Friday, August 2, 2013


I met Teresa as she was battling her sixth month of brain cancer. She had her first brain tumor removed in November 2012 and through months of therapy and hard work she was getting better. When I met her she was walking, talking, holding her head up on her own, and smiling. Her parents hired me to be her summer nanny for the mornings. I remember her big smile when we talked about art projects we were going to do and the yummy snacks we were going to bake.

One week after I met her she found out she had another tumor. While I was on my mission trip to Africa, she had this tumor removed and went back to stage one of recovery. When I came into her house to start taking care of her she was paralyzed on her left side, needed help holding her head up, struggled with communicating and often cried when we couldn’t figure out what she was saying, and needed an extra hand with everything.

It’s been three months since I met this little girl and have began to love her deeply as a little sister. In three months I have learned what certain hand signals mean, how to understand her grunts and attempts at words, observed her progressing and learning how to use certain parts of her body again, sat through emotional breakdowns and failed attempts at progress, and laughed together at our own inside jokes and stories.

It’s been an incredible journey to see her gain more mobility and make steps towards recovery. It was exciting every week when Teresa would get emotional and I could tell her about all the progress I was seeing. It was exciting talking about the day she was going to walk again.

It was all exciting until a couple weeks ago. I’ve been noticing Teresa struggling to say words she had learned to say with ease and working much harder with her exercises with less result. She went with her parents to the hospital for a check up and routine brain scan. They discovered the cancer is back and it has spread. The fight is over. It cannot be won.

How do you tell a seven year old she is going to die?

When I sit with her it is hard not to cry. When I hold her little hands I have a string of thoughts “God loves His little children. God loves you. I love you. He created you and He knows. His love for you is beautiful and sovereign. My love can’t comprehend the way He loves you. Go and be in the arms of Jesus…”

I’m really big on name meanings. The name Teresa means “reap”, which means to obtain a return or reward.

Teresa was named after Mother Teresa, who carries her name very well. Mother Teresa gave and gave to people throughout her life. She is known by some to be the kindest person to have lived. She once said “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do…but how much love we put into that action”. Mother Teresa gave with her life. Her life she laid down in order for others to gain. Her life was a reaping of sorts that produced a harvest by all the lives she impacted.

I can’t help but think of the ways that this sweet seven-year-old Teresa, named after Mother Teresa, has given to me.

There have been so many ups and downs along the way. One of the most impactful moments for me was one day when Teresa was trying and trying to say the word walk. Once I finally understood the word, she began to cry and cry because she couldn’t walk. She was seven and couldn’t walk. Instead she had to sit there and watch her baby brother, who is a year and a half, run and walk and fall down and stand back up and roam around. She started asking me “why? Why is God letting this happen to me?” It brought tears to my eyes to have to tell her I didn’t know. All I could do was squeeze her hand and tell her “I don’t know, but I love you and I hate this, but He loves you more and knows what I don’t”. Her mom sat down with us then. Teresa asked her mom “Why Is God letting me hurt?” Her mom said “Teresa, you’re asking the wrong question. You’re asking God why. You need to be asking how. Ask God how He wants you to serve Him. Ask Him how to show your love for Him in your sickness. Sometimes we love God in our healthy state. Other times we love Him when we are sick. You have an important role to reflect Him”.

That spoke volumes to me about God’s sovereignty. It really puts things in perspective to me about the times I am lazy in serving Him. Who am I to ask why and pity myself?  Why don’t I ask the how question more?

When I think of Teresa and the end that is coming I think of the peace that comes in the fight being over for her. I think of the love she has shared with me through her smiles, laughter, questions, and hunger for healing. I think of the way she has helped me to understand the love of God a little better.

I wish she could be going back to school with her cousins in a couple weeks learning her multiplication tables and running around in the backyard and getting her new school clothes dirty like I did when I was her age. I wish I could do something to change what is coming, but then I am reminded of where she is going and whose arms she is going to and I know that the arms of Jesus are much sweeter to be in than the little hands I have.

“Be faithful in the small things because it is in them that your strength lies” –Mother Teresa

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Looking forward, Pressing On.

Lately I've been seeing how much i rely on my past glories or hardships. I've spent a lot of time depending on the past. The world says that we need to look back and deal with the past in order to overcome and grow, but that's not what scripture says. 

The Truth is that we are free with Christ so we should be living in that freedom by living fully in the present with great hope for the future.

Why be Present focused? Because I am no longer bound by the past. 2 corinthians 5:17 "therefore if anyone is in Christ the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new has come!" 

Why be Future focused?  Romans 5:1 "therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"

So if we are new creations then who we are now and what are we glorifying? How are we spending our time? What are we reflecting on?

A lot of times when people get to know each other they talk about past experiences. It's not that talking about the past is all bad, but I want people to know me for my character- who I am rather than my past, especially the things that aren't a part of me anymore. In the same way, I believe it is good to reflect on the things God has done for us, but most of all He wants to be known for His character and who He is. As we reflect on His character we learn to trust Him and how to let go.

Letting go leads us to righteous living. Letting go makes me think less about myself and my own disappointments. Letting go makes me focus on the bigger picture and the unity of Christ. Letting go makes me want to depend on God's strength rather than my own. Letting go makes gossiping, lying, worrying, or any way i can try to have control over a situation seem pointless. Because my focus is giving God glory right now rather than dwelling on disappointments of the past.

In realizing all this I see how I have held myself back by things of the past. I held insecurities for old mistakes and was anxious that I would do the same things. I felt heavy about old things but Psalm 103:12 says "As far as the east is from the west,  so far has He removed our transgressions from us" . I don't need to dwell on failed relationships or hurtful memories or even good things I've done in the past because they do not define me. Christ defines me. 

I like Google Web's first definition of freedom. Freedom: "the power or right to act, speak, or think...without hindrance or restraint"

If I don't embrace Gods grace and allow it to transform me then I am only held captive by myself, which was never gods plan. He set me free while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8 "But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us") because he knew I needed his redemption and knew if I surrendered that I could change and press on. 

Philippians 3:14 "I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus is calling us"

I am pressing on.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tangible Jesus, Intangible Faith: Reflections from my trip to Africa

I figure it is about time for me to write something. It’s been awhile and not because I haven’t had much to write about. I got back about a week ago from a two and a half week trip to Africa. It is amazing how much this trip taught me and broke me in such a short amount of time. It hardly seems possible.

It’s taken me awhile to put together this post because God did something so amazing and tangible while I was on my trip, but I’ve been struggling with putting all the stories together because as I was reflecting on the trip I was overwhelmed with all that God did. I started thinking about why I was overwhelmed and it was all because of people I met or tangible experiences reflecting Christ, but what about all the intangible things? There are so many weeks I just wish seconds away at work or in other places without seeking God in every moment.

I guess in a way its easy to go to Africa because I prepared my heart to go. I was completely open and flexible and ready to do anything. I was ready to hold babies, which before the trip completely terrified me. I was ready to sit down and talk with people about my faith no matter what time of day because I was focused on serving Christ in each moment and asking that He would use me.

But before I get into all that more I want to reflect over some of the things God did when I went on this trip and opened my heart up to what He wanted to do…

The whole reason I went on this trip actually started when I was four years old. This lady came to my church and talked in children’s church about the power of prayer. She encouraged us that we could pray for the most obscure things and God would hear us. We could pray for any person in any place and our God is big and strong enough to listen and answer our prayers. My mind started wandering and I started thinking about the people and places God loves. For some reason I decided I should pray for someone in Africa. I went home from church and told my mom. I’m sure she thought it was a nice thought, but it probably seemed pretty odd that a four year old would really be serious about that. Well, over the years I kept a prayer journal for this woman in Africa. I didn’t have a name or know much about her, but I prayed over her for God to provide for her. I prayed specific Scriptures over her. When I was twelve, I walked away from my faith and didn’t keep praying for her. In fact I kind of forgot about it.

Last fall as I was spending time in my devotions and prayer, I really felt the Lord calling me to go on a mission trip. Honestly, I always thought it would be a waste of money. I mean what good could a two-week trip to another country actually do? Do the effects really last longer than two weeks?

But I kept getting that calling and this trip to Africa, to Zambia, kept sticking out to me. I applied for the trip, got accepted, and over the months before the trip the money came together. I knew God wanted me to go. I was reminded of that journal I kept and the woman I prayed for when I was a kid. As I was preparing for the trip I felt like I was going to meet her, but I didn’t want to be crazy or think about it a lot or build up expectations in my mind so I figured if God wanted me to meet her and know it was her then I would know.

Then I left for Zambia. I was completely clueless, excited, and unaware of what God was going to do.

The first thing that hit me was when I was on our second overnight flight. I had been awake for over twenty-four hours because I don’t sleep well on planes. I was sitting there thinking about all the different types of people and places we were flying over. How in the world could God keep track of all of these people and places? How in the world could He love every single one of them? I was so jet lagged and exhausted traveling through all these places and yet God doesn’t need rest. That’s because He is outside time. That struck me in a new way because I saw how much I needed Him because He was outside of time. I had to depend on Him for energy and strength because when we arrived in Zambia it was 7am there (12am at home) and we started helping right away with a milk and medicine distribution.

I guess I should explain what we were doing in Zambia and who I was with. I went on this trip with 7 other women. Six of us are students at MidAmerica. The other two were the mom and aunt of the student leader of the trip. We stayed at the House of Moses in Zambia, which is a transitional home. A transitional home is like an orphanage. It houses kids whose parents have passed away, abandoned them, or couldn’t afford to keep them. A transitional home works to rebuild relationships between kids and their families, administer adoptions, or raise kids throughout their lives. What separates a transitional home from an orphanage is that its goal is first to restore relationships and create long-term establishments for kids. House of Moses is part of the organization Alliance for the Children Everywhere. It is one of three transitional homes for this organization in Zambia. It houses infants and babies up to age two. We stayed here as there is housing for mission trip teams that come frequently to help with the babies, other kids at the other homes, and distribution sites. We worked at the Bill and Betty Bryant Home, which houses kids from age two to age six. We also went to schools that are associated with the Alliance for Children Everywhere. Then we took part in distributions for the Milk and Medicine project, where we handed out food and clothing to families that qualified for special aid.

The first couple days were a little surreal. Everything in Africa looked exactly like I imagined or like pictures I had seen. It was hard to believe I was actually there.

One of my favorite days was going to church and hearing all the amazing worship. We heard from over five choirs and it was over an hour into the service before we got to what was listed in the bulletin as the “Praise and Worship” part of service. One of my favorite parts of the service was the prayer time. Everyone would pray out loud in different languages. It was awesome to see a congregation of people praying openly in different languages to the same God. The church loves visitors, so I went up and spoke for a couple minutes. I thanked the church for having our team and talked about the character of God. I talked about the concept that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I got to express how great a privilege it was to be in a different part of the world worshiping the same God and getting to be united by the blood of Christ as brothers and sisters.

Once again, I was seeing how God is outside of time.

Throughout two weeks, I got over my fear of holding babies. I spent lots of time holding little babies who had been abandoned and deeply needed love. I spent time talking with students at schools who walked miles without shoes because they valued their education. I talked to moms of sick babies who were the same age as me. I met orphans wearing Toms shoes. I got really sick and stayed in bed for two days. I met boys wearing pink shirts that said things like “girly girl” or “mama’s girl” because that was all they had. And I fell in love with a little four-year old boy at the Bill and Betty Bryant home.

I’ll never forget the day we went to the Bryant home for the first time. There is a guy on staff at the House of Moses to be the host for the mission trip teams. His name is Kevin and is originally from Canada but he married a Zambian woman and lives in Zambia with his wife Matilda and their son Ty. Kevin ate almost all our meals with us, drove us around, and taught us everything about the culture. On the way to the Bryant home, he asked if one of us would hold his son Ty. The whole way Ty cried. As soon as we stopped Kevin picked up Ty and Ty stopped crying. He had been crying because he wanted his daddy. Right after that we walked into the Bryant home and all these tiny kids ran up to us with their arms up. They all wanted to be held and tickled and kissed. It was there I met the sweetest little guy. I’ll call him Peter. He had the sweetest smile and was ready to be cared for. There was barely any crying while we were there and it was when Peter fell asleep on me that I got to thinking what this little guy’s life was going to be like. Would he be fed well throughout his life? Would he have a home? Would he go to school? Would he get adopted by loving parents? Would he have brothers and sisters? Would he grow up to be an honest man? Would he love Jesus? It was in that moment I thought of Ty and how lucky he was to have a dad like Kevin. He gets to cry out to his daddy until he picks him up. Who would Peter cry out to? Who on earth would reflect his heavenly Father to him? My heart broke for this little boy every time I saw him because I see myself in him. I see Peter’s need for a father and for love just like I need my Father and His love. And it’s because of this Father’s love that I so deeply wanted to show His love to Peter.

The next thing that broke my heart was visiting a high school called Helen Devos. We talked with students in grade twelve about what they wanted to do in life. We talked about our faith and who we wanted to be when we “grew up”. After we talked to these incredibly intelligent students, we sat and talked with three students from grade nine who stayed after school to talk to us. One of the boys shared with us his hardships in life and how he came to know Christ as his Savior. He asked us all questions like what we looked forward to when we get to heaven. The girl sitting with us told us that her father told her when she got to heaven the size of her house would reflect what she did for God on earth. She said that even though her home on earth is very small, she hoped that she would find a mansion waiting for her in heaven. After that, one of the boys asked what we all liked to do for fun. I said running. Someone else said traveling. Another girl said watching movies. And one of the grade nine boys said he liked to read his Bible. He kept talking and His love for God became so evident in everything he was saying. I had this conviction not that running was wrong but that I didn’t value God in the same way this boy did. He loves God so much that he would love nothing more than to spend his free time with Him. His reverence for the Lord was deep and something I realized I long for on a day-to-day basis, not just when I go across the world. And it started hitting me just how the words I say and everything I do has a chance to reflect Christ and I don’t always take that opportunity. I don’t always extend grace as I should, or hold my tongue on what things I say like I should, or find the extra moments expressing praise and love for God as I should.

Why? Why don’t I give God the glory He deserves? Why did I see His glory so clearly in this place? Because I was looking for a tangible God. I was looking for a crazy story to tell about an experience, but experiences never satisfy. If they did then only one of these crazy experiences would have satisfied. What lasts is the peace of God and it lives in the hearts of all Believers. In Zambia, I noticed that people there don’t pay attention the clothes or makeup I wear, but they look at the heart. They sing beautifully with such passion and admiration of the Father. They speak with such deep faith of the Father. They live with such servant hearts, looking for ways to serve people who have many more possessions than they do.

But it was really in one woman that I met in Zambia who reflected the kind of faith and love that I want to reflect. Her name is Ruthi. She was one of the cooks at House of Moses. Right when I met her, I had tremendous respect for her because her love for people and God is so evident. I randomly walked into the kitchen and offered my help for little things that led to conversations about our lives and our faith. One day I asked her what it was that made her believe that God loved her. She told me about many of the hardships she had gone through in her life. She said that she had a heart of steal that she no longer wanted. She wanted to trade in all the hate and bitterness for a heart full of love and grace. She wanted to love everyone. She said one night in the midst of hardship she prayed for God to reveal Himself in a unique and beautiful way. The next morning she woke up with Scripture in her head and the feeling that someone was praying for her. It happened again many times and she knew she needed to pray for the person praying for her. Over time she sensed this person was far from God and started praying for her salvation. I asked her when that was and it lined up to when I walked away from my faith. That is when I knew. Ruthi was the woman I prayed for when I was four years old. And Ruthi prayed for my salvation. I told her about my prayers and she told me she had been waiting a long time to meet me. We hugged and prayed and cried. Over the couple weeks I was there I learned so much from this wonderful woman. In the mornings she would tell me what Scriptures she was reading and we’d share together. We shared things to pray for and our addresses to write each other.

The story of Ruthi reflects nothing of two humans but all of one incredible God that unites all Believers across all cultures to His self. Ruthi is such a beautiful tangible example of God’s love and grace to me, but it is a tangible example because of intangible faith.

It is only when we seek the Lord continually that we live with His peace. His peace is such that it transcends all culture, language, time, or any boundary.

It is through being sure of what I hope for and certain in the things that I do not see (Hebrews 11:1), that I got a little taste of Heaven- life that has no boundary or sadness. I say it is only a taste because many things I saw reflected Christ, but many things I saw reflected brokenness. I got to know a little boy who has the sweetest smile and spirit, but I got to know him because of the brokenness that brought him to the Bryant home. I got to see the beauty of Christ reflected in students at Helen Devos and the workers at the House of Moses because of the hardships that have deepened their faith in Christ.

It is through trusting in the Lord, I hope to reflect Christ. I can’t wait to know Him in all His glory some day, where there is no boundary to his love in all His people.

"Seek The Lord and His strength. Seek his presence continually"
-1 Chronicles 16:11

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

As I am-- As You are

Something I have been reflecting on a lot lately is how God uses His people. He uses our stories and our reflections of Him to impact others' lives. He uses our trials and circumstances of adversity. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul says we are pressed on every side by our troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed but not driven to despair (verse 8).

So it is interesting to me that what God uses is our circumstances to show Himself, but in these things it is Him we should be reflecting rather than the circumstances or tribulation.

What does that mean? Have you ever had that friend who just always seems to be going through something hard? That friend always seems to be beaten down by past experiences. When he acts a certain way, he says is was because of this or that experience. When you share something difficult this person always has to "story top" you. Somehow his life or past experience is worse than yours.

When we come to Christ we are to be made new in Him. We are to be hidden in Him, reflecting His character and striving to become more and more like Him. When we seek to become more like Him, we seek to reflect His joy rather than the burdens of our circumstances.

It's easy to reflect the world when trials come up. It is easy to be anxious and become stagnate or stuck in a situation. It is easy to stay stuck in habit and ask God to take me just "as I am". It is easier to tell God that I am comfortable and would rather not experience change or inconsistency or confusion. It is easier to tell God not to invade my heart and mind with His will, but if I decide I want Him to take me just as I am then I will not be a child of God.

I originally thought of this concept of why it doesn't work for God to take me just "as I am" a couple weeks ago when I was studying the book of Colossians. I was studying this book with a Bible study group. When we study books of the Bible we ask four questions: What does this passage say about who God is? What does this passage say about who I am? What does this passage say about what is required of me? And what does this passage say about what God promises His followers? We were discussing this over one passage one night when one girl in the study group pointed out that all of the things Paul lays out in Colossians about who we are is not really anything we do. It is all things God does in us when we give ourselves to Him.

I couldn't stop thinking about that because I realized that we can't become like Christ without Christ. We can't reflect Him and His character if we haven't received Him in us. We can't become holy, blameless, consistent, or pure without Him because those are all part of His character.

So then I got to thinking that people are made to be reflectors. We all reflect something. That is why we are all influenced so easily. We can reflect our friends. We can reflect our school or our church or our political party's beliefs. We can reflect our parents. We can reflect our circumstances. Or we can reflect our God. When we reflect God is when we let go of asking for Him to accept us as we are and instead mold us and shape us and change us to be more like Him, as He is.

And just one more ramble about who He is... one of my favorite names for God- "I am". I love this name because it causes me to ask that question "who is God?" "What does His character look like?" "What is I am?" When I think about the type of person I want to be I think about being a person who is pure, full of grace, faithful, consistent, loving, nurturing, never keeping record of wrong, and standing strong in all circumstances. Those are things in the nature of Christ. That describes the "I am".

I don't want to be as I am, but as You, Lord, are. May I live my life to say "Lord I am delighted to obey you in this. I am delighted to look more like you".

Oh Lord, I don't like the person I become when I reflect my own desires. I deeply want to give and love, but struggle with loving desperately within my own "strength". I feel the need to fix everything, to feel absolute peace, and to "arrive" at some destination that feels complete. Oh Lord, I surrender this desire and this false self sufficient journey to you. I surrender to you my heart, for if I let go of everything else to follow my heart, it will lead me astray. I surrender to you the people I love that if I am to love them it would be completely with Your love and not my own.

Show me how to wait. Humble me and if I try to stand back up in my own strength, throw me down again and show me your ways again.

"I wait quietly before my God for my victory comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken" Psalm 62:1-2

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Solidify- to make stronger

I just sat down for the first time after an insane day and have just been feeling really content. I pushed myself a lot today. Finals have begun, which means I am getting hardly any sleep and way too much coffee. Today was full of yardwork and a couple carpentry projects at work (which usually isn't my strong suit, but I've been getting used to it and actually really enjoyed it), teaching one of my grumpy kids at work how to mow, a huge presentation for school, a challenging workout, and hanging out with a couple new friends.

I'm sitting here with my retail management notes, knowing that I should be studying them for a test tomorrow, but I just got in this really reflective and thankful mood that I feel like being in instead.

I'm thinking about change. I'm thinking about things that are the same. I'm at the same school. I'm living in a place that really feels like my own now. I'm at the same church, learning more and deepening friendships and responsibilities with serving in the church. My "new" job isn't as new and I'm getting used to my role there. I'm preparing for my first overseas trip to Zambia, Africa.

I feel really calm. Something I've been realizing about myself is that I have been so used to constant change that I get uncomfortable when things stay the same. Because I always was the one to move or change things in the situation, I got used to making the decisions and sort of saw myself as being in control. So here in the past months when I have been learning about staying put or being in situations that are uncomfortable I have been learning about letting go of the control.

It's when I let go that I discover things about myself that I never would have if I had held on. I think it is when I let go that I see a lot of blessings that expectations blinded me from before.

It's a weird feeling of letting go. I'm realizing a lot about who I have been and who I want to be. I've been insecure, afraid, and maybe even controlling at times, but I'm letting go to see I am confident and worth so much because of Christ. I am at peace and am comfortable with Him being in control. I'm letting go of all the guilt I hold onto because of other people.

I'm letting go of feeling like I'm "unworthy" for God to use me. He made me exactly as He did because He saw exactly how I could show His glory.

 I'm letting go of feeling like I made the wrong decision in the college I went to because everything about going to MNU has challenged me and pushed me to think about who I am going to be in life: spiritually, emotionally, professionally. I've learned so much through the amazing friends, amazing professors, and the challenging people. Looking back, yeah I could have done it differently, but God is taking care of me. He is proving a program for me to attend next year through the same university in which I don't have to take out hardly any money that I don't have. He is giving me work and some opportunities to save. And He has blessed me through some individuals who have decided to help, which just blows me away. And I've hung out a lot over the past couple weeks with friends I've made over the years and with my Zambia team and I just feel really blessed that I've had the opportunity to know them all.

Life feels so busy right now. Especially when I realize that the only time I ever have to blog is late at night. I'm just thankful, though, because life is really full.

I feel like God is just preparing me for something really special. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to go to Zambia in, let's see, just twenty-eight days! Wow! I can't wait to grow with this awesome group of girls on the trip and to gain a new perspective on how I see the world and how I see God.

I don't want to be that girl who is always "just surviving" or complaining. I want to be that girl who has contagious joy in her spirit.

On that note, I'm off to study.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

First Love

I want to know love, real unfading love. Love that endures all things, hopes in all things, and remains true in all things, even through immense hardship.

I had a half an hour before the time I wanted to be asleep tonight and decided to watch the latest episode of The Office. I didn't expect to be in tears at the end of the episode (or to be up so late writing this post.)

I have been feeling so much disappointment and seeing so much failure lately that the episode just struck a cord with me.

(Spoiler alert)

Pam and Jim have been drifting apart in their marriage for awhile now. They started trying to work on it a little bit, but Pam says her heart is hardened. She is hurt. Jim has hurt her. Watching this, I'm just feeling really down, but then Jim leaves to go on a business trip. Pam brings him an umbrella he forgot and as she's walking away suddenly he runs up to her and wraps his arms around her. She's standing there with her arms just sort of hanging there and just when I think she might push him away is when she remembers their vows and that love endures all things. She accepts and reciprocates Jim's love. They hold each other close and kiss and have this moment where they have just let go of everything to express that love to each other.

I might have watched this part one more time (or maybe two more times) because I just loved seeing how Pam and Jim's hearts stopped being so numb. They both let go and just loved each other...

First love. That's kind of a strange thing that's really tied into today's culture. It's a concept that is in tons of movies and tv shows. A classic, for example, The Notebook. First love is really exciting because it is naive. It's really exciting because you don't have anything to compare to. You get to experience so much. When my "first love" didn't look like it would be my "last love", I remember feeling like how in the world could I love someone else the same way again? How is that going to be better than what this was at its best?

At that point in my life I really wasn't following the Lord, so "loosing" that person was like loosing a whole lifetime. Okay two and a half years, which is hardly a lifetime especially for a high school kid who has their whole life ahead of them. But so much had happened in that time, so many changes, so many experiences, so many milestones. Because that guy was such a huge part of my life, I really felt like I had lost a lot and could often disregard the things that weren't in my best interest. I was used to wanting to be with him over wanting anything. I was used to being associated with him. I was used to his "love" being my hope. But it burned out.

So why am I talking about this? Well its because so often I see people wondering what in the world they are supposed to do with these past experiences. How can one let go of comparison, being stuck in the past, or dwelling on a feeling that love will never last when it comes?

I guess a part of what has been affecting me lately, in these terms, has been seeing a marriage in my family break apart. I remember when this couple was just enamored with each other. I remember how it felt like they would never get off the phone with each other. I remember how they would always find a reason to bring up the other person in a conversation when he or she wasn't around. I remember them going to church together and talking about God together. I remember standing in their wedding party at the front of the church watching the groom's face when he first saw his beautiful bride walk down the aisle. I remember their excitement for new milestones, new holiday traditions, new discoveries of similarities in their families, and new experiences of sharing their lives together. But seven years passed and now it is over. What happened?

So I've never been married. My relating my "first love" story really can't compare to a broken marriage, so I'm speaking from what little (in comparison) I have experienced, what I have seen, and what the Word says about love and marriage. What I do know about marriage is that is is made to reflect God. Ephesians 5 outlines marriage and states that women should submit themselves to their husbands as the church does for Christ. Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loves the church. And, just as we are members of one body (the church), a husband and a wife become one.

So marriage is intended to reflect Christ, who is the reflector of God (Colossians 2:9 "For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body") and the love that is reflected is love that never fails (Psalm 136).

I had a conversation with someone recently who told me a realization she had about the love passage in 1 Corinthians 13. I've always heard people say that we should plug our names into where the word love is in that passage because it reminds us of what we should be. This friend pointed out that we shouldn't be plugging our names into this passage first, but second to plugging God's name in. The point was that as we look at who He is first, we can see who we are to be like second.

First we look at God's love because His love is perfect and completely consistent. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). So His love never fails or ends.

Human love is second because it is made to reflect God's love. Humans fail. That's because we always have a choice to keep submitting to God's love or to turn away from it. Choosing that love doesn't mean it cancels out issues like fear, but it is an option to choose that love over fear. First over fear. It is in making those choices I can choose to trust God that when I am looking at life through His love I can let go of hurt or fear that "I can't". I can let go of past by seeking His presence and being focused on loving like Him.

All of the stores I've heard about redemption have to do with letting go and allowing God to soften hearts, but letting go is such a foreign concept.

A few years ago I had this fear that I could never love like my "first love", but as I am seeking God first He is becoming my first love.

I always had the view that a greater love for a person would outweigh the past. If I could just love this person really, really well then it would work. I pursued relationships that way in the beginning of college. I was really focused on "loving" in my own strength, fixing problems that came up myself, and putting the functions of relationships with people first. I did that rather than dwelling in Christ as the one I love first and loving like Him (rather than loving in my own definition of what I thought was good which is basically just "feelings or emotions" based).

God first means that is where my ultimate trust lies. God first means that is my source of strength before anything else. Matthew 6:21, one of my favorite verses, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also". The more my treasure is in God and my desire is for His glory and His good, the more the outpouring of my heart resembles like His love.

It is God who softens and guides our hearts. He made our hearts to love and for tenderness. When I become hard-hearted to Him is where I find myself stuck in worry.

The more I dwell in God as love, the more the desires of my heart align with trusting in Him.  I'm learning how to love by studying how God loves us. I'm learning about graciousness, hopefulness, and faithfulness and how I want to reflect that as a person. I'm excited about that. My huge heart is growing and is being held and nurtured by Him. And I'm excited for what He has in store.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

If God is sovereign...

"Imagine a woman pushing her baby around in a baby stroller. She comes up to the top of a hill and isn't watching the stroller close enough. The stroller goes rolling down the hill, picking up speed as it is going. There is a man standing at the bottom of the hill crossing the street, just in front of very heavy traffic. It wouldn't take any more than him putting his finger out to stop the stroller. But he doesn't. Do you blame him? I would..and that is why I lost my faith in God"

What came to my mind was from a prayer Paul shares with the people of Colosse in Colossians 1:9, "So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding"

As I think of that verse, I look to the context in which this book is written. The book of Colossians was originally a letter that Paul wrote to the people of Colosse (which is modern-day Turkey) was written for encouragement and instruction. Paul had heard of a tiny church that existed because of its faith. The problem, though, was that this church was struggling with being steadfast in faith and being tolerant of the worldly beliefs that existed in this time period.The book of Colossians focuses on the supremacy of God: God is above all things, all people, and all knowledge. Why? The culture focused on beliefs that come from within people. Beliefs that dwell on inward praise. "Finding the truth inside of yourself", meditation, human reason and making sense of the world. These were common topics of that day.

That doesn't sound much different than today's world. In fact just the other day I was reading about the creation of a new religion called "Chrislam" or the combining of Islam and Christianity. In this religion both the Bible and the Qur'an are held as holy texts, people mentioned are honored as prophets, and the calling out to either "Allah" or "God" is accepted. For someone to accept two completely contradictory texts as holy seems that an individual has a fight of what to believe. He can't decide so he just tolerates it all.

Creations of religions like Chrislam happen when people look to their own knowledge to understand or explain God. In fact, the story I shared about the woman and the baby in the carriage relates to this too. When I look at this story with the knowledge I have of the world, I blame the man for not saving the baby too. I am bothered that he didn't save the baby too, but he isn't the original issue. The original issue (also compared to the concept of original sin) is that the woman wasn't watching her baby close enough. And sometimes the will of God cannot be explained. Not with human reason.

Why trust the will of God when it doesn't make sense to us? Because God is sovereign.

Sovereignty, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:
1. obsolete: supreme excellence or an example of it
2. a: supreme power especially over a body politic
    b: freedom from external control
    c: controlling influence

Sovereignty is supreme power and the controlling influence.

In Biblical tearms, sovereignty of God means that "all things are under God's rule and control, and that nothing happens without his direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of His own will...The sovereignty of God is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things, but that He does so, always without exception. In other words, God is not merely sovereign de jure (in principle), but sovereign de facto (in practice)". (A.W. Pink)

God owes nothing to us. He owes nothing to the woman who was not watching her child close enough. I don't have an answer in my own knowledge to why it would be in God's will to not reach out a finger to save this baby's life. I have no answer as to why God could allow "bad things to happen to good people", but I have faith that God sees the bigger picture that I do not.

And if God sees that bigger picture that I do not then clearly I can't find any kind of god within myself, as was a common belief in the time Paul wrote his letter to Colossians and is still a common belief today. If I found a god within myself, it should be completely holy, without ignorance or fault. I shouldn't have to "discover" it. It should just be and my mind should be able to completely understand it. But it doesn't. My mind searches for truth. My mind yearns to fulfill the void that is present if I deny that God is truth and that God is just. Every part of me yearns to be a part of something greater than myself. If this desire drives me, then how could goodness come from inside of me?

If god existed within ourselves then how come solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments? Because we have a void on our own. Just think, in tragedy why is it that people turn to prayer or turn to God for help? It is in tragedy that people feel their weakness and they know they can not look within themselves.

My mom would always tell me that when she struggled with faith she would say "Lord I believe, but help my disbelief". In the same sense, I have to pray for spiritual understanding. I have to ask for help. I have to ask God to show me the unity of His heart when I don't understand the bad things happening around me.

If God is sovereign, then I need help understanding Him. The person who told me the baby carriage story really despises this line. He says "then your faith makes no sense. If you look at any religion, faith comes in to play when human wisdom falls short. And faith believes some of the most ridiculous of things". The only thing I can say to that is it just depends what your faith is in. Every single person has faith in something. It could be in material things (which will not last). It could be in yourself (who falls short and decays). Or it can be in truth.

When I lived in intercity Chicago, my youth pastor Tony always put it this way. "You can have this great faith and stand on little ice. Or you can have little faith on much ice. What matters is not your human reason or confidence. What matters is the object of your faith"

"You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man's self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred — like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens." (C.S. Lewis)

Why do I believe God's sovereignty is truth and the instrument through which I see God as my whole self? Because His Word is infallible. Give me one other set of 60 books, written over a thousand years, by numerous authors, that is as consistent and alive as the Bible.

I believe in this truth because the truth in the Bible is relatively simple. Christian standards are basic. (Don't steal, Don't lie, Love your neighbors as yourself) It is the carrying out of these truths that takes commitment and dedication. I believe in these truth and commit myself to them because I believe God is sovereign. As C.S. Lewis once said:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.