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“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.

no time to spare at all but…

today was my last day at HOW.
last night, my coworkers threw me a “Carmen’s Sandwitch Party” (yes, we edit and spellcheck for a living, and that was totally by accident!), which was really, really sweet and totally touched my heart. i’ll have to show you the little plaque they gave me and the goodbye memory book they made.

and now i’m off to the airport. to go to atlanta. to see michael.

it couldn’t be more bittersweet if i tried! i feel like the pages are turning right now, and the next chapter happens right here, right now. here’s to the future!

when i find myself talking about everything that God’s been doing in my life lately, the words i keep coming up with to explain it are, “it just blows my mind.”

and it’s not just the new job and new city that have me saying that.

the day after i had my second interview in grand rapids, i had my first date with my now-boyfriend, Michael. (yep, he’s a music man!)

sometimes i don’t write about things until they’re a done deal because i don’t want to jinx them or i’m afraid of getting the presses humming presumptuously. but this is something different. i’m not afraid to jinx anything because i do truly trust God with what he’s done and what he’s doing and with my heart. plus, i have a great sense of peace about the whole situation (despite that the “situation” includes a few hundred miles distance). it’s just that the idea of trying to put “it” and “him” to words boggles my mind. i don’t know how to say it or give it any justice.

but suffice it to say that the whole verse from isaiah that’s been ringing so true has as much to do with him and our relationship as it does with everything concerning grand rapids. i really do feel like who he is “just blows my mind.” all this time, i’ve been expecting “bronze” from men and dating and here God has shown me “gold.” i just never expected someone like him to really exist and to really want be my boyfriend. it’s pretty amazing. he’s pretty amazing!

and the distance thing (he lives in atlanta) isn’t what i would have liked, but i think that it will be a good thing. i keep praying that God will bless that and make it a good thing instead of a bad one. and i trust that that’s exactly what he intends, because i can already see how it’s shaping our relationship and forcing us to be intentional, especially about keeping God first and keeping communication open and talking things through rather than letting them fester. (Michael’s been absolutely amazing about both of those!) it’s also made it easier for us to delve into deeper things, i think, and helps us pace ourselves from moving too fast or getting distracted. besides, i’ve already booked flights to see him in two weeks and then again for his birthday at the end of september. so we’re making it work 🙂

it’s just been so crazy to see God working so much overtime in my life lately–because i know it’s totally Him in all of this! and i know i don’t deserve it and sometimes i wonder why God is being so good to me, but i know it’s because that’s who he is and that he loves doing that for all of us! and i also know that these are all things that i’ve been praying about and so to see him answer them in ways that are so much glorious than i ever could have imagined just, well, blows my mind! i know i shouldn’t be surprised, but it really does grow my faith even more and helps me understand who He is and fathom His love even more.

it just blows my mind–Him and him and you and you. thanks for the prayers. let’s continue praying for each other.

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds his people
both now and forevermore.
The scepter of the wicked will not remain
over the land allotted to the righteous,
for then the righteous might use
their hands to do evil.
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,
to those who are upright in heart.
But those who turn to crooked ways
the LORD will banish with the evildoers.
Peace be upon Israel.

-Psalm 125

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 when i returned to cincinnati, i received word that i was invited back for a second interview. i ended up having to reschedule because the original date they wanted me to arrive for fell during the week i was going to be traveling to CIY with the youth group. fortunately they were flexible and were able to push the interview back another week.

i remained calm and at peace with the situation until the night before the interview. at that point i had what i’d probably compare to an anxiety attack although i have nothing to compare it to. my heart was racing, i was short of breath, i was hungry, i was thirsty…i was super anxious. and i tried to pray through it but nothing worked. i barely slept and the next morning, i was still anxious the whole drive up. even when i went into the interview, the anxiety was still right there, punching me in the face. looking back, i really feel like it was the devil’s one last-ditch effort to psych me out and pull me away from God’s plan. because at one point, i really just wanted to call them and tell them to cancel the interview. and what was i afraid of? of getting the job. how dumb is that?

it wasn’t until about halfway through the interview that i regained composure and the anxiety left me. by that point, the anxiety had already made me mess up a bit more than i normally would have so i figured that if i was able to get the job even after that–admittedly, not my greatest interview–then i knew God was in on it. i finally walked out of the interview at peace with whatever would happen. and i realized that if i did get the job, then i would have to accept it because God opened so many doors and if i didn’t, I’d be slamming the door in God’s face. plus, i would only stay in Cincinnati because it’s comfortable, but that’s not always what’s best. I would be letting the fear of the unknown stop me.

the next monday, i received an email offering me the position. just. like. that. i accepted it and then went to tell my coworkers, who were shocked and sad but very, very supportive. that was so important to me. i was more scared of leaving and uprooting them than anything else, really. so that was a blessing that that all went smoothly (or better than expected!)

so it’s cool looking back to see how God guided this whole process: how i’ve started learning to try to listen to God and how he’s met me in those places. i know it isn’t always easy but i also know there were places along the way where i could have doubted more, where i could have ignored God’s still small voice. but because of all the wide swinging doors and how everything’s fallen so perfectly into place, i don’t doubt that whatever comes from it, that it was where God is pointing me. i hope and pray that i can continue to heed those proddings.

in one of the chronicles of narnia (i think it’s the last book), they are making a trip and Aslan tells them to look for certain signs. well along the way they get distracted because they’re cold and hungry. the end up missing the first sign, so they have to back track. well, the journey back isn’t that easy. someone wonders whether Aslan intended for them to miss the sign the first time around. one of them pipes up and says, “No, I don’t think Aslan would do that. I think he’ll still help us get there, but if we would have listened and paid attention the first time, he would have made things easy for us. Things are hard now because we ignored his guiding the first time around.” (of course that’s my interpretation and paraphrase, but you get the idea.)

and it’s not that i want things to always be so easy, because i know that’s the opposite of what Jesus promised. but what i do hope is that this move is in fact one of those times where i heeded and obeyed, and so i hope that it makes it easier for me to continue to heed and obey in the future. the easy way or not, i don’t want to look back and say the only time i really knew i was listening to God and God was with me was when i was 25. that would be so disappointing and heartbreaking.

sorry it’s been so long, friends.

over the past week, the prayer that i’ve been praying is to be comfortable living in the gray area that life dishes up. so often, i want to rush to the black or to the white: either i want this job or i don’t. either i like this guy or i don’t. either i do this or i don’t. rather than slow down and let the process unfurl and be OK living in the in-between times, when an answer is unknown. i always have to remind myself that that’s how God works…patiently and one. step. at. a. time. butiwantananswerNOW! so there’s that struggle.

the parable of the seed and the soil has been really true for me in all this: how the healthiest and richest plants spring from fertile soil that lets it grow slowly and over time. it even says that the plant that grows too quickly will wither under the daytime sun. it’s not healthy for us to move that quickly! and so i am trying to relish these times of “i don’t know!” because i can see that as i learn to do that–as i learn to be comfortable with the unknown–that i really am able to allow myself to settle into God and let him “make everything beautiful in its time.”

and even on making that realization–that it’s OK to live in the gray–that oh-so-sweet gift of Peace floated down and made everything so much easier to handle. it’s funny how such a simple and obvious epiphany can be like flipping on a light switch in a room–and send the heretofore grayness fleeing.

“Since we have been made right with God by our faith, we have peace with God.”
Romans 5:1

….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.”

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

All I can say is that I feel like I’m at a point where I’m really able to watch God work. It used to be that God would do stuff without me realizing it and I wasn’t aware that the steps I were taking would lead here or there. But now, I feel like I’m finally able to see it and perceive in, in real, live time.

That’s the way things are. I’m watching God work all around me. It kind of reminds me of the part in Fantasia where the magic just starts to kick in, and it’s happening little by little. But after awhile it swells into this huge symphony of magic coming together. Right now, it’s that beginning. Where the buckets are teetering and brooms are waking up and they’re starting that little dance, just now stirring. And to think i’m able to watch it as it happens to me and those around me. It’s so awesome.

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it…”

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.”

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

it’s funny that so often i look to that as one of my favorite (and encouraging/comforting/hope-filled) verses, but how easily i forget the real meaning behind it–how easily i forget to really embrace and trust in it.

today, in the midst of packing up boxes and clearing off shelves, i was getting ready for work. i used to have a big decorative plate that i’d filled will my jewelry and had placed a little card with that verse on it in the middle of the beads and baubles. now, with the jewelry put away, all that remained was that little slip of paper.

and as i’ve been wondering and fretting and going back-and-forth about everything michigan related (timing, and so forth), i read that verse again with new eyes. and a breath of relief. “…in its time.”

it will all be OK. it will all be beautiful.

this is the last “installment” of the breathe book i read. it should be noted that the book is under the imprint of MOPS: Mothers of Pre-Schoolers (which I kind of find to be really funny). anyway, i didn’t know that when i bought it, but even though i don’t have any kids, it’s still a really good book and is full of ideas to keep in mind for the day when i actually do have kids.

she really stressed simplifying for our kids’ sakes so that we have time to invest in them and their development and help grow them into strong, intelligent adults rather than letting them too get hooked in society’s cycle of work-work-overwork. here are some of her ideas for raising kids with an eye to deliberateness:

  • the Bible says “Train up a child in the way he should go.” basically, children are like vines, we have to prune and direct them, but ultimately GOD has a purpose for them–not us–and we have to listen to THAT purpose: how he created them and lovingly direct their growth according to the gifts and abilities GOD placed in them.
  • create space in your calendar for days/times with no obligations, so they have time to play–unstructured activities where no adult is directing them. it’s important for them developmentally because it teaches them to direct themselves. that’s why so many kids say, “i’m bored!” they’re not used to entertaining themselves any more! instead, encourage them to solve their boredom for themselves. kids also gain more from spontaneous, imaginative play than from organized sports.
  • limit television, especially commercial television because ads create discontent.
  • limit the number of toys you buy because what they really want and need are our attention and affection. be generous with your time but be careful with how much stuff you throw at them
  • don’t operate out of fear about your children (comparing them with others’) and how denying them things will hurt them in the long run (that they won’t fit in, etc). so long as you’re providing them good things (time with God, time with the family, time to play and imagine and read and explore and learn), then how can you go wrong?
  • family meals are important because it’s there that you can have real-life (and lasting) conversations with them about things that matter: love, respect, family, the future, etc. it’s also where they learn how to carry on a conversation–something that’s losing practice today.

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