Friday, October 28, 2016
"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."
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."
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
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.
The woman you never imagined you could be
Saturday, October 1, 2016
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
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."