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“Those who wait for perfect weather will never plant seeds; those who look at every cloud will never harvest crops.” — Ecclesiastes 11:4

i love the wisdom in this verse–and it’s call to step out in faith. just because things aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean we should act. God may not open that door for us now, but by the time we get right up to it, if it’s His will, we must have faith that he will.

this verse speaks volumes to me, time and time again, season after season. the first time i read it and journaled about it was september 16, and i hadn’t lived here in Grand Rapids for a week even. i’d just started my new job the day before–and my world was feeling ever topsy-turvy. so this revelation, not to let worries or “not-so-great circumstances” hold me back from sowing and trust God for the reaping, was so of-the-moment. it was also early into my relationship with michael, and we’d been doing the long-distance thing for over a month. in so many ways i looked at my life and the incumbrances that seemed to loom all around me and this verse caused me to whisper over and over again: “keep sowing. keep trusting. persevere.”

and here i am, more than 6 months later. both of those situations still get to me: i have my hard, feeling-all-alone and desperate times here up in Michigan and i still miss Michael and wish we lived closer. but i’m glad i’ve stuck it out. God has done such great things in both of them. i’ve learned so much about Him and grown in such a relationship with Him through my starting-over process up here. it’s been a great catalyst for drawing me near. and i’ve learned so much about humility and selflessness in my relationship with Michael, which has had to mostly take place over the phone as we sort through issues and hardships and dreams and everything else.

so for now, i don’t know what the future holds. i’m trying to let go of that. i went for a walk today (it’s finally getting warm enough to make that bearable up here) and that was the thought pervading me: “i don’t care what happens next. i don’t want to rush God with this. i’m OK with whatever he’s got up his sleeve.” because I know Him, and i know that whatever he’s having me wait for is totally going to be worth it. there is going to be a harvest!

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” — Eph. 5:14

it seems as though i’ve been sleeping, everything here has lain dormant for so long. but, just as with the winter, though things look dead and untouched on the surface, deep below there’s a great explosion of life going on!

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?” — Isaiah 43:18-19 (The Message)

yes, God has been doing a great work in me during this season that’s planted me, for the past 6 months, in a new place called Michigan. sometimes i feel like everything is stagnant and nothing at all has really happened. but then i stop and actually consider my heart and where it was before i moved up here, and i know that that’s a complete lie. i am a new song.

and that’s what’s pushed me back to this little corner of the blog-o-sphere. because i have seen God do such great works in my life and i want to share those with whomever i can–favorite friends or online passersby. one of the things i’ve been learning during my time up here is the importance of testimony and the spiritual power it has, as stated in Revelation about how Satan is overcome:

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. — Rev. 12:11

our words have tremendous power, and all we do ought to be to bring glory to He who gives us all that. so here i return to take the gifts of wisdom and insight and revelation that He’s been granting me and instilling and inscribing on my heart, and putting them back out into the world, in hopes that what has blessed me will bless many others. and if anything i say can bless you, then share it!–it’s that whole power of testimony thing. when we band together and share what God’s doing, powerful things can happen. so let’s step out in faith and watch that happen.

welcome back!

i love how God is always thinking of me and dropping little presents my way. i didn’t really ever pay attention or appreciate that until just now. the reality hit me: what a great Lover he is to be doing those things, whether it’s giving me confirmation about decisions or pointing me to passages I need to hear or articles I need to read. it is such a display of, “See I was thinking of you,” “See, I saw this and thought of you,” “Here, I knew you needed this.” it is quite the lovespell He’s weaving…

I get excited when michael sends me an unexpected text that says, “thinking of you.” if a friend sends me a letter in the mail, it touches my heart. and those are things that only occur occassionaly, not on the consistent basis that i’m used to receiving these sorts of things and revelations from God. and yet i never stop to think of how flattering and loving and deep, down rich it is the way that God speaks to me.

and i don’t even notice or appreciate it.

i know He’s God and maybe he’s “supposed” to do that, being all powerful and all knowing everything, but that’s a pretty crappy and disrespectful and unappreciative and non-fearing way to view the generosity and grace he delivers to us, lovingly and thoughtfully, day after day.

here’s how i finally realized this truth: lately I’ve been thinking about how i spend my time and how i want to make more time for God but how that’s been just so darn hard lately. i try but seem to always be “failing.” michael and i even talked about having our devotions at the same time so that we could hold each other accountable and talk on the phone afterward and not let our own phone conversations get in the way of each other’s time with the Lord.

then, i was working late and catching up on some reading for work and (one of the many cool things about working in a Christian company) I was reading “Bible Study magazine” and right there, on the opening pages was one of those tied-up-with-a-bow, just-because presents that God, who truly is the ultimate Lover and Pursuer and Wooer of our hearts, gave:

an article called “Finding Time for God.” it was from a young mom who talked about how hard it is to make time for God. but she came upon a perspective that changed her view of devotions, in that we often think that it’s up to us when it comes to growing closer to Christ. now, don’t get me wrong, part of it does. we are told to step out in faith and i believe that applies to every way we live out our faith–including the time we spend with God. the difference, though, is that it’s not wholly on us. because we have a God who is a gentleman and will meet us where we are and once we step up in faith, he will fling open the door wildly and invite us into great and mighty things. he is a God who “specializes in making something out of nothing,” a la the loaves and fish. we know that because He is a God who loves to give and be generous and be merciful, that he will take our paltry offerings and multiply them beyond our wildest imaginations. because that is His nature. even if it’s only a few moments that we have to give, He will take them and He will multiply them and make the impossible possible. because the reality is that because he is so good, we can never give enough. it will always be too little, whether it’s minutes or hours or days or years. He deserves infinitely more than we can ever give.

but that’s OK. because when we have confidence in who he is and believe that He will merciful and bless those offerings, then those few minutes can become so much more than we ever thought possible. because that’s our God!

that was the little gift God bestowed to me today–one page in one magazine. but for the first time, I got a glimpse, a real, hearty glimpse, into the depth and the height and the width of His love for me. I’m heartened.

welcome back.

are you still there? do you still think to stop by, despite the fact that every time you have over the past month, it’s been desolate and dusty?

 

this past month has been nothing less than a whirlwind, as nothing in my life has gone unchanged. from my location to my job to my friends to my calendar to my love life, everything’s completely different. part of that is exciting (i’ll let you guess what part that is!) and part of it is terrifying.

 

last week, when i’d just started the new job and i was only days into my new life here in grand rapids, i got overwhelmed with being homesick and questioning the decision i’d made to move here. i wondered if this was really where i was supposed to be, because it didn’t feel good and things were hard. i moved here for community, and i didn’t feel that swaddling me like it did in cincinnati. i wasn’t finding myself surrounded by inspiring, on-fire-for-God people like i’d hoped and prayed. i was having a hard time adjusting to my new job and all the new demands and figuring out whether i’m good enough at it.

 

in short, i was doubting that God had really brought me here (had i been tricked or led astray?) and if he had, i was rushing God to fulfill those promises. i cried a lot about it. then i started reading this book that Michael and I are going through together (like our own two-person book club, which i absolutely love!) called anonymous. i posted about it on here before, but–because God is always and forever so good–it happened to be that the part i was at in that moment of distress and questioning, was exactly what i needed to hear.

 

i was reading about Jesus’ temptation in the desert and how the devil first tempted him by appealing to his appetite. the book points out how food and eating is a good and natural longing. but it turned into a temptation, a lure to disobey God because Jesus was in the midst of fasting and was waiting on God until he finished. though hunger is not innately a sin, when we rush past God to grab at it, it can become one. that’s exactly what i was doing: wanting a godly community and wanting to be fulfilled by my job are both good desires. and i believe they’re both desires God wants to fulfill–but that’s going to be in His own time, not in mine. for now, while i’m waiting on those answers, i must allow Him to be enough, rather than rush past Him onto His provisions and creations and blessings.

 

it makes me disappointed in myself how i can treat Him that way and forget His goodness and all the ways He’s blessed me and answered me so many times in the past. but i know that’s what makes me human. that’s why the Old Testament is so full of phrases like “God of Israel” and “God of Jacob” and “God of Abraham”–because we constantly have to be reminded of what God’s done for us in the past and what he’s promised to bring about in the future.

 

so now things are good. i’m trying to be patient and allow God to work and lead and guide me as those promises come to pass. i’m trying not to get distracted from the reason he brought me here. i’m trying to keep the focus on him and not on my schedule or my to-do list. that’s been the hardest part, hands down. i really need to watch how i spend my time and make sure he’s getting the chunk he deserves. so if you can be praying for that for me, i’d really appreciate it.

i read this article late last week and, as it retold the story of the Israelites being led from Egypt, it was a great reminder about not doubting God’s provisions or forgetting all that he’s already done and already provided:

Just as God had to continually remind the Israelites of what He’d done for them and what He was going to do for them, I need to continually remind myself of the truth of who He is. I need to remind myself that my circumstances, or at least how I see things with my limited perspective, don’t define God’s character; His Word does.

Author David Kyle Foster implores us, “Make a conscious effort, that when things go wrong, to assume the best about God rather than the worst.” When I was struggling with so many questions about God, I remember saying, “God, You could fix this if You really wanted to — so why aren’t You?” God wasn’t coming through for me as quickly as I wanted Him to.

The truth of the matter is that God is not a vending machine. Often we view God this way, as if we should be able to put in our token prayer or request, and in a timely manner an answer should show up on our doorstep. Sometimes it does happen that quickly and to our satisfaction. And some of the time, the answer we get from God is silence. Instead of riding in like a knight in shining armor, He tells us to keep on asking, and asks us to wait in expectation for His answer. Other times, we’re so focused on receiving a specific answer that when the answer comes in a different manner than what we’re expecting we miss God’s response completely.

….

We need to continually remind ourselves of how God has come through for us in the past — that He has always been faithful, and He will continue to be faithful. Like Joshua and the Israelites, having crossed the Jordan River, set up 12 stones as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to them, we too need our own “memorial stones”: reminders of who God is and how He always comes through — in His timing and His way, but always.

now i had done this sort of informational interview seeking once before, right after i graduated college and thought i wanted to move to new york city. i couldn’t find a job and decided to visit the city and see what i could do. before going, i lined up as many interviews as i could, at places like teen people, ym, cosmogirl, and the knot magazine. (you see, i’ve always had a thing for teen girls!)

so my inclination with this grand rapids visit was originally to line up as many interviews as possible, but at this point i only had one. but Something told me to pursue this one avenue–to see it through and to trust. so i fought my urge to blanket the city with resumes and pitches and cover letters, i sat still. and waited.

when mal and i visited, it was great how people reached out to us. even before the visit, we seemed to be getting signs that there was a community already waiting for us up there–with people eager to open their homes to us and encouraging us to come. kevin had invited friends over and mallory made all sorts of new contacts up there for us. it was amazing to see that all weave together and get some sort of bricks laid for that. even moreso, when i told kevin where i was interviewing and remembered he had a friend who worked at Baker and i should call him to get a sense of the company. i did, and it ended up that the woman i was interviewing with was his boss! he would be a coworker in the same department! so i asked him my questions about the company and he assured me that it was a stand-up, practice-what-they-preach company. that’s what i wanted to hear. if i was going somewhere to grow closer to God, i wanted to be sure that’s what i could expect.

the last day we were in town (a monday) was the day of the interview. somehow through the whole process, God gave me an insane peace about everything. and you should know i’m, by nature, a worry wort. when i was in grade school i could never enjoy a snow day because i always thought that perhaps i’d misread the information and we actually weren’t off school. i’d freak myself out and not trust that it was truly a day off. but with grand rapids, i wasn’t worried or rushed or stressed or anxious. i just trusted: that God would provide a job if he was going to point me in that direction. that i’d figure everything out with my living situation in cincinnati. all the things that people asked me if i’d considered and what i was going to do. all i could do is shrug and say i don’t know, and be done with it. how glorious and releasing is that?!

so upon going in for my interview, i could not have been more at ease. mallory drove me to the interview and before i went in, prayed for me. my peace grew. i walked in and met with the interview lady, and it was like meeting with a friend. we got along great and talked shop but also talked about life and the way God works. she recommended books to read to me and gave me one to take with me and i made recommendations for her. i walked away feeling like this is a woman i could really look up to and respect, not just as far as a job goes but also as far as having as a sort of mentor in my life. to have that as a boss? that’s pretty phenomenal!

so i walked away from the interview with a good feeling brewing in my stomach–as if i already belonged to this place. we went to a cute french cafe and met more new friends before hitting the road for the 6-hour return trip to cincinnati. oh and i forgot to mention that the night before we were able to check out mars hill. and even though rob bell had taken a hiatus from speaking only weeks before we came to visit, i learned so much more in that one “gathering” than i had in a long time at a church service back home. things were looking good…

so after months and months of vagueness, it’s finally come together and it’s finally come true:

i’m moving to grand rapids.
i’m going to be working in christian publishing.
i’ll be going to mars hill.

it’s a pretty exciting time and i really, truly feel like God’s hand was so deeply into this that it’s just breathtaking. let me recap:

in march, i was at work one day and doing my usual task of flipping through blogs i read and listening to podcasts and reading articles online–not about design but about faith and the like. a light bulb went off in my head that if my job had to do with God, i’d be so great about it because that’s where my passion for learning lies. i enjoy design and appreciate design but i don’t seek it out in the way i do information about God.

now nothing with this light bulb moment would have really gone anywhere had it not been for me becoming friends with my dear mallory, who at the time was trying to figure out where she was headed in life. at a party, she was telling me about the two places she was considering: philadelphia and grand rapids. after that conversation, i got inspired and went home and started looking up where some christian publishing companies were. lo and behold, there were a handful in that little western town of grand rapids. in fact, it’s deemed the christian publishing capital of the u.s.

so the more we talked about it, the more right it felt to pursue grand rapids and this dream of christian publishing. we set up a weekend to go visit, but one thing led to another and it kept getting derailed. we weren’t able to visit until the middle of june. trying to maximize this dream of mine, i put feelers out at a couple of the christian publishers i’d discovered to see if i could meet with any when i was in town. the original house that i thought i wanted to pursue (zondervan) never called me back. however, there was this smaller one (Baker) that i contacted and even when the operator patched me through to someone completely unrelated–everyone was so kind and so helpful to me. to me, that was God opening a door, and i took it by faith.

it was a couple weeks before we headed up to grand rapids and i still hadn’t secured any job interviews. but i still believed this is what God wanted. i got together with my youth pastor to get his take/guidance on the situation. he had me create a pro/con list of why i wanted to move to grand rapids (first of which was a job where i could serve and learn about God an additional 40 hours a week, second of which was renewed community). he asked me what i would do if i didn’t get a job up there, would i just move ahead? i told him that i wouldn’t move until i had a job because i felt like that was the whole purpose God pointed me up there in the first place, so he would provide that. somehow God gave me such peace and clarity through the whole process–i’m still baffled.

after our meeting he told me that he wished he could tell me that i was doing it for the wrong reasons but he couldn’t. as it turns out, i emailed another of my contacts at Baker to see about setting up an interview and she suggested some new job postings for me to consider. none of them were in what i originally wanted to pursue (to be an acquisitions editor–the people who are finding the books to publish) but there were some in the publicity and marketing department.

i pulled together my application and sent it off. days later, i got an email that i had an interview with the publicity department while i was in town.

…. to be continued

actually now that i think about it, i’m not surprised that the devil was attacking me like that. i was just reflecting about what these next few days/weeks will hold for me and i realized how tightly they revolve around seeking God and his will:

  • tonight i’m going to c-hop with my small group
  • before visiting the prayer room, mal and i are going to be hanging out with a girl who used to live in grand rapids
  • on sunday, i am going with mal + cathy from my small group to chaperone a youth group trip to CIY, which i know will be as enlightening and recharging for me as it will be for the kids
  • i reached out to a woman i look to as a role model and we’re going to meet the following week to talk and just for me to get the chance to seek any counsel or wisdom she has to offer, about relationships (i admire her marriage and the way she’s raised her kids) and God and everything else inbetween
  • then i return to grand rapids to continue to see what that holds

those are all areas where God is at work and where I’ll be seeking him and searching for him. so i suppose the devil figures he ought to try to get some really deep digs in now, before that process takes place. of course the devil really should just stop trying so hard because he already gets his own share of successes each and every day when i mess up in some sort or another. but fortunately, he’s not winning these kinds of battles any more. i know the day will come with those other battles–even the small, seemingly insignificant ones–will be vanquished and overturned, too.

You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness,
O God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,

Psalm 65:5

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Romans 12:12

i think it’s funny (though the word i really mean is more like “befuddling” or “illogical”) that when i’m feeling down and dejected and like the world is against me, my inclination is to coop myself up inside and trudge around an empty room. but that God pulls me outside those four walls and uses the world at large to deflate that suffocating, downward-spiral of a balloon.

that’s how it was today for me. out of nowhere, i got this sudden and abrupt sense of hopelessness, like everything good that i’d been amped about and excited for was all empty and a ploy and i wasn’t going to see any of it. i started getting really anxious and pacing around. i didn’t know what to do. i tried reading a book but that didn’t help. i only got more anxious. so i did the only thing i could and started praying about it. with my breathing fast and my thoughts anxious, i told God how scared i was. it wasn’t until i was praying that i pinpointed that what i was feeling was actually hopelessness, which of course pulled the curtain down and showed who was really at work in that situation.

after i realized that and reminded myself of all of God’s promises to prosper me and give me the good things that my heart yearns for (drawing closer to him, fulfilling his will for my life/love/location/etc.) i knew what i needed to do. i jumped up and bolted out the door to go for a walk. and that’s when i really got my footing back again. with my ipod serenading me and my eyes open and searching for God and my pocket Bible in hand, God threw open the doors that restored my sense of hope and rest and peace in his goodness and the provisions he promises to bring my way.

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

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD
Jeremiah 29:11-14

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

i know God loves to work in ways that baffle us and that don’t seem to make sense, but somehow–even though i can’t put my finger on it–it does make sense: that breaking out of the confines of the ordinary and stepping back into the world–where anything is possible and novelty is all around–will pull you closer to him. i remember when i was reading about fasting, one of the things they encouraged was that when you steeped yourself in prayer, make sure you go somewhere not at home to do it. home is cozy and comfortable, but sometimes that’s not what we need. sometimes we need strangeness to awaken us to the Truth and to open our eyes to what’s really going on here.

today was one such day.

and it worked; by stepping out, i found my way back home again.

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame….
Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:3-5

Last night I was at a friend’s house and she was asking me about Grand Rapids. I told her my story about why I feel compelled to move there, and she told me that she was impressed that I’d be willing to do something like that, that she didn’t think she could. But that’s the thing, I’m not doing anything. Really, it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God and what He’s doing.

And I told her that; that she oughtn’t be impressed because really I have no other choice but to follow God and go where he leads. Not because I’m doing anything brave but because he’s making it so easy for me to follow. How can I not? He’s given me so much peace about this decision and opened door after door. There’s no reason for me to turn the other way or to be scared or nervous.

That’s the thing I think I’ve learned so much from this adventure-at-large: The great, incomparable gift of Peace. I used to make my decisions by pros and cons lists and try to reason them out and sort them. But I’d often reach a stalemate where this path could be the right one but this one could be, too. I felt that way a lot when Paul and I were dating and I was trying to figure out if we were right for each other. It all depended on how I looked at it, and I could make a good case for each. Which left me right where I started.

But that’s the thing; I was the one making the case and was basing it solely on that. Now that I’ve seen how reigning the case for peace can be, I truly believe that’s part of God’s “still, small voice” that He uses to speak to us and to point us in the right direction. I’m just now learning to put stock in that feeling and trust in it and listen for it and try to follow it. And it’s so much easier this way, to just let the path of peace guide me through some of these big decisions and trust that it is from God. Of course, I know my own judgment and opinions can cloud, so I just make sure to tell God that that’s what I’m trusting is His will, and if it isn’t, to work to move me back to the right one.

See? Easy.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

“Submit to God and be at peace with him;
in this way prosperity will come to you.
Job 22:21

I’ve started taking our dog, Shaggy, with me on my morning walks. He loves to sniff around and investigate, and often he’s the one trailing behind me (which I’m sure makes for a backwards sight for passersby). And we’d start off and he’d walk primly down the center of the sidewalk path…but not for long. Soon, he’d veer off. I’d let him explore and wander the grass for so long, but then when he’d get too close to the street or into someone’s hard, I’d have to tug on his leash  and get him to come back to my side. That cycle repeated itself every few yards as I’d let him go, have to get his attention and draw him back, etc., etc.

And that reminded me of how we are for God: How he’s leading us down this path and pointing us in the direction that will take us back home, but we get distracted and scamper off the path until he has no other choice but–for our own safety–to tug us back into place. We stay on course for a few feet but then stray away again and again. And so it goes.

It makes me look at my curious little dog with more understanding eyes. and to try to have more patience with him and tell him, “Yes, I understand. Because I know I like to stray, too.”

It’s funny how many little moments like that in life mirror the greater cosmic story that’s woven all around us. it’s like God’s putting his autograph on every piece of life, even down to the menial tasks, like walking the dog on a hot summer morning.

a week or so ago, mallory and i watched the movie “august rush” which is about a little boy who’s gifted musically and is trying to find his parents, who don’t really even know he exists. he believes that the music will bring them together and (sorry if i’m spoiling it for you, but really, it’s a movie, what did you expect?) of course, in the end, it does. they live happily ever after.

in john eldredge’s book “epic” he talks about how God’s story is interwoven into all our desires and even into our own greatest stories: the fact of some great struggle that we’re experiencing, the hero must make a decision and step out on faith, which ends up paying off and all ends well. we yearn for this story and tell it over and over again because it’s the story which is etched into our heart and that draws us back to God, generation after generation.

and i believe that. but here’s my question: if we recognize that and if we embrace that, then why does almost every story ignore that fact? why is God never mentioned anywhere, even when it is (arguably) so obvious?

because if you look at “august rush,” here’s this little boy who strikes out on his own and just happens to run into a nice homeless boy who becomes his friend. he happens to meet a nice social worker who looks out for him. he happens to walk into a church and the pastor takes the time to see the spark that lies within him and nurture that. he happens to meet the man who will give him good advice to take a risk. he happens to stay safe and optimistic and not ruined by all the hardship and anger and misery that swells all around him.

if you were to ask me about that movie, i’d say that God runs deep throughout the entire thing, that God is orchestrating all those episodes and guiding that little boy on his search for love and restoration. but God isn’t mentioned anywhere throughout. and even in christian fiction, God’s role is often watered down or only mentioned offhand, as in the protagonist goes to church or prays to God a couple times.

but it’s never like real life where it’s deep and meaningful, where me and my friends sit around and wonder aloud about God and talk about scriptures together and have real, live conversations and really spend time praying and fasting and praising and seeking out God. where are the modern stories about that? it’s his story, but we never give him credit for it or offer him the starring role! the only places you can really find that is in non-fiction or in memoirs/biographies.

it’s no wonder that people have to happen upon a real relationship with God in a happenstance sort of way. we’re not embracing and living it and modeling it deeply enough–so that it shows up in the stories, in the entertainment that we read and watch and enjoy.

i just don’t know why we don’t love God enough to include Him in these sorts of things, why we aren’t strong enough and trusting enough to take that bold move and inject him there, to take him public and sing his praises even there.

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
james 4:8

earlier last week, i was in a funk, whether it was from moving or figuring out next steps or spending too much time alone or otherwise. i think the bulk of it came down to the fact that i was focusing in on myself to the point where everything was about me and my desires, rather than on either of the first two commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

and whenever i neglect that and instead look only inward, it drags me down. it causes discontentment and anxiety when i forget to look Up. i knew what i needed to do (draw near to God) but my heart just wasn’t in it. i mumbled the words and told God how fed up i was with stuff and things in my life, but still, i wasn’t feeling any differently or any better.

then on wednesday, still full of fret, i met up with bri, as per our usual wednesday night ritual, and i just let it all out. i kept talking and confessing everything that was burdening me and holding me down. and it was in that moment, in that conversation of releasing everything pit up–as hard or lame as some of it is to admit–the weight was lifted.

in lauren winner’s book, “girl meets god” she talks about how started going to see a priest routinely to confess her sins, even though she’s not (and doesn’t otherwise practice) catholic/catholicism. she talks about how it’s in God’s nature to take the ordinary and everyday and use it to purify us and draw us closer to him: water gives us new birth in baptism; bread reminds us of the price jesus paid and brings us close to him in the eucharist; and God also draws us closer to him when we confess our sins–to ordinary people, just like each and every one of us.

our inclination is to bottle up our imperfections and smudge over them so no one can tell. or if we do tell, we tell people who will have the right answers or perhaps the people who are worse off than ourselves. but we don’t want to risk tarnishing our image or our reputation. so our sins cower deep inside. but when we become vulnerable and break down walls and open up about our shortcomings, especially to other ordinary, broken individuals, a surprising bit of healing can come through that. (and isn’t it ironic, dontcha think?)

and that’s what happened on wednesday. as we were talking, i could feel it taking place and my heart getting inflated again and swelling back up. i knew that that moment was behind me for the time being. i came home that night, renewed…

“therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you will be healed. the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
james 5:16

Here are other notes from “Anonymous”:

TIMING

  • God never wastes anyone’s time. He’s neither care-less nor cause-less with how he spends our lives. He sees every season of our life the “main course.”  “main” is right now, happening this very second. it’s not on hold until we get married, or get a better job, or absolve debt, etc.
  • only three years, less than 10 percent of jesus’ life, are visible through the bible. over 90 of his time on earth is unknown to us.
  • we must learn to wait because God is worthy; we aren’t the first who have had God-given (but unfulfilled) dreams and made to wait for years: Sarah waited 25 years to give birth to Isaac after God promised her a baby; Joseph waited 20 years to rescue his family from famine after being sold into slavery Moses waited 40 years to lead his people from slavery; Esther waited 25 years before she stepped up for her people; Paul waited 10 years after his spiritual encounter with God before he officially started ministry.
  • every choice we make is an investment in a future we cannot see.

TEMPTATIONS

  • hidden years grant us the space to learn to discipline our passions, cravings and desires. God allows us to wrestle with our appetites before our lives are at stake, to struggle with our passions privately rather than when we’re in the public limelight. if we have to deal with them prematurely, we can be crushed. we need the gift of hiddenness before rushing into more than we’re prepared for. we need to be able to grow in quiet anonymity.
  • The author says, “i feel that trials do not prepare us for what’s to come as much as they reveal what we’ve done with our lives up to this point.”
  • God leads us into deserts to: humble us, test us, know what is in our hearts, see if we will keep his commands, teach us to depend on him, discipline us as his children.
  • when tempted, we fall prey to the lie of “just one.” we rationalize this is only about one moment of splurging or one brief gland or one… we disconnect the moment of temptation from all other moments and how they add up and build upon one another.
  • the temptation of vain imaginations: thought patterns that puff us up from the inside out or invite us to escape from reality and experience a more affirming existence in our minds. (tempted in our thoughts by the attention and awe of mankind). these thoughts make us discontent with our current realitie

JESUS’ TEMPTATION

  • Jesus was tempted, in the desert. the devil tries many approaches:
    * dangles a lure (by offering something attractive);
    * exploits a natural longing (appealing to an innately human desire like eating). food in itself is not sinful, and here’s where satan’s lures can be deceptive. it’s not about what jesus would eat as much as about when. would he obey God even when obedience required delayed satisfaction of legitimate needs?
    * identifies the means (suggesting how to get what we want);
    * offers an inviting invitation (mixing truth with his lies).
    * SATAN’S MOST EFFECTIVE LURE: immediate gratification (not having to wait on God’s timing)
  • satan, in this way is predictable. the way he tempted jesus is how he tempted Eve, yet we continue to fall prey to his ways: we continue to crave instant satisfaction, daydream of public admiration, be hypnotized by wordly power/possessions, etc.
  • when devil finished tempting it says “he left him (Jesus) until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13)–meaning that satan would return again to tempt him. satan is going to come and continue to tempt us at strategic times in our lives, at crossroads.

“these are the days that no one sees…” is part of a paul westerberg song. “…they run together for company.”

awhile ago i read a book called “anonymous” that talked about how God puts seasons of anonymity into our lives to prepare us for our seasons of action. she paralleled it to the fact that Jesus was “anonymous” for years until he finally was ready to take the steps that would make him affect the world.

one of the analogies she uses is of trees and how the different seasons affect them: during the summer, their leaves are full and coat the limbs, but when winter comes, the leaves fall off and all you see is the tree’s infrastructure–that’s all that’s left and all that lasts. so it is with us: what the plenty of summer hides, the nakedness of winter reveals: the strength of our infrastructure–our character. but to get to that point, we have to grow to that point. so these seasons of anonymity, when we go unseen and seem unnoticeable, hide us and protect us and prepare us so that we have time to create and forge that infrastructure. when we undergo the winters of our life, our underlying strength will be strong enough and shine through–and sustain us.

a couple notes from the book: “anonymous seasons are sacred spaces, they are formative and to be rested in, not rushed through–and never regretted.” and “we can easily mistake fruitlessness for failure. we naturally grant more weight to the visible than the invisible, so it’s easy for us to underestimate its vital importance. we must not think unseen = unimportant.”

i think that’s a beautiful idea and it resonates with me, as i’ve recently become aware of one such season of anonymity that i’ve been trudging through. looking back, now i can see why my church’s lack of mature christian guys has been good for me, even though it’s something me (and various others) have lamented along the way and wondered where they went. for me, it’s been protective and helped me guard my heart. it forced me to be still and quiet and focus on other things, things that will last longer than any random relationship. it gave God a chance to work and heal and restore what’d been broken and marred by the years of haphazard dating that i was accustomed to during high school and college.

it prepared me for when that season of meeting someone does come to pass, i’ll actually be ready for it–not just in my head, but also in my heart and my spirit. God’s used this “downtime” to root me because growth takes time. it’s only now, after much fertilization and pruning and gardening, that i’m ready to be transplanted into that next phase of my life where this could come to pass. it’s only just now beginning that i’m ready to handle what that  (more specifically: the hearts and faith and community that i see in Grand Rapids) could offer to me. i have been in an “anonymous” place these past few years–but rather than stunting me, they’ve been establishing me for great things!

in the words of tara leigh cobble, “here’s to hindsight.”

Isaiah 55:13
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed.”

i started writing this blog entry awhile ago but i guess i forgot to post it. it’s still relevant, so here it is:

I’ve started reading the book “Breathe” about simplifying your life and getting rid of hurry and busyness to make room for God (who is a God of rest and the Sabbath). It’s an interesting idea; today I went to the doctor’s appointment and there was a mom with her kid, and she was telling the kid to hit the button to automatically open up the glass door that led from the building outside. Being a kid, he puttered over while me and another patient stood behind the duo waiting for the door to swing open. Admittedly, my urge was just to breeze past them and push open the door myself. How stupid is that? What difference will 30 seconds make?

I believe it was in Stephen Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that he encourages: “Speed up and slow down.” Speed up the tasks that don’t add anything of substance to your life (but things you have to do, like laundry or dishes or checking email, etc) and slow down on the things that do enrich, like hanging out with your friends/family, reading, journaling, spending time outside, resting, spiritual disciplines. There are things we ought to rush through but others that we ought to enjoy and relish.

In this book, she talks about making decisions about what you should say yes to and what you should say no to. Say yes to those obligations that enrich you toward God. (And that might even mean saying no to things at church or when people ask for your help!) It’s nice to hear that, to be given permission that we don’t have to do anything and everything but can dedicate ourselves to a few, meaningful causes which is going to reap a lot more than spreading yourself thin here, there and everywhere. Another thing that she stresses is “Sabbath Simplicity.”

I’m only 1/5 of the way through, but it’s got me thinking already. I haven’t sat down with my schedule yet, but it’s good to keep those perspectives in mind as I continue to make decisions with my time and energies—and build in time for rest.

UPDATE: I’ve since finished reading the book and highly recommend it. this was the book that got me to give up TV and, more recently, fast from reading anything but the Bible. i’ll share some highlights later. but in the meantime, become more aware of your schedule. where can you prune? where can you enrich the time you spend?

This weekend one of my bestest friends having just tied the knot this past weekend (and I got asked out on a date for the first time in almost a year, but it’s not what you think. Ask because it’s a rather pitiful—but entertaining—story…). So with seeing her get all fancied up for the big day and her text yesterday that said “We saw dolphins in the ocean today…I am having a great time with my husband,” let’s just say falling in love and weddings and marriage has been on the mind of late. (But, really, when is it not?)

Anyway you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that I read an article this week that talked about planning your wedding…alongside your soon-to-be-husband and how important it is to include him in that process, even though most guys say they want whatever you want. She brought up some good points about how it’s the first steps of decision-making together and teaches you about his likes/dislikes even before you start “forever” together. That’s something I’d like to replicate whenever my time comes, too.

Also, we recently wrapped up our latest book in my small group with Mal, Bri and Cathy. We read “Get Married” by Candice Watters which isn’t nearly as bad as the title makes it out to be. In fact, I fell in love with the book because she talks about that marriage is a gift God WANTS to give us (among other things: it models for us the relationship between Christ and the church and also teaches us crucial virtues like selflessness and putting others before our self). And so because God wants to give us, we should be bold to ask Him for it:

Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. . . . If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 7:7–8, Matthew 21:22).

And: “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2)

She talks about not being ashamed of this (although of course with the caveat that to truly reap this gift you should aspire to marry not just anyone but the RIGHT person, which she then details, based on Biblical standards). It was a refreshing and encouraging look at something that people never really talk about. Which is why we are talking about it now. Along with a few other friends, we’ve started a prayer group called “Women Praying Boldly” which is something she suggests in the book, where you just make it a point to be praying for each other as we navigate these waters in our life. (Of course, life is more than just getting married, but that’s one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make so why WOULDN’T it be something that you’d invest a lot of time in and prayer and preparation for? Seriously. It’s a good thing.)

Here are some of the notes I took from this book:

  • if it’s true that God is all we need for fulfillment, no one was in better position to be fully satisfied than Adam, who was closest human to God until Jesus came. but even GOD said it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone–that man should not be alone….and that’s because man is created in God’s image, and God is a relational God. being alone contradicts God’s nature, which is why it “wasn’t good” for Adam to be alone.
  • in Hebrew tradition, God is often described as the great Shadchan or “marriage maker.”
  • many of the longings that are common to our generation (for friendship, wholeness, for a life that is serious and deep, for associations that are trustworthy and lasting) could be largely satisfied by marrying well. (note the imperative to make your choice intentionally–just any marriage won’t do)
  • through our faith we can believe that if we’re following the guidelines for what to pray for, we can ask boldly and believe that our prayers will be answered. it is worth the risk of disappointment to pray boldly.
  • live like you’re planning to marry: cultivate a lifestyle that is consistent with the season of marriage ahead, where you are responsible (your choices with your checkbook, calendar, media consumption and treatment of your own body–because they are not yours but God’s!), concerned with others (not just yourself), and nurturing the men and the community around you to play their roles so that you don’t have to carry it all.
  • to be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond. we can bring healing to the very men who need it so that they can be empowered to take more initiative.
  • The most likely way to find a future marriage partner is through introduction by family, friends or acquaintances. despite the romantic notion that people meet and fall in love through chance or fate, the evidence suggests that social networks (the old-fashioned kind) are important in bringing together individuals of similar interests/backgrounds. almost 60% of married people were introduced by family, friends, co-workers or other acquaintances.
  • do people in your life know you desire marriage? do they know the qualities you’re seeking in a husband? they might be willing accomplices in the search. also by talking about it with others, you can stand in the gap for each other. you can facilitate the courtship process and through self-disclosure, express your beliefs about marriage and courtship with your friends.
  • stop giving away pieces of your heart without being asked. start insisting that to gain intimacy, men must act honorably, state their intentions and initiate official relationships with the goal being marriage = GUARDING YOUR HEART

RE Grand rapids: I’m now back in the safe, sound, snug place of peace with God concerning this. For a week I was all antsy and anxious and worried about how it would pan out. But I spent time praying and following God to especially fitting verses. Then on Sunday at church, the entire sermon was on being fearless and following God (Jesus’ greatest command is “Follow me” while in the Bible it’s “Fear not.”) and that solidified my trust in God: That it’s not my place to worry or try to figure out what will happen because God can/will do that for me and in ways I never could have imagined. I trust that he will do that here with this decision, its provisions and timing.

Also one of the messages from church was how God uses—and wants to use—ordinary folks. We looked at the life of Gideon (judges 6) who didn’t think he was worth it to do God’s work, but God saw something in him (and, extrapolated, sees something in me) that we don’t see in ourselves and that He can and will use. We can’t hold ourselves back! I think that was another part of the situation that I was experiencing—I felt like I was too spiritually immature to take this big of leap of faith, that I’m fooling myself and trying to do something that’s bigger than my spiritual footing. Like I’m trying to force it. But the point of that is that it’s not about me at all; God loves using the ordinary and the weak to accomplish great things because then he gets all the glory, which is what it’s all about in the first place. So I just need to remember to do that—to give Him the glory rather than wish to take it for myself and all “my” hard work. It is only by his strength and insight and special positioning that all of this has come to be. I am grateful.

Hebrews 13:5-6
God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”


Psalm 92
A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day.
1 It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,

2 to proclaim your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,

3 to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.

4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;
I sing for joy at the works of your hands.

5 How great are your works, O LORD,
how profound your thoughts!

6 The senseless man does not know,
fools do not understand,

last night I went over to my parents and we spent a good portion of the night outside, scouting out different plants around the yard and clipping flowers and putting them into vases. I took a big bunch of lilacs home with me, which sat on my nightstand and woke me up every once and awhile when I’d catch a waft, which was soothing and seemed to remind me: breathe in, all is good.

and it’s true. all is good, because i feel like i’m breathing deeper these last few weeks.

i think there are two parts to this newfound feeling:

part one
the whole grand rapids thing, where i have so much peace that it makes me wonder if maybe it’s too good to be true? but aside from praying that if this isn’t what God wants that he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure to tell me/stop it from happening, then i’m trusting in God’s nature as a peace-giver and as unchanging. even if this did seemingly come out of nowhere, i don’t want to sit on my hands if i feel it’s a good thing. and i do.

Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Don’t be terrified. Don’t be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

I’ve been going through bouts of feeling scared about whatever the future might hold, because it’s so far-off and so indeterminable. The fact that it would mean leaving many good things behind (church, friends, work, youth group, family) in exchange for…i’m not yet sure what. That makes me scared, so I keep praying that God will be with me and to “not hide your face from me,” that I will know his will and be strengthened to forge ahead with it. i woke up the other day and one verse from a Hedley song was rolling around in my head, “If you don’t believe me, watch and I will make it happen.” i really felt like that was God reassuring me, that he will make it happen. he won’t pull me this far and then drop the ball and walk away. another song lyric that spells the same thing to me: “you are safe, child, you are safe.

Isaiah 43:5-7
5
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.

6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth-

7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.

plus i’m reminding myself that if this is what God wants, he’s not going to purposefully make it hard or arduous; He WANTS it to happen and so He will help me do that. He did that for me when it came to breaking up with Paul (I was prepared to do it, but Paul ended up coming over and finishing things); when I moved to Alabama I had 2 weeks to relocate and find a place to stay for 5 months and God provided that along with an awesome roommate; then with Cincinnati He totally set me up with a great church and great friends and a great job. So I have to keep reminding myself of those blessings past, and that because God’s unchanging, that He won’t stop doing that—he’ll continue to guide me and provide for me along that pathway.

Psalm 25:4-10
4 Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths

5 guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.

6 Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.

7 Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O LORD.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.

10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful
for those who keep the demands of his covenant

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

part deux
which brings me to my second point which is the book i’ve been reading of late: Breathe. it’s pretty phenomenal and one that I barely convinced myself was worth buying; I only did so because it was half-price. it was well worth it.

the book is very grounding and encourages us to put our purpose and focus on God and to do so with our time and resources. it encourages us to simplify and say “yes” to the things that draw us to Him and to say “no” to those which don’t. while i know that my priorities aren’t nearly as tangled as a parent’s who has multiple other people to keep in mind with decision-making (the book is intended for mothers), i want to become aware of these struggles now. because if i can be aware and intentional and deliberate now, then it will become a practice/discipline which will serve me well as i move forward–and on into those next stages of life.

i like that the book gives you permission to say “no” to people, causes or activities that draw you away from God. this has been revolutionary to me and quite liberating. i’ve decided to let go of my TV-watching because i can see how it not only wastes time but also wastes words–when i spend time recapping tv shows with my friends and coworkers. it prevents me from digging deep into conversation. so i’ve started abandoning that need to “fill” my time with things like TV. now i just let my friends recap the shows for me, which cuts my investment time down to 5 minutes or less and frees up at least 15, a pretty good exchange if you ask me. (although I do foresee making room and allowing for “Heroes.” no matter how great a storyteller you may be, I don’t think anyone could recap that show with justice!)

one challenge they give in the book is about looking for opportunities to shave down your obligations, and then not fill them. Today I did that on my lunch break by breaking free from my desk and rushing to a nearby park to sit quietly and read more from the book. Being quiet isn’t an easy task or discipline for me, so this book is especially fitting. I need to invest in this ideal more and more, because I know I always complain about not being able to easily “hear God” but I think that’s because I’m not patient enough with the quiet to listen. I’m also hoping that our upcoming trip to IHOP in Kansas City will be enlightening and insightful for that, too!

i’m also hoping that in this decision to follow God to somewhere new, that hopefully that’ll draw me nearer and keep teaching me to connect with him and get to that point where i can hear and where i can really find my purpose and place.

After about a 6-month effort, I finished listening to the last of the Chronicles of Narnia stories last night. I started listening to them back in October or November in the car and listened to the final bits of “The Last Battle” on my way home yesterday.

Even though it took forever to make my way through, there were some really good lessons I gleaned from the tales of foreign lands and magical encounters and a great lion:

* Edmund’s appetite keeps him from doing the right thing, he gets consumed with temptation (Turkish Delight), which never ends up being satisfying in the end anyway.

* I think it was Lucy who asked about Aslan and if he was safe. Mr. Beaver tells her something like, “Course he ain’t safe! But he’s good.” We have to remember that even when God’s way is hard or difficult or risky, that it’s still good. And we have to trust in that.

* Another thing Mr. Beaver says of Aslan: “He’ll be coming and going,” says Mr. Beaver. “It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.” I have to remind myself of that during the times when I can’t always feel God or see signs of him.

* The only thing with that is that in The Last Battle, that phrase gets manipulated when a fake Aslan impersonates him and causes all kinds of bad things and turns out being mean. The Narnians use the idea that “Well, he’s not a tame lion” to make sense of this new Aslan. But it’s not true; they forgot that “not tame” doesn’t mean “bad” and, with God, his ways are unchanging (he won’t be nice in one generation and mean later), which is why we can trust in the God we see throughout the Bible.

* in The Horse and His Boy, the main character asks Aslan about something that happened to his friend. Aslan tells him that that’s not his story. I need to remember that I don’t need to worry about what happens to other people or even sometimes why certain things happen to me because, even if it includes me, maybe it’s more for someone else’s story or benefit.

* in the Magician’s Nephew, Digory has to go on a mission and he needs food and complains about it, noting that Aslan must have known that he’d need to eat and get hungry on the trip. His companion tells him (something along the lines of), “Yes, I’m sure he did. But you didn’t ask. I have the feeling that sometimes he just likes to be asked, even if he knows you need it anyway.”

* in The Last Battle, they enter the new Narnia through a stable, where the inside ends up being so much bigger than the stable itself (it’s a whole new Narnia!). Lucy notes that in her world, there’s a story about a stable that contains something much bigger than the stable itself. I love the imagery that C.S. Lewis gives to this new Narnia, where it’s just like the old Narnia, only everything is better—it’s like the original was a muted reflection of this one (just like we’re a muted, splintered reflection/image of God). Aslan calls them farther and higher into this new Narnia, which I think is what he’s calling us to now (further and further toward him) and as they get deeper in, it continues to get better and better. I think that fits now…

* Also, in The Last Battle, when all the animals enter the new Narnia, instead of Aslan judging them, they actually judge themselves; upon looking at Aslan they either go to his right or his left, depending on how they react to see him, is it from disgust or fear or horror? Or is it joy?

* There was a weird part where a guy who worshipped another god (but was good) ended up in the new Narnia. Though he did everything in the name of his nation’s god (Tash), Aslan welcomes him because he says that even if he had the name wrong, his heart was still in the right place. I’m not sure how I feel about that piece, theologically, whether I believe it, but I do know that C.S. Lewis is one smart guy so I’m not in a position to debate against him


even though Prince Caspian is coming out in just a few weeks, I’d prefer, now that I’m up-to-date on all of them, to see The Last Battle made into a movie-version, although I’m sure it’d be the hardest! it was just a really cool concept that C.S. Lewis had of what heaven will be like, with the kids able to swim up a waterfall with ease and run as fast and as effortlessly as the flying eagle. I think my favorite novel of them all though was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader because it is the most adventurous, taking the characters to all kinds of magical lands, plus you get to see Eustace heart melted and transformed with Aslan’s power.

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