Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When the Dragon Rears Its Head

I feel like writing is one of the things which comes fairly naturally to me. When I was in grade school I would spend hours plugging away as various stories. I wrote with paper and pencil, I typed on the computer, and I developed stories in my brain while I played and rested. I know some of my siblings and friends had, and may even still have, little books about puppies or racehorses or a short story about a whale which I gifted to them. For about as long as I can remember I have loved to create stories, planning the characters and the names, developing the plot, infusing the tale with deep emotions. I could spend literally days putting together a plot simply for my Playmobile characters to carry out.

But the trouble came when I started to lose footing in the real world. When I placed one foot in reality, enough to function and act as normal as possible, and one foot in a world that was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.

It was several years ago, possibly in seventh or eighth grade, when I began to recognize that my imagination had a propensity for getting me in trouble. For getting me lost. For starting me down the wrong path. Considering the distance of time which has transpired between then and now, I don't remember all my decision making processes but I do remember trying to control my story telling which had literally moved to consume the entirety of most of my days. I would be detailing a fictional world while I mucked my horse's pen or saddled her for a ride. If Bible time was boring, it was no problem to retreat into my internal world. Fear and intrusive thoughts, which had become normal with my obsessive-compulsive-like complex, were easier to put away when I could simply turn off the real world and fade back into a world I couldn't quiet touch but could feel deeply.

But from time to time, I decided a certain story had to go, perhaps because it was too consuming, and then I made up rules about what would happen if I resurrected that story. I placed possibilities of me randomly contracting a cancer as a consequence. But it was never good enough. The fear would die down or I would find a way to outwit my rules and start a new story line, with fresh characters and an exciting plot. My internal stories became the place where I was focused, spending a good part of any activity- whether playing, working, or doing school- vastly devoted to this past time.

Looking back, I see how long the struggle has been. Somewhere back in the past, my stories and imagination had become a place of hiding and security. But what once was innocent had become twisted and was infused with a daily struggle to fight against fear. These fears were deeply entwined with the possibility of breaking a rule or a promise I had made in an effort to control something or another, or the fear of displeasing God. And there was also the possibility that what wasn't real was real, which opened a place of logically knowing what was realistic but emotionally not being sure what was logical.

Over the years I would continue to fight this dragon of my imagination, sometimes going months without indulging in creating a fictional world, and sometimes caving into my need to create an alternate reality with people who surpassed insane odds and conquered difficult obstacles no matter what their trial. I came to simultaneously love and hate this monster. To both know it was no help to continue living through fictional characters and likewise, to crave being away from reality. It became an addiction. An addiction to fantasy. And in a world like this, there is no room to get to know God and enjoy His presence. And that is where the ultimatum lay: to follow God, to know His undying joy, or to keep walking my way.

It turns out I have had to learn an important lesson about surrendering things which might not be inherently bad but are an intense stumbling block to one's self. I've had to learn, and relearn, to be sure! that sometimes we have to surrender what we want to God and that He knows what is best. And that He can provide something that is better. And He has. Getting to know Him, to be able to rest in His presence, and more fully experience seeing His glory through His creation have all been worth while trade offs.

A life in Christ is not a life of bondage. He is freedom and life. And that which pulls us away from Him is always leading to chains and living in a box. A verse I have found encouraging is found in Galatians chapter 5, verse 1.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, 
and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

While this verse is applying to things other than my love of living in fantasy, I think it can be applied directly to my situation. I may always have a weakness for retreating into fantasy and blocking myself off from reality. But I know Christ is my freedom. And He says not to be entangled by things which we have already been freed from. Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). I no longer have to be a slave to my whims, fears, and stumbling blocks. Without these things crowding in, I can learn about and experience God for more deeply. And you know, I still believe He has given me an imagination to be used. Just not for the things which lead to fear and imprisonment and stagnation in my growth in Him. Yes, music can still cause my mind to imagine far off places or take flight to the top of a mountain. And I so like to contemplate what the new earth and heaven will be like. And I think He has redeemed my imagination in this way. Not to say "don't use it" but to use it in a way which does not draw me away from God but instead pushes me closer. 

So maybe. Just maybe if you have been struggling a long time or have had a relapse into some old habit, have courage! If you give it to God, I have faith He knows what is better for you. And since He is the all-powerful, good, holy, and perfect, we can trust that what He has is what is good and more complete than what we have fashioned for ourselves. 

And I write this for myself as a reminder. A reminder that a life in Him is always better. Turning aside is never worth it. Keep on fighting. Keep on walking. Trust in the Lord. Lean on His strength. Follow Him. It is always what is best in the long run. 

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
- John 8:36


Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Closed Door

My life feels like it revolves around paperwork right now. Apply for this. Apply for that. Ask someone for a recommendation. Remember due dates. Write convincing statements. Submit. Wait.

Of course it isn't true. There was a movie at the theater. Bible study with a friend. Making dinner. There was Christmas. And Christmas break. Those seven days in Florida, on the beach, in the ocean, and under the sun. And the almost two weeks I was out of town. And even now, I am happily not in the throes of filling out MORE paperwork. But it lurks in the back of my mind as a consistent nag, which is probably why I feel it is so much a part of my life.

The paperwork falls in the usual categories- scholarships, applying to different schools, filling out forms for the current school year, and of course, figuring out my summer plans. A couple months ago I took an dive at an opportunity of working with kids for the summer. I applied on a moment's inspiration, gifted to me by a dear friend. But as the moment of inspiration passed, the idea took root. I filled out MORE forms. I asked people to be references (a task I am not fond of). I had interviews. And I waited. I prayed, talking to God about this opportunity. I texted and chatted, talking to people in my life about this idea. And I waited some more. Through it all, I asked for direction. And for the right decision for me to be made. And I waited some more. Then the phone call for which I was eagerly waiting finally came. I was fairly certain I would get in. I would be able to claim this opportunity- if not into the first option I applied for then surely the second option... And now the phone rang.

I walked quickly from the room and answered the phone. But a couple minutes on the phone yielded a different answer than I had anticipated. The programs I was interested in doing were full- I wasn't needed. Being a Christian organization which I had applied to, I gave the appreciated comment somewhere along the lines of "if it isn't what God has for me, then that is all right!" I hung up and just like that my little network of how my summer was going to go, expertly designed and planned by me, caved in.

Oh, I wasn't devastated. A little disappointed. And the truth is if it isn't what God wants for me, then it isn't what I should want for me either. But deep down a little piece of me wants to be sulky. It wants to come out as a dramatic little girl. Why didn't I get to do what I wanted? It isn't fair. I have no idea what to do now. I have to remind myself this isn't the person I want to show- because after all its better to present the attitude of "oh I guess this is God's will then," right? Well, I am not that perfect and there is still a restless feeling lying beneath the surface. Waiting for an opportunity to get out. To play feel-sorry-for-me. And that is why I have to be reminded: A Closed Door is an Answer Too.

Yep. That is right. A closed door can be an answer. If I give a request to God... if I ask Him to work it according to His will  (and not so much my own)... if I decide what He has for me is better than what I have for me... then a closed door is also an answer.

God is the sovereign one. He is the one who knows the past, present, and future. He has been around literally forever- before we were even around to recognize the concept of forever. Just last night I lay in my bed and looked up into the blue-black night sky, dotted with the stars visible in the city. It was beautiful. And God is immense. Powerful. Beautiful. Magnificent. Holding this whole universe in His hand. Oh the heavens really do declare His glory- even if only a little piece of it. It is a nice way to fall asleep. And today, under the moody clouds and the answers which aren't quiet how I imagined, He is the same God. He doesn't change. And He is still the God I want in control of my life. I don't know best. He does.

So God, even though I might be disappointed, feel a tad lost, get a bit frustrated... help me to remember that You are a good Father, an all knowing God, and a loving Savior. You got me. You know what is and isn't for me. And like all good parents, You know sometimes "no" is just as good as "yes." So here is a reminder to me. Yes, a closed door can be Your answer. And "no, this isn't for you," can be an answer to prayer too. So thank You, God, for this reminder. And thank You that I can trust You.

Downstairs in my room, on my desk, is a little collection of rocks with memoirs written upon them. Things I need to remember. Visible reminders of God's hand in my life which last after the feelings. It is time to add another. And you can probably guess the phrase I intend to write on it. A Closed Door is an Answer Too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Lesson from the Past: God's Perfect Plan

I grew up being home-schooled for the greater portion of my life. One of the fruits of this was the books which I was introduced to and fell in love with. As a child and teenager, a good deal of my readings were classics and historical fiction (which often cross paths), and while I might have protested this at one time, I am grateful that it was these kind of books I got to read. Now I must admit, I am not much of a factual reader. I will read for facts if necessary but when it comes to pleasure reading, I like a well written and engaging sort of book. Thus, despite the multitude of historical fiction which I have read, I paid less attention to dull historical facts and was more drawn to the story and emotion.

When I was in my early teens I got to know books by the author Rosemary Sutcliff, who often focused on historical novels within the Roman times. One story I remember is a gut twisting, heart wrenching tale of a young man who is rejected by people group after people group, subjected to slavery, and overall abused by civilization. The story ends rightly with a note of victory as he is prompted to try to live anew but the overall story is hard to swallow. Can you even imagine? A favorite book of mine, Ben-Hur, touches a similar note. Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy prince in Israel during the time which the Romans are in control. Unexpectedly he is stripped of everything - family, title, possessions, and liberty. He, like the young outcasts described above, is subjected to slavery. Both stories make a good read, delve into the historical times, and envelope one in the trials and triumphs of the characters. Despite these stories being fictional, the idea is real, messy, and tough.

Recently, I came over a story which fell along a similar note. It can be found in the Bible- you know in the portion (Old Testament) which I have hardly visited the last several years. A journal gift from a friend prompted me to start reading Genesis once again and it has been amazing to see the different lessons which have presented themselves. It is not like I have never heard the stories of Genesis before, from the creation story all the way to Joseph's death in Egypt. I have heard most of them more than once. And yet, now they appear somewhat new. Things I would have never noticed before have begun to pop out. And truth to be told, the Old Testament of the Bible is not quiet as old and dull as it would seem,

Today, let us journey back in time before North America was even known to exist by most of civilization, before the focus was on Europe, before the Romans were the world power house, before the Greeks introduced democracy, before the Jewish people entered the Promise Land. Yes, our story takes us back to a time when the tribes of Israel were the names of living and breathing descendants of Abraham. The character I would have you recognize is Joseph, on of the twelve sons of Jacob. He is the favored son of his father, so I imagine he has it pretty good. However, Joseph is not the favorite of many of his brothers. As a matter of fact, one day some of these good fellows decide to sell him to merchants who are trekking across to Egypt (it was that or kill him- talk about sibling rivalry!)

Imagine. In an instant, Joseph goes from being the favored son to a nobody with nothing material of his own and without the ability to even proclaim himself his own. I imagine it was a hot, exhausting trip and that Joseph was certainly no passenger of honor- how difficult that would be. Would you despair? We are not told if Joseph despaired but I imagine he had his moments- lost, afraid, angry, disgraced. His next stop was to be sold to an Egyptian and from here at least the sun perhaps looked a little brighter. Joseph was made to have great success, even as a servant to his master Potiphar. Now what I find interesting here is that Joseph was said to have the LORD (Yahweh) with him. I am sure Joseph had times of despair and turning from God but it does seem that he chose to follow God rather than turn his back on Him in the heart of a struggle. So here is a lesson. What do I do? Do I allow God to have His hand actively in my life even in a tough season?

"The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man."
-Genesis 39:2 

Well it seems that things are going a little better for Joseph. I mean he might still be held in Egypt but he is doing as well as can be and trusted by his master. So how about a plot twist? Joseph is accused of wickedness by his master's wife and is thrown into prison. How is that for frustrating? Have you ever been accused of something you did not do and had to suffer punishment? Joseph went from a high position once again to the low. He ended up in a dungeon. And yet even here God was with Joseph and helped him. Joseph was given authority here in the prison. God was faithful to Joseph and Joseph had the help of Yahweh to rely on. Next, Joseph is able to interpret dreams for two men demoted from working in the house of Pharaoh. One of these men dies and the other is allowed to continue as a butler. Despite Joseph asking the butler to help him out of prison, the butler goes his merry way and forgets about him. For two whole years. Now imagine how that comes across. Discouraging, am I right? If you send an e-mail to someone asking them to do something for you, it is down right frustrating after a few days to not receive a reply. But Joseph is forgotten by this excellent man for years. 

Ah, but God had a perfect plan. See He was going to use Joseph to save the lives of many- both Egyptians and eventually his brothers and father. Joseph may have not gotten out of prison when he wanted to, but God brought him out at just the right moment. See Pharaoh has dreams which no one can tell him the meaning of and that is when the butler recalls Joseph. Joseph, through the power of God, is able to interpret these dreams and they foretell of some years of prosperous crops and then some years of famine. Pharaoh's move is to give Joseph much power over the land of Egypt and Joseph is put in the position which will enable him to enforce a plan which will keep the Egyptians alive in the soon coming famine. God's plan was perfectly executed. Yes, it took a while and it was definitely painful for Joseph. However, it was worth it in the end. 

I wonder how God worked directly in Joseph during this time. Did He teach Joseph humility? Did He uproot pride? Did He teach him that God alone can provide? Did He teach him that God is trustworthy and righteous? Struggles push us to God and in the hands of God, a wonderful Craftsman, we can let Him mold us into what He wants us to be. We can be vessels through which He can execute His will. Joseph had to go through valleys and peaks for many years before he was in the position where God would use him for great things. (Not that that didn't mean God didn't use him in the other places. In Potiphar's household and in the dungeon Joseph appeared to learn to be faithful in whatever he was called to do and wherever he was.) 

I wonder if Joseph had to work through the emotional and psychological effects of rejection, abuse, and betrayal. I find it fascinating to look at the names of his two sons. The first is Manasseh. I looked this name up and it is defined as "to forget." Joseph is quoted as saying this about Manasseh, "For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house." His next son is named Ephraim and Joseph says, "For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." I wonder if these names show healing for Joseph from the great Physician. His sons are some of the many blessings which God gives to him, despite all of the trials. Joseph never would have had his two sons if he had stayed in his father's house. What a beautiful reminder. God gives us good gifts, even when we are allowed to walk through the dry dessert or sail a turbulent sea. 

The end of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read it before. Joseph's brothers come to buy grain from Egypt because of the years of famine. Joseph eventually tells them he is their brother and instead of punishing them for what they did to him, he welcomes them, Jacob (their father), and all their family to live nearby. I love what Joseph says after his father dies and his brothers get nervous that he might be harboring anger against them. 

"Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones."
-Genesis 50:19b-21a

So many lessons. Many which I have yet to learn fully or haven't even yet begun. But may we submit ourselves to God and recognize that His plan is righteous, bigger, more beautiful, and perfect. He provides, guides, shepherds, comforts, refines. He is a loving Father and the God of the universe. I'll leave you with some lyrics from the song "You know better than I" from a cartoon movie about Joseph (which I haven't seen but I love the idea of the song.)

"For You know better than I
You know the way
I've let go the need to know why
For You know better than I."




Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Real Deal


"But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Long-suffering and abundant in mercy and truth."-Psalm 86:15
"It is not religion, it is a relationship." If you have been around Christian circles at all, you have probably heard this. And you may have even used this phrase before. Whatever the case may be, whether you are a proponent of this catchy phrase or find it a little too cheesy, it is true.

This morning I did my usual get up, get ready for church, slip in, worship, listen to the message, and come home in time to get ready for work. I'd say it is routine by now but one thing has changed- I actually enjoy it. And I am uplifted. Encouraged. Inspired. It is quite a contrast to how I felt about Christianity most of my life. For many years I disliked any part of the whole church routine. Church was boring. Speakers were boring. Worship was just singing at best and grating on my nerves at worst. I often had to wear a dress, which was detestable to my little girl-self. The lights ended up giving me a headache. And I rarely felt anything grand afterwards. God was always distant and apathetic. And there was fear too. 

So what has changed?

For years, I hated anything to do with having to deal with my testimony. I had grown up in a Christian home my whole life. I went to AWANA, I memorized verses, and I was pretty decent at talking the talk. If you ask my brothers or sister, they can probably attest to the fact that I am fairly good at being a goody-goody. It's not that I am perfect or don't willfully sin- it's just I would like to appear that way. I'd rather not have people see the dirt. But whatever the case, it was frustrating I didn't feel I had a testimony. I couldn't remember accepting Jesus into my heart and neither could my parents. I certainly think I believed that Jesus was real and God, and that I quiet probably did belong to Him, but that was it. Most everything else about how I acted seemed to be in response to rules and ideas about what I was supposed to be like as a Christian. Jesus wasn't my loving, life giving, wonderful Savior. He was just a guy who made it so I could go to heaven- and I have to be honest, even that scared me. Eternity? With not change or variation? As I grew older and passed from middle school into high school, a lack of strong foundation caused me to wander even further away. I became the cup which was clean on the outside but dirty on the inside. I had no relationship with Christ, as far as I could tell, and all I ever did was use my brain to come up with answers to anything regarding being a Christian. My heart was not in it.

But Jesus would have me and over the next few years He began to move in me. He let me be introduced to kids my age who had a true love for their Savior because they knew Him personally. And slowly He drew me back to Him. He gave me tastes of what it is like to have a relationship with God and put people in my life pointing me to Him.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." -Revelation 3:20


Over the years Jesus has banished dominating fear from my life. He has helped me to feel that I am clean in the sight of God. He is working in me, daily helping me to see just how beautiful and how loving He is. He is teaching me to love Him. Something which I cannot honestly say I have experienced before.

Here is what I can tell you. Following Jesus is not about a bunch of rules. It is about a change of heart. And that change of heart stems from allowing Jesus to work in your heart and to pull you close. You will never be able to change your heart to be perfect or do enough good works to feel righteous in God's eyes. See Jesus, if you accept Him as your Savior, has already made you righteous. What He desires is a relationship- one where we turn to Him. He wants us to lean into Him in trouble, come to Him with fears, and tell Him about our dreams. It isn't because He doesn't already know everything about us. He does. But He wants a relationship with us. We will never be able to truly follow Him if we don't have a relationship with Jesus. And we won't be able to fully enjoy the freedom, from sin and fear, which He has given us. It is not because I have become more zealous about following God's rules that I can  enjoy church. It's because I get to go worship and learn more about Jesus.

 Jesus really is better than anything else. The happiness and joy which you can experience in His presence is worth so much more than what you are pursuing instead. I feel I am really just a baby when it comes to my knowledge and experience of a personal relationship with Jesus, but it is real, it is beautiful, and it is freeing. So if you are walking the fence as a Christian, doing everything else and leaving out Jesus, know there is more out there. You really can have a relationship with the God of the universe. He wants you. And a relationship with Jesus is the real deal. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Dry and Uncomfortable

They say there is nothing new under the sun. And when I say "they" I am not even sure who "they" are supposed to be. It is one of those statements which one hears over and over again- but to what meaning? It is like a question which I was asked in my philosophy class: "try to think about something without shape or form. In both the idea sense and the physical." So far the only answer which I have been able to come up with is nothing. Perhaps there is something and perhaps there is something new under the sun, but I do not have the answer as to what.

I have been aching for something to write. Paining to feel that energy surge through my brain, causing my fingers to move with fluidity and form a comprehensive sentence. But I have been rather at a loss. It feels as if my most frequent path has been a bit dry lately, with an occasional oasis to stop by from time to time to rejuvenate. Up above there is always the sky- extending into seemingly eternity. Looking up, there is always the opportunity to catch an exciting air of hope- for the Maker of the skies is my Maker too. But it is so easy to forget to look up. It is so easy to merely notice the dry, mundane, constrictive quality of a desert. This morning, though, I am seized with the urge to write. And what I write is by no means new. In fact it has old roots- at least as far back as the New Testament in the Bible. And just yesterday, I read another's parallel version of an idea similar to this. But perhaps, just perhaps, my little twist will put an idea into a light where it can be seized and run with.

This morning I was going through a Bible study packet for a Bible study I am doing with some other girls. One of the sections encouraged participants to create some sort of illustration or story which helped to summarize prominent points in the book of James. After thinking a bit, I decided I was going to try a tree. A tree generally fits well as an illustration of a variety of things in the Bible.

For about thirty seconds I considered making a visual illustration of a tree. I abandoned this idea as soon as my tree began to look like broccoli. So instead I turned to the area I am generally a bit stronger in and began to write. And from my journal, I decided to hone in my thoughts a bit more to what I have been feeling lately and so here I am.

Image result for free fruit tree images
Photo Credit
Using James as a spring board for my initial idea and wandering around a bit, I suppose you can say we are the trees. Our roots run parallel to faith- the question is what have we grounded ourselves in and what nutrients are we being fed. Now if we belong to God, He is the Tree-tender. The nutrients and water He supplies can cause our roots to extend and gain strength. A direct result of the nutrients we absorb is the fruits which we produce. If we take up good, wholesome nutrition, we naturally will begin to produce good, wholesome fruit. But there is a catch. See trees are not made out of just root, trunk, and fruit- they also have branches which are generally crowned with leaves. Now of course we do want some of these leaves. But sometimes it is time for the leaves to be pruned off because they are using too much nourishment from the soil. These leaves can be both seemingly good occupations in day to day life or sin. The point is, if we have too much energy being directed into our lush leaves, we have little energy left to direct towards developing useful, wholesome fruits. Now God is our Tree-tender and from time to time I think He decides it is time for us to put away different things in our life. If it is sin, I think He will weed it out if we let Him. But I also think there are other distractions in life He can ask us to put away because they have become what we run to and that from which we get relief and comfort. Sometimes this pruning can leave (no pun intended ;)) us feeling as if our very limbs are being wrenched off. Sometimes it hurts because our distractions have become so much of who we are that we are not even sure how to keep going without them for relief. And this can lead us into feeling as though we have suddenly landed in a desert. Without our comforts to run to, we have to learn to run once again to our Savior. And though this is terribly uncomfortable, I suppose we have to choose to acknowledge that an "end intended by the Lord" does exist and that "the Lord is very compassionate and merciful." (James 5:11) What He has for us is so much better than what I have for me: because what I have for me involves settling and being comfortable. What God has, I do not fully know, but I can know that He knows what He has for me and that He is compassionate and merciful. He is the one who has perfect wisdom, perfect planning, and perfect love for me. He loves me enough that He wants to finish the work He has begun in me, even if it ends up a bit uncomfortable or painful for a time. 

Now the question for myself is, "am I going to let Him work in me? Am I going to let Him prune me and trust Him to lead me where He has intended me to go? Or am I going to pine for the distractions and sin which He is removing from my life and refuse to lean into Jesus?"

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Purity of Mind, Edification, and Legit Leadership

A few days ago the radio was tuned to one of the music stations I frequent. Despite the fact that I often turn down the radio when the show hosts come on, I listened as the host discussed some random topic. The issue being discussed was the statistic of what ladies find to be one of the most attractive qualities in a counterpart- leadership. Interesting enough.

 My gut reaction may be to find other qualities which I judge to be more important- is it kindness? Gentleness? Understanding? Respect? Listening? Interestingly, these are what I see to be some of the foundation qualities of leaders. And then it comes down to it- what do I admire about people?

 I admire those who stand up, who don't bend to peer pressure, those who are strong but gentle. Its not money, success, or even words. When it all comes down to it, character is incredibly important. And good character in the service of the King, my God and Savior, is the most important. My rambling thoughts find connections. 

A while ago I wrote a post about being sheltered. I questioned whether it was a "bad" thing to be sheltered and came up with the general idea that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing or even a sign of being naive. But the truth is, if one gets out and gets involved in the world, he or she will be exposed to things- whether these be sinful lifestyles or unprofitable conversations. Different careers and fields may be exposed in different ways, but it my opinion, it's how we respond to these things which matters. 

Peer pressure is a really tough issue. It's so hard to be the one left out, the one who chooses to not take part, and sometimes even the one who doesn't "get" unnecessary comments and jokes. And that isn't to mention the fun factor. After all, they are innocent enough, right? Words mean nothing. But the unfortunate (and yet fortunate) truth is that words don't just mean nothing. They reveal the heart, they have power to give and take life. Words are important. I recently watched a movie which had a quote which I mostly agreed with. The basic premise of the quote was to find a compromise in conflicts where it didn't matter and in areas where your values were not compromised but if the line was crossed to become an issue of merely giving into peer pressure, don't give in. Stand your ground.

Sometimes it is frustrating when a great group of kids who are generally pretty great people get together and find it necessary to have completely worthless conversations which range from being merely unprofitable to words which tear down one another. From one faulty human to the next, I encourage you to build up. Don't be the person who is planting seeds of doubt, lack of self worth, and discouragement in others. I know I have been that person before. After all, I am human and not in the least bit perfect. I have been the one to take part in a soul wrecking conversation. I have been the one to tear down another person. But while not being perfect is completely normal, I urge you to give some thoughts to your words. What do they mean? What do they really mean? If you feel that its just a bunch of politically correct nonsense, it's not. 

When Jesus was here on earth, He didn't scornfully ignore the sinners. No. He ate with them, talked with them, loved them. But He wanted them have more than sin ridden lives. That is what He died for- to cover for all the sins of the world and to set us free from unnecessary bondage. To allow us to walk in light. Jesus was very involved in the world but He, being the perfect man, did not join in any of the sin. While we cannot hope to attain that lofty goal while on this earth, we can encourage each other to be in the world and not of it. Yes, as we grow older and get involved with the world we are exposed to conversations and situations which are less then ideal. We may lose some of our childish innocence which allows covertly inappropriate conversations and ideas to pass right over our head. But purity of the mind and the heart, the caving into peer pressure, and the need to immerse ourselves in both the bad and the ugly, that is something which one gives away. Exposure may not be an option but how we respond is an option. I admire those who are willing to lead in the direction of hope, life, and joy. 

Will we respond as lights- giving words of hope and edification? Or will we chose to bend, to move with the crowd, to traverse the paths of darkness, doubt, and smashed hearts? Choose life, my friends.

And yes, leadership, real leadership which leads to life is an admirable and important quality. To any guys out there, your leadership is still important. It really is. It is in a sense God given- not to be abused but to lead those willing to follow to life. 
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Size One in Obsessive-Compulsive: If You Have Walked a Mile in the Shoes of Slavery

The classroom is small and personal. About a dozen desks are arranged in it. It honestly takes on more the appearance of a high school classroom than a college one and it is certainly no lecture hall. But it is what I am used to- a small community college where I have gone to school for the past three years. I have taken psychology in this class room before too. Psych 101. With a teacher who enjoyed showing movie clips to cement knowledge into our heads. But for this psychology course I have a professor that actually lectures and teaches us the material. But he is not here today and instead the older gentleman who has substituted for him once before is at the front of the classroom. Today we are going over psychological disorders. The gentleman makes a few humorous statements. Apparently at this point in the class, many students may begin to believe that they have a psychological disorder. The book has a small handful of them. For someone like me it's honestly fairly interesting. I want to work with people, you see, and learning how people work is quite fascinating. Among the disorders there is one that sticks out- obsessive compulsive disorder.

This particular disorder sticks out because, in a way, I feel a connection to it. It's not that I have ever been diagnosed with OCD. But it is like I can relate to it. This one I feel I can begin to understand. It's like I know a little bit about it. It's like I've walked a few miles in shoes that, if not quite the same size, are closely related.

I cannot profess to have a particularly good ability to remember childhood memories. But I do remember them. The good ones. The sunny days. But also ones that were overshadowed by what I could perhaps not put in words at the time. The description of intrusive, obsessive thoughts rings a bell. Deja vu. I think I've been here before. I have to do it, or else. Just one more time and it will be done. Just one more time. Just one more time is rarely just one more time because if it does not feel perfect, who knows what will happen. And then follows the compulsion. Light on. Light off. Light on. Light off. Wash hands. Repeat. Floss teeth. But did I forget to floss those teeth? Floss teeth once more. Is the door really closed? Really locked? And then it breaches another barrier. It's not just making sure you did it. It's stopping things from happening. It's keeping yourself safe. It's control. It's me trying to be in control of my life. Trying desperately. And I am not really controlling anything. It just feels like I am. And I make myself miserable in the process because it is addictive. Because if what I did could have possibly made me feel secure once, then I have to make sure I continue to feel secure. Yes, it's addictive and it's slavery. Slavery to fear. Slavery to destruction. Slavery to death.

Control is a funny thing because it feels as if when I am trying my hardest to be in control is when I am spinning out of control.

The solution? Jesus. And I mean it. Because He is the one who knows what is going to happen. He wants me to tell Him my worries and then rest that He holds me. See, He died for me (and He rose again! He is alive!!) ... And while I cannot even fully comprehend this, I begin to feel it. That I am His little girl. That He made me. That He redeemed me. And that when I decide to ignore Him for a bit, He is still there. Because He has given me permanent salvation. I am truly adopted and wanted. And He has washed me clean. I can rest in Him.

But do I always rest? Oh of course not. Not even close. I may be redeemed but I am still in a fallen body. But if it weren't for Jesus, who knows where I would be. But He has got me. His little girl. And while He is all I need, He has also given us weapons to help us. The other day I wrote some out and plastered them to my mirror- hoping this would help me to remember them. And maybe these weapons, so readily available and yet so easily forgotten, can help you too. Going off of Ephesians 6:10-18, allow me to share with you a few.

Truth. The truth is, whatever leads to destruction, fear, and death, is not of Jesus. My God is the God of life, truth and peace. 

Righteousness. I am righteous in God's eye because He sees me through Jesus' sacrifice. Jesus has perfectly redeemed me, so I am at peace with God because I am right with Him. 

Faith. Faith that God holds me, loves me, calls me His daughter. I am only secure and only free in God. Whenever I drift about, I begin to lose that security. That freedom. 

Salvation. I am permanently saved. I have a promised eternity with Jesus. I am His little girl.

Word of God. There are verses which can help with a struggle.

Prayer. Thank God. Pray for people. 

And when it all comes down to it, remember you are free. God has set you free. You are no longer a slave to sin, fear, and guilt.

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forever more.
-Psalm 16:11

(By the way, I do not think if you need outside help, you should avoid it. God gives us people in our lives who can often help us through things. If help is needed for something that is a real struggle, reach out! I am by no means recommending that you do not seek the help of competent individuals or professionals if you need it.)