Posted in Christian life, Christian Living, Christian Women, Christianity, Uncategorized

Weak, and proud of it!

Lately, I’ve been ever-so-lovingly challenged by the Lord to reevaluate where I’ve placed my trust. I decided to do an exercise that involved me asking the family member I’m closest with to describe me as a young child. The words in particular that were the most difficult to hear were “you knew who you were, and you embraced it.” My life since I was  ten years old has been marked by the lie that I am never enough. I tried to become who everyone else wanted me to be, and when that didn’t work, I ran from anything that looked remotely like intimacy in relationships for fear.

These past nine months in Nashville have rocked me in the best way possible. I’ve met these incredible people who challenged me to be real, to rest, and to rely on them. I’ve realized that my fear of never being enough caused me to become self-reliant – to the extreme; I had no idea how to lean on other people, whether in the work place or in relationships.

I began to realize how prideful I had become – relying on my own strength, ignoring areas of weakness and refusing to acknowledge them. I had stuck to what I knew and the things that I knew I did well, and didn’t want to expose weaknesses to grow in those areas because that would mean being vulnerable and willing to admit that I didn’t have it all together.

This morning during my time with the Lord, I was reflecting on the ways that He has been shifting things in my spirit this year. I picked up reading where I left off in the book of Jeremiah, and was completely astounded by today’s reading…

* * * * *

Jeremiah 39 – 43. The Babylonians invaded Judah, and the prophecy that the Lord had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah had been fulfilled. The Babylonian armies came in and took all of the nobles, business owners, and land owners (the upper and middle classes, respectively) into exile in Babylon. The military leader, Nebuzaradan, left behind the poor and let them abide in the land because they were not worth the effort to bring to Babylon. These people had never owned land, never worked, and essentially would have had no idea how to survive on their own. It would have no adverse effect on Babylon to let these people stay, as they would most likely perish on their own anyways.

But, God had different plans in mind. The Lord’s hand was on Jeremiah’s life, and he was given the option to either come to Babylon and be taken care of (per the king’s orders), or he could stay in Judah. He chose the latter. In addition, the king of Babylon appointed a governor to the land to oversee the remnant. He would be their representation before the king of Babylon, and they were told to “gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels, and dwell in the cities…” (Jer. 40:10)

Land of their own for the first time in their lives! Resources that they could call theirs, homes to dwell in, representation before the king for their needs, and the mouthpiece for the Lord (Jeremiah) dwelling in their midst! What more could they have asked for?

However…

The governor of Jerusalem was killed by long time adversaries of the Hebrews, and hope was lost again – even though a misfit group of Hebrews (who had been living in the outskirts of the city to escape the Babylonians when the city was captured) defeated their adversaries. The loss of the governor shook the hope of the remnant to the point that they decided it was time to return to Egypt, believing that the loss of their representation before the king of Babylon would result in their destruction.

When I read this, my mouth dropped. Egypt?! After this clear blessing from the Lord, they still were controlled by such fear that they would want to return to their ancestor’s land of slavery?

They were so blinded by fear of the unknown that they were willing to return to the bondage of the past rather than embark on the adventure that the Lord had set before them.

Think about it for a second… Jeremiah had already prophesied that after seventy years of dwelling in a foreign land, God would bring the people back to Jerusalem (see the famous passage, Jer. 29:11). However, God wanted to expand that blessing even further! By leaving the poorest of the poor in Jerusalem, He was going to train them up to not only be sufficient on their own, but to guard and rebuild the land after the destruction of the exile to Babylon. Think about it – this would have meant that after the seventy years of exile, the Israelites could have returned to a fortified city rather than ruins (see the book of Nehemiah). There would have been no lower class in the entire land, because the poor would have established themselves! Israel had the potential to become the strongest nation once again, returning to the prosperity that they experienced under King David.

However…

Their fear won out. Though Jeremiah spoke to the people and told them, “If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy that he [the king of Babylon] may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land.” (Jer. 42:10-12) He goes on to say that if they choose to live in Egypt, everything that they’re afraid of will come to pass, and they will be destroyed and/or taken into exile in Babylon.

They chose Egypt.

The remnant of the weakest Israelites saw themselves as just that. They saw themselves as the lowest of the low, unable to provide for themselves, and sought a master. They did not trust God to be their leader (much like their ancestors did, asking for a king and rejecting God’s lordship over them – see 1 Samuel). God was going to redeem them, call them up out of their poverty, and build them up into people marked by prosperity and abundance (Jer. 40:12).

Their fear – their false, worldly view of themselves that told them they were worthless – kept them from experiencing the restoration that God longed for them to have.

They decided to go to Egypt, and experienced their worst fears. The Babylonians had their sights set on conquering Egypt, and they they did just that (Jer. 44:40). God knew that this was going to happen, hence why He commanded the remnant in Jerusalem to stay where they were! God had plans and provision in store for them, but their fear and false identity robbed them of the victory.

* * * * *

In seasons where it seems like your strengths are being attacked and placed aside, where your areas of perceived weakness are being called to bat, how will you react? Will you trust that God is going to redeem your areas of weakness? Will you surrender control and believe that God is greater than your fears, or will you hide in strongholds that you think will save you?

Have you forgotten that your weakness in your true strength? (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Allow grace to flood into your areas of weakness. Give yourself permission to not have it all together so that God is able to fully be Lord over your life. Refusing to embrace your weaknesses ultimately shows that your faith is in yourself (your strengths), and lordship belongs to pride rather than Christ. When you are weak, then you are strong.

Posted in Christian life, Christian Living, Christian Women, Christianity, Uncategorized

Purposeful pain.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

When you take an honest look back at your life, it’s relatively easy to pinpoint a season that seemed to be marked with pain, wanting, and even loneliness. It’s a time when you felt stripped down, bare – like your heart is in a constant winter state, longing for the warmth of spring.

In my life, the last seven years were a such a time. Perhaps this is why I felt such a connection with C.S. Lewis’ classic, “The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. My heart felt like Narnia before the return of Aslan; it was in an perpetual winter season. I used to view this as punishment from God for the mistakes that I made. I was desperate for more.

No more.

The number seven in the Hebrew culture represents “completion” or “perfection”. God is so faithful to use the most blatantly obvious symbols and signs in my life to show me that He is just. The past few weeks of living out my twenty-fourth year on this planet have been marked by beautiful revelation from God, and now I’m able to see more clearly how God shaped and molded me in my wilderness season. I needed those seven years. In all honesty, I’m an Israelite through and through — I’m the reason that my wilderness season lasted longer than the journey required. What could have been a year process turned into seven, filled with my grumbling and tears of frustration.

However, as I am now exiting the wilderness, “…coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved…”, I am so deeply grateful for that time. There are not enough words to express my deep gratitude for this season. Yet again, I’m reminded of the countercultural nature of our God; my weakness and longing was the key to my satisfaction and strength.

In the Hebrew, the word for wilderness (“midbar”) comes from the root word “to speak, appoint, promise” (“dabar”). The purpose of the wilderness season is not to punish you, it’s to commission you!

Leaving the wilderness, fully reliant and fully resting on the shoulders of my Beloved Savior, I am speechless. The wilderness season was the commissioning of my heart for His Kingdom’s plans. I’m ready now for all that this life holds because I’ve learned not to hold anything except the beautifully scarred hands of Jesus.

Posted in Christian life, Christian Living, Christian Women, Christianity, Uncategorized

Moses, not David.

Yesterday at church, the person in front of me turned around and introduced himself to me after worship. He told me that I had “such a beautiful voice”. Per usual, I looked down and muttered thank you with a small smile. I’ve had this happen more times than I can count since I was young – people complimenting me on my voice, or random strangers hugging me and informing me that I’ve been given a gift from the Lord. (In all honesty, I don’t think it has as much to do with my voice than my volume… I’ve always been known for my projection.)

I hate this, mainly because there’s still a part of my heart that soars every time. You see, singing was my identity from a young age. I performed everywhere I could, trained with some incredible musicians and teachers, and recorded with phenomenal producers; singing was my life. I couldn’t forsee doing anything else with my future aside from becoming a country singer. “Sami Lee” was going to be the next Reba McEntire or Carrie Underwood.

Then, life happened, and I left the spotlight for what was initially meant to be a temporary leave of absence. I left the music world and was stripped of my identity (so I thought). At sixteen, I met Jesus, and began to reconstruct my life. However, there was always this fear tucked away in the back of my heart that this new identity wouldn’t be enough. I knew Whose I was, but I didn’t know what I would do; I was a performer both on and off the stage, and I couldn’t separate who I was from what I did. This fearful mentality stayed with me through college, and I completely gave up music. The more I learned about the Lord and fell in love with Him, the more afraid I became of music because I knew that it was the greatest idol in my life. This broke my heart on a daily basis; I loved to sing, but felt that I couldn’t let myself do it for fear that I would let it become my identity.

At 21, I discovered my love for leading worship; I realized that people were less concerned with me and more concerned with the One we were singing to. This completely rocked my world, because I found a way to reconcile the pieces of my heart without fear of forgetting where my identity truly lies. The past few years have been spent leading worship and teaching young women how to lead, and it’s been more life-giving than I ever imagined. (I think the Lord knows better than to allow me lead worship to large congregations, at least for now.)

I’m a Moses, not a David.

The Lord used forty years in the wilderness to strip Moses of everything he knew and everything that competed for his affections. God stripped him of his power, his influence, and his platform in order to call him to Himself. Then, in an incredible fashion, God called Moses back to leadership in the “burning bush commission”. Moses’ reaction?

God, do You remember who I am? I’m murderer! Do You remember where I am? I’m living in the wilderness – I have no resources to accomplish this! Do You remember the last time I tried to lead? I obviously don’t have the talent or ability to lead others! Please send someone else! (Exodus 3 – 4:17)

Moses was afraid. Stripped of all that he had ever known, he couldn’t fathom going back and trying to bring justice for his people again… Didn’t God remember the disaster he created the last time he tried to do this? Why would God put stock in someone who had failed before? But, God had the perfect position for Moses:

Moses was going to be a leader, but not in a glamorous palace, looking down on the people. Moses was going to be the leader walking amongst the people. His time of refinement in the wilderness prepared him to lead IN the wilderness. 

Moses was not like King David (the second king of Israel). Though both are incredible pillars of the faith whom we admire, study, and strive to imitate today, their leadership platforms were wildly different. David’s peak of leadership landed him on the throne; Moses’ sphere of influence consisted of roughing it in the wilderness for forty years with over a million people who had never lived on their on before. David commanded, and the people obeyed; Moses repeated what he heard from the Lord, and the people complained. David held all authority; Moses was the conduit between the people and the True Authority. David’s time in the wasteland led him to the royal tower; Moses’ desert season led him right back to the wilderness.

I’m a Moses, not a David.

God knows that my pride is too great and I would not be able to faithfully steward such a lofty position in the limelight. Instead, I get the incredible privilege of walking alongside young people, teaching and training, rather than looking down on them from a stage. I don’t receive applause or sign autographs anymore, and yet I get to use my gifts in such a fulfilling way than ever before. God recreated me in my own wilderness season so that I could spend my life leading others through their deserts.

I was created for the wilderness, not the spotlight, and I could not be more grateful.

Posted in Christian life, Christian Living, Christian Women, Christianity

Winter.

Uncomfortable.

That’s the word I’d choose to describe 2016. My “banner word” from the Lord had been humility, and believe me when I say that was extremely fitting. 2016 was the year of extreme pruning and refining. I had to let go of a job I loved, the guy I thought I was going to marry, and the dream that I had longed for. Every insecurity, every flaw, was on full display; there was no hiding. When this beautiful, once in a lifetime opportunity to move to Nashville appeared, I was almost too jaded and hurt to even bother pursuing it. Thankfully God was gracious enough to spur me on – even though I had dug my heels in and was comfortable at my little pity party.

When I got to Nashville, everything was a blur. This was my second move in three months,  and I hadn’t given myself time to grieve leaving Montana. God knows me better than I know myself, and knew that Nashville was exactly where I needed to go to complete the healing process. It was a beautiful paradox – the Lord choosing to bring me to the place of my biggest heartbreak to complete my refinement.

The first morning I woke up in my new apartment, I felt different. Something in me had shifted, and hope began to flood my heart. If you know me to some degree, you know that I have a deep love for hiking and find my solace outdoors, so my first step in making Nashville my home was finding new hiking spots. I found several I enjoyed, but I kept feeling drawn to this one particular trail. Every time I reached this specific stretch of the hike, I felt the Holy Spirit nudging my heart, but I just wrote it off as the peace I often experience when I’m outdoors.

When the seasons changed and winter made its home in Nashville, I finally gave in to God’s promptings. I had finally settled in to my new life, and was eager to hear what God had to say about this new season. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was standing still – no distractions or temptations clawing at my heart, and I knew something had changed within me. In late November, I received a prophetic word from a ministry team in Florida. The morning after the word had been given, I was praying about it but wasn’t receiving any wisdom or insight; eventually, I decided I would hike away my confusion. As I was hiking and reached the specific half mile stretch, I stopped in my tracks. Before I knew it, I paused my music, took off my headphones, and stood still. God’s still, small voice whispered in my heart, “I’m going to show you your heart.”

I wish that I had the words to describe the experience. There was complete silence, and I felt like I was the only person in the world. As I walked past each tree, completely bare and rid of all leaves and weak branches, tears flooded my eyes – it was an exact representation of my heart. 2016 was the year of preparing for winter. Everything in my life that needed to be removed was gone. My heart was barren in the best possible way. I was finally free to grow the things that God had planned all along. I could celebrate the seemingly desolate nature of my heart, knowing that I was finally ready to be made into who He imagined when He dreamed of me.

*****

I’ve learned to love winter. I can celebrate feeling uncomfortably empty because I know that He can fill me up only when I’m rid of all else. I can look with love upon the fallen branches of broken dreams because I know that what He has planned is so much greater. It’s in winter that my roots, my foundation, are able to prove their strength; in winter, I am able to see how strong I’ve become because of Him. In winter, I’m able to be filled with anticipation because I know that I’m prepared for the spring that is coming.

2017 is the year of joy and contentment. Will you join with me in eager expectation for all that God has planned?

Posted in Christian life, Christian Living, Christian Women, Christianity, Uncategorized

Abide.

I suffer from “Martha” syndrome. (Yes, the Martha in the Bible that the Lord so loving corrected for her skewed priorities of serving over sitting at His feet). I’m reminded of my proclivity for busyness this time of year in particular with all of the gatherings and celebrations. I am apt to stay in the kitchen, preparing food or cleaning dishes, rather than staying seated at the table with the rest of the guests. Sure, part of that is due to my upbringing (my parents always taught me to be the first to offer to clean up and help the host), but now it has become a culturally acceptable excuse to hide myself from others.

Confession: making small talk gives me incredible anxiety.

A few days ago, I was talking with a new friend here in Nashville as we were preparing to go to a “Friendsgiving” celebration. In an attempt to be transparent, I shared with her my inner turmoil about meeting all these new people. Earlier that afternoon, we talked about a new Bible study that I had started (“Uninvited” by Lysa TerKeurst), and how rejection was something deeply rooted in my heart. Because of that, I am extremely fearful of how I appear to others. I’m constantly worried about the impression I give off, and analyze every word I say to others until I drive myself crazy. When I busy myself with acts of service, I provide myself an “out”, allowing me to escape from having to be present with others. I become too busy to talk, and I no longer have to worry about saying the wrong thing or feeling excluded by others. Serving becomes a defense mechanism.

Rewind to a few months ago. I was spending time with the Lord one evening, praying about my next step and if He really was leading me to go to Hawaii for missions school. Instead of answering my questions, He showed me a picture of my heart that rocked me to the core. Here is my journal entry detailing this encounter:

I’m walking in the desert towards a distant city on the horizon, completely exhausted and struggling through this crazy sandstorm. Jesus is down this hill on my right, by this peaceful pond, completely untouched by the storm. He asks me where I’m going. I told Him I’m going towards Him, towards the city to be His light.

He says, “What if I’m not over there?”

I reply, “I have to keep doing Your will, or I won’t make it in the Kingdom.

He asks, “What is the Father’s will?”

Lord, what do I make of all this? I’m so focused on performance and works, scared that I won’t make it if I’m not always doing or giving something. I’ve believed that rest is selfish…

This exchange with the Lord really rocked me. I know the Biblical mandates to go, to preach, and to serve; however, I forget the instruction of the Lord in John 15 that commands me to “Abide in Him” and “Abide in His love”. In my performance-driven mind, “abide” meant to be focused on Him and His word, and to put it into practice. However, the picture that the Lord showed me in response to my weary heart following an incredibly difficult season in Montana led me to look up the true definition of “abide.”

The word “abide” in Greek is “Menō”, and it means “to remain, to continue to be present, to wait for, to be held.” 

In my American, pull yourself up by your boot straps, mentality, I’ve disregarded the first part of God’s mandate. In order to serve others, I have to be filled and rested in Him. I cannot act on God’s calling until I know His character, which is discovered in true intimacy with Him. To abide in Him is to be present, to be still long enough for Him to hold me. I’m of little use to others if I’m not being filled with Him first.

I’m learning how to be like Mary, while still serving others. I want to sit AND serve – in that order! I’m learning how to let my guard down, knowing that I’m already fully accepted and completely loved by God, and I don’t have to make excuses with Him to try and avoid intimacy. I can just be present with others, confident in myself and unaffected by their opinions of me, because my heart is already overflowing with love and acceptance from the only One I want to please.

Abiding with Him is the key to freedom from people pleasing, performance-based love, and fear of rejection.

This Thanksgiving, as you gather with family and friends, remember to be filled with Him first. Let Him overwhelm your heart until there’s no room for fear. Abide.

Posted in Christian life, Christian Women, Christianity, Uncategorized

Mercy

I was seventeen, five months away from my high school graduation, and about to enter the room that I’d been preparing for ever so passionately since I entered middle school. As I opened my mouth and began to sing, my heart sank. I didn’t recognize the sound coming out of my mouth – where did my voice go? The classical French piece was a train wreck, my country number a mess, and the ballad was beyond mediocre. I could barely hold a note, and the room was spinning as the years of abuse I’d put my body through finally caught up to me. I left the audition room and fell to the floor in one of the music building’s bathrooms, exhausted and devastated. I knew without a doubt that my dream was over, and there wasn’t anything I could do. I had been working to get into the music program at my dream school (in my dream city) since I was eleven years old, but I destroyed my chance. For the next few months, I was completely numb, and it took another extreme intervention from the Lord to wake me up.

It always astounds me how God loves to bring things full circle for His glory and our good. I’m typing this blog while sitting on my patio in my beautiful new apartment (whose floor plan just happens to be the name of the college I spoke of above) in the city I dreamed of living in since I could talk. Next week, I begin my new job at the ministry that I wanted to work for since I was 16 – the ministry that one of my high school mentors told me about during a pretty intense time in my life. When I was seventeen, I came to this city completely broken and starving, literally and spiritually; now, at twenty-three, my heart and my stomach are full, and I’m speechless because of who He is.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [ROM. 8:28]

God is in the business of taking the ashes of our dreams that were decimated by disappointment, and creating a tapestry of beauty – if we’re willing to let Him have control. Like so many others, I love this verse in Romans. We are quick to give in and relinquish control to the things that bind us. We see what’s right in front of us and act based on what our present surroundings entail rather than going to the One who sees the whole picture. When we are willing to say, “I don’t understand what’s in front of me, but I know that You are good and You are working beyond what my eyes can see,” then we are choosing freedom and we can know without a shadow of a doubt that we are in good hands.

Trust in Him. It’s become such a cliche Christian phrase, but I believe it is the hardest, most liberating thing that a person can do. Standing on the other side of this mountain, finally having that “aha moment”, where everything from the past several years makes sense, I urge you to press on. This, too, shall be used for His greater purpose.