Living It Up

As a friend of mine and I were chatting yesterday during the course of my long drive home from a much needed vacation in Michigan, he said something I haven’t considered much before.  He said that I was really “living it up”.  From my perspective, there is nothing too extraordinary about my life or even–dare I say it–me.  But it got me thinking.

I’m spending my summer working at my childhood camp, an experience I’ve been anticipating for years.

I’m working with some of my closest friends, a rare and precious opportunity.

I got to go on a glorious vacation with my family in a new place, where the weather was perfect and so was the company.

I attend an amazing university that is equipping me academically and spiritually to serve the Lord more effectively.

I see my family more often than most out-of-state college students.

I have not one, but two great church families.

I am healthy, I have clothes on my back, food to sustain me, and a roof over my head.

I woke up this morning. 

The very fact that I wake up every single day proves that life is one big grand adventure.  Because each breath I take means I have a purpose: to know Jesus and make Him known wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, whoever I’m with.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

We all know things can get hard and disappointing.  The middle of winter when I have to walk through the Arctic to get to class.  Finals week.  Coming home on break and working a job I don’t enjoy as much anymore.  Tension in friendships that was once so sweet.  That nagging sense that I am not good enough for anyone or anything.

But.

All of it is still part of the journey.  We don’t always enjoy it. We don’t always see why it’s important.  But we must be content in the ministry of the moment, find extraordinary joy in the ordinary.  We just need to be faithful to the God who knows.

And realize how blessed we truly are.

Adventure is out there.  Now go live it. 

 

Advertisements

I Plant the Seeds. God Brings the Rain.

I’ve been meaning to write for a few weeks, but working at camp for the summer doesn’t exactly afford me much time for that.  And there are a billion thoughts I’d love to share.  But this one has been a recurring theme for many of us on staff:

I plant the seeds.  God brings the rain.

I counseled a group of ten 4th-6th grade girls two weeks ago.  Seven of them had never heard one iota of the Gospel before, two knew bits and pieces, and one claimed to be a born-again believer.  I had my work cut out for me.

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service…” (1 Timothy 1:12)

Here at Camp Calvary, we have chapel twice a day, God-and-I time every morning, cabin devotions at night, and every counselor sets aside time to talk individually with each of his or her campers.  After a week of such intentional and intense spiritual conversation, you would expect some decision to be made or heart-change to be seen.  It’s so hard seeing zero spiritual fruit when you’ve been pouring everything you’ve got into these girls.

I plant the seeds.  God brings the rain.

God calls us to be faithful to the work He has set before us.  He does not need us.  Yet He chooses to use us.  All He asks is that we show up.  He knows we are weak.  He knows we can’t handle it.  So His Spirit enables and empowers us.

“…that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

It’s frustrating.  I’m not denying that.  But there is something so comforting and hopeful in the reality that God’s redemptive plan is not reliant on me.

I plant the seeds.  God brings the rain.

“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

10 Years and Counting

“Your grace still amazes me.  Your mercy overwhelms me.  Even when I choose sin, knowing full well what I am doing and taking advantage of Your promised grace, You love me.”

Ten years ago, on May 16, 2006, I became a child of God.  And that was the best decision I ever made.

If you know anything about me, you know that I did not experience some existential, supernatural outward transformation on the day of my salvation.  I was still the young, home-schooled daughter of a stay-at-home mom and a hardworking dad, living in a Christian home and going to church every time the doors were open.  But inside?  Now that’s where it all began to change…

In all honesty, I was less than thrilled about my own testimony for a while.  I was not saved out of a lifestyle of drugs, sex, and alcohol.  I was not a bad kid, a rebel or reformer.  I played by the rules, did my thing, and stayed out of trouble.  I was smart and fun, loved learning, and loved people.  Although I never questioned my need for salvation, I definitely questioned the significance of it.  How could my story be important when somebody else has something so much better?  But in these ten years, I’ve learned something pretty special about the grace of God, and it’s this: Grace is not a respecter of persons.

“Father, forgive me.  How could I cheapen Your design?  How could I distort Your perfection?  The cry of Psalm 51 echoes in my heart as I implore You to create a clean heart in me.”

The blood of Jesus Christ covers the prisoners and the prostitutes, the thieves and the liars, the rapists and the murderers.  But it also covers the saintly hypocrites, the pastors who doubt the message they share, the moms who can’t find meaning in the mundane, the 9 year old girl who has been riding on the coattails of her family’s faith.

Yes, Jesus loves me.  Even me.

“Oh God of my salvation, my heart is ashamed and yet I crave Your presence.  Because I feel safe when You are here.  Even when the blood is on my hands, You declare me ‘not guilty’, for the blood is on Your hands.  Even when I am caught in the act, You take the blame.

So does it end there?  I say the prayer and magically all is well and life goes on?  Well, that’s a lie I believed for a while.  You see, because I figured nothing much needed to change outwardly (after all, I was the good Christian girl), I didn’t recognize that something still needed to change in me.  I had to get my heart in sync with the heart of Christ.  But I guess I missed that memo.  Because my relationship with Jesus was spotty at best.  A few weeks of faithful morning devotions, weekly prayer time maybe, listening to more Christian music.  Who am I kidding?

A few years go by.  I’m growing a bit, because the Word of God does not return void.  But I was still missing something.  And so I sought it.  I sought the source of joy and contentment.  I sought to fill the void in my life.  But boy, did I come up empty.

Sin is a funny thing.  It convinces you you’re okay when you’re really not.  It deceives you into believing that it is so much better than anything else.  And I believed that lie, became caught up in sin, and was enslaved to my own flesh.  I thought I was done for.  Am I even a Christian?  But then I learned something else about the grace of God: Grace is in endless, daily, sufficient supply.

I missed the part about salvation I desperately needed.  And that’s sanctification.  I needed a relationship, not a religion.  I needed a Savior, not a solution.  I needed a daily walk with God, not a weekly attendance sheet.  And once I realized that, once I humbled myself, God began a work in me.  A journey.  And that journey is lifelong and lovely.

“Oh Father, I would trade ten thousand years on Earth for just one moment with You.  My fleshly desires and sin nature keep me from longing for You only.  So Lord, I pray that You would change my desires. Chisel away.  Take all that is not of You.  I praise You, Jesus, for the cross that saved me forever and secures my daily grace.”

It has been a roller coaster ride.  I’ve taken two steps forward and five steps back more times than I can count.  I’ve had to learn the same lesson over and over and over again, only to fail over and over and over again.  I’ve been blinded by my own perversion and pride.  But by the grace of God, I am what I am.

Shattered.  Yet still significant.  And wholly surrendered.

Ten years ago, Jesus saved me.  I could end there and it would still be the most beautiful declaration of unconditional love and amazing grace.  But my story doesn’t end there.  His story doesn’t end there.  And neither does yours.

What have I learned in ten years?  Whether you’ve walked with Jesus for a day or a century, I can almost guarantee you we will all have a similar answer to that question:  If Christ is all I have, I have all I need.

“You are faithful and good.  There have been many moments of weakness, many moments of doubt.  And through it all, You are so faithful and good.  You alone are worthy of praise and glory.  This change in me is by Your power and authority.  Keep making me, God.”

 

Life Is Crazy.

Spring has sprung here in Cedarville, Ohio!  Everyone has emerged from their dark holes to soak up the sun.  It is the most glorious thing!  As my dear friend Brooke observed, “This is what college looks like in the movies.” And I quite enjoy it.

Three weeks left in the school year.  Three weeks until classes end and freedom begins.  Three weeks until we all part ways to enjoy our own summer adventures.  Three weeks.  That’s not much time.  And life is crazy.

Also, puppies.  Because life is crazy.

13054646_807699972669306_1487516419_o

It’s amazing how much can happen in the last month of school.  How many new faces you can meet, how many friendships you can launch, how much you can get to know a person.  Life is crazy.

Coffee dates.  Long walks.  Hammocking and ukulele.  All of the above are methods of pure procrastination from actual responsibilities.  And life is crazy.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  He’s not finished with us yet.  Life is crazy.

Sometimes I don’t know what to pray.  I’m learning what it means to trust the Spirit to intercede for me, to bear one another’s burdens and to bear them well.  And the only way I can figure is to take it to Jesus.  He is my source.  He is my strength.  He is enough.  Because life is crazy.

So what’s my point?  A day with sun and rain is still a good day because both serve a purpose.  I may not always get what He’s doing.  I may not always have the answers.  Sometimes ya just gotta take it thirty seconds at a time and put one foot in front of the other. But God is still good and life is crazy.

Crazy because His mercies are new every morning.  Crazy because there is joy in the hurt and the healing.  Crazy because the most unexpected people can encourage you in the most unexpected ways.  Crazy because the grace of God knows no bounds.  He is the same for you and for me, the God of every story.

Life is crazy.  And I love it.

When God Wrecks Your Plans

Have you ever just come face to face with the reality that God is so abundantly faithful?  Even when I don’t feel it, I still know it.  How?  Because that’s all He’s ever been.  He’s always been faithful to me.

Psalm 105 has been a convicting text for me this week.  I have loved every moment I’ve spent digging into its historical and theological richness, as well as sharing its truth with others.

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered.” (Psalm 105:5)

When I am bombarded with disappointments, rejections, loneliness, and uncertainties, I am challenged to remember.

How often we forget…

…that He is Promise Keeper.

…that He is Sovereign Protector.

…that He is Gracious Planner.

…that He is Victorious King.

…that He is Faithful Provider.

…that He is Good Father.

I know for a fact that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel as a whole would not have chosen the lives they lived.  They would not have planned the circumstances they endured.  But God wrecked their plans.

And when God wrecks our plans, we should say thank you.

Why?

Because He sees the bigger kingdom picture.  He designed this grand redemption story.

This semester has been a tough one at times.  God has completely changed my direction for next year.  He closed doors I desperately longed to walk through.  Opportunities fell through the cracks and beyond my reach.  Disappointment after disappointment slapped me in the face.

But through it all, even when I did not feel His sustaining grace, I knew it was there.  Sometimes you just need to put one foot in front of the other…

I still have no clue what He’s up to, but I know it’s going to be one heck of an adventure.  And I pray He continues to wreck my plans, redirect my passions, and change my heart.

“For he remembered his holy promise…he brought out his people with joy, his chosen ones with singing.  And he gave them the lands of the nations…that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws.” (Psalm 105:42-45)

He has always been faithful, and He always will be.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Habakkuk

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

This passage has been on my mind since I got an overview of Habakkuk in Old Testament Literature last semester, but it has been pressed deeply on my heart a little extra this week.  I love the minor prophets.  I love how real they are.  Sometimes we all need a dose of good, raw truth.

Because, like Israel, we stray.  Time and time again, we miss the point.  And time and time again, His mercies are new.

Habakkuk prophesied God’s judgment toward Israel, and how He was going to use Assyria to accomplish that purpose.  Habakkuk wrestled with the question, “God, how are You going to use such a wicked nation like Assyria to bring about Your will?”

Chapter 3 is a theophany of Exodus, a visible manifestation of the greatness of God and His power over all things.  And yet, sometimes the ways of the Lord are mysterious and beyond our finite understanding.  But Habakkuk does not stop there.

The last three verses of this book make my heart alive in the hope of Christ, the joyous expectation that my God truly is an awesome God.

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Read these verses carefully.  A blossoming fig tree, a fruitful vine, a plentiful harvest, an abounding flock…none of those things are inherently bad.  In fact, they are all good and beneficial.

But anything that is not according to God’s will, God’s way, and God’s time is not what is best.

I don’t know about you, but this is a hard truth for me right now.  I’m playing a bit of a waiting game this week.  There are a few incredible opportunities ahead that could bring great spiritual growth, emotional maturity, and financial benefit.  And it would be easy for me to cave under the disappointment of not receiving what I think is best for me. After all, if I want these good things, surely God will bless me with them…right?

I don’t want what I think is good.  I want what my Father knows is best.

Yet I will rejoice.

Habakkuk had the hard task of preaching judgment, a mysterious and unassuming judgment at that.  Yet, what does he conclude?  What must I conclude?

I must trust, even in the mystery of God.  I may not understand His will, His way, or His time, but still I will trust.  Father, I trust You.

God, the Lord, is my strength.  I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

I surrender all to You.  Do what You want to.

 

 

 

 

Let It Hurt.

We all get hurt.  And when we do, we often jump to one of two extremes. We either tough it out and not let it touch us, or we shrug it off and pretend it doesn’t even exist.  Full disclosure: I’m guilty of both, equally and often.

I’ve been hurt a time or two or five or a thousand.  But only the people that really know me ever know how badly I feel.  A few weeks ago, I was huddled up on the floor in my friend’s room, sobbing and shaking and questioning everything I knew.  I had been cut to the bone, stripped of all ability to stand on my own.  I was so exposed, and I didn’t even care.  The only way I was going to get through it was to let others walk through it with me.  She told me later that she had never seen me like that.  And in a sense, that made me feel strong.  The fact that I had held it together enough until then gave me a feeling of invincibility.  But I also felt weak, because I had not shared the most vulnerable parts of me with people I claimed to love so deeply.  When we love people, truly love them, we let them traverse the hallways of our hearts and see the things we lock away.

Sometimes we keep our hearts locked up so tightly that, in time, it all just pours out.  We break.  We collapse.  We spill.  And it is a beautiful mess.

And the right people will help you clean it up.

I guess I default to the extremes because I’ve conditioned myself to believe that hurt is bad.  Pain is wrong.  A true Christian doesn’t let the small things bother her because there is a bigger story at work.  But that’s just it: the normal condition of the Christian is suffering.  And we can either suffer well to the glory of God, or we can suffer to the misery of ourselves.

I like seeing the big picture, the silver-lining.  I’ve been convinced for so long that, as long as I see the big picture, nothing will hurt.  Oh, how wrong I’ve been.

This is what God is showing me:  If I zoom out and enjoy the big picture of what God is doing with my hurt, I am motivated to suffer well for His glory and my ultimate good.  To forgive those who have deeply wronged me.  To trust my friends with my pain.  To let others see the real me that’s broken by words.  To be honest with how I feel and face it head on.  To pray earnestly for strength to overcome and to proclaim the message of God’s healing.

To let Love do His work, and let it hurt.