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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.

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so i’ve now officially lived in grand rapids for 3 weeks, and i finally feel like i’m starting to get in the swing of things. it’s been a little wild because i’ve already been out of town twice (first for a business trip, on day #4 of the new job, and then the following weekend to atlanta to celebrate michael’s birthday).

so adjusting hasn’t been the smoothest process because there have been so many interruptions. i spent the first week trying to unpack all of my stuff. (and if you didn’t hear, there was a big predicament with my moving truck and so we ended up having to drive everything up to michigan and then go back to cincinnati and then the next day i officially moved up here… yes, that’s a lot of driving time, because it’s a 6-hour drive each way.)

i’ll be the first to admit that i really struggled that first week or so, and i still get moments where i wonder “what am i doing up here?” “how did i leave such a good life behind me?” but then i have to remind myself that God left no doubt in my mind that this was where i was supposed to do, with doors swinging widely open all around me. now it’s just a matter of figuring out why here.

fortunately, i already have started making a couple friends here and there. when i first came to visit in june, we ran into a girl at mars hill who i hit it off with smashingly. so when i moved up here, she was the first to call me and invite me to her bible study and help make GR feel like home. (just another element of God looking out for me.) then other friends have been good about helping me make connections, and there are some girls who i work with who have been really nice about inviting me along and reaching out. it’s pretty cool how inviting and approachable everyone’s been up here. it’s still lonely at times, but i know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

the one thing i’m trying to be careful at, as i start over with a clean slate, is about how much i do commit to. sometimes in cincinnati i felt really overwhelmed at everything and everyone i committed to. if i was lucky, i’d get one evening to myself a week. that’s crazy, and i know it took a toll at times on my relationship with God. i want to make sure that i put that as my top priority while i’m here, because i really believe that’s a major reason that God brought me here.

so right now i’m looking at different options for volunteering and serving. i know that’s definitely something i want to build into my schedule but i want to make sure i’m intentional about it, because i believe that every time you say “yes” to one thing, you’re also saying “no” to another. so i want to make sure that no matter what i’m choosing, it’s a “yes” to growing closer to Christ. so that’s the next decision i have to make…

(by the way, if you were wondering: yes, it is already cold here. we’ve turned our heat on and i’ve been wearing jackets and light sweaters. i don’t know how i’m going to make it through the winter!)

Exodus 14:13-14 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

last week or so, i woke up two days in a row at 6:43am (sans alarm). i remember learning once that when a clock grabs your attention and it’s the same numbers, then that’s often God speaking to you, pointing you to a specific verse. now, if i new the Bible better, perhaps “6:43” would have instantaneously brought a verse to mind from memory. but having only google, here’s the verse I trust God was revealing:

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:43-45

i feel like (i hope!) that’s God revealing to me what he’s doing in my life, right now, as everything is in the midst of change: that it’s all good fruit.

then, yesterday on my lunch break, i read the next few verses of that chapter:

I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
Luke 6:46-49

and that’s what this whole Grand Rapids move is all about: digging deep and laying foundations. because i know that i must do that if i want to stay firm and close to God as i get older and trials get harder and more real. and a month before, mallory’s sister had texted me psalm 91 about the same idea, dwelling in the house of the Lord and this next season of my life teaching me how to do that. i’m eager…

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

often when i go to God about decisions I’m making, I come to him with my proposal typed out and neat and tidy in a folder. i lay it all out on the table and show him how i’ve narrowed it down to two choices, A and B, and which would he like to choose?

I take the God of the universe, the Creator of everything complex and incomprehensible who wrote this great story that we call Life and Eternity, who is bigger than anything i can imagine and who understands it all and somehow stitches this huge tapestry together into one great, intricate and beautiful masterpiece, and who loves–me!–more than i can even begin to fathom; and i give him a multiple-choice quiz with two possible answers: A or B.

“OK, now which one do you choose, God?” I tap my foot impatiently and want him to answer me on the spot. I mean, come on; He’s the one with the answers right? Why should I have to wait around on Him?

It makes me pretty disappointed in myself and embarrassed, really, that I would do that to the God who loves me so much and who all He wants to do is help me get the most out of Life that I can and wants what I want even more than I do. I do that now and people did that to Jesus back when he was alive, too: taking him these questions or demands and presented them to him as having only two options. but time and time again, He would break that mold and that conception and show them how close-minded their thinking truly was, as he’d show them another route or another question that never crossed their mind.

I need to focus more on just asking God the question and leave it at that; stop it with the “I’ve already analyzed the situation, so choose between these two.” go to him from the beginning with the raw question and leave it open-ended. “What do you want? What do you want me to do with this?” and then…wait and listen.

this acknowledges that he knows better than we do and that his answers are so much better than the lousy and limiting–and un-interesting!–A and B choices we often give him. there are so many other options, we need not strip him of his creativity and his power. option C can be so much greater than we could have imagined!

I will bring you gold in place of bronze, silver in place of iron, bronze in place of wood, iron in place of stones.
– Isaiah 60:17

He will bring us more and greater and richer things than we can imagine or think we need…if we just ask him and quit trying to take over the reins all the time.

the other night i wrote this in my (private) journal and thought it rang too true to keep hidden:

“i want to quit pinning God in a corner and trying to guess what he’s up to, or manipulate Him to fit my expectations or desires. sometimes i just want to be surprised, but i never let myself allow for that surprise.”

“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

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?

well now that i’m back home and have had time to settle in and let the dust of back-to-back trips settle, it’s time to share some of what’s been happening of late.

boston was a great work trip; our conference was especially successful (the biggest and most profitable yet) and i had a blast hanging out with becky and trolling around the city. we didn’t go out once, but it was nice to come home, crawl into a big comfy hotel bed and get a good night’s sleep.

while i was there, i attempted–and completed!–my first fast. mallory and i were doing it simultaneously for 4 days leading up to our Kansas City trip to International House of PRAYER (yep, IHOP). i was surprised at how easy it was to go without food but then again i shouldn’t have been because i know that the fact that it was easy wasn’t me but instead Him. going into the fast, i kept praying that God would make it easy on me so that i could still do a good job with my duties at our conference, that i would be nice and have a blast despite the lack of food. i wanted my coworkers to be surprised at how it went–and see, through that, how good my God is. i didn’t want to fail so that he could get the glory that it was He who did the work, not me. so, like i said, i shouldn’t be surprised that he was with me and answered that prayer. he is a good God.

i never got to that place of “peace” that you’re supposed to get on extended fasts. i wasn’t ever hungry, it’s just that everything sounded so good and i just wanted to taste it: put it on my tongue and let the flavors seep in. i didn’t care about chewing or digesting, just the sensual part of eating. intttterrresting, huh?

my favorite part of fasting, though, was how it freed up time. because i wasn’t running off to fancy restaurants with my coworkers, i found myself with extra time to myself. i walked around the area of our hotel or would just curl up in front of our huge window and pray and read my Bible and stuff. it was so relaxing and a nice change of pace to not be rushed through that.

and that’s been the No. 1 change i’ve noticed and grasped onto of late: digging into God and the Bible. making decisions that allow that. striving for that.

at IHOP, one of their big things and basis is their Prayer Room, which is open and running all around the clock. there’s always a band playing worship music and people praying or reading their bible or singing along or just reflecting. and even though praying and reading my Bible is often a task for me and one that i struggle with, discipline-wise, it wasn’t there: we’d go for 2 or 3 hours at a time, and afterward, it felt like it only been 15 or 20 minutes it was so effortless to spend time with God. our culture is so preoccupied with being busy that we often don’t just sit before God like that. there, the time would fly by and i’d walk away so enlightened and, really, just lightened (as in my “burden”).

and it’s fitting that that would be such an epiphany to me. because, also while we were there, we got prophesied over a few times. the very first prophesy brought me to tears over this fact: the guy started off talking about how my relationship with God has been me running around trying to “do” all these things and hurrying through (he likened it to a date, where you spend all this time running around getting ready and setting the table and stuff), when all God wants is for me to stop and just look him in the eyes. that moment is the one that matters: it’s the whole point of this great big Date that we’re all on.

and i realized, so clearly, that i desperately need to do that. i need to shove off everything else that’s crowding and just stare into God. just spend time with him and getting to know him.

to that end, i’ve decided to fast from reading books about God and instead read what he wrote for myself–focus more on the Bible. i’ve been meditating specifically on Song of Songs, which has been really good for me and for my heart and for me to stop and “stare.” and to enable this renewed sense of reading and reflecting on the Bible, i’ve tried to institute some of that “prayer room” mentality into my everyday practice: cranking up hymns and praise music while i’m reading and praying, and stocking my ipod with christian-infused songs so that i can go to a park and take time out there to dig in. i’m loving it and would encourage anyone who doesn’t already do it, to give it a try. it makes it more of a holistic experience i think, and makes it easier to just rest and sit before God. which is obviously what i need.

Psalm 27:7-9
“Lord hear me when I call; have mercy and answer me. My heart said of you, “Go worship him.” So I come to worship you, Lord. Do not turn away from me.”

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.

last night was cool. it was cool because there are few times when reality lives up to your expectations. so often we find ourselves disappointed, which i think is actually good because it’s a natural reminder that this isn’t all there is–that we long for more because there is more.

but last night stood up to test! last night, holly, kitty and I piled in my car and made our way to Xenia, Ohio, a little town that i’ve occassionally heard of but never ventured and never really cared to venture to. except in this case, because Tara Leigh Cobble was playing a show there. only an hour’s drive away, it was quite an opportunity because upon reading her first book we all would say, “I want to be her friend!”

last night, we were! we arrived at the church, where they were serving tasty Starbucks-y drinks (I often think that churches do Starbucks better than Starbucks does). when TLC started playing, we moved up into the front row to watch. my favorite thing was that when she sang she looked so happy and looked like she was singing to God, which i think is pretty amazing. because we were front-and-center, she said hi and asked us our names. a few of her songs made all of us teary-eyed but there was one that was oh-so (sadly) true: she sang about how when you meet a guy and if he’s taller than you and, especially, if he’s wearing a cross around his neck (or in my case, goes to a christian school or works at a christian company or has “Jesus” under his list of Myspace heroes), you immediately start imagining your future together. so sad to say that that’s something i struggle with all the time, but it was nice to know i’m not the only one!

afterward we waited till the crowd around her thinned and went up to say hello. it’s so nice when people who you imagine and hope are nice actually are. we hung out with her and you’d just think she was someone we met at the mall or at a party, not someone who spends her time driving the country and writing books and singing songs and whose memoir we read and hung onto every word. she invited us to hang out with her as she packed up and shared some strawberries that they’d given her backstage. she’s really as nice and sweet and funny and real as we’d imagined.

when we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the highway, we detoured to “dorothy lane” exit, found some food and then pulled into cincinnati after midnight. it was a great trip, and grounded me as to the kind of person i hope to grow into: who can touch lives and inspire people and who people can tell really loves Jesus and means it. sometimes i’m afraid that i just look like a shod, that my heart is no different from anyone else’s… but that’s for a whole other entry.

thank you, tlc for being our friend, even if only for a short evening!!

on (my) tattoos and piercings
as you probably know, when it comes to big decisions, i’m not one for spontaneity. sure if it’s, “let’s go get ice-cream!” or “let’s go on a vacation!” then i’m all for it, because you can’t go wrong with either.

but something that there’s a chance that i might someday regret isn’t something i take lightly. hence why i’ve been so patient and spent so long kicking around the idea of a/my tattoo. but things changed last week when–in the midst of “where am i headed?” and “what’s going to happen, life-wise, next?!”–i got the out-of-the-blue urge to get one of those monroe piercings. i really, really wanted it even moreso than the tattoo. like, i was ready to get it on friday if i didn’t know myself better.

i don’t have anything against piercings; what i’ve always held as important in decision-making is intention behind the choice. so, i came to see that with this urge for a pretty little beauty-mark diamond was how quickly it came on and how forceful it was and how it consumed my thoughts, because it really did. everyday i was thinking about how i would look with one; i’d imagine it on other people and how it would change the way they look, etc. that preoccupation was a red flag to me–that there was something deeper going on.

if you’ve ever read the screwtape letters (OK, or the Bible for that matter), i believe in that stuff–that the reason why all our movies have a good guy and a bad guy, where there’s always some sort of struggle between the two is because that reflects the greater story that’s taking place in our world. that there’s a God and a Devil and that the bad guy in this story is doing everything he can to bring down Good. i remember when i read the Screwtape Letters, one thing that C.S. Lewis pointed out was how one of the devil’s greatest tools is using inaction and distraction to bring us down–while we may not be committing great sins like murder, if we’re still not doing good,  then what’s the difference? he’s won.

so i realized that this piercing preoccupation was just that: a distraction that was keeping me from focusing my thoughts on what God had in store, future-wise. i know it sounds silly because it was just a simple piercing, but in context it stood for so much more: as i pondered getting it, i was really doubting that God would accomplish what i knew he already told me he would. (because the last thing the piercing would say is “professional” and could really stand as a stumbling block as i consider that path.) i had to realize that if he encouraged me to pursue this path, then why wouldn’t he provide that? why would i jeopardize or disregard that?

it was a matter of regaining/reasserting my faith in the future. and since that realization, the overwhelming preoccupation has melted away and now i’m back to considering that old tattoo of mine. the one benefit i see in this is that at least it has a purpose other than pure vanity (which was all the piercing had to offer) and would be a gentle and daily reminder of the state (and source) of my life. here’s the general direction i’m thinking, although the elements would be better integrated, of course. but i’m digging the idea of calligraphy + ornamentation:

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

even though there have been ups and downs, things have fortunately held at the “highs” for the most part. as i’ve mentioned, i’m feeling like God might have something else in store for me as for where i belong right now. i read somewhere that God is a gentleman and that he likes to hold the door open for you, it’s just a matter of you stepping up and walking through. so that’s what i’ve been up to. trying to meet Him halfway. the way i look at it is that if it’s something He wants me to do (and I do believe it is) and I’m doing what I can to reach it, then He will gladly give it–when the timing is right.

but the one thing that does make me glad through all this is that i really do feel like this is what God wants. I’ve been fortunate enough to see God at work a lot in my life (almost always in hindsight when it comes to people he put in my life or circumstances that I never would have chosen for myself or opportunities that I seemingly stumbled upon). but it’s been rare that I’ve actually felt God at work in my life. these past few months have shown me a few of those gems: when Paul and I were breaking up and I knew it was the right thing; then again when Paul and I started chatting again and I started getting hurt again, God told me when to plant a fence and give myself time to heal and then when to swing open the door and then when to work on barriers. and now with this next step. in all those, those were the times when I really felt God beside me guiding me and pointing and me being able to understand that “small, still voice.”

it’s still full of murmurs and ever-interrupted, but i want to keep hearing it and harking it, because I know it won’t lead me wrong. it’s hard to trust something that only feels like an inkling, but that’s where I think God’s gentlemanly nature comes into play. if i’s His will, He’ll see to it like he did even when Jonah ran the opposite way. God still got his way. i just want to make sure that i don’t want to run the other way. because i know that when you listen the first time around, things fall into place. that doesn’t mean they’ll be easy. but they’ll be right. and i think that when they’re right, they’ll seem easier.

at least i hope so.

p.s. i would like to introduce my friends to one another! after visiting with dear MRS elizabeth in nashville this weekend, i was reminded of this. and since i have such good taste in friends (if i do say so myself), i think you’ll all enjoy it. (see in the left-most column where it says “MEET MY FRIENDS.” there are some wise women in there!)

i recently finished reading a modern-day nun’s memoir “forever and ever, amen.” it’s quite admirable the things she learns when she enters right out of high school and how open-armed the convent is, to this girl who sneaks in vodka-injected oranges and who was admittedly wild and unruly. the girls enter green and the convent allows them to pursue God and get to know him; through things like obedience, seeing God in everyone–especially their enemies, fighting for injustice, sharing, sisterhood, supporting one another even when you don’t  agree with them, knowing when to bend the rules when another sister needs it for camaraderie, wisdom, silence, prayer, solitude…

things that i know i must learn, and many of them exemplified by the older Sisters that the author admired most. i too want to learn those things. because they’re so poignant. and because i know that upon learning them, they can change my life.

she writes, at one point, “it was the everyday blessings that ripened me the most.” as i think i mentioned (but perhaps i didn’t) i was reading an article about dating and how God works through ordinary means. this sentence reminded me of that. and to learn to see God in everything–the big as well as the small. it’s so easy to see him in the big, where it’s undeniable. but to see His handiwork in the small and subtle seems to be reflective of an atuned spirit. i don’t want to forget or neglect or underappreciate all he does for me. or ever feel like i can do all this on my own. i want to be sure to appreciate all he’s given me.

i’m beginning to think about my tattoo and it bearing the word: “blessed.” because isn’t it so? isn’t it so terribly so?

just read a short Q&A with a pastor about how important it is in dating that the person share your theology. he brought up a great point: are you asking what’s the least you can require to “get it right”? because if so, that’s the wrong question. instead, you should be looking for the most you can get from whoever you date, when it comes to spirituality.

he says:

Don’t ask the minimalistic question. If you only want to know how little you have to agree on together in order to move forward, then you’re asking the wrong question.

There should be a robust and common enthusiasm and joy about the gospel. You should also have a similar understanding of the gospel so that you’re not always tricking each other by your words. You want to make sure that you have the same definitions for the words that you use.

So start at the center, and want the most.

i think of that, too when people ask “how far is too far?” because that’s like looking at it as if all you need is a C on your report card, when we ought to be looking for an A and working our hardest to do the best we can–not just skate by.

one thing i’ve become aware of and decided to pray about/get more rigorous about is memorizing scripture. over the past couple years i’ve gotten more into God, i’ve always been content with just paraphrasing and throwing around, “well somewhere it says something about ‘perfect love casts out all fear'” or “i think paul said something about…” anyway i’ve come to realize that even though it’s good to have a good handle on what the bible says, it’s even better to know exactly what that is rather than stumbling over the concepts or twisting them or mishandling them. plus, it’s that whole idea of a sturdy foundation (see, there is where i could use from knowing the actual verse that talks about building your house on a rock rather than on sand. in due time…).

regardless, that’s my latest in the ever-evolving to-do list (or as a coworker calls it, the “today” list). as i embark on this (which reminds me of VBS or summer camp) i want to take it slow so that they really seep in and take root rather than take my usual route of DO EVERYTHING AT ONCE or AS MUCH AS YOU CAN–gulp it down, FAST! i have to remind myself… one. at. a. time.

the first is (and this is from memory!): James 5:16 “therefore pray for each other and confess to each other so that you may be healed. the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

cool huh? i know it’s basic but i am amped for it and what comes from it. i think my next one is the perfect love one. 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” but i’m not going to attempt cracking that one for a couple days still. one. at. a. time.

i’m back from gatlinburger (what one of the other adults who went called it–completely by accident–as we sat up till after 1am talking about the trip…obviously we know what he was thinking about!), and i have to say that it was a perfect little trip, a perfect wake-up call.

perfect not because the water in the chalet where we stayed smelled like eggs and made you gag everytime you took shower (and made me glad for bringing my pretty-smelling shampoo) nor for the fact that of course anytime you get 40+ teens together, you’re going to get your fair share of what comes with that age: drama, mishaps and kids trying to show off for one another. but that’s all beside the point because they pale in comparison to everything else that happened while we were down at TCTC.

i think being steeped in that environment–where everyone is united for a single purpose that lasts a whole weekend, rather than just a given hour on Sunday morning when you’re still shaking off sleep–can do nothing but awaken emotions. so we were able to watch kids scratch their heads and realize their ability to change the way of their life, and watch them open up and reach out about their struggles and the burdens holding them down, and watch them sprout roots and grow over the course of the weekend. my favorite part was being able to be there for them during that and to encourage them as they explored those things or to guide them through that–to feel used in that way. i think over the past couple of months i’ve felt God in my life more than i ever have, and that’s a pretty cool realization.

and in that way, i know i got as much out of it as any of the teens it was intended for. the main speaker, jayson french, was really inspiring and while there were all kinds of bullet points that could be pulled from what he said over the course of the two days, one of the ones that stuck out most to me was the warning, “what you tolerate you will come to accept,” as he was talking about Lot and his choice to move near and eventually into the thick of Sodom. very true.

so it’s hard to not be riding on a wave after all that. but even here at work (which i’ve always loved and has often served as my saving grace when things have seemed somber), the ol’ j-o-b has been doling out its own fair share of encouraging gems: i got word i got a bonus for all my work on the website (truth be told, it was only about $50 after-taxes, but still!) and then i’m taking the reins on our e-newsletter, which i’m excited about. i came up with a proposal about how to overhaul it and my boss was excited about every suggestion i made–nothing negative at all! so it’s nice to have my own little pet project to see through and feel like i’m making leaps and bounds there.

in other how-did-you-get-yourself-into-that news, i’m going to be playing indoor soccer with kitty and ordered some navy blue cleats and pink shinguards online (and another new book!). i’m hoping this doesn’t turn into a repeat of the ever unforgettable Kickball Debacle which left me feeling utterly insignificant and totally lame (i never even made it to second base and almost got my  head chopped off by the overly aggressive opposing team, “Dodgeball”-style).

all is going so well, in fact, that right now i’m listening to Angels & Airwaves, which might not mean anything to anyone, save for the fact that it was paul’s favorite band, and he told me that there was one song that always made him think of me, hence the reason why i had to tuck those cds out of sight because they made me sad, remembering. i even contemplated throwing the CDs away and erasing the tracks from my iTunes libraries. but now i can listen to and appreciate it for what it is–a good band that someone once recommended to me. and even though tomorrow might be completely different and i might retreat back to where i was last week being down-and-out about everything, right now i’m glad that i’m shaking off that old, drowning coat and starting to settle back down into that peaceful, stable spot where i once spent a lot of time…

this weekend, we’re taking the youth group to Gatlinburg for a teen convention (otherwise known as TCTC) and i have to say, i cannot wait. i like having these things to look forward to because they function as breaks in my reality, cracks i can crawl into that will take my mind off myself (which, sadly, is what most of my reality revolves around). and nothing out of the ordinary has happened to point to for that; in fact, nothing has really happened at all. and perhaps that’s it–that nothing has really happened so i spend that extra, ample time busying myself with Me, which of course make me anxious and want to jump out and into things that actually matter.

hence, my looking forward to TCTC. because, unlike all the “nothing”ness currently spinning round, this seems to offer me the immersive opportunity to get away from all of the Me, Me, Me and onto things that really matter. because–when everything else in my life is foggy and cumulous–this whole idea of loving God is the one thing that I know I can’t go wrong with and that does offer grounding. grounding that i feel like i desperately need, of late.

so here’s to that. and to someday feeling settled. although i expect that’s quite a lofty goal.

this might come out of left field for some people, because i haven’t really said much on the blog about all the specifics of what’s happened in Paul-and-Carmen-Land, but suffice them to say that if you’ve gotten the inkling that i’ve been upset for awhile, I have. the thing that sucks most about it all is that I remember being so happy with him: i remember coming into work the day after talking to him and being giddy. i remember our first date and staying out late eating ice cream and getting scared by sprinklers, and our second date when he was the most considerate person i’d ever met and we kissed under fireworks. fireworks! where did those go?

well, that’s the mystery. but also what we’re coming back to. because we decided this weekend to break up and return to building that foundation–work on building it right again. because i guess in our haste, we glossed over that. i guess–i’m not really sure what went haywire, all i know is that it happened and now we’re apart, but i’m glad for it.

the reason i’m glad for it is because through the whole thing, i’ve learned a great deal: a great deal about God and how amazing and myseriously he works and how his blessings work, and how to bolster my relationship with him and learn how to listen and how to trust, which has never been my strong point. but i feel like that, through all this, that has started to change. and for that, i can ask for no more.

it wasn’t until thursday night that i realized we should break up. until that point, i was holding on to our memories and things past and trying, trying to make it work. but all the effort was in vain. and i realized, it just isn’t working. and then i felt an amazing peace about everything–God’s reassuring hand that that was the right path to follow. i knew it’s what i had to do, what i needed. but i didn’t want to. i was very hurt by the realization because it shattered a lot of my hopes. but yet, i still knew.

so i prayed for strength to do it and to not chicken out. i had gone up to columbus on friday and when i came home, paul texted if he can come over. i did want to see him. because i’m still drawn to him, despite this revelation. and then i realize: he’s coming over to break up with me. and i was relieved; counting it another notch in the board that this is really what God intended for us. because God was doing the work for me. and that’s exactly how it happened–he came over and we broke up together.
it made me realize how fully God does look out for me and how he totally met me halfway. i guess it’s kind of like Abraham and Isaac, where all God desired was that Abraham be willing, and then he spared him. and here, even though i wavered (on timing), i knew it was something necessary that had to be done and so i was committed to the action. and once i made that commitment, God rescued me, just like he did with Isaac and the goat. it didn’t hurt hardly at all, in fact the whole thing was actually quite beautiful.

it was beautiful because it was almost magical–how a few simple words can break the spell that had been looming over us and had made everything dark and clouded and dismal. because with those words set and us being released from each other, we were real again. i felt like time was rewinded to a few months earlier–where we left off. we were real again. we just had conversation. with nothing holding back, just fun, real conversation. it was really good and reminded me once again of the guy that i first met. tonight he told me i was beautiful and that he liked my hair and my nails and my sweatshirt and my socks. oh, how i missed those compliments. and so it’s funny that they come back now. because now we’re broken up. which is what i knew i wanted… i know there’s a lot to work on, friendship-wise as well as spiritually compatible-wise. and so it’s best to do that in a non-demanding situation.

i guess we’re broken up, but with the potential for more. which kind of freaks me out because i’m afraid i won’t be able to handle that. that i want all or nothing–either to be boyfriend/girlfriend or nothing at all. and by nothing i mean, we stop talking.

but i read an article just before The Conversation that truly speaks to that idea of learning how to live life in the balance, rather than black-and-white or all-or-nothing:

Sometimes following Christ means going 180 degrees from what our culture dictates. I’m learning about that, for sure. But other times it means taking a different route … a more difficult one. It is our fallen human nature to look for the easy way out, and it is actually easier to reject God’s creation than learn to use it appropriately—because rejecting it means you don’t have to actually think about anything, while learning how to use it wisely and well means … thinking.

that this is another chance for God to challenge me and teach me. how to go ahead without expectations. and just be. leave the details up to him. to let go and give him the reigns. whether we’re together or i’m destined for someone else. that’s out of my hands right now. and for that i should be glad. and not fret or over analyze or over think. because that will shatter the whole beautiful thing we have going right now.

everything with this situation has been beautiful–learning about God’s will and getting more and more in tune with him, during this end. and looking at it now, i can see how things turned bad and could have hinged on that one point–that it wasn’t until the relationship was falling apart, that i turned back to God and learned from him and drew near enough to learn. i love that he allowed me that. because he taught me and he MADE me come to him and he MADE me learn to listen. he didn’t just give it to me, because that would have been too easy. but he gave me the opportunity to come closer to him and then i DID. i learned how to listen and how to discern. how amazing is that?

so i’m happy. in a weird, surprising, bittersweet, surreal kind of way. but happy, nonetheless…

TOPICS OF CONVERSATION