Are you any different?: Living like He’s alive.

IMG_0138What are you doing that requires faith?

I don’t even remember now what book I read that question in. But I still remember the question. If you’re anything beyond a lukewarm “Christian,” then your faith should be changing your life.

If you aren’t living any differently than the rest of the world, then do you even truly believe? I mean, imagine: what if you were informed of the astounding news that the pain and suffering of this world is only temporary, and that there is a hope, a future, and a loving God who cares about each and every individual? Beyond this, what if you found out that this God had a plan for your life and that he wanted to give you a purpose; in fact, he was willing to fill you with his power just to use you in this present life? Don’t you think you should be living a little differently than the people who didn’t know this was the case?

Pastor Dr. Bruce Shelly explains that the word “Christian” in the New Testament is highly significant, meaning holy ones and “different.” “The Christian, therefore, is a person who is fundamentally different.” Not just in the outward way we dress. Not just by setting standards a little higher than the rest of the world. Instead, at the core, we are fundamentally different. We don’t just have to act differently, we are different. We have the Holy Spirit in us. Are you living differently?

Jonny Diaz emphasizes this idea in his song titled “Live Like He’s Alive“:

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“The fire that burns in our beating hearts
Should shine like the light of a million stars
Brothers and sisters wherever you are
Children of God, oh, it’s time that we start to

Pray like, pray like God is listening
Give like, give like He provides
Oh I believe it would change everything
If we live like, live like He’s alive
So, live like He’s alive.”

It’s really easy to let the new message become old. Familiarity breeds disinterest. Excitement dies down.

But, as Christ-followers, we are called to live like God is alive and active regardless of how excited we may or may not feel. If you can’t quickly and clearly point out what in your life requires faith, then maybe you aren’t living like He’s alive.

Think about it.

Please comment below with times you’ve had the courage to live differently!

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To Those Who Know How to Hide; Do Not Stay Alone.

hiding.jpegSome people don’t know when to shut up. Others don’t know when to speak up.  Everyone has problems. But to those of us who know how to hide our problems, this blog post is for you.

I had a rough first few weeks at school during the fall semester last year. I don’t remember why, I just remember it was bad enough that when people would casually ask how I was doing, I knew “good” or even “fine” was a lie and would resort to something like, “Well, we’re having beautiful weather today!” This almost always got me off the hook. Which is halfway what I wanted. I mean, honestly, I did want people to know how I was. I wanted to be vulnerable. I wanted to admit my struggles. But I was too scared to show them. Emily Freeman, in her book “Grace for the Good Girl,” described my feelings pretty well: “I taught people around me that I had no needs and then was secretly angry with them for believing me.”

But I had my reasons for pulling a red herring. After all, I couldn’t admit I was struggling.

Everyone has bad days. But this wasn’t a bad day. This was an onslaught of bad days. If I admitted that to the world, what kind of Christian witness would I be? I am constantly preaching joy; what a hypocrite I’d be to be frustrated with life for so two whole weeks! Image result for fake smileBesides complaining is terrible for you; I know that. Even “venting” requires treading softly. What about perspective? What about faking it till you make it? What about looking for the positive?

So, nope. I could’t say anything. I had to keep answering “how are you?” with “Could be worse!” and a pasted-on smile.

Again, Emily Freeman says it well: “…I tend to think in extremes. Just as decisions are either right or wrong, emotions are either good or bad. Happy? Good. Sad? Bad. Joyful? Good. Disappointed? Bad. Compliant? Good. Confrontational? Bad…Feeling scared meant I needed more faith. Feeling anger meant I needed more control. Feeling confused meant I needed to get it together and figure it out.”

I did this (and, to be honest, often still do). But when I labelled emotions as good vs. bad, not only did I keep bottled up, I also accrued more and more shame with every passing day. What a weakling; my problems are so small compared to the rest of the world. What a baby, crying myself to sleep. What a rotten Christian; I should be so engulfed in the peace of God that transcends all understanding that I don’t fear or worry or stress. And even if I do (because I will be the first to admit I’m not perfect), I should be able to get over it within a day, I think.

xBut these guilt-ridden thoughts are illegitimate. It’s true that some emotions are more pleasant than others. It’s true that complaining can easily be harmful. It’s true that faking it till you make it can work.

But, as I’ve said before: feelings are feelings. They are neither right nor wrong. And negative feelings are truly a part of life.

This being said, I think there are two things that are important to note:

While we should not pour out our hearts every time someone asks how we are doing (which, as I’m writing this post to the folks who know how to hide, is certainly NOT our problem), it is essential that we each have a few close friends or family that we are willing to force ourselves to share with–even when we feel like a Debbie Downer. Think of your closest friend and tell me honestly that you’d rather he/she suffer through some significant struggles alone instead of coming to you for support. One of the many beautiful things that God created in humans is a desire to lovingly support one another. Obviously, having a constantly-negative friend is unhealthy, but a relationship in which each individual takes turns leaning on the other gives your friend an opportunity to serve the you in a way that is a blessing to both parties. When your friend is hurting, you want to be there to help. Don’t steal a chance to love you from your friends.

Secondly, having a worrisome week does not disprove the joy of the Lord. Being afraid of the future does not undermine God’s peace. Being a cheerful, excitable, smiley, and happy person ALL the time does NOT make you a better witness; it makes you an unapproachable non-human. As Christ-followers, we can be a better witness to the world when we’re willing to show our weaknesses, our pain, and our negative emotions, and then to show that we still trust God anyway. 

IMG_20180715_172137501In the end, then, the next time you are really struggling I dare you to pick one or two close friends to be honest with. You don’t have to dwell on the negative, but you have to be open enough to be able to share sincerely your current pain. Negative emotions have no legitimate right to shame you and you don’t have the right to steal from your loved-ones the opportunity to show you love.

Please share some of your experiences either with being willing to share or hiding your struggles. Do you feel ashamed when you’re scared, upset, or feeling alone? Do you appreciate your closest friends confiding in you?

Funky Little Adventure: Getting out of my comfort zone :/

IMG_20180806_153806464.jpg“What will this day be like? I wonder.
What will my future be? I wonder.
It could be so exciting, to be out in the world–to be free!
My heart should be wildly rejoicing!
…Oh, what’s the matter with me?
I’ve always longed for adventure, to do the things I’ve never dared.
Now here I’m facing adventure; then why am I so scared?”

Getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the constricting throat that makes speaking hard, the fast-paced beating of the heart, the slow, controlled breathing holding back tears of fear as I drive into new territory. I’ve cried alone on the bed until midnight, feeling like the only one in the world, wanting to sleep who taut to relax.  I am there.

IMG_20180802_160343459.jpgThis month, I’ve moved out to Camp Douglas Smith, a run-down property alongside Hamlin Lake. While there are lots of perks to the job, I’m still really struggling to enjoy it. As I have named it, my “squatter’s shanty” is not exactly a dream vacation destination. As I wrote in my initial description of my stay, “Arrived and cleaned out the spiders, beech nuts, rodent scat, and other things from my 8′ x 10′ cabin with a half broken broom. Tried hard to stay positive about the shape of the little wooden box. On the plus IMG_20180802_160407782_HDRside; I do have electricity.” An inventory of the cabin disclosed one folding wooden table (sinking into the rotting floor boards), two old wooden chairs, a nice mattress, a half-broken broom, and a heck of a lot of graffiti from the 1970s.

This is out of my comfort zone. I talk about life being an adventure. But at this moment I shake my head and murmur, “I’m really not that into adventure anymore, actually.” I talk about faking it till you make it, but right now, I’m faking it so much like an actress…behind a mask…dressed in an animal suit so people aren’t even sure I’m a human. I talk about controlling emotions instead of letting emotions control me. But right now, my emotions are setting up a heck of a protest and I’m hearing every word they say.

To tell you that I always practice what I preach would be a lie. To tell you that I, as a Christian, have achieved eternal joy and always rest in His peace and spend my days brimming with hope would be a smite more than an exaggeration. To tell you I’m a img_20180805_160203044_hdr.jpghypocrite who offers life hacks for everything but still has a lot of bad days would be much more honest.

But. I’m human. And I’m learning.

And, even in the discomfort, even in the flood of emotions, even in the digging-my-heels-in-wishing-I-could-be-back-home, I still believe that getting out of my comfort zone is important. No, I don’t like it. Does anyone? But it’s adventures like this that lead me to have new perspectives. That is valuable. Getting out of my comfort zone reminds me that I’m not living for right now because, well, Earth stinks (I’m waiting for what’s ahead). That’s valuable. Struggling through these discomforts causes me to cry out to God. That’s valuable. And then, eventually, I get more comfortable in the position. And that gives me freedom to do more, serve more, reach farther. That’s valuable.

Don’t let my cheery advice fool you; I’m human and, even though I wholly believe in peace and hope and joy, I have my rotten days too. But, although I’m currently struggling with all the whirlwind of being out of my comfort zone, I still believe. I still believe that God has a plan in this. I still believe it’s worth it. And I still believe that it’s okay to fall. IMG_20180808_192736999But then we have to get back up again.

Please share some of your experiences with getting out of your comfort zone. Do you regret it? What did you learn? Do you agree or disagree with my claim that it’s worth it?

When to Worry; Learning to See the Lord’s Provision

IMG_20180711_172319417Some nights I lie in bed and cry. I’m not trying to evoke pity because, if we’re honest, I think we all do this sometimes. And if we don’t, I think we certainly want to. Life is tough and tears happen.

Last night was one of those nights for me. My problems, though they be so much less than those others bear, still send me reeling sometimes. This week at work is going to be a super busy one with six or seven long days in a row. After this week is over, my work schedule gets really choppy and I don’t know where I’ll be or when yet. I need an internship for fall and, along with that, I need a car. And I’ve been biting my nails looking at my finances… Also this month, I’ve been having this really weird painfully sensitive skin problem that’s been moving around my body (yeah…weird…). And I’m tired.

Even though others go through much worse, at 11 pm last night, this just seemed like too much for me. In truth, I do think life is too much for me. And for you. God never intended us to run life on our own. So I lay in bed, pouring out tears and prayers, reminding my all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God not to let me slip through the cracks (you can tell God anything, even if it might seem offensive or unholy. Heck, God knows it already. And he wants desperately to be there for you).

IMG_20180507_171749639_HDR.jpgWhile it may not have been in the most stereotypical “old wise man on the mountain” wording, I once had a friend wisely tell me,”Girl, tell me one time when God has not provided for you. THEN you’re allowed to worry.”

The Lord provides.

This morning, when I awoke, I found a text saying I could come into work two hours later. I also found an email which said, “Keep me posted on the…internship. I wrote you a glowing recommendation, and I can’t imagine that falling through if you want it.”

Praise the Lord! Not because two hours off of work is going to fix all my problems. Not because a glowing recommendation is going to guarantee me the perfect internship. Not because I know have a car or won the lottery or have perfect health. But, among many other legitimate reasons, praise the Lord because he hears me. If the Lord of the universe is willing to offer encouragement, is willing to offer an “it’ll be alright,” is willing to show me in the simple ways that he hears my cries late at night, then I can rejoice 36466291_1628624740596616_3120531260825403392_n.jpgwholeheartedly, even when I still have struggles.

God may not answer our prayers the way we want and he might not answer our prayers right away. But if he did, where would trust come in? There is beauty in a relationship where there is trust. To give me everything right now would be to flatten a relationship that has potential to be so many dimensions.

One could argue that these two encouraging occurrences are coincidences. One could argue that, because I want to see God, I’m making him up in places he’s not. To that, I have two responses. First, it goes both ways: if I spent my life trying not to see God, I could probably get away with that. It’s true that we see what we want to see. But it’s also true that, regardless of our individual perspectives, there is an actual truth, which leads to my second response: if I believe in a God of the universe who is really all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, I wouldn’t put it past such a deity to provide simple encouragements–especially one who tells us to pray to him because he does hear us.

It was very encouraging to hear God this morning and be reminded that he loves me. But honestly, I know that pretty soon, life will swallow me again. I’ll spend another night in bed crying. But that’s because there is sin in the world, not because God has left me. And that’s why it’s so significant that we write down these moments where God is speaking to us–or we will forget. When we forget the ways God has talked to us in the past, when we don’t feel encouraged anymore, it’s easy to believe he doesn’t listen to our prayers. But faith is not a feeling. 

I bet you don’t remember very vividly nor accurately the pain of having a skinned knee from when you were a child. But that doesn’t make it any less true that, as a kid, you did indeed skin your knee and it was terribly painful. So, in moments of fear and pain, don’t img_20171004_221824757.jpgblow off those moments where you felt the Lord give you a comforting embrace. I encourage you to keep track of answered prayers and return to that when you need peace. Because God does hear your cries. And the Lord does provide. Let him encourage you in those moments and learn to rely on trust when you aren’t feeling his presence.

P. S. Since I wrote this post a few days ago, I was offered a position for an internship! 🙂

When what’s right is wrong: Considering timing

A black alarm clock on a chair

The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing.

Last summer I wrote a post regarding how our culture encourages us to “follow your heart.” I wrote about how this can often take us where we don’t want to go.  Something can ‘feel’ right and be completely wrong. I wrote this post because while we know this, we don’t think about it. When you’re angry, it can feel right to hit someone, but we all know this isn’t right. So I wrote my post to encourage you to think about your feelings and to gauge if they’re wrong, even if they feel right. This isn’t too complex.

But what happens when something feels right and it actually is right, but is still somehow wrong? Let me explain. I read a quote once that really stuck with me, even after I forgot where I read it: “The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing.”

This sentence doesn’t make much sense unless we put some examples to it.

A dog wearing a disguise mask with glasses, a large nose and moustacheStarting simple, pretend I have a good sense of humor (haha.). I’m lighthearted and enjoy taking life lightly. This is good. It’s good to be lighthearted. And it’s right to be myself. But say I have a friend going through a really hard time and I go to lunch with her as she’s really stressed. I might be light-hearted, and that might be the way God made me–it might be right, but, in this specific instance–at this time, being light-hearted is the wrong thing.

This one might make sense, but it gets harder to see as the situations become more serious. Say I committed to a summer job, then had someone approach me begging me to fill a different position somewhere else that fit who I was perfectly. This job would be right. It would use my talents to help someone. It could be glorifying God. This feels right. And isn’t it right? But, because I’d already committed somewhere else and can’t back out, this is the wrong time. So it is wrong, at this time, to take the perfect job.

eric-ward-342202 - Edited.jpgOr say I am very attracted to someone and I desire strongly to support and encourage this person. This feels right. And, isn’t it right? Supporting someone, loving someone, encouraging someone…these are right. These are the right thing. But if I can’t commit to a long-term relationship with these kinds of actions, then I’m playing with someone’s heart. Then now is the wrong time to show these right actions. So it is wrong, in this case, to be loving.

Therefore there are times when doing the right thing is wrong. And this is so hard to wrap my mind around. In some instances, we get this. We get that it’s not always loving to be light-hearted and that sometimes we need to be serious. But, if you’re like me, the circumstances get harder and harder to see clearly. To say no to a perfect job? To quash my loving actions? Understanding that the right thing may be the wrong thing is so much harder than understanding that sometimes that what feels right is actually wrong.

But, as Christ-followers, we’re called to live differently. We are called to speak a different language with our actions. If you’re like me, when that perfect job arises after you’ve committed to one already, or when you have strong feelings for someone who you A black-and-white shot of a pocket watchcan’t commit to, you fight your conscience saying that “this is right. I’m doing the right thing.” because loving someone or finding a job that fits you seems so right. But consider timing.

Don’t fool yourself. The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing.

Lessons from Backpacking: but also applicable to non-backpackers ;)

IMG_20180307_122256884I’ll admit I’m a novice. I’ve only been backpacking twice in my life. But, before you disregard my entire post because of my lack of experience, recognize that it is sometimes the newbies who have the fresh eyes.

1. Water is valuable

Drinking water, showering water, waterfall water…  You know water is valuable when, on top of all else you’re carrying 6.5 miles up 3,000 feet of mountain (not the most fun IMG_20180305_131123154.jpgexperience in the moment, to be honest), the crew adds a couple more pounds of water–just to make sure we’ll have something to drink at the top. A month after returning from that trip, I was trying to fill up a water bottle at a dinky water fountain that was only pulling half it’s weight. For a second, I was impatient, but I remembered how much easier, still, this is than filling a water bottle and filtering that through a hose into another water bottle before even having a sip of clean water. Most Americans have clean drinking water, running water in their houses, and–especially those of use who know the beauty of the Great Lakes–have many other sources of water to appreciate. Don’t take the little things for granted.

2. It’s all about the angle of the photograph

IMG_20180508_134020899.jpgYou ever see those advertisements for dream vacations and think that’s looks pretty swell? Backpacking has once again impressed the truth that life isn’t about seeking out the coolest places, but about seeking out the coolness in wherever you happen to be. Sure, a picture of a crystal-clear ocean looks attractive. But honestly, a picture of a group of friends hammocking in the middle of the most average woods can have the same appeal if shot from the right angle and with the right lighting. You don’t have to travel far or pay much to have the best times in life: you just have to learn to see from the right angle.

3. Never take a vacation from God

On our last backpacking trip, the most trivial things would annoy me. I was frustrated with how frustrated I’d get when food took too long to cook, when we had to change IMG_1539.JPGplans, when I had to sit in the car more than I wanted to. I didn’t understand why I was bothered by such small issues. It wasn’t until the day we were packing up to leave that I awoke early and had some actual one-on-one time with God. The experience was what Christians write inspirational books on! How extremely refreshing it was to reconnect with the Creator of the landscape we’d been exploring. This time with God re-centered my thoughts, refocused my perspective, and left me rejoicing. Even in the midst of a busy week with lots of people, time with God one-on-one is a must. Always.

4. Company is key

On my very first day ever of backpacking, our group got lost. We were literally IMG_20180508_110214010.jpgtrailblazing (let me tell you, when you’ve got an over-sized pack on your back, you don’t fit through or under anything, your balance is off, and climbing over anything is double as much work!), quite uncertain of whether we should press on or turn around. We were hungry and tired (very tired, actually) and rain was on the way. When you’re lost in the woods like this for hours and not one of the company complains, you know you’ve got a prime group. That day emphasized the importance of surrounding myself with a group of encouraging friends. Who you spend your time with matters.

5. Preparation is worth it

While packing for camping trips, I almost without exception question whether the work is worth the pleasure. I have to pull out a set of drawers to climb into a dark cubby hole with a tiny door and no lights to grab my sleeping bag. I have to bring a ladder into the house from the garage to reach the cubby spaces up high in our mudroom to get a tent. I have to IMG_20180509_140720516scour the garage and dig through bags to retrieve camp cooking utensils. I have to brave the somewhat sketchy garage attic to find a cooler. And, through all of this, I have to painfully dread returning all of these items when the trip is over. But every time, once I make it to the actual adventure, every piece of preparation was worthwhile. Our time on earth isn’t our end goal; it is preparation for the life to come. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” and there have been many, many days where I feel that I understand this passage. Living here on earth ain’t the greatest joy of all time. But I believe that the preparation will be worth it when we arrive at our actual home.

 

The Messed-Up World: Having a Realistic Perspective of Life

IMG_20180522_182606897Will it hurt? Will I be afraid? Will I be lonely? Will I mess up? Will I hate it? Will I be bored? Will I want to die?

It’s no secret I struggle with fear of the future. Recently I’ve seen dread stealing joy. Memorial day weekend was a beautiful three-day weekend; but some of the bliss of an extra day off from work was masked by dread of starting work again. If I get to bed on time, I can have the peace of knowing I can sleep for the next eight hours; but sometimes that peace is stolen by the dread of waking up. I love school and enjoy so many aspects of being at Cornerstone University; but sometimes the blessings of school is darkened by my dread of what happens after I graduate.

How frustrating it is to so often not be able to appreciate the joys I have right in front my face. But what I realized recently is that I actually don’t even have to ask these haunting questions anymore; I already have the answers: yes, yes, and yes to all of the above.

Honestly folks, don’t try to tell me otherwise. In the future, I will hurt, I will be afraid, I will be lonely, I will mess up, I will hate life, I will be bored, and I will want to die. After A shattered flowerpot on a windowsillall, the author of Philippians put it well, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” We live in a sinful, broken, painful but temporary world. We who are sincerely pursuing a relationship with Christ are called to be soldiers in the battle on this world. That means we’re going to get hurt, we’re going to get tired, and we’re going to go through some really rough patches. But, after the Fall, this is the way the world is and–in a manner of speaking–it’s quite the way it’s supposed to be.

The significance of this may not be clear at first. After all, how can such depressing news lead to anything but dread of the future?! But see, perspective is powerful.

The first thing this realization does is remind me that life on earth is temporary and it’s not the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t go great. I mean, if my entire life–every second of it–were to be wholly rotten, as soon as I was resurrected, the temporary pain would be completely past and absolutely nothing in comparison to eternity.

Secondly, this realization helps me to reorient my expectations. If I expect that happiness and ease are owed me, then it makes sense for me to fear their leaving. Today I might fear tomorrow’s happiness being stolen because I am deserving of that pleasure tomorrow, but I know I don’t always have it. Therefore, I fear being cheated. However, to recognize that pleasure isn’t something I can expect means that I don’t have to fear it not existing tomorrow.

Image result for lawn mowerConsider this: if you were to borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower, would you, whilst mowing your lawn, dread the moment you have to return it? I would hope not. Instead you’re likely to be grateful to have it in the moment. Indeed, if pleasure is not something guaranteed, but is, instead borrowed in a way, then it becomes a pleasant surprise when offered. It is easier to enjoy the extra day off from work, the eight hours of sleep, or the current situation in school, because these pleasures are not guaranteed, so we don’t try to possess them. At the same time, they aren’t inherently expected–so they are also a beautiful surprise.

C. S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters, points out that man, expecting his free time to be wholly “his,” becomes upset when something is required of him during this moment. But, how narrow-minded this is! God has gifted each man with every breath he breathes. If we, instead, expect to use our time for God’s glory, the times that he provides for our individual rest will be accepted in gratitude instead of demanded in selfish pride.

Therefore, going through life expecting it to be painful and hard and, sometimes, wretched, in an ironic way, opens my eyes to the beauty and joy and pleasures that I am offered in the present. 

I feel I ought to note also that having this realistic perception of the fallenness of the world doesn’t inherently mean we cannot always be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16) or cannot always sense God’s peace that surpasses understanding (Philipians 4:7). I wholeheartedly believe that, because we know how the story ends, we can still experience these blessings, even without being blind to the painful situation Earth is in. Faith is not a feeling and feeling lonely or scared or like a failure is inevitable sometimes. However, these feelings need not define us.

Overall, then, I call Christians to a realistic perception of the world: it stinks. “Smile, Jesus Image result for smile jesus loves youloves you” isn’t inherently wrong by any means, but we also can’t expect that all the time. We should live fully aware that we are soldiers fighting a bloody battle, aware that we’ll often lie sleepless at night bearing the burdens of the world, and that there will be days where we’d much rather take the gain of death than the life of Christ.

But, in all of this, there is a peace and a joy that comes with the release of the “American dream.” Enjoy every blessing that God offers you right now. But don’t worry about what will come tomorrow. Your pleasure isn’t expected tomorrow, it’s expected in the next life.