Forever Gone: Appreciating the Present

45078960_889035211496842_6106363714363981824_oFreshman semester at Cornerstone University, I was falling in love with school. Living in a dorm gave me the opportunity to eat, play, sleep, and live with friends in a way that made every day exciting. I was experiencing a new level of independence and I was getting good grades. Granted, it took a few weeks, but by Thanksgiving break, Cornerstone was really feeling like home. In fact, come break, I thought I felt more at home at school than at my parent’s home and I would’ve even spent a day of break at school just because I liked it so much.

However, by Tuesday evening, most people were heading off campus to go home and campus was suddenly dead. Honestly, it’s the people and the community more so than the space that made CU feel like home. So as the people left on break, I felt like my home nathan-dumlao-553945-unsplashwas dissolving; purely melting away while I stood there.

It struck me that even if I stood in the same place as before break, during break it was completely out of my control to make that place feel like home.

Timing was impeccable.

Now I’m graduating in two weeks. I’m terrified. Sometimes I try to calm myself down by reminding myself that I can return and visit Cornerstone regularly if I live nearby. So I won’t be totally abandoning the once-in-a-lifetime college experience, right?

But even when I return to the same place to visit, it won’t be the same. I won’t feel at home in the same way. My friends won’t have the same schedules. We won’t be as close. I won’t know as many people. It won’t be where I belong.received_1628736590585431.jpeg

I didn’t intentionally enjoy my freshmen year as much as I wish I would have. I figured I had a couple of years  left of school and didn’t think to be grateful for it until it was nearly done. But even as I am intentionally appreciative of being a student senior semester, I realize I’ve already long lost the feel of being a freshman student. I’m not as carefree, not as experimental, not as new to the whole thing. Even though I’m still going to the same school, I can never get the freshmen feel back. Later, even though I visit the same school, I’ll never be able to get this senior feel back.

This sounds so negative. So what the heck am I trying to say??

You may be able to reminisce about the past.  And in the future, you may be able to revisit. But there will never be another moment exactly like the present. And in every moment, there is something to be grateful for.

IMG_20181010_162134.jpgSo, as a senior wishing I had been more intentional in the past, I’d like to ask you to be intentional now: what do you have right now that you are grateful for? What’s something about school or your job or your friends that you can appreciate right in the present?

I don’t want to devalue your blessings of the past, nor instill a fear of the future–each of those have their own things to be grateful for. However, I want you to appreciate what you have right now (even if your tendency is just to push through the present, to make it to a “better” future) because there will never again be a moment quite like this one.

I appreciate reader comments. What can you appreciate about right now?

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The Final Score: We win (holding onto hope)

ian-stauffer-578276-unsplash.jpgI don’t have to know you
Just to know you have been lied to at some point or place
Well, I can relate.
And you’re wondering if it’s worth it. Heartbroken, feeling worthless.
Oh, the hurt is too great
Like a punch in the face…
This goes out to anyone down for the count
It’s not over
Don’t give up, don’t throw in the towel.
Just remember who you belong to
Let me remind you how this ends:
We win
Life is like an adventure novel. There is suspense. Antagonists. Pain. Unknowns.
Because this life is all we’ve ever experienced, it’s very easy to get caught up in it. But if we only look at the here and now, the little section of the timeline that our lives fill, then there is much we miss (see my previous post about ultimately time perspective).
I don’t know where we fit in the grand story line of the universe exactly. However, I know that we are living somewhere before the climax. Which means that we have not yet seen the exciting conclusion. Which means we currently see a lot of heartache and pain and struggle. But that is the way that the build up to the climax goes. Not always woman leaning against wall facing downfun, my dear. However, proper for it’s place in the story line.
I’m not saying the pain is good. I’m not saying we need to enjoy it. I’m not even saying we need to ignore it. In fact, we need to acknowledge our pain. However, if the pain is the only focus of our lives, we have every reason to “throw in the towel.” I mean, life sucks. If this life was all there was, I would’ve given up–ended my life–long ago.
But the good news is that this life and this pain isn’t all there is. Perhaps every character in every adventure novel written was convinced the pain and suffering before the climax was all there was. But for those of us who have put our faith in Christ, we have a completely different story and we already know how it ends. MercyMe put it pretty clearly, friends: “we win.”
For real.
One day we will be living in a world free from sin. Free from pain. We’ll be ecstatically celebrating God’s victory over evil.
We’re clearly not there yet. But in the days where you want to give up, in the hours mohamed-nohassi-229698-unsplash.jpgwhere the tears seem impossible to hide, in the moments where hope seems obsolete, hold tight to the promise from the One who knows: we win. 
It will be okay. Hang in there.
Leave me a comment! How do you remind yourself of the hope that we Christ-followers posses? Do you believe that we win? Do you ever wonder if “it’s worth it”?

Adoration in Prayer: In Awe of God

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Dude, praying is rough. It’s hard to find time, focus, energy. I pray for the same things over and over and over and it’s honestly boring. Praying becomes much more a chore than a conversation between two friends or lovers. It becomes much more a dull duty than an energizing discussion.

But recently I have had some new insights on prayer that have changed my attitude somewhat. The other Sunday while eating lunch at my roommate’s house, we read a devotional blurb encouraging Christians to practice “adoration” in prayers before requesting. What this means is that we should take the first few moments of prayer to recognize who God is and to thank him for his involvement in our lives before throwing requests at him.

Allison.jpgMy roommate and I pray together every night and we gave intentional adoration a shot. It was awkward at first. Like, quite a bit. But after a few weeks of focusing on God before ourselves, I’ve recognized a big difference. When we jump right into prayer requests, the focus is on my problems. To be honest, these kind of prayers are almost more stressful. These prayers are really just lists of the things I’m worried about, and reciting them reignites that fear.

On the other hand, when I start a prayer by praising God for his ultimate wisdom, ultimate goodness, and ultimate control, I have to realize that–no matter how extreme my problems seem–the sky isn’t going to cave in and that (as long as I’m seeking after him), he’s not going to let me wholly screw my life over. This focus helps me to be at peace.

Josh Wilson in his song Blown Away asks:

“When did we get so serious?
Can we just all stop acting unimpressed?
There’s a hundred million miracles in front of us passing by
God open my eyes”

julentto-photography-184055-unsplashEvery day God shows himself in ways that should just floor us–if we weren’t so desensitized by familiarity: colors, weather, flavors, language, textures, emotions, personalities…

I’d like to challenge you to be intentional these next two weeks when you pray. Start by praising God for who he is and take a few moments to recognize his greatness, before word-vomiting your requests. Don’t get me wrong; as I said in a recent post (Begging God for Hamburgers) God loves hearing any and all of your desperate requests. But start by focusing on who God is. Because we serve a pretty darn great God.

Please comment with your thoughts. I love hearing from you 🙂

 

Begging God for Hamburgers: Is this Allowed?

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I like hamburgers.

The pastor at my church spoke last Sunday about prayer. One thing he emphasized is that it’s okay to pray about anything. Granted, God isn’t a vending machine and won’t always give us whatever we ask for, but it is okay to ask. Worried about the big test you haven’t studied at all for? Ask for a good grade. Interested in that guy who sits two seats over in your biology class? Ask for his attention. Really want hamburgers for dinner in the caf this week? Ask for it, and even ask for cheese to put on top! You can talk to God about anything and you can ask for anything. But, don’t let this be the only kind of praying you do.

When we ask for random, desperate things of God, our pastor compared this to kids in a grocery store. Walking through the chip isle, the kiddos beg for Doritos. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Can we please get Doritos? I haven’t had Doritos in forever!!!” The mother may say yes, the mother may say no. And then when the family walks into the man holding boy's headfrozen food isle, the kiddos shout excitedly, “Hey mom!! Superman ice cream!!! Can we please get Superman ice cream?! That’s our favorite! We don’t get that often!” Again, the mother will say yes or no. Then, at the check out, the children see the chocolate bars. “Oh Mom! Chocolate! You like chocolate! We should maybe get some chocolate! Please?”

So long as the kids don’t throw a fit after they are told “no,” the parents really don’t mind being asked for random, fun things like this. God loves hearing from us. He’s happy to occasionally surprise us with a “yes” when we ask for something that we suddenly really want. But we have to recognize that if this is the only communication we are having with our Father, we’re desperately missing something. No parent only wants to hear from their children when the kiddos want something off the shelf at the grocery store. Instead, the parents also want to hear about their children’s days at school. They want to hear from their kids about their friends. They want to have serious conversations about the kid’s hopes and dreams.

Never feel like you can’t beg God for any and every random thing you want. You can ask for a hamburger. God wants us to come to him in prayer. But don’t ever let this be the only communication you have with God. Share with your heavenly Father your serious, long-term passions and desires. Be persistent in prayer regarding these. Tell him about your day. Your fears. Your aspirations. He wants to be in communication with you. He loves you and wants to hear your deepest desires. Not just your random, sudden cravings for hamburgers 😉

Leave a comment. Let me know your thoughts. What are your experiences with prayer?

What you don’t know about your own life.

IMG_20180822_201315629_HDR-EFFECTS.jpgIt’s crazy how most of us go through life not recognizing some of the most evident things about living. Chances are, there is one really important point about life that you’re missing right now. I mean, if you’re like me, you often go through life focusing on accomplishing the next goal: finding something to eat for dinner, finishing the day at work, finding a summer job, completing a semester, getting a new car, graduating, getting married, having kids, retiring…

Goals are important. Very important. I mean, who wants to end up as a bum? What you don’t shoot for doesn’t just happen. But, at the same time, goals can be blinders. Easily. I can be so focused on graduating and getting a “real” job that I pay no attention to my current dream summer job. I can be so looking forward to having a family of my own that I pay no attention to my siblings around me. I can be so stressed during a semesterdownload of school, that I forget the unique advantages of being a college student. Life is an adventure and we miss the story of it if we skip to the end.

So, what so many people (including myself) don’t recognize about their own lives is that

this is life.

Right here. Right now. This is life; every second you spend right now is part of your life disappearing. If you think your life doesn’t start until you accomplish your goals, you have to realize that you’ll always have unaccomplished goals until the day you die.

So, nope. This is life and you’re living it. Are you appreciating the daily joys? Are you encouraging the people you love? Are you taking in each day aware of the present?

In one sense, this life may just be a preface to a whole bigger picture. There’s an eternity out there that we often forget to pay attention to. But, that does not discredit what we’re living right now. In fact, it makes this preface all the more important because what we do here sets up an entire novel.

I challenge you to live life as if this is life. Because it is. For one week, awake in the morning and take a moment to realize that “This is life.” You don’t have to change anything about your lifestyle. Just recognize that today is part of your life and if you want your life IMG_20180602_155108596_HDRto be purposeful, joyful, and a blessing to others, then that has to start today. Attitude makes as big of a difference as action.

For more reading on this subject, check out “Still waiting for life to start: Finding contentment right now,” because you obviously haven’t heard enough yet 😉

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!

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?