Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fear Not

February marks four years.

Four years since life as I knew it radically changed.  Four years since I said my final, "See you later," to the two most influential people in my life.  Four years since Mom and Dad went Home....

So very much has happened in these almost-four years that my head spins at the thought of trying to capture even the skeleton of it.  But I'll try.  Because I know I need to face it head-on to bring the next phase of healing, I'll try. 

That first year after Mom and Dad died was the most difficult I have known. The shock, then raw pain. The wondering if I would ever be okay again.  Life was hard, but God was working.  I'll never forget waking up one day and realizing I was going to be okay...that life is still beautiful.  I'll never forget the release of letting my imperfect self accept the love of Jesus while choosing to love Him back.  That first year was difficult, no doubt, but growth comes from dirt, after all. 

The second year was a bit better.  College was way more fun! New friendships came more naturally, and God provided me with some of my best friends to date. Yet there was an emptiness--a longing to belong that was heightened by great insecurity. And in that season of feeling so unsettled, the Lord patiently taught me, and gently reminded me, that He made me the way I am with purpose. Not just on purpose, but with purpose. He graciously allowed me to see the beauty within myself...He taught me about me so that I can focus on others.  In that time, my love for people and teaching and adventure was quietly rekindled. 

Year three.  Year three was crazy!  A whirlwind of love, and laughter, and tears, and vulnerability, and conviction, and hope as He sent me packing to Bolivia and Montana.  Year three, God allowed me to put into action the work He had been doing in my heart.  And though I still mostly felt a mess, He showed me that my heart had at least received enough healing to once again hurt for other people.  Year three, my heart was tattooed with images that do not stop at brokenness.  No, the images so clearly imprinted in the core of my being are images of hope and healing that only Jesus can give...and that I have the opportunity of sharing.  Year three, I was convinced that the greatest honor and joy I could ever know is knowing and loving God and, as a result of that, loving the lost and broken, encouraging my brothers and sisters.  

As the winds of year three subsided, I realized that God is faithful...and I have trust issues.  Through year four, I've been learning to trust again.  My head thought I was, and my mouth proclaimed it, but...the fear that gripped my heart told another story.  The truth of the matter was that I didn't want to trust God with my future because so far, nothing has gone as planned, and the detours have been rough, and who knows when or how God will decide to fulfill my heart's desires for the remainder of my life.  Yet the faithfulness of God has become one of my favorite attributes about Him.  How?  I'm not really sure.  I guess because He gives me what I need when what I want is stupid...but He never tells me I'm stupid for wanting what I do.  Instead, He shows me what's better, opening doors I never would have chosen, providing opportunities I never could have dreamed.  And He gives me peace.

I have no idea what year five will hold, but this I do know: our God is real and alive and powerful and loving, and because of that--because He is God--He is deserving of trust.  This is what I am learning.  This is what I am clinging to.  While there is still back-and-forth with how well I feel I'm doing, I have confidence in my God.  There is hope through His faithfulness, joy in His works, and peace in His arms.  And I pray that my life is seen, not as a picture of perfection or some "goal" to achieve, but as a testimony of what happens when man's deep brokenness collides with God's greater grace. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Moved by Compassion

I never thought I would write a post that has anything to do with "politics" or our world's current events.  Not because they're not important...I simply don't feel qualified, and all of the hubbub stresses me out!

But how can we, as Christians, claim to be living as God wants us to, without concern for the broken world we live in?  And not just concern that makes us feel sympathy or righteous anger when we hear of another injustice...but concern that moves us to action.

I was convicted of this as I read in the book of Jeremiah this morning.  Now, my personality is much more comfortable with mercy than justice, so the first, ooooh, 28 chapters of this book have not been what I would call enjoyable. 

You see, the first part of Jeremiah is talking about the Israelites--God's chosen people--and how they constantly turn to other gods, and God has about had it.  Exile, death, and despair are on their way.  Sure, they deserve it.  Yes, God is God and what He says goes. But it still makes me uncomfortable.  I have to wrestle through content like this.

Yet I kept reading because I wanted to get the whole picture. 

And this morning, I saw God's justice and mercy collide.  And it all makes a little more sense. 

First, we must not forget that God has been patiently, lovingly sending them prophet after prophet to warn them of the coming destruction if they do not turn back to Him.  But they don't.  God has been begging them--for years!--to repent and be saved.  But they haven't.  (This is where the "they deserve it" comment really comes into focus.)  How often this is us. 

Then today's reminder:
"'Is not Ephraim my dear son,
the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I have great compassion for him,'
declares the Lord."

Woah.  God is delighting over a "dear" son who has lived in years of greatest rebellion.  That's love.  Of course our holy, perfect God has been speaking against them.  They're a wicked mess.  But in His talk against them, His heart is not hardened towards them.  No, instead, God's heart breaks over their condition.  He longs to have them back, living as He always intended. 

I have to think about where I fall in all of this.  First, am I walking as one of God's children, or am I one stuck in rebellion?  Second, if I am walking with God, does my heart break for the lost? 

Do I reject and scorn the lost, or does my heart yearn for them?
Am I moved to bitterness, resentment, disgust, or superiority because lost people are living like lost people? Or do I have compassion because the lost are lost? 

Compassion leads to action.  We must get our hands dirty so that hearts may be made clean.  This does not mean living in sin to "identify" with people.  It means walking into the desert, having real conversation, making real relationships, offering time and resources, loving despite rejection, and pointing people to the life-giving water that is Jesus.  We do not save them, but we introduce them to, and reflect, the One who can. 

I, personally, have failed to do this.  We, as a church, have failed to do this. 

I don't recall reading about Jesus sitting and complaining with His followers about the state their world was in.  Last I checked, He acted.  He ate with sinners.  He offered hope to prostitutes.  He welcomed children.  He set examples among His followers by washing their dirty, tired feet.  He taught.  He healed.  He prayed. 

It's time we stop singing about Jesus without acting like Him.  We must be in close relationship with our Father, and from that, in whatever act we are called to, we must step out in obedience. 

Our broken world will not be instantly fixed.  But heaven rejoices over the salvation of just one lost soul, the return of just one wandering brother.  May our hearts be moved to compassion.  May our compassion always lead to action. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Designed for Desire

"Keep breaking my heart."

I find myself bringing this unnatural plea before the Lord as I realize how far I have sunk into natural habits.  These past couple weeks have left me humbled by the realization of how much my life has become about serving me--making me happy and successful.

In my mind I see a healthy me in the near future, surrounded by adoring students who are eager to in ideal housing, an active part of a thriving church, growing in relationship with a man who loves the Lord and has chosen me, surrounded by true community, with time to spare on the weekends for additional socializing or exploring.  Oh, and all of this is, of course, done with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm!

Are these dream bad? No.  Are they realistic? Possibly.  How about beneficial in the long run?  Yep.

So what's the problem?   ...The problem, is that they miss the whole point.  Not because of the dreams themselves, but because of my heart behind them.  These dreams have become my idols.  My motivation and the reason I put the extra hours behind that difficult project, even if it means getting 3 hours of sleep. So I find myself quite the opposite of happy and successful.  I am tired.  I am stressed.  Weighed down by the relentless pressure for a perfect performance.  I am reciting the right answers while my heart is aching, begging for the day to return when I won't feel like I'm faking it.

But in the process of breaking my heart over how far I've strayed and the over-attention I've given to dreams that have not yet come true, God is restoring hope.  He is giving me a new desire for these things, but with the right heart behind them. He is reminding me how much more beautiful dreams are when they are placed in His hands.  He is reminding me that the whole point is an active relationship with Him.

He is reminding me that these dreams are nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him.  When we surrender, letting go of selfish ambitions, He is free to have His way.  We must not forget that God will have His way in the end--He is God, afterall. So why do we fight it?  Why drown ourselves trying to swim upstream when God offers a guided whitewater trip down, full of adventure, and support through the fear, and laughter along the way?

Throughout time, people have done all they can to create a god better than God.

Isaiah 40:18-20 says,

To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare Him to?
As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.  A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. 
He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.  

The human heart--the life-beat of you, and me, and the broken girl on the corner--has always longed for stability.  If we could just create, or find, the one thing that will never change or fail us, everything would be different. We would never ever go back to the things that have let us down.  Right?  Wrong.  At least in my life, that's been wrong.

How easily I forget that the God who created my heart, so full of desire, is the creator and provider of everything I've ever wanted.  His provision may not always look like I expect it to, but that's part of the beauty of it...when we let Him, He gives us what we need long before He gives us what we want.

...A friend of mine recently built a cross for me to use as in illustration with the girls in my prayer group and to it, he attached a note that reads,

"As I make this cross, I reflect on what it actually symbolizes.  We wear the cross around our necks, place it in our homes, see it on walls, and never reflect on how much it means to us.  The King of the world stepped off His throne, and knowingly took His place on the cross for you and I.  Not simply for you to enter Heaven, but He made 'the way' for us to have a relationship with Him.  The choice is ours, will we spend our lives at the foot of the cross, living in the presence of our Creator?  Or will we venture out looking for something better. I choose to stay here at the cross where I am promised eternal life with God."

Eternal life starts today, right now, and God wants us to spend it with Him.  No more idols.  No more fuss over things that don't matter.  Not blind to the desires of our hearts, but daily surrendering them to our gracious Father, trusting that He will provide what we need, when we need it.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God"?   Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.    -Isaiah 40:27-31

We often miss that those beloved verses come right after those mentioned earlier in this post.  We may search for something better and spend all our days and resources trying to create what it is our hearts desire, but it will never measure up to God. It will never be God.

All the striving and stress had crept in where God's peace is supposed to reign.  But not today.  Because of what God has done, because of who He is, my life again rests in His hands, and my heart's desires along with it.

May we recognize that He is God, and He is better.  May we allow the earthly desires of our hearts to always draw us closer to our heavenly Father.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Just Keep Growing

Sometimes God reveals His love and power and grace through another flawless sunset.  Sometimes through the roar of waves upon the sand.  Other times through the encouragement and hug of a friend.  Often through His very Word.

A couple weeks ago, God reminded me of who He is through dirt and a crooked little tree.

After an emotional week, I knew I needed to escape to the woods and take a walk.  So I did.  The walk began with frantic steps, my heart desperate to escape the weight it had been carrying.  As the sun filtered through the trees along top of the ridge, I began soaking in the warmth it offered, my heart encouraged by the way the light danced before me.  And I began to pray that the light of Christ, and my desire to run along the path God has created for me, would remain constant in my life.

My head began to clear as I ran, and my heart with it.  Then I stopped.  And I just sat on a rock in the middle of the trail, and I rested.  As the quiet of the woods overtook my clearly-need-to-run-more-often breathing, the smell of the earth became more and more noticeable.  As I got up and began walking again, I noticed, not for the first time, the sparkly rocks and their pieces that decorate the otherwise-brown trail I walked. Now, my mind tends to function in similes and word pictures.  So as the sunlight brought out the beauty of these glittering rocks, a thought hit me.  Our lives are like that trail, and the blessings God sprinkles along the way are like those rocks: easily missed among the dirt, yet never difficult to find if we adjust our focus.

So that was a cutsey little thought, cheesy as it was.  But my mind kept going back to the dirt.

There is nothing glamorous about dirt.  It just sits there on the ground.  We grumble when it's tracked into our homes, yet it always finds its way there.  Dirt is messy, and it stains our favorite shoes, and it seems to find joy in causing us to slip after a good rain.

Yet it is in the dirt that things grow.

After a seed has died, it must have dirt in order to take root and become something beautiful and new.

Things like this poor, crooked, little tree.

At first glance, it's pretty pitiful.  Ok, even second glance.  But it's not.  You see, this little guy did not just wither and die when the bigger trees around it blocked the sun light.  It did not refuse to grow in the place it has been planted.  No, it did just what it was created to do.  It grew.  At the expense of becoming tall and proud, like the trees most recognized and desired, it grew crooked.  It did what it had to to reach the sun, its source of life.

Are we willing to be like this little tree and just grow?  Forget about glamour and recognition and pride...and just grow...?  It won't always be easy.  There will be drought and flood, scorching heat and bitter cold.  But will we take the dirt that surrounds us and the nutrients that lie within it, find our glimmer of light, and just...grow?

I hope so.  With all my heart, I pray that we look not just past the dirt of our lives, but within it, so that we may know that the struggles never have to be wasted. It is in the middle of our mess that we are most stretched, sharpened, shaped, into all that we are capable of being.  It is in the dirt, that we grow.

So though we never need be ashamed of our humble beginnings, no matter how insignificant or messed up they may seem, we also must remember that we are made to grow.  And the beauty of being human, and not a tree, is that even if we start out wimpy and lopsided, there is hope.  There is hope--even the promise--that as we walk with Jesus, soaking up the life He offers, we will become stronger.  Tall and straight, an example of perseverance, a picture of what Jesus can do in a life that is surrendered and committed to falling, over and over again, into the arms of grace so that we may drink of His never-ending riches.  Even more beautiful is the truth that Jesus has already done the hard work.  Because of His sacrifice on that tree at Calvary, we need not fix ourselves.  We cannot fix ourselves.  We can no more open the heavens and make the rain fall than we can dig ourselves out of the mess we are in.  Thankfully, Jesus is a pretty good gardener.  Our only options are to either let God water us right where we're at, or let Him transplant us as we trust that He knows which will be best for us.  

Jeremiah 17:8 (ESV) says, "He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."

And who is "he?"  Jeremiah 17:7 (NIV) tells us it " the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him."

May we trust.  May we choose confidence.  And may we always keep growing.