Catching My Breath

Happy 2015!

I think this last week has been one of the most chaotic in a long time. I just arrived back in the country from a wonderful two-week trip spent in Ireland and the UK, only to return to my internship as a counselor a matter of hours later. (Score one for my pure stubbornness in wanting to have as much time abroad as possible. Fortunately I was so happy to be reunited with my clients that I didn’t notice the jet lag until that night…) As I sit here writing this post in-between jotting all of my assignment due dates for my final semester of grad school (?!) and typing a draft of my final research proposal for graduation, it is suddenly hitting me just how much has happened this past year.

I am still working on the long post that I briefly mentioned in my last entry. The words aren’t coming to me like I had hoped, but to be continued!

But because it is a new year, I wanted to make just a few brief lists for 2015 goal setting. Definitely encourage anyone else to make their own!

MY WORD FOR THIS YEAR:

Last month I was challenged to pray about a word that God really wanted me to focus on. Before I even finished, the word integrity came to mind, plain as day. Integrity, for me, is needing to…

  • Stop trying to cut so many corners. This is something I am especially bad about in my schoolwork. Sometimes I get so involved and focused on my internship (which I love) and actually serving in the field, that I begin to resent my graded papers and assignments, and just do the bare minimum. I need to remember that I am in school to learn- I want to appreciate what time I still have left and commit more to the entire process.
  • Be more intentional. This is a really broad goal, but specifically, I need to be more intentional about studying the Bible and engaging in conversations about it. Although I don’t want reading the Bible to become a chore, and merely check it off each day, I tend to get lazy and make excuses if I go several days on end without picking it up. I need to be more intentional about setting aside specific time and generally use the “whenever I get around to it” statement less.
  • Be more direct with people. Working as an addictions counselor has definitely toughened me up, but my tendency in day-to-day life is to want to bend over backwards to make other people happy. I need to be upfront and honest more often if I am frustrated with a situation rather than just doing nothing about it whatsoever. Raised voices tend to set me on edge, which is why I need to practice and remember that caring confrontation does not actually have to involve yelling.

Gratitude List

Even though people tend to do this during Thanksgiving, a project I want to pursue is to actively keep a gratitude list. The quickest way to kill contempt is to tell God, or another person, things that you are grateful for. For me, this most often happens when I am driving. (I don’t know if it is because I suddenly have the angry desire to issue driving tickets via hand signals that are supposed to express “What are you DOING?!?!” in the car, and therefore actually think about being grateful more often, but this is usually what happens.) The other day in my head I just started telling God how grateful I was for heat. That gas is a whopping $1.99 all of a sudden. That I have a car. And suddenly my road rage was lessened a bit.

Highlights and Lowlights

This year was a great one. By God’s grace, I published a book (see tab at top of website), joined a church plant team in Ireland for three months (and met an Irish fellow I am quite fond of while I was there…), finished my first year of graduate school, and heard some really amazing teachings and sermons that made my desire to follow Jesus multiply. I am going to be the Maid of Honor in the wedding of one of my best friends, got to see two friends get baptized, celebrated a new birth into one of my favorite families, and traveled solo across Europe for a few weeks.

It was challenging at the same time. It was difficult not having access to income anymore, and I felt guilty spending any just about any money that wasn’t a necessity as it was all coming out of my savings. Although I have some amazing relationships in Charlotte, I also spent a bit of lonely time missing friends in other cities. My sense of time management became stretched thin as I began taking night classes and electives in order to graduate on time and complete my internship. This unfortunately meant that I could no longer attend a weekly Bible Study or a leadership training I was nominated for. This has actually been one of the hardest things to deal with in recent months.

Goals for This Year

  • In some ways, not knowing where I will be living or working in five months, after graduation, has caused me anxiety. In other ways, it has led me to appreciate more of what God wants me to learn and do here in the present day. One goal of mine is to focus more on giving up control to Him whenever I am feeling overwhelmed. Personally, I think the whole “God won’t give you more than you can take” notion is mostly false- I think He gives us a great deal more than we can take sometimes so that at the end, there is no question of who should take the credit for it.
  • I have already talked about the necessity of spending more time reading my Bible, but as soon as I have a spare evening again, I am very much looking forward to joining a small group again for Bible study. I am very much missing the provided accountability and friendship!
  • Continue to invest time and love into the Urban Eagles. Last month, due to my course schedule, I had to stop volunteering in Grier Heights. This was hard for me to accept (I think I was in denial for a bit that a new elective option would be added to a morning), but am so thankful to continue to commit to the Forest Hills neighborhood. These young girls give me some of the most joy all week, and the leaders are all now some of my very best friends!
  • Create boundaries. This is one I will not expand on here, but is certainly a continuous goal, especially for a social worker.
  • Above all, develop more of a passion to know Christ more so that I may be able to know and love others more.

Any prayers for me as I continue writing, studying, learning, and working are much appreciated!

Blessings. xx

Defeating the “What If?”

I haven’t gotten the chance yet to talk about my time in France so far, so I will be doing that in a post within the next few days. I actually wanted to talk about a subject first that has been on my mind a lot recently.

Before flying down to Florida, probably the biggest thing that I was still going back and forth with a bit can be summed up by these two words: “What if?”

These are the words that basically define fear. They spin around in your head into dozens of possibilities and situations that imply…

You do not have control.

You are not prepared.

You may not be happy in the future.

And on and on….

Mine were admittedly not exactly what I would classify as debilitating concerns or ones that can take over your life, like “What if the economy collapses?”. I was very excited about what was to come, and just a little nervous. I am going to share with you, though, a few of the what if’s that went through my mind in the months preceding my departure overseas.

What if I get there and find that my teammates and I do not mesh well?

What if my very limited knowledge of the french language renders me completely useless?

What if I get sick, or something happens and I do not know what to do? And on that note, what if my stomach issues start getting out of control again?

What if I am so emotional from being separated from Grace (who I had been the nanny for up until this point) that I am not an effective team leader because I am such a wreck? And then everyone thinks I am a freak because not only can I not express myself in french, but I can’t even keep my emotions in check? I am going to set an even worse rep for Americans than we have already.

Okay, enough of that now. I exaggerated just a tad. But, for the most part, one or more of these thoughts would occasionally pass through my mind as I was going through the process of fundraising, saying goodbye to my friends (who have basically turned into family) in Chapel Hill, and moving to Charlotte. Having lived there for five years, that was another “what if”…a What if I am supposed to stay here after all?

Once again in Florida these thoughts would occasionally occur to me while externally I was busy trying to meet everyone, remember their names, and get as much as I could out of the seminars and discussions.

Side note- I just glanced down at my playlist, and realized the album title of my current song is “Nothing Left to Fear”. It’s getting me pumped.

Anyway, I believe it was the day before we were flying out that I watched a sermon on my computer from Elevation Church called “Running From Your Life”, from the Room 101 series. I highly recommend watching it sometime, as Steven Furtick does a fantastic job of explaining everything. I admit it’s kind of funny that I watched a sermon on my break between what were, essentially, sermons, at orientation.

So basically the funny story goes like this: the messages from Elevation are typically somewhere around 50 minutes long. (They go by shockingly fast.) I was able to get about halfway through this particular one before I knew I had to leave for the next session. I hadn’t been taking notes really, but honestly was thinking of restarting the whole thing all over again later because I was getting so much out of it. At this point my thoughts were something along the lines of “Man! I don’t want to stop listening to this! Oh well, I need to try and focus on this new, upcoming message instead.”

This is where God’s timing gets pretty interesting. You recall how above I said that the what if’s were my primary concern when entering in on this trip, and I had been continuing to think about them? And now that I didn’t really want to have this first sermon interrupted?

Well, essentially, it wasn’t.

I entered into the chapel only to hear a message from a pastor named Mitchel Lee, who, in terms of his age and so forth, is similar to Pastor Furtick. They both have a lot of energy, do not use many notes, are young and expressive, and guide churches in their own walks with Christ.

Well, on this particular morning they both also had pretty much the exact same sermon in common. And later when I told Mitchel this story with a laugh, he was pretty blown away and wanted to hear the Elevation version as well.

They both were based around Daniel 3:16-18, talked about the What Ifs and fears, how God has shown us unconditional reserve, and how the two words to conquer these thoughts are “Even If”.

Daniel 3:16-18:

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

This verse right here pretty much sums up the definition of faith, if “what if” defines fear: God has the ability and the desire to save, but even if He doesn’t, because our interpretations of what would rescue us are not always the best ways in God’s eyes, we will worship Him regardless of the benefits it brings us.

Often people go back and forth between objective and subjective praise and faith. We view God in different lights depending on whether good or bad things happen to use. We offer praise in certain circumstances or situations, and do not in others. A wish of ours turns into an expectation, which then with time turns into a demand. And then, to continue the pattern of using two words, this is where the “If Only” comes into play.

“God if only you would give me a husband/wife, then I would have the support I need to _______.”

“God if only you would let me get into this school, then I would be able to do great things for your ministry.”

And so forth. Essentially, our contingency plans, conditions and desires cover up our lack of security, and our need for constant reassurance and love that only God Himself can provide. But we don’t want to take risks. We don’t want to give up the control. I am generalizing here, I realize, but as a group, humans don’t want to just flat out say “God, I am not enough, and I need you. I can’t meet all of my needs based on my own efforts no matter what I try, it seems, and I want to rely on you.”

The question to ask yourself is “Even If”.

Even if I never get promoted, am I willing to stay in this rather mundane job because it allows me to do something for the glory of God?

Even if I never get married, will I still follow God with my whole heart?

Even if I never have children, will I fulfill God’s instructions by pouring out my love and affection to others who desperately need it?

And so forth. Hearing this same message back to back within about a ten minute time frame, it was really emphasized to me how much I needed it. I need to play through my what if’s in order to conquer them.

For example, just to pick one from the spring:

What if our team doesn’t get along, and this causes friction or unpleasantness for the summer?

Well, then I guess we will just try and find each other’s strengths, delegate responsibilities, and try and agree that we are all working towards a common goal. We wouldn’t have to be best friends, but would always try to show each other courtesy and respect. God does not call us to like everyone, but we are called to love everyone. And at the end of it all, it is only for two months, and then we can go our separate ways, hopefully having made accomplishments as a group.

(Not trying to say that my team doesn’t get along right now :). Just using it as an example.)

I realize that this was a very minor fear, and most things are not quite so short-term or simple. The same concept applies no matter what the situation, because fear is simply the absence of putting your trust in God to handle things.

Even if _____ happens, I will worship God.

Even if I go through _______, God is with me, and while I may not be immediately delivered from it, He will get me through it.

This means having the strength to say that no good or bad experiences will make God any less glorious, any less good, or any less loving.

It means having the trust and faith that God will use you exactly how He wants when you open your heart, ask Him to come in, and make the changes He wants to see in the world happen through you!

Grateful.

This is going to be a very short post, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for the response I got on my last post on my testimony. It had about five or six times the number of views that I anticipated, and the support that I received was very overwhelming. Thank you so much! I am very grateful for your encouragement.

Currently I cannot give too many details on the situation I am in, as I am in training to go overseas. We are about to learn in the next few days about online security, and what kind of information we can give about the program and our location for safety reasons. What I can say however is that I have learned so much more already in the last 72 hours than honestly even I had anticipated. It’s been really challenging, but in a good way. I am having to pump myself up with caffeine to keep up with the pace, as even sleep is not doing the trick for keeping up with the 7 am – 10 pm schedule : ) But once again, I am very grateful for this experience. It could end tomorrow without the weeks spent overseas, and I would feel like God had already made this experience incredibly valuable.

I am not sure how often I will be able to update my blog. My hope is often, but I will not find out exactly what my duties/activities will be until arriving in my host country. Any prayers you could offer my team, whether in the moment or over the course of the summer, would be greatly appreciated. If you could also pray for me as the leader of that team, as I am learning how to do that piece as well!

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

A Sense of Peace

It’s getting quite late, so this is going to be a relatively short blog post, however I am so fired up right now that I felt like I should write something! I should warn you- this is very much an introspective segment.

For those of you who I have been talking to the last few weeks, you know I have been in this really bizarre state of emotion that people apparently use the word “bittersweet” to describe. I have been so pumped about this mission I am about to begin, moving to Charlotte, and what the future will bring, but at the same time I have been having a hard time letting go of some people here who have become my second family. 

Well, this is just going to be a positive post. So, enter the “sweet” side of that equation. 

Lately I have been praying for God to give me peace about what He has in store for me. I am excited, I know that it’s the right thing, but I want to move forward with it completely committed with no loose ends. I want to feel like I am moving on to the next chapter of my life with a sense of excited urgency to get things done and just enjoy every minute of it. And I knew that if I was feeling “homesick”, so to speak, for Chapel Hill, my roommates and others friends, the families at the homeless shelter, and Grace and her parents, that I would not be as effective as a leader (oh yeah…did I mention I was picked to lead the team? Could use some extra prayers for that : )) as I could be. So I knew I needed to pray for peace during this whole time.

Peace has proven to be a very different thing, as could be expected, than “I can’t wait to leave.” I am going to miss everyone so incredibly much. But instead of feeling anxious over the situation, lately I have been oddly, and at times eerily, relaxed. I am focusing on the new beginning, instead of the ending. Focusing on how all of the lessons learned, especially over the last year and a half (and there have been many) can be applied to my life purely for the purpose of serving the Lord. 

And that is a really, really great feeling. To be trying so hard to focus on not serving my own desires, but doing what I really believe it is that I am called to be working towards. I have had this desire lately to completely immerse myself in God’s word. I have listened to about 20 sermons in the last two weeks (podcasts are an amazing invention), read several books, and am working my way through the New Testament. Lately I haven’t been able to get enough of it. It’s probably the best addiction you could have though, really.

My biggest prayer of all right now is that God maintains this fire that has been lit inside my heart. 

I have said lately that for my stint overseas this summer I am 90 percent excited and 10 percent nervous. I am sure that the latter percentage will rear its ugly head again in the next week (yep. I am moving in one week. crazy.) but right now I am just stoked and ready to see what the Lord has planned, whether its baby steps or giant leaps. 

Tired. Sleepy. Worn.

I’m not sure really what has been going on the last week or so, but I have been exhausted.

It might be something to do with the weather, because I have heard several people describe the same thing these last few days. But regardless of the reason, I have been having a hard time keeping my eyes open.

I saw Zero Dark Thirty for the second time the other night, and you know that when you are struggling to stay awake at 6:00 pm through that movie, that you must need to catch up on some sleep.

But anyway, regardless of this, this got me to thinking about spiritual exhaustion. How sometimes people go through periods, whether its days or much longer, where they feel like they are at the end of their rope. Wanting to pray, wanting to seek support, wanting to be positive and so forth, but not even knowing what more to do. Ever get like that?

Sometimes I think it is these times where God actually winds up speaking to us more clearly, because our minds are less focused on all of the things going on throughout the day. We are more vulnerable and seek out His guidance in our time of weakness.

It might not be right away, it might even take a long time. But I know for me at least that there have been many times where I have been feeling worn down for awhile when all of a sudden, completely unexpectedly,  I have some sort of epiphany about what God is trying to teach me.

Now, for example, my brain is still feeling pretty fuzzy. The last few days I have had random moments where I would think “Oh! That’s a great topic for a blog post.” And now it seems to have gone blank. So if you are reading this you are probably thinking “Great, so why am I spending five minutes reading something that doesn’t have much of a point?”

But that in itself is such a true part of life. There are so many times when we get so busy, sidetracked, or short sighted that we just get worn out on life.

“Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn”
-Tenth Avenue North

Right now when I am having some of those times where I feel worn out, it can be tempting to turn to something like sleeping more than necessary, eating junk food, or watching too much TV, just to get some immediate comfort out of it. But really, that isn’t going to solve any problem. By turning to God though and admitting that I cannot handle all of this that is so tiring on my own, and asking for Him to direct my path, I am acknowledging that I want the control out of my hands.

Part of the frustration as well as beauty of life is that we don’t really know what the future will bring. Things could completely change tomorrow; I could meet someone who will have a major impact on my life, something could happen to my health…you get the point.

The comfort in this is that God knows our tomorrow. He knows where we have been, every thought we have ever had, and every dream we want to make happen. There is nothing that can be hidden from Him, and regardless of what we think we want, God wants what will ultimately bring us the most happiness and peace, which is the path that will bring us closer to Him. So if you are with me on that whole “Can I go nap now at 5:30 in the afternoon on a Friday?” boat right now, I encourage you to spend some quiet time reading the Bible, and pray for God to give you energy and the strength to get through the next few days!