Monday, January 26, 2015

“I love you, O Lord, my strength.” ~ Psalm 18:1

I've been trying to write this post for about two weeks. I know what I want to write about. I've pulled together a list of quotes and verses that fit my theme. I've started to write several times and thought about writing even more times. But I keep stopping. Although I can't tell you for certain that I know the reasons for sure, it likely has to do with the fact that I want to talk about being brave. And I'm struggling to feel brave enough to talk about it. Crazy, but it makes sense, right?

I've lived most of my life pretty safely. I prefer to be liked, I like to please others, I don't like to cause drama or conflict, I try to be the good girl, I want to make everyone else happy. That's not to say I haven't made some brave choices. I knew God was calling me to go on the 10:10 mission trip and even though it was hugely outside my comfort zone, I went. I was brave that summer....brave enough to leave my family for 8 weeks, brave enough to be surrounded by 19 strangers, brave enough to sing and act in front of even more strangers again and again, brave enough to trust God in so many small and huge ways.

"Sometimes you have to leave what you know to find out what you know." ~ Matthew McConaughey

I read this quote recently in an article about this actor and even though he isn't one I'd think of for wisdom this quote really resonated with me, especially in regards to my 10:10 summer. Prior to going on that summer mission, I thought I wanted to go away for college and I was pondering places like Hawaii, Chicago, Oregon, etc. I'm so incredibly grateful that I had those 8 weeks away which helped clarify for me that I am not meant to be far away from my family and friends. I truly had to leave what I knew to find out what I knew in my heart.

I feel like I'm still kind of shying away from writing about being brave. I live too much in fear...of what people might say, or do...or how it might affect how I'm perceived...or if it might cause conflict or drama. I don't really want to be like this. I know in my head that it's okay to have opinions and feelings and I should feel able to express them...but too many times I just don't. I defer to what others might want instead or pretend that I have no opinion when I really do. I know this isn't good and that my friends and family would prefer my honesty...and yet I still struggle. But I want to be brave. In big ways and little ways. In ways that matter and in ways that don't really matter to anyone.

"I was a good girl and I wanted to be a good girl, but it often kept me from saying what I really meant. In fact, my desire to be good even kept me from exploring my own opinion, and I grew up to believe that my opinion didn’t actually matter much anyway. I avoided vulnerability for fear of being rejected or being labeled needy. Good girls aren’t needy, they are needed. And so instead of living free, I lived safe.”
~ Emily Freeman

I want to step outside of the mask I all too often hide behind. But again...fear creeps in. I know I shouldn't be afraid. I know that ultimately many little choices are not the huge life-changers I imagine them to be and usually people aren't nearly as concerned with my decisions as I think they are. It has a lot to do with my desire to avoid attention, and the fear that certain choices will bring unwanted attention and that scares me.

“I don’t know if you have ever experienced the suffocating confinement of others’ expectations on your life, but it is a very difficult burden to bear. Whether it is a woman shedding the expectations of her parents to become a physician and answering the call to the mission field…or a woman resisting expectations of traditional roles to attend seminary and study theology…putting aside the expectations of others to do what God calls you to do can be difficult.” ~ Sharon Jaynes

“I was in trouble, so I called to the LORD. The LORD answered me and set me free. I will not be afraid, because the LORD is with me. People can’t do anything to me. The LORD is with me to help me, so I will see my enemies defeated. It is better to trust the LORD than to trust people. It is better to trust the LORD than to trust princes.” ~ Psalm 118:5-9

But God has been working on this in me. I didn't see it at first because I thought it was about simply growing deeper in my relationship with Him. But I'm beginning to see that this journey He's had me on for the past few years is not only about deepening my knowledge and faith, but also about being brave. About saying what I think and believe, in spite of other people's opinions and what they might think of me. Standing up for what I believed wasn't about rebelling, but it caused certain people to see me as rebellious, as the "black sheep", as someone whose heart was in the wrong place. That wasn't true though! What I learned was that I was seeking God's desire for my life, for my heart...and standing firm in what I believed made me stronger in my faith and made me brave.

“Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things.” ~ Joel 2:21

“Don’t worry. Lay your hand in His hand. You will be safe, even if life today feels like crossing a bridge without parapets over wild rushing water.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

I still struggle with that fear though. Fear about sharing what I've learned in this journey because some people might not understand or might judge me for the decisions I've made. I struggle sometimes with writing this blog and sharing my thoughts and feelings. I struggle with how real to be and how open about my journey I should be. I wonder who might read it and whether or not there might be repercussions. I can see God's work in my life and I can see His hand guiding this journey and I do trust deep in my heart that He is leading my path. And yet, the fear comes back time and again.

“One night before dinner, we decided to ride on one of the horse-drawn carriages through Central Park. As soon as I got into that carriage, the first thing I did was plop my heavy bag onto the seat next to me. I never once considered keeping that bag strapped to my shoulder for the ride. I never once thought of carrying the bag myself so the horse wouldn’t have to. That would be a weird and crazy thing to do. The amount of crazy it would take for a girl on a carriage ride to keep the bag strapped to her shoulder is equal to the amount of crazy I am when I refuse to trust the Lord to handle my worries.” ~ Emily Freeman

In good moments, I know that trusting God is the key. I know that He is in control and that all will work out according to His plans. When I talk to others and give advice or prayers, it's so much easier to have faith for them. I have such faith when it comes to others and what I know God can and will do. I just have to remind myself that the same God who is able to provide for them, also provides for me and is always there. I know this...but my heart forgets all too easily.

“Don’t be afraid, for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” ~ Daniel 10:19a

“I’m proud of you for times you wrestled with your problems and discovered how much that helped you to grow.” ~ Mister Rogers

Going through these past few years has been a struggle. I've really had to wrestle with what I believe and why I believe. I've had to stand up, stand out, and be willing to not be liked. I've had to grieve and cry and be angry. I've read a lot, studied a lot, prayed a lot, cried a lot, talked a lot. I've begun to see the world a little differently, see my life and my choices a little differently, and see God and the Bible and the church a little differently. I've made new friends, deepened relationships with other friends and lost some friends. I'm starting to see new opportunities and one of those is about trying to be brave. Trying to step outside my comfort zone and try new things, speak out about my opinions and realize that it's okay to share my thoughts and it doesn't have to be as big a deal as I might imagine it to be.

“God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14

One of the ways I'm going to be brave this year is singing. My dear friend asked me to sing at her wedding. When she asked I was afraid...I don't like being in front of people. But I love my friend, and it meant so much to me to be asked to be a special part of her wedding so I said yes. Am I afraid to be in front of people, yes. But I know I can do this...she trusts me to do this, God has gifted me with a good voice that allows me to do this. I want to do this because it is a special gift I can provide for someone I love. But I have to be brave...and I know God will help me do this.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” ~ Psalm 27:1

I'm sure there will be other opportunities to be brave this year and in the future. I want to try to accept them with a sense of adventure and purpose, rather than a sense of fear and dread. I won't always succeed, but I want to try. It can even be little things. Like I was always afraid of jalapenos...thought they were too spicy and I avoided them. But in the past few months I discovered that I love them. Like really LOVE them! My new favorite pizza is pepperoni and jalapeno. It may seem silly and not that brave...but to me, it's one more step in making the brave choice. And it turned out so well since they are soooo delicious!

As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the promises you made
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way
~ Amanda Cook, Bethel Music

My mentor Shauna shared this song on Facebook a few weeks ago. She too is wanting to be more brave (one more thing we have in common) and I told her it was meant for me as well. I spend much more of my life being afraid than I should. While some fears can be healthy, in general I tend to have more fears relating to fear of letting go, fear of not being in control, fear of people's opinions, and fears of being rejected or disliked. Those aren't healthy fears and while I don't expect to change overnight, I want to make an effort to go outside my comfort zones and be brave. This is scary, but I need to try and any encouragement would be VERY appreciated.

Dear heavenly Father, I want to be more brave and I feel You calling me to step out in faith. Please help me to trust You and depend on You and know that I don't have to fear the opinion of anyone. That all I need to do is focus my mind and thoughts and actions on You. Help me to be bold in my life and not be afraid to take chances that You place in my life. To try new things and not live my life in fear. Please give me wisdom to know the right choices to make, and the wisdom to know when it isn't that big a deal and there isn't just one right answer. Help me to be brave, and help me to have the kind of faith I have for others. Help me to be an encouragement and support to those people You place in my life and not do anything to hurt or discourage them. Continue to lead me along this journey You have for me and help me to be open to wherever You might lead. Thank You for loving us...I love you too. Amen.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

“The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me.” ~ Psalm 138:8

“They have been two terrible years – and yet I have a queer feeling of thankfulness for them – as if they had brought me something very precious, with all their pain. I wouldn’t want to go back and be the girl I was two years ago, not even if I could. Not that I think I’ve made any wonderful progress…I suppose I had a soul then…but I didn’t know it. I know it now – and that is worth a great deal – worth all the suffering of the past two years. And still…I don’t want to suffer any more – not even for the sake of more soul growth. At the end of two more years I might look back and be thankful for the development they had brought me, too; but I don’t want it now.” – L.M. Montgomery

Well, I finally finished reading the Anne of Green Gables series which was a goal from 2011. It took quite awhile because while I loved the books which were about Anne, I struggled a lot with the ones that focused on her children, with very little of the Anne and Gilbert I loved. The above quote is from the last book - Rilla of Ingleside - and it really resonated with me and the journey I've been on for the past two years. As I get older, the more I understand that the truly difficult things, the painful things, are the things that God uses to grow us in the biggest, most life-changing ways. And we wouldn't want to know in advance that we'd have to suffer through them, and we wouldn't choose to suffer through them again, yet we begin to understand that without those struggles we wouldn't be who we are - who God intended us to be.

“We say that we wish God would answer our prayers immediately, but I think that if He did, we’d run the other way. We need the gift of time. We need the grace of small steps.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

“Small is how blessings, healing, progress and increase occur.”
~ Anne Lamott

“These things I plan [for your life] won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.” ~ Habakkuk 2:3

This is the time of year when we think of new beginnings. And although we might think we want big changes, generally the way things happen is slowly, steadily, surely. Small choices, adjustments, changes - these things add up and eventually we see the end result of those small things. It takes time to adjust to new things, even good things, and I'm thankful that God usually allows us to gradually become accustomed to things. It may seem unfair or too slow at the time, but often looking back we see that it was at just the right speed and just the right time. We can't see the big picture, but God can.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new…Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you. And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” ~ Zechariah 4:10

When I look back at the past two years, it seems like time flew by, but I know that in the midst of the struggles it felt like time slowed to a snail's pace. It takes time to learn and grow and change. We stumble and fall and have to get up and try again. On of the things I've been feeling lately is that finally the true emotional toll is beginning to hit me. There is a process of grief and healing to go through. At the beginning the anger and the desire for knowledge reigned in my mind and heart and it pushed me to read through my Bible, to tackle books about theology and to really wrestle with what I believed and why. That time was very important and I learned a lot and I'm very thankful for the opportunity, even if I wasn't thankful at the beginning.

"The only possible way to have full understanding of the teachings of Jesus is through the light of the Spirit of God shining inside us. Once, the Bible was just so many words to us--'clouds and darkness'--then, suddenly, the words become spirit and life because Jesus re-speaks them to us when our circumstances make the words new." ~ Oswald Chambers

 "If you cannot express yourself well on each of your beliefs, work and study until you can. Stir your own mind thoroughly to think through what you have easily believed. Your position is not really yours until you make it yours through suffering and study. Try to state to yourself what you believe to be the absolute truth of God, and you will be allowing God the opportunity to pass it on through you to someone else."
~ Oswald Chambers

Although it feels like I've spent my whole life believing in God and knowing a lot about the Bible, it truly was like Chambers says in the first quote "from clouds and darkness to spirit and life." I can't recall another point in my life where God's Word came to life so vividly and lovingly. That alone is something I cherish and appreciate deeply. And all along this time of struggle, I've felt like there was something more - something God wanted me to do with this knowledge. Partly, this blog has been part of it - like Chambers says in the second quote "the opportunity to pass it on through [me] to someone else." But, it feels like there might be something else, but I don't think I'm there yet. I think that there is still healing and recovery to come. I do trust God to carry me through, but I'm a little worried about what that might mean and how it might come about.

“Healing is messy and fluid and often unpredictable. I can’t manufacture my own healing. It usually takes longer than I think, runs deeper that I wished, and involves more areas of my life than I ever imagined. But once I come though it on the other side, healing not only offers the closure I thought I wanted, it comes with a wholeness, wellness, and restoration that closure lacks.” ~ Emily Freeman

“The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” ~ 1 Peter 5:10

I'll admit it. I'm scared to go back to church. I'm worried about finding a place to feel safe. I feel overwhelmed about the need to be aware of what's being said and to have to think about it and not just blindly trust. I feel like I can't ever go back to attending church the way I used to. It means more now and that worries me. Yet, I know God is in control. I know the church is important to Him - the church is His bride, His beloved. I know it is good to be in fellowship with other believers, I miss the time of worship and praise. I want it to be easy and I feel like it can't be easy any more. Maybe I'm wrong...I'd like to be wrong...I would love to be proven wrong. But I'm afraid to try. I know I shouldn't feel that way...but I do.

“’The only exercise that works 100 percent of the time to draw one close to the real God is risk…To risk is to willingly place your life in the hand of an unseen God and an unknown future, then to watch him come through. He starts to get real when you live like that.’” ~ Jennie Allen

“God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” ~ Ephesians 3:20

But I have to try. I have to choose to have faith. I have to let God do what God wants to do in my life and not be afraid. I know that this journey is not over. I know there is more for me to learn. I know that I have to keep choosing each day to place my hand in God's and trust Him to carry me through. I know I'll sometimes let go and feel afraid again. But I want to choose to not give up, to take hold of His hand once again and daily trust Him. It's all I can's all any of us can do.

“‘I trust God.’ …God, give us enough faith for whatever the stories of our lives will hold, even on the worst of days.” ~ Jennie Allen

“’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” ~ Zechariah 4:6

“…it’s about the journey. It’s about rediscovering the parts of yourself that you never ever knew about or dreamed existed, and giving them room to grow and room to take flight…I do not fear what my future holds…I am choosing to anticipate the next great provision, whatever provision that may be.” ~ Heather George

God has a plan for me. I firmly believe that to be true. He will always be there. He will provide what I need - not necessarily what I want, but definitely what I need. I have seen Him provide in clear ways just recently. We got stuck in Cayucos last month when my car decided to stop working properly. At first, it seemed overwhelming to think we were stuck 5 hours from home - what are we supposed to do? But God provided in so many ways. We safely arrived at our vacation, we were "stuck" in our favorite place in the world, I had just begun a 2 week holiday from work and didn't need my car, we had family and friends ready and willing to come rescue us, and we had extra finances available. Thanks to a 16 hour drive by my Grandpa, we made it home safely with our car towed behind - traffic was terrible and doubled our driving time, but God consistently provided openings whenever we needed to change lanes, exit or enter the freeway and even at gas stations and restaurants for meals. We were able to enjoy Christmas and let the car sit and wait until after the holiday. Dad was able to find a transmission repair place that cost half as much as we'd been quoted in Cayucos and it was done within a week. Yes, Josh had to drive me to work and pick me up one work day, but his work schedule allows that anyways. My parents were able to cover the cost of the rebuilt transmission immediately and allow us to pay them back over the next few months - they had the space on a credit card, but God provided an extra check for just the amount needed unexpectedly. Isn't our God so amazing?!?

“Oh, dear friend, just because we don’t hear an immediate response from God does not mean He is not listening. It does not mean that He has rejected our request. It may simply mean that He just has something else in mind or wants to take us to a deeper place of understanding. He may be taking us to a place that is so good, our minds need the pause to find it. What we do see and hear of God’s working is miniscule compared to the magnificent workings we cannot see.” ~ Sharon Jaynes

“I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.” ~ Psalm 130:5

 God is incredibly good and I have to remember times like these for the times when He seems delayed or unresponsive. Although my head knows He sees the bigger picture that I cannot see, my heart tends to worry and stress and assume the worst. My mom has always said that is why it's so important to write down the ways God provides and read through those moments again and again and remind ourselves that God provides, that God answers, that God isn't bored or lonely or disinterested or too busy or too annoyed or too anything. He's right there, knowing all, and waiting for us to simply trust Him. To rest in Him. To have faith that He is in control. That's why this year, we're going to keep a blessing jar again. We did this in 2013 and gave them as gifts to a few friends that Christmas. The idea being to write down blessings, beautiful things, moments to remember, joys, etc. and place them in the jar throughout the year. Then at the end of the year, you can read through them all and be reminded of the many wonderful things that happened - the things we often forget since our fragile humanness causes us to focus on the bad instead.

“Perhaps we ought not to pray for an effortless life, but for God to give us the feet we need to traverse the life he continually unfolds before us…Go to the places Jesus asks us to go, the places the Shepherd leads us. Trust Him to provide on that journey and pray for feet for that path.”
~ Christine Berghoef

“Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”
~ Ephesians 3:17

My very favorite author (Robin Jones Gunn) has a new series of books that continues the story of some of her most beloved characters - Christy & Todd - now in the married years of their lives. The second book came out in the fall and is called Home in Our Hearts and the above verse was her core verse. The deeper lesson in the book focusing on trusting God in the midst of difficult situations which rock our lives and make us worried and stressed. I'm so incredibly blessed by her books and as I've read them through the years I've grown along with her characters. Each time I read them (and I reread all her books about every other year), I'm encouraged in my faith, find new insights to treasure and find myself even more grateful for the wonderful loving God we serve. Other than my parents and my own study of the Bible, her books have probably made the longest and largest impact in my faith and so I am so thankful for her love of the Lord and so grateful for her willingness to write these books and continuing to write more!

“…your relationship with God grows uniquely in the soil that is your journey through life. Jesus meets you at places that are meaningful to you; he speaks to you as an individual, and he grows his influence in you in unique ways. You aren’t defined by anyone else’s map of the Christian life, even if those maps might be helpful in some ways.”
~ Michael Spencer

In this new year, I'm thankful that God is big enough to love us each individually and completely. He relates to each of us in unique ways and cares enough to build a relationship with each one of us. He isn't just one-size-fits-all in the ways He speaks to us and relates to us...He loves us unconditionally and fully and desires an intimate relationship built on trust and faith. He is gentle enough to allow us small steps, incremental changes, and tiny leaps of faith. He is kind enough to forgive again and again and again. He is wise enough to know everything, yet not overwhelm us with everything all at once. I hope that in this new year we can all grow closer to God and trust Him further and longer, obey Him more often, and love Him more and more each day.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for loving us, especially for seeing us and loving us individually and unconditionally. You always give us more than we could ask or imagine - more colors, more flavors, more kindness, more grace, more love. Help us to be reminded of all those blessings especially in the times when we feel overwhelmed or forgotten or lost. Thank You for having a purpose for my life, for all our lives. Help us to trust You and remember that "our times are in Your hands." Help us to be bold in our faith and step out of our comfort zones. Help us to remember that even if we fail, we can try again. Thank You for loving us so much...I love you too. Amen.