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?

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.

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.

Why do you believe?

One of my goals when I moved back to Florida was to read as many books as possible before heading down to Hawaii in late September (super profound, I know). I’m currently reading, and being incredibly challenged by, this brilliant book called Come With Me by Suzanne Eller. Tonight, I was reading through a chapter sharing the same title as this blog post, and I was intrigued. Eller was sharing an experience she had in which she was listening to a popular Christian radio station, and the announcer stated that most would not follow Jesus if there wasn’t a heaven or hell; “the reward of heaven is the only thing that keeps us from giving in.” (pg. 103)

Being the overly expressive person I am, my jaw dropped when I read through that. However, the more that I thought about it, the more I can see that played out in our American culture today. Many appear to follow Christ out of obligation or fear of hell. I heard dozens of sermons in high school before following Christ where preachers were emphasizing the horrors of hell.

Of course, don’t get me wrong, the idea of hell is completely terrifying! I mean, who would choose eternal physical, mental, and emotional suffering when they could have eternal peace and joy? But, I think we miss the point completely when we are guided by this mindset. If it’s only about our eternal destination and life here is just meant to be a waiting room, was that really the abundant life that Christ was talking about? What is difference between heaven and hell? Do we automatically think the absence of suffering and pain? That’s part of it, of course, but is that all that we think about?

Christians all over the world are suffering physical, mental, and emotional torture all day, every day from the time they follow Jesus until the day they leave this earth. They are facing every aspect of hell listed above – daily pain, suffering, agony, etc. However, they bear it WITH JOY and count it a blessing and honor! WHY? How is that possible? The one and only answer is the stereotypical Sunday school answer that makes us roll our eyes:

Jesus.

Why do we believe? Is it because we love the idea of pain-free eternity? Or is it because we are so deeply in love with Christ that our souls literally cannot bear to be apart from Him for one second? When we enter into relationship with Christ, we enter into the most epic love story that we could ever imagine that’s been taking place since the beginning of time – the Creator who so deeply cherishes and adores us who gave everything He had just to have us reunited with Him again. He is our identity – we can’t imagine a second without Him because we have our entire being in Him! Being apart from Him becomes absolutely unfathomable! So yes, the idea of hell is terrifying… But it’s because that means we are without our very Life Source. Without Him our identity, our purpose, our entire being ceases to exist.

I know you’ve read and heard messages like this a million times, and it becomes a truth that we believe with our heads rather than our hearts – I know I’m completely guilty of this. However, God is so radical and so enthusiastically in love with us that I believe He has more for you and I than that. If your heart feels numb to reality of His wild love, get alone with Him. Hit your knees and let the Holy Spirit bring you back to life. And if all that sounds too cheesy and too emotional or “feminine” for you, at least answer this:

Why do you believe?

 

 

 

The Sun is Rising

Today, for a brief twenty minutes, the sun made its appearance in the middle of the Montana winter. Coming from Florida, the concept of not seeing the sun for several months has been a very bitter reality; when the thing that you’ve taken advantage of (and, in reality, taken for granted) is stripped from you, it’s a hard pill to swallow. So, you can only imagine my joy today when I looked outside the window and saw my dear old friend’s rays piercing through the grey.

* * * * * *

This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of accompanying my girls to their youth group here in town for the first time. I’ve been teaching a few of my girls how to play guitar, as well as doing some voice lessons whenever time permits, and one of my girls has been practicing hard so that she can play on her worship team when she returns home. In order to prepare, we decided to let her lead worship at youth group (myself and one of my coworkers accompanying). Usually, I do not work on Wednesday nights, so it was a real treat to be able to go and experience their youth group.

The youth pastor preached an incredibly convicting message, one that was so simple yet so heart breaking. He began by sharing his love story with his wife, and threw in a little twist – he told us that while he was dedicated to his wife while he was physically with her during the week, he had other girls that he also loved whenever he wasn’t with his wife. (I have to note that this is NOT true, he said this to make a point!)  As he started saying this, all of us in the youth group started shifting in our seats, becoming angry and so shocked by his confession. One young man in the crowd called him out on this, saying how completely wrong this was, and the youth pastor “justified” his actions – saying how devoted he was whenever he was in his wife’s presence.

Then, he brought his point home: Why do we get so offended and upset about adultery in marriage, yet we do the SAME THING to God and don’t even think twice about it. We are devoted to Him on Wednesdays and Sundays, yet the rest of the week we act like we don’t even know Him by our actions. We blatantly sin against Him, and don’t even bat our eyes. We essentially look the same as the world, except we pray at night and attend church each week. In the name of tolerance, we mimic the world and don’t even stop to think about how this affects the Father’s heart.

By this point, it was taking everything in me to hold back the tears that were filling my eyes. While I don’t commit the sins that we deem as being “really, really wrong” in the church (getting drunk, sexual immorality, etc), I am guilty of pride, idolatry, doubt, and a myriad of “socially acceptable” sins. I go to others for advice and counsel before God. I believe my college education provided me with all the knowledge I need to excel in my field of work. I do not guard my mouth, and speak words meant to puff myself up rather than edify others. I allow my insecurities to cause me to strive for the praise and approval of others rather than keeping my eyes fixed on the only One whose acceptance matters. I am guilty of breaking God’s heart, and I don’t even care to realize that I’m doing it.

* * * * * *

In the Old Testament, you can find the story of King Hezekiah. He was the son of King Ahaz, and “he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. 28:1). Hezekiah grew up watching his father look to everything else but God to find peace and prosperity for the kingdom of Judah. He watched his father make countless idols, worship and sacrifice everything he had to these false gods in hopes that the kingdom could prosper once again. Scripture tells us that the worse the circumstances became, “in the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord.” He kept striving for peace, looking everywhere except up. This was the atmosphere that Hezekiah was raised in – turmoil, unrest, and violence. However, he was able to recognize his father’s folly and remember the faith of his forefathers. The first thing he did when he took the throne was to enter the temple, restore the order of the priests, and cleanse the Lord’s house from all that had been defiled.

He called the Levites (those set apart to serve the Lord by caring for His house and being the “go between” for the Israelites and the Lord) to himself and charged them with a beautiful and convicting message: “My sons, do not now be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in His presence, to minister to Him and to be His ministers and make offerings to Him.” (2 Chron. 29:11)

The New Testament tells us that we are the ministers of the Gospel, the royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9). We then have this same charge spoken to us: do not be negligent, for the Lord has chosen us! People everywhere are literally dying; we have the light that can save them, and yet we have the audacity to spend our days striving and seeking after them same things that the world is? That’s like knowing the right answer on a test, yet circling a different option! That’s complete foolishness, and it is at the expense of people’s souls! Why are we hiding our light under a basket and living as though we won’t answer to the Lord? Why are we breaking the Father’s heart and being unfaithful to Him?

* * * * * *

There is great darkness in this world. Death, famine, natural disasters, broken hearts, and fractured families. Friends, we have the light! We have the answer! It is our job to shine like the sun and pierce through the darkness! In this world where everything is grey and people reject the notion of absolute truth, it is our job to shine through the grey and reveal the Light. In our distress, may we not become faithless to the Lord. We cannot be negligent, for we have been chosen to stand in His presence.


“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Phil. 2:15)

Regenerate

“I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want – I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.” (Lord of the  Rings, Tolkien

I suppose I could live a decent life; be comfortable, live in a nice house, take annual trips to Florida to visit my family. I suppose I could do this, and find some sort of happiness. But why would I ever choose that? Does the bird choose to abide in the cage after the door is ripped from its hinges? Do we stay in the manor when the passage to Narnia has been discovered? Do we reside in the Shire upon the commissioning of a grand adventure through Middle Earth?

When the God of the universe reaches out His hand, extending His invitation of adventure to you, how could you decline?

“From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave, too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.'” (John 6:66-69)


The above was a journal entry I wrote two weeks before moving to Montana, and I think it perfectly summarizes 2015 and my goals for 2016. Last year was a year of adventure, tragic loss, heartbreak, and new beginnings. I experienced more emotions and changes than I could have thought possible, and I’m still trying to sort through it all. However, in the midst of the changes, I found glimpses of hope; in the middle of the storms, tiny rays of light poked through the grey and reminded me that this also had a purpose in God’s story.

This will be a short post today, but I just want to remind you to hold fast. It’s easy to be wholeheartedly following the Lord in the warmth of the sunshine, but true warriors for the Kingdom are built in the hurricanes. This has a purpose and this too shall pass.

 

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.

*************

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.

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.

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.

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! 🙂