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.

 

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Together in Solitude: The Importance of Spending Time Alone with God

IMG_20180518_162805791Last Friday I went out on a date and it was so refreshing. We sat in my hammock out in the warm, sunny woods alongside Hamlin Lake, enjoying the steady breeze, talking, and just hanging out (get the pun?). The funny thing is, if anyone had walked by, they would’ve thought I was hammocking by myself, because they couldn’t see that my date was with God. Judge me if you want, but if you don’t think a date with God is legit, you’re obviously missing out.

The week before had just been my first week of a new job and I was quite wound up. I was a little stressed and anxious and had been running around like absolute crazy helping my family pack up for a vacation that week. Finally sitting down, I told God all about it. It was great. I didn’t have to put on a face to pretend it was all okay. But I also didn’t have to reassure God that I was not intending to complain. He already knew. I could admit everything and know that he still loves me–like crazy. Unlike looking to a human relationship for satisfaction, I also knew that everything I put into this relationship really could satisfy me. One hundred percent guaranteed.

As I talked to God, he talked to me. It wasn’t verbal, but I could definitely sense his IMG_20180506_165424607_HDRpresence in the creation all around me. Who created the beautiful sunshine? The bright green leaves? The warm weather? The breeze? Our time together also gave me a chance to remember all the things I know but forget in the business of life: God is in control no matter what; I have no need to worry, he loves me so much he’s delighted to hang out–no matter where or how, I’m so blessed to have the job I have, even if I don’t love it every moment.

My last blog post spoke of the importance of people. Here I’d like to address the importance of solitude and silence before God. In a raffle last semester I won a book titled, “The Celebration of Discipline.” Woohoo! Right? Admittedly the book is a little dry, but still has some really good points. The author, Richard Foster, explains that when we never take time to be silent, we miss out on hearing from God: “The preacher is such a bore. The hymn singing is too weak. The worship service is too dull. We may begin to look around for another church or a new experience to give us ‘spiritual goose bumps.’ This is a serious mistake…rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.” Have you ever considered that your spiritual walk may feel so boring and like a chore simply because you’re completely ignoring a passionate conversation that God wants to have with you?

God rarely, in my experience, speaks verbally. But there are so many times when he’s spoken to me through my surroundings, other people, and my thoughts. I forget about my blessings, I forget about other people, and I forget the joys of growing in a relationship with God when I never take the time to be silent.

Therefore, to approach this goal of giving God some silent alone time to listen to him, I have some achievable ambitions:

  1. I am a HUGE fan of music. When I have access to music and am working on an activity that allows me to, I’m listening to music about 90% of the time (my family can attest!). Most of the time it’s worship music, too. But I’ve come to realize that, even if it is a good message, that doesn’t mean there can’t be something better. Tyler Joseph, leading singer in the band 21 Pilots, wrote a song titled “Car Radio” after someone stole his car radio. In his commentary about the song, he stated, “It was interesting to see how when I removed the distraction of music from my life in my car, where my brain would go…thoughts that would go through my mind… I still encourage people to take some time to just sit in silence every once in a while. A lot of things can come out…a lot of things that need to come out.” For a week, I’m going to try not turning on the music on my commute to and from work. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe something will.
  2. Lying in bed at night can be a perfect time to reflect on what happened during the day and to reset your attitude. Similarly, the morning is a great time to consciously pick your outlook for the day. My goal, then is to, for just one week for starters, not be on my phone or computer for half an hour before bed and half an hour after I wake up. That will give me a little time to have a conversation with God before I converse via text with my friends.
  3. A third option, is to simply take prayers before meals seriously. How quick we are to state, “Thanks God, for the food and for my family. Amen.” But, while God appreciates the short prayers, they are often spoken thoughtlessly. Take a moment to transform a thoughtless process into a genuine conversation with the God of the universe.

These activities provide a perfect time for prayer–a most powerful, overlooked spiritual discipline. How do you expect God to work in your life if you aren’t speaking to him? Just talk. Seriously, he wants to be in a relationship with you and talking is a great way to kick that off!

Or read your Bible! This is another spiritual discipline which is completely thrown aside so often. But we Christians base our faith off of this book, shouldn’t we be actively digging into it?

If both of these suggestions intimidate you, start with something as absolutely approachable as using this time to reflect. At school, a group of us would meet for dinner on Fridays and go over highlights and lowlights of the week. So often when trying to find highlights and lowlights, we would state, “Geez, I don’t really remember what happened this week!” My friend mentioned that this was all the more reason to intentionally reflect. You only have one life; you might as well be aware of what you’re doing in it! When I reflect, it reminds me of how blessed I am, which leads to my praising God.

In closing, I want to warn that silence and solitude is a discipline and, like everything 30428831301_436bb2c60e_belse in life, it takes effort (cliche, but true!). In order to practice what I preach, today I turned off the music for an hour while I worked out by myself and took at shower. I think it’s a sign I need more focus when I find myself singing in place of the music or pretending to be a Spanish-speaking fitness trainer…or both (I have a pretty good imagination…).

But faith is not a feeling and relationships take work. But if you ask me, having the chance to go on a date with the Creator of the universe who is passionately pursuing us is worth a little effort…

Finding True Love: To the Girls Who Want to be Pursued

We girls can be so stupid. We want love. We want to be pursued. We want to be somebody’s. In Christian circles especially, we often feel that finding that kind of love is a significant goal in our lives. Therefore, we put so much effort into dreaming of and looking for such a successful, loving relationship.

But how blind we are! Each and every moment of every day we are already being relentlessly pursued. We have a lover standing just behind us, trying unceasingly to get our attention, calling to us lovingly, longingly waiting, yearning to be everything that we desire a lover to be.

There are a number of songs that express so beautifully the relentless longing that the Lord, our true Lover, has for us:

“The scar that’s in My side saysImage result for heart in sand
As the sea is wide, My love is more so
I’m everything you need
Don’t you know the blood I bleed is for you, don’t you know?

I bridged the gap you see
And I’ll supply your every lack and need
To bring you back to Me
You’re so valuable.”
“I would run to your rescue
But you can’t see through your painSo I’m reaching across the Grand Canyon
Hoping you will take my hand
Wondering why you’re just not listening.
So for the time being
I’ll just keep on reaching for you”

“My hand is the only hand you needImage result for reaching hand
Why do you keep on
Holding on to everything but me?
Why do you keep on
Looking up to find a sign
It’s been right here all this time?
O Can’t you see?
My hand is the only hand you need”
Sometimes we get caught in the ways of the world and assume that romantic love is the end all be all. But girls, the kind of love a man has to offer is only the shadow of the kind of love that the God of the universe is longing to pour out on you. If we first learn to turn to the Lord our God for our fulfillment and purpose, I guarantee, we will NOT be let down.
So yes, we long to be loved and pursued. We are created to desire this. But it is not an empty longing. Try giving some focus to the One who is just aching for some of your attention, who is offering his hand, patiently reaching across the Grand Canyon, who was willing to die to win your heart.
If, after that, you are also provided a man to love, consider yourself blessed. But, until then, I honestly believe we can feel fulfilled, loved, and pursued by opening our eyes to the One who is pursing us already. In this way, we can “be joyful always,” even when we don’t know what’s ahead, and can make right here right now count.

 

Weighing in on the Value Scale: Humbly Looking to Christ

img_20180308_151333378_hdr.jpgWhen I was a kid, I was told I was fun-loving. This is a compliment–except when you’re told you’re fun-loving instead of hard-working. And when you’re told you can’t make it through life unless you learn to work hard. Then, when you’re told you’re fun loving, it ends up meaning, to you as a child, that you don’t know how to work hard.

So as a kid, I was convinced I was not a hard worker and that I was not going to make it through college–or life. But I ended up at the community college anyway. And, by some miracle, I started receiving As on my assignments. Slowly the world became a different place as my teachers encouraged me. They told me I was smart, intelligent, dedicated, and competent. They believed in me.

Slowly I believed in myself. I grasped the idea that, if I was a good student, I might be able to work hard (even if I wasn’t inherently a hard-worker). So I kept it up and put in great amounts of effort to define myself as a good student, as a conscientious individual, as a hard worker. It’s great to be confident, to believe in oneself, because we all are valuable. But recently it’s dawned on me that there are different ways to define value.

0303170743 - EditedThis semester I was offered a great opportunity with Cornerstone University: I got picked as one of a handful of students to present in front of the school in a “Celebration of Scholarship” event. It was an honor, and I was honestly delighted. I would have the opportunity to put forth a great deal of academic effort and then share something I was passionate about with others. I was excited to be granted a role in this event. It was another way to prove to myself my academic ability.

But as I prepared for the presentation, things didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. My research got delayed, my results came back late, and I couldn’t interpret the responses. I was in turmoil. I spent hours trying to figure out the statistics part–most of which was spent figuring out how to get Excel online to work with me. I downloaded add-ons, I watched YouTube videos, I read “how-to” instructions Googled online. This was dedication. I can’t stand doing any of these desperate measures I was going to. But I was willing to put forth great effort to do well in this honorable opportunity.

But after a few hours of this, I still wasn’t getting anywhere. On occasion, actually I was making mistakes that messed up my data and required me to spend time re-entering the data. While I wasn’t moving forward, some of my effort moved me backward.

Hence I did what any desperate girl would do: cried for a few hours.

It was through all of this that I realized my pain and stress related to this project was so intense because I was using this project to define me. In fact, lately I’ve been using my academic strength to define my worth. I’d been finding value in my academic success. I didn’t think I could do well in school. When I received the pleasant surprise that I could, I put too much value in that.

While it’s great to take a healthy pride in my strengths, to let my academic strength define my worth is to cut myself short. God loves me with a relentless love regardless of anything I do. Sure, I can delight him by using my gifts and talents for his glory. But my A person's hand holding up a roll of dollar billsvalue does not come from these things. My value comes from his unchanging, unbreakable, uncomprehendable, infinite love for me. When I can learn to rest sure in this constant love, I can have his peace that surpasses understanding for nothing that the future holds can affect my value or my worth in his eyes.

What are you using to define your worth?

Captured by Shame: A Reminder to Live Free

Image result for broken dishes

A five year-old-girl hurries forward carrying a large dish of green bean casserole toward the dinner table where the rest of the family is waiting for her before they pray for dinner. Crossing the line from the kitchen to the dining room, she trips and for a split second the green bean casserole hovers in midair. The next second, however, the casserole is strewn across the floor, an ear-splintering shattering ensues as the dish follows the path of the casserole.

The girl looks up slowly, terror painted clearly across her face, tears quickly forming at the corners of her widened eyes in the moment of silence that follows.

“Honey, it’s okay!” The mother stands up quickly and pats the daughter reassuringly on the shoulder as the family pitches in to clean up. For the rest of dinner, though, the child refuses to eat and instead hunches over, arms wrapped around her head, face planted into the table, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Related imageOr travel with me for a moment to India one hundred years ago when Amy Carmichael is devoting her life to saving Hindu temple girls from a life of prostitution. Going to great lengths, Ms. Carmichael brings a particular girl back to the shelter of her home. While the rest of the rescued girls help around the house laughing with each other, singing songs, and rejoicing in their freedom, this girl huddles in the corner so ashamed of her past that she cannot lift her face to see the opportunities around her.

Friends, we are freed. The God of the universe sent his son down to earth to die for our freedom. For you and for me, Jesus died. Like the girl who broke the casserole dish, we are forgiven. Like the Hindu temple slave who was rescued by Ms. Carmichael, we were once slaves, but now we are free.

Galatians 5:1 states, “ It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” How very much I struggle with shame. I am so ashamed of the kind of Terra Firma freshman-orientation leader I’ve been this year. I’m ashamed of the not-joyful attitude I’ve had lately. I’m ashamed of what I haven’t been and done with my time.

These things may be legitimate. The five-year-old did break the dish. The Hindu was a dino-reichmuth-85708temple slave. But we are changed. We are no longer slaves. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, italics mine).

Just as it pains the mother to watch her forgiven child cry in shame at the dinner table, and just as it stabs Amy Carmichael’s heart to see her freed daughter still living like a slave, so it hurts our Father when we let shame beat us even though he has sent his son to die for our salvation.

Friends, hear this: when you allow shame to define who you are, you are not practicing humility or giving yourself what you deserve. Instead you are scorning the death which has set you free and rejecting the joy that the Lord desperately wants you experience. 

Maybe you’re like me and would immediately claim that you aren’t letting shame define you. But, unless you’re awaking every morning with the realization that you are truly a son of God, an heir of the Creator of the universe, and that you are no longer a slave (so long as you are truly saved), then you are still cutting yourself short.

How readily we forget that God can use broken people, and, so long as we are handing our brokenness over to God, let me remind you wholeheartedly, you are doing something right. Be confident in who God made you to be.

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:7

New Blog Title: HELP!

0611171320a-1.jpgOkay, so what began as a class assignment with a focus on interpersonal communications has now become a heart-felt blog focusing more on my adventures of being a Christian. This being the case, I believe it may be time for a blog title change.

Unfortunately y’all, my dear readers, don’t realize how much say you have in my blog (what I write, how often I write, how confident I feel, what tone of voice I use…). But now is your time to shine! I’d really appreciate some help in coming up with a new blog title. Listed below are some options I’ve brainstormed, but I’m open to new suggestions as well 🙂 PLEASE comment on which title you like best/or any suggestions you have.

Possible titles:

  1. The Adventurous Life
  2. Adventurous Living
  3. Living the Dream
  4. Experiencing Adventure

Possible subtitles:

  1. Finding Joy by Keeping God at the Center
  2. Experiencing Joy with Raw Faith
  3. The Adventures of Following God
  4. Living with a Faith-Focus
  5. Living with Raw Faith

I like the word “Adventure” and in some shape or form I should probably declare my faith-focus.

While you’re at it, feel free to comment about anything else as well!

P. S. the picture of me and my fish has nothing to do with a new blog title, but I’m proud of my catch and thought this may be the only appropriate time to showcase it…

 

I don’t want to be afraid; A desperate cry to the God of the Universe

Children's Eyes, Eyes, Blue Eye, Emotion, Feelings

“I don’t want to get stitches.” Pupils dilated with pain, my six-year-old little brother lay tense on the couch while we waited for my parents to take him to the hospital. I gently pressed a rag to a gash on his chest that had long ago bled straight through his shirt. The tough little guy hadn’t shed a tear, but his shaky breathing declared his pain. I looked down into his pleading eyes. He could be a man through the pain. He could be deal with a trip to the hospital. But the one thing he asked was that we protect him from stitches.

My little brother is a beast–he doesn’t let fear stop him and, at the age of six, he had the pain tolerance of an adult. But this attitude landed him in the ER four times between the ages of four and six. By the time this episode happened, he was familiar with stitches. But I had witnessed his blood-stained shirt when my little sister brought him up the stairs, saying the boards he’d been playing with had fallen over on him and gashed him with a 0824172031 - Editedprotruding bolt. I knew what was coming. No matter how much bravery and pain shown through those six-year-old eyes, I couldn’t lie by telling him he would avoid stitches this time.

That was more than five years ago, and yet I still remember the sincere, helpless way he pleaded to not get stitches. In past blog posts, I’ve admitted my fear of the future. I’ve admitted my insecurities and my irrational worries. I can deal with not knowing what’s coming. I can deal with a change of plans. But one thing I am so tired of carrying is my dreadful fear of the future.

Tenth Avenue North wrote a song called “Afraid” which has really spoken to me. Since hearing it, I’ve taken the words on as my own and cried out to God in a helpless, pleading, painful voice: “I don’t want to be afraid!”

“When the world shakes
Feel my heart race.
When the voices start again
Oh, the panic’s creeping in
Who will I listen to?
Fear never told the truth.

“So I’ll wait on You tonight;
Worry’s only wasted time.

“I don’t wanna be afraid
I don’t wanna be afraid anymore
Not like before, oh
I don’t wanna be afraid
I don’t wanna be afraid anymore
I’m safe in Your love, oh, Lord

“…This world cannot take my treasure
This world doesn’t own my tears
My hope is alive in heaven
I will not give into despair!
I don’t wanna be afraid
I don’t wanna be afraid anymore
I don’t have to be afraid
I don’t have to be afraid anymore”

And, despite my struggle with fear, I know my God is real and I have experienced that inexpressible peace that he offers me when I am most desperate. Don’t be afraid to cry out to God, even if all you know how to say is, “I don’t want to be afraid!”