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Confessions from the Desert

It’s been exactly 105 days since I moved to Montana, and there aren’t enough words in the English language to adequately express how I’m doing. Between adjusting to the cold (and learning to drive in the snow), becoming a mom-like figure to ten adolescent girls, and dealing with a knee injury that has prohibited me from working, “adjustment” and “flexibility” have become my new buzz words.

However, in the midst of the change, I must confess that I am guilty of folly. All the changes that have occurred in the last eight months, both in my personal and professional life, have shaken me to my core. Rather than allowing the Lord to refine and purify me, I chose to distract myself in order to avoid the uncomfortable realities that laid before me. Even though God fulfilled a six-year promise in a beautiful fashion that only He is capable of accomplishing, I allowed my own disappointments to taint my perspective and inhibit my ability to enjoy God’s faithfulness.

Much like the Israelites upon their arrival to Promised Land, I’ve forgotten the deeds of the Lord and allowed the obstacles before me to prevent me from seeing and enjoying God’s goodness. As the Israelites chose to become fearful of the Canaanites living in the land, I allowed the tiny bumps in the road to shake my faith in the Lord; I chose fear over the victory that was already mine.

“Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in His promise.” (Ps.106:24)

Hardships are inevitable in this life. Failures will beset us, illness will torment, and heartbreak will threaten our well-being. However, as followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to walk in the victory that has already been promised to us. Christ already warned us that suffering would come – so why do we act so surprised when it happens? If God has already promised us Canaan and told us that He would work all things together for our good, why do we choose to doubt Him as though He is not sovereign over our suffering?

I’ll keep this post short: will I be like the ten Israelite spies who still chose fear in spite of the incredible miracles they’d already seen God do? Or will I be like Caleb and say, “We are WELL ABLE to overcome it” (Num. 13:30)? Fear is a bully – keeping us from enjoying the promises that God fulfills in our lives; who are we going to listen to?

We have to press on. Past the fear, past the hardships, therein lies hope. The Lord is good and He has brilliant, beautiful things planned for us if we’d only be willing to hold on. You and I have the ability to outlast and overcome. At the end of every struggle, the Lord has two blessings for us: the victory and the promise. God loves us so relentlessly that rather than just giving us the wonderful things He’s promised, He decides to bless us with victory as well. We will arrive at the mountain top feeling loved and confident because we received the gift AND overcame the obstacles that threatened us along the way.

Have faith in the promise. He who spoke the world into existence is speaking to you today, reminding you that you must hold on. The victory is yours and the promise is worth it.

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The Art of Surrender: Mountain Life, part one

DSCF1326Two months and five days ago, I moved approximately 2,500 miles across the country (as close to the Canadian border as possible) to obey the Lord’s command. Since I was sixteen years old, I’ve told my family and friends that I would work with young women in Montana; it didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t really make sense now. Why on earth would I move thousands of miles away from my family and friends immediately out of college?

Honestly, I wouldn’t. Left to my own devices, I would not have chosen to make such a drastic and risky move – at least not to another place in the United States! My dream was to pursue music and travel the world. After spending a portion of the summer in Africa, my heart longed to go back. I wanted to continue overseas missions work in foreign countries and share the love of Jesus through music and discipleship. So, why on earth would I move to Montana to be a house mom at a therapeutic boarding school for adolescent girls? It isn’t overseas, it doesn’t involve music or leading worship, and requires me to stay in one place for a considerable amount of time.

More often than I can count, people have told me that determining God’s calling for your life is easy: do what you love, are gifted in, and are passionate about for the Lord. While I believe that may be true and that God gives us all unique talents and dreams, I think the Lord’s plans are much greater than that. Take a look at Moses! It’s pretty clear in his burning bush moment [Ex. 3-4] that being God’s frontman for freedom was NOT on his radar; he had to lay down his life, his expectations, and his comfort in order to do what God was calling him to do.

God’s plans for us are beyond what we can dream of for ourselves, and we are commanded to lay down our wants, desires, and dreams at His feet in order to receive His vision for our lives.

He calls us to do things that are out of our comfort zones, beyond our capabilities, and meant to knock us off our feet. He builds upon the talents He’s given us and places us in situations where our weaknesses are brought to the surface so that we know our limitations and His limitlessness. If we only did the things that we felt qualified and gifted to do, there would be no need for faith. God has called us on a beautiful (and often frightening) adventure that will require both our strengths AND weaknesses.

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That being said, the past two months have been wonderful, exhausting, challenging, and about one hundred other adjectives. I’ve learned the importance of knowing who you are and have begun to grasp that my college education was (and continues to be) an immense blessing. I’ve learned that kindness is much more powerful than we realize, and a gentle word speaks volumes above a harsh lecture. Everyday, I learn what it means to truly die to myself in order to love others sacrificially. Daily, I’m reminded that viewing a person through the lens of their behavior is the greatest offense I can commit against another person; our actions and behaviors do not define us, and there is a wound behind every negative behavior – clearly identifiable in children.

To surrender our dreams, our pride, and our expectations is the most terrifying, gut-wrenching, and gloriously liberating thing we could possibly do in this life. Surrender when it doesn’t make sense, and every ounce of logic tells you to hang on rather than let go. Surrender when you’re in an elevated state, feeling invincible and unstoppable. Surrender. Let God take you on a beautiful (often seemingly reckless) adventure.

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The Call

Some of the most popular (and overused) buzzwords in the Christian faith are calling, purpose, and passion –  rightfully so, I suppose, since everyone wants to believe that their time on earth matters. However, have these things become idols? Are we so focused on chasing the calling that we ignore the Caller? Are we so obsessed with seeking out the things that we love that we miss out on the One to whom we are called?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate of self-discovery and the journey of self-pursuit. However, I think that we need to examine our motives for seeking out these passions. Are we seeking to find a sense of belonging and fulfillment in these passions, or is our aim to better love/serve/understand our Creator?

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4)

This verse has been quoted so many times by people as they aim to find out who they are – and that’s okay! However, notice that this verse doesn’t say “delight yourself in your passions”, but “delight yourself in the LORD.” Awhile ago, I wrote a post about works being an overflow of our identity in Christ; I think that this principle applies here as well. The world tells us to devote ourselves to figuring who we are in order to gain our identity; unfortunately, this principle has leaked into the Church. We emphasize the importance of calling, figuring out your gifts, and figuring out God’s purpose.

What if He is less concerned about what we do, and more concerned about who we are? What would it look like if we sought after Him rather than His “calling” for us?

I know, those questions may seem controversial. I’m a firm believer in dreams and visions from the Lord, and I do believe that He has specific tasks for every believer to complete while on this earth. However, I often see people (myself included) who are so overwhelmed with anxiety about what God’s will rather than finding rest in Him.

What would our lives look like if we sought after the Lord and stopped trying to figure out His will?

“Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually!” (Ps. 105:4)

“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart.” (Ps. 119:2)

“You have said, ‘Seek My face.’ My heart says to You, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.'” (Ps. 27:8)

Reading through Scripture, especially the Psalms, the emphasis is on seeking the Lord – not seeking out the details of what exactly He wants us to do. In fact, the more that we read, the more clear it becomes that our command is to seek the Lord, obey His word, and trust that He will provide!

“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

This Scripture is part of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus is talking about not being anxious; He says that we must seek the Lord and do His will, trusting that the Lord will provide everything that we need. If the Lord is faithful enough to provide all of our physical needs, surely He will provide the specifics about jobs, careers, and callings.

Seek the Lord, and He will provide. Trust that He will bring the specifics according to His perfect timing. He is faithful to provide – but we must be in tune to Him. Our callings and passions are from Him – seek Him, and He will show you the next step.

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Dandelion Tea

As I sit on my balcony in beautiful south Florida, drinking this dreadful concoction recommended to me by one of my nutritionist friends, I find myself wrestling with God. Today is one of those days that we don’t like to talk about in the Christian realm; it’s one of those days when the demons of your past rear their ugly heads and remind you of past mistakes. It’s one of those days when the sting of past sin is all too real, and it is a challenge to find rest in God’s hands.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians about the thorn in his side – his weakness that God used to remind Paul of his desperate need for a heavenly Savior. We are not told what this thorn was, and I’m fairly confident that Paul opted out of this disclosure for a purpose. The details aren’t important – what matters here is that Paul had a thorn that may or may not have been related to Paul’s previous life B.C. (before Christ).

Brief Summary: Paul (one of the most prominent figures in Christian history) used to be Saul (one of the most notorious killers of Christians). The Lord came to Saul on the road to Damascus, blinded Saul with His glory, and brought Saul into the family of God. Saul became Paul. (Acts 9)

Okay, so Paul was redeemed. He was made whole and became a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) in Christ. Yes, he would be persecuted (beaten, arrested, flogged, etc.), but what about internally? Surely this paramount figure in the Christian faith wouldn’t be weighed down by sin, internal struggle, or his previous life… Right? Scripture seems to say otherwise:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:7b-10)

Yes, even “super-Christian” Paul struggled! Just because he was a strong, godly man did not make him exempt from struggle! The further that I come in my walk with Christ, the more susceptible I am to believing the lie that I am somehow more immune from struggle – especially from struggles that I had before coming to Christ! Friends, the weight of this fallen world is heavy. When we come to Christ with all of our baggage, He does take it and sort through it in order to provide us rest (He is the Comforter after all), but we are not able to hide from the past. Sins that we engaged in prior to coming to Christ will in some way, shape, or form reappear in order to discourage us.

First and foremost, we must understand that this is NOT from the Lord, but from the great enemy (satan). Second, we must recognize that it is absolutely okay to struggle! I know that may be a controversial statement to make, but it’s entirely true! Coming to Christ does not mean that we stop struggling with sin, or stop feeling the affects of sin. Being a Christian means that even though I struggle, I am okay, I am loved, and I am accepted despite my messiness. Finally, we have to accept that God loves us in spite of our suffering.

So what does this have to do with Paul, a thorn in his side, and dandelion tea? Well, just like Paul, you and I have and will continue to struggle; we may pray like Paul did for the Lord to take it away from us, and He chooses not to! Until you and I enter into the coming Kingdom of God, we will keep struggling. You and I will always have a thorn in our side simply because of the broken world that we live in. But, guess what?! God is going to use that! While God is not the One who causes this sin and struggle, He will use it for our good even when we don’t understand it.

So friends, today is one of those days where I am incredibly aware of the thorn in my side (hence my dandelion tea). But you know what? God says that His grace is enough for me. So, while I may hate that I still am plagued with the consequences of past sin and I must live with this thorn, I know that it’s okay. I can rejoice with this thorn because it means that I am weak, and therefore I am strong – and so are you.

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Hello, I’m Sorry.

If you’ve ever spent more than two consecutive minutes with me, you know that one of my fun “quirks” is my tendency to apologize – for everything. Bump into me, I’m going to apologize. If I think that I could potentially be within five feet of your charted course, I guarantee that I will utter the phrase, “I’m sorry.” An exuberant number of people have commented on or questioned this quirk of mine, and I finally have an answer for you.

I apologize for everything because I believe that I am inferior to you.

Yes, I realize that sounds extremely dramatic – I cringed while typing that sentence. But, it is entirely true. Somewhere along my journey, I fell prey to the lie that I am inferior to others. Sub par, less than, invisible; you name it, I’ve subconsciously told myself that these lies were in fact the truth. But why is this important and what does this have to do with you? If you’re being honest with yourself, you know that the second you read the word “lie,” you immediately thought about the poisonous seeds that the enemy has planted in your own mind.

Guess what? Those lies are the reason that you are not advancing in your spiritual life. However, it actually has nothing to do with your behavior at all!

As Christians, we consistently wrestle with understanding how “saved by grace” and “faith without works is dead can coexist. I believe that the answer lies in Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount. When we think about that famous teaching in Matthew 5-7, we often think that Christ basically reiterated the Law of Moses, yet with even stricter rules. While it is true that Jesus expounded upon many presumptions that culture had made about certain commandments, such as divorce and murder, I believe that the key to understanding His teaching lies within the first chapter:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13-16)

When I first read through this teaching, I simply thought that it was a commandment about how we are to act. BUT WAIT! What is Christ doing here? He begins the commandment by telling the disciples of their identity! You ARE the salt & you ARE the light — those are titles!

So what? This literally changes everything! Christ is telling His disciples WHO THEY ARE so that they are able to act out of that and do His will. Jesus doesn’t simply tell the disciples what to do, because He understood that their religious practices had already done that. He understood that the people were not being transformed and empowered because they understood their relationship with YHWH to be a list of do’s and don’t’s. They did not understand what it actually meant, that God had called them to be His people; if they had, then out of a deep understanding of their identity would they be able to act justly.

When we as believers do not understand our identity, Christianity simply becomes a list of do’s and don’t’s, and we become plagued by legalism. However, when we act out of the understanding of our identity, the works of Christianity are not simply works, but rather an extension of ourselves. When we take hold of the incredible love and grace of God, we see ourselves as children of God. When we understand who we are, the good works of Christianity are almost second nature – rather than striving to “be good”, we strive to intimately know Christ and therefore He is able to work and shine through us.

We are called to do good works and be the light of the world. How do we accomplish this? By intimately knowing God. When we know who God is, then we know who He has created us to be. Then, and only then, are we able to do the will of God here on earth. It is then that we understand that we are “saved by grace” and able to “work out our salvation.” Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. It is then that you will learn the TRUTH of who you are and understand your great worth because of WHOSE your are.

***This post is my public confession of my attempt to stop apologizing so much… But be patient with me! 🙂

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Ramblings of a Wordaholic.

Oh goodness, I am such a sucker for these Christian buzzwords. Perspective, surrender, Kingdom-minded – you name it! As an avid lover of language and linguistics, I absolutely love these catchy phrases that we use in our sermons and Bible studies. But, what if I became as concerned with the application of these words as I am with the way that these words sound as they roll off my tongue?

So often, I feel like I’m back in third grade during a vocabulary lesson. I can pronounce the words, spell them with ease, and recite their definitions on command. However, I struggle to create my own sentence; I know how to do everything with these words except apply them. I have all the head knowledge, but I lack the ability to make these words my own. This raises the question, “Do I truly understand the word?”

In this season of my life, I find myself continually asking, “Do I truly understand the Word?” I can tell you all about God’s love, salvation, discipleship, and mercy; but does that even matter if they are not on display in my life? Have I become like the Pharisees: on paper, I have the knowledge necessary to guide and lead others in this Christian life, but what about my day-to-day life? Do I know how to apply God’s mercy to others, or do I simply know how to explain this concept?

Do I truly understand the Word?

Do you?

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Stumbling in the woods, I clamored about – seeking that which I had misplaced. The light was burning dim as the shadows danced menacingly, taunting me in my drunken state. Silence enveloped my ears; my screams were unheard.

I was lost.

I tried to turn around, but the roots of the devilish trees caused me to stumble; the forces of darkness had overcome my flesh, and I was being drawn deeper and deeper into the forest.

That’s when I saw Him.

His golden form was in sharp contrast to the ugly fog surrounding us, and I was petrified. What was this magnificent being among me? He did not belong there; that place of despair could not have been His dwelling. He stepped towards me and lowered His head. I thought He was preparing to claim me as His prey, but He was merely reaching down to touch my hand; He was so gentle, yet incredibly strong.

He raised Himself up and began to pave a new path out of the woods. He looked back at me…

I was given a choice.

So, I took a step.