Friday, October 10, 2014

The Biggest Lie

Tonight, I should be doing homework or going to sleep.  Instead, the battle within me rages on.

It seems like every day lately has been a fight.  A fight to keep my mind fixed on God and what He has, rather than on the fleeting things of this world.  A fight to have a positive attitude and outlook.  A fight to stay awake after long nights of studying or sharing life with the girls.  ...Always fighting to stay on track or get ahead.  The joy and excitement for life that I so desire seem to be hidden, lying somewhere beneath a blanket of stress, exhaustion, and lies.

How long will this struggle continue?  How long will I buy into the lies that have me tied down?

"What is the biggest lie Satan tells you?"  I was recently asked this as I prepared to share my testimony with a group of high schoolers.  As I was planning to share about the love and faithfulness of God, His ability to heal our deepest wounds, and the relentless love of our Father, I knew very well how I would answer that question if it came up.

"You are not good enough. You will never be good enough."  That's it.  That is the lie Satan loves to tell me over and over, any chance he gets...because I have chosen to accept it.  To own it.   Sometimes, it comes in more specific terms.
                  You are not smart enough. Why try?
                  You don't have the skill or the stamina that that task requires.  Why even begin it?
                  You are not what he's looking for.  Why even dream of or pray for that man? That life?
                  You are not spiritually on track.  Why would God use you?
                  You are not organized enough.  Or lively enough.  Or athletic enough.
                  You just don't have what it takes.  Give it up.
                  You will never be enough.

And then I wallow.  In confusion and doubt and self-pity, I begin to doubt the way God made me, and it's only downhill from there.

Why?  Why do I believe this?  Why do I repeat this cycle when I know they are lies?

For one, the lie is not so much about myself as it is God.  Satan's goal has always been to drive a wedge between us and God.  On the surface I am doubting me.  Go a little deeper, though, and it becomes clear that I am not trusting God--His wisdom in creating me, His love in choosing and pursuing me, or His character in keeping me.

Then again, I believe it's because there is an element of truth to these lies.  Hear me out.  Satan does not just pull things out of thin air.  He takes what is true and distorts it.  He twists it, not beyond recognition, for then it would be useless, but rather beyond its intended purpose.  Just as Satan used skewed scripture to tempt Jesus in the desert, he uses skewed scripture to bring us to destruction.

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Truth.  The lie?  "You have fallen too short. The glory of God will not reach where you are."

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom."  Truth.  The lie? "Don't acknowledge or use the gifts and talents God has given you.  That's foolish pride."

"I have told you these things that you may have peace in Me.  In this world, you will have troubles, but take heart, for I have overcome the world."  Truth.  The lie?  "Life is gunna be tough.  Sure, He's got it in the end, but for just have to get through it however you can."

The list goes on, differing for each of us depending on the day or even the moment.

Yet.  There is hope.  There is help.  And it doesn't come from another fallible, fleeting human being.  Yes, God often uses other people as an extension of Himself, but we have immediate access to the Father.  I could go on and on about the importance of us saturating ourselves in scripture to combat the lies...but I think I'll just let the Word of God speak for itself.  Maybe these are the truths you need today, too.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 ESV
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Philippians 1:6 NLT
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you  be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Galatians 5:1 ESV
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

Psalm 27:13 NIV
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Too often, we get stuck at the part about man's depravity and forget God's sufficient grace.  We stop at us and never make it to God.  The results make complete sense.  For we were never meant to stop at us.  The intent has always been, and will always be, for us to return to God.  Over and over again if that's what it takes, until our knees are bruised and bloody.  Only after we return to God can we remain in God and stand firm in His truths.  When we do return, we get to rest.  We get to remain.

I've found my strength will never be enough to withstand the storm that rages in and around me.  But even the wind and waves obey our great God.  His ways are right and pure and good.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  And that's the truth.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Scrubbin' Toilets. Changing Lives.

I've heard it said that everyone should be required to have a service job at least once during their lifetime.  Waitress, retail...something like that. Those jobs teach so much about other people, but I've found they teach the servant even more about him- or herself.  Scrubbin' toilets has the same effect.  

I just finished reading a book written by Corrie ten Boom, a lady who grew up in Holland and was put in prison for hiding Jews during World War II.  The opening quote says, "Today I know that memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.  I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do."  How true I'm finding this to be!

My whole life has been a series of preparations; of this, I am sure.  I was recently given the opportunity to share my story--God's story in my life--and was reminded as I did so that nothing is wasted when we let God use it.  I have been amazed time and time again at how God has used the things Mom and Dad taught and instilled in us to help us through the difficulty of their death.  Even better than that, the memories and lessons from the past have given me hope and excitement for the life I have yet to live.  Each trial and pain, triumph and joy, has shaped me into who I am today. 

I remember in high school wondering what real difference being a Christ follower made in my life.  I did the right things, but I couldn't look at my life and point out specific things that had changed or developed in me as a result of my relationship with Jesus.  But folks, I'm happy to announce that God--once again!--knew exactly what He was doing.  I needed those days of steady security to prepare me for the adventures I've now begun.  

And the learning is not over! 

These past two-and-a-half years, and the past two-and-a-half months in particular, have taught me so very much. After seasons of grief, healing, and new beginnings, I knew it was time for me to Go.  No more sitting around, moping, waiting for life to take me somewhere.  God was clearly opening several doors, and I knew it was time for me to step through them. Yes, there were fears, insecurities, and a couple doubts along the way.  After all, with man, this is impossible. But with God...all things are possible.  And so, before I knew it, my summer was booked for trips to the unknown lands of Bolivia and Montana!

I cannot begin to recount all that happened on these trips,but God certainly proved faithful and taught me more than I knew was possible in two short months. 

One of the first things I noticed was how very much I had to learn!!  Pastor Bruce, with Montana Indian Ministries, taught us the word hubris, which is arrogant pride.  This pride is not always obvious, but it is detrimental to ministry.  Hubris is walking into a situation just knowing that your way is best and all other methods must be cringed at and criticized. While we should always use Biblical discernment, I was amazed and horrified at how much prejudice I carried with me into these trips.  I always thought I had an open heart and mind, but my trip to Bolivia especially revealed that this was not the case.  After getting there, I realized that I had gone there to teach them about God.  After all, they must need those lessons desperately!  Instead, I was daily humbled by their deep understanding of the Scriptures and the character of God.  God is alive and working in His church--His body--all across the world.  He is not limited by culture, race, language, or economic status. I quickly realized that I was the one in need of a fresh perspective on God and the Gospel. 

He taught me that following Him is always worth it.  Sometimes, following God means that we will endure suffering and hardship, loneliness or boredom.  But those times are valuable, too.  They help us to see what a blessing the good times really are.  They teach us patience, wisdom, and daily trust.  They equip us to reach out and connect with people who experience similar struggles.  But most of all, following God is worth it because it makes Him happy! Obedience does not, and cannot, make God love us any more...but I believe it makes His heart smile :)  After all that God has done for me out of Him simply being Who He is, it is the greatest joy to know I am able to make my Father proud.  Even if obedience brings temporary suffering, I have found that any cost is worth my heart  being at peace with the One who created it.  His grace is sufficient.  His presence is guaranteed.

During these trips, it has become clear to me that going into ministry is something I'm supposed to do.  As we step out in obedience--whether it is a shuffle or a great leap--God teaches us and solidifies things He has been telling us through His Word.  For the first time in my life, there is a very real desire to make Him known.  To be known for loving God and loving people.  Before this summer, I would have said those were desires of mine...but action was lacking.  When it came down to the moment, I rarely stepped out boldly and unashamedly for Christ because I was more concerned about being rejected.  Now, there is nothing I desire more than for others to be given the opportunity to know and love God.  This is more than salvation.  While it starts there, no doubt, my heart has a deep desire for believers to become disciples.  For the saved to step into the fire and allow God to shape their hearts and change their lives. 

I've realized, too, that ministry is loving God and loving people.  Without a love for God, all of the service is meaningless; it provides mere temporary help where an eternal difference is needed.  Love also goes beyond knowledge.  God Himself reminds us that it is our hearts He desires, not our religious acts. Loving God is seeking, desiring, and following Him--not simply knowing about Him. Once love of and for God has left its mark, we should love people and share Christ with them.  If a man finds a treasure which is only multiplied when shared, what good has it done him to keep it from his neighbors in need?  Knowing and loving God is personal, but it was never intended to be private.  

In order to know and love God, prayer and reading Scripture are crucial.  These are far too often neglected in my own life.  My trip to Bolivia gave me a brand new appreciation and desire for spending time talking to God and reading His Word.  My trip to Montana showed me again how much more I should value prayer, yet business and exhaustion usually filled my quiet times.  At the end of my trip, I looked back in amazement at how much God had done, and yet I had to ask myself, "How much more could I have seen God do had I made time in prayer and the Bible a priority?" 

Another thing: we were not designed to go alone.  Jesus called and sent people two-by-two.  Even when God and Adam walked in the garden together, God knew that Adam needed a human partner. So He graciously provided Eve.  Ministry is tough.  It can be tiring and challenging and frustrating, even in the midst of the blessing.  This summer, God provided me with so many people to serve with.  We were able to bounce ideas off each other and pull through when the going got tough.  There was sweat, and laughter, and tears. We shared our hurts and short-comings.  We rejoiced and laughed together as I have not laughed in a long time!  Human relationships are so important to ministry in the way that they build us up and are a visual of Christ's love to those we serve.  Take a look around.  Thank God for the ministry partners He has placed in your life, and pray for provision where there is a need.  If there is a need you know you are supposed to fill, do it!  The body only functions to its full ability when all the parts are working together.   

This is most of our awesome Team Bolivia, including some of the people we met there!

From left to right:  Pastor Bruce, Carrie, me, Sande (Bruce's wife), and Miss Carol (a ministry partner of theirs in the summer months)
My cousin, Carrie, got to join me for my month in Montana.  While many other wonderful people came and went during that month, her friendship proved as faithful as ever!  I could not have asked for a better partner in ministry...and occasional crime ;) 

And here's where scrubbin' toilets comes into play.  While in Montana, I got to scrub several toilets.  One day in particular, they seemed to just keep coming. Well, as I moved on to yet another, my attitude stunk worse than the toilets I was cleaning!  And then it hit me: how dare I question and complain when God has clearly set a task before me??  We spend so much of our lives just wishing and hoping and praying that God will give us clear direction!  That He will come out and tell us--if even for one day--what we are supposed to do.  That day, God answered my prayer for direction.  He had clearly brought me to Montana, and I was clearly needed to fill the role of Toilet Scrubber Extraordinaire.  Yet...I was discontent.  I wanted recognition.  I wanted someone to talk to.  I wanted to be doing BIG things for God!! ...Or at least fun things....  But that day, I realized how ridiculous all those things are.  Jesus Christ left Heaven to dwell among sinners and spend His last hours being beaten, spit on, ridiculed, and rejected by the very people He was dying for.  And I couldn't handle a few hours cleaning bathrooms...?  In His oh-so-gentle-and-yet-blunt way, God was teaching me another lesson.  It doesn't matter what I am doing.  If I am doing it for God, with a heart of thanksgiving and praise, it is a task worthwhile. And, if I will not do the smallest tasks in this manner, then what makes me think I am ready to give my life to the Lord for His use?  That day, it became very clear to me that God was being gracious in using "the little things" to train me for the lifetime I have committed to Him.  In giving me a day of scrubbin' toilets, God was gently preparing me to spend my life joyfully serving Him--no matter the task!--so that other people may know Him.  

Finally, life is full of joy and blessings!!  Some days, we must work a little harder to find them.  But I sure am thankful for another opportunity! I believe the moments of peace and laughter are just a glimpse of Heaven...God's reminders to hang in there another day as we thank Him for this life and look forward to our eternal one.  Each day is a gift.  Each moment is an opportunity to grow closer to our Lord and Savior.  Each person we meet is a chance to let all that Christ has done in our lives unashamedly overflow.  

So why wait to Go??   Wake up.   Give your day to God.    Love Jesus.   Love people.   It's what we were made to do :) 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring Cleaning, Please!

...The change of seasons always makes me restless....

We've been visited by a handful of warm days here in Virginia, and let me tell you, the restlessness is in full swing!

~I'm ready to trade in ~

       Sweaters for sunscreen

    seat warmers for a motorcycle ride

                boots for bare feet
           school work for mission's work

                       hot chocolate for iced tea--sweet, of course!

    trips to the gym for treks through the woods

            a cozy night in for a night out around a campfire...

I can't wait for free time, and baseball games, and vacations, and open windows on a muddy back road with the country music turned up, and staying up late without worrying about having to get up in the morning.

...An old, worn-out chapter for a new, fresh one!

I've found, over the past several years, that I become discontent and discouraged far too easily this time of the year because I'm just dying to move on to the next thing!  Unfortunately, I've also found that it's during these times that I end up wasting hours reminiscing or dreaming rather than acting...which makes me fall behind in my work, which makes me stressed out, which makes me very unpleasant to be around, which discourages me even further, which...oh dear, it's a vicious cycle! One that's not unmanageable...just... difficult to break at times.  I guess this whole time management thing is something the Lord and I still have to work on.  And, yes, I do believe the Lord is very interested in how I spend my time.  After all, it's not really mine.  He's simply letting me borrow a bit of His :) Who am I to waste it scrolling through status updates I don't really want to read or sitting around, worrying about something that's out of my control?  I think He would be much more pleased by me buckling down and getting work done so that I can enjoy the final few weeks of this semester.

Which brings me to another point. Where on earth has this semester gone?!?!  I'm freaking out a bit over here.  My life is almost over!! Ok, that's a bit dramatic (as far as I know), but seriously.  This semester is more than half over. And when this semester is over, I'm half done with college.  And then...well, then real life begins, and I'm quite aware of the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing after this!!  Student teaching is only three full semesters away, and I could go anywhere for that.  So where?!  (Personally, I'm leaning towards somewhere along the coast so I can complete a day at school, tutor a few kiddos--whom I will absolutely adore (most days) and cannot wait to meet--in a after school program, make myself a nice little dinner in a cute little apartment, then go grade a few papers on the beach. Why not dream big, right?!)

Then that leads me back to that whole who-will-my-man-be-and-when-will we-be-us question, which I have to daily hand back to the Lord, it seems.  Some days I really wish he would show up and speak up, already.  That would be so convenient!  You see, I've always been one of those girls who just knew I'd follow my man where ever the Lord leads him.  Naturally, I was also sure that we would be quite established by the time my student teaching rolled around, so I would find a school where ever he was at.  Now that none of that is quite so certain, my options are much less limited!  Which isn't all bad, but it is also overwhelming and a bit frightening...because how do I plan my student teaching when I have no clue what will or will not change over the next year and a half??  And how, in the meantime, do I manage friendships with guys so that my heart is ready for that one when he does come along?  What, exactly, does honoring God look like right now when it comes to Boys?  Who should I pour the most time and energy into?  When will the questions receive answers so that I can quit feeling like a middle schooler who just needs to sit back and realize that this one moment in life is not the end-all?  

And sometimes all of this makes me wish I could pick up the phone and have a chat with Mom.  Not that I don't enjoy/appreciate/gain from conversations with others,'s still not the same.

You see my dilemma here?  These are the things my mind gravitates towards, instead of focusing on the math class that I absolutely cannot wait to be done with.

And yet...I do know one thing that will absolutely never change.  My Rock will not be moved.  Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like the shifting shadows.  I draw so much strength and patience from this promise in James 1:17.  No matter which friendships, job opportunities, classes, and plans come or go, I have the assurance that the One who is waiting to help me discover it all is 100% faithful and true.  His character remains the same forever and always.

So tonight, I must pray a prayer of repentance.  I have developed habits of worry, idols of my own fleeting plans and abilities, and priorities of worldly goals and perfection.  I have been more concerned with my Christian checklist than with spending time getting to know my Father.

And I get to pray a prayer of thanksgiving. To a God Who just is Who He is.  He is my refuge and strength, my joy and my salvation, my protector.  He is the giver of all and the guide of  the hours that lay ahead of me.  He is enough for this fragile heart and easily-distracted mind.  He is God.  I am His.  And He is mine.

...Which means, I don't even have to have answers to have peace.  Peace and rest, I've learned, lay within God Himself, not the things of God.  It's time I trust and rest in His character and love as I allow Him to rid my life of the junk that's built up over this past winter.  It's time to let God do a little spring cleaning in the depths of my heart, tossing out the old, and refreshing who I am with all that He is.

This process could be a doosey! So I'd love some company.  After all, it wouldn't be true spring cleaning if all the siblings weren't involved, too :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 and Forevermore...

...This year, I want to have a healthy heart.  Sure, I want the anatomical heart within me to be in good shape!  But I want the very heartbeat of who I am to be as it should, too.  I want this to be a year of growth--of getting to know God and of becoming the me He desires.  I want beauty to mark each page I turn, each trail I blaze, each moment of healing through surrender and submission.

So here's to another year of becoming me as I live for Him! 

This year, I want to make it a habit to...

Paint.  Draw.  Cook.  Write.

Be Inspired.
Dream.  Hope.  Travel.  Meet people.  Read. 

Live with joy, not just happiness.
Laugh.  Seek the good.  Count my blessings.  Remember God's sovereignty.  Let go of my dreams to embrace His plan. 

Love sincerely. 
Reach out to the lost and broken.  See others as a blessing.  Spend time with friends.  Encourage strangers.  Invest in the next generation.  Serve wholeheartedly.  Listen.  Catch up with the family more often.  

Be Teachable.
Learn from others.  Have a good attitude.  Keep an open mind.  But always remember the Truth.

Be Productive.
Organize and put away my messes.  Retreat from the chaos and spend time with God.  Get some exercise.  Complete my school work.  Make someone's day.   

Pursue Health. 
Stay active.  Eat well.  Be outside.  Drink more water.  Remember: Everything in moderation.

Capture the moment. 
Make memories.  Take pictures.  Journal it.  Enjoy the little things.  Try something new.

Set My Priorities Straight.
Get to know God.  Put Him first.  Read His word.  Pray often.  Value His opinion over the world's.  Act upon convictions and Truth.

Take it One Step at a Time. 
Hang in there.  Take a deep breath.  Cry.  Step away from it.  Remember the Big Picture.  Smile with the memories.  Accept the future.  Trust my Father.  

Take the long way home.  Do a puzzle.  Listen to some good music.  Spill my guts to God.  Hear the rain.  Soak in some sunshine.  Feel the wind on my face.  Make time for fellowship.   

Be a Woman of God. 
Embrace and Embody: gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, wisdom, humility, thankfulness, compassion, patience, and peace (Colossians 3:12-17), dignity, hospitality, discipline, purity, victory, perseverance, generosity, repentance, strength, and freedom.

I guess I got a little carried away!  But it's a lot of good stuff--ways to remember that the bad days aren't so bad after all.  They're just helping me remain teachable ;)  Besides, life gets complicated.  Why not have options?  This will give God and me plenty to work with as we go through this next year!

No doubt, our days here get confusing and overwhelming and are always changing.  But they're wonderful.  Each one truly is a gift, and, while I look forward to the perfection that awaits in Heaven, I'm grateful that I'm given the chance to live this earthly life.

May 2014 give us a greater love for one another and draw us ever-nearer to Him.