Archive | January, 2011

Craving fellowship

24 Jan

I am amazed at God right now, at the way He validates what I’ve been learning about Him and life through experiences.

I’ve been enjoying my new days of freedom after discovering why I can trust God to run my life. But Satan is a sneaky little devil. He never gives up. Instead of conceding defeat, he will use other circumstances and get me to do the exact same thing as before: take responsibility.

Once I felt freedom from the guilt of needing to do more and to make my life look like I thought it should in the big picture, I started having a battle with the everyday things. Specifically watching TV. Again, it started with a good desire. I had been convicted that TV watching, with a few exceptions like Bones and The Office, is a huge waste of time. The majority of the time, I watch TV not because it’s exactly the thing I want to do and it makes me feel good but because I am tired and don’t want to think. I just want to veg out. And as I turn off the TV when it’s time to go to bed or out somewhere, I almost always think, “Well, that was a waste of time.”

So I desired to cut back on the TV watching and to find other activities that are as soothing and relaxing as TV, but more productive. That way I would still get to relax but with things that would add to my character instead of detract from it. But Satan took that good desire and distorted it. I could no longer watch TV at all, even my favorite shows, without feeling guilty. It was wasting precious time! I could be doing so much more – like writing that book I’ve been dreaming about or accomplishing tasks on my to-do list. Once again, my freedom to do whatever my heart desired evaded me. I felt trapped, pinned down by invisible forces.

I knew I was missing some truth. What was I not believing?

The more I thought about it, I realized that my struggle wasn’t really about watching TV. I was bored. And lonely. I was sick of finding stuff to do on my own – I wanted to spend time with someone else. Maybe that was why TV appealed to me – it was an impersonal form of human contact. I didn’t feel alone with the TV on.

Lucky for me, I had a bridal shower to go to last night, where there would be lots of Christian women to fellowship with. Even though I expected that I wouldn’t know most of them, I was excited. I usually leave events like that feeling energized and reinvigorated. And that’s exactly what happened. I met some great women, was very encouraged by 2 of them, and left the shower feeling so loved and blessed by God.

As I drove home, I connected the dots of things God has been revealing to me over the past several weeks. I love people – the time in my life that I’ve been the happiest and most fulfilled was as a part of Campus Outreach in college. I felt like I belonged there, I had some amazing friends, and I was around people all the time. I’ve always thought of myself as a loner, as a person who prefers solitude to being around others. Now I see that I love being around others, but I need solitude to recharge. And at this stage in my life, I have so much solitude that I am overly charged and need to seek out places where I can deplete my stores.

Whereas a year ago, I would have praised the value of fellowship and said that I wanted to be more intentional about spending time with friends, it would have felt like another thing on a to-do list. When I thought about how much I failed at spending time with others, I felt condemned and guilty. I didn’t feel inspired to change. But now, I see my own need for fellowship, my own heart craving for it, and it is something I want to do – need to do. So far, I have asked 2 friends to hang out (one of whom I had lunch with today!) and I have plans for more. I am so blessed!

The best part about it is that this has been the desire of my heart for the past 2 years and now that I’ve finally surrendered my dreams for my life to God, He is doing in me that which I had so long tried to do, but failed at. A. W. Tozer says it worlds better than I can:

“The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

This is the blessed truth of the gospel – that we can rest from all attempts to prove our worth, to earn our salvation, to redeem our lives. We can rest in Christ’s sufficiency because of His sacrifice on the cross. Like the song says, “I am changed in the presence of a holy God.”


 

The Savior’s Gift

20 Jan

My reading goal for the beginning of 2011 is to finish all of the books I started simultaneously in 2010. Moreover, I am trying to finish all of these books before starting any new ones (a task which is proving very difficult and less and less appealing the more books I encounter that look really good!). The books in progress are:

  • Soul Craving by Joel Warne (finished reading this on vacation)
  • No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton
  • No Little People by Francis Schaeffer
  • Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick
  • Kiss Me Again by Barbara Wilson
  • The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews (just finished this 2 days ago)

I have mentioned how much I enjoyed Soul Craving before but since I just finished The Traveler’s Gift, I wanted to share what I got out of it. While I love reading and am constantly tempted to read books so fast that I don’t retain hardly anything of what I read, I am trying to be intentional about taking a little time after finishing each book to go back through and write down/think about the points that stood out most to me. So that’s where these thoughts came from.

This book is not a Christian book, though it pretends that it is. It mentions God several times and even quotes a few Bible verses but the Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success effectively leave God out completely, while borrowing Biblical principles. How convenient. And how tragic. The way I see it, philosophies about life like these (including Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam) lay out all these great principles but don’t address the 2 biggest issues facing mankind: 1) sin and 2) the power to change.

These issues are actually very much related. Because of the pervasiveness of sin, we need Someone outside of ourselves to redeem us from our sins, as well as empower us to change.  (The links I added explain what I mean by these terms more thoroughly.) In light of those beliefs, I took the liberty of adapting the Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success to have a Biblical foundation. I believe that I still captured the essence of each Decision. I have included the author’s wording of each Decision in brackets.

1. [The buck stops here.]

Act with integrity. Trust that God can and will use you and your past for His glory. Be bold in your decisions, led by the Spirit, even if they’re socially unpopular. “Let steadfastness have its effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).

2. [I will seek wisdom.]

Use discernment and be intentional about how you live. Bad company corrupts good character. Seek wisdom but “be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Prov. 3:7). “Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

3. [I am a person of action.]

Beginning today, I have a new future because I am a new creation. I inspire others when I live for God’s glory by being true to who He has created me to be. I will make the best use of my days because they are gifts from God. Because my future in Christ is secure, I can move forward into each day with joy and energy. I have the Spirit of Christ in me to guide and instruct my decisions. I can be confident in my future because I know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

4. [I have a decided heart.]

I have staked my heart and life on Christ and the Gospel. I am passionate about God. I will awaken every morning with an excitement about the new day God has given me and the opportunity for growth and change. My thoughts and actions will work in a forward motion a la the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12-14 — never sliding into the dark forest of doubt or the muddy quicksand of self-pity, by the grace of God. I will lay my head on my pillow at night happily exhausted, knowing that I gave my all in service to my Lord and accomplished the work He gave me to do. God has given me a unique dream and vision and I glorify Him by pursuing that dream with vigor, persistence, and faith.

5. [Today I will choose to be happy.]

Today I will choose to be happy because of what Christ has done for me on the cross. I will choose to be thankful for all things; to focus on things that are encouraging, uplifting, and Christ-centered; and to love others. Enthusiasm is faith in action because it trusts God for the success of its actions. I will smile at others and seek to be a blessing to them. I will be slow to anger and quick to listen.

6. [I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit.]

I will forgive others as Christ has forgiven me. I will forgive those who don’t deserve it, don’t ask for it, and don’t even want it. I will cultivate a forgiving spirit by spending time getting to know my Savior more and more. I will die to myself and my selfish desires. I will kill bitterness, conquer resentment, and eradicate revenge through the power of the Spirit. I will forgive myself for failing to be what I want to be, finding hope and redemption in my Savior, Jesus Christ. I will trust in Him to conform me to His image.

7. [I will persist without exception.]

I will press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. I will not grow weary in doing good, for I believe that I will reap abundantly in due season. I must not allow myself to get discouraged or be derailed by trials and struggles. I must keep “looking to Jesus” and “run with endurance the race that is set before” me (Hebrews 12). I will endure; I will remain steadfast under trial because of the joy set before me: heaven and perfect unity with God. As a child of God, I must rise above the status quo and dare to do improbable, even impossible, things because “this I know, that God is for me” (Psalm 56:9).

 

As I read and re-read these statements, they become my prayer to God. I know that in myself, I do not have the power to effect this change in my life. But He does. He has a plan for me, He knows where He is leading me, and it is through an intimate relationship with Him that I discover myself, my purpose, and my potential. I hope these words encourage you as well.

Gearing up for triathlon season!

18 Jan

Since going to Mexico, I’ve been a big lazy bum. I worked out twice in Mexico (swimming and elliptical) but since then, I did nothing except take Katy on walks (which is better than nothing). It’s only been a week and a half and I didn’t gain any weight (amazingly, even in Mexico where I felt like I was stuffing my face!) but when I stop exercising, I just feel soft and flabby. I like how exercise makes me feel fit and firm because I’ve used my muscles.

So last night, Travis and I finally went to the Rec (after much hemming and hawing) and then I swam with D this morning. It’s always easier to exercise again when you’ve pushed yourself to just do one exercise session. I realized last night that since I am currently unemployed, soon to have a part-time job, I can take advantage of the classes at my gym that occur in the middle of the day. Yay! There’s a  Yoga class that meets a couple of times a week and a Mat Pilates class on Tuesday. Hopefully those work out (pun not intended)!

Swimming this morning also reminded me of how much fun I had training for triathlons last year. After the half-marathon in November, I was all psyched up to start training for a triathlon but then I lost my job and the reality of me getting a tri bike seems further and further away so all of my motivation fizzled. But I don’t need a tri bike to do another tri. I did 2 last year with my crappy mountain bike and I can do it again! Plus, the triathlon I’m planning on doing with D, the Greeley Triathlon on June 12th, is only a 10-mile bike. And it will be at least a month or 2 before I start biking outside again and who knows, hopefully I’ll have an income by then so I can get a new bike (that would be SO exciting!!)

Now that I have a triathlon picked out, I need to get my training schedule together and figure out when I need to actually start exercising with a purpose. Until then, I will definitely enjoy doing the elliptical, taking yoga/pilates classes, and running when I feel like it. 😉

The search begins…

17 Jan

I finally found out about the job at the church last week… they hired someone else. At first, they had planned on hiring 2 people but now they’re not sure they can afford 2 people. The pastor has asked if I would be interested in continuing to work there for the next couple of weeks while the new guy gets his feet under him (which I am going to do), but he can’t promise me that they would need me beyond that. And if they did, it would almost for sure just be a part-time gig.

While I’m slightly disappointed because I did enjoy working there, I am happy that the church found someone who fits their needs in the office and that God has revealed His will. I felt very indifferent about the job at the church – I did enjoy working there but I didn’t feel like “This is the job for me.” So I’m thankful that God’s will is clear.

So begins the search for a new job. I did apply for unemployment last Friday and I’ll be working part-time at the church for next couple of weeks, so we’ll have some money coming in while I look. I’m not entirely sure what kind of job I want yet. Here are my categories:

“Jobs I would love but am not qualified for”:

Book editor (actually, editor of any sort)

Desktop publisher

Writer

Nutritionist

Librarian

Tutor

 

“Jobs I am qualified for but am not sure I want”:

Administrative Assistant / Secretary

Retail

Marketing / Communications Coordinator

 

“Jobs that would be sweet but I’m not sure even exist”:

Professional Organizer

 

I still have some thinking and research to do, as you can see. I was going to go to the library today to look at books about job-seeking but then realized that because it’s a government holiday, it is closed today. Poop. I guess I’ll be doing more research online today.

Every time I’ve been looking for jobs in my lifetime, there’s this little voice that creeps into my head and says, “You’ll never get the job you want. It’s just not in the cards.” I know that voice is from Satan – he is trying to rob me of the joy of resting in God, trusting that He is able and willing to provide a job that is well-suited for my talents and interests. Moreover, God will accomplish His purpose for me. I don’t know what my purpose is but He does. And I can rest in that while looking for a new job.

Resting in God for Life

15 Jan

God is so faithful.

I had a rough start to this past week. Being back from Mexico, I was confronted with all of the problems I had left behind: namely, my struggle with what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Again, I was stressed out. It felt like there was a heavy ball of anxiety sitting right on my chest. I felt paralyzed. I had nothing that I had to do and yet didn’t feel free to do anything. I felt like I had to be productive. Like that’s what a good model citizen does – they get stuff done. But I didn’t want to get stuff done. I wanted to relax and read.

Little by little, God has been inviting me to release the responsibility I feel for my life. At first, He showed me I could let go of being responsible for my sanctification. Instead of rifling through my own soul looking for sins that I needed to work on, I could trust God to convict me of the sins that He wanted me to work on.

He then showed me I could let go of being responsible for projects at work. Even though I don’t technically have a job right now, I am helping out at the church and as such, I feel involved enough to be held responsible for things succeeding or failing. But God says that I can release those projects to Him too. It’s not me accomplishing His work – it’s Him accomplishing His work through me. I wrote these points in my journal:

1. God knows what needs to be done and when.

2. I can trust God to guide my day and to provide the wisdom, inspiration, and motivation necessary. I can even trust Him to bring to mind things I need to remember.

3. I can leave unfinished projects in God’s care – this is His work after all. He will take care of it.

4. If and when I fail, I can run to God and He will help me fix the mess. He is a gracious, patient and loving God.

Finally, God showed me that I can let go of what I have perceived to be the things I needed to be doing to live the life I want to live. I had been creating my own religious rules about how to live but God had not empowered me to live those. I constantly felt like I should be doing more than I was doing. If I bought a coffee at Starbuck’s, I felt guilty that I didn’t donate that money to charity. If I spent time reading a book, I felt guilty that I was making myself happy instead of helping someone else in need. I was constantly questioning my motives and constantly feeling condemned by what I perceived to be the selfishness of everything I did. Even the good, thoughtful things I did for others were swallowed up in the notion that they were just drops in the ocean of my own patheticness.

But praise the Lord, He has revealed the truth to me! On Thursday morning, after feeling very discouraged and fed up with life on Wednesday night, God showed me that what had started out as a good desire – wanting to live above the status quo for Christ – I had turned into an end in itself. I was trying to make myself right with God by setting a high standard for my way of life. I only succeeded in making myself miserable. Because I can’t make myself right with God!

And I don’t have to. I don’t have to procure my own salvation because of Jesus and I don’t have to make my life count because of Jesus. For the longest time, I thought that surrendering control meant conceding defeat. Resting in Christ meant that I didn’t care if my life changed – it meant I was ok if I just kept on living the typical American lifestyle. But I did care! So I couldn’t, I wouldn’t surrender. I had to make my life what I thought it should be – because if I didn’t, who would?

I am in awe at God’s perfect timing. Just totally in awe. In the past month, I read 2 books that revolutionized the way I look at my relationship with God: Walking With God by John Eldredge and Soul Craving by Joel Warne. Both authors talk about listening to God, walking through situations with God, talking to God, communing with God. I had never before realized that such an intimate two-way interaction with God was possible!

Because of that new discovery, the idea of surrendering control of my life and my expectations and desires to God makes sense. Before, I didn’t understand how I could let go of control and expect things to still happen. I mean, after all, even though God is sovereign, He is not a puppeteer. I still have to act. So how would anything change if I gave up trying to change things?

I see now that change comes out of an intimate relationship with God. As I am walking with God, talking with Him, listening to Him, inviting Him in to every area and experience of my life, I am changed. I sense His Spirit’s leading. I see doors open that I would have missed before. I find courage to do what I couldn’t in the past. This is exactly what I wanted for my life and was so desperately striving after. But now, it is God leading me. It is God doing the hard work. Joel Warne writes in his book that our relationship with God is a responsive one. He leads; we respond.

Moreover, if there is something amiss in my life, something I should abstain from or do differently, I can trust God to reveal those things to me. I don’t have to obsess over everything and continually feel guilty. This has been the biggest relief of all. I can finally put in correct perspective all of the mundane, practical, trivial details of life. I don’t have to question everything anymore! I can live everyday life in faith that when God wants to change something, when He wants to move me, He will reveal that to me. And He provides the courage and grace for obedience on top! So now, instead of asking God to show me what He wants me to do with my life, I pray:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there by any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23).

I cannot undermine enough what a revolutionary shift in paradigm this is for me. I feel like I had been going through the motions of life in black and white but now I am rejuvenated with vigor and eagerness to engage in life in Technicolor! Because my life is what it is because of God. And I can rest in Him for wisdom, guidance, sanctification. I can trust Him to do in my life what I have been desiring – because He desires it even more than I do!!

GOD IS AWESOME!!

 

 

Beach Longings

10 Jan

Relaxing in a hammock on Isla Mujeres

We’re back from the beach! Travis and I just got back yesterday from Mexico. We went to the Cancun Palace in Cancun with  my entire family – parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law.

While the actual vacation was wonderful, both of our getting-to-the-airport experiences were stressful. When we were flying out, the check-in line was a couple hundred people long and there was a problem with my ticket – I had booked it in my married name but my passport is still in my maiden name. Two years ago, I had used a certified marriage certificate to verify the name change but this time, I was told that I should have booked my ticket in my maiden name, to match my passport. Finally, after standing in line for 30 minutes and up at the counter for another 30, we were checked in. Security was fairly quick and we got to our gate with plenty of time.

When we were flying back to the US, the hotel had gotten our airport transfer times mixed up. Travis and I were flying out at 7:45 am, so we were supposed to leave for the airport at 4:30. But the hotel had us down for leaving at 12:30 with some of our other family members. Finally, after a whole hour, the hotel called us a taxi (and paid for it) and we were off. Luckily, the check-in and security lines were very short so we had enough time leaving too. Praise the Lord!

The rest of our vacation was great though. Travis and I shared a room with my brother Chris and sis-in-law Meg. They’re great – I really enjoyed getting to spend time with them. Besides the givens of eating lots of delicious food and drinks, we also took a trip over to Isla Mujeres, where we visited a sister resort to the Cancun Palace (that’s where the picture above came from). We played beach and water volleyball, tennis, ping pong, chess, and pool. We drove little 2-person speedboats and went snorkeling. We laid on the beach and by the pool, reading and talking. We had our family Christmas celebration and went shopping at a flea market.

The whole crew (clockwise from left): Brian, Travis, Jeremy, Dad, Chris, Meg, Mom, Jen, and me

We also visited the Sun Palace that was just down the street from our hotel. There was a bartender there that made all sorts of different fruity shots for us and then sent many tequila shots down to the beach where the guys were playing volleyball. All of us kids ended up pretty drunk that night.

While I didn’t like that we had drunk so much, I will say that the Lord really used that night to bring us closer together and break down some walls. Meg has been very hurt by her parents who are divorced and she feels very responsible for the well-being of her sisters. She wants God in her life but is having a hard time trusting that He can help her in the situation with her mom and sisters. She also has a hard time believing that anyone can love her for who she is.

Jeremy, Jen and I, upon hearing this, started telling Meg about the gospel and how God loves her enough to send His Son to die for her. The 2 things that were the coolest for me were that 1) I am now positive that Jeremy and Jen are believers. They totally get the gospel, which is TOTALLY AWESOME!! and 2) I got to see the state of Meg’s heart. She is very shy and has a hard time opening up to our family so being able to see her heart is a privilege. I can now pray for her in a specific way, as well as follow up later about this conversation. I did talk to her again the next day, just to make sure she knew it wasn’t just something I said while drunk but it’s what I truly believe.

My brother Chris also opened up about how he felt about his job and purpose of life but our discussion was cut short when it was time to go to dinner. Both Chris and Meg are searching. They want God but it seems that they’re not quite to the place of having an intimate relationship with Him. But this definitely energizes my prayers for them!

Cruising around in our mini speedboat

The one main spiritual thought I had during and after this vacation is how much I long for heaven. Being in a paradise like that, with no cares or worries, with my family that I truly love and enjoy being with, I felt an inner temptation to anxiousness. I felt I couldn’t possibly enjoy the vacation enough and that all the days were going by way too fast. I had to remind myself that my heart is really longing for the thing it was created for: perfect communion with God.

In the book I read on vacation, Soul Craving by Joel Warne, he writes, “The new country we have entered [as Christians] never had it in mind to simply waft us a few comforting breezes or provide us a place to vacation from our regular world. It wants to become our regular world. It wants to become, in fact, a new world inside us, remaking all our inner geography.”

Being with my family awakens my heart’s desire for fellowship, for being deeply known and loved. The gorgeous tropical landscape and sunshine reminds me how much I want to delight at the dawn of each new day and feel utter contentment at each sunset. My heart aches for God.

There is a longing awaken by such an experience that cannot be entirely satisfied. And like C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

 

The view from our room

To see more pictures from our vacation, click here.