I am backsliding.  I have not made much sense at all recently, but I know God is smiling, because in all this I am seeking to know His heart more.

4.  What frustrates you most about your own spiritual growth?

Right now, I am frustrated with a lot of things.  First, I am frustrated it took me so long to wake up and smell the roses.  I was so disillusioned in a lot of ways to the meaningless things that I was remaining faithful to.  I have been so selfish in my desire to be holy.  I wanted to look good to those around me (which is ironic that everyone thinks I’m crazy right now, as I am closer to God than ever before).  I am frustrated by the lack of time I have to spend with God, though I fully believe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week could never satisfy that hunger.  Sometimes I don’t want to go to work, because I really want to pray, which is downright insane but I think that’s ok.  I am frustrated that I don’t have a love and passion for those around me like I think I should, and I don’t have a strong desire to read the Bible right now.  That takes guts to admit publicly, believe me.  I am frustrated with my exhaustion (which has a lot to do with being sick).  I have had to basically focus on just my job and spiritual growth, and I am completely wiped out.  I am frustrated that I disagree now theologically and philosophically with some important people in my life.  Some people that I look up to don’t hold the same values I have anymore, and that kind of scares me, but at the same time I am coming across others who share my convictions and desperation for the heart and presence of God.  Life is turning out a lot differently than I ever imagined or expected it.  God is so different than I thought He was in my very limited understanding of Him.  It’s kind of rocking my world.  I am frustrated by the lack of a spiritual community around me.  Except for the scattered souls I regularly talk to, I feel like I’m basically on my own.  I guess that is starting to scratch the surface of the mansions of my heart.

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