Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Seasons In Between


"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:19

Life is composed of many seasons. Some feel like you are on top of a mountain, others like you are in a vast, empty desert. Some seasons are filled with accomplishments and major life steps taking place. In between those seasons of fulfillment and success are seasons where it can feel as if you are standing completely still for entirely too long. It's monotony at it's worst, where you feel stuck in the simplicity of day to day life without any special matters of significance. It can feel empty and even meaningless. It can feel even more so when you see others in these amazing, life changing places in life such as entering dream careers, getting married, having children...all while you seem to be at a complete standstill. Yet those in between times can be filled with beauty, purpose, and meaning if you choose to see them that way.

I will be honest and say I was, very recently, bitter and even somewhat resentful towards God. I'm currently in a season in between, while several of the closest people in my life are not. I saw their fulfillment, looked at my lack thereof, and felt, in a way, abandoned by God. Why is seemingly nothing happening in my life? Why do I have to walk through this endless desert of nothingness while those around me are in fields of fresh greenery? Where is my life's meaning? Does my life even have meaning anymore? As I walked on and on through my overwhelming desert, slowly feeling more empty by the day, I one day stopped asking God why...because I stopped talking to Him altogether. That was when the last droplets of hope and meaning dripped away, and I felt completely and utterly empty.

We have choices in life. I don't believe that emotions are necessarily a choice in and of themselves, but what we feel directly relates to how we choose to perceive our circumstances. Perception will determine if a circumstance breaks you or makes you better. How you choose to see is how you will be. I saw my circumstances through negative, worldly eyes. I saw my in between season as a desert, an empty and painful struggle and an endless nothing. My emotions responded to that perception...I began to feel empty and meaningless myself, each day being a struggle. Then one night, in the midst of my painful emptiness, I decided to come to God again. Not to ask why or point fingers or tell Him how hurt I am. God knows how I feel, He knows the season I'm in, He knows my struggles and my hurt...I knew He knew all of it. I had fallen into such a dark and empty place, and all I knew to do was to set aside my own human feelings and perceptions and to seek His comforting light again. After all, He has brought me out of places much darker than this one. So I picked up my phone and opened my neglected prayer playlist. As I scrolled through the titles, a long-forgotten song caught my eye. The first words hit my ear, "This is my prayer in the desert, when all that's within me feels dry." For the first time in entirely too long, I felt something other than struggle and emptiness. I felt the Lord's compassion and forgiveness, I felt the darkness begin to lift. I felt my perception begin to shift. As I continued to listen, every line resonated in that place of brokenness that I had been living in for so long, yet hiding from everyone around me.

"All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship"

Over and over I repeat these lyrics to myself, singing them in my head and out loud constantly since that night. A feeling of hopeless emptiness going on too long when all I needed to do was find my refuge in God instead of pushing Him away. A brokenness that could have been avoided if I had chosen a better way of seeing my circumstances. A desert season not yet ending, but being seen in a new, life-giving way. I chose to shift my perception to God's and now I see the desert for what it can be. Desert seasons are incredibly valuable, because there it is just me and my God. In the desert, the fiery heat refines me and makes me better. I can pour all of my focus into my relationship with God without outside distractions. I can become who I need to be for life's biggest trials and biggest triumphs.

In the desert, you truly learn how to depend on God for joy and fulfillment rather than the experiences and happenings of this life.
In the desert, you grow into the person God has called and created you to be in Christ Jesus.

This desert is my season in between, and what I once so longingly wished would end, I now refuse to waste. It is still a struggle at times, but God is with me walking beside me every step. I am singing as I am being refined. I finally opened my eyes to see the stream of living water that has been in this desert the whole time.

Friday, November 18, 2016

You're Not Behind


"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
Jeremiah 29:11

What do you do when it seems like everyone is ahead of you?

This is a question I have struggled with constantly these past couple of years. As long as I can remember, my greatest desire for my life has been to get married and be a stay at home mom. My career goals have changed a million times and then some. I have watched these past few years as siblings and close friends enter serious relationships, get engaged, get married, start families, enter their dream careers, or any combination of those things. Through all of it, I have yet to even go on a single real date or have a clear and consistent career aspiration. I have watched my greatest dreams for myself happen for everyone except me. As a sister and a friend, it is important for me to be genuinely happy and excited for all of them...and I honestly am. Yet it would be a lie if I didn't say that every time I see the hand holding, the rings on their fingers and the lovey-dovey photos on Facebook, the happiness I feel is accompanied by deep pangs of hurt and even emptiness. You see everyone making the progress in life you so desperately desire, and you feel behind. Those same people try to assure me that I'm young, I don't need to worry about it and I'll find someone. Yet most of those people met their significant others before they were my age, so their comfort doesn't have true understanding behind it. It's a difficult place of life to be in.

I used to ask God why He was punishing me this way...and sometimes, on bad days, I still do. Why is He making me watch everyone around me find love and begin families and jump into long-desired careers while I'm so far behind? Why is He giving my greatest dreams and desires to everyone except me? It seemed so harsh to me...and it sometimes still does. I have come to a point where I honestly don't see anything ahead, which on its own is scary. Add to that seeing your family and friends' career aspirations coming to life, along with them having fulfilling romantic relationships and starting families of their own, my own life feels even more empty, and sometimes even hopeless. Yet I press 'like' on the mushy photos and gush at the engagement rings with a smile that is half-genuine and half-forced, feeling guilty that my loved ones' happiness causes me pain.

So what do you do? What do you do when it feels like you're behind? What do you do when it feels like you're losing? What do you do when you watch your own dreams come to life for everyone else and not for you? What do you do when you feel like you're a captive to hopelessness and your life isn't going anywhere?

Yes, I have God, and God is all we need. Yet let's be honest, those people who have love and careers around me also have God. It's not about simply having God, it's being complete in Him as you are. Some people dream of marriage, some don't. Some people who desire to get married and have families don't get one or either of those things. Some people end up with the career they've wanted their entire life. Others change careers even in adulthood. What matters is being able to say that if I never get married or if I never have kids, I'll be ok. I know I can have a fulfilling life without either of those things. I can be happy in a career I never thought of having. Am I 100% there yet? Honestly, no. I'm working towards it every day. Being ok doesn't mean I'm giving up. I have time to meet someone, get married and start a family...it may not be in my own planned-out timing, but it could still happen. Yet my life won't be any less amazing or fulfilling if I don't get those things. God will reveal His plans for my career. It may not be what I had been so set on, but it will happen. With every new engagement, wedding, and pregnancy announcement, I feel a little less inner turmoil than the last. With every long-dreamt career goal that comes to life, I feel a bit more genuinely excited. I am beginning to honestly trust God with my own unknown future. I am slowly learning to feel complete, even in my unknown. I am not less whole being single than being married. There is no less fulfillment in a career revealed by God on the brink of graduation (or even later) than one dreamed of for many years. I am not less than because I don't have those things as early as my friends, or because God's plan is different for me than it is for them.

The point is simply this: never stop dreaming, but be ok if your dreams don't happen the way you thought they would. Know that in God, you are enough in your own right because having a spouse is not what makes you complete, it's your identity in Christ. Your career goals may change a million times, you may not have a specific career in mind at all, but God will reveal that part of your path in His timing. Just because you see nothing ahead doesn't mean that there is nothing ahead. God planned a life for each of us greater than any adventure we have read about in any book. Those who have found their career and found love earlier in life are not ahead or any better off. Don't feel as if you are falling behind, or God wants to bless them more than you. His plan for you isn't the lesser one, it is simply a different one. Dreams and desires are important, but the greatest dream and desire we can ever have is to seek God whole-heartedly and to do God's will in our life, no matter how much it may differ from our own plans. That is where true fulfillment is found.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Faith Like That...


"After they [Paul and Silas] had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them."
Acts 16:23-25

Paul and Silas ended up in those horrid conditions for simply casting a demon out of a girl, a demonic possession that had been a business for that girl's master. Casting out demons was an ability Jesus gave to his followers through his Holy Spirit...Paul and Silas had done as Jesus Christ had done, and they did it through his spirit. Despite the fact that their actions were just and of God, they still suffered horrendous consequences for those actions. They were flogged (a punishment they were legally exempt from due to their Roman citizenship), and then they were thrown into the inner cell of the prison- the area with the most disgusting of conditions with their feet bound and their severe wounds untreated. They were suffering through terrible, unjust circumstances, and yet it was in those agonizing moments that they prayed and sang hymns to God.

Could you even imagine being in that situation? You have done no wrong, yet you are sentenced as if you were a criminal. The skin on your back is torn and bleeding, your feet are bound, and you're in a cell filled with human waste. You're in horrendous pain, surrounded by sickening smells and deep darkness...and you choose to sing to God.

It's hard to relate to those physical conditions, but we too face our own pains and imprisonments in our lives. We are hurt by those we trust, we are rejected, and we are treated unjustly. We are abused and wounded by the words and actions of others, and we face pain and heartbreak. We struggle through depression and anxiety and fear and hurt. We become prisoners to our overwhelming emotions and situations. Yet what Paul and Silas so beautifully display in Acts 16 is that even when we are treated unjustly, even when we are hurting and we feel trapped by our circumstances, we still have the ability to choose to sing. God is good, even when our circumstances are not- because of that, we can sing through our struggles. Paul and Silas could have groaned and complained and questioned God, yet instead they prayed and sang in faith, and God showed up.

"Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose."
Acts 16:26


When life gets difficult and depression sets in, I want to have faith like Paul and Silas. I want to have faith strong enough to sing songs of praise even when I feel like there is seemingly nothing good in my life. I want to have faith powerful enough that it shakes the foundations of the earth. I want to have faith so enduring that I can pray and sing from the moment I feel the chains of my circumstances bind me all the way until those same chains are broken. Even when we don't even see a reason for getting up in the morning, with just a mustard seed worth of faith, we will see that we have a reason to sing a song of joy.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Letter To My Thirteen Year Old Self

Dear Thirteen Year Old Me,

It's not too often that I think of you. It's been eight years, and remembering you is still difficult...the memories are vivid, but I wish they were not. But here are some things I wish I could tell you:

In a few years, you will finally truly experience God for the first time. I wish you would experience Him right now and save yourself from the hopelessness and the pain and the scars. I know you want to give up, but a meaningful life is coming for you, so hold on just a little bit longer. You will finally meet your savior here on earth, and He will save you in every sense of the word. He is the hero you don't even realize you need yet.

People say terrible things to you. Their words cut you down, and you are allowing it. You allow others' hurtful words to become your genuine thoughts. Here is the truth, though. You are not defined by the words of bullies, of those who hate you for simply being you. I wish you knew the words of Psalm 139:14...a reference now tattooed forever upon me because of what you're facing. You have so much worth, but you are blind to that truth right now. I promise that one day, in a few years, the words that you are allowing to define you will be nothing...you will be defined by God's truth.

I know that right now, you have no thoughts on how serious it is to be hurting and scarring yourself. You think you will spend your entire life doing this, and that it is the key to continue living. I know you don't believe this, but one day you will stop. You will be free of your newly formed addiction. I wish you cared about the reality of permanently scarring yourself. I wish you understood that the body you are in was created by God, and that it is beautiful and precious for that reason alone. I wish you understood that you deserve better from yourself. But it's ok. I forgive you, and I am not ashamed of you. Your pain is my testimony; what you use for darkness, I now use for light.

You're going to be okay. I know that you feel like you're alone, drowning, and hopeless. I know that you are overwhelmed by the intensity of your pain, depression, and self-hatred. I know you think, and sincerely hope, that you will never even make it to the age of eighteen. But here I am, twenty one years old, saying that the season you are in will eventually pass. When you meet God oh so soon, it will change everything.

If I could travel back and tell you that you made it to your twenties, and that you are truly happy, you would never believe me. For awhile, I was ashamed of you...of your thoughts, of your actions, and of the pain you cause yourself and those that love you. But I have learned to love you because God does, and every not-okay thing you have done and will do will ultimately not be in vain. God will use your painful, shame-filled choices for His glory. While I wish you would go down a brighter and straighter path, I am where I am now because of you. So thank you for surviving long enough for God to touch your life...I live fully today because you held onto your existence by a thread. God will help you overcome all of your shameful, self-destructive ways, and because of that, I now know He will help me overcome anything I might face. I am a better and stronger person because of you. You are not some past version of me that I hate and regret. You are a testimony that God can take a dark and hardened heart, and He can transform it into something beautiful and full of life.

Sincerely,

The woman you never imagined you could be

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Enough


"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
Psalm 139:14

I have spent most of my life comparing myself to others. "She is more beautiful than me." "He is more intelligent than me." "She is a better Christian than me." "He is funnier than me." "She has more friends because she is a better person than me." And the list goes on...

I never wanted to be in pictures with my friends because I looked like the "ugly fat friend". I tried to avoid spiritual conversations because, "they are so spiritually intelligent, I'll just sound stupid." I compared myself to others so much that I held myself back so no one else could see how "inferior" I was compared to everyone else. How could I ever measure up to those around me?!

Comparison is one of most easy, natural, and dangerous habits to engage in. We all have people around us, and so our human nature constantly causes us to compare ourselves to those people. Some people think they are better than those around them and see themselves as superior. Others, like myself, think they are worse than everyone around them and see themselves as inferior. Those who see themselves as superior convince themselves it's a healthy sense of confidence. For the longest time, I tried to convince myself that my feelings of inferiority were simply a healthy sense of humility. We try to mask the reality of what comparison has done to our minds, yet the truth comes out despite the mask. I couldn't hide the negative effects comparison had on my mind and self-esteem. Many of my compliments to others came with insults aimed towards myself. Self-deprecating jokes were the norm. I felt, and sometimes still feel like everyone around me is better than me, and everyone knows that. Yet the comparison and constantly not feeling good enough were more damaging than I ever knew.

We all want to be "enough": good enough, smart enough, pretty/handsome enough, spiritual enough...we want to measure up to those around us. The truth is that on our own, we cannot and will not ever be enough. Without God, we are only a small portion of ourselves. With God, we are whole and complete in our identity, and that is how we become "enough". God does not put more or less effort into the people He makes. I wanted to be as beautiful as my best friend, but Christ designed my physical being with as much care as hers. Therefore, I am pretty enough. God created me with an intense desire to learn. Therefore, I am smart enough. God ignited within me a passion to ponder and meditate on His word, and to worship Him and feel His presence. Therefore, I am spiritual enough. God gave me a heart to love and serve others. Therefore, I am good enough.

I have come to see the harsh reality that when I undermine how God created me as an individual and see myself as less than those around me, I am insulting His work...His creation. God didn't want me to have the same exact looks, mind, talents, or spirit as anyone else. The theme of my college this year is "Live Your Purpose", and it is my motivation to avoid the destructive act of comparison. God created each of us with unique, one-of-a-kind sets of traits, skills, and gifts specifically for our unique purpose in this world. We were never meant to compare ourselves to others because we were each created to fulfill God's individual plan for our life. We can be inspired and mentored by others, and learning from others is crucial in order for us to grow into the best version of ourselves as individuals. But we were never meant to attempt to emulate another person's exact being. The world doesn't need a replica of Abraham or Moses or Daniel or Paul. The world doesn't need another Kim Walker or Steven Furtick or Judah Smith. God created the sun, the moon, and the stars. He created mountains and seas, day and night. God, the creator of Heaven and earth, looked at the world and decided that it needed the unique creation that is you.

"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Ephesians 2:10

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Be Still


"He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.'"
Psalm 46:10‭-‬11

"Be still, and know that I am God." For weeks, those words have been like a song stuck in my head. Life seems to move a million miles a minute, one circumstance after another. The world is unpredictable, as are the lives we lead. I am sure there are many others, like myself, who become overcome with stress and anxiety when unexpected circumstances beyond our own personal control enter our lives. Lately, there seems to always be an uncontrollable situation that makes my mind and heart anxious, where I try to find any worldly way to control and fix whatever is happening. My spirit, as a result, has been unsettled. It hasn't been unsettled by the uncontrollable circumstances themselves, but by the fear and anxiety I have been feeling. I have come to understand just how greatly my anxieties affect my spiritual life.

I felt two pressing questions from God on my heart in the middle of everything. The questions were, "If nothing goes the way you are planning and hoping, will you still trust in me?" and "Would you be able to simply be still and know that I am God, even if the worst happens?" Wanting to be a "good Christian", I wanted to believe the answer to both was "Of course!"...but I knew that my fears contradicted that response. I realized that I trusted in my own thoughts of what I believed should be rather than God's plans.

In the best moments and the worst moments, he is still God. If nothing goes to plan and every worst-case scenario comes to pass, he is still God. When I set aside my fears and anxieties and began to live out that truth, peace came over me like an ocean wave.

We can't depend on our desired plans to defend us from the unknowns that we fear in life. There is, of course, great power in the prayers we speak to God. Yet one of the most powerful prayers we can offer up to God is unspoken: when we give him all of our cares, relinquish what control we want to believe we have, and trust that he's got it. It is in this truth that our fears pass away and genuine peace can be found. Once you begin to be still in the knowledge of who God is, light will begin to shine through even the darkest crevices of your life. Our defense from life's hardships and unknowns cannot be found in our own mere human plans for what we think should be. It is simply being still, and knowing that he is God...that is our light and our fortress.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Exodus 14:14

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Freedom in Forgiveness


"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Colossians 3:13


Forgiveness is something required of us from the time we are children, and a lesson we learn earlier than our minds can probably even remember. It's required when a sibling accidently breaks your toy, or when someone calls you a name on the playground. As young as we might be when we first learn the importance of forgiveness, it never seems to become easy. As we get older, the offenses against us become greater, and so our ability to forgive becomes seemingly more difficult. Forgiveness is always a difficult decision to make and even more difficult to genuinely do, no matter how many times you've had to forgive.

I was bullied a decent amount in middle school. I was called fat, ugly, annoying...and it affected me. Yet ultimately, I came to see those instances as more petty than cruel, so I was able to label them as middle school immaturity and forgive them. When I began my 7th grade year, though, I was tested in my ability to forgive. I had a classmate who, every single day of that school year without fail, said to me, "Nobody likes you. You should jump off of a bridge and kill yourself." It was a much more cruel sentiment than calling me fat. It seemed so much more hateful, and so it hurt much more. It wasn't a random immature comment in passing, but a constant and intentional effort to hurt me. I couldn't write it off as I had in other instances of verbal bullying. Each day I would hear those words again, and then again the next day, for over a hundred days. My hurt grew with each day, as well as my bitterness towards that person. Forgiveness wasn't even a thought, because he seemed so undeserving of forgiveness. He threw those same hurtful words at me day after day, so I knew he wasn't sorry. Of course there are other, more intense situations where forgiveness was more difficult than this, but this was the most severe situation I felt comfortable publishing.

I never knew the true importance of forgiveness until I gave my life to God. It wasn't until the God of Heaven and earth forgave me, every sin, every wrongdoing, every hurtful act against others or my own self, that I understood the power of forgiveness. Yet, even in that knowledge, it is still so unbelievably hard to forgive. We suffer time and time again from the words and actions of others that seem to cut us like knives. So many times, we plead, "But God, you don't understand how much they hurt me!" We act as if God doesn't understand the difficulty of forgiving those who hurt us most, those who offend us so severely without having remorse. Yet God does understand, because Jesus Christ walked this earth and experienced the human condition. To me, one of the most powerful sentences to come from the mouth of Jesus is said in the most unforgiving of circumstances. Jesus was humiliated, spat on, mocked, brutally flogged, had a crown of thorns shoved onto his head, forced to carry his own cross up a hill on his wounded shoulders, before being painfully and horrifically nailed to that cross. Then, as his torturers and murderers gambled for his clothes at the foot of the cross he was hanging on, broken and bleeding, Jesus spoke these powerful words:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Luke 23:34


Reading that red text in my Bible is a true conviction when struggling with unforgiveness. How many of us could endure so much cruelty and torture, and in the midst of that, be forgiving? We'd all like to believe if we were in Jesus' place, we could say those words. Yet how many of us truly could? Yes, there are people on this earth who endure injustices where forgiveness is near impossible. Yet Jesus proved anything can be forgiven when he endured torture and pain that was so great that it was enough to cover the sins of all of mankind, and in the middle of it all, forgave those who inflicted that agonizing cruelty upon him.

When we live in unforgiveness, we live bound in heavy chains that keep us from living in Godly freedom. Unforgiveness prevents us from experiencing the joy, peace, and blessings that God has for us. Our perfect Heavenly Father forgives us, so how much more should we as imperfect people forgive one another? I have the life that I have because of forgiveness that I did not deserve.

It was at the altar that I forgave my classmate for the months upon months worth of telling me that I should end my own life. There were people and situations where I felt the hurt and bitterness for so long that I had become numb to my own unforgiveness...and I forgave those people and situations at the altar, many years later. I became free when God forgave me. I became free when I forgave others. Forgiveness isn't easy, but when we break the chains of unforgiveness, it is so worth all of the goodness that comes from it.