An Advent Reflection

Emmanuel

Emmanuel

I do not think I have ever given as much thought to this name of Jesus as I have this year. As I go through my daily life all the year long, I am aware of Christ’s presence in my life on a certain level. I know Him to be near, interceding for me. I talk with Him. But, I have found my heart pulled toward and resting on “Emmanuel” in a different way this year.

God with us. Emmanuel.

What has struck me is that this is not just a description about God. This is not just the Bible saying, “God is with you.” It’s actually a name of Christ. It’s an attribute and then again it’s so much more than just an attribute. It’s intrinsic in His nature; it’s what He wants us to call Him. It’s the core of His character. It’s His heart for us.

That’s a powerful message to someone like me. I put a lot of stock in the names of things. I love words and their meanings. Few things make me happier than discovering a new word in the Dictionary or Thesaurus. I love fantasy and allegories because given names in these stories carry weight and power; they evoke things in your heart, and they can breathe life and beauty into a character or kingdom. I’m the woman who keeps a list of future baby names on my cell phone–always keeping my ears open for a new name, unique spelling, the perfect cadence and right number of syllables, and a name’s meaning.

I’ve felt the nearness of Christ in recent months more than I ever have in my life. I’ve experienced God With Me. I’ve been embraced by Emmanuel. He has been real and close and present, working His will in my life, circumstances, and heart. There is nothing like it. It is both the richest blessing and most undeserved grace that He draws near to us–to me–in every condition, fear, and uncertainty.

When life seems lonely, when evenings are quiet, when the days seem long and exhausting, when we stumble into hard truths or are brought low with heart-wrenching realities–God is still God With Us. Nothing changes that. It is His name. He does not leave; He could not forsake those who love Him.

Amid bright holiday festivities, precious family traditions, and seasonal cheer–God is also still God With Us.

Matt Chandler said it well on Sunday. To paraphrase:

God is good to give us both. Both the gut-wrenching moments where life and memories are sharp, tender, and fresh due to pain, sorrow, uncertain outcomes, and loss, as well as the moments abounding with the fullness of laughter and love, cheer and a lack of want. God keeps His promises to us. He has promised to save us from our sins. And He has promised to be sufficient for us regardless of our situations. He does that by being Emmanuel–God With Us.

As it says:

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
– Psalm 34:8-10

I have encouraged my heart in the following Advent message:

“We can all all identify with feeling hopeless and helpless, especially when it comes to the weight of sin. Heavy and inescapable, we know its effects with every breath–both our own sin and that of others. Our world is full of evidence that something is wrong and needs to be made right. The reason we celebrate Advent is because the story of the Garden doesn’t end with man’s rebellion. God makes a promise, and He keeps it perfectly. Surely He who has been perfectly faithful to His promises in the past will be faithful to all His promises to come.” – The Village Church, Advent Guide

Every day brings a new challenge, distraction, heart ache, joy, gift, or blessing. Whether it is finding out that a dear friend or family member has been diagnosed with cancer, to learning that someone you love has lost their job to struggling with the ache of loneliness, Emmanuel is God With Us. Whether it is enjoying the blessings of health, family peace and unity, and prosperity or opening your heart up to the joy of love, Emmanuel is God With Us. If I have learned anything, it is that life is seasonal and cyclical. It ebbs and flows. And, it’s all for our sanctification.

So truly, we can say:

Emmanuel.
God with us.

Our Deliverer. You are Savior.
In Your presence, we find our strength.
Over everything, our Redemption.
God with us.
You are God with us.

A Thanksgiving Grace

The holiday season has officially arrived, and with it, the myriad of seasonal family gatherings. In the midst of celebrating Thanksgiving yesterday and partaking of some of my very favorite activities — eating, laughing, telling old stories for the millionth time, eating some more, and watching an epic movie — a thought struck me. It was honestly a little morbid and quite out of tune with the day’s merriment and gratitude. For a singular moment, I looked around the Thanksgiving table that was arrayed in all of my mother’s glorious autumn decor and saw my precious family–the same group that I’ve been celebrating with my entire life–and I asked myself, “What if this is all there ever really is?”

“What if this is all we ever have to look forward to?”

“What if it’s only ever just us?”

So I said the words aloud. My cousins and brothers are single, like me, and so it wasn’t entirely out of place–although they are far younger than me–and the thought probably hadn’t crossed their minds yet.

Immediately there was a scramble as my sweet parents, aunt, uncle, and grandmother launched into placating statements to assuage the situation and restore the lighthearted conversation. It honestly was not my intent to infuse the moment with an uncomfortable tension, but sometimes, words just won’t stay lodged in the back of my throat. Sometimes they escape and make themselves heard.

I say all of this to demonstrate how quickly a mind not focused on Jesus can succumb to sharp, melancholy, or darkly introspective thoughts. On a day that is hallowed and set aside for us to express our grateful hearts for the blessings in our lives, the heart can still twist in on itself and manage to make it all about the idols that have gone unaddressed. These idols that we’re called to destroy; these strongholds that we are meant to pull down like the Israelites were commanded to pull down the high places where offerings were sacrificed to false gods.

It is a day in, day out battle to deny self and take up the cross of Christ. It does not come easy; we do not fall blissfully into holiness, contentment, or joy. The pursuit of a heart that reflects Christ is a moment by moment choice, and I do not win every moment. I lose in a lot of moments. I find myself bowing down to the altar of self rather than reflecting on the inconceivable gift that has been granted to me in His rescue of me from my sin. The more aware I am of my own heart, the more easily I see myself passing through these moments, one to another.

I see myself laughing at a old family joke and being so grateful for the health of my family members gathered at the table and then watching that give way to a sensitivity as my ears prick up at a conversation on the other end of the table about grandchildren and my mom’s plans for the home where she and my dad will retire. Just a few words about a future that has not yet been granted to me and my heart stirs up, aflame with bitterness and resentment, as sharp words rise to my lips. A few seconds later, everything is forgotten, my words are far downstream and conversation has continued. Thankfully, my momentarily lapse does not alter the course of the whole family gathering. I recognize the error of my ways, sigh with resignation, and silently pray for grace.

And just like that, God grants it. He is so good.

In that moment, on Thanksgiving, when I took my eyes off of all the immeasurable blessings that God has bestowed on me, there was an immediate entanglement in my heart’s riotous desire for the things that I do not have. And in doing so, when I took my eyes off of the goodness of God and onto myself, my natural instinct was that quick remark, thinly veiled with resentment. A resentment that I have no business feeling. Who am I to question the plans and timing of the Lord? And yet, I do.

Sin is such a bitter enemy. I am reminded of the line in Catching Fire, where Haymitch and Finnick both reiterate to Katniss, “Remember who the real enemy is.”

My sin nature is the real enemy. Not Christ. Not the innocent statements of my family. Not the people in my life who are currently experiencing those gifts from God that I desire. The enemy is the fact that until Jesus calls me home, I will be a woman divided–a natural sin nature in constant competition with a heart that has been chosen, claimed, rescued, and redeemed by Christ. How I long for the day when that double minded aspect is eradicated from me.

“But He gives more grace.” a beautiful promise.

I read the statement below earlier this week, and it has stuck with me. The application here is undeniable.

makestrong

Misery is the unfortunate byproduct of bitterness and resentment, and even if, like me, bitterness visits you only in small waves or moments, the time that you spend in that negativity is terrible. God has called us to such greater things than that. It takes work to wallow in those negative emotions. What a better use of effort and energy to fight instead for joy and strength?

intimacy

And just so, I do not gain strength on my own. My strength in this life — the strength to choose joy, to deny myself, to turn from resentment, to bless and not curse — is a direct result of the intimacy of my relationship with God. When His praise is on my lips and His grace foremost in my mind, I find those lesser things, those strongholds, the Egypts of my former captivity, to be distant and unappealing. The more I press into Christ, the stronger I feel and the more I appreciate where His divine plan for my life takes me.

In closing, I am thankful. I am thankful that God has been softening my heart to His spirit so that I am able to catch myself in these moments of fallback into the mire that He has delivered me from. I am grateful for a Thanksgiving that not only included great food, side-splitting laughter, and a healthy, stable family but also a teaching moment from the Lord, a recognition of my moment by moment need of His grace. I am thankful that He loves me enough to teach me and that His patience is unfailing.

He was faithful yesterday. I will not find Him unfaithful today. I will press on toward a pure and fiery heart that is all about Jesus and not about myself.

pureheart

It was November…The Next Chapter

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I have always loved Anne Shirley, ever since I was a little girl. Her idealism, bravery, melodrama, and passion have always breathed life into my soul. She was the first to make me believe that words held transfiguring power. This depiction of fall, my most favorite time of year, and Anne’s roaming, is a glorious and poignant expression of my own mental state.

Today, I left Austin-a place I had thought I would be for quite a while. When I moved there about 9 months ago, I was bursting at the seams with dreams and plans. My cup was running over with anticipation, expectation, and hope. I was buoyed up by these emotions, and I believed my life was to be rooted there. Over the course of the next few months, everything changed.

The past two months have been a delirious blur of intensity, uncertainty, heartbreak, decision making, and an extreme measure of blind faith. The aftermath of all of that has me here-back home. When God moves, you just have to get out of the way and watch Him work. He quite literally insulated me from harm and was preparing a new job and living situation for me before the idea to leave Austin ever even entered my head. A week before the bottom dropped out of my world, I received a call from a former employer and mentor, asking me if I was ready to come home. I did not know then in that moment what was just around the corner, which makes it all the more awe-inspiring looking back now, a few weeks later.

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The next two months will likely continue to be a blur, as I begin a new job, while leading the integration and transition efforts at my current job, and pick up some freelance writing for the magazine I formerly managed–all while traveling back and forth between Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin. I’m growing weary just writing this.

Needless to say, much like Anne, all of this has left me feeling a bit weighty. I know how it feels to experience fogs of the soul. I’m looking forward to crisp weather, a change in scenery, and the opportunity to start afresh. I’d like the winds of change to rush through my life, to eradicate any lingering doubts or heaviness, to bring clarity and focus. I need a great, sweeping wind to enter in and bring restoration of mind, heart, and soul.

Jesus has been so good to me in all of this, truly closer than a brother. I can attest that the peace He’s given me is supernatural-it’s all Him. In my own strength, my first inclination is to panic, grasp, and seize vestiges of control. In doing so, I become deeply unhappy because the control I’m attempting to grasp is just an illusion. In His strength, I relinquish everything and walk into the fear, trusting that He’s strong enough to hold it all together.

And He has been. And He is.

There are many uncertainties still to come, but I know that my God is bigger than my fear, and He’s so good. And He’s clearly given me indisputable evidence through His divine working in my life, on my behalf, that it is time to move to the next chapter. Turning that final page is never easy, but I know it will be worth it, because I trust the heart of my God. This November, with the sweeping wind comes the turning of a page, the finality of a chapter’s close.

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Blink of an Eye

It was C.S. Lewis who said it.

Nothing Changes by C.S. Lewis

But I feel it today. So much is now so very different than even three weeks ago.

I aspire to be the woman of Proverbs 31:25, who wears strength and dignity the way I wear scarves in the fall. The woman who can laugh with deep seated joy in the face of an uncertain future because she knows that her God is for her, not against her, and that He delights in her.

I must not let my fears and anxieties for today compound with the fears of what might be coming tomorrow. Sufficient for each day is it’s own trouble. What I am realizing slowly, day in and day out, is to see the goodness of God in today’s troubles.

It doesn’t matter how I come. I can boldly or brokenly approach the throne of grace and lay my worries, fears, and even shattered dreams at the foot of His cross. He gives me the freedom to be where I am because He meets me in that place of brokenness. The more I ask Him for peace, the more peace I am granted. His grace sustains me for each day, affording me a newfound clarity. I could not handle more than one single day. He is good to give me just one day at a time.

In this season of change, loss, and new direction I feel God calling me to step out in faith. It is so ingrained in my personality to require options, lists, pros and cons analysis, and mitigation of risk that I have often struggled with making a decision for fear of missing out on this mythical idea of “the best.”

Having stumbled divinely across the quote below in a recent and timely devotional, I now know what to pray every time that debilitating fear rises up in my heart.

“Help us to stop feeling as though we need an explanation of why, as life unfolds around us. Show us again, Lord, that You are God and there is no other-that our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. You are at work in our lives, in the lives of our neighbors, in the lives of those who live across the street, across the country, and across the seas. You are at work. No one else is in charge, and You do all things well. You change the times and seasons. You also change us.” – John Piper

Season Change

Change sometimes surprises us, but it’s often the culmination of a gradual shifting of perspective-orchestrated by a loving God with a plan and purpose. So although it can feel as though these seemingly larger than life transitions in this season of uncertainty were unexpected and sudden, I know that God was laying the foundation for change long before.

That all things would come to an end in Austin at the exact same time with all signs for how to go on pointing in one direction shores up a sweet confidence in the Lord’s hold on my life. In Him truly are all things, and in Him all things, even my simple life, hold together.

My life seemed to be going in one direction, day by day, over the last year. And then, in a moment of grace, my life was rerouted. Whatever the reason for this change, I am glad to be in the center of God’s will, practicing patience and being grateful for His provision and His leading to new opportunities.

Looking back now, everything is different. Almost, it seems, in the blink of an eye. But rather than spend precious moments lamenting the loss of what was or questioning why certain situations didn’t come to fruition, I choose to believe:

“Remember that I can fit everything into a pattern for good, including the things you wish were different. Start with where you are at this point in time and space, accepting this is where I intend you to be.”

 – Jesus Calling

and

“God is able to take your life, with all the heartache, all of the pain, all of the regret, all of the missed opportunities, and use you for His glory.”

- Chuck Swindoll, Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication

Shrouded in Uncertainty

I can honestly admit that at no other point in my life have I ever felt this deep and heavy sense of uncertainty. At no other point has my life been subject to so many variables. I have never felt so entirely out of control of my own life. And yet, I’ve never truly been in control of anything; it’s always just been an illusion. But oh…how I have cherished and cultivated that illusion.

In the last three weeks it feels as though everything that I believed to be so solid, dependable, and certain about my life in Austin has been overturned. I’m left with fragments of that which was, and no clear instructions on how to put the pieces back together. Where to work, where to live, what to do, and how to go on are all questions suddenly staring me in the face. They stare at me with cold, unflinching gazes, demanding that I address them, even though I have no words or concrete thoughts to share.

Everything seems shrouded in uncertainty.

The future I thought was close enough to grasp now seems like nothing more than a dream. My natural and sin-ridden cynicism wants to kick in and take me down a dark and dangerous pathway, but I am battling against that urge the only way I know how–with the truth of Jesus.

It would be as effortless as my natural intake of breath to begin to question…accuse…demand…compare. But questioning God’s plan, accusing Him of injustice and inequitable treatment, and demanding things of Him will get me no where. It will only serve to chisel out a chasm between Him and myself and  to create a fortress of bitterness in which to hide myself. It would essentially indicate that I have taken God off of the throne of my life and placed myself there instead. I make a terrible god; I know for certain that I do not want to worship at the altar of myself.

It would be such foolishness. And yet, I am drawn to it.

In my humanness and in my wicked heart, I feel compelled to blame and despair, to become angry and to compare my life with others. My heart desires to linger over the remnants of a lost relationship and to relive memories that once seemed so full of promise but now are lackluster and empty. I want little more than to surround myself with blankets, open up a bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream, and allow myself to wallow in the emotional complexities that accompany uncertainty, disillusionment, and heartbreak.

But instead of allowing myself to succumb to those natural feelings, I am fighting back with the truth and promises of Scripture, which  grow more precious to me each day. In the day to day battles against self, against doubt, and against throat-clenching fear, these exceedingly precious promises are words of rain soaking into my parched heart.

As the hymn says, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.”

Isaiah 14:16-17 – “This is the purpose that is purposed against the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of Hosts has purposed and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out and who will turn it back?”

Psalm 24:17 – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.”

2 Timothy 4:17 – “But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength.”

Luke 1:45 – “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

Ephesians 2:19-22 – “Whenever you feel unloved, unimportant, or insecure, remember to whom you belong.”

Hebrews 6:19 – “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

Proverbs 31:25 – “She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

Psalm 34:10 – “Those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.”

My reading of Chuck Swindoll’s book, Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity, has revealed some timely truths. One theme in particular emanates from the pages of Esther’s life, and I truly believe God is calling me out at this point in my life to put to action the words my heart claims to believe. It is no coincidence that at the very moment when it feels like so many things in my life are falling apart, God would bring Esther’s story to mind.

“God is in sovereign control, not only of the events of these days, but in the events of our own days. In the midst of those very circumstances that today, have you baffled, wondering what you’re going to do, or even how you’re going to go on, you can rest assured that God’s power and sovereign control are already at work. God never knows frustration. We live our lives under the careful, loving, gracious, albeit sovereign hand of our God. And the movements of time and history tick off according to His reckoning, exactly as He ordained.”

So though the natural self beckons me to yield to temptation and respond to the recent struggles and losses in my life in a way that gratifies my flesh, I have the ability to choose. And thanks to the resurrection power of Christ in my life, I can choose to throw myself at the foot of the cross, press into Jesus, believe in His promises, claim that He is for me and my good, and trust in His sovereignty. I don’t pretend to understand how and why He works and moves in my life, but I choose to humble myself and trust that His plans for me are greater than I can imagine.

This doesn’t mean that there are not tears. I’ve shed and will continue to shed tears, but I am going to choose each moment to look at tears differently.
What if Your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
What if trials of this life…the rain, the storms, the hardest nights are Your mercies in disguise?

As Tim Keller says, “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” Rather than blame Jesus and question His goodness, I hope to run to Him and know Him more.

an Update & some Musings

Well, since I last took the time to sit, reflect, and write, I have stepped out on another ledge and taken another leap of faith. As a woman who battles for perfection and control over my daily circumstances (which is a flaw I hope Jesus eventually sanctifies out of me), these leaps of faith do not come easily for me. However, I’m learning to take them more often and with considerably less internal wrestling than before. I call that progress, and for that progress I am grateful.

After a year and a half of working for the Foundation and handling their marketing, I felt a stirring inside of me telling me it was time for a change. My time at the Foundation was a blessing, both professionally and personally. God used my time away from friends and family and frankly, the distractions of big city living (Temple is quite small), to convict, shape, and teach me incredible truths about Himself. The opportunities for career growth and professional experience were exactly what I needed, and I feel that God opened the door to bring me to Temple to experience some very specific situations, challenges, and accomplishments. The relationships I forged were invaluable, and I know my time there only laid the ground for my next adventure.

In February, I was offered a job–a promotion–to Director of Marketing for an Austin-based healthcare company. Accepting the job set in motion a whirlwind two weeks that included sublease arrangements, movers, apartment hunting, a website launch, and giving two week’s notice to my wonderful executive leadership team at the Foundation (admittedly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done).

So now, here I am. I’m going on my fifth week in my position, at my new company, and I am confident that I’m right where I need to be. The industry change is challenging, my coworkers are talented and dedicated, and the opportunities to make a difference and gain experience are endless. I’m blessed, and I remind myself of that each day.

However, the one area that I have been struggling with is my ability to meet and engage with other people who are also in my current stage of life and love Jesus. One of the hardest, although equally rewarding aspects of living in small towns for the past two years, was the lack of a group of friends, near to my age, that I could walk in Biblical community with. I was blessed to find a few close friends, but busy schedules did not allow us to get together as much as I would have liked. Since reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer a few years ago, I have felt a deep-seated desire for not just great friends, but for an accountable and abiding community who walks through life together.

Tonight, I went to a young singles (20s & 30s) Bible study, and ironically enough (though it isn’t irony as much as it is God’s sovereignty) the topic was on Biblical friendship. I felt like my parched soul was being drenched in the rain of truth and encouragement as the message delved into a type of relationship I have been desperately wanting here in this new city.

“A friend is a trustworthy peer with whom we mutually choose to lovingly live with by seeking unique access and service for God’s glory and our mutual good.” – Mark Driscoll

Statement after statement from the message just pierced my heart. And as Christ does so uniquely, the words were able to both convict and galvanize.

  • People you continually sin with are not your friends. Biblical friendship seeks God’s glory and each other’s good. 
  • If people are dishonest in other areas of their life, they will be dishonest with you.
  • Sanctifying friends will wound you in love, for your good; show you grace; and give you wise counsel.
  • If two sinners are going to be friends, they have to be honest with each other, for each other’s betterment.
  • Cover offenses with love. Forgiveness is modeled for us in Christ; you can’t hammer people on all their sins, all the time. You have to give people grace.
  • Many of those you call friends are not the same people you would go to for wise counsel. Recognize the different classifications of people in your life. Not everyone is a friend. Relationships differ.
  • Fools pretend that life is different than it really is and refuse to recognize reality; the wise see the truth and walk in it.

I had actually forgotten how much of God’s Word actually covers the topic of friendship.

  • “Friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him.” – Psalm 25:14
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my [Jesus] friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:13–14
  • “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” – Job 6:14
  • “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24
  • “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:6
  • “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” – Proverbs 27:9

As I sat under this teaching, I began to question the type of friend that I am to others. Am I a faithful, sanctifying friend or am I a dishonest, selfish, or sin-inducing friend? Am I the kind that wounds with love or do I gloss over things because it is easier to avoid an awkward conversation? Do I speak wise counsel or am I someone who never actually listens to what people are saying long enough to reflect thoughtfully? Where can I grow as a better friend? I also began to look at the relationships in my life–coworkers, friendships, dating relationship, family, mentors–and consider them in light of these truths.

Needless to say, it’s given me much to think about. However, as someone gloriously stated tonight at the close of our discussion:

“The beautiful thing about Christ is that He does not condemn us; He convicts us. And kind conviction leads to true repentance and even greater dependence on Christ for more and more grace.”

Tullian Tchividjian, one of my favorite pastors and writers right now, expressed this statement another way just this week in his article for Relevant magazine.

“While it is gloriously true for the Christian that there is nowhere Christ has not arrived by His Spirit, it is equally true that there is no part of any Christian in this life that is free of sin. Because of the totality of sin’s effect, we never outgrow our need for Christ’s finished work on our behalf. We never graduate beyond our desperate need for Christ’s righteousness and his strong and perfect blood-soaked plea ‘before the throne of God above.’  But there is good news in all this. Because this process, painful though it sometimes is, keeps us intimately close to Him. The reason this is so important is because we will always be suspicious of grace until we realize our desperate need for it. Our dire need for God’s grace doesn’t get smaller after God saves us. In one sense, it actually gets bigger. Christian growth, says the Apostle Peter, is always growth into grace, not away from it.”

Almost anytime God asks us to step out in faith, wage war against a sin in our lives, or speak the truth in love to a friend, the possibility of pain, heartache, and rejection exists. It can be daunting; it can feel stifling. But it is nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing the hope of glory, Christ in us. What an amazing truth. If only I lived each and every moment of each day focused on my hope of glory, Christ in me…how much different would my life be?

So on this topic of friendship and Biblical community, I intend to dive deep and pursue avidly–to live out the mandate:

 “Now is your time. Walk closely with people you love, and with people who believe God is good and life is a grand adventure. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned. Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path.”

Just Ask

I have the privilege of walking through James: Mercy Triumphs with my dear friend Amber for the first weeks of this new year. I just love how Beth Moore seems to exude a love for Jesus; she talks to Him. She feels His tangible presence like a dear Friend and Father. I want that. It’s one of the things I pray for most–to never be far from His presence on my life and to know in my heart that He loves me. So many doubts and questions in my mind arise, I believe, out of a lie that creeps into my heart. A lie that tells me I don’t truly love God and He doesn’t love me; it tries to convince me that I’m deceiving myself by thinking that Christ loves me.

When I doubt the love of God for me, I fall prey to so many other fears.

  • Fears about my relationships. Does my boyfriend truly care about me? What can I do to earn and keep that affection? Will my friends really be there for me when I’m at my lowest point? Are my coworkers and I really a team or is it fractured? Will I ever be all that my parents expect me to be?
  • Fears about my future. Do I need to take this into my own hands? Will things really turn out for my good? How can this be God’s plan for me?
  • Fears about my sin. How could God love a person like me? Why can’t I seem to learn from my mistakes? Why do I do what I don’t want to do? How many times can I wrestle with and lose the same battle? Surely Christ sees me as weak?

And yet the truth of it is:

“Nothing can separate. Even if I ran away. Your love never fails. I know I still make mistakes, but You have new mercy for me everyday. Your love never fails. You stay the same through the ages. Your loves never changes. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. And when the oceans rage, I don’t have to be afraid. Because I know that You love me. Your love never fails.”

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.”
Ephesians 1:7-8

I am so grateful to be walking through a Bible study that has a focus of mercy. When I remember the truth of Christ’s mercy, I am reminded of His unwavering love for me. And it is when I remember and claim His love for me and mine for Him, then my other earthly fears subside.

Yesterday, our study honed in on a verse that I believe is vital to my ability to live out a lifetime of delighting in God’s love for me. We focused on asking–on asking God for wisdom and for His presence.

Beth says, “The King of the Universe wants a real, live relationship with us. He’s not interested in just being a mind reader. He’s not even interested in just being a provider. He’s both of those things, but the role He relishes most is Father. He wants us–frail, mortal creatures– to connect with Him and communicate with Him as the dearest relationship in human existence. He rejoices to hear our voices. He delights to be our sole and holy source for all things in life.”

And yet, we have to ask for these things. We have to desire this relationship. I have to seek Him out and request His presence in my life. And the key is that I have to ask for wisdom and for more of Jesus, with faith…and no doubting.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

– James 1:5-8

I don’t want to be driven by the wind. I hate the idea of being unstable. In life I seek out stability; I so long for it. So to be called unstable on account of my lack of faith is both disheartening and also galvanizing. I won’t let my lack of faith in the past cause me to doubt my ability to believe that God will provide all that He says in will in the future.

So my goal going forward is to just ask. And to just ask, constantly. To try to create daily conversations with Jesus that invite Him into my life, my work, my relationships, my fears, my struggles. To ask Him to generously give me wisdom and more faith for each day and whatever it holds for me.

Truly:

“and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure.”
Isaiah 33:6

Already In My Life

A collision occurred tonight between two schools of thought.

There’s waiting on the Lord. and then there’s just plain, old waiting. Waiting on Christ’s direction in my life is a good thing. The right thing.

Standing immobile with doubts and fears about how to move forward is wasteful. Ignorant. Playing the victim.

I can’t spend minutes, hours, and days clamoring over what might have been or what baby steps need to be taken to get to Point X. Minutes, hours, and days can add up to years. I can’t be afraid of mistakes. I can’t be afraid of failure. When I let comparison to the lives of those around me or my expectation of what life should be like cloud my mind, it inhibits my ability to make decisions, to live in excitement, to find joy in the daily graces and mercies, to be adventurous, to take risks, to dream impossible things, and to be happy.

Mired in worry, my  feet are encumbered with hindrances that keep them from walking confidently in any direction. Anxiety stifles, and it fosters a critical spirit. Neither of these things enable me to live a life of gratitude.

I have to stop waiting for life to begin. To stop living for the next stage. To stop yearning for the bend in the road. My life is already here; the stage I am in…my exact placement…is orchestrated for my good and ultimately God’s glory. The beginning of things…the end of things. Transitions and changes. My best laid plans coming to ruin; joy found in surprise delights. Starting anew or remaining steadfast. No matter the moment, it’s my life that is happening right now. Waiting for tomorrow to begin living means I lose the advantage of this single, unique day to make a memory, make a difference, and recognize my blessings.

I resolve today to internalize and then live out this perspective, as best I can, pleading with Jesus to empower my feeble will with His own magnificent strength, and to do in me a work and  heart change that allows me to relinquish worry, plans, and fears to His fatherly hands.

As he said it so eloquently tonight in P.S. I Love You, “Baby, we’re already IN our life. It’s already started. This is it. You have to stop waitin’, baby.” 

 

a 2012 reflection

It’s the close of another year and the launch of a new blog. Writing in this one is a New Year’s resolution I will try my best to keep longer than normal. I have closed one chapter of writing about my life and am opening another.

Weighing on my heart today was a pressure that I feel at certain moments when I’m “taking stock” of my life, as I often do, being the introspective type that I am. I feel a certain duality of emotions: joy mingled with a weighty sense of defeat.

The joy was in seeing the growth in my life from a year ago on this date to where I am today. There have been victories, heart changes, and scars left from battling certain choice sins. There have been moments of triumph over temptations and natural inclinations, and there have been deep, abiding, truth-filled conversations with beautiful women of faith in my life. So taking note of these moments yielded a sense of joy.

But almost simultaneously there was a crippling sense of defeat. I was accosted with memories of moments where I was not victorious, where I did not emulate Christ. I felt a whispering in my heart that “tempted me to despair” as the song so eloquently states. The whispering pointed out fears I still struggled against, strongholds I had yet to fully conquer, freedom I hadn’t quite been able to claim, and Pharaohs and idols that had not yet been cast down. This left me to my tears and shame. To plead mutely with Jesus, “Why God, do I love you, and yet do the very things I don’t want to do?”

It is such an exhausting battle that we have here in the in-between while we wait for Christ’s return. The accusations of the enemy today were almost enough to extinguish the joy and life that God gives us in the victories. It might have worked if not for a few things:

I was able to rest in the promises from a God who delights in me, not just tolerates me. I was able to claim a righteousness not of my own, but of Christ, because God looks on Him and pardons me. And I was able to be reminded that significant personal change and growth is a life-long process of sanctification made possible by:

Relentless, transforming, little-moment grace. You see, Jesus is Emmanuel not just because he came to earth, but because he makes you the place where he dwells. This means he is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life. In these small moments he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace he places you in daily little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again. – Paul Trip, “New Year’s Resolutions”

Nothing is more comforting than the promises of Scripture:

Scripture1

Scripture2

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And so it is with great hope and joy that I look forward to the beginning of 2013 and all the little-moment grace that God will bless me with, for the praise of His glorious name.

For as Paul wrote, it is “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain.” Victories and failures, struggles and successes — all will be mine throughout the coming year and will continue as I live in the “already but not yet.” But I have confidence, knowing that “better is the end of a thing than its beginning (Eccles. 7:8).”