Emerging from the Pool After a Long Swim

It was like leaping into a pool that was just a little bit too deep. I couldn’t find the bottom of the pool to launch myself back up to the surface.

It was. Hard. To keep. My breath.

Arms flailing, I pull myself up through the water and back to the world of oxygen.

Gasp!

Air again.

That’s is the feeling of being done with this year and this semester, in particular. For four months, I took 18 college credit hours, taught Sunday school, and worked with the college newspaper. This semester has been full of challenges and stress. It has been a season where I have experienced the most anxiety and depression. I have never had so many rough days.

But the season is over. Well, it has been for a week.

As I wind down and catch my breath, I am catching a glimpse of all of the lessons that can be learned from this past semester.

A few of those lessons:

Joy. Prayer. Mornings. Scripture. Friends. Quiet.

God has taught me that it is important to count my blessings and the moments of joy in the midst of pain. In the little things, God is teaching and calling and loving me.

Prayer is a beautiful spiritual discipline, and processing with the Lord helps me respond with more grace. The Lord has shown me so much grace in my failings and my mistakes, and I will continually need more grace. I will also need to learn, every day, how to give more grace. Prayer is a place to do that.

This semester, I learned the wonder of mornings. Without 8 am classes, I could get up, enjoy the morning, and sit in the sweet morning sunshine on my couch.

Scripture speaks. All of it speaks, and it is the Word of God. This semester, there has been a great desire in my heart to read and know the Bible, reading through the entire thing in one year. The Lord has provided for me His Word so that I may know more about His glory and His character. (I’ve never made it through the whole thing in a period of a year, and I really want to!)

With such a busy schedule and a stressful year, I have recognized the importance of friends. I have done a pretty lame job of loving and encouraging my friends well. I want to and need to be more consistent and more in tune to the people around me. Friends rebuke and encourage. Friends defend. I have seen the gift of friendship, and I endeavor to be a better friend, to love better, to cherish the moments. These people are a gift from the Lord that I have often taken for granted. He has been so gracious to me. I don’t want to be too busy with academics and outside commitments that I miss out on fun times and quiet moments with my friends.

So here we are. The beginning of a new season, having learned new lessons. I know God will use this season to teach me so much more.

Here’s to a summer of floating on the surface of the pool before I get out and jump in again. I guess I will take the time to put on a little sunscreen before I go out in the sun for too long.

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Good to Me

Back in January, I began praying that God would give me good gifts. I wasn’t asking for a reward for my actions. What I do, I aim to do out of obedience to and love for my Lord. But I knew God was a good God who wants to bless His children.

Or did I know that?

As the semester flew by, I continued to pray this prayer. Yet, I ran smack into one of God’s good gifts and thought: This must be a joke. God wouldn’t give this to me. He teaches me so much through frustration and pain. This must be a test. A glimpse of good so that I can learn something from it when the gift is taken away.

Kind of ridiculous to think, right? But I struggled with this. I distinctly remember our last day of chapel for this past academic year. It was a Thursday, and as we sang and prayed, I wrestled with the depth of the Lord’s goodness.

Did I believe the Lord was really good? Did I believe that He was capable of giving good gifts to His children? Did I doubt that He was gracious in providing for my desires?

Satan told me that my failures were too big and too many and God’s grace was too small and too cheap. 

I had settled for cheap grace.

Doubting God’s grace and God’s goodness towards me was not a pleasant place to be. It was discouraging. It was frustrating. It was emotionally painful. But it was my own mind, believing the lies of Satan, that allowed me to live in this place of doubt. I didn’t even realize that I had settled on a cheap understanding of grace.

I was asking God for good gifts, and then looking at Him in disbelief when He placed them in my hands.

Lacking faith, I asked from God, and I did not expect to receive. 

God gives gifts when they will bring Him the most glory. His timing is perfect. His glory is the purpose. He gives us good things because He is a good Father.

In some ways, this is a difficult post to write. I do not want my words to resemble the “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel. I am not saying that once you become a Christian, everything is great and God showers you with material blessings; may my words be honest and clear that material blessings are not a result of salvation.

So please allow me to make a few points clear:

1. As Christians, our good works do not save us. Jesus Christ saves us through His death, burial, and resurrection as the only payment for man’s sins. Good works should be done out of love for Christ, out of thankfulness for what He has done on our behalf.

2. Asking God for blessing is not sinful. This is the cry of a heart. We can come to God with our desires, but we have to understand that He will not always give us what we desire. He wants to protect us, but He also wants to bring glory to Himself through us.

3. If we receive good gifts, it is by the grace of God. If we do not receive what we ask for, it is because God has something that will better glorify Him and point to Him as the author of Goodness.

May The Lord shine upon you and reveal His goodness to you. May you never exchange a priceless, beautiful grace for a cheap, muddied imitation that seeks to draw you away from the Lord. And may your heart be open to both blessing and difficulty in this lifetime, to the glory of God.

 

The Valley of Vision, “Desires”

O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER,

Teach me to pray,
I confess that in religious exercises
the language of my lips and the feelings
of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon
my tongue a name never pronounced above
without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would
have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes
and also of my fears,
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy Spirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I thought.

Let him produce in me wise desires by which
I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity,
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have
thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities,
vexation of spirit,
and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour,
image, presence, service.

-The Valley of Vision, “Desires”

God’s Hobby: Answering Prayers?

“How many of us really believe Jesus loves to answer prayer?”

I had never thought of that until I read Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. Bridges mentions that one of John Newton’s hymns says this:

Come, my soul, thy suit prepare:

Jesus loves to answer prayer;

He himself has bid thee pray,

Therefore will not say thee nay.

Thou art coming to a King,

Large petitions with thee bring;

For his grace and power are such,

None can ever ask too much.

In his book, Bridges follows this hymn with the quote at the top of this post:

“How many of us really believe Jesus loves to answer prayer?”

Had I ever thought of that? Not really. The concept surprised me, but then… it made sense in light of Matthew 7.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

How much more will the Lord give good things to those who just ask.

Do things always work out the way we ask the Lord to work them out? In my experience, no. However, that shouldn’t keep us from bringing our petitions to the Lord. Did the possibility that my mom would say “no” ever keep me from asking her to buy oreos or fishsticks when she went to the store? Nope!

The Lord already knows what is on my heart, yet He wants me to ask Him. He wants me to express the desires and the cries of my heart in my own words. Thinking that the Lord loves to answer prayer encourages me to come to Him more, not necessarily asking for more, but talking out my feelings and my motives and my desires with Him. He never gets tired of me coming to Him to ask for wisdom and growth and Truth.

The Lord’s timing is so different from my own, but I will still go to Him, pouring my heart out before Him. If I trust His timing, I won’t worry about how He answers prayer, but I will rest assured that He will answer my prayers.

{Sometimes, it is really hard to remember the things you’ve learned or to really believe them.}

“If My People”

Some may look down on the environment of Christian colleges because they are not an accurate depiction of the “real world.” (Stick with me. The title and the post connect later.)

But this life is so much better than the real world. I live on a hall with 15 amazing girls, an RA, and two other upperclassmen. Yes, we have homework. But we also take the time to talk and hang out. Last night, about half of us gathered in one room to have tea, jam, and bread. (The Sound of Music: “Tea, a drink with jam and bread!”) The conversation is always so uplifting and encouraging. I am so blessed by all that has happened since I moved on campus a week ago. (I cannot believe it has only been one week!)

One of the coolest things to me since I moved in is hearing about the timeline that led up to today. Our upperclassmen ladies found out that they would have our hall back in February, and they started praying for us then. For me, February was tough. There was a lot of life change and emotional craziness for a couple weeks during that time. God brought me through a painful process of healing and truth and grace, but He gave me great support through family and friends during that time. Looking back, I can vividly see how the Lord used the prayers of these three lovely ladies in my life, starting back in February.

Do I believe in the power of prayer? Absolutely. Without a doubt. My eyes filled with tears when I heard that these ladies started praying for us in February because of all that was going on in my life 6 months ago. God answered their prayers as He worked in my life and gave me a greater desire to know him and pursue holiness.

So… if prayer is so powerful and so meaningful, why don’t I do it more often?

(Pause. Think about it.)

I will never be as disciplined as I would like to be in my prayer life. I will never have that unceasing conversation with God while on the earth. But that does not mean I shouldn’t strive for that.

God is creating in my heart a deeper desire to spend time in His presence, praise His name, and sit in awe of Him. (More on the fear of God later – what a lesson!) God responds to His people and I want to be a witness to His provision in all things.

Here is how God responds to His people:

After Solomon finished building the temple, God gave him an incredible promise. In case the Israelites turned away from God (again), He said this in 2 Chronicles 7:13-15:

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive them their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.

Prayer made with a humble and repentant heart is heard by the Father. He hears the cries of His people when they “turn from their wicked ways.” He heard the cries of my heart back in February, and He responded in loving faithfulness as I came to him with a contrite heart. The prayer of three upperclassmen and bunch of other faculty has had a huge impact on where I am today spiritually. Their prayers had an influence on my repenting from sin and turning to seek the beautiful face of the Lord. I hope my prayers have such an impact. I may never see it, but I believe that it will take place!

To wrap up this post, I apologize that it may not flow very well. My mind is buzzing with information; I’ve received all my syllabi for the semester and it is crazy! But with a heart set on prayer and communion with Christ, I know that this semester is going to be so full of growth and lessons and awesomeness.

I pray that you, whoever you are, wherever you are, experience that intimate conversation with the Lord this week. Or whatever week you happen to read this. It is beautiful beyond measure! May you be filled with joy so that you overflow onto those around you! May you turn from the ways of the world and gaze on the face of the Savior! You never know how your prayers will affect others.

Revisiting My Bamboo Plant

Over the last couple of days, I have been watering my bamboo plant a lot because it is taking in water so fast! It’s thirsty. And I didn’t realize just how dehydrated it was until I started watering it again.

After a period of time where we do not immerse ourselves in the Word, we may overcompensate, spending a lot of time reading the Bible and praying.

BUT, instead of pacing ourselves over time, we fall into a cycle of no time with God, a lot of time with God, over and over and over. This cycle can be dangerous. We tell ourselves that daily time in the Word is important, but we fail to do what we say. God wants committed followers, and committed followers stick to their commitments despite the circumstances.

Does that mean any of us are going to perfectly study the Bible every single day? No. We’re human. We allow things to get in the way, we say we will do it later, and sometimes we just forget.

As I am soaking in the Word of God this week and trying to remain in communication with Him throughout the day, I do not want to get caught up in a cycle. I want to make a lifelong habit that I enjoy. I want to look forward to that time in the Word, learning about the Lord.

Right now, I may be really thirsty, but I have to remember that I always need the Living Water. Once I am out of the “extremely dehydrated” stage, it doesn’t mean I can give up on hydrating.

Who knew I could learn so much from my little bamboo plant?

Don’t Be My Bamboo Plant

The longer I wait to water my bamboo plant, the more likely it is to die. And once it dies, I am out of luck. (Get it? Lucky bamboo? Out of luck?) Anyways, once the plant dies, I can’t revive it. It’s gone.

Without water, the bamboo shoots shrivel up, the leaves turn yellow, and the plant  begins to grow weak.

Even though I just watered my bamboo (probably for the first time in six weeks), it is not instantly going to appear healthy again.

When we, as humans, put something off for awhile, picking it back up is not the easiest thing.

For me, if I stop running for awhile, it makes it so much harder to start adding that back into my life.

When we, as believers, stop reading the Bible on a daily basis, it is harder to pick the Bible back up and start where we left off.

Reading the Bible will not immediately make us feel better. Sometimes it does. But we cannot expect our outlook and perspective to instantly change when we begin looking to the Word after a long break. It takes time for our hearts to change.

I graduate in about six weeks, and my schedule is crazy! As I’ve said before, I procrastinate like no other. Now, having a schedule to stick to in order to be able to finish all my textbooks before I graduate, I see how much has to be done.

But that is no excuse when it comes to spending time in the Word. The days and weeks vary. But I know that I am not spending time in the Word or in prayer as I should. God has so much to teach me, but if my Bible sits by my bed and I don’t open it, I am not going to hear what God has to say.

So for the rest of this school year, even though I’m busy, I have to make an extra effort to spend time in the Word. I don’t want to put it off until later or I will just end up like my poor little bamboo plant.

So don’t wait until you are shriveling and deprived of the Word. Don’t procrastinate on building your relationship with the Lord.

Nicaragua Update – May 16th

Six Tips When Getting Shots

1.  If you think they are going to hurt more than they actually do, you will have a pleasantly surprised when they just pinch a little.

2.  Don’t look at the needle.

3.  Move your arms around, flap like a chicken, massage your shoulders – you don’t want knots in your shoulders.

4.  Be wary of side hugs, especially if someone (mom) squeezes your shoulder when they give you a hug.

5.  Avoid sitting next to the sister who sees every single VW Bug during car rides.

6.  Take band-aids off before they get too stuck on your arm.

Six valuable lessons from my shot experience on Friday the 13th.  The shots themselves really weren’t that bad; the worst part of the shots was the soreness for the next couple days.  However, now I am another step closer to Nicaragua!  Plus, I only needed two shots, so that was a relief.  In relation to medicine, I will begin taking a malaria medicine sometime in July depending on what type of malaria medicine the doctor prescribes.

As far as finances go, approximately 4/5 of the total trip cost has been covered so far.  That means I only have about $300 before I reach $1300.  God amazes me with how He has provided for this trip, and I cannot thank y’all enough for the financial support you have shown me.

I would also like to thank all of you who are praying for me.  I will be stepping out of my comfort zone in some areas, but knowing that I have a team of prayer partners is so encouraging to me.  Prayer is so important in preparing our hearts and the heart of the Nicaraguans.

Preparation for Nicaragua is underway!  We have had two planning meetings so far.  Here’s what we’ve been doing:

  • Forming teams
  • Writing and sharing our testimonies
  • Choosing our skits and team projects
  • Planning and rehearsing our skit
  • Coming up with a game for verse memorization

 

The awesome Team Mujeres (our team name is a joke because we have two male members of the team, but they are outnumbered) is made up of Alyssa, Jesse, Rachel, Jessica, Luke, Pastor Frank, and myself.  Yesterday we rehearsed our skit, the Fiery Furnace, bringing to life the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.  We plan to be the most creative and overall best team!  (Yes, there’s some friendly team competition going on.)

While we are in Nicaragua, we will present this skit at the church in the Paradise barrio.  On our assigned day, our team will also help children learn Proverbs 3:5 in Spanish:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

Confia en el Senor de todo Corazon, y no en tu propia inteligencia.

Proverbios 3:5

Each day, my excitement for Nicaragua increases!  These are some things that I ask you to pray for:

  • That God prepares our hearts for what He has to teach and show us
  • That God prepares the hearts of the children and families we will interact with
  • That God provides the rest of the funds needed for me and for other team members
  • That we will see the souls of both adults and children as valuable
  • That our team and entire group is unified under Christ through this planning and trip

 

That is it for now. (:  Thank y’all so much for reading and praying!

How Then

This month has been full of blessings and it has been a constant reminder of the goodness of God.  Four days ago, I celebrated the resurrection of my Savior!  He is not dead; He is alive!  Even after Easter leftovers are eaten, and the candy from the “Easter Bunny” is long gone, I am still going to celebrate the I serve a God who is alive!

Easter is the very foundation of the Gospel.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

This is the Gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only payment for man’s sins.

Christ came to earth to pay the price of my sins; He came to give me salvation, and bring me into a personal relationship with Him.  He did that for you, too.  He died for the sins of the WORLD!  My desire to share this message with the world stems from the LIFE God has given me.  God’s love, peace, forgiveness, and hope are all things I want everyone to experience.  The passion I have for missions is a result of Christ’s sovereignty in my life.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Romans 10:13-15

That verse has been such an encouragement to me as I get ready to go to Nicaragua in July!  A lot of the time, when I find a verse that really means a lot to me at that certain time, I’ll write in on my wrist.  Romans 10:13-15 has been on my wrist for the past several days, and in my mind for even more. 

I am so excited to use my life to bring glory to my Lord in Nicaragua this summer!  I want to thank you so supporting me with prayers and financial support.  God continues to show me His provision when I begin to wonder how I am going to raise all the support I need for my trip.  God’s provision stuns me.  My jaw drops at His answers to prayer.  I have seen this Scripture breathed to life:

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

Thank you for partnering with me in the Gospel.  I am praying for y’all. 

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:3-11