Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Peace and Wisdom

It has been ... a crazy week.

Last week I worked a full week of high adventure camp, which was a big change from the usual day-adventures that I help lead. It was a fun, stretching, learning week, and while I really enjoyed it, I was tired by the end.

Then things got crazy.

When I got a chance to check my phone I saw I had six missed calls from home. Six. Never a good sign. Upon calling, I found out that a family member had had a life-threatening health problem, had emergency surgery, and was now in the hospital.

I was not prepared for that phone call.

As soon as possible I was driving back home--I had a three-day weekend ahead of me--and hoping to be of some help and comfort there. But on the drive I became more and more convinced that I, too, was about to have a very rough weekend.

Let me tell you--I don't like poison ivy. And the feeling seems to be mutual.

What started that morning as a minor irritation changed drastically by the time I made the fairly long drive home. I took one look in the mirror and went immediately to urgent care in hopes of medicine. So far in my short life I have never met a person with a worse case of poison ivy than I have right now. It's intense. I feel a little silly for acting like poison ivy is a big deal, but at the moment it is proving to be a big deal!

Did I mention that I also have some life changing decisions weighing on me at the moment? Well yeah. There's that too.

So here I am, a few days later. My "three-day weekend" has become an intensely frustrating, drawn out time of being stranded states away from work. For a couple days I didn't feel well enough to drive--and even if I could there was no way I could do my physically demanding job. Then the meds I was given began to snatch away my sleep. And again I found myself unable to drive because I was both tired and unable to rest well, making the road a dangerous place.

I keep hoping that tomorrow will turn the corner. That I'll be well enough to get back to work (I MISS MY JOB!), that I'll have answers to life's questions. That I'll be able to enjoy a moment with my family before rushing off. That's been hard, too. I've felt either so sick or so guilty for missing work that I haven't fully appreciated the unexpected blessing of extra time with the people I love.

So I find myself in this moment asking God for two things. For peace and for wisdom.

I had no idea what was coming at me this weekend, and I have found myself at times overwhelmed. I didn't know what to do or when to do it. I felt guilt over things I couldn't control, like the severity of my "illness" (can it be called that?) and length of time that I couldn't be at work.

There is no real conclusion to this post as the struggles I'm in are still up in the air, being juggled around in my stressed-out brain. So I come back to my request.

Peace, and wisdom. I need them so.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Humility and Hesitation

Do you ever have those moments where your heart is in the right place ... but your brain isn't? You're trying to do the right thing, but for a fleeting moment you don't think it through, and then everything falls apart? I hate those moments.

And I've had at least two in about a week and a half.

They make me feel stupid.


I panic at the thought that I can't undo my choice.

And then I pray.

I appeal to the Lord on the basis of my heart's intent. He knows better than anyone that my intentions were pure. Not that my motives can make a wrong action right--ends do not justify means. But I merely say something like, "Lord, you know my heart. You know that I didn't mean to do anything wrong." I take comfort in the fact that my Father sees my heart when no one else does in these times. Even if others could accuse or blame, He will never have a reason to doubt my desire to do right.

And then I apologize. Just because what I did was unintentional does not negate any foolish or sinful qualities it could have carried. So I ask for His forgiveness for the ways I have misstepped.

While I know that these steps put these mistakes in my past--as far as the east is from the west--I am still left with a nagging question. How do I cope mentally and emotionally with my own frailty and error? And how do I avoid making similar mistakes in the future?

As to coping--I would say the main thing I'm choosing to focus on is humility. I am human. I am a sinner. And even when my motives are good (though they aren't always), I will still fail sometimes. This could be discouraging. I cannot allow that though. To allow this to deflate me would only keep me from valuable service to the Lord. So I confess. I ask for Him to graciously restore our relationship yet again after I fail. Humility. I must accept that while I live on this earth I won't have it all together.

To avoid making further mistakes, I must draw closer and closer to my Savior, the only flawless One. Pray for His help. Pray that He will guide my thoughts and actions and help me avoid failing in such ways that could hinder my ministry or relationships with others. And I need to learn to hesitate. Learn to take moments to listen for Him, so to speak. Before saying those words, hesitate to see if the Spirit would have me stay silent. Before going to that place, hesitate to see if He would have me go elsewhere. Before I do that action, hesitate to silently, often wordlessly, see if it is His will.

Things happen. We can let them discourage us, or we can learn, be humbled, ask forgiveness, and seek His strength.

I think the choice is clear.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rewritten Script

For three years of college, I was on the school’s drama team. Six to eight students would learn a drama in the fall semester then travel to churches and schools in the spring presenting the play. Each drama taught a lesson about God, faith, and life. One year I took the opportunity to help our coach write and revise our drama. Just like any other writing, the story took different shapes and angles as it was crafted into its final form. It was exciting to get to share creative input that would later be presented to hundreds of people in our ministry.

Just like any unfinished script, it seems like our lives are in a constant state of revision. The direction we are taking one moment is not the direction we end up going. Ideas we hold strongly in one season may change in the next as we learn more about God and life.

In December I finished the work for my bachelor’s degree in youth and family ministry with an emphasis in biblical counseling. (Side note: I can’t help cringing when anyone asks me what my major was. First, because the name is soooooo looooooong. Second, because no one seems to know what on earth it means once I’ve finished saying it.) Basically I’m trained to work with youth at church, and I’ve taken extra classes on counseling people from the Bible.

The counseling aspect of the program held the most interest for me, and as I pushed towards graduation I couldn’t help tiredly thinking of the graduate work I’d need to do to be a professional counselor. I love helping people, but more years of studying and papers and reading and sleep deprivation didn’t sound attractive, and I knew I had no money to pay for more education.

Beyond all that, the thought of a job in counseling felt more like a burden than a joy. I am honored to help carry the burdens of my friends and family and others who need me, but imagining myself in an office day after day opening my heart deeply to the pain of person after person scared me. I didn’t doubt that I could do it.

But I feared it would destroy me.

As I charged toward what felt like a sentence of destruction, missions conference at college put an abrupt halt to everything.

Missions conference at college is wonderful and draining all at once. We get great preaching and incredible access to missionaries and mission agencies. We are also required to spend large amounts of time socializing with the missionaries. This is great. It is also a bit awkward for the non-missions students, as it’s easy to feel like we’re disappointing missionary recruiters. This year, however, I had an interesting encounter with a missionary couple. Rather than trying to pitch their mission group to me, instead they asked me what I was interested in. At the time I was open to basically anything, but especially counseling. My camp involvement also came up, and the man enthusiastically latched onto that idea.

This complete stranger—instead of looking at my plans or his own hopes for his mission group—looked at the gifts and opportunities God had put in my life and recommended a camp internship to me. He gave me a contact and the name of a program, penned on the back of one of his missionary cards, and recommended I look into it. He and his wife also gave me some great advice on counseling ministry, which despite my lack of desire to do professionally I still would love to use in ministry.

I went back to my dorm room that day and immediately found the internship he had recommended. Within a couple hours I had filled out the application and called my parents. The idea of full-time camp ministry—one I had shrugged off in years past—now seemed incredibly right. Camp held the perfect blend of my skills and desires, and in some ways even an unexpected angle of both my youth and counseling training.

That day changed the course of what I had thought would be my future. I again have goals and dreams for ministry, and steps to get there. I’m excited about the future and have a growing sense of being willing to sacrifice anything—the sins and weights that so easily entangle me—for the chance to give my all in this ministry for Christ.

A ministry that combines both my joy and my greatest usefulness. What a blessing, indeed.

This is almost surely not the last revision of the script. I may never have a camp internship (though I’m currently in the process of applying for several—would you pray for me?). I may never get the extra adventure experience and camp training that I’m hoping and praying and striving for. But at the moment this is the goal before me, my means of serving my Maker, and it is my joy to recite these new lines as long as He allows.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Still: 2017

I've hesitated to write a New Year's post until now. I realize that I am about three days late, but until now I didn't feel that I had anything to say. Each attempt to frame a post in my mind came out as a petty imitation of someone else's year-end review. I could say how tough 2016 was. How good it was. Talk about resolutions or not having resolutions. Write something chipper or contemplative. But it felt wrong--deceptive--to try to give you some lofty insight on the changing of years if it were merely to write a post and not to share something of value.

I think I now have something of value to share. But they are not all my words.

Tonight I sit near carefully stacked piles of college memorabilia. Four years, now complete, in pictures and programs and invitations and cards. It's been a stressful day, torn between reliving and rejoicing in the past, mourning over a beautiful chapter closed, and trying stay hopeful that the future may be just as bright. I came to the end of my day scatterbrained and uneasy. Aaaaand ... feeling like I should spend some devo time because I hadn't yet today.

I had no desire to stop. Be still. Wait on God. I did it anyway.

Prayed. Read my Bible.

Still very little peace.

A song came to mind. One that often comes to mind when my heart cannot rest. Still, My Soul Be Still by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend (full lyrics here). As I sang the words, a few phrases stuck with me, as they have again and again.

"Still my soul be still
"Do not be moved
"By lesser lights and fleeting shadows "

Lesser lights.

How many of these have I faced in 2016? The desire to please friends, please parents, please teachers, succeed at work, succeed at school, grow stronger physically and mentally. Attractive music, attractive ministry. All lesser compared to the only true Light.

Fleeting shadows.

There were certainly shadows this year. Living further away from friends that mean a lot to me. Loneliness. Failures. Difficult classes. Health problems. For a time each of these did attempt to bring darkness to my soul. But while not all of them have gone away, much of their oppressive weight has passed. They truly have fled.

Every year we will come against the lesser lights that seek to distract from the Light and the fleeting shadows that try to make us believe that the Light is not really there. So in a sense, 2016 was unremarkable. And we know what to expect in 2017. Our choice remains.

Will we, as the Psalmist, face our trials by reminding our souls "Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee" (Psalm 116:7)? Will we say, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God" (Psalm 42:11)?

Will we face the things that seem so beautiful--praise, human love, power, acceptance--with a reminder not to be swayed? "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).

Will we let our souls follow after anything but God?

Or will we be still in 2017?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Anatomy of a Hard Semester

This is probably the hardest semester I have experienced in four years of college.

We had bug problems in the dorm that I let stress me out for an embarrassingly long time. I had weird, persistent health issues. I had to totally re-define my social life as several of my closest friends graduated last semester. I relearned how to live without a roommate ... and I remembered how lonely it is. My friends and I had to overcome some issues as we're all changing fast and having to adapt to each other again and again. I had more spare time than most people, and I had to find ways to pass many hours, often alone. Graduation and my future loom ahead, and I've been trying to nail down career/ministry plans.

For a while, I really wished this semester hadn't happened. That I could erase it all, start over. Or at the least, leave this place and never look back. These trials -- though none were particularly acute -- lingered with me, ebbing away at my joy and hope.

But then things changed. Like flowers suddenly bursting open, God did two quiet, marked works in my life that brought me to the place I am now.

First, I was convicted of incredible selfishness. I felt alone, unloved, and misunderstood by even my friends. Then God woke me up to how all of my desires were revolving solely around myself. I was the unloving one. I was isolating myself. When I started caring about others again, my sense of loneliness nearly vanished. I didn't expect it to last more than a few days. "Really, " I thought, "don't most spiritual 'highs' just relapse before long?"

It's been weeks/months. Not every day has been fantastic, but there is still a huge difference in my perspective since I started getting my heart and mind cleansed by God in this area.

Second, God has been re-teaching me His love. I honestly had questioned it--not His salvation or the kindness of His actions, but the affection of His person for me. How many people have told me that love is an action? A verb? So it only seemed logical that God's love was one of action. He chose to save me. He rescued me. But caring about me? I doubted it.

Thankfully, a good conversation with my brother and some simple Scriptures helped me begin to believe again that God loves His children with both His actions and His emotions. I can't grasp that entirely. But it is good.

So. I ask myself ... who have I become this semester? How have I changed? How have these trials reshaped me?

  • I'm becoming comfortable with myself again. I know God made me individually to serve Him in a special way. I don't dislike myself the way I used to. I don't have to hide my true self or feel the need to be like my peers. I don't have to fit anyone's mold, but instead let the Potter shape me as I live under His loving gaze and gentle hands.

  • I am becoming more balanced in my needs to be with people and be alone. I enjoy the times I spend with friends and acquaintances, but I'm not afraid to be alone with my own thoughts.

  • I laugh less ... but I smile more deeply. The many trials of this semester have dimmed my happiness in some ways. The pressures I'm under are keeping me more reserved, focused, and serious. I'll hear someone laughing in the dorm hall sometimes and wonder how long it's been since I really laughed. This is hard sometimes. And sad. But before I sound too mopey ... don't worry! There truly is a smile deep down in my heart. I am in a relationship with the living God. That is enough. And the happy moments are coming back!

  • It feels like many broken pieces of me--from this semester and past years--are being healed into something stronger and better by God's grace. Pain has pushed me closer to His presence, and it is entirely worth it.
So I praise Him for this semester. I thank Him that fall 2016 was a crazy, weird, hard semester. Because He is working, and He has been kind enough to let me see a bit of what He is doing. I cannot help but "declare ... [His] works."
"But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works" (Psalm 73:28).

Mountaintop views ... in my adventures and in my soul.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tell Me if I'm Alone.

Eyes closed. Brow furrowed. Trying to find words past the haze of exhaustion, fear, and confusion that obscure my thoughts, even from myself.

Do you ever feel like you've been distracted from what you believe? Do you feel the need to re-learn everything, study every word of Scripture, pray deepest prayers to remember exactly what it is you're doing in life?

It's like a good friend you haven't talked to in a long time. You knew her once. You know you're still friends, and you still like her.  But maybe you've forgotten how to talk freely to her. Forgotten her favorite foods and which movies she hates.

That's how I feel about my faith. I believe it. I love God. I talk to Him. I read my Bible and try to serve and obey Him. Genuinely.

But ... I've been distracted lately. Divided in heart. I've forgotten how much he hates some sins and how much He loves His children.

Eww. Sin is ugly. Including my own. My lack of devotion of late is not a pretty sight.

So ... I hope I'm alone. That you haven't let life distract you from what matters most. Have you?

Please pray for me; pray with me.

Am I alone? Or is someone else here too? Maybe not in any "huge" sin ... Just focused on self more than God? Can I pray for you? Will you pray for me?

Consistent growth doesn't happen when we're alone.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Not Exactly Political

It's the day after a United States election, and the nation is reeling. I sit dumbfounded as my Facebook newsfeed fills and even among my Christian friends there is a strongly divided reaction.

I read posts filled with anger and even hatred towards Trump supporters by those afraid of what he will do. While I cannot agree with the hatred, their voices help me as I continue to grow in my understanding of the very real fears of minority groups. As I understand, I empathize, and in my mind questions stir, wondering what can be done in this country to protect them. I speak to you, the fearful, my friends--please don't let hatred win. But keep speaking. If others don't understand your side, your needs, your fears, keep speaking. Tell them.

Then there are the rejoicing posts, acting like there has been some sort of victory. Maybe even a special victory for Christians.

(Parenthetical comment time: I'm afraid to even post the above sentence because I fear it reveals the self-centeredness of Christians. Are we to seek righteousness? Yes. Are we to seek God's will and His way? Yes. Are we to put all our concerns on our own comfort and on avoiding persecution? NO. What even? Why do we make our political decisions based on "hmm, what will be good for the temporal creature-comforts of Christians?" Why don't we ask ourselves "what is God's will?" Not saying the two have to collide ... but WHY is our human comfort our main concern? And WHY do we act like our personal ease is God's greatest concern????? It. Is. Not.)

So back to talking about all the happy, "yay we won!" Facebook posts. I fear these people have put blinders over their eyes, seeing only opinions aligning with their own. To you, I say--listen to those who are unhappy about the election's outcome. Consider the fears of those who "lost" at the polls. Some fears may be comforted in the coming years, and some fears may be realized. Be a part of the comfort. Be a protector. Love beyond disagreements. And don't think that just because you won, that means you are right. Or all will be well.

Okay, here comes my ONE super political comment. Here's what happened at the election: We had two bad candidates, and one of them was chosen.

Personally, I do not think this is a day anyone should rejoice. I am afraid that in this election ... everyone lost.

I don't know how or if the pieces of this country will ever be put back together. I'm a patriotic person, but I would be a fool to say that America is in a good place. All I ask is that we pray. Together. Not attacking those we disagree with (what's with all the hatred?). Listening to each other. While circumstances differ ... we're all in a bad place right now. Let's help each other. No gloating, no vicious words. Pray.

God reigns. But whether He will now judge or show more mercy to our nation, we cannot say.

So I must pray.