Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Pain Of Christmas

I'm going to say up front here that this isn't going to be my typical style of blog post. If you follow my blog even a little bit, you know what my style tends to be--the use of story and metaphor, both personal experience and otherwise, to draw out greater truth that I use in my daily life and hopefully you can as well.
This, however, may stray from that typical style. But regardless, I feel it is something that should be addressed.

Christmas is tomorrow and I realize that there are many of us who have gotten terrible news this holiday season that has left a bad taste in our mouths. Maybe it was a loss of a loved one or the news that you have cancer or the loss of a job you really needed. Whatever it may be, Christmas just isn't the same for you. But for many of us, the thing that ruined Christmas didn't even happen this year or last year, but many years ago. You lost someone that made Christmas Christmas, and with them gone, the holiday no longer carries the joy it used to.

I've lost people too. Believe me, I know what it's like. That being said, there's not much of anything that can lessen the pain right now except time. But I do believe that prayer, love, and support can help as well. So, even though I probably don't know you, I would like to pray for those of you grieving a loss this Christmas season. I pray that you find peace and comfort in the reminder of what this season is about. For it's not about lavish gifts, shopping trips, colored paper, and bright lights. It's not about food, time off from work, or tradition. Don't get me wrong, all these things are fine, and even uplifting when taken in the right heart, but they are not what Christmas is about. Christmas is about God giving up His standing as the most powerful being in the universe to take on our skin, our lives, and our suffering--to become completely helpless in the form of a newborn child. He gave up all He had to learn our language, experience our struggles, and feel our pain so that we could fully relate with Him not just as eternal souls but also as human beings, and so He could teach us how to live the way the Father made us to live.
But mostly He came so that he could defeat death once and for all. So that even though we may die here on earth, we will not remain that way, but join Him in the life we were always destined for.

I pray that you remember this as the pain of lost loved ones hits you with yet another wave of grief. I pray that though it may not make it hurt any less right now, that you will never forget that your Heavenly Father knows exactly what it feels like to lose someone dear to Him, for His Son died once too.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Out On a Limb

As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I know how terrifying it is to go out on a limb. To do something that could end horribly wrong.
Most people struggle on some level with this fear of the unknown, so I'm sure you can relate; but with anxiety, it is much worse. The fear is almost debilitating sometimes, and it makes the one struggling with it have trouble saying or doing things that would only make your average person somewhat nervous.
I have come to learn over the last couple years that anxiety roots itself in a lack of peace and manifests itself in the form of fear. Fear of doing something wrong, fear of sounding foolish or looking stupid, fear of disappointing those close to you, fear of being misunderstood. Most of all it manifests as a general fear of failure. Where most people are a little nervous that something may be awkward or not go quite as hoped, those of us with anxiety answer the question of "What could possibly go wrong?" with a loud and uncomfortable, "EVERYTHING!"
I don't know about others, since people with anxiety usually have anxiety about talking about their anxiety (ironic, I know), but my mind would always jump to one of the worst possible outcomes. Usually the second to the worst, then I'd think of something worse than that and I'd no longer want to confront whoever I needed to confront or have whatever conversation I knew I needed to have. So I made a habit of thinking of as many possible outcomes as I could, having them get progressively better. I'd end up with a list of six or more outcomes, lots of time wasted, and still the desire to hide under a rock and wish the situation would go away on its own, but usually somewhere in thinking of all those potential outcomes, I'd find one good one. Some glimmer of hope that got me to move and made me know I had to take the risk with the less than favorable outcomes.
But sometimes these "glimmers of hope" didn't always glimmer. They didn't shine, they didn't promise a chance at the perfect outcome, they sometimes weren't even the least negative option on the table. In fact, sometimes, what made me move away from my fear to take a leap of faith was the scariest option on the table. Now before you misunderstand me completely, allow me to explain.
You see, there was once this girl named Esther. Esther was nothing more than a simple Jewish peasant girl, but boy was she pretty. Now I don't mean generally pretty, but she was gorgeous enough that when the king needed a new wife and decided to round up all the single ladies in the area, she was the one he chose  out of the masses. Fast forward a bit. Esther was now queen, and as queen, she heard a terrifying bit of news. One of the king's highest in command had plans to kill the Jews, her people. She knew she must appeal to the king if she were to stop this disastrous thing from taking place, but she also knew the king's temper. He did not like to be disturbed. He wanted no one to come to him unless he called on them, even her, his wife. It was common knowledge that the reason he needed a new wife in the first place was because he had the last one executed for doing something that angered him. So, naturally, Esther was afraid to seek an audience with the king. She was afraid of what might happen to her, but after weighing the options, it was the darkest and scariest option that moved her to action.
If she didn't talk to the king, everyone she'd ever known and loved would die.
So she put her trust in God and went to speak to the king, not because she found some hope to cling to in her analyzing of the situation, but because she realized there would be no hope at all if she didn't move. She realized that what would be lost if she did nothing was far worse than what would be lost if she tried and failed.
Several months ago, I, like Esther, had a decision to make. Unlike Esther, my decision wasn't a life or death situation, but with how anxious about it I was, it might as well have been. My decision would, however, effect not only my life and future for at least a short time, but another's life and future as well. Like Esther, I found myself having to make a choice I didn't feel quite ready to make, though I don't know if I'd ever have been truly ready for it. Fear almost kept me at a standstill, but also like Esther I discovered something in my weighing of the situation. I realized that if I did nothing, I very well could lose any chance of keeping the other person in my life. And it wasn't until faced with the possibility of losing someone I cared deeply for did I realize how minor any of the other outcomes I had been stressing over really were.
In case you don't know the story, Esther went out on a limb, sought audience with the king, and prevailed! Not only were her people spared, but the man plotting to kill them was executed. I also went out on a limb, and so far, I'm not disappointed in my decision. In fact, I have learned so much more about myself, my God, and others in the last few months than I would have if I let this slip through my fingers.
So, you see, I understand how terrifying it can be to go out onto a limb. I know how debilitating all the "what ifs" popping up around you can be. But if I've learned one thing in this life, it's that the most beautiful flowers and the most delicious fruits often grow at the end of the most seemingly dangerous branches.
How will you ever experience the beauty and taste the joy if you don't take the risk and climb out into the unknown?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Losing Control

"If any would come after me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me."
Mark 8:34

In my last post I talked about fear. Specifically I talked about letting go of that fear to find peace. I think this verse fits that concept perfectly.
I, like many, have spent a lot of time focusing on the second part of this verse, the "pick up your cross" part. But that's not the part that stood out to me the other day. For the first time, my eyes were drawn to "deny yourself," and I began thinking about what exactly that looks like. At first, I thought of what I described in In the Face Of Fear, about how we must turn our fear over to Jesus. But how exactly does that go hand in hand with denying ourselves?

Fear comes from a lot of things. We fear change, we fear death, we fear loss, but largely I think a lot of fear comes from feeling like we no longer have control. Fear comes when something big is happening, something that could mean we have to change the way we live, act, or view the world. Fear comes when something happens that we really have no power to change. So, by surrendering that fear, we are denying ourselves in a sense.
But denying ourselves goes deeper than that. It's not just admitting to God we're afraid so He can eradicate that fear. It's denying ourselves the right we think we have to hang onto any negative and destructive habits and mindsets that we continue to cling to. Things like worry, doubt, anger, and judgment. But really all four of those boil down to fear--fear for ourselves, our loved ones, our comfort. But mostly we fear our loss of control. A dear friend of mine recently put it this way, "Fear makes us choose the easy route, the predictable route. But fear is never a solid foundation. Fear only breeds more fear. We think we're in control until the inevitable storms tear the notion from our hands and we discover we have absolutely no control. Hence, more fear."
When we deny ourselves, we say no to our desire to control our situation and give it back over to the only One who has control in the first place.

Recently I got to first hand experience what denying yourself is really like when God convicted me of holding onto something I knew wasn't mine.
You see, my boyfriend has been going through some health issues recently, and I have this bad habit of taking the pain of others onto myself. I mean, don't get me wrong, being able to empathize or even just sympathize with others is great, but I've always been good at taking everything a step farther than needed. I end up worrying and stressing over a problem in another's life as if it were my own problem. I would work myself into these knots where I could no longer feel God's presence, even though I knew He was there.
Now these aren't life threatening health issues or anything like that, just something that will require him to change the way he does certain things and even maybe give up some stuff neither of us expected he would have to quit this soon. Regardless of whether it's life threatening or not, I know how much pain he's in physically, as well as emotionally and spiritually, I can imagine. Having to face changes like this is never easy, and while I should be trying to offer some peace to him during this, I found myself as threatened by the storm as he was.

It was on a Sunday morning shortly after this all began that God brought to mind a prayer I had said several months before when facing something else that was out of my control.
"Lord," I had said. "I don't really know what to do with this situation, and there's not really anything I can do, so I'm sorry for trying to take over. You're in control, I know you are. So, here, you can have him back. Thanks for letting me have him in my life, but he's not mine anyways. So you do your thing, and if you would still have me be a part of this plan of yours, I would very much like to see how it unfolds."
Sitting there remembering that prayer, I gave this heavy sigh and said, "I know I've said this already, but I'm holding on again, and I shouldn't be because he's not mine anyway. Thanks for letting me borrow him for a while, but ultimately he is yours, and you know what you're doing. So here, you can have him back."

It wasn't until I denied my flesh the right it thought it had to worry and stress over what to do with this storm was I able to understand what to do with my situation. It's truly amazing how the Spirit works, bringing not only the fruit of the Spirit with which you longed for, peace in my case, but also those that will go hand in hand it help you face what is up ahead. For with the peace came a joy that made the clouds less scary and a courage to face the next road blocks.Also came patience to wait out this storm no matter how long it would take and strength to allow the one who's facing the storm to lean on me whenever he has trouble seeing Jesus, who I lean on, at the stern of the boat.
But along with equipping you, the Spirit also brings this inexplicable level of understanding. For when my peace came, so also came this understanding that though I may not know how long this will take or how painful it may be, we would come out of it and there would be something awesome at the end. I knew it like I knew I still breathed, like I knew the earth was still turning and my heart still beating. How I knew, I don't know, but I can't shake this knowing that goes beyond my understanding. Something good is coming, even if we can't see it yet.

But the same way we cannot ignore the first part of Mark 8:34, we shouldn't ignore the other half to focus on it. "Take up your cross daily and follow me."
Daily we must practice this denying our desire for control to follow the only One who knew true peace. Do not get discouraged when you find you've picked back up fears and insecurities that you've already surrendered in the past. Instead, keep in mind a prayer my sister shared with me several years back when she was facing her own storms and fighting her own demons, "I'm sorry, Lord, that I have picked back up what I already laid at your cross."
It is never too late to turn to the Lord and release the white-knuckled hold you have on your need to control that which is out of your grasp.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In the Face Of Fear

"Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Maybe it's just me, but these sound like fighting words. I've never really liked when people tell me I have no reason to feel the way I do about something, whether that be scared, excited, hurt, or something else entirely. I also would feel a little embarrassed and maybe a little put off if someone asked why I have so little faith. Both questions together just seem a little too uncomfortable and offensive for my liking.
Then how come, coming from Jesus, they bring such comfort?

In my last post, When Storms Come Raging, I talked more about the passage in which these questions can be found (Mark 4). This passage tells of how Jesus calmed the disciples' fears with only a few words in the face of an overwhelming storm. While this is a great story about Jesus calming a literal storm, it is sometimes hard to transfer the meaning behind stories to our day to day lives.
How exactly do we find peace amidst the storms of our lives?

In the last year, I have heard a lot of speakers, authors, and pastors talk on the topic of forgiveness and letting go of fear (two things that definitely should happen if you are to have true peace in your life). Since this is all about storms, and storms often bring an extra large helping of fear to the table, the thought seemed very fitting.
I can't remember who was speaking, all I remember is they said that the only way to conquer fear is to not allow it to rule over you. Meaning, do not dwell on fear. A Graham Cooke quote I heard recently perfectly explains how this works. He says, "Take your eyes off the negative and you will disempower it." Anything you focus on, anything you dwell on, you give power to. You allow it to rule a part of your life and consciousness.
The speaker continued by saying that you can't ignore the fear either, because that creates pain where it does not need to be. For the fear will not just go away, it will linger beneath the surface and make you feel like there is something wrong with you for having that fear. And that shame will keep you from actually facing and eradicating it once and for all.
So then what do we do?
As he instructed, and I have implemented on more than one occasion, we must look our fear straight in the face. We must recognize that it is there, but not dwell on it or allow ourselves to slip into a pit of self-pity. Then we must turn to God in prayer and say, "I am afraid."

Believe me, I thought it sounded silly too, the first time I heard it. But it's just like what the disciples did in that boat. They turned to Jesus and said, "Lord, I am afraid."
I have had several chances to do this since hearing that speaker, and each time it was one of the most freeing things I could have done. There was something about recognizing my fear, not bottling it inside, and actually turning it over simply with no complicated prayers or formulas, just saying, "I am afraid," that lifted this huge weight off my shoulders. And that's because I could almost hear Him saying to me, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
The words don't come in a condescending or condemning way, but gently, as a father comforts a child who is scared of the dark. It is in those words that you know you really have nothing to fear. And the warmth and peace that comes from that has always been overwhelming enough to keep me in tears long after the fear filled ones have ceased.

Trust me, I know it sounds too simple to work that way. In all honesty, I was a little uncertain about it the first time I tried it. But I was scared and I was desperate and I was tired of feeling that way. But I can also tell you where that uncertainty came from.
I, like many, have trouble seeing God in the midst of the storm. When urgent or life altering matters press heavily on your mind, it's easy to forget He's there.

I think the biggest thing overlooked in the story of Jesus calming the storm is that He was there the whole time. He had never once left them alone to face the storm by themselves, but was sitting in the very same boat they were worried was about to capsize. It wasn't until they turned to Him with their fear and called on His name did He calm the storm.
He hasn't left you, but so long as you continue to cling to your fear and your need to be in control, He can't do much to calm the storms raging inside of you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

When Storms Come Raging

After a long day of teaching, Jesus and His disciples get in a boat to set out across the Sea of Galilee. On their journey across, Jesus decides to take a little snooze in the stern of the boat. And all of a sudden, a powerful storm comes up, and the disciples are afraid. They're not afraid because they've never seen a storm before, for if you do any research on the Sea of Galilee, you'll find that its position in this basin, this valley, means it gets storms a lot. Being fishermen, who are used to making their living on these and other waters, this is definitely not the first storm they've faced. But this storm is more powerful than any they've seen before.
According to the fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark, the storm was so furious that the waves broke over the boat and swamped it. So, naturally, the disciples believed they were going to drown. They believed they were going to die. In their panic, they turn to Jesus, who is still sleeping, and they woke him to say, "Teacher, we are going to drown, we are going to die. Don't you care?"

Life is filled with storms that threaten to overtake. Storms that come in the form of illness, doubt, insecurity, and fear. This being life and us being human, we have seen our fair share of these storms just as the disciples had seen their fair share of storms. But again, like the disciples, our experience with surviving through the storms sometimes isn't enough. Because sometimes, life comes in with a doozy.
I'm sure you know the kind I'm talking about. The job lost during a time when money was something you desperately needed. The diagnosis that changes everything. The threat to the one thing you've identified with the most for most of your life. Whatever the storm may be, all the other storms pale in comparison.

It's during these storms that we react exactly as the disciples had, with questions of, "Don't you even care?" It's easy to react this way, even natural sometimes, when our world seems to be crashing down around us. After all, if Jesus is the great protector, shouldn't He keep us from heartaches and loss such as these?
But if there's one thing I've learned from the scripture, it's that some of the best things come from the worst circumstance. Just take a look at any of the stories from the Old or New Testament. Many people faced trials aplenty, having to leave their homes, families, jobs, and comforts behind to follow God to the promise He offered. I could give some examples, but I think Jon Jorgenson of The Anima Series did an amazing job in his spoken word poem called "The Wall."
So allow me to pass the torch to him for a moment:

Jesus never promised there wouldn't be pain, in fact He practically assured us that it would be difficult. "Pick up your cross and follow me," He said, and if I remember correctly, His path of the cross was not an easy one lined with flowers and tea parties in the sun with a herd of passing unicorns. His path was difficult, it was painful, and it lead Him even to death. But from it came the most glorious victory ever seen.
Do you think that victory would ever come to pass, or we would even know a thing about this man, if He had not decided to deny His own comfort to take the sometimes painful road to redemption?

So of course He cares, just as you care when you hear a loved one going through some sort of trial. Because He has been there Himself before. He knows what it's like and is more than willing to help you conquer the storms in your life. I know this because the story of the storm doesn't stop there.

While the men are freaking, sure they are going to die, Jesus calmly gets up and looks out over the wind and waves and He says, "Quiet! Be still!"
If you've ever read the same scripture at different points in your life and gotten something different from it each time because of your life circumstances are different and your perspective has changed, then you understand when I say that sometimes I look at passages and wonder if there's something more there than what I'm just seeing.
Since there's not a lot of context as to what the disciples were thinking and feeling during this moment, it's hard to tell for sure, but I think Jesus was speaking to more than just the wind and waves on that stormy afternoon. I think He was speaking straight to their hearts. I think while He was telling the waves to calm and commanding the wind to be still, He was wishing the same over His followers' troubled spirits.

So next time you find yourself in a tough life situation, remind yourself that while the storm may be scary, we have someone at work on our behalf to either push back the storm itself, or calm the storms of fear and doubt that rage within.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Frustrating Beauty of Relationships

If, like me, you've ever experienced what it's like to truly click with someone, you understand what I mean when I say it is both a beautiful and frustrating experience. To those who have never experienced this, what I just described makes absolutely no sense. So, for any who are not completely sure what I mean, allow me to explain.

There are these wonderfully rare moments in life where you meet someone with whom you can just connect. The connection is strong and seemingly illogical. Or at least, it looks that way in light of a society that tells us people must earn our trust and prove they are worth having in our life before we keep them around. But these sorts of friendships are different. They blossom out of seeming nothingness. They reach a level of mutual trust and depth that would normally take months or even years, depending on the person, to develop. Instead they form in only a fraction of the time. I'm talking a matter of days or weeks.
I find these sorts of friendships to be the purest sorts of friendships, for they form out of trust and understanding when, logically, there is no reason to offer either. But since when was love logical?

Isn't that, though, what makes friendship one of the most beautiful and mysterious things about human existence? For life is a journey, and when we form any sort of relationship with someone, we allow our life paths to coincide for a season, if not longer.
But just as you can't rush through any other part of your life journey--the ups and downs, the joys and struggles, the love and loss--you can't rush through a relationship. When we forget this simple truth is when the frustration I spoke of sets in.
There is actually a word for it, according to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Its adronitis, which they describe as the "frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone."

I had been feeling this very frustration for several weeks before I discovered this definition in one of the many times I was wasting time on Facebook rather than doing something productive. And it got me thinking. Why does this frustration even exist?
Before I even had time to think in depth on the question, a thought popped in my head, "It's because you're so close."

And really, that's exactly it. Like I said, most friendships take a while to form depth, only very rarely do you meet someone you can have such a strong connection with instantly. We usually have to wait months to reach a point where we feel comfortable like that with someone, in that time we've lived life together and grown in the slow deliberate way that life paths frequently like to take. But when one of these rare friendships comes about, we forget that we've only known the other person for a short period of time, despite how comfortable we feel with them. We forget that just because we trust the other on this level that would normally take longer to reach, doesn't mean we have walked through the life with them we normally would have to walk through to reach that level of trust.
If you've ever heard someone say something along the lines of, "I feel like we've known each other forever, but also like it hasn't been that long at all," then they are probably talking about one of these beautifully frustrating friendships.

In my time thinking about these friendships, and just friendships in general, I began marveling at their beauty more than ever. For the very fact that each and every one of us longs for companionship shows our Maker's mark more than anything else I can think of. This desire to not only be loved, but to love others in return is one of the many beautiful ways our relational Creator made us in His image. After all, He made someone else for Adam, not because He wasn't enough for Adam, but because Adam needed a place to pour out all the love the Father was pouring into him.
And it is in these rare, unquestioning, deep friendships that pop up out of seemingly nowhere that I see God the most. For just like with those friends we're close to, but don't quite yet know fully, when we first delve into a relationship with He who made us, this trust  and understanding comes quickly, but full knowledge of His nature and character takes a life time to grasp.

Maybe we should learn a thing or two from this picture. Maybe this deep trust and slow learning was the way He intended it. Maybe we should learn to be more forgiving and nonjudgmental in our relationships, then patiently walk through life together.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Stuck In a Glass Maze World

About a year ago, I had the fun opportunity to spend a day with some friends at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Not only is the museum itself huge, with multiple levels (including some underground levels), containing art from various time periods, cultures, and places, but the grounds are also filled with many modern sculptures. During this particular trip to the Nelson, my friends and I decided to wander the grounds in search of the giant metal tree that we heard had been added earlier that year. On our search, we came across a curious addition I had never seen before. Standing just down hill from the monstrous and beautiful silver tree was a glass maze. While not very big, the maze was still easy to get turned around in. With the glass kept amazingly clean, it wasn't hard to miss a turn and accidentally run into the opposite wall or get turned around and pass a needed turn to reach the maze's center (especially if you didn't want to look like a fool by bumping into walls over and over again).

I think in much the same way, we let ourselves get trapped by what we're told and the lies we tell ourselves. Lies like: I'm not good enough. 
I'm not smart enough. 
I'm not attractive enough. 
I'm too young. 
I'm too old. 
I have nothing to say, nothing to offer, and no where to go. 
I'll. Never. Amount. To. Anything.
"ENOUGH! Enough with the lies!" I want to scream, but if you're alive and breathing in the twenty-first century, especially twenty-first century America with its image saturated culture, you know that thoughts like these, or at least thoughts very similar to these, pop up everywhere.
But these lies trap us in the same way the glass maze traps us. For we can see outside the maze, we can see life going on beyond the glass, we can even communicate with those on the outside, but we cannot hear them clearly through the glass. We can't really connect. Or at least not the way our hearts long to connect.
These lies keep us stuck behind this glass with no true connection, making us feel isolated, even when surrounded by those who love and care about us. And when we finally get fed up with feeling this way, we start to look for a way out. But just like with the glass maze, we are too embarrassed by our insecurities. We won't let ourselves bump into the walls, even if it will help us find the right path sooner, because we don't want those around us to know that we feel trapped. We don't want them to see it. In doing so, we hide even more, further trapping ourselves and maintaining that we never connect with anyone.

As usual, I want to take this even further. I want to look into why we believe these lies about ourselves in the first place. I've learned in recent months that these glass walls that keep me feeling isolated are created by lies I've come to believe about myself. Sadly, many never realize this, because our enemy is crafty. He has mastered the art of lies, spinning them until they look like truths we can't easily dismiss.
But why are these lies so appealing if they make us feel so horrible about ourselves? I think it all comes down to who we think we are and who we think God is.
The day I started to tear down these lies is the day I realized that if God is who I think He is, then my image of myself  did not align with what I believed. If God is loving, compassionate, creative, and all powerful, and he made me in His image, then shouldn't I, as a follower of Him, be more than capable to do great things?
I mean, this logic makes sense, doesn't it? Then how come this isn't the logic used by many of us? What I think it all roots back to is what we think of God. If you're like me and you believe Him to truly be the Lover of your soul, then this logic isn't hard to follow. But how many people really believe Him to be these things?

My mom recently told me about a children's storybook bible she heard about where the author, having to summarize things to make sense to little kids, summarized all the lies that the serpent told Eve in Genesis 3 with one doubt instilling question, "Does God really love you?"
Well? Does He?
If you aren't sure on that, then I can tell you from personal past experience that you aren't going to have an easy time breaking down those lies.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Life Is Like a Box Of... Dirt?

Exodus 36. This chapter isn't packed full of awesomeness by any means, but that doesn't mean God doesn't show us a bit of His heart through it.
In this chapter, we are told for the third time in the last fifteen chapters about how to construct the tabernacle. Each time is described in immense detail and with pretty much the same words each time. Almost as if the author used an ancient copy and paste for each description. By the third time reading through this description, my eyes were beginning to glaze over. I mean, let's be honest, I don't really care how they made their portable tabernacle. But as this thought crossed my mind, I realized something... God does. God cared so much about how they built His house that he told us about it not once, not twice, but three times.


I think there could be several reasons. The first that comes to mind is that He cares about attention to detail. God not only wants us to do His will and use our skill sets to His glory, but he wants to do the job well and spend time putting attention and meaning into the littlest details of the work.
But I also think there's more than that.
While this is true, I have seen time and time again that my God is not a God of the usual, conventional, or predictable. My God plays by His own rules. And these rules don't always make sense to us at first.

Of course He wants us to put meaning into the littlest details of our work, using the skills and abilities He's gifted us to use. That only makes sense. But what if it goes deeper than that?
What if this goes farther than just our work, hobbies, and talents? What if this goes into our everyday lives? The mundane. The boring. The routine.
What then?

I've come to say recently that the Old Testament can have some really epic parts, but all too frequently we stumble across chapters that are about as exciting as a box of dirt. Chapters like Exodus 36, for example. Now what do you do when you come across these boring "box of dirt" chapters? You can do what many do and decide, "You know, I'm not getting anything out of this chapter, book, or even the bible at all. Let's just give up!"
But that's not how I roll. I decided in March that I was going to read through the whole bible. All of it. And I would write something on each chapter I came to the day I found myself there.
So, planting myself firmly in that boring box of dirt, I waited. And while I waited, I tried to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit through the irritated complaints of the lazy adult in my mind begging the child God wants me to be, "Just get out of the sand box! You have a suitcase to pack, sleep to get, and yummy citrus tilapia to eat. There is nothing worthwhile here. IT'S JUST DIRT!"
"But I made a promise," I argue back. "There's gold here in this sandbox, I know it!"

Surely you remember being a child and being absolutely sure you had buried treasure in your back yard, or dinosaur bones, or that you could dig a tunnel to China, build a time machine, or be a world famous adventurer. Maybe you don't remember, but I do. I remember believing these things with such certainty that no one in the world could tell me otherwise.
Well, God wants us to be those children, hunting tirelessly for nuggets of His truth, beauty, and wisdom in every part of our lives. But sadly, we tend to listen to the other voice, the one telling us to leave this hunt for other things.
The thing the other voice doesn't realize is that life may not always be glamorous. In fact, it's usually as boring as a box of dirt, but that doesn't mean God isn't in it, with us through the mundane and boring.

Recently, I read an article titled, "15 Questions To Ask While Dating." The idea, was things you should think about before considering marrying someone.
One of the questions read: "Do we enjoy doing the mundane together?" Laundry, budgets, grocery shopping, chores, and all the other very not exciting parts of life that make up a lot of what marriage is.
But if marriage is supposed to be a picture of what our relationship with God should be like, shouldn't we be looking for Him in even the boring everyday? Shouldn't we look for ways to worship Him and give Him glory not only in awesome spiritual highs, but also in the dreadful lows and the boring boxes of dirt?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pits and Valleys

So, it's been a little while since I've written anything. Usually when I have these bouts of not blogging, it is because I am so wrapped up in my novel, or simply because I haven't quite put together a thought on what God's been teaching me that's straight enough to blog about. Or at least not straight enough to blog about in my preferred style, complete with examples, analogies, and stories.
But these last few weeks that has not been the case.

The thing is, I haven't been putting a lot of effort into my novel recently or even my relationship with God. That's not to say I didn't have the desire to do either, because I did. I longed for my creative highs and my peaceful mornings spent in the word. But over the last few weeks, those "peaceful mornings" have been filled with depression, distraction, and stress. While the depression would leave me once I got myself out of bed and moving, the stress and distractions would always linger through much of the day, bringing my focus levels to an all time low. With the desire to move forward, but no attention span, my motivation quickly dwindled. Every morning I would ask God, "Please, show me something. Bring me closer to you this day. I want to know you more." And while each day I found some small rarity in a passage I would never have looked in to find out anything more about my wonderful Creator, that step forward was always accompanied by several tiny steps back. The pattern left me feeling stuck. Like I was making progress, but not enough to get any forward momentum. Like a conveyor belt was moving beneath me, but my feet were strapped with lead and I could do nothing more than shuffle along just fast enough to stay exactly where I was, all while longingly staring at what I most desperately wanted at the end of the belt.

I reached a point where I was getting angry. Somewhat with myself, somewhat with God, but mostly just with this feeling of being stuck that I couldn't seem to shake. This distracted mindset that kept me from doing what I know I must do. I found myself thinking things like, "What's the point? I'm not getting anything out of this," or, "I can help people. I have before, I want to again, but how can I do that when I can't even connect to the One who gave me my heart for others?" or even, "If writing is my calling and I can't get myself to write, what am I?"
But I continued to do what I've been doing since this spring. I continued praying (Or trying to. Apparently it's very hard to pray when your mind can't stay focused on one thing for more than twenty seconds. Who knew.) and continued reading my bible every day. Even when I got to boring chapters Exodus 25, which for those who don't know, is the first of several chapters just about how to build the tabernacle and the sacred objects within it. Even on those chapters, I tried to find something to underline, something to write about, something that showed me more of human nature or God's character. But despite my efforts to find something even in these chapters, I still felt stuck. I was still plodding against the conveyor belt endlessly with no end in sight.

Then, Wednesday evening, after a morning of maximum frustration and extremely low motivation levels that led to me laying on the floor for hours with no will to move, God began showing me things that He's apparently been trying to teach me these last few weeks, but I never noticed.
It started when I went out to dinner with a new friend. I had recently asked him where his faith was in a very silly manner, and he told me it hasn't been that great in a while, but that he thinks it's getting better now. During dinner, he decided to shed a little more light on the picture, and after telling me what caused his faith to plummet in the first place, he said something that surprised me. He told me that before he started to talk to me, his relationship with God and his desire to go to church was a giant shrug. He said that if anyone ever tried to talk to him about Jesus, he would just wave it off and be over all indifferent towards it. Having already noticed some of these patterns and knowing what I had just learned about his past, I was not surprised by this confession. What surprised me was when he said, "Talking to you, things are starting to sink in more. I actually want to try to have a relationship with God again. When you invited me to come to church, instead of my normal habit of making up an excuse for why I couldn't go, I wanted to figure out a way to make it work. I wanted to try again."
I was stunned. For literally most of the time I've known him, I have felt like I was shuffling endlessly on that belt, with no way to take the weights from my feet that were slowing me down and keeping me from sprinting to the end. But despite that, God had still used me to make an impact on his life.
I was stunned, I was happy, I almost didn't believe it, but the inflection in his voice showed that he meant every word he said. I didn't know what to do with the information at first.

It wasn't until later that night, after movie night with friends was over and I was laying alone in my bed did it really settle. God used me, to touch the heart of someone who had long since shrugged Him off. I didn't do anything. How could I have, after all? I was struggling in my pursuit of my dreams and my faith. But that doesn't make a difference in God's kingdom. For God isn't just there in my mountain top experiences, where I feel Him close and see Him everywhere, but he is also in my dark valleys, where I can't see Him beside me or even feel His hand guiding me. But just because I don't feel Him or don't see Him, doesn't mean He isn't there or isn't working.

I would like to take this one step further and remind you that God works in mysterious ways. He doesn't only use those who are trying to follow Him (even those in a spiritual funk, as I have been) to further His kingdom, but even those who either don't realize He's there or don't see Him working.
A good friend of mine has recently been learning what it looks like to love unconditionally. To love someone just for being a person, not because of how they perform, treat you, or meet up to expectations. She's been learning what it means to let go of hurt and act instead out of love, rather than holding onto that hurt and letting it effect the way she treats others.

The other day, she and I had a bit of a dispute about the friend mentioned in my previous story. In a nut shell, she thought I was being too nonjudgmental, while I thought she was being too judgmental. A very unneededly long story short, she texts me after movie night and shares several realizations about how God is with her not only as support in her hard times, but also in her good times. After sharing this epiphany, she says, "I did realize though, that he's a person God loves, and that I haven't been very loving."

We, as people, tend to do whatever we want, but that doesn't mean God can't use us or our circumstances wherever we are and whatever they happen to be to bring about something beautiful.
Hardship doesn't need to be just that. It can be more. God can use it in ways we wouldn't imagine. After all, He used my friend with the decade old, half abandoned faith to teach my bestie what it means to love. If God can use me in my spiritual blah, or him and all the things that went into his turning away from the faith to impact the lives of others, can't He also use the poor circumstances in your life for something bigger, something you never will see coming?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Spirit's Whispers

Happiness is good, and there's days where I crave it,
But those days are usually dark and lonely 
Where I forget that the root word of happiness is happen 
And that happiness is connected to circumstance and what we can get out of life.
On those days I forget that joy is what I really need.
That joy is a seed planted in my heart by a loving Father,
That no matter how unhappy my circumstances may seem,
That seed of joy will grow into a tree with hope as its roots and peace as its branches.
And somewhere in that growth my heart will learn to love again
And see people despite the sin that plagues them. 
For it plagues me too.
Because aren't we all the same?
Stuck in this disease called humanity that grips our minds
And in time we stop seeing the truth.
Though it affects most things we do, it's not who we are,
For we are more than our actions and scars-- 
We are souls seeking refuge in a stormy sea, 
But despite what we're told and despite what we think, that refuge is never the boat
That teeters and rears and tries to stay afloat atop the waves.
While our bodies want the boat's "safety," our spirits long to be saved.
Through the cries of our flesh, the Spirit whispers underneath,
"Take hold of his reach. Cant you see? 
The creator of your soul has asked you to be not of the storm but above it,
Walking the waves as if it were pavement."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Devil's Favorite Tool

"Just because it scares us or we don't understand it doesn't mean it isn't real."
This seems a little obvious. I mean, you may be scared of outer space, rottweilers , or taxes, but no matter how much you do not understand or are scared of these things, they are still there and no amount of pretending they aren't will make you not run into them or something regarding them from time to time. Obvious, right?
So, so then, how come we live much of the rest of our lives this way in regards to truth and beauty?

That quote is a line that stood out among all other profound thoughts expressed in my Partner in Crime's newest blog post, entitled The Ache of Beauty. In it she describes how we all experience this longing when it comes to beauty, because we were designed for ultimate beauty. But this longing scares us because we cannot understand it, so we put up walls around our hearts and hide, just like we do with many other things that scare us and threaten our minimal understanding of things.

I have talked a lot about walls over the last couple months. I've talked about how we build walls and masks around ourselves to hide who we really are, why we do these things, and how we should tear town these barriers so we can embrace who we are meant to be. I have talked about beauty and how we are scared to show our beauty to others for fear of being judged. But something I didn't realize until now was it's not just our own beauty we put a mask over but beauty in general. As Miss McCall said in her post, we turn away from beauty and put walls around our hearts so as not to feel the ache.
How many times have you read in the Bible that someone "hardened their heart" and wondered what it looked like? I think it looks a lot like this. Because the ache stems from a longing for more, a longing that we have to leave our comfortable places to pursue. And we, as humans, are oh so scared of leaving the known and the comfortable for the unknown and potentially uncomfortable. We are scared that our actions would not be worth it and that we will make a disastrous mess and fools of ourselves. We are scared because we have bought into the lie that we cannot walk on water. I mean, surely I can't be the only one who has a hard time believing that story sometimes.

But the devil works on this fear. We think he's been getting more and more creative with how he personally attacks us and tears us down, but his tactics haven't changed. Since the beginning of time, his methods have always been fear and lies, fear and lies. So why do so many people seem much more hopeless, lost, and longing for more than ever before?
It's because in the busy, who has time to seek truth?  And who would want to, really? I mean, truth disrupts our busy lives with our meetings, soccer practices, dinners, and even relaxation time planned to a T. You don't even have to look at a working adult to see this. Look at a grade schooler. From school to piano lessons to baseball games to play dates, it's no wonder kids are more stressed than ever and more and more people are growing up to never know how to appreciate beauty at all.

Jesus said we must become like a child to be able to enter His Kingdom. But with kids being scheduled more and more like adults, where has the wonder and inspiration gone? We are being introduced at younger and younger ages to lie that says you aren't important unless you are doing everything. Lies that tell us that the truth is a lie.

But this isn't the first time the devil has used our fear of the unknown to keep us from pursuing beauty and instead keep us pursuing things much less worth our hearts and souls.
In Exodus 5, Moses follows God's leading and goes to Pharaoh to ask if the Israelites can go into the desert to worship God for three days. In response to Moses' request, Pharaoh orders the slave drivers to make the work harder for the Isrealites so that "they keep working and pay no attention to lies." In the same way, our society has told us that busy is better. "Pay no attention to the truth," it says. "You must work, work, work so you can be the best."
With so many people saying this and living this way all around, it is very easy for us to slip into the same rhythm and have trouble believing truth and seeing beauty altogether.

But we must not let our fear of the unknown and the judgement of others keep us from living the lives full of wonder and beauty that we were designed to live. We must start a revolution and start breaking free from the molds we've been put in.
I challenge each of you personally to slow down and embrace beauty when you see it. Let it make your mind run wild, even if that takes you into parts of yourself you haven't explored in a while. Let yourself dream again, but don't stop there. Pursue the dreams and longing for a deeper meaning of Beauty, Love, and Truth that can only be found in the One we cannot fully comprehend.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sticks and Stones

If you've been reading my blog from the beginning, or even just a few once in a while, you've probably heard me talk about a writer's conference called Re:Write and how things I learned there and the people I met changed me so much for the better. Well, what I haven't mentioned in my blog is the steps that came before that. The things that lead me to the huge weekend of self discovery that happened to me at this conference. Part of why I never mentioned these things is because until recently I wasn't even sure what started this chain reaction. It's hard sometimes, even once you've reached the end of a road, to look back and see the journey. The road snakes back on itself, sometimes parts of it are hidden. But sometimes it's good to revisit parts of your journey just so you can see how far you've come and learn new things from old situations.
Now, I'm not saying you should revisit everything, because there are certainly things that should remain only in the past, but there are still some things that you may appreciate more or learn more from now than you did when you first discovered them.
A few weeks before Re:Write, my sister shared a very impacting spoken word video on facebook.

I'm not sure if this began the domino effect of seeking myself and God in a deeper way, but I do .know it was an important domino somewhere in the chain. Emotional after watching the video and truly appreciating the idea that I recently realized would later evolve into the quote I shared in my last post about beauty, I decided to bare my soul to my large group of friends and acquaintances on facebook.

So, without further explanation, here is the video and the post that followed:

Growing up I was called obsessive, freak, crazy. Why? Because I was passionate and my mind moved a million miles a minute, causing me to have difficulty expressing myself and things that I loved in a "normal" way. Because of these names, I felt less than normal. At first that was okay. I retreated into my book, my fantasies, and my mind because I didn't even really understand myself.
Seventh and eight grade I saw people had friends, people shared what they were interested in and found people with common ground. I had been quiet and to myself for so long, I forgot. I forgot the labels they had given me. I spoke up. But still, I didn't understand me, not even to share who I was easily. So it came out in messy bursts of extreme emotions: excitement, anxiety, and passion. These things aren't normal. Or at least they aren't in middle school, where if you aren't painted in shades of the same boring gray as everyone else, you're abnormal.
Freak and crazy, some called me. But these didn't bother me as much as obsessed. I love words, I always have. And as a thirteen year old, I looked up the definition. "To think about something unceasingly or persistently; to dominate or preoccupy the thoughts or haunt persistently or abnormally"
There was that word again. Abnormal. So who was I then? I didn't belong to any bigger puzzle. I was not a masterpiece. I was abnormal. Broken. A discarded extra piece that didn't make sense.
Wanting to be loved and understood desperately, I put on a mask of shades of gray, hoping it would hide my crazy. But I found that I still couldn't relate to people, because I wasn't giving them me.I shut down emotionally to avoid the pain that came with the severe isolation I felt. I was lost in in a sea on shades of gray. I needed help. I was crying out for acceptance, but my mask had become so good at hiding who I was, that those around me couldn't even see I was in pain. Finally, through much pain, I threw the mask away, and exposed the deep emotional wound to the harsh air. Grace and love pored in. For the first time I had hope.
I was sixteen.
Since then, I've come to learn more about myself and how my mind works. It's a mess, and it doesn't make sense to even me sometimes, but I have found a way to harness that mess and turn it into something beautiful. I am writing a book. I do what some still call obsessive research and reading so I can improve my skills as much as possible. I'm still excessively loud, overly passionate, and into some things that aren't classified as "normal."
Although I'm not called these names that frequently any more, to this day, they still make me flinch. The way I thought no one understood me, or really saw who I was for so long affects how I think about my relationships. It still makes me second guess the genuineness of some of my friendships from time to time. I have to remind myself that those lies I once believed are not true.
What were your names?

I wrote this post six months ago. No longer do I flinch at these names. But watching this video and reading six months ago me's thoughts, I understand a little more about what I've been learning about myself, God, and beauty now.
After rewatching that video for the first time in six months, I was hit especially hard when the speaker said the line, "She's raising two kids whose definition of beauty begins with the word Mom."
And yet she still doesn't see her beauty because of the names she was called and the masks she wore to hide her pain. How many of us does this describe?
From the twenty years of life I've lived, it looks like too many. More than it should be, anyway.
I was one of these, I tried to cover myself up, because the names they called hurt too much and I couldn't bare to let the people see that my heart was nothing more than an unwanted flower trampled in the street.

And when I think about where I was, and where I still see people today, I can't help but identify with the last line of this poem, "Our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty," because if you think about it, that's what we were and are doing, isn't it?
We put on masks to draw attention away from the pain in our eyes at the cruel words spoken. We put make up on our scars and build walls around our hearts, because if someone saw our stories, lives, beauty, then maybe they would disapprove and call us names to make themselves feel less broken.
For isn't that all they are? The same as us. Broken souls in a never ending struggle with beauty.

So, just as I asked six months ago, what were the jabs made at your beauty?
What were your names?

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Language Of the Soul

Not so long ago, maybe a month or so, a few of my fellow fiction writers made a proposition to me. It went something like this, "Hey! We're going to start role playing characters from our books so we can get to know them better. Want to join?"

My head basically exploded.

Whether you know me or not, you probably don't know about my role playing addiction unless you were one of my role play partners in the past. But it really is no less than an addiction. So when I was invited to join them on this, excitement immediately filled me. I had a hard time containing it.
I knew the purpose of the sequence we were creating was to get to know characters better that we don't know very well, but I chose my most familiar character even though the character in my current work in progress could really use a lot of developing.
"Why?" might be your first question asked.
Well, it's because like role play, which I hadn't participated in in over a year, it had also been some time since I had written fantasy.
Fantasy's my jam. Fantasy's my passion. I eat, sleep, and breathe fantasy!
So even just the two short months I've spent writing something outside the genre has been killer for me.
So choosing Behmyn seemed like a no-brainer.

Now let me give you a little background on Behmyn before I get to want I really want to talk about.
Behmyn is a thinker. Behmyn is deep. He is broken. He has experienced many hurts in his past and has a poor tendency to blame himself for things he couldn't really have helped or stopped. But he is also loyal and protective. He tried to protect himself from getting hurt again, but he loves people too much to distance himself from them completely. He also loves animals and being outdoors. He is a hunter. He is also going blind.
Behmyn has been in my head for upwards end of seven years. First he was forming slowly. He didn't have a name, he didn't really have a form, but he was there. Then in September of 2010, I breathed him to life. He started as a character I role played online. After three and a half years really forming him into what he is now, I stopped role playing and moved him to a story I was writing. A trilogy. The first book of which is in my editor's hands.

All that being said, I didn't expect to learn anything from or about Behmyn in this little game we'd come up with. I would tell people we were doing it so they could get to know their characters better, except for me, because I was just doing it for fun.
Then he surprised me several nights ago with a speech about beauty.
Behmyn, like I, believes beauty is everywhere. In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure who believed it first. I'd like to say it was him, but maybe it was there in me, just buried where I couldn't see it until he brought it out. But through experimenting with a character who loves beauty, but can no longer see, I learned so much more about what beauty is and isn't than I ever did before Behmyn happened.
His view on beauty is the very core of his being. Without it, he does not exist, yet in all my years getting to know him, I have never viewed his passion in such a raw sense as he did in this speech.

He was talking with a young woman who was very deeply effected by the rules and standards of her society. A society that put people down and tried to keep them from feeling like they could express who they really are. After a while, she shared with him that she had never heard someone speak so openly about their inner thoughts before. She said that she, along with many others, were taught that beauty is dangerous and must be hidden at all costs.

Behmyn, and I along with him, ached deep within our souls. Because even though this was a fictitious event my friend and I were typing out, her character's words deeply reflected our own society.
We have taught young people in your society that beauty is not who you are. Who you are is scary, weird, or probably unlikable in some way, so you should hide yourself behind a pretty painted mask rather than showing your true heart and soul to people. It is something I notice every day. I have coworkers who are compulsive liars, making up stuff about their lives to try to make themselves seem, cooler, funnier, more interesting, etc. I hear people complain about them constantly, "And she told you this? You know she lies about everything, right?"
But while they see an attention whore, I see a broken spirit who's bought into the lies this society has fed them. Someone desperately wanting to be loved and accepted, but terrified that who they really are isn't good enough for acceptance.

So, when Behmyn, distressed over hearing people being taught to live like this, began his speech, it resonated deep with me, as with the rest of my friends.
The first thing he said was, "You can't hide beauty without damaging that which holds the beauty."
When I typed that sentence, I didn't even think about it. It just made so much sense. It perfectly described his distress over the situation and his inner passion about beauty. But in my time thinking about it since, I realize just how true his words are.

I mean think about it. Those people taught to hide themselves, the inner beauty of their hearts and souls, behind a mask soon become so damaged by the fear that comes with putting that mask on that they don't even really know who they are anymore. All they have is the mask, tied on by fear. Fear that someone will notice they're hiding. Fear that if their mask is disliked even after all their effort, that they could never love the person beneath the mask. Fear even when people approve of the mask, for the person underneath knows that the mask is a lie.
Pretty soon, even if they wanted to take off the mask, they couldn't. For unreasonable fear has replaced any desire of showing who they really are and crushed any hope of acceptance.

You see, beauty is not skin deep. I am deeply sad for whoever said so.
Beauty isn't something you see with your eyes or understand with your mind, but you feel with your soul. It is everywhere.
It's not just what you can see, but it can be heard and felt. For even with people like the one I just described, I can see glimpses of their beauty shining through the mask. I can see flashes of their passion, joy, humor, and heart. It's in their eyes, it's in their subtle doubts and fears that they don't know I've noticed. There is beauty even in their brokenness. Because out of their brokenness I see one thing, a soul longing to be seen, really seen, and loved deeply. And that is beautiful.

So like I said, I don't know who saw it first, but beauty is something I will always fight for. And hopefully in my own exploration of beauty through Behmyn's story and my own life, I will help others to learn this wonderful language of the soul called Beauty.

Note: I have been praying through Behmyn's story that it will touch those who read it in a special way. That they won't be the same after reading it. But before it can get into the hands of those who are meant to read it, it must be published. Like I said in my post, my manuscript is in the hands of my editor right now. 
But now I would like your prayers and support as I continue on this road of trying to get published. If you could pray for God's hand of guidance on this project and His perfect peace and insight on my current WIP, that would mean a lot to me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Blessings Amidst Trial

I once heard an analogy that went along the lines of this:

There once was a girl walking through the jungle. Suddenly a tiger jumped out and began chasing her. She ran until her path abruptly ended at a cliff. With nowhere else to go, she jumped and grabbed onto a vine on the way down. Temporarily out of harms way, she breathed a sigh of relief and looked down to see how far the cliff went. On a ledge below her stood a second tiger, snapping up at her feet while the one above stared down at her.
"At least the vine will hold," she thought before noticing two mice, one black and the other white, gnawing at the vine.
The tiger above represents the past. The one below, the future. The mice are day and night, the uncontrolled passage of time that brings us ever closer to our end. But this isn't the whole picture. For before the girl on the vine is a bush of strawberries growing out of the side of the mountain. She plucks one and eats it and how sweet it is.

"What's the point of this story?" you may be asking yourself.
The point is simple. Sometimes we are too caught up by the fear of our past and future, or the anxieties of the day to day life that we fail to notice the blessings placed right before us.
This is more common than you'd realize. In fact, there's a story in Genesis 21 that shows a similar sort of point.

The beginning of the chapter shows Isaac being born. As the chapter goes on, we see some tension between Abraham's family and his wife's maidservant, Hagar, and her son. Feeling like her son's inheritance might be in jeopardy, Sarah tells Abraham that she wants Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away. God promises Abraham that He will take care of Hagar and Ishmael, so Abraham does as Sarah wishes and sent them off into the desert with some water and food for their journey.
When the water runs out, Hagar and Ishmael begin to sob, knowing they would soon die in the harsh desert air if they couldn't find any water.
Verses 17-19 say this:

God heard the boy crying and the angel of God called out to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid, God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand for I will make him a great nation."
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

Just like in the tiger analogy, Hagar didn't notice a blessing right in front of her (the well), because she was too busy grieving over their apparent demise.

I think the key to noticing these blessings is praise.
Too often, our first response to poor circumstances is fear and despair. But in our fear, we forget who God is, what He has done for us in the past, and what He can do for us in the future.
But when we find ourselves afraid, the best thing we can do is bring our fear to God. Don't resist it, just say to your Father, "I am afraid," then remind yourself of who He is.

Someone who has seemed to have mastered the art of praising God through the trials is King David.

Countless times in his Psalms expresses his deep fear and anguish only to turn right around and start praising God despite his present circumstances.
But David isn't the only one who I've seen be able to do this on more than one occasion. Just recently, a good friend of mine released a book of poetry entitled Flowers In The Darkness where she does just what David did in his Psalms.
It's refreshing to read Davidic Psalm styled poetry about life, God, struggles, and beauty from a current and relevant voice. From someone living in my day and age, facing similar trials as I have.
We all could learn from David just as Denica McCall has.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Their Path vs. My Path - Destructive Comparisons

Three months ago, I began a long trek through the gospels. At one chapter a day, I have finally finished. My method was simple. Read through the chapter, underline things that stick out, go back through the chapter with a journal and write down the underlined bits and thoughts/comments/cross referencing.
What better way to wrap up my journey through the gospels than with my favorite chapter in all of the gospel narrative? If you have never read John 21, you really should. It is packed full of awesome stuff. From the way people react to difficult situations, to trust. From what it looks like to actively follow Jesus, to insecurity. The sheer number of things this chapter alludes to is enough for me to spend several blog posts dissecting, but I shall only focus on one.

When most people think of John 21, they think of the all too familiar passage where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him in verses 15-17.
There are many speculations about this passage. What Jesus meant by "Do you love me more than these?" in the first verse could mean a variety of things. Did Peter love the Lord more than he loved his fellow disciples? Did he love Jesus more than his fellow disciples loved Jesus? (For Peter often claimed to have devotion that outweighed the others.) Or maybe, did Peter love Jesus more than he loved these things (his job and his fishing gear)?
Whatever it is Jesus exactly meant by the question, we don't know. Maybe Jesus wasn't specific on purpose. Maybe he phrased it the way he did so Peter could bring to mind whatever he might be putting before God in his mind. Whatever the case, I do believe the threefold question was designed to stand in contrast to the time just a week or so before when Peter denied Jesus three times.

While this is a good passage, people often don't know that the third time Jesus says, "Feed my sheep," isn't the end of the conversation. In fact, it's not even the end of His thought. Within the same breath of saying, "Feed my sheep," Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
As explained by John, who was both listening to this conversation between Peter and Jesus and lived to see Peter's famous upside-down crucifixion, Jesus said this to "indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God."(v. 19)

As you read on, Peter looks back over his shoulder while he and Jesus are walking and talking, and sees John following them. Why John followed them, he doesn't say, but Peter does seem concerned as to what God's plan is for John as well. He asks, "Lord, what about him?" (v.21)
There's some history between John and Peter you should know. Basically it goes like this. Jesus had about 70-80 disciples. The Twelve were his closest. The others would follow most of the time, but the Twelve rarely left his side and were with him during most of the most important things. There were three of the Twelve who were even closer than the others. Simon (who Jesus called Peter, which means "the rock"), John, and his brother, Andrew. Not much is said about Andrew, and, honestly, I think that's because he got it better than John or Peter ever did. If you notice, Peter and John were always trying to prove which one of them was the best. They both wanted to be Jesus' favorite. It kind of makes you wonder if the reason John refers to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved," as he did countless times through out his writings, was because he felt left out after Simon was given a new name by Jesus.

So naturally, with all this competition going on, Peter wanted to know what the Lord had in store for John. Just like Peter, we often look at what God is doing in other people's lives and wonder if God is handing us the short end of the stick. I mean His will in their lives looks so much better than what He's doing for me.

Sometimes, I think, we get so distracted looking at God's path for someone else that we stumble off our own and get lost in the woods around us. According to Jesus' reply to Peter's concern, He seems to hold similar sentiment as I do.

He says, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"
Jesus wasn't saying John would live forever or anything like that, but asking Peter if he would still trust and love his Lord even if His will was for John to live forever while Peter died.

What I think this all comes down to is whether or not you trust God's will in your life. Yes, His will for someone else's life may look more exciting, fun, or glamorous, but each path has it's mountains, struggles, and pitfalls. We just don't always see that in another person's life because we're looking at it from the outside.
If the answer is "Yes, I do trust God's will in my life," then you shouldn't worry about whether His will for someone else is better than his will for you. 
We just must stop comparing our lives to other's and start trusting God's plan with wonder and faith.

Your path may seem narrow and rocky, but God has some glorious things to show you along the way.

Monday, May 25, 2015

My God is Limitless - How Big Is Your God? (Part 3)

In the second part of this three part post, I talked about how the wounds and scars from our past can prevent us from really seeing God. This time, I want to share a bit of my own story with emotional scars.
As I said in the last post, everyone has their scars, the lies they believe that prevent them from seeing the Truth. Because I am human, I have them too. One in particular plagued me for a long time. I believed that I wasn't important, that I didn't have anything to offer the world. This lie was more harmful than it seemed, like a poison that slowly eats away at self-esteem and plants not only seeds of self-doubt, but seeds of God doubt. It caused me to reach the point that I described in Doubting Your Doubts, where I couldn't even believe God intellectually any more, I just said and did things to keep up the show for people who I thought would reject me if they knew I didn't really believe what I said.
Thankfully, God is patient and persistent. He pursued me when I didn't even know he was. Then he grabbed my attention and spoke straight to my heart (for more of that story, check out my first post ever here). It was then I was able to start seeing the intellect in it all. But this lie, along with many others I believed then, and some I still believe today, created those deep scars I spoke of. Scars I didn't even know existed. Scars that I'm still discovering today.

I briefly mentioned in the last post that if you want to truly heal, you must identify the scars and the lies attached to them and bring them to God. But how do you do that?
The first thing to do is find the scars. How I've gone about doing that is just by paying attention to who I am and how I am. How do I react to things? What's something I don't like about myself, or something I'd like to fix? When you find a scar, ask yourself, "Why do I think this way?"
For example, I'm insecure. Sure everyone is insecure in someway, but I am specifically insecure about my creations. I have a very hard time expressing myself and my understanding of things, so I like to do it in the most creative way possible. I turn my frustrations into art. I draw, paint, write, sing, spin stories, etc. Some of these things I'm better at than others. But all of them are a deep expression of my thoughts and emotions that I am too scatter brained to articulate to another human being in the form of verbal communication.
It's my artist brain, and I love it, but for a long time I did not love it.
In fact, I hated it! I hated not being able to express myself. I hated the blank stares or confused misunderstandings I got from others when I tried. I hated feeling constantly judged and worthless.
So, I created nonstop. I created worlds, characters, stories, ideas, pictures. I even created masks to hide behind. And I was so, so insecure about my creations because they felt like part of me. Because, they really kind of were. They were the only way I knew how to express myself, but even then, I was scared to show my creations to others because I was scared they would say something less than positive about it and not realize that this wasn't just some little thing I made for fun, but this thing was me.

Those insecurities are the manifestations of a scar of a wound I received when I was young. A wound fed by the lie that I wasn't good enough, I wasn't lovable, I wasn't wanted.
But realizing that lie took time. First I had to identify the scar. I had to look at my insecurities and say, "I don't like you. You are not me, you are my chains. You don't define me, you just keep me tangled in fear." Then I had to search. I had to pay attention every time I felt insecure and ask myself, "What am I afraid of?" Through several months of asking that question, I discovered the lie I had come to believe.
The process isn't a fast one. It took me months to identify my scar, and more after that to identify my fear and the lie that fear was rooted in. But that was almost two years ago. It wasn't until this spring did I start to dispel the lie by finding out I was not alone. By meeting many other creatives who thought the same way I did and had the same doubts that God was using to do glorious and magnificent things! And not just things in other's lives, but some had even had impacts on my life before I ever met them.
But I almost didn't meet these people. My fear almost told me not to go to the Re:Write conference. "What if you don't get anything out of it? What if it's a waste of time and money? What if something bad happens on your long drive down there?" And many more what ifs that scared me. But I knew one thing.
I have a dream. A dream that I'm more scared to lose the opportunity to reach than I am scared or other's opinions of me or falling into crippling debt or even dying in a freak car accident. So, while all of the "what ifs" my fear whispered to me were very valid "ifs," I had one, single quiet "if" whispering to me, "But what if you can reach your dream?"
And that single, small, truthful whisper got me shaking with such anticipation that I no longer cared about the big, scary "ifs" my fear screamed to me.

I realize now that I am the way I am for a reason, although sometimes I forget that. It's still something I only understand in my mind, but don't quite know in my heart. Because of this, I try to do things on my own. Don't get me wrong, it's good to work towards your dream, but when you forget that your ultimate purpose is to bring glory to God's kingdom, you can shoot for the stars all you want and have a real hard time getting off the ground.
God has been challenging me with the question I shared in part 1: "Is there a limit to my power?"
I already know that God is bigger than my biggest fear. But I have a hard time learning that He is also bigger than my biggest dream.
So recently I have been circling this dream in prayer on many different levels. I'm circling that I'll be able to get the book I've already written out there where it can impact people in the unique way that only story can. I'm circling that He would guide me on my next novel, which is centered around escaping the lies of the devil to see God's Truth. And I've recently added a new prayer to the list of things I'm circling.
The book I'm working on now is set in the desert, yet I have never been to the desert. I, however, have a standing offer to get a chance to see the desert this summer with my Grandparents in New Mexico. All I must do is raise the money for plane tickets down there. The day I decided this was something I needed to do, I began circling New Mexico in prayer.With 10% of all I make going towards travel I knew I would only be able to make it there with God's provision.
In the three days since, I have made almost twice at much money as I usually do on these days.
Such an immediate answer to prayer is something I'm not used to. I was excited, stunned, grateful. But most of all, I was overwhelmed. After just a few hours, He had already provided, and it instantly brought to mind a song by Big Daddy Weave

So, how big is my God?
He is bigger than my biggest doubts, darkest fears, and most unattainable dreams.
Is there a limit to His power?
Never! He is limitless, and in Him we, too, can be limitless.

He is eternal. He is infinite. He will provide.
Do you trust Him?
I'm learning to.

Monday, May 18, 2015

God vs Scars - How Big Is Your God? (Part 2)

Last week I addressed the common phenomenon of doubts and how they can destroy our prayer lives if left unattended to. Many of us have these problems, or have had these problems. Other times, the situation is very different. We can honestly say our God is infinite and his power has no limit, yet something still feels void. We can't seem to pray for very long, because we honestly don't know what it's like to pray with the absolute certain belief that God is bigger than our problems and wants us to prosper, or we don't read our bibles very much, because we don't usually get anything out of it. If you've never experienced this, it will sound like I've just contradicted myself. I mean, I basically just said that sometimes we believe, but don't believe. How does that make sense?
Well, if you're like me, this makes perfect sense. You see, there's two different forms of belief. There's the belief where you accept in your head that something is true based on firm logic and understanding and sometimes even a strong explanation from a trusted source. Then there's core belief. Minds can be changed, opinions can be swayed, but when you know something to be truth with the very core of your being, nothing can change that.
So many of us, though, know something to be true in our heads, but haven't quite fully grasped it in our hearts and spirits. Why is that?
I think it comes down to scars.

Everyone has scars, both emotional and physical. Scars have this funny habit of fading, which is fine and dandy when they're physical (unless, like me, you think scars are kind of cool). I have a scar on my left knee that I got when I was twelve. I crashed my scooter and landed on my face, having to get stitches in my chin (that scar is gone now). I left with a scar on my knee, a little bigger than a nickle. It was pink and weird looking, and when the weather got cold, it turned purple. Now, eight years later, its faded to about the size of a penny and is no longer pink, but a shade just paler than my fair skin. If I didn't point out the slight discoloration, you wouldn't even notice it. It looks like just a part of my skin.
Like physical scars, emotional scars can fade as well, changing to look like who we are, when they were never meant to be there. They can be caused by anything. A falsehood you came to believe about yourself as a child, a poor relationship with a family member or friend, a bad breakup, or any other form of heartbreak. These wounds, like any wound, will scar if they don't heal properly. Like any scar, emotional scars may fade to look like you, but they don't work like you, at least, not how you worked before you were hurt.
Physical scar tissue doesn't stretch and react the way normal skin or muscle tissue is designed to react. I sprained my right knee a few summers ago and didn't let it heal properly. Though I can't see inside my knee, I'm certain all the walking I did on it caused its healing to go too slow and scar tissue to form in my body's attempt to repair itself. Most of the time my knee feels fine, I walk without pain. But once in a while, it hurts, usually when a storm is coming in or seasons are changing or there's any other reason for the atmospheric pressure to change and affect my joints. Nothing else has a problem during those times, just me knee, because my knee doesn't have all it's original tissue, tissue that's designed to expand and flex with the pressure changes. Because scar tissue doesn't stretch, my knee hurts. But until my environment changes to affect my scar, I don't even know it's there, it's become such a part of me.

Emotional scars do the same thing. They block the connection between mind and spirit, but usually we don't notice this block. It's not until we hear or experience something that resonates with us in such a way that we feel the block. We notice that we don't feel the connection while our head is accepting the logic. We understand and agree with what the preacher/teacher/author/artist is saying, but we still have trouble really seeing God in this new understanding, because the scar acts as a dam that blocks the river's flow, a wall that blocks our line of sight, a chain that holds us back.

But what if I told you God sees all your scars and all your deepest wounds and loves you despite the fact that they prevent you from loving Him to your full extent? There is healing for every wound and every scar, no mater how old, deep, or painful. All you must do is identify those scars and the lie that caused them, and lay it at his feet.