Sunday, July 15, 2018

Truth and Lies...

   Do you ever feel like God is trying to teach you something... to show you a new way of life... and yet every time He does you fight against it or give up on it, so He has to keep teaching it to you again and again?  No?  It's just me then?  Huh. Well, maybe that's why this year has seemed like one big loop-de-loop around the same mountain over and over again.  In fact, it seems like all year long God has been trying to teach me the same thing, and lucky for me, God doesn't give up as easily as I do.  In fact it has become obvious He has been trying to get my attention all year in order to teach me an important lesson and to make sure I really get it.  And it seems like maybe I might finally be starting to.
  You see, at the beginning of this year I went to a prayer meeting where I honestly walked in thinking that I was going to be delivered from my deep dark struggle in a moments notice and would never have to deal with any of my junk again.  Of course, I walked out completely disappointed, because while I do believe God can work that way, He usually doesn't...and I left feeling just as bound as I felt walking into that service.  Anyway, during that meeting there was a lot of talk about strongholds in our lives and how they attach to us and take us down because we make agreements with their lies.  I remember during that meeting we were suppose to look at the lies that we had agreed with, repent of them, and then replace them with the word of God.  I on the other hand had spent the whole prayer time crying and complaining over the fact that my lies were so true and there was no way around them (of course I didn't really know I was doing that at the time).
  Then fast forward to a few weeks later.  By then I had joined and been a part of a small group of ladies who met weekly to grow together in our faith.  During those meetings we talked a lot about dealing with the junk in our lives and that the way to go about doing that was to look at our struggles, discover what lies were behind them, and then to replace those lies with the truth of God's word through prayer.  It took several weeks of me hearing this message over and over again to even begin to start buying into it and believing that maybe some of the lies I had been believing were just that...lies. 
  It was then that I started looking at some of the biggest questions I had in my life...things like why I felt abandoned by God and why it felt like I had been blackballed from the community of Christ followers.  I started to dig in and look to God for answers and for a while things started to look up.  So, being me, I did what I always tend to do when things seem to be getting better...I stopped doing the very thing that was helping turn things around.  I stopped praying, I stopped looking to scripture and evaluating my beliefs against the truth of God's word.  I didn't do it spitefully, I just took my eyes off the prize so to speak and thought..I'm cured, I don't need this anymore (a lie in and of itself).
  Well eventually our small group ended and then, before long, things started to fall apart in my mind again.  In fact, I soon found myself picking up old lies and thinking that once again they had to be true and that I had only been fooling myself to think that anything would ever really change.  I remember thinking at that time how the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, but assuming my insane choice was believing that recognizing the lies in my life would actually change anything,  instead of seeing the insanity of believing those lies to begin with.
  But now you can fast forward to just the other week when I got reconnected with the words of Carlos Whittaker (I say reconnected cause at one point in my life I was a huge follower of his...but that's a whole other story for another day).  Anyway, I heard him preaching as part of Fresh Life Church's weekly podcast and I listened as he shared a message from parts of his new book "Kill the Spider".  After listening to the podcast, I eventually decided just to pick up the book (or in my case download it unto my audible) and can I just say that was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.  As I listened to Carlos share his story through this book it soon became obvious to me that message he was sharing was the same one that God had been trying to speak to me all year...that to kill your spider (Carlos's words not mine), I had to come face to face with the lies I had been believing, repent of them, and replace them with God's truth.
  Now in sharing this post, I am in no way trying to say that now that I have read this book I have no more problems or junk in my life...cause that would be a lie.  In fact I think I have really only begun to scratch the surface of the amount of junk I have allowed to pile up in my heart over the last several years, but I feel like I'm finally starting to Get God's lesson...and I am truly beginning to take that hard look at my life and myself and to allow God to help me sift through what is truth and what is false in it.  In fact I feel more open to allowing God to work in me than I have in a long time and I believe God is on the verge of doing something great in my heart.  Now, I don't know how long it's going to take to clear out all the lies or where this journey might lead me, but I do know it will all be worth it and so I am willing to take on the challenge.  So would you pray for me and keep encouraging me to keep going and remind me that the truth is out there and that the truth is found in God alone!  I know this is where God wants me to head and I know this is the path to freedom in Him.  God has been speaking to me all year about this and I am finally really ready to listen and I am excited to see where this journey takes me.  Thank you God... I think I am finally starting to get it!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The War in our Minds and the Power of Community...

  The other day I saw this comic... it wasn't meant to be funny or anything but rather to explain what it is like to have social anxiety.  In the comic there was a girl sitting at her desk in the middle of the classroom surrounded by all these other students, and above her was this thought bubble that read, "Gosh, I really need to use the bathroom but I can't because if I get up everyone will look at me" (or something along those lines).  Now to some people who would read that comic their reaction would be, "who cares if people look at you?  You're human.  Everyone has to use to bathroom.  Just get up and go, nobody really cares. So just stop being silly, get up, and go"... and they would be right in what they are saying.  
  But as someone who as struggled with moments of anxiety like this, I can also see that it's not that simple.  The truth is our minds are powerful things, and they can convince of of false truths that can hold us back from life and truly living.  And while looking at it from the outside it may be so easy to say, "get over it, here's the truth"... when you're stuck in the middle... lost in your own head... you just can't seem to see it.  I think this is why God designed us to live in community and to need other people....We need people in our lives who will stand with us and speak the truth to us when our minds have convinced us otherwise.  We need people in our lives who will love us in our struggles, but will also allow us to stand with them in theirs and go to bat for them when the devil takes his best shot at them.  And more importantly, we need God to enable us to be and to do this....because let's be honest... on our own we make a mess of everything! 
  But maybe that's just me... the truth is, I have never been very good at being open and vulnerable and letting people in.  Take for example my last three months in Ecuador and my first year and a half home.  I was struggling hardcore.  I was depressed, I was shutting down, and my relationship with God was almost at its breaking point.... but very few people really knew what was going on... and even those who had some clue, had no idea the depths of darkness into which my mind would take me.  I remember at the time I had a small core group of friends who it had taken me years to build trust with, and as I walked through this season I just watched those relationships crumble because I didn't know how to share what I was going through with them. And I remember at one point making the conscious decision that I wouldn't share anything about what was going on with me, but would instead only focus on them... believing that this would set things right.  But you know what?  It didn't.  Community isn't a one way street...and people aren't going to share themselves with someone who clearly isn't going to do the same.  That makes sense to me now... but in the moment my mind had me convinced that it was others who were wrong for not letting me in and that they were the reason things were falling apart.
  The thing is, in those moments I wanted nothing more than a friend to stand by me and tell me everything was going to be okay... yet my mind had me so convinced that nobody would understand or care and that I was being weak and stupid and everyone would see how much of a loser I was if I ever said anything, that I refused to open my mouth.  I wish I could say that I have grown out of this, that I have gotten over the whole vulnerability thing and I have learned to allow people to see the darkness so that they can speak truth to it... but the truth is, I am just starting out on that journey.  In fact, at the beginning of this year I decided that I would force myself to join a community group at my church so that i could be surrounded by other Christians... people who would speak the truth to me and to whom I also could speak truth to.  In the first group I joined, I saw God begin to transform my heart and take me from a place of wanting to be closed off to the world, for fear of getting hurt, to seeing my need for others... but that's only the first step into the journey.
  So when that group ended, I had a choice to make, and I decided to keep forcing myself out of my comfort zone and more importantly out of my head...and thus, I joined another community group.  I wish I could say...and now things are awesome, but the reality is..."this is hard yo!".  After years of cutting myself off from others and becoming more and more afraid of people, each week I am literally forcing myself into a group of people who seem so open and vulnerable and caring for one another... and as much as I want to be there with them... I feel awkward, and the voice in my head keeps telling me that I'll never fit in, that I don't belong, that these people are so much better than me.  But you know what...I'm not going to listen to that voice in my head... and I am not going to let my social awkwardness keep me back from God's best for me.  I believe community is important... I believe it's God's design and his gift to us... and I believe that eventually, the more I go to this group, the more I listen to these people share the truth of God in their lives and the more I begin to open up myself, that more that voice inside my head will begin to change and begin to speak the real truth.  I don't have it all together, I am not there yet, but I am pressing in...and I hope that is encouraging to you and convinces you to do the same.  It's not easy... but we have to believe it's worth it... after all, it's not like God doesn't know what He is doing!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Surely Not I...

  So after reading the book of John, I have spent the better part of the last two months working through a lot of the same stories now told in the book of Matthew... and it always amazes me the things that don't stick out to me in one viewing of a Gospel, that do in another.  For instance, the last supper....that whole night in general is pretty epic.... but the last time I read through it (when I was seeing things through the eyes of John), all I kept looking at was Peter and how he was all like, "Not me Jesus, I will never deny you", then he turns around and denies Jesus in Jesus greatest time of need.  And there was so much in his story (Peter's) that I negated to see anyone else  and what they went through that night.  This time around however I got caught up in Judas (bet you didn't see that coming....or maybe you did)!
  If you read the story of the last supper as told by Matthew in chapter 26, you see Jesus basically telling all his disciples during this meal that he will be betrayed, turned over the the religious authorities and put to death... something He has told them multiple times before, but it's different this time because this time he tells them his betrayer is actually one of them!  Now of course they all are in an uproar, claiming like Peter did, that of course they would never turn their back on Jesus!  But Jesus knows the truth of who it will be.  
  Now we know from other gospel accounts that Jesus actually tells John that the one who will betray him is the one whom he hands a specific piece of bread to.  And I can only imagine this happens just before Judas exclaims himself (in Matthew) "Surely you don't mean me Lord?!".  And as I read those words of Judas and considered how Judas must have felt in that moment and how he so desperately was trying to save face with his words... I realized just how often in my own life I have been just like him.
  You see the Bible doesn't give us much more detail beyond that.  There's no explanation as to how John responded to seeing Jesus hand the bread to Judas... nor is there really a continuation of the conversation after Jesus declares "You said it!" to Judas, when he asks if he is the betrayer... but I can imagine Judas feeling called out and wanting to cover up...to pretend like Jesus didn't know what he was talking about and that God couldn't see into his heart like He did.  And the truth is...that is exactly how I act towards Jesus sometimes.
  There are so many times I am living my life and I know what I am doing or what I am about to do is wrong...maybe not in the "you can go to jail for this" kind of way or even the "someone else is gonna know what you did" kind of way... but wrong nonetheless.  And in my heart of hearts, in those moments I can feel God pulling on my heart strings... trying to grab my attention and beacon me to a new way.  Jesus will literally be calling me out... just like he was doing to Judas at the last supper... and I'll be like, "Dude, I don't know what your talking about... I'm fine... this is fine"!  And just like Judas I try so hard  to save face and cover up the very sin that God wants to free me from.  Why do I do this?!?!
  I think that ultimately, there's a little bit of Judas in all of us... this part of us that for the "right price", whether that's love/acceptance, money, success, etc... we will betray Jesus.  And I think in those moments when we give in to temptation and we take the bribe, and we turn our backs on God... we ultimately arrive at the same place Judas did...death.  Maybe not physical death (although in some cases that could be true), but a spiritual death...a separation from God and ourselves that we regret having a hand in.  But thank God that there is a thing called forgiveness and that there is mercy and grace for our souls when turn back to God in repentance.  I may at times act like Judas, but unlike Judas's story in the bible...my story will not end in death, but rather in Life, because of Christ!  Thank you Jesus... for I am so grateful!  Amen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Our Hope...even in the darkest places

  So the other day I woke up to a text message from a friend who has been really struggling in her relationship with God.  Now this isn't such an unusual thing for me, as I often have deep and complex conversations about faith with many of my friends via text message, but there was definitely something different about this conversation in particular.  For one, every time I responded to her I did so with such easy... not really having to think about what I was writing because it flowed out of me so easily....which isn't normal for me in any way as I usually stress over how to word things or how things might be taken.  The other difference was, I wasn't just giving sage advice, I was giving her a piece of my heart and I realized I was only able to do that because I have been where she is and I am finally coming out of that valley.
  You see, a lot of our conversation was about feeling like God was no longer there...like he was silent or indifferent...and I get that.  For the past few years I have been living in that place...feeling like God had abandoned me and given up on me and like I had been rejected by the only person whose opinion really matters.  I remember how it felt to cry out to God with every ounce of my being and feel like the only response I got was silence.  I know the pain of thinking like I don't matter to God and that while I am saved and loved as one of the millions of people Christ died for,  He really doesn't care for me as an individual.  I can't even begin to tell you how that feeling messes with both your head and your heart...but believe me it gets real messy, really fast.
  I think things began to change for me however when I made the decision that I was still going to seek after God and live for Him, even if I never felt like He cared for me again.  Looking at that sentence now, I know it was only by God's grace that I was even able to come to that sort of determination, because let's be honest... whose going to continue seeking something for the rest of their lives when that very thing seems to reject them over and over again.  The funny thing is....that's exactly what God does for us.  We, as humans, so often think we don't need God.  We act as if we are the master's of our own destiny without even acknowledging the fact that it's only by God's grace we are able to breathe and move and have a normal life.  So we go about our lives, day in and day out, living for ourselves...doing what we want...and not even really acknowledging God.  Yet, at the very same time... day after day, year after year... God pursues us with His love, giving us blessings we don't deserve, showering His grace and mercy upon us, and trying to connect with us in some way.  We constantly reject Him... even as Christians (come on, let's be honest...how many times do you put off time with God to sleep in or to go out...how many times do you say  a quick prayer and get on with your day or even forget to pray at all until something goes wrong).  Yet God continually chooses to seek us an love us despite how we may respond.
  Maybe that's why when I made the decision to seek God anyway... things started to change and I found myself finally connecting back to him.  And the thing is, the more time I have spent with God, trying to work through my feelings and issues over everything that has happened in the past several years, the more I realize that he has never once abandoned me or rejected me.  He has always been right there by my side.... even when I was too blind to see and too caught up in my feelings to believe it... His love never failed.  And I am so grateful for that!
  I am also grateful that when my friend reached out to me looking for answers and a little hope, I was able to respond to her not with some trite religious answer, but from a heart that has been there...that has walked through the valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side.  I've been to the depths...and I am sure some day I will pass through them again... but what I know now is, even there...even in the depths... God is with us and He will never stop loving us.  Thank you Jesus! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Power of a Stupidly Small Goal...

   So I tend to go through phases of what I will listen to in my car while driving.  I usually fluctuate between either a podcast, a sermon or a book on tape... but every once in a while I just need some good old fashion music and will flip on Klove radio (for those who are local that's 106.9fm).  Anyway, several months ago now I happened to turn on Klove at the exact moment that this clip was shared of Levi Lusko preaching.   Now considering sermons are pretty much right up my alley, I immediately went home and looked up this guy to see what else I could find by him and ended up downloading his sermons onto my castbox app.  Over the past several weeks I have listened to many of his sermon series and have gained so much from what he has shared (not surprising considering I felt the same way from reading 2 of his books in the past month).
  Anyway, in the most recent series I have been listening to ("You in five years"), in one of the sermons ("Too Small to Fail") he talks about making stupidly small goals for yourself....like for example just making a goal to do 1 pushup... in order to help you actually get started and keep going on your goals.  Honestly, as I listened to what he was saying I was laughing along with the audience...and thinking how ridiculous it would be to actually do...but then as I ruminated on it, I realized that what he was saying actually made a lot of sense.  In fact, it made so much sense that I decided to apply it to one of the most needy areas of my life right now....exercise (Not the point of the sermon, but helpful none the less).
  I don't know about you, but I have such a love/hate relationship with exercise.  When I am into it, I am really into it....but when I fall of track, it's not just like one wheel has come off.  Instead, when I fall off the exercise bandwagon,  it's like I've jumped the track, sped down a step hill and crashed into a ocean of water where I have immediately sunk to the bottom...and it doesn't seem like there is a way back.  This has been my life for the past several months.
  I started this year with such grand hopes.  I not only wanted to exercise, but eat healthier and reach some of my health goals.  But, then life happened... I left one job to take another, got caught up in school, and began eating chips like I was training for a man vs. food competition, and before I knew it not only had I started eating crap again, but I couldn't even bring myself to workout at my house, never mind head to the gym.  Night after night, day after day I've gotten lazier and lazier and in many ways I have felt hopeless about it.
  Yet, when I heard Levi's sermon and began to consider the implications of making such small goals that it would be impossible to fail, I realized that I didn't have to change everything about this journey over night.  I know that sounds like a "Duh!" comment, but if you know me, you know I tend to be an all or nothing kind of person... so when it came to figuring out how to get back on track with my health goals I felt all this pressure to change everything all at once...and to do it perfectly.  But, in my mind I already knew that while wanting to hit the gym 6 days a week for an hour or more and eat nothing but clean food sounded good, it wasn't really going to happen.... and so I expected to fail every time I tried.  And since I expected to fail, I pretty much half-assed every bit of effort I have put in these past few month...and ultimately have gotten nowhere.  I have failed.
  Yet this week was different.  On Saturday, I decided to take Lusko's advice and make one stupidly small health goal to strive for during the coming week...I simply decided to do some sort of exercise for at least 10 minutes every day (I didn't even name a specific type of exercise because I wanted to make it easy on myself by making any concerted effort count).  And guess what....for the last 4 days I have worked out anywhere from 20-45 minutes (well actually Saturday I walked 12 miles at the Relay for life, which took all day, but for the most part I have been in this time range)!  I know that seems so small/little....but in reality I have exceeded my goal and honestly I am proud of myself because this is most consistently I have exercised since probably January!  What's even more exciting is that I actually find myself not dreading having to get my workout in (all because I know I can reach... and most likely will exceed... my goal)!  Now for the first time in a while I actually feel like maybe my "train" is coming out of the water and I could possibly get back on track!  Plus the whole process has make me wonder what other areas of my life I can make stupidly small goals for!  So even though this may not have been the direction you wanted you sermon to go, thanks Levi Lusko for giving me some much needed encouragement!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Perfection, Pain, and The Process of Freedom...

    I grew up in the Church, but it wasn't until sometime around middle school (probably about the time I made a decision to live for Christ) that I made the switch from playing games or falling asleep in service, to actually paying attention.  And I don't know if this was actually something that was consistently preached from the pulpit about that time, or just one little thing that was once mentioned in a sermon and I clung unto it... but I specifically remember my pastor at the time telling the congregation that, as Matthew 5:48 says, we as Christians were suppose to "be prefect just as (our) Father in Heaven is perfect".  Now I am sure that the intention of making such a statement came from a good place and a desire for us all to honor God.  But for me... as a young kid just starting out in my own faith journey, through those words the very idea of perfection took up deep residence in my heart and is just now starting to leave.
  Now there is a part of me that is grateful for this.  As a teenager, the idea that I needed to be perfect to please God or else, kept me from doing a lot of stupid things and getting myself in the kind of trouble that I wouldn't be able to handle.  In high school when many of the people I knew were drinking, smoking weed, and partying on the weekends.  I stayed mostly to myself, reading my bible (yes, I was that kid) and spending my weekends with my church friends.  I never felt like I was really missing out on anything, but I also was under the belief that I was somehow better than others because I had refrained from such activities.  Looking back now,  I can totally see how the Pharisaical heart I have worked so hard to get rid of, started developing in me even back then.
  Anyway, the downside of this perfection ideology actually didn't really hit until I hit the real world.  It was then that I realized, "Holy Crap, I am not perfect!  In fact, I am so far from it... I should be ashamed".  And ashamed I was.  I was still a Christian, but instead of becoming more solidly founded in the love of my Savior, I began to become more and more fearful of what God and others would think if they only knew the real me (As if God didn't already know).  Soon I was hiding parts of myself away, not sharing my struggles, and putting on this Christian front so that nobody would be able to find me out.  This continued on for years, although I certainly never admitted it.  
   I actually remember that when I was applying to go on the missions field full time, I was so scared that it would be found out I was a "sinner", that I didn't dare share my fears or worries about what I was about to do with anyone.  I just kept casting my happy little vision of what it would be like, and pretending like I didn't feel like a fraud who had somehow duped people into thinking she was somehow ready to go "save the world".  Thinking back now, I often wonder how different things would have turned out if I knew then what I am learning now.... that I don't have to be afraid of my weaknesses and imperfection...and that in fact the same Bible that speaks of being perfect, also tells us reassuringly that "it's in (our) weakness, (God) is made perfectly strong" (2 Cor. 12:9).  Of course, I wouldn't be who I am today without having gone through all I have, so it's probably better this way... And I am sure God knows that.
  Anyway, it wasn't until my dream of being a missionary came crashing down and I felt completely exposed and unbelievably vulnerable, that I was able to begin to see that God not only could, but does, love me... even though I am not perfect.  Not that has been was a easy process though.  In fact, it probably wasn't until close to two years removed from the missions field that I was even willing to look up from the pile of ashes I had been sitting in and to see God smiling at me.  For so long after my time I on the field, I felt like I had failed God and in turn He had failed me, but the truth of the matter was I hadn't failed God...He wasn't surprised by how things turned out and He certainly didn't turn His back on me... in fact, God was there in the midst of all that pain, patiently waiting for me, longing for me to just look to Him and realize just how much He loves me.  
  I am just starting to truly get it now, but I can just imagine God watching me go through the application process to get on the missions field and trying so hard to remain in control and "be perfect" on the field...and Him just knowing what was coming and all the pain I would walk through, but also Him sitting there planning exactly how He would use it to bring me to freedom.  In fact, I think God allowed me to be stripped of everything and feel like I was completely breaking down during that time, in order that He could build me back up in the knowledge that my perfection is found in Him...it's His holiness, His righteousness, His goodness that I stand in....and it's his grace that covers me and keeps me from having to fear being real with my struggles and imperfection.  I'm starting to get it God.... Finally! It's definitely a process, but thank you for opening my eyes (even though I had to walk through the pain to get there).  Amen

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday Sermon Reflection and Rumination...

  So this morning I wasn't super excited about going to church.  I hadn't been in two weeks due to traveling... and prior to my trip I had a somewhat uncomfortable conversation with someone that made me question quite a bit about the church (not enough to make me consider leaving, but enough to make me wonder if I will ever really fit in).  Anyway, I must have changed like 6 times while getting ready this morning... which for me is a sign that I already feel uncomfortable about something... but eventually just decided I needed to leave because I knew I had a friend who would be waiting for me at service (Note to anyone who struggles getting to church:  have a friend meet you there and text you to that they are going to save you a seat.  You're more likely to go if you know someone is waiting for you).
  Anyway, once I got to church I was feeling a lot better about the whole thing.  The worship in this church always draws me into God and reminds me that it's all about Him and not about me to begin with.  Well, then we got to the sermon...and I have to say, while I wasn't really expecting anything spectacular to happen (which is maybe a shame on my part)... the words the pastor spoke were something that I have been needing to hear for years...although I think this the first time I was ready to hear them.
  We've been talking about the life of Abraham the past few weeks and in this mornings sermon we covered the very familiar story of when Abraham goes to sacrifice his son Issac to God.  Like I said yesterday, I grew up in church, so this is another one of those stories I have heard a million times over.  In fact in the past four weeks of this sermon series, this passage has been used more than once (although I don't know how many times more to be exact).  Anyway, I think because of the familiarity of the story, at first I wanted to kind of shut down and go on auto pilot while listening to the sermon...but something within me told me not to.  In fact, I really felt like I needed to pay close attention... that there was something in the sermon I needed to hear and I didn't want to miss it.
  So, I sat there listening to the sermon, mentally taking notes of all the pastor's key points...all of which seemed powerful and important, but weren't hitting the mark in my spirit so to speak.  But then we got closer to the end of the sermon...to the part of the story when God calls out to Abraham to stop what he is about to do (aka...kill his son) and instead provides a lamb for the sacrifice, sparing Issac's life... the pastor shared how in the same situation, he might be tempted to think he got God wrong and that maybe this wasn't what God had called him to in the first spot since God had chosen to change the ending.  Immediately my heart skipped a beat and flashes of conversations I have had over the past few years begin to cross my mind.
  I listened on intently as the pastor continued by telling a story from his own life about a job he worked almost a year towards getting only to have the position given to someone else at the last moment.  Through his story (and a connection back to Abraham and Issac) he showed how God is more concerned with the journey than the destination... that God is more focused on the state of our hearts than anything else, and he will do whatever is necessary to form our hearts into the position they need to be for Him to use us.
  As the pastor spoke and I thought about the various conversations I have had over the past few years, I realized that maybe what I thought was a failure or not of God, actually was him setting my heart back to holiness.  When I left for the missions field I had such great vision... but honestly, I think a lot of it was self-centered.  Right from the start, things didn't go the way I expected, and by midpoint of my time in Ecuador I was working more from a place of trying to prove something than trying to win souls for Christ (something that is quite hard to admit).  When everything fell apart and I came back home, I was crushed and thought for sure that I must have heard God wrong... and that instead of following His will, I must have been pushing my own agenda all along... and so maybe I never was suppose to be a missionary to begin with.
  Now in the past six to nine months God has been doing a lot of work in my heart to help me see where He was in the midst of my time overseas.  But today, it was like God helped me to see that my time there wasn't wasted time.  Things certainly didn't go as I expected and certainly didn't turn out as I wanted, but if it had not been for that time... I wouldn't be who I am today... and I wouldn't be the Christian I am today.  Yes, it's been hard...yes I struggled a lot over the past few years trying to come to terms with everything... but I've always held onto the belief that God is God... and I have never doubted that He is in control.  My faith has been solidified in the midst of all the pain and sorrow of what could have been.
  So maybe what I thought was suppose to turn into a lifetime of ministry on the missions field, was actually God setting my heart right once again and preparing me for something more, although maybe different from what I expected.  I still don't know what it all was for... which I guess makes sense considering it was just this morning that I was first confronted by the idea that just because things didn't turn out the way I expected, doesn't mean that God didn't call me to it. But tonight I find comfort in knowing there was purpose in all of it... even if I haven't discovered exactly what that is yet.    I know that God is up to something in my heart, it's one of those things that I know, but can't explain.  And today's message was just the encouragement I needed to believe that God has never stopped working on me and never will.  What a relief!  And what a strange sense of excitement I find filling my heart now.  I wonder what's in store next?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Thomas in All of Us

  I grew up in the church and because of that there are certain bible stories... a lot of them in fact... that I have heard over and over again, to the point that I can share them almost verbatim (although I couldn't tell you what book of the bible of verses I am quoting).  The sad thing about that is, that while I have always had the word of God in me, I haven't always cared to understand it and I haven't always allowed it to speak to me and show me truth.... I have lacked the desire to allow the Bible to be the living, breathing, double edged sword that it is.  In recent years though that has started to change a bit....and in recent months... well I have found more comfort in its pages then I can even comprehend. 
  One thing about the Bible that has really stood out to me lately is just how....human.... the disciples were.  I mean, most of my life I've looked at these 12 guys Jesus chose and it's like I've assumed there was something so special about them that drew Jesus to them...that they couldn't just be ordinary fools like the rest of us, just trying to figure this life out.  But...in reality... they were.  And they show it all the time.  Think about it...
  One disciple in particular who gets a really bad rap is Thomas...doubting Thomas.... everyone picks on him as if we all wouldn't be at least thinking the same things he says if we were in his same position!  We all know the story about how Thomas was the one that said unless he put his hands in Jesus side and touched the holes in Jesus's hands then he couldn't believe that Jesus had resurrected (even though Jesus had told his disciples time and time again that this would happen).  We all rag on him for this, even though Jesus didn't.  In fact, when Jesus appears to the disciples again He tells Thomas to do the very thing he said he needed to do to believe.... to put his hands on His side and in His hands.  Jesus met Thomas where he was at...and in doing so he shows us all it's okay to have doubts.
  But there's another story in the Bible about Thomas that I love even more...  A story that I think shows how we all (of at least I) can be a Thomas a times.  It's a story that shows the side of Thomas that like me tries to figure everything out in his head before giving his heart to it.  The story is in John 14.  Jesus is sitting with his disciples, once again telling them about His soon departure, and He says to them that He is going to His father's house to prepare a place for them so that one days they can be with Him for all eternity. Then Jesus concludes His statements by saying "you know the way to where I am going"...
  Now, I imagine all the disciples sitting around...having no clue what Jesus is talking about, yet nodding their heads as if if to say "Yes Lord, that's so deep".  Thomas though...he doesn't nod his head.  In my minds eye I see him sitting there with a scowl on his face, racking his brain trying to put all the pieces together to make sense of what Jesus is saying.  Yet...he can't...and its all so overwhelming...so he finally blurts out what I am sure so many of the other disciples were thinking, but were too embarrassed to say... he shouts in exasperation... "Lord we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?!?!" (John 14:5, NIV). And Jesus again responds to him with love... saying "I AM the WAY".
  You see Thomas was a guy who needed to understand, to get it it, to have a road map.  I imagine in many ways he was like me and felt like knowing all the details would give him a sense of control....like if you know what to expect you can somehow handle it all better.  I think Jesus knew that about Thomas long before he even called him.  And I think Jesus called him because he knew there would be people in the world just like him, who had questions and doubts and didn't understand...but wanted to...and needed to.  And just like Jesus loved Thomas enough to respond to him in love, I think Jesus responds to each of us in love.  And that's why Thomas's story is in the Bible.    Thomas was real about his lack of understanding and his doubts... he wasn't afraid to share them with Jesus either.  He spoke his true self and received God's love in return. 
  In Thomas I find a friend...and comfort... and the ability to also ask Jesus questions knowing that even in showing Him my doubts  and lack of understand He will always love me.  I think without the story of Thomas in the Bible, I would still be wondering if God can handle my questions.  But through his story I see the truth... that God can handle our questions...our doubts... our lack of understanding, and he loves us through all of it.  Thank you Thomas!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

One Decision Can Change It All....

    Over two years ago now, I returned from the missions field.  And I remember when I was getting ready to come home, I had all these ideas of how landing on American soil and getting back into my old life would magically make everything better.  It's like I thought "if I could just go back, I can pretend none of this ever happened, and all will be right in the world again".  Of course that didn't happen... as quickly I was faced with the reality that I was not the same person who had left for the missions field, nor were my friends.  And try as I did to wish my old life back into existence, it just wouldn't work...and I struggled with that a lot (in fact, some days I still do).
  One of the hardest things in coming back to the country after two years, having experienced all that I experienced and faced all I faced, was realizing I didn't have a community of people who got me anymore.  For at least the last six or more months of my time on the missions field I had worked so hard to put up a Christian front for people back home that when I walked back into my sending church I immediately realized I was not the person people were expecting and there was no way I could be.  Because of that, I immediately began to become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety because I didn't want to disappoint people and I felt like no matter what I did I would.  Even more than that, I feared I was a disappointment to God and I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that other people would accept me when I didn't even believe that God did any more.  So after several months of skipping church, trying to start going again, and then skipping more...I decide to stop going all together.  At the time I justified it because I was still getting up Sunday morning and leaving the house.  In fact, I always had the intention of at least trying to meet with God by going to a coffee shop with my Bible and journal on those Sunday mornings.  But then I would get distracted by shopping or school work and before I knew it, it was just easier to walk away.
  One of the greatest ramifications of that time (which mind you, there are a lot), is I lost a lot of Christian friends.  People just couldn't understand what was going on with me and I was unwilling to share myself because I feared in being honest they would see me in my mess and reject me.  So instead I just pushed people away, or let them fall away, without really giving them a chance.  The thing is, when you start walking out this life alone (or at least without some solid spiritual influence) you set yourself up to be a prime target for the enemy, and that's exactly what I did.  Now, I didn't go off and start doing drugs or sleeping around or anything so completely irresponsible like that.  But I still got snarled in the traps of the enemy.  The depression I felt before coming home only continued to build up in me during this time and before I knew it I was (and sadly in many ways still am) so wrapped up in fear, anxiety, and a lack of hope that I literally couldn't cry out for help if I wanted to.  Thankfully, and only by God's grace, I found myself back in church about 8 months ago (albeit a different church).  I can't say going back has always been easy, but it's always good...if that makes sense.
  And today... today was a special day in service for me, although it didn't start off that way.  For months now I have struggle so much in trying to figure out how to build some new Godly friendships.  I am not a very outgoing person to begin with, but couple that with the scars and entanglements of the past few years, putting myself out there in a Christian setting has not been easy.  Furthermore, in the times I have successfully stepped out of my comfort zone and truly reached out to try and make a christian connection, nothing has really ever come of it...and it has been hard.  So this morning when I got up, I wasn't super excited to head to church and as I sat in my seat during majority of the service I was fighting everything God was trying to tell me because, shoot...how can I believe any of this is really true if it has no lasting impact on my day to day life and I always seem to end up back where I started....clearly I am doing it wrong and that's why nobody wants to be my friend and why God can't possibly love me on a deep personal level...and yada, yada, whine, whine, whine. (ugh!).  And that's where I was at when service ended... in the midst of a wonderfully epic pity party that only goes to prove you can go to God's house and still make it all about you!  
  Anyway, as I was walking out of service one of my few friends who has stuck by me through the years texted me that she was thinking of coming to church (which is a whole other story, but not mine to tell) and something in me knew I wanted to be there for her (if for no other reason than I would want a friend to be there for me in the same position).  So sitting in my car, I texted back that instead of driving off and going on with my day, I would wait for her and go to service a second time so she wouldn't have to be alone.  It sounds so righteous and selfless that I would put off my day to be there for a friend, but really that decision was a bit self-centered or at least self-indulgent for me.  You see, every week I sit in service alone, feeling like I don't really belong and I never will.  That they've let me in the door and they will be nice to me, but they don't really know me and if they did I would never be welcomed into their group.  But sitting in service for the second time this morning, next to a precious friend who means the world to me and whose let me see her junk and allowed me to be honest with mine, I felt accepted into God's kingdom in a way I haven't felt in years.  It was as if in having that one person beside me.... whose seen my junk and still cares about me and believes that I have a right to sit in the house of God... I was able to believe that maybe there was a place for me after all, that maybe I could belong, and maybe I don't have to live on the outskirts of community for the rest of my life.  It was like in the one moment of time I was able to see the possibility of belonging to a Christian "family"... of having a group of believers who actually  know me and  accept me allow me to be a part of their life and get to know them in such a deeply intimate way that we truly become the family of God and build each other up and spur each other on in Christ.  
  It's been a long time since I've been able to consider the possibility of that...and a long time since the possibility didn't scare me.... but today the thought made me feel free, and for that I am grateful.  Now the last thing I am gonna do is sit here and think that things are automatically gonna change now...I'm not silly enough to think I won't have to fight for this type of community.... but at least for once I am willing to fight...and at least for once I think it's a battle that could actually be won.  For that I am thankful (Thank you God!).  You see, it only really takes one decision... one little, spur of the moment choice, to begin to see things change.  I am believing in that today!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What Does My Need for Control Actually Say About ME?!

  Brace yourself people... I am about to get real honest up in here, so if your looking for a tooty fruity, lovey dovey, light-hearted blog post to read...this might not be the one for you.  FAIR WARNING.  Now here we go... so, several years ago now I secretly went to see a therapist.  I am not good at talking about my emotions, but I knew I needed to talk to someone and I knew that someone would need to work hard to draw out all the junk that was piling up inside of me.  Now, one specific week, I remember sitting with this lady and ... I kid you not... she looked me straight in the eye and mentioned these three simple words that almost sent me through the roof... "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" (OCD).  Immediately I shook my head no and quickly threw up walls, unwilling to even consider what she had to say because clearly she had no idea what she was talking about and didn't even know me!  Fast forward a couple of years and here I find myself for the past several weeks being the closer at work...which means I am responsible for making sure a certain part of the building gets locked up for the night/weekend... and can I just tell you how many times I check to make sure those doors are locked!  Not only that...but how much I stress each night and weekend worried that maybe the doors were somehow left unlocked even though, if I think about it, I know that I locked them.  It's got me thinking that maybe this therapist lady was a little right and maybe I should have listened to what she had to say about this...and other things...a little more carefully.
  Now obviously, me checking to see if I locked the door over and over again, or obssessing about whether or not it was locked all night or weekend, doesn't mean this therapist was actually right in her prognosis.  But...if I am honest... I've noticed other things I do that totally fit what she was saying too and it's a bit hard to take it all in.  For instance I have all sorts of silly rituals that I do each day....I have to wake up on a 5 or else I feel wrong getting out of bed, so my alarm is always set for 5:55 or 6:25.  I have to put my shoes on and tie them in a specific order or I feel weird about starting my day.  I even have to drive specific routes to certain locations otherwise I feel uneasy and think my day might be doomed.  Now mind you, none of this is really a conscious decision, it's just something I do and it only really sticks out to me when I change my routine and feel quite stressed out about it, as if not doing one of these things can determine the whole course of my day.
  Then there's the whole other side...what goes on in my mind.  Now I've always been an over thinker... like a way over thinker....but honestly there are times I can repeat the same thought over and over and over again in my head, like I'm practicing it for a final exam.  I can't really explain it and I honestly didn't even think anything of it until  few months ago when I caught myself literally repeating over and over again a scenario in my head and how I felt about it, as if the hours of mental replay would actually change anything about what had happen.
  Now I don't share all of this to say that yes, I most definitely now agree with this therapist and its possible that maybe she had a point about me having a mild case of OCD.  And, If I am even more honest, it scares me to even share these kinds of truths about myself with the general public because I know I am leaving myself open and vulnerable to criticism, judgment, and the various opinions of man.  But...I share this with you all anyway, despite all that, because the more I think about it, the more I see that all these rituals and all these thought patterns come down to one specific thing...CONTROL.  I have a need to feel like I am in control... and the very fact that I so desperately long for control...and that I actually think that doing any or all of these things can somehow allow me to control the outcome of my day... tells me that ultimately I am not placing my trust in God.
   Now, you might be thinking, what's the big deal?  We all try to have some sense of control in our lives...does that really mean your not trusting God?   Well, for me, it does.  I mean,  in doing all these things and over thinking situations as I do, I am basically saying that I think I am somehow more capable figuring out life on my own and trusting in my own abilities than I am in allowing the God of the universe....the God who created me and knows everything about me and this world....to guide me through this life!  Is that not both insanely ridiculous and awfully audacious of me to believe?!?!  Think about it....here is febble me who literally cannot even control her emotions half the time, telling GOD...the one who was before all and over all... that I can better determine the course of my life on a daily basis by only ever rolling out of bed from one specific side of it or making sure I leave a specific light on in the house when I leave for work (or a million other silly rituals), than HE is able to do if I would just put my trust in Him COMPLETELY.  It sounds silly just typing it out and the mental picture it gives me makes me want to laugh (or maybe cry).
  Now to be honest, I am not sure when this way of life started for me....it's probably been a part of me for much longer than I even realize... but now that I see it, I don't like it.  I don't like the pressure and the fear I put on my own shoulders when I think I have to do it all right or my life will fall apart.  I don't like that I think I have to control situations and if I make one false move or say one wrong things I can send my life into oblivion (okay, that statement might be a little bit of an overstatement, but you get what I am trying to say, I hope.).  And the truth is, I don't think this was ever how God intended me (or anyone to live).  He says in His word that His yoke is easy and His burden in light.  And I think when I learn to let go and trust Him to be who He IS, instead of trying to control everything all myself, I will actually experience true freedom.  So that's my prayer...that God would help me to change by helping me learn to hand over the CONTROL of my life to him and to TRUST him COMPLETELY, without any "help" from me.