In the Presence of Jehovah

I was reading Isaiah 2 this morning, and I was overwhelmed by the thought of the day when God brings life as we know it to an end.  We do not talk about this much anymore.  This used to be the subject of all the revival preachers that came to my church growing up, and as a four-year-old, I remember going to the altar to repent because I was terrified.  Judgment Day is such a scary thing to think about, because inwardly I think we all wonder if we could stand before God Almighty.  I know that it strikes fear in my heart.
Isaiah chapter two paints a very big picture of all the ways things that are high will fall before God.  He talks about the tall trees and the manmade fortresses crumbling before Him.  “The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of man humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear (v. 17-18).”  The verse from this chapter that I like the best is verse 12:  “The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled).”  It is a bittersweet verse, sweet because regimes that oppress their people will be eliminated, and bitter because we know that we are all proud.  In the presence of Jehovah, who could stand?
The trouble that I have with the evangelists that preach about Judgment Day and the fires of hell is that I think their focus is off.  I do believe that this day will be the ultimate bad day for anyone who does not know Jesus, and I do believe that those who have rejected him will spend eternity in hell, and when I think about hell, I do not feel angry or fearful…I feel immense and almost unbearable sadness.  I know so many people that would go there if Jesus were to come back today.  I don’t long for Judgment Day because I want for them to have another chance at life, I want to have another chance to tell them about this amazing love of God.  I can’t help but think that God feels the same way too, that He will put that day off as long as possible.  If that day will be sad for me, to see my friends spend eternity outside of the presence of God, then I can’t imagine the terrible sadness that God will feel as He banishes the ones He loves from His presence.
Why would a God of love send those He loves to such an awful place?  This question is often asked in the same breath that we plead for Him to race into our painful situations and rescue us.  Part of us longs for God to set all things right, but we dread the day when that takes place because evil cannot stand in the presence of God.  We have become so accustomed to living with the evil in this world that we cannot imagine a world without it.  We have become so accustomed to the secret sins and pleasures in our own lives that we cannot imagine life without them.  What would happen if today were the day when God came to set the world as it should be?  Are you ready for this day?
For those of us who follow Christ with all of our hearts, we have a strange and mysterious longing to stand in the presence of Jehovah.  For me, I know that I have had moments when the holiness of God has so overcome me, that I felt I would be crushed under the pressure.  However, the thing that amazes me about those moments, is that I walk away longing to have stayed there forever.  The weight of God’s holiness in standing in His presence did not bring a sense of Judgment, but rather of a peace that overwhelmed my situation and a love so strong that it made me want to sob uncontrollably.  Everything that had been lacking in my life was expressed by the empty cup that I brought to Him.  It was the wholeness of His presence and the awareness of the healing of my heart that brought the wonderful pain.  My cup that was once empty overflowed with fulfillment.  It was not a horrible thing, but an intensely fantastic experience.  It reminds me of the old Martins song that says, “In the presence of Jehovah, God Almighty, Prince of Peace, troubles vanish, hearts are mended in the presence of the King.”
A while back I read the very popular book Heaven is for Real (which took place just a few blocks from where I grew up, and in the same hospital I was born in, might I add) and I read it cover to cover without stopping.  I cried through at least half of it.  One of the parts from that book that has stuck with me is Colton’s experience in the throne room of God.  We all have our ideas of what it would be like to stand before His throne, but through the eyes of a four year old, this is what he said:  It was big, Dad…really, really big, because God is the biggest one there is. And he really, really loves us, Dad.  You can’t belieeeeve how much he loves us!”  This child stood in the presence of Jehovah, and the overwhelming impression he walked away with was not the intensity of the light or the power of the Almighty, but the intensity of God’s love for us.  What a thought.
It is a scene like this that makes me want to cry and makes me long to just sit in His presence all day long.  I want to feel and experience a love like that.  I want all the lies that I have always believed about myself to vanish in the presence of such a love.  It is a shame that at four years old, I was overwhelmed by the fear of God’s judgment, while Colton at four years old was overwhelmed by the love emanating from that same throne of which I was afraid.  Why should a child be afraid to stand before God?  Why should an adult child of God be afraid to stand before Him either?  Maybe this is why Jesus said over and over that we should become like little children.  Our grown-up faith becomes polluted with preconceived ideas of God’s presence, and we avoid it because we are afraid.  The love and truth of God is so simple that a child can grasp it; indeed it is so simple that an adult can completely miss it.  What a shame it is to fear standing in the presence of Jehovah.  If we follow Christ, this presence is everything we need.
It has been newsworthy the past few months about the coming Judgment Day, and we have all heard about the man who “figured out” what day that would be.  The reactions of people astonished me, because I expected no one to care.  Perhaps no one will anymore now that it did not come true, but people were spending their life savings on the last things they wanted to do or have before Judgment Day as a last “hurrah” before they were doomed.  This shows how warped our view of God has become, that so many would assume they are destined for eternal destruction and believe that this life is the best thing they could ever know. I have friends that were hiding in freezers at work because they were afraid of God.  What a tragedy that they feared and avoided the presence of Jehovah instead of running toward it.  I KNOW GOD, and He is Almighty and powerful and worthy of being feared, but the only entity that should be running from His presence is Satan.  We, His creation and the object of His affection should not fear His presence.  He is LOVE.
It is because of Jesus that we can stand in the presence of God and not be consumed.  Hebrews 10:19-23 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” 
The cost of rejecting God is something to be feared, however.  Hebrews 10:26-31 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and a raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
If you are someone who has always feared the presence of God, please be encouraged that He is not waiting to destroy you in His anger.  No matter what you have done or where you have been, His love for you is reaching out.  He longs to bring you into His presence and lavish His love on you.  The truth is, we have all rejected God and deserve His judgment.  We deserve to be destroyed.  However, Jesus Christ made a way when He died on the cross and rose again for us to come to God.  In the final day, everything that is proud and lofty will be humbled.  We have the choice to either humble ourselves before Him today or be humbled before Him on that day.  If we choose to reach out for this grace that God is offering us and the forgiveness that He longs to give, Hebrews 4:16 says that we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  When we accept this grace, we no longer need to fear the presence of Jehovah or His destructive wrath.  We have been bought with the price of God’s Son and have been washed clean of all that cannot stand in God’s presence.  Like Colton, we can look at the throne of Almighty God and say, “You can’t belieeeeve how much He loves us!”
One day, God will set all things right.  On that day all who have rejected Him will be sent away from God’s presence forever.  It is the absence of this presence that is the ultimate destruction.  However, on that day, all who have been washed by the blood of Jesus will spend forever in the presence of Jehovah, a place where evil is banished forever and our God who is Love will reign in all His glory.  This is the invitation.  Do not live another day outside of God’s presence.  Don’t wait to come to Him.  His grace is reaching for you.

Motives of the Heart

In my reading this week for class, I was really convicted about some things.
In Chapter five of Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, Patrick Lencioni proposes that there are two paramount questions that every leader should ask himself/herself before beginning the journey of leadership:  Who am I really serving? and Am I prepared to suffer?  In the first section discussing humble service, Lencioni tells the story of a man named Kevin.  Kevin was a simple man that did not demand prestige or the attention of others, but over many years had worked his way up to the national board of the Make A Wish Foundation.  As the board began making changes in management style, our author Lencioni’s experience lent him the opportunity to be considered.  Because there was no place for him on the board, Kevin stepped down from his prestigious position to allow Patrick Lencioni to be a part of the team.  Kevin saw that Lencioni’s experience was more in line with the new management style, and he made his decision toward the best interest of the Make A Wish Foundation over the interests and desires he had for himself.  Lencioni says that as a leader it is important to note that, “When we make ourselves more important than what we are trying to do, we diminish the focus on our mission and, ultimately, on Christ (p. 74).”
This led me to question what my motives are behind my decisions.  There have been many times that I have done good things, not for the sake of doing what was right, but because I wanted to be noticed by someone.  I have a deep desire to be respected and admired, and sometimes I let that desire infect the motives of my heart.  When we live our lives dedicated to a cause with the idea that we will receive recognition or a pat on the back for what we are doing, we are a stumbling block to the cause.
I think there is a difference between living a good life in order to be respected and living a good life worthy of providing a leading example for others.  Paul referred several times in his letters to the churches of the example that he had given them through his life, because people often need a visual demonstration of faith in order to understand it.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to be that demonstration for the people we lead.  We can be conscious about how our lives are affecting others, but the question we should always ask ourselves is, “Who am I really serving?”  When we serve others, our actions should be driven by the overflow of God’s love in our lives, not by the emptiness of our self-esteem tank.
It is a matter of focus and humility.  Even though it is one of the most important aspects of a life of integrity, humility is a difficult trait to nurture because of its nature.  We can never reach a point where we say, “Yes!  I am humble!”  It is something that we become without knowing it. 
Humility is also a habit that we set in our lives.  Jesus talks in Luke 14 about dining at the house of a Pharisee and noticing how the guests always picked the places of honor.  He then instructed those present that they should never choose the place of highest honor, because someone more distinguished may have been invited.  The master will then enter and ask them to move to a spot of lesser importance.  If they choose a spot of lesser importance and the master sees this, he may ask them to move to a higher place of honor.  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In this parable there is a danger in choosing a low position in life with the expectation that we will be exalted.  The focus of this life of “sacrifice” is that we will be recognized for our “great humility”.  This is common in the church, and I am included in this.  We serve and serve and run ourselves dry, hoping that someone will notice what great faith we have.  The problem with this is not only our ultimate disappointment, but the lack of purpose out of which we are living our lives.  Our purpose is not serving God; it is gaining recognition.  The master could enter, see you at the place of lowest honor, and choose to leave you there, for that is his right.  What then, would you feel?
True humility comes from a heart that recognizes from where it has received its worth.  John the Baptist says in John 3:27, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.”  When we learn to see ourselves through the grace of God, we live in God’s victory but we remember who we were and what we would still be without Christ.  We did not earn God’s favor; we were given it.  We did not earn God’s love; it has been lavished upon us.  There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of God, but only servants who are seeking to do the will of the Father.  As John the Baptist said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
I need to ask myself in everything that I decide to do, “Do I love Jesus enough that the opinions and approval of others are not determining factors in my decisions?  Is the smile of God worth the sacrifice of my reputation, even with other Christians?  How do I measure my success?”  I often wonder if I would have had the character and maturity to do what Kevin in the opening story did in relinquishing a prestigious position to someone else for the good of the company.  Do I care about the causes I promote that much?  Do I care about bringing glory to God that much?  These are all important questions to ask.

Sacrifice and Purity

Recently I was moved by God to start reading the book of Isaiah, and this morning I began with the first chapter and could move no further.  I was overwhelmed by the message that was written there.  Even though Isaiah is describing Israel at the time, I cannot help but see the comparison in America and in myself.
Verse 5b-6a says:  “Your whole head is injured, your heart afflicted.  From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness.”  I wonder sometimes what God thinks when He looks upon the mess we have made.  Just looking at things from the perspective of social justice and trafficking, which is where God has convicted me to act, our nation has become so perverse.  Isaiah wrote it perfectly that it is not a head issue; we have completely lost our morals, values, and principles.  Our heart as a nation and our Church in America is inflicted and in need of an awakening from God.
The Scripture is intensely clear on its message:  “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight!  Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (v. 15-17).”  How do we waste our time in the church?  We give all our energy to making the Christmas program run smoothly and put on the perfect brunch for the ladies.  Program after program wears us down until we have nothing more to give.  God says, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings (v.13)!”  It is not the sacrifice God is looking for, but purity of the heart.  Until we look down and recognize the guilt on our hands and the responsibility that we have neglected, our petty prayers are meaningless.
Our nation is falling apart, and broken people are filling the streets.  Where are the Christians?  Hiding in the churches.  The book of James says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (c. 4:17).”  We all recognize the brokenness around us, but instead of doing something about it, we recognize that it is uncomfortable and try to stay as far away from it as we can.  Churches that were once located in the inner-city are moving out of the cities and into the suburbs.  What a tragedy this is.  In a time when the Church should be more relevant than ever and people need the message of Christ more than ever, Christians are pulling out and retreating to a place that is “safe”.
I am not just bashing all the other Christians out there; I am guilty with the rest of them.  And it is hard to know how to step out of the comfortable life you have always known to reach a world that you have a hard time identifying with.  If you haven’t been a victim of abuse, or been an orphan, or gone through a divorce, or have been trafficked in the sex industry, it is hard to identify with the trauma.  Relationships between healthy people are difficult; opening our lives to wounded people has consequences, just like all other choices that we make in life.  However, we live in a broken world, and that very fact has to penetrate our hearts at some point if we are to understand the will of God.  As a Church, we have become so focused on the details that we have forgotten the principles that once guided our purpose.
God offers a promise of redemption in verse 18:  “’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”  Our God is a redeeming God who delights in taking the ugly and turning it into beautiful.  He wants to give us new hearts.
For me, I could live the rest of my life in middle-class America living a pretty comfortable life, and I’m sure that would be a very pleasant way to live.  I was on that track.  However, God came in and messed up my life.  He opened my eyes to see the reality behind the facade that we have created.  God showed me His heart that breaks for His children, and that has changed my life.  My faith is not a true faith until it motivates me to take part in the movement of the Kingdom of God to restore things back to the way they were intended to be.  God is making all things new.  It is my hope that the Church can be a part of that.
I don’t want to be the kind of Christian that I hear about all the time, who speaks of many things but does not live the life they proclaim.  I met a man in his sixties Sunday night who came over to the booth that I was running.  At my particular station, people came and wrote on the canvass the various things that God has called them to do.  After studying the canvass for a while, the man looked up at me and said, “I try to live everything that I profess.”  That should be the heart of every Christian, and if that were reality, many skeptics would not have a case.  Maybe the world would not have so much trouble believing the truth.  They don’t see it, and for those who don’t understand it, how can they know?
I have lived too long in my comfortable world, or as Matthew West puts it, “my own little world”.  He poses the question, “What if there’s a bigger picture, what if I’m missing out?  What if there’s a greater purpose I could be living right now outside my own little world?”  That is the question that we should all be asking ourselves.  What are we missing out on by not taking part in God’s redemption story?  We have the chance to be actors, and yet we choose to sit in the audience!  Not me.  I’m all in.
I pray that God would give me the humility to serve.  I am not coming from a place of privilege high above the world.  I am coming as a fellow sinner, a broken person who has experienced the healing and salvation of God.  All that I have and all that I am is only by the amazing grace of God.  This love that I have received has so filled me that I cannot keep silent.  It is a wonder above all wonders that God would even think about us.  We, His creation, have rejected Him, resisted Him, and spat in His face, and yet He loves us so much that He constantly gives us His best.  He sent His only Son to be brutalized at our hands in order to give us a grace that we do not deserve and cannot earn.  We are the ones that broke the covenant, and God was the One who made it right.  What love is this?
Any righteousness that I may have I cannot claim.  I have no rights.  There’s only grace.  How does one who has no rights sacrifice anything?  All that I can do is come before God and lay my brokenness before Him and pray as David prayed,
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness…
You did not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it,
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:10, 12-14, 16-17)

Thoughts About School…and Life

Ok, I’m going to be honest here for a minute.  I am both scared to death and excited beyond reason for what God has in store for the next couple years and beyond.  I think I entered the whole spectrum of emotions today pertaining to school and the things that are going to go along with that.  My grades on my papers are definitely not as high as I would like them to be, and in thinking about what I should do to make them better I decided to write about my thoughts on some of the reading points before I sat down and wrote the actual paper for class.  That way I will have read it, reviewed it, and then reported on it.  Sounds good in theory, right?  We shall give it a try.
Until this point in my life, I have been somewhat reserved about how much of my faith I gave to God.  That sounds really funny, because we think about faith being all about God.  However, I think for years I bowed down to my fear of failure, or looking stupid in front of others, or something else that I could not put my finger on.  I had faith in my inability to do things.  When God asked me to move to Tennessee, He made it clear to me that from that point on, I would have to let go of all that and learn to serve Him with reckless abandon.  And it feels reckless.  However, I think that in order to go on a God-sized adventure, it will just have to seem that way.
And can I say that it is super exciting to go on a God-sized adventure?  You should try it sometime!  This past month has rocked my world with all that God is doing in and through me.  The best part is that it has been totally HIM the whole way.  I cannot claim any of it.  He has been helping me to step out of my introverted comfort zone and meet people and do amazing things.  I am meeting the most incredible people here in Nashville.  I am coming to the point in some friendships where things are starting to go deep, and I love that.  I decided that I’m not going to be afraid anymore.  I’m going to be careful about who I trust, but I’m going to actually learn how to trust.
This is a short blog, and believe me it was going to be much longer, but I decided not to post my thoughts on my homework 🙂  And the world says:  AMEN!  Have a great day in Jesus!

Answered Prayers in Unexpected Ways

Tonight God blew me away.  He showed me that He does have a calling on my life.  He has shown me that He is not only in control of my life, but He is guiding my steps.  I am even more convinced of how real and active God is in the world after what happened to me tonight.  I also believe that I am beginning to see the reason God moved me to Tennessee.
I have always felt called to orphan care, and I had plans in my mind for a very traditional family style orphanage.  Shortly after I moved to Nashville, through different things that I was reading and seeing all around me, I felt that God was refining my calling to work specifically with human trafficking.  I spent a lot of time in prayer about this, and it goes without saying that this is a scary calling.  Just about the time that I had wrapped my mind around being able to handle starting an orphanage, God throws another kink into the wheel.  That’s just like Him, right?
Since that time, and through a lot of prayer, God started opening up Scriptures that confirmed this passion in my life, and I began to see ways in which God has been preparing me through the years for this calling.  I still had a big question in my mind about it.  You don’t just announce that you’re going to work to end human trafficking.  This is not a one man thing.  This is a complicated network of people, because a lot goes into rescue and rehabilitation.  My question was, “How do I even get into that network?”
Well, tonight at church we had a mission fair where outreach programs from all over the community came and had booths to share with church members the ways they can be involved in the community outside our particular church.  It is a great thing that our church recognizes the need to support the other community organizations rather than becoming inwardly focused.  This is one of the things that drew me to this church.  I volunteered myself (imagine that) to help with the event, and shock of all shocks, I was given the “write your calling” booth to run.  It was a big canvass that different adults and children in our church could write what they felt God was calling them to do, and then we are going to hang the canvass up on a wall in the church so everyone can see the diverse callings that God has given to all the people in our congregation.  Of course, I immediately knew what I was going to write.
After about an hour and a half of running the booth, someone came and relieved my post so I could go around the room and see the other booths.  It was fun talking to all the different people from the community, and everyone was so nice.  I was coming near the end when I looked up and saw a booth that almost made my heart stop.  It was an organization called “End Slavery in Tennessee” and the purpose of the ministry is to work with victims of human trafficking.  Little did I know when God was leading me to Tennessee, He would be leading me to the state that is the worst spot in the entire United States for human trafficking, and this organization is active in prevention and rehabilitative care.  The director is also the director of the International teams for Anti-Slavery Ministries.  When we met each other it was like angels came down from heaven singing “HALELUJAH!”
Needless to say, we’re getting in touch, and we’re both excited about the possibilities.  I’m excited to learn from this lady and when we were talking about our stories, it sounds like our journeys have been very similar.  I couldn’t believe how God not only came through, but completely glorified Himself in that moment.  I never dreamed that something like that would happen.  I had great ideas that I was in the process of working out, but as usual, God came in and trumped them all.
On the other end of it, reality hit and I realized that in a year and a half when my Masters program is complete, who knows how God will have prepared me for His plan for my life.  Who knows where I will be or what I will be doing.  I think the stories of other people and the things they have overcome are pretty awesome, but nothing strikes a candle to my amazement at what God is doing in my own life.  I can’t believe I get a front row seat to His drama.  If I could sit down and explain to you all the ways that things are starting to make sense and take shape, it would blow your mind.  And I’m sure that God has so much more in store that He’s just saving for another day when I forget how incredible He is, because sometimes I do forget.
Even in my Masters program and the reading we are doing for our classes, I am growing so much.  The practicality of every step of the way is amazing to me.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  That is one of the many extremely positive things I could say about this program:  the obvious practicality of everything we are learning.  I can honestly say that I learn something every day in my reading, discussion, and analytical writing.  Doing this degree program while discovering what all God has for me through the opportunities He is opening up will be difficult but extremely rewarding.  I’m so excited to see how God changes and grows me through the process.  I am reminded every day how immature my views on a lot of things are, but God is constantly teaching and refining me, and I want to be a soft metal for Him to mold and shape, like gold.  And I want to learn well.
That is my praise story for today.  Please continue to pray for me as I seek to do God’s will in everything I do.

Maybe No, Maybe Yes

I have been struggling with something recently and I didn’t know who to talk to about it, so I decided to put it on my blog.  I feel like God is asking me to do something, but I’m not sure what to think of it.
Some of you know that about a year ago I started writing a book.  I was about half done when I felt a halt in my spirit, like God had to teach me something before I could continue writing.  Recently, I felt that God was calling me to write again, and I’m wrestling with what subject to write about.
First of all, I’m 23 years old, so what could I possibly have to say that has not already been said, and what authority do I speak on?  I’m so young.  However, I can’t ignore the calling of God.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my passions in social justice and my calling to orphan care and rescue and rehabilitation to victims of human trafficking.  I have been researching sex trafficking, and I feel that it is a subject that has been ignored by the church because of the discomfort the subject causes.  I have determined that over the next few months, I am going to do a lot of research on the matter.  Whether or not I could write a book worthy of being published on this subject at this point in my life, I don’t know.  I have had no personal experience in this area and would find it difficult to adequately relate the material to people when all that I know is from what I have read.  That breaks every rule that I have as an author, because I do not want to base my understanding of anything on hearsay.
One thing that has been of particular interest to me is telling people’s stories.  Matthew West recently recorded a record and wrote a book about this, where he asked that people send him their stories and that he would write about them.  I think this is an incredible idea because everyone has a story to tell of victories and losses, joy and sorrow.  I personally struggled for over a decade with depression, with thoughts of suicide and a short bout with an eating disorder, though it never had a chance to develop.  I have known others who have struggled with eating disorders, depression, and I lost a friend to suicide.  Especially among women, there seems to be a growing sense of despair and worthlessness.  I would love to write a book sometime focused on the stories of these women and how they have found hope, learned to accept God’s love, and now live purposeful and transforming lives.  I have a cousin who embodies this redemption story.  She has chosen to take the pain she has experienced and turn it into a way that she can help other women going through similar situations.
I don’t know what I should write about, and I still feel that what I have already written will be used someday.  I just needed to get this out, and if you have any feedback for me, please let me know!

My Dream, Vision, or Whatever They Call It Nowadays

Today is Day 1 of 7 for this week of focused living.  That is the most boring way to begin a blog.
It has been a while since I have posted a very deep blog.  I think most of my energy is going toward writing for my Masters class.  I spent almost the entire day today reading all the required material for the week, and for the most part, it was pretty transformational stuff.  I wish I could have spread it out over a longer time period.
I became very aware today the specific ways that I make excuses for my insecurity.  Today’s reading talked about the “Social Mirror” that we begin to view ourselves through.  We hear all these criticisms and praises from other people, and we begin to believe that we are what we hear.  There are three different types of determinisms that we live under:  Genetic determinism (it’s in my blood), Psychic determinism (someone else has conditioned me to respond this way), and Environmental determinism (someone besides me is responsible for the situation I am in).  Some of us come to interpret reality through at least one of these determinisms so much that we believe that we are a product of someone else and we can never change.  We look to the feedback of others to define us and give us value.  What an unhealthy way to live.
I can definitely see myself under the Psychic determinism.  In the past couple months I have started to recognize some of the language that I use that reflects so clearly the slavery that I have come to know.  I refer often to my parents, past employers, or even people that have hurt me in the past and I have decided that I will always have to live in that memory.  It goes beyond learning from experiences; I find that I have been confined by them.
The most specific example I can offer is a conversation I had recently with my mom about romantic relationships.  I told her, “I don’t think I will ever be able to do this.  I do not trust people and I don’t know how to let someone into that part of my life.  People just don’t go there.  I trusted someone once, and he ripped my heart out.  I don’t think I could go there again.”  I think vocalizing to someone else what I have felt for so long is the first step in changing that thought process.  I need to learn how to think in terms of the choices I have now, rather than the scars I hold from the past.  However, it will be a long process, assuming I will ever have to deal with that.  I have the distinct feeling that I will.
By the way, the book from where all this is coming is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
The author spent significant time talking about the difference between reactive people and proactive people.  There was a quote that really got me:  “Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behavior of others, empowering the weaknesses of other people to control them.”  I had never looked at it that way.  In many ways, I saw myself as the only imperfect person in the world, when in reality we all have strengths and weaknesses.  I never thought that my discouragement from a friend’s lack of kindness was not a reflection on me per se, but rather my giving power to someone else’s weakness.  Of course, there are always times to listen to and accept constructive criticism, but my worth does not depend on someone else’s actions toward me.
The author then goes on to talk about listening to our language to hear our thought processes.  It can be something so simple as, “He makes me so mad!” that shows an improper placement of responsibility.  A healthy person would not say this.  They may say something like, “I am angry at this person,” because ultimately we are in control of our own emotions.  Other people do not give them to us.  We choose how we react.  I cannot begin to tell you how many times this week I have placed blame on another party for my emotions, especially in the very frustrating process of finding a job.  Life can be frustrating,  but our reactions are our own decision.
How many times a day do you use or think the phrase, “I can’t”?  I think this with almost everything.  I have been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone by learning how to cook new dishes and going out to meet new people.  I started a Master’s program, and I can’t think of a better example of something that I never thought (and still don’t think) I could do.  I have decided that I’m going to do it anyway.  It is in essence, changing my “I can’t” to “I can”.
One of the biggest lessons I received from Habit One in 7 Habits is the concept of two circles:  Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.  One of these circles is always inside the other, and the one that refers most to me is the Circle of Concern being the outside circle and the Circle of Influence the inside one.  Covey says that we all have burdens or “concerns” that fit into the big circle.  However, we cannot do something about all of these concerns; we can only do something about some of them.  The concerns that we can do something about fit into the Circle of Influence.  So often we spend all our time and energy complaining about the way things are and how people are taking advantage of us.  We focus on the concerns outside the Circle of Influence or the things we can do nothing about.  The most productive and fulfilling way to live, however, is to identify in our concerns what things we can do something about in a positive way and develop an action plan to make it happen.  As we do this, we gain the respect of those around us and expand our Circle of Influence.  In the end, we have more ability to affect change in our environments because we have become proactive people rather than reactive people.
Covey talks about the difference between the attitude of, “My life would be better if I had…” and the attitude of, “I can be this, I can be that.”  We cannot wait for the stars to align and for the world to change us.  We must become the change we want to see.
That first habit was fairly easy to talk about.  The second habit called, “Begin with the End in Mind” is harder to talk about.  I have often thought about dying, and going through the illness that I did, I probably thought more about dying than I thought about living.  I have been criticized by a lot of people that are older than me, saying, “You’re too young to think about dying.”  However, I understood, like the author, that we should always live life in the reality that someday it will end.  Fulfillment in life does not only consist of being ready for that time when it comes, but also of investing in the lives of those around us while we are still here.  What do we want people to say about us when we are gone?  What do we want those around us to know before it is too late?  How do we live every moment reflecting love?
What I want people to remember about me is how I inspired them.  I want everyone I met to know that they have incredible worth and that they are able to become whatever they dream of becoming.  I hope that when people think of me, they’ll smile.  However, most of all, I want people to remember how passionately I loved God and them.  I want them to remember how I saw the heart behind the face and the person behind the facade.  I want be remembered as someone who took the time to listen and to know.
Do I live in a way today that would cause people to remember me this way?  I think that my lack of trust causes me to distance myself from people, and this is not what I want for my life.  I try to be transparent, but I find it much easier to write about something and post it on my blog than to sit down face to face with someone and pour out my heart.  I think this is mainly because I have rarely found someone interested in really knowing me.  You know what’s interesting about this thought process?  It is still very “me” centered.  I am so focused on being known.  What I should begin to aim for is a desire to deeply know those around me, and in the course of knowing them, I will reveal my heart to that person.  This takes a level of courage that I have not yet attempted.  We will be working on that next week, I am sure.
The final thing that I needed to work through is coming up with a personal mission statement.  I think this will take some time, but I will post some initial thoughts here:
I want to be a person who:
-loves God with all of her heart
-loves others in a deep and genuine way
-is healthy emotionally, mentally and physically
-is a leader in how she lives her life and the activities she participates in
-is a change agent in her community and world
-is true to her calling in orphan care and open to the ways that God will mold that vision
-is responsible financially and with her time
-is a loyal and faithful companion
-is always learning and growing
-is always trying new things
-is always conquering a fear
-is nurturing to anyone or anything that would come her way
I could probably go on for hours, which I am sure you do not want to read.  Tonight I went to my Monday night group, and it was amazing to me how uncomfortable I felt.  It was nothing anyone else did, and I’m sure that my utter exhaustion from reading all day was getting to me.  I know that it was shyness coming to the surface, and that fear of interacting with others did not help me and I’m sure made me very unpleasant to be around.  I have not yet learned how to snap out of that mindset.  In those times, like I told my friend tonight, “I feel like I have no personality.”  I am constantly trying to decide if I want to just sit and stare at a wall or find the nearest exit and go back home.  It’s so pathetic and while this is going on, I am kicking myself inside for being so…for lack of a better term…dumb.  What in the world is my problem?
Yes, I am an introvert.  However, that does not give me license to be anti-social.  Yes, it is harder for me.  However, that is never an excuse to not do something.  This is something that I need to work on.  Part of me wants to be merciful to myself, because after all, I just moved to a strange city nine hours away from people I know, and every experience is stretching and scary.  I must choose to ignore this, however, and learn how to be the girl I know I am.  I can be fun and funny.  I just need to learn how to find that girl when I am standing in a room full of people and I should probably talk to someone.  I am reverting back to my “Social Mirror” mentality.  Ugh.  Come on, Chelsea.
Well, these are the things that I have been thinking about today.  I have a big day of writing tomorrow so I need to go to bed.  If you got this far, you have my respect and admiration.  I don’t know how you do it…or why you do it.  But I’m glad you read my blog posts.  Have a great night!

Week One Challenge

Every day this week I will:

-Do something that gets me out of the apartment and out of my comfort zone

-Read or watch something I have never read or seen before that gives me a better understanding of the world

-Work toward a specific project for the week:  a craft that I have never done and do not know how to do…to be decided tomorrow

-Write about my experience and what I learned that day

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