Is Our Busyness Really the Issue?

Just a few short months ago, I was beaming.

I had a new job.

I signed up for a full-time class load.

My schedule was filling up just like I wanted it to.

My life was becoming a story of busyness and I could not have been more excited about it. Busyness is how I function. If I don’t have something to do, a meeting to attend, a list to check off, or a person to talk to, I might self implode. But today, when the list didn’t get checked off, the demands never seem to end, and the homework on my desk is beginning to resemble Mt. Everest (this could possibly be a slight dramatization) , I am afraid that the bliss of busyness has worn off and I am keenly aware of my inability to balance everything that I have willingly placed in my life. But what I am most fearful of, is that the busyness is masking a greater issue rooted deep in my heart; one that cannot be hidden by my constant striving to please and provide.

My busyness is masking my pride.

I think most of us can admit that though we live in the wake busyness, it is possible to flourish in it. With discipline, time management, and scheduled rest, the balance of busyness seems attainable. But sadly, I get into a rhythm of believing that all of the things in my life must or can only be done by me–no one else–that somehow, my personal time with the Lord could never compare to this amazing opportunity at work, or this guy, or to that to-do list that must get done–you fill in the blank.

I sink into the lie that draws me in, telling me that there is no one else who can do my job as well as me. There is no one else who can disciple her like me. There is no one else who can serve like me. There is no one else who can lead like me. They need my voice, my talents, my skills, my time–which is the dangerous territory where it all seems to unravel.

And honestly, this is where the Lord has brought me today– on my knees, asking for forgiveness for this deep rooted issue of pride that I can’t seem to shake. So I go to the Word:

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6

When I read this verse, there is something so striking about the phrase”filthy rags”; that truly all the work I am striving to do in my own strength only can amount to rags that are to be thrown away with the trash–useless. No one is concerned with these rags. No one is praising the rags. No one wants to asks the rags for more help.

They are done. Dead. Meaningless.

My constant striving to be known, to be praised, to be seen, to be loved, to be wanted is all manifesting itself in my busyness because in these acts, I am (1) working to bring glory to myself, and not to the Father, and (2) to be satisfied in man’s praises rather than God himself.

But quite possibly, the most intense part of this verse is the fact that it is telling us that this kind of life–a life in pursuit of self-righteousness and pride–cultivates sinful rhythms in our hearts that will surely “sweep us away”. We are easily swept away in the winds of anxiety, self-praise, depression, fear of man, and loneliness, when our foundation is not set on Christ’s glory, but yet our own.

All of my busyness and hard work will never amount to anything if all I am doing is striving to be great, rather than to show how great the Creator is. I’m so weary, trying to show that I can do all things through ME who gives me strength, that I am not allowing people to see how God can actually use my petty works, the unchecked off lists, the dirty dishes, the late assignments, the missed meetings, the unread emails, to show that He is all sufficient, all redemptive, and that He is the one who can take my filthy rags and wash them white as snow–that Christ took the dirt and mess of the World and He created something beautiful and new. And in scripture, we see that He is not done with us:

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:9-14

Today, despite my failures, He is working. He is waiting for me to give up my righteous works, and to look to Him, the One who knows what true righteousness is. He is waiting for me to come to Him first, before I open my inbox. He is waiting for me to teach the gospel to myself, before I run to teach it to others. He is waiting for me to speak first of the goodness He has done, rather than the meaningless tasks I have completed. He’s waiting for me to understand that rest is found in Him, not closing the laptop at night. And He is longing for me to walk beside Him in the midst of life’s busyness.

We can’t change the season we are in. Whether you are a mother, a teacher, a cooperate America worker, a student, or you are in full time ministry, you will be busy–there is no changing that. We are going to fail, but the beauty of being in Christ, is that our identity is no longer found in our failure–it is found in the redemptive work of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The more we grow to know Him, the more fruit we bear, the more we are strengthened in our weakness, the more we grow to thank Him in all things with joy. He takes us out of eternal darkness, out of our striving to prove that we can do it, and rather, uses us for His glory, even in the midst of our brokenness. He wants to make beauty out of our filthy rags, but the question is, are we willing to let Him?

 

Advertisements

The Beauty of the Shepherd

There is so much fog ahead of me. It is thick and black and some days it feels like it is suffocating me. People say all you need to do is take the next step, but what if I can’t even see my feet in all the confusion? I have asked God to use my life for His glory, but today, I have no idea what that looks like.

I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of the loneliness, the singleness, the growing up that I continually am having to do every single day. Singleness is great until you have to make huge life decisions by yourself. You’re staring at applications and apartment brochures and it’s all on you—and these moments are the times when I have experienced the flood of lies from Satan that I am alone in all of this. And sadly, most of the time, I believe them.

But also hear men when I say that there really is so much I love about this time of life. I love being young, being free to travel and learn and grow in my relationship with the Lord with minimal distractions. But in these weeks of deep pain, I forget the good things, the joy, the faithfulness, the affection my Father has for me.

Thankfully He has not left me and He continues to pursue me even when I turn my face from Him in disbelief.

Last night was one of those nights I would just love to forget. The culmination of the stress of the week finally got to me and I found myself in my room crying out to the Lord for help, for something that I could hold onto in this time of waiting, something to help take away the fear and anxiety. So I opened a book by Tim Keller called The Songs of Jesus and opened to February 10th. And I know this sounds cheesy, but just hang on with me. The Psalm it gave was Psalm 23. Usually when I see this Psalm I skip over it or just recite it in my head because it has the bad wrap in my head for begin the John 3:16 of the book of Psalms. But, God is much greater and more gracious than I am, and His words are alive, unlike mine. At this time I had realized how stupid I was being for not appreciating the beauty and comfort in Psalm 23 and I began to read it over.

God is so good to us. He is so faithful—and in Psalm 23, He promises so much to us.

23 

(1)The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    (2)He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

    (3)He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

    for his name’s sake.

(4)Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

    I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

    your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.

(5)You prepare a table before me

    in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

    my cup overflows. 

(6)Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

    all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

    forever.

 

He promises…

That He is everything we need. (Vs.1)

He is the giver of peace. (vs.2)

He longs for our righteousness. (Vs.3)

That all is for His glory. (Vs.3)

His presence drowns out fear. (Vs.4)

He faithfully provides comfort for our souls. (Vs.4)

Evil has no chance against Him. (Vs.5)

He gives abundantly. (Vs.5)

Because of Him, life is transformed. (Vs.6)

Eternity is ours because of His love. (Vs.6)

My heart overflows when I read this—when I read of the love of my father. His word reorients my vision and makes me come alive. They breathe life into the dead parts of me. And hear me when I’m saying this—this doesn’t always make me feel better. The tears still came after I read this and today there are still scars. BUT, my feelings are not a reflection of my knowledge of who God is. He is my shepard, not this world, not the internet, not the things my friends are doing, not the pressure of finding a career, not the weight of loneliness. My feelings fail me all the time—but God does not. I know who He is. I know that He is good, He is faithful, and He is a promise keeper. He took the greatest pain I ever deserved to feel. Keller put one phrase so beautifully that I cannot seem to get out of my head, “Jesus is the only Shepard who knows what it is like to be a sheep.” This one line wrecked me. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked if God understands my struggles. And when I read this, I am graciously reminded that Christ experienced all of this. He experienced the things that I could never do without ever sinning, without complaining, without turning back, without questioning if this was the right way. He was nailed to a cross so I can live. He was nailed to a cross so I can walk forward in trust. He was nailed to the cross so that my life would be a picture of His faithfulness, whatever the pain.

I’m in a forest

I put my hands out in fear of running into something,

of tripping over a rock, of brushing a thorn branch.

But He has already experienced the thorn.

In fact, He wore it as a crown—

a crown that should have been mine.

He did it so my life would be a song of His faithfulness.

He has gone before and He will continue to lead me

Knowing the only thing I should ever worry about in this life

Was satisfied on the cross,

and sealed by the wonder of the empty tomb.

The Anxiety Is Real

img_0130Anxiety has become apart of who I am this year, and I’m not very proud of it. In my teenage years, I had no worries about what I was going to do with my life. The thought of a grown up job felt overwhelming but not in a way that scared me. I had dreams of a music career, a husband, a high paying job, and big house full of kids. And I look at where my life is now, the lack of dating relationships, the back burner that my music career pursuit is sitting on, and many more semesters of school I have left, and I wonder if God has forgotten what I asked for. Some mornings I wake up feeling like I can’t breathe because somehow something went wrong, I messed up, I missed a turn. I start to forget the blessings around me, the joy I find in the community God has blessed me with, the beauty (and struggle) of singleness, and the gift that is the laying down of my life for the sake of the gospel.

My friends are getting married, some graduated college and got “real jobs”, and I feel like I’m left in the wake of it all–depressed and anxious about what my next chapter is going to look like. What am I supposed to do? Am I following God’s plan for my life?  And I think that’s where I start to choke up. And this year, I have deeply felt the fangs of anxiety like I’ve never felt before, and I feel the need to know what is next–to write my next chapter.

I fought the anxiety hard this year, but not in a good way. I’m not really your typical stressed out person, and if I am, I’m pretty good at hiding it (to the general public). But something changed in me this year and I’ve made quick decisions out of fear, and I’ve said things that simply just aren’t true in order to justify my feelings. I see something in my life that I don’t think is “good”, and I change it (or do everything I can to try to it). And in my heart, I know it’s wrong, I know I haven’t spent enough time in prayer about it, and I know that my heart is just bleeding anxiety and so I feel the need to scrounge something up to fix it. And I let myself dwell in this question that everyone seems to ask too much, “what are you going to do after college?”. And so I try my hardest to come up with some vague answer that will just end the conversation so I don’t have to reveal the fear that is pulsing through me. But I just don’t know.

And frankly, the Bible tells us that we won’t know.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:25-34

Because God is gracious, He has reminded of this passage over and over again, through other people, through music, and through my time with Him. But because I am who I am, I forget these words, even though they seem so simple. Somewhere in between my head and my heart, they get lost, muted, and forgotten, and I desperately need to be slapped in the face with them.

What is beautiful to me about this passage is the Jesus is using creation to point to Him, and ultimately to show us that He is good, He is in control, and that we have value. Sometimes I look at the mountains or stare at the beauty of flowers and I wonder if anything could be more beautiful than God’s creation. I’m a sucker for animal documentaries, and learning about how intricately God created things overwhelms me. Yet, somewhere in all of this, I leave myself out of it. Somehow, I’m not apart of this beautiful creation, and I don’t see my place, my role, my value, or my purpose.

I swear there is some sort of connection between anxiety, insecurity, and discontentment. And it seems like when you struggle with one of them, you are struggling with all of them. My insecurities come flooding in when I can’t see that I have value. And when I can’t see my value, I become discontent–feeling like I need to be somewhere else, in another body, with other people, in another place, at another time. And when I am discontent, I become incredibly anxious. I do everything in my power to change my circumstance, my surrounding, and the people around me, never focusing on how the Word can actually change me.

I’m not here to write some self-help article on how to overcome the anxiety, the insecurity, and the discontentment, frankly because I haven’t figured it out myself–not even close. And I don’t think it is something that anyone will ever fully figure out until we are in heaven. But I can share with you what I do (and what I need to keep doing) when I feel like I can’t escape the depression that comes with discontentment, the fear that comes with anxiety, and the deep-rooted pain that comes with insecurity. So I’m going to point out some truths from this passage that I pray we can reflect on over this new year, praying that God will give us the ability and the strength the press hard through emotion and feeling, in order that we may believe the truth of the gospel.

(1) Life is more important than the material things, and though it may look like you don’t have as much as you need, you have everything at the cross. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice, he has truly given us everything we need. 

I don’t now your financial situation, what’s in your bank account, or how much food you have in your fridge. But I do know that God’s promises are true and good, no matter what the circumstances. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to feel the fear of not knowing where the next meal will come from, or how that bill will be payed this month, but I do know what it is like to feel like your needs are not being met. And it’s gut-wrenching. Sometimes I can hardly stand walking into an empty room at night with no one to ask me how my day was. I enjoy the space, but I don’t enjoy the loneliness. And I lay awake at night wondering if God cares. But His work on the cross, the empty tomb, show me that He cares more than anyone. And He cared enough to give me the only thing I really need in this world, eternal life, and a life with purpose.

(2) God has created the world around us in order to point to His glory, so marvel in it. Take a breath and look outside. Find comfort that God cares about the smallest things, even flowers and birds. This means that you have value. God made you detailed and intricate, and with one purpose–to bring glory to His name. 

So much of anxiety comes when we forget to rest and find time to be in awe of the things that God has given us. He is gracious to give us so many reminders of how much He loves us, how much He longs for our redemption, and how much He is in control of all things. And though we can’t see it, though we may never see it, He is working for our good, which ultimately is His glory.

(3) Seek His kingdom first. Seek His kingdom because He knows your needs. He hasn’t forgotten them. He knows you better than anyone else. 

It sounds cliché, but it is true–God knows our needs, and He has known them from the time we were conceived. Look around your life and focus on the things that God has provided for you–His faithfulness screaming from the empty tomb. Though we may never be able to fully grasp this until heaven, there is nothing on earth to be anxious about. We are called to seek His kingdom first, because God has done the work! The weight is off our shoulders and we are free to live this life in freedom, not bondage. And I know that reading this doesn’t make it any easy, but pray for moments when you can see that this truth is your reality whether you are living that way or not. Rest in the fact that He already knows your needs, and He is taking care of them in His time, in His way, even if you can’t see it. We have one thing to focus on–“seeking His kingdom”.

My prayer is that these truths will bring comfort and hope. I pray that learning and resting in these truths will draw us to a place where we are more dependent on the gospel, on the empty tomb, than the things that seem to fill our minds the minute we wake up in the morning. And though we will never be perfect, we will never fully have this down, God has given us His word–so may it be with us at all times, for all things, in all seasons, even when it seems hopeless. I pray that eventually, what’s in our heads will reach our hearts. I pray that this new year will be a time of renewal, of coming back to the truth, of re-focusing our hearts to what really matters. For me, it’s remembering that this life is not mine. When I became a Christian, I gave my life to Him. That includes my hopes, my dreams, my failures, my worries, all of it. And I continue to hand it over to Him trusting that He won’t forget my desires, but that He will redeem them into something that is beautiful, something that speaks louder of the Kingdom rather than my own abilities. And I don’t know what this means for you, or what you are looking for in this new year, but I know that God longs for more of you. And anxiety is a sure fire way to tighten your grip on the things you don’t want to hand over, the things you don’t trust him with, and the things you feel like He doesn’t care about.

But there is freedom, and it is offered to us without cost. So don’t just stare at it hoping that one day you will experience it. Take it–take it knowing that God longs for us to live loves free of worry an anxiety, to rest fully in Him, and to know that the cross was and is sufficient for every need. Let that be our hope for the new year.

In light of insecurities

img_0191My whole life has been a tapestry woven of insecurities ranging from body image, academic abilities, family backgrounds, and everything else under the sun. It seems that as soon as I experience victory in one area, another one pops up that I am completely blindsided by. And yet, even though these are my realities some days, Jesus still promises “fullness of joy.”

So how do I get there?

How do I actually live in this truth rather than reaching helplessly for something that seems so impossible?

From the early years of my childhood, I’ve strived to believe that I really am who God says I am.

That I am loved.

That I am honored.

That I am worthy.

That I am known.

It works for about 10 minutes, then I see my thighs in a mirror and suddenly none of those things could ever be true about me simply because of some skewed image I have of myself.

Because all I can focus on is myself.

Because suddenly God’s faithfulness is determined by how I feel about myself, not who He says I am. In this moment, I become completely dependent on my feelings to determine truth rather than allowing truth to direct my emotions.

Something I have learned about myself lately is that my emotions, though real, cannot be fully trusted unless they bloom from truth. Emotions are fuel, not foundation, for our worship. When I am believing lies, my emotions bring me to a place where I glorify, or worship someone else’s opinion, or even mine, over what God says about who I am. I believe that I am not enough, therefore my emotions draw me to a place where this lie is fleshed out in my actions.

I become depressed.

I become unapproachable.

I live in self pity.

….and I eat way too much chocolate….

And somewhere in the midst of all of this, I get lost in the loneliness. I get lost in believing that no one knows my pain, that no one could ever understand my circumstance, my anger, my longing for that husband, that baby, that job… you fill in the blanks. And for the longest time I would get so frustrated with myself wishing that I could just snap my fingers out of this—wishing that there was some easy way out of this endless cycle. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing my emotions when I need to, so I just started making a habit of giving myself around 20 minutes of wallowing, then I have to get it together.

It works for maybe the first few times, but after that, I am a stuffing machine. If I’m angry—I stuff it. If I’m lonely—I stuff it. If I’m insecure about my body—I stuff it neatly with a smile and a “I’m fine, how are you?”, immediately deflecting any form of sincerity in my interaction with others. Every self help mechanism fails me.

As I was flipping through my journals, specifically ones that dealt with my insecurities, I came upon some sort of smack-you-in-the-face revelation. The common theme among all this writing was some very eye-opening pronouns: I, me, I think, I feel, etc. And the wave of humble repentance hit me as if I had been awakened by the deepest sleep.

The cycle will continue as long as I refuse to acknowledge that my insecurities are a stem of my selfishness: that I can become so deep in sorrow simply because I don’t believe that Jesus actually experienced what He did on the cross.

And with that, I am brought to a passage in Mark chapter 14. In this chapter, we see the perfect Son of Man, brought into the greatest injustice ever to be experienced in the history of mankind. The spotless lamb, hung on a cross for the sins of the world.

Jesus was mocked.

Jesus was misunderstood.

Jesus was left alone, even by his dearest friends.

Jesus was the only one who cold do this.

Jesus had to leave his Father.

Jesus bore all shame.

Jesus was naked.

Jesus was stricken.

Jesus was called a sinner, though he never conceived even a sinful thought.

 Yet he stilled prayed “not my will, but yours…”.

Jesus is the only one in history who can ever say that he is fully alone in his sufferings—that no one else has experienced what he has been through. Yet he cries out to his father in his suffering, asking that it would be used to glorify God. And the biggest grace of it all is that He holds us in our shame, in our sin, in our hopelessness—because He has been there—because in His pain and suffering, He cried out to the only one who could bring Him any true comfort, His father. And this is something I fail to do so often.

I’m not your counselor, I’m not your shrink, heck, I haven’t even graduated college yet, but I do know what this looks like in my everyday life. It looks like getting over myself long enough to learn the voice of my perfect and true Father. I need to turn off my phone, step away from the mirror, and turn off the TV long enough to learn the difference between the truth and the lies. I need to pray intentionally that even when I feel like I am not seated with the Father, that my feelings do not determine my actions—that even in my deepest doubts, no matter what I’m feeling, I can say, “still be my vision”. And I need to desperately ask God to help me believe that His grace is truly sufficient for me—for all of me: every bad morning, every fight with my friend, every self-deprecating thought, and every poisonous word against someone else.

So, insecure believer, you are loved, no matter what the mirror or your Instagram feed is telling you. And no matter how cheesy it sounds, we all deal with this, we just don’t want to admit it. But today, admit it. Speak your insecurity knowing that the cross makes it possible for these thoughts to be the opposite of our reality.

I’m a big believer in saying things out loud because my squirrel brain doesn’t focus unless my mouth is moving. So today, take the following words and pray them over your day, over your emotions, over your friends and your family.

Jesus,

I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting—for the insecurity that I have been living in for as long as I can remember . And just when I think I have it covered up well, something else exposes it and I end up hurting others because of it—not just myself. I’m sorry for believing that the cross wasn’t enough for me, that somehow, the outpour of grace didn’t reach me. And even though most days I don’t know even how to fathom this grace, help me believe it. Help this knowledge to reach my heart, and to overflow into the way I view myself, the world, and how I love others around me. I need guidance in this every single step of the way. Help me become who you made me to be, even when it hurts. My flesh will fail, but God you never will. Lead me in this truth today. I can’t change yesterday, and I can’t predict tomorrow, but you have given me today, so help me honor you with this life you have given me.

 

 

When the Shame is Crippling

Shame has this way of planting its seed in our hearts and growing deep roots that grow quicker than we can control. It cuts deep, to the core, and affects every aspect of our lives like a fatal disease. We can even grow immune to it thinking that it is a sign of conservatism or modesty–and that is where the lie begins. When our shame is so deep that its mask even deceives our own hearts, the root must be cut off.

For years, shame was a tattoo that I bore on my heart. The ink not only went in my skin, but it had entered my blood stream.The shame had many different faces in my life; my self image, my apathy, my modesty, and even the way I walked with the Lord everyday.

It all began when I was a kid and was called fat on the school bus. I had never really been aware of my body in that way until that moment. For so long I had lived carelessly in childhood wonderland without a care in the world. Then all the sudden it seemed like that was taken away from me. Before I knew it I was dieting and figuring out ways to cover up my skin because I felt as though I should be ashamed of it. Modesty was a form of self protection, rather than a way to worship. Shame had set in and I didn’t even have a name for it yet.

As I got older, I carried these childhood memories with me all the way into high school. I felt like people were basing my identity on the way I looked, so I decided that it was time to change something. I started working out like crazy (and when I say crazy, I mean crazy). I ate about half of the calories a normal person should have been eating and the weight dropped off in a heart beat. Before I knew it, I had lost 45 pounds in less than 4 months.

Though from the outside, it looked like I was fine, on the inside I was completely numb. I thought that somehow making my body perfect or attractive would somehow erase all the hurt that had happened to me as a kid. But what I found was that it was just the opposite. Everyone seemed to care about the way I looked, but few really asked me how I was doing. My entire pursuit was based on the longing for someone to tell me that I was worth more than my body.

Shame not only made its way into my self image, but the way I viewed God. Is spent most of my teen years trying to earn God’s favor, which is completely contradictory to the gospel.  I would spend countless mornings after waking up too late to open my Bible, walking the rest of the day in self-condemnation because I hadn’t lived up to the daily standard of a “good” Christian. And this habit developed overtime where I immediately  felt as though I was going to be punished when I didn’t live up to perfect standards. God was becoming this ultimate discipliner rather than a loving Father to me. Not only did this effect my relationship with God, but it effected my relationships with people. I thought if people actually saw the real me–if they could see how much I mess up on the inside, they would surely run in the other direction. So people pleasing became my obsession.

And this is what brings me to a story in the Bible, about a women with a disease that seemed to last a lifetime. This story happens in the book of Mark chapter 5. If anyone knows about shame, it is this woman. She had be bleeding for years. And in those times, blood was unclean. She had a label–she had a reputation–everyone knew of the shame she carried for 12 years. She had tried everything, used all of her money, and spent all her time trying to find someone to cure her. Then, in a crowd, though she knew she shouldn’t touch him, she reached out and touched the robe of Jesus as he was passing by. And miraculously, she was healed of her disease. Jesus knew this would happen. He knew it before she even reached her hand out. And he gave her freedom from this shame that she had carried for too long. His holiness released her of her shame–with a simple touch of his robe. When Jesus spoke to her, she was fearful that he would condemn her for touching him, yet all he had for her was grace. “Go in PEACE, and be healed of your disease.” What truth- what faith-what grace–that Jesus allows us to touch him, to reach to him in our uncleanliness and he is faithful to heal us.

If only I could live like this is true for me as well. If only I could be like this woman and live in the freedom that comes through Jesus. But I am so swayed by my feelings. I allow them to guide my life and I live as though my feelings are my reality.

But this is the exact opposite of what Jesus says about us. He declares us righteous, even when the world tells us we are not–even when I search for other ways to ease my shame, to hide it, or to pretend it isn’t there. Jesus simply just asks us to trust in his truth, beyond all the things we are told, beyond what our flesh chooses to believe. This woman could believe that and she had been unclean for 12 years. And yet there are some days when I forget God’s grace simply because I don’t like what I see in the mirror.

I believe that there is freedom from shame through Jesus and his cross. Though I don’t live like it everyday, I know its true. I know that he sees me as righteous and justified. And I don’t know if i’ll ever get to a place where I live in that truth every day–but I know that even when I am faithless, God is faithful. My prayer is that the things that have scarred me in my life will fade in light of his grace–that I will look at the cross instead of dwelling on my past. When I don’t believe this about myself, Jesus believes it for me. He knows me, he understands my heart. He gets it. And yet he is still there to say that ” even when you don’t think this is true, it is–more true than you can imagine.”

So weary heart, believe this today. Believe that even in the midst of your deepest feelings of shame, Jesus is calling you to freedom. He sees your beauty–he died for it. He died for it even in the moments when you feel like no one could ever love you. So live in this grace, live in this truth knowing that we didn’t deserve a life free of shame, but Jesus willingly died to give it to us because he loves us. Break free of the things that you are holding onto from your past that trigger these shame bearing thoughts and cling to the power of the cross–the freedom that comes when we reach out and grab the garments of Jesus. Wherever you are today, whatever you think of yourself, break free of those thoughts and run to the ones who breaks the chains of sin and shame. There is nothing but grace for us at his feet.

 

Going Back To The Basics: returning to a childlike faith

Lately, it seems like my life is to overwhelming even for me. I pride myself in being able to handle busy schedules, large to-do lists, and endless tasks. But it seems like the business of life, the stresses of life, are all of the sudden getting to me- all at once. Maybe its this season, maybe its because Im about to start a new semester…but I need relief. I need rest.

Going to a private Christian School, life looks very different than I ever imagined it would. To say I’m not having the “college experience” would be an understatement. But, I love it. I love being in a place that encourages me to pursue the Lord, even in normal classes like English Composition or College Algebra. But sometimes, if Im being honest, I struggle with my relationship with the Lord. I struggle feeling like He is my God, not just the God of the text books I read for class. And some days, I can’t even focus during my quiet times because Im thinking about some deep theological question that I can’t get my mind off of. Sometimes I get so caught up in how I plan to serve the Lord in 5 years that I forget how to serve Him and love Him today.

Which is where I am today, in this season, trying to learn how to reverse this cycle of forgetting who God calls me, who He promises to be. I woke up longing to meet the Lord this morning in His word, and ended up staring out the window for 30 minutes trying to figure out what I want to do with my life (which changes about once a week…). Which, sometimes, this is important. I want to have goals and aspirations for my life, but I get so caught up in it all the time-and so easily too.

So, I opened to Psalm 16 and Psalm 145, which are passages that I have been reading over and over again in the past month. And I began to look for things God promised me specifically. I felt like I should write them down, so I made a list.

image1.JPG

At first glance, this lists seems monotonous. It seems like things I should just automatically know everyday. But as I kept adding to this list, I realized that these are things that are so vital to my faith-so vital to my relationship with Jesus. And yet, they are the things that in the craziness of this life, I easily forget.

I forget that I am loved. I forget that God has promises for my life that I don’t even know about yet. I forget that He is good- even when I am not, even when I don’t feel like He is. I forget that He offers me joy. I forget that He is near to me-the brokenhearted.

Its easy, as we grow in our faith, to get caught up in advanced ideals and theological debates, especially where I am at school. But there is something so special to remembering who we are first and foremost; sons and daughters of the King. Which means we have the identity of a child- even if we feel like we are mature in our faith.

We need the basics. We need the truths that first drew us to the heart of God in order to get through our days. If I forget that God is good to me, it doesn’t matter how many John Piper books I read on God’s sovereignty- they won’t mean anything to me. Scripture won’t be sweet to my soul if I forget that in God’s presence, there is FULLNESS of joy, and pleasure forevermore.

And the beautiful thing about going back to these basics is that they make the growth that much sweeter. When I begin my day with just simply remembering who God made me to be and who He is, it makes those hard questions more relevant, more personal, and more fruitful. Our growth doesn’t seem as fleeting anymore, but more fruitful.

One aspect of my life that I’ve seen this played out is in my singleness. Some days are better than others. But most days, I forget to sit down and remind myself who God is. And I forget to remind myself of the promises He declares over my life. I get caught up in helping all my friends with their boyfriends and getting ready for their dates-and by the end of the day Im a mess. By this time, I have given up all hope of marriage and begin to pick out names for thousands of cats I will one day own.

And in this craziness, I forget to be a daughter. I forget to trust my Dad- the one who promises to protect me. The one who promises good for my life. The one who promises to always be near to me-to never leave me though it feels like everyone else is. The one who promises to satisfy my desires.

And this is the cycle I long to break. Even if it means reading that list every morning. I just don’t want to get through my day and forget to remember those roots that keep me grounded in my Father. These foundations, Im now understanding, are how we stay firm in the struggles of life. These basic truths (that are anything but basic) are what hold us fast to our Father, they keep us in the light even when it seems we are in a sea of darkness.

So weary sinner, lift your head-come to Him. Come to your Father. Come to Him who promises life and joy to us, no matter what you are going through. God sees our problems as they are to us- whether they are big or small in the grand scheme of things. Come to Him who is near to us in our hurting and in our joy. Remember the Father that called you out of darkness. Go back to that initial love that you had, that childlike faith that seems so distant. Come to the Father, burdened and weary, for He will give you rest and comfort and strength for whatever you are facing today- whatever seems hopeless today.

A New Year In Light of the Gospel

 

20162015 seemed to go by faster than I thought it would. As I started my second  year as a college student, life began to move faster and faster. I got the hang of being a student, balancing church and papers and attempting to have a social life. But in all this, the Lord was gracious enough to me to allow 2015 to be a year that will be in my memory forever. He taught me more than I could imagine in 12 short months, and for that I am so grateful. This past year, I was able to travel to Italy and Greece, learning new cultures, tasting exotic foods, and exploring the most beautiful sceneries this world has to offer. I met amazing new friends at school and the Lord has built a true community where I live. And I was able to work at Camp Lurecrest as a counselor for the summer, in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time.

But in the midst of all these blessings, 2015 brought a lot of pain and hardship to my heart. 

I learned how hard it is to grow up-to move out from under my parents and make decisions for myself. And I am still learning how to do this well. No one tells you how hard it is to come home to a life you don’t really fit into anymore-to friends that have gone on different paths-to parents with lives that don’t revolve around you anymore-to a room that is not full of your things anymore. And though all of these things seem simple in the grand scheme of things, I found that they meant so much more to me than I thought they would when I first left home.

I learned that I need to be re-parented by God. I had always viewed God as loving and authoritative, but because I have an earthly father, I didn’t learn how to see God as my father- my perfect, good Father. And that truth is vital to my life now.

I learned, and I’m still learning, how to be patient and wait on the Lord well. Whether it was for a husband, or a job, or a friend, 2015 was a year of waiting, like I expect every year of my life to be until Jesus returns. God is gracious enough to make promises for my life that everyday are being fulfilled. God has given me and continues to give me tangible things throughout my life that are evidence of His grace and provision- and sadly, sometimes I lose sight of those things. Today, I look back at 2015 and I see so much of God’s grace in blessing me even when my heart was not patient and trusting in Him. And Im sure that 2016 will not be any different.

For 2016, and for the rest of my life, I long to be able to look back on my days, my weeks, my years, and see God’s faithfulness, Jesus’s sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit moving in places I am not able to. I don’t want to be blinded and distracted by the busyness of life anymore. I long to praise God because He gives us the ability to see His faithfulness, in His timing, if we draw back from our feelings and look close enough at His truth. Im thankful for the struggles of 2015, because it gives me the opportunity to learn and grow in the years to come. My resolution doesn’t have to be just for 2016, but a life long lesson of patience, trusting, waiting, and intentionality. I can wait patiently for whatever God has for this year, for my life, knowing that even when I can’t see it, He is fulfilling promises He made to me when He created me.

So this new year, be thankful for last year. Be thankful that through the struggles, God has given us a second chance, a fresh start, but also a picture of things He longs to transform in our hearts. We can’t erase 2015 from our books, but we can allow the truth of the gospel to be real to us this year, and even today. We can believe that God restores and transforms, even when we fall short time and time again. We can choose to believe that even if this year brings pain and heartache, God is still and will still be who He says He is, and His covenants and promises still remain, even our world seems to be falling apart. He promises to be “Immanuel”-God with us. And that is what we can hold onto today, and this next year, that no matter what is ahead of us in 2016, God is with us. He was with the Israelites in the Old Testament through slavery and persecution, and He is still with us today, through whatever trials lay before us.

So be encouraged and motivated to enter this new year with your strength and security found at the foot of the cross, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit that was so graciously given to us, and the God, who from time’s beginning, had a plan of redemption for His children. Trust. Hope. Abide. Trust in the unknown, knowing that God is aware of what is best for your life. Seek God in His word and allow it to change who you were in 2015. Ask Him to transform your heart. Be thankful that today, His children have a reason to rejoice, a reason to sing. For He has overcome death, and shame, and sin, and He is coming back to restore what is broken. Let Him be your resolution and your absolution everyday- not just on January 1st.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:1-10

 

Prepare Him Room

Oh, our hearts, as busy as Bethlehem
Hear Him knock, don’t say there’s no room in the inn
Through the cradle, cross, and grave
See the love of God displayed
Now He’s risen and He reigns
Praise the Name above all names! Prepare Him room.

Sovereign Grace Music

Sitting in my local Barnes and Noble, on December 22, I am overwhelmed at the amount of cars filling up the mall parking lot. The parking lot of a mall that has only been open for 30 minutes. People already have well over 5 shopping bags in each hand, rustling through the crowds, trying to find that perfect gift for someone they love. For me, sitting in a window watching this all happen below me, it is easy to fall into judging these people for their westernized Christmas traditions.

But then I realize that I do the same thing.

I have been conditioned to expect Christmas to be like a Hallmark commercial instead of preparing my heart for the King of Glory that came as a baby in order to save us from our fallen state. And in this trap that movies, television, and advertisements rope me into, I find myself looking just like the world around me. Feeling the pressure of having to give people something, even if it was just something I picked up without thinking of them. I expect Christmas day to be just like the movies in which I get everything I asked for, my family is all in one room (and happy with each other), we have the perfect meal, and all go to bed with smiles on our faces, filled with the “spirit of Christmas”.

But this dream is sadly something I hope for year after year, when I refuse to be reminded of why I celebrate Christmas. I become too busy with my own life and I forget the one life that truly mattered the most here on earth: Jesus.

In this search for an advent heart, I find myself having to fight the ways I have always clung to- the habits and expectations that come with growing up in middle class America.

And in this struggle, I am faced with a daunting task- a task that requires a heart change- a task that I am not capable of completing myself. Which is why in this season, I must choose to cling to scripture, to the Word made flesh, in order to fully allow Christmas to encourage my heart the way I long for it to.

When we open scripture, it is evident that preparing our hearts for the Savior of the World is not just in Luke 2. Preparing for Jesus begins in Genesis. It begins when we said that God was not enough for us, that we know better than He does, when we chose turn away in sin. From that moment on, we needed someone to redeem us. We needed Jesus. And from the Old Testament on, the scriptures are filled with prophecies of a coming King, a King above all other Kings; a King that will bring salvation to a lost people. Even before the birth of Christ, prophets were waiting, longing, and praying for the day when God’s promise would be fulfilled.

And God, perfect in love, sent His one and only son, for the sins that we committed, in order that we made be called a child of the one true King. That baby, lying in a manger, would one day be the ultimate sacrifice for us- our redeemer, our savior, our hope. And all the way through Revelation, this Christmas story is one more step towards an eternity with our savior. Advent doesn’t just involve a manger and a virgin, it involves a cross too. A cross that carried the Lamb that was slain, who claimed victory over death and sin and shame. And it involves a King that will one day come back for us, a King that will bring restoration, and a King that will carry us into an eternity of perfect relationship with the Father. Advent should be the cry of our hearts throughout every season, because it is a story that is throughout all scripture, it is the story of the promised perfect covenant of God- the promise of a King who will save the world.

And that is our hope today. That is the heart we search for today- a heart that longs to seek Jesus, to remember what He did for us on the cross, to remember His humility in coming to this earth as a child to die for the sins of the world.

“Incline your ear and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast sure love for David.”

Isaiah 55:3

So whether it is December or July, Advent is something I want to search for in my daily walk with Jesus.  Having an Advent heart means preparing for Jesus, throughout every season. It means choosing to seek Him rather than the world. It means treasuring and sharing the Christmas story in all seasons, not just once a year.

And in this, I believe that the Christmas season will become so much sweeter to us when we have prepared room for Him everyday instead of trying to fit Him into one month of the year. Maybe we will be able to realize that all the giving, and the generosity, and the hospitality is how we should live everyday- that the Christmas story, the gospel story of Jesus Christ, is something we should be mindful of everyday- that God laced this story of promised redemption throughout the whole Bible in order for it to be the reason we live and move and breathe, not just a story we read on Christmas Eve.

So today, choose Jesus. In this season, slow down, set aside the wrapping paper and choose to be mindful of the savior. Seek an advent heart daily, knowing how important it is. Allow this season to be sweet because of Jesus, His Father who sent Him, and the Spirit that was given to us in order that we may dwell with Him always- That amidst the trials and the sorrow that this world will bring, we have hope to cling to, we hold assurance of a coming King, the perfect gift from God.

“Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:4-5

The Morning After Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11

Because we live in a fallen world, because we chose to allow sin to enter, we will not be able to truly rest, the way God intended, until we get to Heaven. But our God, being gracious to us, allows us to have small tastes of what that perfect rest will look like, if we choose to make the time for it.

Recently I have read some articles on what Sabbath should look like for today’s Christian. I was truly inspired by the way we are commanded to rest in scripture. God rested, and He tells us how important it is for our spiritual life to rest. Sabbath, to me, had always just been the day I went to church that week. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Sundays were never very restful in my life. There was always some activity going on at church, homework that needed to be completed for the following Monday, and chores to be done around the house. I came to the conclusion that I really had never had a planned day of rest, and I didn’t even know how to rest well. 

I knew how much time it would take to plan accordingly in order to rest well, so on Monday of this week, I began to plan.

This week, at my college, is finals week. And of course, like all good college students, I procrastinated on a lot of my end-of-the-semester work. So this week, I immersed myself in papers and managed to finish most of my work before Saturday.

Getting into Sabbath began, for me, on Friday. I had class in the morning and finished the afternoon shopping with my best friend and going to a Christmas party. I made sure to pick up the things I would need for Sabbath; yarn, watercolors, groceries, and some good coffee. I cleaned my room and ended the night by watching a movie with some dear friends and got to sleep at a reasonable time.

When I went to bed, I began to plan out what my Sabbath would look like. I had my yarn to crochet, I set out my water colors, I silenced my phone, I had a great book to read, I was going to sleep in, I planned to take a walk, and I really felt like it was going to be the perfect day. Just me and Jesus, and the things I love to do.

But when I woke up the next morning, I came to the realization that I had planned this whole day around myself, and not the reason I was even taking a Sabbath: Jesus. 

I woke up at 7:30, which is not sleeping in for me. I could not take my mind off of all the things I had to get done for school. I couldn’t find a quiet place to spend time in the Word (I still live in a dorm). And when I first opened my Bible, the Word was not sweet to me the way I hoped it would be.

I decided to continue my reading in 2 Samuel 13. At first I was confused on how to draw out any application from that passage. It seemed depressing and irrelevant to my life. Thankfully, the more I read, the more the Lord taught me. Even in my selfishness to read the Word for my own gain, to read with my own agenda, He humbled me and allowed me to be taught by His story of redemption. He taught me that sin begins with one fleshly desire. It takes root in our hearts, and if we allow it to, it deeply effects the people we love. BUT there is always oceans of grace waiting for God’s children, and redemption that will one day come when Jesus returns for His people. Even redemption in the way we are able to rest.

When I was done, I was able to journal and paint and read one of my favorite books, Strong Women Soft Hearts by Paula Rinehart. And even in my selfishness, the Lord spoke to me yesterday. He reminded me how to be quiet before Him, how to pray for the nations, and how to prepare my heart for the coming week.

Throughout the day I was reminded that rest is needed, but I am not good at it. And it will hopefully be a learning process throughout my life. I some how expected for yesterday to be this perfect day where all my “Sabbath dreams” came true. But I am a sinner, and for the 20 years I’ve been alive, Sabbath has not been a continual practice for me. So right now, I’m learning, I’m trying, and hopefully soon, I will be growing in this biblical practice.

I ended the day by sharing a meal with friends and attending a Christmas worship concert. I went to bed exhausted, yet encouraged. And I was able to look back at the day and remember what the Lord had taught me.

He taught me that even in my sin, He is faithful to be gracious to me, to know my heart, and to keep His promises. And He taught me that Sabbath is not for my personal gain, and it is not based on only my agenda for the day. It is a day to spend with Him, thanking Him for who He is, resting by yourself or with others, and doing the things He has gifted you to do; whether thats painting or drawing or writing. Its not my day. Its a day for the Lord to turn the posture of my heart towards Him in order for me to better serve Him in the chaos of the week.

Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.

Ezekiel 20:12

Joy is a Choice

Whether you are overwhelmed by the ever approaching finals, your job, your family, or the holidays quickly approaching, it is all to easy to get caught up in wishing time away–or even forgetting your purpose.

Most days, I allow my circumstance to choose what mood I will be in. If I have some big test, or errands to run, or a room to clean, I wake up already defeated by the tasks ahead.  I basically set myself up for a bad day; a day without purpose, monotonous in all its ways, waiting for the sun to go down so I can call it quits.

But God, rich in mercy, provides a way for us to get out of this rut, to not be changed by our circumstances but, to fix our eyes on Him. He, the maker of joy, gives us simple reminders, throughout the day, of His goodness that we all to often overlook. He longs for us to dwell in His presence, to abide in His peace, and to trust that He knows our hearts.

Psalm 104 says:

“Beside them, the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing from among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of you work…These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hands, they are filled with good things.”

When you see the sunrise, thank God for his warmth and kindness. When you taste good food, thank God for not only providing but blessing. When you hear good music, thank God for his creativity.

God cares for His creation. He satisfies the earth–not just providing, but satisfying the desires of hearts. And if he does this for the birds, how much more will He provide for us, His chosen people, His children.

So when I don’t know how all my schoolwork will get done.

God knows.

When I don’t know how my money will last through the month.

God provides.

When I’m restless.

God gives rest.

When Im lonely.

God hears.

When I’m anxious.

God gives peace.

When I am overwhelmed.

God gives me joy.

So today, whatever your circumstances, whatever trials you are in the midst of, choose joy knowing that God honors and blesses a heart that longs and searches for Him. Choose joy because it pleases God to give joy to His children. Choose joy because today can be a good day. Choose joy because with the cross, with Jesus, we have everything we will ever need.