Monday, October 10, 2016

Joy Unexpected

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

My life has become one of unexpected joy. God has been showing me that He can offer abundance and richness in the seasons I try to avoid or escape. The seasons I thought would be my most miserable and draining times in life have surprisingly been some of the best and most fulfilling.

That's God's character though. He loves surprises. He's unpredictable. He makes the weak strong and the foolish wise. His ways are upside down. And I cannot express to you how thankful I am that my ways are not His ways.

If I had it my way, my life would look a lot different than it does now. I would not be the person I am today. And I would not be doing what I'm doing. And I'm pretty sure my life would suck. To put it in the simplest terms possible.

If I had it my way, I never would have gone to Young Life. And this crazy awesome life would have never been a thing. I never would have gone to club and experienced the open armed love of Jesus for people who have no interest in Him. I never would have gone to weekend camp and seen a tangible relationship with God. I never would have gone to summer camp and experienced the depth of my sin or the depth of the love of a God who loves sinners. If I had it my way, I never would have met God. And my life would not look like it does now.

If I had it my way, my life would have looked perfect after becoming a Christian. I would have memorized the Bible and never sinned. If I had it my way, I would not have struggled as much as I did with the sin I could not let go of. If I had it my way, I would not have encountered the God of universe intimately and personally and I would not know Him as well as I do today. If I had it my way, I would not be as strong as I am.

If I had it my way, I would not have majored in Biology Education in college. I avoided science like it was the plague my freshman year. If I had it my way, I would have majored in Social Studies Education. And I would have missed out on learning about the complexity life holds. If I had it my way, I never would have seen the purpose my life carries just in the fact that I exist. Psalm 139 would have never become as real and tangible to me as it is now. If I had it my way, I may not have been here.

If I had it my way, I would not be a runner. I used to hate running. If I had it my way, I never would have heard the story that changed the trajectory of my life. I would not have joined a running group at my church. And I would not have crossed the finish line back in 2014. If I had it my way, I never would have met one of my best friends. In fact, I probably would not have met most of the friends I have now. If I had it my way, I never would have seen all the beautiful sights I've seen on my runs. If I had it my way, I'd still be running for all the wrong reasons. And I would still hate it.

If I had it my way, I would not have been a leader. If I had it my way, I'd still be timid and shy. And too afraid to voice my opinion or to take a stance. If I had it my way, I would not have the confidence I have now. And I would not be as bold or as comfortable as I am in my interactions with people. If I had it my way, I would have never volunteered to take a position in front of anybody. Ever. I look forward to it now.

If I had it my way, I never would have moved in with complete strangers. If I had it my way, I would have chosen comfort over obedience. I would not have experienced the faithfulness and providence of the Lord. If I had it my way, I never would have witnessed the beautiful interwoven intention that exists in our life stories. If I had it my way, I never would have experienced strangers becoming friends becoming family. I would have missed out on a community that works to serve and love each other in sacrificial ways. If I had it my way, I would have never seen the awesome reward that risk can hold.

If I had it my way, I would not be student teaching at Cooper High School. If I had it my way, I would not be student teaching at all. I tried to find a way out last year. Out of the three options I was given, student teaching was the best one. So I applied. If I had it my way, I would have been placed at five other schools before Cooper. I put Cooper down as a last resort choice. And that's where I ended up. I was somewhat disappointed to find that Cooper was my placement. If I had it my way, I would not have been placed with one of the best teachers I've met. And I may not have seen the heart of a teacher that deeply cares. If I had it my way, I would have never changed my mind about teaching.

If I had it my way, my life would not be as rich and full as it is now. If I had it my way, I would not have the deep deep friendships I have now. If I had it my way, I would not be who I am today.

But I didn't have it my way. I had it God's ways.

And I'm thankful my ways are not God's ways. My ways would have never changed me. My ways would have kept me safe and comfortable. My ways are stagnant.

But God's ways... God's ways change people. God's ways turn things upside down. While God's ways may be scary or risky, they're definitely always worth it. God's ways are vibrant and alive.

Thank goodness God's ways are not my ways.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Learning to Own My Story

"What happened?"

Hearing that question sends my stomach through the floor. Every. Single. Time.

It yanks me back to the shame and embarrassment, the confusion and darkness, that I walked through not too long ago. It punches me with the pain, the hurt, the hopelessness, and the loneliness I thought I'd never escape.

I freeze.

"It's a long story."

Why is it so hard to tell the truth? To just tell the story...

"I hurt myself."

A few years ago, I was in a dark place. I was hurting. I was numb. Life had lost its colors. Everything felt gray and lifeless.

I was struggling with an eating disorder. I was intentionally hurting myself to try and numb the feelings of frustration, anger, pain, and worthlessness that had become my constant companions. I was depressed. I had kept it all secret. I tried to convince myself (and everyone else) that I was fine. That nothing was wrong. I hadn't been hospitalized. I wasn't underweight. I didn't have any near death experiences. And more than anything, I was a Christian. I thought that I was supposed to be okay. I didn't think that I could claim to be following Jesus if I was struggling like I was. So I did everything I could to hide the truth because I was afraid of what recovery would require. And I didn't want to be a burden to anyone.

You're only as sick as your secrets. And the longer you keep your secrets secret, the sicker you become. I eventually reached a point where hiding wasn't possible anymore. My secrets started to leak. People were noticing that something wasn't right and they began to ask the questions I had been afraid to hear for so long.

I had two options: I could lie and keep running from the truth OR I could surrender and let people in to help.

Brené Brown once said,

"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy - the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."

My body is littered with scars. Physical, visible scars. Each one of them tells a story. Stories of pain, loneliness, frustration, shame, and emptiness can be seen etched into my skin.

But these scars tell another story. One story. A story of hope and redemption. A story of healing. A story of something broken being made beautiful. MY story.

When people ask about my scars, I shrink. The answer demands vulnerability and vulnerability is scary. It's choosing to let people see who I really am, rather than trying to convince them of something I wish I was. Vulnerability is telling the truth when the truth is too hard, too painful, or too embarrassing to tell. It's choosing to show up and be seen rather than run and hide.

Every time I tell my story, I show people the raw places of my heart. The places I so often see as ugly and painful and undesirable. It makes me feel weak and exposed. Naked. Sick.

BUT every time I work past the initial feelings of shame and embarrassment and allow people to see the story behind the scars, something incredible happens..... People see strength rather than weakness. Healing rather than brokenness. Hope rather than despair. And ultimately, life rather than death.

In telling my story, my weaknesses become my strength.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 is beginning to make a whole lot more sense.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

God tells us that His power is made complete in our weaknesses. That when we let people see our failures and our flaws and our struggles, we actually get to experience God's power in the process. His healing, redemptive, life-giving power. Who doesn't want that?

I'm still learning to own my story. It's not easy. It's awkward. But I'm finding that when I tell people the truth behind my scars, I experience a little bit more freedom and healing each time. 

I want to share my story. I want people to know that there's hope. That healing and recovery are possible. That death and darkness don't have to win. 

Ultimately, I want people to see that victory is found only in Jesus. 

Have you told your story? Why or why not?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

You Call Yourself

You call Yourself the Light
This darkness makes it hard to see
Please guide me through the shadows
That I may continue on with Thee

You call Yourself the Shepherd
I'm prone to wander and to roam
When I go to leave Your presence
Break my legs and bring me home

You call Yourself Provider
In shortage I tend to plead
Remind me that You freely give
And will fulfill my need

You call Yourself First and Last
All that was, is, and is to be
When my heart ponders and I fret
Tell me that You are before me

You call Yourself the Vine
In You life finds its root
Help me to abide in Thee
That I might bear Your fruit

You call Yourself Redeemer
Mending all the broken pieces
When I break again and again
Show me Your fixing never ceases

You call Yourself the Peace
But the storm leads me to fear
When the waves begin to crash
Let me know You will draw near

You call Yourself Father
There are times when I feel distant
Help me remember I'm You're child
And that You bend down to listen

You call Yourself Creator
You laid all of the foundations
When I try to stake my claim on these
Remind me they are Your creations

You call Yourself Love
Deeper and wider than the sea
When I feel like no one cares
Show me all You've done for me

There are many names You call Yourself
But this I know for sure
You are the great I AM
And Your names will all endure

Monday, January 4, 2016

On Fear

What is fear? Why does fear exist? How can fear have such a strong pull on us?

A few months ago, I listened to a conversation on fear. One gentleman explained how God never intended for us to be anxious or afraid. He compared our relationship with God to his relationship with his kids. He talked about how he desires his kids to trust him and how, when he asks them to do something that involves risk, he wants them to know that he'll be there when they need him. 

I've thought through that conversation over these past few months. In my own life, I've seen how fear has led me to the redemption God offers in Jesus. Fear has led me to healing, freedom, peace, etc. Based on my personal experience with fear, I know it has a healthy position in my relationship with God. The conversation I overheard was not sitting well with me so I invited God into my thoughts...

Surely not all fear is bad, right? God took me back to the Garden of Eden...

"Look at Adam and Eve," He said, "What can you tell me about them?"

Reading through Genesis 1 and 2, I tried to imagine what life would have been like. I watched Adam and Eve work the land. I witnessed them play with lambs and lions. They ran and laughed through the garden. They swam in the river that ran through it. They climbed the trees and slept under the stars. They did all of this naked (there's a picture for ya). God kept them company through all of their naked adventures.

There was no hint of fear...

... Until the fall...

God gave Adam and Eve one limitation in the garden: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God gave this commandment out of love. He did not want Adam and Eve to experience death. The serpent (Satan) came and twisted the truth. He confused Adam and Eve and questioned God's love for them. They ate the fruit and sin entered the world.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:7-10)

Sin entered our existence and as a result fear, anxiety, shame, etc. came with it. Genesis shows us that fear was not a reality until we disobeyed God. Adam and Eve weren't afraid until they ate the fruit God told them not to eat. It was THEN that they fled and hid from God for the fear of Him.

Fear is not of God, but fear is certainly not a sin. There is some fear that is healthy and necessary. Since God cannot be afraid, He is not the source of the fear we experience. Fear comes from God's enemy, also known as Satan or the devil.

I believe Satan is in a constant state of fear. He rebelled against God and was cast down into Hell. He knows what his future holds. God will one day destroy him. The Bible sometimes refers to Satan as the prince of this world. He leads us into temptation and sin. When we experience fear, it's because we're under Satan's dominion. 

So how can fear be a good thing then? Well, fear tells us that something is wrong. Fear resulted from the painful separation of God and man and the entrance of sin and death into the world. When Jesus died on the cross, He removed that separation and made it possible to walk with God again, bringing us back to life. When we invite Jesus into our lives, that fear can be removed. Our fear exists to motivate us to get right with God.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:18