Crazy Love

A couple of months ago I started this YouVersion app that would have me read the entire New Testament in 30 days.

(Did you catch that? A couple of months ago? Yeah. I fell a little behind.)

Anyway, in conversations in the past, occasionally people have posed the question “What is your favorite book of the Bible?”

I always felt, for some reason, like this was a trick question. Even though my suspicions were completely unwarranted, it felt like if I said anything other than one of the four gospels, that it would be looked down upon in some way. Suddenly a team of “real Christians” would come and give me this “…Really?…Ok.” kind of look. You think my thoughts are extreme? Try being in them 24/7.

But again, I digress. Even though of course it is difficult to pick a favorite, I am at the point in the Bible plan where I am now reading mine, if I had to pick one: 1 John. I have thought a lot about getting a tattoo for the last year or two (learn something new every day) and every time I think about it, I literally wish I could have this entire book written so that I would have to read it every day. I try and pick a favorite verse and it just can’t happen. But today as I was reading through it, one in particular jumped out at me that summarized so well what I have been thinking about lately:

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I named this blog post Crazy Love after a book by Francis Chan. In it he seeks to strongly convict us of about both how much we are loved, and what that means for our life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Christianity is socially constructed in this culture to mean the same thing as “rules”. You can’t do this, this or this. And God forbid you mess up because the God who is watching you from afar is just waiting to beat you down with religious rhetoric while angels playing harps float around in the background.

When you try to look through this lens from the outside and you see rules and commands first, and God’s love second, then His love is cheapened. It doesn’t ring true, and quite frankly it doesn’t make sense. It feels like if you have to do all these things in order to qualify yourself in God’s eyes, then it definitely isn’t unconditional. I remember spending my teenage years in half-pursuit, half-panic over “What if I mess up? Are these thoughts okay? How much is too much of something? Where do I draw the line? What about this? Have I done something wrong to displease God? Is that why I am feeling this way?” and so forth. I was seeing God and Jesus through the lens of: going to church, singing songs, not messing up too bad, and celebrating certain holidays is what makes you a Christian. It wasn’t until late college that I really began to have more of an understanding of religion versus the Gospel.

I would make the argument based on the entire New Testament, but I will specifically reference the book of 1 John here, which is completely focused on love: People in general do not have an understanding of just how loved they are. This applies to me and everyone else, for that matter. When you are able to understand even just a fraction of how loved you are, suddenly the rules do not seem burdensome. You know that no matter how badly you mess up, you still win, not because of anything you have done in your past or that you have to do in the future, but because of what has already been done for you.

There was a quote that I heard once in a movie that has always stuck with me, over ten years later. Drew Barrymore plays a character who has a son when she is a teenager. One afternoon her and her best friend, who also had a child at the same time, are talking. Drew’s character says, in reference to her son, something to the effect of: “Sometimes I don’t know if I really love him, or if I just have to love him. You know what I mean?…..What’s wrong with me?” and the friend says “Trust me, you love him. Sometimes we love people so much that we have to be numb to it. Because in reality if we felt it all, it would kill us.”

I truly believe that if we actually felt how much God loves us, that it would kill us. Or at least, because that sounds kind of unintentionally sadistic, we wouldn’t be able to function.

I heard this sermon illustration recently, and I really liked it. It isn’t perfect of course, but work with me here, I am doing the best I can to remember it.

You are an Olympic ice skater about to compete. Any one, tiny, little mistake can cause your entire score, and years of training and sacrifice, to just go down the drain in one split second. With sports like basketball or soccer, you have the potential to come back as a team in order to beat the other team’s score in the end. Ice skating, though, is different. Everything rides on your performance and appearance. But before you get on the ice, the judges make an announcement: “We are still going to let you skate, but based off of the performance of this other guy who went before you, you are receiving a perfect score. You can also perform perfectly, or you can spend the majority of the song falling on the ice in your sparkly costume. But either way, you win. Straight 10’s.”

Now how are you going to go about skating? (Aka living your life?) Knowing that because of someone who came before you, you cannot lose. Regardless of the number of times you mess up, the pressure, guilt, condemnation and fear of judgment is completely gone.

It is all about a relationship now, rather than a performance.

A Vision for 2014

About a week or so ago, I was in a team prayer meeting at my church. The girl who leads it was talking about how while many people make resolutions, she listed out very intentional, specific things to pray for and then a detailed reasoning as to why she wanted to see God work in that way. Even if it was something that seemed obvious, like for someone’s health to improve, it was a way to really examine and think about the meaning behind what she was praying for and expecting to see happen this year. 

This is my version of that. Last year, I intended to write a full goal post following the Making Things Happen format – I didn’t really do as well with that as I had hoped. I think in the past I made goals based on things that I wanted to do purely because I wanted to see it happen. For example, if I wanted to lose five pounds it was perhaps because of an insecurity, not from a desire to be more physically strong and healthy. There were things that I wanted to do that were more for the sake of being able to say that I had experienced them, or really, let’s be honest, I wanted to post them on social media as points of pride and excitement. 

I decided that for this year, I was going to follow Lara Casey‘s goal settling process much better and effectively than I did last year. Last January, a lot was still going in my head where I didn’t really know what I wanted for the year. Around March or so I think was when I really (in my head) made more of my intentional plans and progress. But that’s okay, better late than never! 

So without further ado….

Step 1: What worked in 2013?

2013 was an amazing year, possibly even the best one yet. It started off a little rough with some difficult decisions I had to make, but once that faded away, it cleared up time, energy, and my thoughts to be able to focus more on what matters and less on what I felt like I should be doing for reasons that I didn’t really know. Having the courage to create boundaries in friendships or other relationships gave me more freedom to be able to focus on the changes that I needed to make in my own life. I had an amazing housing situation with three of my closest friends. We made countless memories together and laughed til it hurt on many occasions. Living in Carrboro, working and saving money while still being in my college town made the transition after graduation back in 2011 a lot easier. 

I joined a church in June of 2012 that wound up being a huge support system for me. I had kind of been “church dating” throughout my college years, never really feeling super plugged in to any one place in particular. At the time, I put more energy and time into my Christian sorority and campus small group versus a church. This wasn’t really a conscious decision looking back, but just that way things happened. Once I went to Calvary however, I felt like I could connect with…really just the whole package. The messages challenged me in a positive and necessary way, and in the spring, I decided to get baptized for the second time. My baptism was one of the greatest things from the last year. 

To be honest, if I wrote out everything I was grateful for from this past year and what worked, it would fill up an entire book. Here are just a few things therefore that I would like to celebrate, even though there are certainly more that I am grateful for! 

-I was fully funded (ahead of schedule!) to do a five week trip to Nice, France to live with and learn about overseas mission work and leadership. 

-In January, I stumbled across a YouTube video for the Urban Eagles, which was immediately placed on my heart. The staff in the neighborhoods were in my prayers a lot. Little did I know that two months later I would find myself led to moving back to Charlotte to get my Masters of Social Work (another celebration!) and, upon my return from France, began volunteering in the Forest Hills neighborhood with their young girls group. I love Jessica and Emily so much, and they have been wonderful co-leaders and friends the last four months! I still remember coming the very first week, and trying to conceal at least a little bit how excited I was to come back in case I came across as too eager and they didn’t want me to return because of how weird I was : ) We have since begun both an older girls Bible discipleship group as well as a fun girls night for all ages to make crafts and pray together. 

-I continued to develop a close relationship with Lara, Ari and Grace, and said my VERY bittersweet goodbye to them in May. I am grateful though that we have remained close despite being three hours apart, and love getting videos from Gracie saying “Hi Ms. Sue! I love you!” 

-I pushed myself to be more bold in my faith, and shared my testimony publicly on more than one occasion. The first time speaking in front of people, I know my face was bright red and I was shaking uncontrollably, but perhaps that made me more real (?) Haha, anyway, continuing to get comfortable with public speaking is something that is on my heart. This also included discussing my faith one on one or in small groups (which I am way more comfortable with!) in both religious and non-religious settings. This was something that was huge for me, as in the past I have often been weighed down by a fear of either coming across as condescending or just overstepping someone’s personal boundaries. 

-I did the contentment challenge for three months where I did not buy any clothing. To some people this probably sounds like not that big of a deal. It is a lot harder (at least for me…) than it sounds!! There were a few occasions where I did go to Ebay or a thrift store to buy a few things that I genuinely did not have that I needed for France (who knew you could get capris for three dollars?) but for the most part, I was really good. I am contemplating doing a stricter challenge for this spring in regards to more than just clothing. 

-Towards the end of my time in Chapel Hill, I began listening to Steven Furtick’s sermons on the Elevation podcast. I had read his book Greater, and really wanted to check out what was going on with Elevation’s church in Charlotte. While certainly people have their own personal preferences in regards to traditional versus contemporary services, I fell in love. I had been praying for months about finding a church when coming to Charlotte, and automatically got plugged in with a Bible study and on a volunteer team. I am a Next Level member, which means that I am who people come to when they need someone to pray over them (cancer/health scares, divorce, and drug abuse are the most common) or (even more often) when someone makes the decision to accept Christ. When they make that decision, they come to me and talk about their past and what they are feeling, then we talk about what accepting Christ means, and I lead them through that prayer and give them a Bible. It’s been unreal. I am technically only supposed to have to volunteer every other week, but I show up as often as I can. People think I am weird for looking forward to getting up at 6:30 am on a Sunday to volunteer for 7 hours. I take it as a compliment. : ) 

Step Two: What didn’t work in 2013?

This is actually a harder one for me because even the things that didn’t go like I had wanted or expected to probably in actuality turned out for the better. That just goes to show though that it isn’t so much about the events or the actions as it is the attitude. Really, everything that I felt like didn’t work can be boiled down to just two words:

Complaining – The words that I say and think do huge things. I don’t think I even realize how big they are. I recently read a book (as well as listened to the corresponding sermon series) by Craig Groeschel (my new favorite author) called Soul Detox. It was all about the ways in which our thoughts and words essentially contaminate our perspectives, outlooks, relationships, actions, decisions, and so forth. When we speak words of life, we build things or people up. When we criticize, self-doubt, complain, whine, or question God’s purpose or ability to provide for us, we basically just spin around in circles or tear things down. Complaining really never gets anything accomplished. 

-Comparison – “Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.” I love this statement…and it is so true. Sometimes I feel like every feeling of defeat or sadness stems from comparison. This doesn’t even just happen with the more materialistic things like houses, vacations, bank accounts, clothes, nor with relationships, like the “If one more friend announces they are engaged or pregnant I am going to Ben and Jerry’s every day for a month” thought pattern. Comparison leads to discontentment. Every season of life has a blessing, and every one has a struggle, even if it is not visible to others on the surface. If the grass is greener on the other side, water your lawn. It also happens with what I personally call the “Christian comparison”:

My ministry isn’t as widespread or noticeably powerful as theirs. Am I doing the right thing? Am I supposed to be doing something different? 

Why am I not getting as much praise or attention as this other person? Why am I not being recognized for my leadership skills?

Wow…he read the entire Bible in 60 days. I am on the year plan. Is he more committed or passionate than I am?

Just like complaining, essentially, comparison is worthless. Also like complaining, it basically does nothing but question whether or not God has provided you with enough to be able to do His will, or if He has blessed you enough.

Are both of these things bound to happen? Probably every day. Are either of them helpful or productive? Nope. I want to focus on doing both of them less, and if that means that I have to give up social media etc altogether, then I want to be that extreme for awhile! I’d rather work my way back in to the online flow rather than be half-there-half-not in terms of commitment to changing my thought patterns. Also, when people use Facebook or Twitter as a way to vent or be mean to each other without having to be accountable, it stresses and tires me out. 

Step 3: Get Visual

This step I am actually skipping because I do not use Pinterest : ) But if anyone reading this does, once again here is the link to Lara’s goal setting steps if you’d like to do your own!

Step 4: What did you learn from what worked?

This one is a little hard! I think the biggest one really is just trust God. There were times when I was support raising (a lot of times, actually) when I kept thinking of my “Plan B”. My “this is how I am going to pay for the remainder of what I don’t support raise.” There were a lot of times where my “what if’s” would get the better of me (you can read that blog post here). I would have these what if’s over where I should go to grad school, if I was supposed to go to France, if I should leave Grace, Lara and Ari and my housemates, church and friends to move to Charlotte, if I should live with people I had never met before, if I should take out student loans or use savings, and so on. There is always a new what if, a mental breakdown of all of the backup plans for what to do in case of emergency if things don’t go well. While I do like to plan, and certainly encourage responsible decision making (!!) I feel like things this past year have taught me that God has a plan, and the best way that I can see those plans and lessons happening around me is if I just surrender my need for control. God can do whatever, whenever, but I can make decisions that will either make myself a greater part of that plan or distance myself from it. There have been things this past year that, if I over-thought them too much, I may not have done; I may have just taken the safe route. But there were things that God placed on my heart to do that I didn’t want to ignore. I want to continue to grow in my obedience. 

Step Five: What did you learn from what didn’t work? 

I didn’t realize until I just typed this step that what did work and didn’t work actually taught me the same thing! The challenges, failures, mistakes, successes, joyful moments, and new relationships all directed me back to the same point which is acknowledging that God is:

Faithful

Gracious

Loving

Forgiving

and that He is far too creative to tell the same story twice through a person’s testimony. 

I did, however, learn more about my own frustrations and limitations through what didn’t work. It emphasized to me how much I need grace, and also how much I don’t want to come across to people like I have it all figured out or am totally put together. I always appreciate encouragement or compliments from people (I am beyond a doubt the “Verbal Affirmation” love language person) yet at the same time, I want to make sure that I am being honest, genuine, and real. I want people to respect me for my weaknesses as well as my strengths, and to have all of them point back to the glory of God. I don’t want to forget that God is changing me every day, and that His opinion of me is the only one that matters. 

Step Six: What fires you up?

-Seeing people respond to a message or testimony inviting Christ into their lives. This was our Christmas experience. (I was one of the people in the black shirts passing out the Bibles. I was so fired up that night. About 250 people at my location alone stood up. Tears were necessary : )) 

-Witnessing baptisms (also these videos NEVER cease to make me cry. I got to be a part of the Raised to Life experience this August). 

First Video – I Have Decided

Second Video – Raised to Life

-You have probably noticed from my video posting that anything creative fires me up. Bright colors, sense of humor, dance, music, photography. I need it around me. 

-Laughter. When it is late at night especially. These are the times when the littlest, dumbest, most random things can make me cry I am laughing so hard. According to my housemates, this is also when I get really philosophical, and start initiating deep conversations that they like to tease me about later.

-Pretty dresses. Anything that twirls. Anything that is lace. Silly, I know, but it’s true. 

-Seeing people I love truly happy. 

-Working in the Urban Eagles community, my social work field placement, and just being in that environment of remembering your blessings constantly and talking about the love and grace of Jesus with kids (and adults of course, but kids are usually more entertaining. They help keep me going sometimes. And they also ask questions harder than ones on a seminary exam). 

-Traveling. It never gets old, especially when I am blessed enough to be able to leave the country. 

-Receiving and giving words and actions of affirmation and praise. 

Step Seven: What is your 2014 vision?

The funny thing is….this was the whole point of the exercise really, and yet this is also the biggest question mark for me.

-My first one is a little vague. I want to not be afraid to ask for big things. In the past when I have prayed, particularly when I was in my teens and early twenties, I would ask for things that I thought were “feasible”. Things that I wanted to happen. Things that people asked me to pray for for them. I didn’t really go above and beyond in this area. Reading books that talk about praying audaciously, as well as books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan, have challenged me to re-think the way that I talk with and ask for things from God. There have been certain situations where I just accept something as the way it is, and probably always will be, and then formulate my prayers and actions based on that. Instead of that mindset, I want to ask for big things. Things that seem impossible, improbable, and so forth. I want to make preparations for the big things in life that I expect God to do (for His glory and not my own selfish ambition) versus what could happen (in my mind at least) by my own effort and hard work. 

-My mission is to share the word of God through my prayers, lifestyle, actions, and words to others. I am hard on myself when I fall short of this, which is often. I believe that often I am better at extending grace to others than to myself. These are things that I want to push myself on this year, not to the point of exhaustion of course, but to the point where I am just slightly uncomfortable. I want to be vulnerable for God to use me in situations that I would have been more timid or passive in in the past and just love on people. 

-This is still the very, very early stages, and I have not made the official announcement yet, but before I had even left France I was corresponding with my mobilization agency about opportunities to serve overseas this coming summer. More on that very soon, but that is one of my main visions right now. 

-I want to see the members of my small groups, my Next Level team, the girls in my UE discipleship group, and my friends all become more confident in who God made them to be (I am including myself in this obviously as well!). There are still insecurities that I work through because of things in the past, but I want to see them be transformed. I have so much faith in my friends and love them to death, and want to see them feel more secure in God’s love as well this year. I also want to be aware of showing them more gratitude for being in my life.

-Even more so now that I am back in Charlotte, I want to focus on being a better daughter, sister, cousin, and granddaughter. I am blessed to have so much family (and all healthy, no less!) within a very short living distance, and I want to be more intentional about spending quality time versus distracted time with them.

-Finally, I want to be more appreciative of the season that I am in right now. As a girl in her mid-twenties with no income, a year and a half MORE of school (wasn’t I supposed to be done?!?! I remember throwing my cap and everything…), who has just moved, thrown herself into becoming involved in a new community, church, school, and peer group, I have experienced a lot of unknowns and changes in the last year or so. Most have been very positive, however I also find myself occasionally looking at the life events of other people and imagining what my own life would be like if I was going through the same thing. Envy is not pretty, flattering or useful. As I said earlier in this post, every person is fighting a battle, and I want to appreciate all of the positive aspects of being in my situation, age, and so forth. 

Step 8: What are you saying NO to in 2014?

I am saying no to:

-Limiting my expectations and goals

-Becoming easily frustrated with the actions or complaints of others

-Caring about criticism for things I am passionate or care about

-Becoming discouraged when things do not go the way I had hoped, and instead acknowledge that something better is ahead. 

-Wishing that I was already done with school so that I could do my field work 5 days a week instead of just two, and make the most out of the experience. 

-Being lazy and sleeping for too long.

-Wasting time by half-working, half-relaxing.

-Excessive time spent on social media. 

Step 9: What are you saying YES to in 2014?

-Blogging more as a way to communicate my thoughts with people. Being more specific about topics, and setting a goal for myself of writing at least every other week. 

-Spending more quality time with friends and family. More face to face, or at least google hangouts : ) and less texting.

-Continuing to develop my ability to let God use my in instances such working on the Next Level team and praying over people.

-Eating healthy. I bought a juicer a month or two ago, and loved it, but the holidays have sort of gotten the best of me with having so many sweets around. Too much sugar, not enough vegetables. Need to kick start myself back up again!

-Exercising. I know that a lot of people have weight loss goals, but for me it is really just about the way that I feel and how much energy I have. I am at a clothing size already that I am perfectly fine with, and want to improve my endurance as well as continue with my strength training. One thing that I did this year was go through a few months of boot camp, where Lauren lovingly and affectionately kicked my butt. In an awesome way though. I would like to see if I can make time for that again!

-Random acts of kindness. Coming up with ways to show love to strangers creatively and anonymously. 

-For that matter, intentional acts of kindness. Coming up with ways to develop relationships in deeper ways through a bunch of laughter and, really, probably food will be involved as well. 

-Seeing how God can work in any situation no matter how depressing it may seem. 

-More time reading the Bible- I am on a YouVersion plan, and need to be held accountable!! (Anyone want to volunteer?) 

-Having fun and enjoying my blessings. 

Step “Bonus”: My word for 2014:

If I had to use a word for 2013, it would be Praise. I really wanted to focus on praising God and rejoicing in all circumstances. For 2014, I want to use a word that I have already used several times in this post: Intentional. I want to be more intentional with my time, words, actions, everything. This isn’t to be confused with controlling or obsessive. I don’t want to have everything planned out. I just wanted to be more focused on making things that matter happen instead of just seeing what comes my way. 

Step 10: Plant seeds

What seeds can I plant in others lives? One of the reason that I love volunteering so much is that it gives me the opportunity to do things I wouldn’t normally get to be a part of. Recently I have done work with Habitat for Humanity, Operation Christmas Child, Project Lunch Bag, The Dream Center, and a few others. I love getting to be a part of a greater vision. I love the idea that just my super small snippet of work is able to keep a project or goal going to become achieved. But mostly I think it gives me the opportunity to work with and hear from people who give these organizations and missions their all day in and day it. They inspire me. They help me focus on what my own passions are and what I want to do with my life and where I want to see God take me. By taking part in these activities and goals, I can plant seeds that others will reap the harvest from. 

Step 11: Define Your “Radical”

For me, picking one thing to do “radical” is a challenge, because I like pushing myself in as many areas as I can. I tend to take on a lot of things, and don’t really have one particular area of my life right now that is a large obstacle. There are many smaller things that God helps me jump over, but nothing specific that is just really weighing on me. I think in that sense, radical for me is just growing to become less dependent on things. Those things are:

-the opinions and feedback of others

-material items, clothing, makeup, and so forth

-the need to please people

-my own ambition

-money

and so on. I want to give away more, invest my time wisely, and live my life in a way to where some people question how I do it. 

Step 12: Sing a Song

I couldn’t help but laugh as I read that I would need to select a song for this year, because recently I have gone on a major music binge. I have collected dozens of CD’s from the library to put on my iTunes and just constantly listen to. I love music. 

If I ABSOLUTELY had to pick one….and by one, obviously I mean two, because I have to do a “get fired up” and “get emotional” song. 

Get Fired Up: Tell the World – Lecrae (Live version from Passion 2013. Better than the CD version. Chills.) 

Get Emotional: Burn Away – Meredith Andrews

So many more. Just in case you are looking for song recommendations, the ones I have on repeat right now are:

Awake My Soul – Chris Tomlin ft. Lecrae

When Mercy Found Me – Rhett Walker Band

Oceans – Hillsong

Set a Fire – United Pursuit

Love Does – Brandon Heath

We Believe- Newsboys

Restless- Switchfoot

Step 13: Review

First of all, I can’t believe I have been working on this post all in one sitting, in one position, with my laptop on my legs. I think I need some water or to run around or something! I am worn out! But this is good! I am being productive with my time : ) 

I am reviewing this all in my head, and…..

OKAY! LAST STEP!!

Step 14: Set Good Goals

1. Finish my book – This has been a LONG time coming. I began writing a devotional book when I was 19, and now, after several rewrites, I am almost done. It is nearly 400 pages, and I have no idea what will happen with it, but I am choosing to continue to edit, and rewrite, and edit more, because I feel like God is going to do something with it, even if only five people read it. I am choosing to believe that if I continue to work and put my time into it, that God will give me the words, even when I feel like I am being repetitive. Pray for me on this! My goal is to be done this month, and I am so close I can taste it haha. 

2. On that note, try to get it published – I have the opportunity to self-publish through Amazon, which may be the best option anyway, but I want to try my best to see what I can do with it through other agencies. I feel like other agencies could provide greater resources to get it in the hands of more people, and really, I am not looking to make much (if any) money off of it. This is just something that has been on my heart for a long time. 

3. Eating right and exercise – I explained this already in an earlier step, however I want to be able to be more physically strong to be able to volunteer with certain organizations and just not get tired so easily. What I was eating had a huge impact on how drained I would feel, and I want to go total opposite of that. I want to be able to use my energy and time physical strength to bring God glory, and whether that is through sports ministry, manual labor, or whatever, I want to be prepared for that. 

4. Commit to making the most out of my field placement. – I have been interning for course credit with A Child’s Place, and have loved it. I want to continue to be resolved in learning as much as I can from both my supervisor and from my own experience so that I can be more competent and well-rounded in the field of social work. 

5. Pray about leading a Starting Point class at church. – I have been going through a Starting Point class at church, which is essentially a small group for new believers, in order to learn more about it and be able to share what it teaches with people I pray over. I have really enjoyed the discussion and topics, because even though it is formatted for people who are very new in their faith, the questions and conversation of course never get old no matter how much you know about the Bible. I would like to move into a greater leadership role in my church, and want to pray about whether or not this would be the right opportunity to partner up with someone to lead. 

6. Take more pictures. This is one that I feel like I say every year in theory, and it just never happens. Instagram has helped slightly, but I really want to commemorate memories and experiences by taking pictures in order to reflect on special times. I have a camera as well as a smartphone, so I really have no excuse to not do this! 

7. Read the Bible more. I want to have read the entire book, cover to cover, by the end of the year. This is a goal that I want to finally make happen!

8. Donate more things – This past year I made a lot of donations, as my clothing size went down some and also just because I felt it was necessary. There are still so many things though that I could give away. While I want to be sure to keep and value gifts, I want to be more aware of the things I buy and keep myself. 

 

Overall, I feel that my other specific goals were listed periodically throughout this post, rather unintentionally! 2013 was an amazing year, but the best is always yet to come. I am excited to start a new beginning with a New Year, and am excited to see what God brings in my life. 

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

I Was Baptized Today. (My Testimony)

Today I was baptized for, technically, the second time in my life.

I felt the need to write this post to talk about what convicted me to request this, partially because it was an online testimony that placed it on my heart. So, being a bit vulnerable here, and laying it all on the table!

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I was exposed to the story of Christ as a very young child, as I began going to church nursery school when I was two years old. There isn’t a time that I can recall where I ever doubted this story as being true. Growing up it was simply a fact; Jesus came, died, and was resurrected. I accepted these facts with very little question, and learned how to pray, what hymns to sing, and so forth. Going into my teen years however, I very much wanted to have an understanding of the Bible and all of its promises, but did not feel like I had a grasp of what exactly people meant when they talked about its display of sacrifice and unconditional love.

I differ from some Christians in that I cannot actually pinpoint a day where I gave my life over to Christ. Part of me almost envies those testimonies that really grab people’s attention, as mine in comparison seems rather ordinary. You know what I am talking about? “I had been using crack for 10 years, been in and out of rehab, and was in the middle of my weekly atheist coffee group when I felt a calling from Christ”. Yet that is a very small part of me, as I know that how dramatic my story is makes no difference to God.

For me though it was more of an extended learning process as to what everything I learned in Sunday school really meant; that it meant not just going to church out of habit or because it was “the right thing to do”, but to actually develop a passion for the scripture and all that it teaches. Around the time I turned 14, I began experiencing some health issues that were very stressful at the time. Doctors were pretty inconclusive as to what was going on, and it felt like the pain would never go away. Hindsight, a great portion of the problem was stress that kept piling up that I didn’t know how to cope with. I would ask God why He was putting me through this pain, feeling like I had done something wrong to be feeling like that. I kept thinking “I’m a good person, for the most part. Why is this happening to me?” This is where I really feel that my journey to the point I am now began.

During this time I began reading the Bible more often, searching for a solution. I spent a lot of time alone, and wasn’t sure where to start, but kept reading the New Testament looking for answers. Even though I did not surrender all of my trust to the Lord at that time, it was then that my dependency on His word began to develop.

Fast forward two years later, when I began having more health problems. I had been feeling better for the most part, but suddenly I began having digestive issues that no one could explain. Over the next three years, I lost about 20+ pounds, could barely keep any food down, and had countless tests done. I can’t accurately describe my emotions during this time, and I won’t go into much specific detail over the blog. The medications doctors tried to put me on had bad side effects, and I found myself becoming depressed. Along with simply being malnourished from not eating, I lost much of what little physical strength I had. It got to the point where it would be genuinely painful when someone would even playfully poke me.

Finally, in 2008, I saw a different doctor who was able to determine that I had a rare condition called gastroparesis, which literally means that my stomach is partially paralyzed (it empties about 25 percent slower than the average person). Few people have heard of it, and it is currently not possible to treat or cure. While this is a subject that I could go on about for much longer, my point is that it is something that has shaped my life in many ways. I have had to put my trust in God to lead me through nutritional and exercise plans instead of medicine to take care of me. Don’t get me wrong, I think medicine is a wonderful thing, just for me this was a path that has been able to strengthen my reliance in things unseen.

During this time with my health, I had been dating a boy in high school. At this time unknowingly, I was putting far too much pressure on his shoulders. I expected a great deal of support, and expected that everything would magically work out. In the middle of my freshman year of college, after some on and off again stints, we broke up for good. Again I turned into this pretty pathetic mess and felt like I must have done something wrong since God was not making the problems go away. It is clear now that God has taken these experiences and turned them into something that glorifies Him. Most recently, for example, I led a small group discussion on body image with the girls of my church’s youth group. In that sense, I am incredibly grateful for everything that I went through. While I would not wish it for someone, I am much more prepared than I would have been otherwise to help others deal with their own insecurities and hardships.

I would say the low point for me was in the spring of 2009. It was at that time that I knew something had to change, and clearly whatever I had been doing to cope hadn’t really been working, at least, not for very long. I joined the UNC’s Christian sorority that semester where, for the first time, I met other girls who wanted to serve God just as much as I did. They were friendly, open, and accepting of me, and I found that I looked forward to going to the weekly worship services. I began to grow in my faith again, and started feeling God’s love and forgiveness wash over me. Everything was slowly starting to get better.

Someone once said “It’s always darkest before the dawn” (not trying to quote a pop song here). Since that moment freshman year, my life has become less about me and my wants and more about Christ. I found that I am at my happiest when I am glorifying God through public service. In the last five to six years countless things have happened to continuously reaffirm my faith, and have led to a greater understanding of just how amazing and important Christ’s sacrifice was. It is from these experiences in my past that I have been able to connect and empathize with women and peers I meet. When people twice my age have come seeking my advice, it has been through the grace of the Holy Spirit within me that I have been able to help them.

Ephesians 2:9-10 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has been purely by the grace of God that I have been brought into His kingdom, and not a day goes by that I am not reminded of how much I need His grace, as I could never hope to earn that kind of unconditional love on my own. My mistakes humbled and weakened my heart enough so that I could no longer stubbornly avoid God’s will for me. I was broken down so that God could build me up, and when He did build me, He built a stronger, better version of myself to mold into His will. He was with me in relationships that proved to be less than healthy. He was with me when my sorority had the opportunity to acquire a million dollar house and the project was assigned to me as both housing financial director. And He has been by my side as I have tried to find ways to spread the gospel using whatever spiritual gifts I have, and has given me some of the truest friends I could ever ask for along the way.

One of the most important things I have learned is that in order to really let God have control of your life, you have to pray for the wisdom to let go and let Him in. For years I would desire a close relationship with Him, but when I prayed I would ask for the things I wanted. I did not pray for Him to have His way with my life, but instead for things to go the way I wanted them to. And even if I got what I wanted, it still didn’t work in the end. God knows what is best even if it isn’t clear at the time, and offering your life to Him as a living sacrifice is actually the most freeing and liberating thing you can ever do. One of my favorite quotes is by CS Lewis: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Although I have had many good things happen to me the first twenty-something years of my life, and I am incredibly grateful, I consider my story to be an example this, and each year truly has gotten better than the last.

So, with all of this said, the reason I decided to become baptized again is because I wanted to make the decision when I was mature enough to know what I was doing, and to show that Christ is Lord of my life. While I grew up sort of under the impression that if I was baptized again it wouldn’t really count, since I had already had one as a baby, I now see that that was a misimpression. While my baptism today was not in close proximity to the time when I really invited Christ into my life, it is a symbolic representation of the spiritual growth and journey that I have been on, and will continue to go through for as long as I am alive. I am so grateful for the people who came today: my real family (parents), “second family” (Lara, Ari and Grace), and church family (Pastor David and his family), as well as a supportive and loving family from Calvary, were there for encouragement. The process of being baptized was something that gave me a great sense of peace. I don’t really know how to put it into words. Hopefully I will be able to one day. Despite the fact that there were lots of happy families there swimming, enjoying the gorgeous weather at the lake, I have to say I didn’t actually really notice them when this was happening. It was a very personal experience, and I am so thankful beyond words that it happened.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

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. 

Worry, Doubt, Anxiety, Oh my.

Lately I have really been struggling with what to blog about. I really want to keep up with my pattern of writing at least once a week, however lately my mind has been quite the storage closet of thoughts jumbling around. I think probably the biggest thing I can attest to during this time is the importance of trust, and alongside of that, blocking out the creeping doubts that have a tendency to wedge their way in. 

I recently received an email from one of the coordinators of my mission stint this summer in France talking about how when you do a Google search for “Bible verses about worrying”, or something along those lines, that nearly every single verse that comes up (and there are a lot) says “Do not worry”. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

This command of not worrying is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible. It stresses how when we worry, we are basically saying that we do not trust that God will provide. “But what about______?” (insert the economy, my marriage, whatever you want to here). It can be easy to find justifications attempting to maintain control over a situation, because it seems like these huge, emotional, complex issues will catch up and destroy you if you aren’t constantly trying to be proactive to the point where it has negative effects on our health. When we worry, we focus on how we are going to handle things, and evaluating how much control we have over the situation. When we look at all of life’s stresses, it would be completely overwhelming if we genuinely had to deal with it all alone. Yet we are commanded: “Do. Not. Worry.” It really couldn’t be much more clear, even though it is something much easier said than done. 

Right now I am trying to concentrate on that fact; That God knows what is best, and really will take care of things if the reins are turned over to Him. Instead of internalizing all of the “What if’s” or worst case scenarios, I want and need to ask God to do whatever it is He wants to do, which I have been doing constantly. Not only must we ask for God to have His way, but we would be foolish to not acknowledge that we also should pray for Him to grant us peace with that outcome, whatever it may be. 

Don’t worry about your life

Cause if you hold it too close 

You’ll lose it

Don’t worry about your life

So won’t you let go

Before it’s gone

-“Don’t Worry” by Rebecca St. James