Friday, November 17, 2017

In the Hands of the Potter

"A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations... Nostalgia."

I recently had a conversation with my mom where I mentioned that I think that bittersweet is my emotion. Okay, I have a lot of emotions. I'm sure just about everyone can attest to the fact that I am a hardcore Feeler. But bittersweet just seems to match how I often feel about things in life. A little triumph but a little a cost. A new path to begin but a wistful longing as I look down the path from which I just came. 

Jeremiah 18:6  He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter,  so are you in my hand, Israel. .  If we remain like soft clay in the Master Potter's hands, we will not be crushed or broken when things don't go our way. We'll allow God in his wisdom to mold us, reshape us, and redirect us according to his plan, as he sees fit.
(P.c. Pinterest)
If you are like me, perhaps you struggle a bit with accepting a new season of life. Perhaps you, also like me, struggle with regret about the imperfections in the path behind you. Or perhaps it is with reluctance you watch the beauty and excitement of an adventure behind you begin to fade and grow distant. 

I am going through "Trusting God" by Jerry Bridges with a friend right now. We have been learning about God's sovereignty. It is incredible to realize that nothing is beyond God's control and He is not defeated or phased by anything. I love this because even in the messy, broken path I have traveled, I know God has allowed it. For His glory and my good. Even the wasted days and years, when I rebelled against Him and refused to accept His love, He has redeemed and somehow brought to beauty. There is such beauty in seeing God's faithfulness in the life of a broken, messy sinner like myself. 

But even in the seasons which were not wasted, even in the day to day life which one goes through, it is so easy to begin to regret and wonder why things happened the way they did. Today, Jeremiah 18 came to mind. 

"The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 'Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.' Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. The the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. 'Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!'
-Jeremiah 18: 3-6

In my journal, I inserted my name into the spots where it mentions Israel. "Anna, can I not do with you as this potter? Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand!" 

I love the image of God being able to shape and mold my life for His purpose, for a good and beautiful and worthwhile purpose. I can't help and think that God can use different circumstances to shape us one way, and then when we need to be perfected a little more, made a little more usable for something, or fashioned more specifically, He can change the circumstance, the experience, the people, and even the heart, to begin to mold me more and more in His image and for His purpose. 

I spend so much time trying to find a perfect path. I wonder if I have wasted my life, my time, my abilities. I wonder if I will be used, will be made whole, will be able to walk a new path. But if God is sovereign, if He is loving, oh so wise, and perfectly good, then why should I worry? 

"I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living. 
Wait on the LORD; 
Be of courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the LORD!"
-Psalm 27:13-14  

Oh keep waiting my soul. Wait only on God. Let Him be the one who directs your paths. Be still. Be in awe. Be full of joy. Let peace reign. 

Yes. It is bittersweet. But I think the sweet wins out. The new breath of fresh air. The path ahead to blaze. The air of excitement which comes with each new day, each new experience, each new command when walking side by side with Jesus. It is a joy. An adventure. Surrendering in expectant hope. Surrender to the King of kings does not mean dull, formidable existence but beautiful new life. Surrender to Jesus is the sweetest of freedoms. 

Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken 
My heart stands in awe of Your name
Your mighty love stands strong to the end
You will fulfill Your purpose for me
You won't forsake me, You will be with me.

-Gracefully Broken 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Even in the Valley

Tornado and Lightning / Puyehue Chile
(Pc. Pinterest)

“Now imagine a storm. What does it look like? Is it close? Is it far away?”

We played this game this summer where you imagine a desert, and a box, and other objects with the end goal of it describing your personality, relationships, and struggles in your life. One person would close his or her eyes and another would give them instructions about what to imagine. When you got to describing the weather in your scenario, if was supposed to describe the storms and trials in your own life. Now games like this are always hit or miss. Some parts about them are spot on and some are so far off you just laugh. I remember when I participated in this little game I imagined a storm out on the horizon. Maybe building, maybe powerful, but in the distance. It was that analogy that I thought of this week.

A couple weeks ago some friends and I were talking about what season of life we were in: trial, teaching, or triumph. I pegged myself as in triumph moving towards teaching. I’d just come out of a summer of having a ton about God and myself revealed to me and I’d started my fall flying pretty high. There were definitely things I was learning but I was farthest away from any sort of trial… That was in the past. You know, last spring, last whenever.

And then it happened. First it looked a little cloudy and the thunder started to rumble… then it sprinkled a little… And next thing I know I felt like a full on volcano had exploded in my face. I felt like Theoden in Lord of the Rings before a massive battle “How did it come to this?”

Okay. Not exactly what I was expecting. I had an excessive amount of meltdowns and spent several days moody, restless, anxious, and brooding. Biting my nails about the future and wrestling with thoughts, feelings, and fear from other seasons of trial in my life.

I could already feel it- the walls of a prison rising around me. The chains of past bondage rising to take their place on my already scarred wrists and ankles. The frustrating desire to run with nowhere to go. It’s almost like I was beginning to distance myself from God, from hope, from peace, from trusting in my Abba and standing firm in His love. An experience I just had in my life helped me to put a finger on a more appropriate response.

Whoosh… in an instant I was instantly enveloped in clouds. Unable to see through them or discern any sort of direction. If you were to ask me which way was north or south, east or west, I would have been at a loss. I would have had nothing to give you. I couldn’t see further than a couple of feet in front of me. What to do? Well lucky for me this just so happened while I quietly watched from my window within an air plane taking me back to my home in the Rocky Mountains from where I had been in Alaska for ten days.

It would have been an absolutely inappropriate response for me to panic, head for an emergency exit, and bail out just because we were moving into a bank of clouds and I couldn’t see or find my way. As long as I have faith in the captain’s ability to get us safely through the fog and to my destination, I can sit back, relax, and write a piece for my blog as I am currently doing.

It’s kind of humorous to imagine myself bailing out of a plane simply because I couldn’t see or understand what was going on. But the less humorous aspect is that often when I am hit with a storm in life, instead of sticking with my Captain and trusting Him to take me where I should go, I hit the bail button. I’m gone. Outta here. Something is wrong and I’ m not gonna take any part in this season of my life. Peace out.

I started my fall with this promise: Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your Presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there; If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me and Your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139: 7-10).

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I hide from Your presence?" Psalm 139:7(-10)  #memoryverse
(Pc. Pinterest)
Even there… That has been His promise to me: “Even there, I will be there. Even there, I will be with you. Even there, you can rely on Me.”

I don’t know if it’s a season of trial or a triumph or of teaching which I am entering. Maybe a little of each. But if it is the trial, the last place I want to be is by myself fighting on my own. If it is the crucible… if it is the training ring… if it is a valley I must pass through, then let me pass through… but I’m not going alone. That’s what is different. I’m not letting go of His hand, and He already promised never to leave my side.

Life is gonna throw rough seasons at us… But He has never asked us to go alone. Never. Without Jesus… it’s flat out misery. But with Him… it’s like there is the sweetest of companionship even in a little suffering. Jesus still wants to be my joy, peace, and hope. My strength. He still wants to be the foundation for me to keep believing. The reason I can endure, the strength and power to get through it all.

So I’m going to run. Not away. But forward. I won’t stop. I choose to stand with Jesus as my Captain… My King... My Lord. To walk with Him even in the valley – not despairing. Not crushed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). But anchored in His hope (Hebrews 6:19).

Rooted in Jesus’ love for me… and stepping out in His love because love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, and endures all things.

Monday, September 4, 2017

New Every Morning

Have you ever had one of those moments when you are pleasantly reminiscing about happy memories and suddenly it's a memory which makes you cringe that pops up?

Well maybe it's just me, but I have this phobia of awkward situations. This deep fear of getting into situations where I embarrass myself, or say the wrong thing, or come across wrong, or interact socially wrong, or just fail in general to relate well to someone. Maybe I snapped at someone, or attempted sarcasm and it was taken wrong, or I just can't get the words out, or I don't know how to respond to something.

And then if you are like me, that situation plays over and over again. Even if it was a text message, my fixated brain frets "did they take that the right way? Did I come off wrong?" And soon enough I'm doing my best to avoid thinking about it at all because it legitimately feels painful and, consequently, I can think of nothing else. It just festers and for a few days I feel invalid. Unworthy. Tense. That I have to socially redeem myself. That I have to walk on eggshells.

Normally after a few days, it eventually wears off and I'm game to try social interaction again... but I swear I have a part of my brain that is solely devoted to harboring embarrassing and awkward failures on my part. And when those memories make a not so pleasant reappearance, I cringe and grit my teeth. "Seriously Anna, how on earth did you let that happen? Why can't you stop getting into situations like that?" 

It's exhausting because I really like interacting with people. But I tend to end up feeling like I failed to do well in a social situations. And sometimes a little part of me is wanting to scream I'm sorry I'm not good enough. I'm sorry I fail. I'm sorry I am not enough...

But it's another voice that whispers "you don't have to be." The voice of peace. The voice which rings of a new morning, fresh and clean. Free of mistakes and trouble. The birds singing while a soft and cool breeze rustles a field of green grass. The blue sky highlighted in gold and pink.

It's the voice which comes from knowing I'm still in Jesus' arms. And one of the verses He left us comes to mind "Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23).

I LOVE this. It's like He is saying "each morning, you can get up and start afresh in Me. Each day you can simply rely on Me and start again. Forget the sin. Forget the failures. Just live with Me." Jesus is offering new life with Him each and every day. Each and every moment. A chance... no more than a chance. A promise that if we are His, we can live and walk and breath and dance and sing in newness. A promise that  He has come that we may have life... abundant life (John 10). That His grace is sufficient for us- Sufficient (2 Corinthians 12). His grace is enough. It covers all my mistakes. And He offers me new life with Him. And when He looks at me, He doesn't see my mistakes and flaws and sins, He sees that I am completely covered by grace and restored to life by Jesus.

And that is enough for me. Whether it is my failures to live up to the standard of perfection I so often put myself under or a mistake I have truly made, His grace is enough. And yes, there may be times to make things right with people. There is a time to say sorry or mend a situation. But my God is not a God of guilt and I am living under His banner. Secure in Him. His grace is sufficient for me. So I can have grace on myself and I can have grace on others.

Will you accept His grace too? Step out in newness of life with Him!

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
(P.C. Pinterest)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Stand by Me

This fabulous sign says it all! These are hand painted, lightly sanded and made from new wood right here in the heartland of America, then the wording and top seal coat is applied by our expert staff.                                                                                                                                                                                 More
(P.C. Pinterest)
"So darlin', darlin', stand by me.. oh now now, stand by me..." 

I potentially have a coffee shop addiction. I just love them- the environment is so perfect. I love studying or spending time with Jesus in them and there is also the added benefit of a couple shots of espresso in those lattes of which I am so fond. It's normally my own music which I play due to my easily distracted nature but sometimes the background music just rolls perfectly with my mood. Today is was "Stand by Me" by Ben E. King which grabbed my attention. It fit so perfectly with what I have been learning from Jesus recently. 

I'm all about planning. I like to have a plan. I like to know where I am going. What the next step is. What direction I am supposed to be going in life. You know, something I can project five years down the road and imagine what I will be doing. A dream to race towards. A lot of that has revolved around college in the recent years but this semester, for the first time in about a dozen years, I am not starting classes along with everyone else. Last spring I had big plans for the program I was trying to get into. And I didn't. So I'm taking a gap year. 

I just came out of a crazy busy summer filled with long work weeks, Bible studies, verse memory, extended times with Jesus, and on going adventures everywhere in between. And suddenly I am back home with a schedule that, while still busy, has been like nothing I have ever experienced before. It's relational. Spending time with people as part of a ministry leadership team, being with family and friends, and working for my brother.

I have set Yahweh always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. -- Psalm 16:8
(P.C. Pinterest)
And while I have loved it and it is incredible, doubt sneaks in. Are you really being profitable? What about schooling? What about a more stable job? What about this? Or that? And next thing I know, I'm fighting discontent. And yet Jesus is saying to me, "Be content with such things as you have. For I have said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5-6). Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians that he can be content in whatever state he is in because he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Philippians 4). Whatever state. Whatever circumstance. Whatever season of life.

In John 15, Jesus straight up says that if we abide in Him, we will bear fruit. We will be fruitful- our lives will have meaning and be according to His purpose. If we abide in Him, for we can do nothing without Him. For our goodness is nothing apart from Him (Psalm 16).

It's kind of funny- how it's easier to trust God with my eternity than my present. But what He shows me over and over again is to wait in Him.  To live in Him. With Him. It's like Jesus is saying, "Stand by Me. Oh darling, stand by Me." I don't know what each day holds. I haven't a clue about the future. But I know that as long as I am with Him, I won't be lost. God has me right where He wants me. And so long as I am looking to Jesus and letting Him be my Captain, my King, and my Leader, not a day is wasted.  So I can boldly say, "God is my helper. I will not fear."

A friend recently showed me the song "Captain" by Hillsong. I have fallen in love with it. Jesus is my Captain. He is the one who can direct my life. I don't need to be afraid of going adrift because He is the Pilot. I don't need to be fretful for the future.

 Oh my soul. Fear not. You are in the presence of Jesus- the Creator. The King. The All Powerful. He is always faithful. He never fails. His strength is enough. His provision is sufficient. His plan is perfect. And all He asks is for me to abide in Him. To stand by Him.

"Like the wind you'll guide, clear the skies before me...
Jesus my Captain, my soul's trusted Lord, 
All my allegiance is rightfully Your's."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Courage, Dear Heart. You are Free.

"I feel paralyzed."

These words slipped out of my mouth as I sat across the table from one of the influential women who have poured into my life. That was the only word that expressed the lacking of power, courage, and hope I felt when in a certain situation. And as I contemplated how I was going to deal with being faced with a situation like the one we were talking about, that was all I could feel. Paralyzed. I was captivated by that feeling. Powerless. 

I imagine you know a bit of what it feels like to be held captive by a feeling. Maybe it is fear. Or hopelessness. Maybe it is anger or bitterness. Regardless, at some point in time I am sure each and every one of us has felt what it is like to unable to move around a feeling we have felt about a situation or person. And the problem is, most times how we feel influences our actions. Or lack of action. 

I feel like getting to have a relationship with Jesus has never ending discoveries. I am always learning something new. And what He has shown me recently is that I am no longer a slave to sin. I am empowered through Him to choose not to sin. And it doesn't mean I don't sin. But that I don't have to be trapped by it. I don't have to be stuck in it. I don't have to choose it. But the question is why? Why am I free? How am I free? Are these just words that are like a big, abstract idea that I can know but not practice? 

I don't think so.

Back when Jesus was on earth, He spoke these words, "If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free... Most assuredly I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:31-36). The truth is that Jesus has redeemed me. He has bought me and brought me into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13). And He says that if He makes me free, which He has, I will be free indeed.

 I get the idea that Jesus isn't just for big, impractical ideas that sound nice. His word is truth. And it's real. And powerful. If He says I am free, I am free. INDEED. 
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” ‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
(Pc: Pinterest)
It says in Romans we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to Christ. And that sin no longer has power over us. No dominion. No rule. No authority (Romans 6:11-14). But instead we are alive in Christ... Because He now lives in us. The all-powerful God who made the heavens and earth. Who formed us out of the dust of the earth and crafted us in His image. The One who sustains each day. The One who perfectly covers all sins when we believe on Him. He is alive in us (Galatians 2:20). 

He is in me. And the verse which I was given in the conversation before mentioned- when I cried out that I was paralyzed and unable to move- was 2 Timothy 1:7. 

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, 
but of power and of love and of a sound mind (self-discipline)." 

I am not longer a slave to fear. I am no longer a captive. I have been set free. I have Jesus living in me. And His power and love live in me. Giving me new life. He has given me the ability, through His power, to say no to sin. To say I will not be trapped. I will not be ruled. I don't have to submit to the chains of fear, worry, anger, and bitterness. I do not have to submit to lies. The chains which I allow to hold me so often... they don't have to stay on. Because Jesus has set me free. 

So if you feel trapped, lost, or hopeless... turn to Him and ask Him to show you just how free you are. He says if we lack wisdom to ask Him. So ask (James 1:5). He is a good Father and gives us what we need. 

Let Him whisper the words "Courage, dear heart. You are free in Me. You can be BOLD in Me. For I am with you." 

"Courage, dear heart."
(Pc: Pinterest)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Feeling Homesick

This is where I find that I do know what I long for. It's eternity with Him
Pc: Pinterest
If anyone has hung out with me a fair amount, they probably are very aware that I really enjoy talking about personalities- specifically the Myers-Briggs 16 personality types made up of different combinations of four pairs of letters. Another hobby of mine is scrolling down Pinterest and finding quotes, pictures, and thoughts that relate to my personality type. Needless to say, there are always plenty of suggested pins relating to the INFJ personality on my Pinterest feed.

Recently I was scrolling through and found a quote that hit home. But in an oddly sobering way. The quote read as follows: "I am homesick for a place I am not sure even exists. One where my heart is full. My body loved. And my soul is understood."  This quote hits home. How often I have known this feeling. Wanting a place of belonging. Wanting acceptance. Wanting security. Wanting purity. Wanting ultimate purpose and life. 

I have searched. And longed. Pining for something I wasn't even sure existed in the real world. Maybe that is part of why fantasy was always so drawing to me in my childhood. The worlds with magic and beauty. Enchanting. Filled with gorgeous colors. Ending with a the hero riding off into the sunset. Like the song from Hercules "I have often dreamed of a far place where a great warm welcome will be waiting for me... and a voice keeps sayin' this is where I'm meant to be." 

Whether you are a slightly giddy, halfway lost in the clouds, romantic like myself or a solidly planted on the ground, analytically minded individual, I am sure you know what I am talking about. Everyone wants to have a home. A place of belonging. Somewhere where they are whole and full. 

But where is home? Where is that place? Where am I whole? Where do I finally feel satisfied? Not running after the next emotional high? Not looking to hide from reality? Is there such a place? 

What if I told you there was a place? What if I told you there is place where you can feel satisfied? Where you can know rest? Where you can be whole? Where you can come home? 

Because there is.

I like the first couple chapters of Genesis a lot. They are are so full of newness. Perfection. Life. And in there we get to read about our origin story. How we were created in God's image (Genesis 1:25-26). How walking with Him and having a relationship with Him was how we were created to be. How we were made perfect. How He designed us intimately. If you have ever wondered about your value or worth as a human being, take a moment to look at Psalms 139, specifically verses 13-16. We are created by an all powerful God and He knows us deeply. All our complexities and quirks. 

Pc: Pinterest
But unfortunately, starting with the very first humans and working up into each of us individuals, we have turned away from God. And guys, He made what was good. And perfect. And right. And when we walk away from Him we enter a world of darkness because walking away from Him and His design from this earth... that is the opposite of life. The opposite of fullness. The opposite of beauty. Every good and perfect thing is from Him (James 1:17)- and when we walk away it's just... gone. And we are left so stinking empty. I have spent probably 3/4 of my life living on empty. Trying to fill a void that was there because I deliberately cut myself off from the Giver of life. Like taking myself off life support and pretending I can breath though I am choking on the very air that surrounds me. 

I just want to throw my hands up in the air! Because despite my running from God, despite my desire to do things my way, to find my own life, He still pursued me. And put people in my life pointing me to Him. Pointing to Him as the only source of true life. Because He is the Creator. And because He loved us so much He came down in the body of a Man. And suffered. And cared for others. And stinking died for us. And because He is so ultimately powerful and cool and awesome, He could not be held by death. But rose from the dead and triumphed over it. And even though this was 2000 years ago, He still is pursuing and calling us to Him. Because He loves us a ridiculous amount. And wants us to be in that place of relationship with Him, because only there is true life. 

Guys- I've lived empty. And broken. Messed up to the very core. Living in fear. In death. In darkness. Controlled by fear and obsession. And feeling compulsions to do things. Feeling lonely. And so far removed. With no connection. With no hope. Just searching for the next emotional high. Just looking for some source of joy. Or purpose or something...

But because God put the right people in the right places at the right time... because of His great love for me and because He showed me that I could have a relationship with Him- and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)- I can say that I finally know where my place of belonging and satisfaction is. It's with Him. Because that is where we were designed to be. And without Him, we all have a ridiculous void. That is like this massive chasm that we are trying to fill and it just never happens. In His presence. In His company, which He invites us to, is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Not just dosages of happiness. It's like... fullness of joy. Where my heart IS full. Where I am fully LOVED. Where my soul UNDERSTOOD and FULL. And this is for now. And forever. 

The cool thing is- it's real. It's legit. And I know you, whoever you are, know what I am talking about. So let me ask you a question... What is holding you back from coming to the source of life? Do you feel homesick? Why don't you come home? 

Pc: Pinterest

I'll just leave you with this link to this ridiculously cool video someone showed me. And yeah. You should watch it. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Something to Remember

Its moments like this when I am sitting in my car. Lights on, window rolled down for the fresh mountain air, laptop propped on my lap, writing away to the background noise of some of my favorite country songs when I realize that, while I have come to love being with people, I am still an introvert. My social battery still runs dry. I still find myself exhausted and needing a respite from the stimulus of being around people.

Love Triangle by RaeLynn echoes from the playlist on my phone. It has been one of my songs that I have loved listening to the past couple months. I wonder if in a couple more months it will be a source of memory for this summer. One of those old songs that bring you back to a certain time, place, and memory. The kind that are bittersweet. Always going back to another time and place but filling you with such feelings.

I’m trying to remember the last two months in full. What it was like at the beginning of the summer when I began this Christian leadership training program. How have I changed? How have I grown? What have I learned?

I think of my older brother telling me how coming to this program would change my life, though he didn’t know how. I think of my mentor encouraging me to allow this summer to be a time where I am drawn into God’s loving arms. And then I realize that both of these statements which I recall ring truer than I could ever imagine. And it is almost like a worship song – I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves…

And I have. Not of my own power. Or my own ability. And here is where my heart quickens. God, my God, of the universe did draw me out into the mountains to surround me with His loving arms and to show me Himself more deeply. To show me He is my Father. My Abba. To show me I am His. I am His beloved. Can I just stop for a second- mouth wide open in amazement? If you haven’t heard the good news, you need to. God loves you. And He wants a relationship with you. Stop for a second. Look into the night sky. Get up early and gaze at the morning sunrise. Stand in awe in the midst of a thunderstorm. The God who designed and sustains this earth, this universe, He wants you. And for you to know Him and to feel His love. He wants to give new life. New hope. Fill you with purpose.
I wish I could speak more eloquently. I wish I could express the truth more clearly. But then I don’t have to because the words are already written. Full of truth. And mercy. From John 3:16- where we see that Jesus, who is God, came to earth as a Man and gave His life so that those who believe in Him will be saved; to Galatians 2:20 where we see that if we come to know Jesus it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us and makes us whole again; to Galatians 4:7 and John 1:12 where we see that we are children of God; and into Revelations 21 where it is revealed that we will be alive in Christ forever. One day completely new and whole in Him- not just in soul but also in body.
And then I realize that while I have been God’s precious daughter for so long, I have rarely claimed this promise. This inheritance. I have walked in fear, instead of trust. Walked in my ways, not His. And yet He pursues me. He is faithful. Because He drew me into the mountains to show me, among other things, that I am His. I am whole. I am complete. I am made new. I am His beloved daughter. I can run into His arms each morning. Each moment. I can know His loving embrace. I can know that one day, I will see Him physically in person. And for now, I can still turn to Him for wisdom, guidance, strength, and comfort each day. He is my Rock. He is my Refuge. He is my Strength. He is my Abba. He is my God.

When I hear a song from this summer, I don’t want to just remember the fun things I did, or the people I have come to love, or the amazing experiences I had. Yes, I want to remember these things. But more than this, I want to be reminded that I am new. I am whole. I am His. I can stand on His strength and pour into others. I want to remember that Jesus is so faithful. And He knew just how to reach me- personally and intimately- this summer.

This evening there was a terrific display of a rainbow presented in the sunset filled sky. A reminder of one of God’s promises long ago. The same God who made a promise which He faithfully presents in a rainbow, thousands of years later, has promised us that we can be His children. Citizens in His Kingdom of Love. And one thing I never want to forget from this summer is the truth that I am a citizen of His Kingdom, made new and alive by Him. A daughter of the King. I will never have to face anything alone. Because I am held by the One who holds the stars. And because I am His beloved.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?...
If I take the wings of the morning
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me
And Your right hand shall hold me…”

-Psalm 139

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.