It Takes Faith to Dream

I’d grown up in a household where our dreams were encouraged. Whatever I wanted to do, my mom told me I could do it. Dream it, then accomplish it. She spent my entire life helping me discover my talents and passions, and while those didn’t change much as I grew up, the dreams that they manifested themselves in changed greatly. First, I wanted to be an artist. But then I sadly discovered that I couldn’t draw (that was a bad day), so that put a damper on that career. Then I wanted to be a zoologist because they got to hang out with animals all day. I really like animals. But then my Dad told me I was good at arguing so I should become a lawyer. I liked that idea. Then I started watching CSI and made up my mind to become a crime scene investigator (original, I know). From then, it morphed into a Forensic Scientist, a Criminologist, and then a Psychologist. But when I realized that a studying Psychology would leave me few career options other than becoming a shrink, I decided I needed a new career. The last thing I wanted to do was listen to people’s problems all day. Then I found Marketing. Every time I changed my mind, my mom was supportive of my dream. She never acted like it was a phase I was going through; she just encouraged me to keep dreaming and keep pushing and doing my best. So I did.

I’d never been afraid of my dreams, and I’d never been afraid of not accomplishing them. They were big, but never too big for me to handle. When I came to California, I came out here with a very specific dream: go to school, secure an internship in the entertainment industry, and work my way into the entertainment industry into a Marketing position. I wanted to be the person coordinating the marketing campaigns that backed some of the most popular blockbuster titles. I wanted to live in LA, work in a skyscraper, drive a Mini Cooper, live in a fancy studio apartment, and work like a madwoman. I wasn’t quite sure if marriage and kids would work into that, but I told myself I’d leave that up to God, if He wanted me to do that. As a Christian, I felt it was necessary that I instill some sort of moral values or compass into my work. How? I wasn’t quite sure, but I knew I could be a good witness to people in an industry that so badly needs Christ. As a self-motivated individual, I had worked strategically for three and a half years to get to where I wanted to be at during my senior year of college. I had left a couple very good, well-paid jobs to pursue a crappily-paid internship at Sony Pictures on the studio lot in Culver City. I made good connections and won over their hearts and minds with my intense work ethic and passion for the industry. I was the intern who drooled all over the studio lot and was glossy-eyed with the prospect of seeing a celebrity or watching a film shoot. I worked harder, pushed harder, and would’ve given up anything and everything to be working there.

Up until a few months ago, that was my dream. But there was a day just a few short months ago that my dream died. It wasn’t an external death. I still had my internship. I was still working on the lot. I still proudly carried my Sony Pictures ID badge. My boss still adored me. But the internal fire that I’d had for my job and the industry had been extinguished almost entirely. And the smoldering of that extinguished flame was almost toxic.

Just a few days before, my boss had dropped a TV show pilot script off at my desk. It was my responsibility to read it, take notes, and write up summaries that would be sent out to producers and potential cast members. To be honest, I was ecstatic, though I played it off cool while my boss was giving it to me. I flipped through the pages like they were a long-lost part of the Bible that no one had yet read. I sat down immediately to begin reviewing the script and writing the summaries. I read it once, twice, three times before I began writing. I obsessed about the plot, daydreamed about what the characters and setting would look like when it was finally filmed, and wondered how much I was allowed to talk about the script to my friends without violating some sort of confidentiality agreement. I was pumped.

I worked on this script for a solid two weeks. I read and reread it over and over, trying to soak up every detail before giving a summary, just so I could tell the complete story within my summary. But every time I read the script, new things jumped out at me. New, bothersome things. On first glance, I hadn’t been bothered by the sex scene, or the innuendos, or the violence, or the lies that the main characters partook in. By all industry standards, it was an excellent script. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much “bad stuff” was in it. After a week of reading it, I almost couldn’t even look at it. I especially hated writing the summary for the sex scene that takes place between the main character and her boyfriend at their workplace — a hospital. I must’ve been beet-red as I sat there typing up that part of the summary. Part of me knew that this is what I’d signed up for. Could I really handle it?

My relationship with Christ has never before been what it is now. I’m honestly seeking His will, not just for my life or my career, but in each day. And He’s been retraining my heart, making me more sensitive to things that I’ve long been desensitized to (like sex and swearing in the media). By the end of that two weeks, I couldn’t even look at that script. It physically made me ill to read it. Having to read that script was a turning point in my life where God said “Hannah, here you go. Here’s the career you wanted, the work you dreamt of. Happy?” And the truth was that I wasn’t. In fact, I hated it. Despised it. I wanted to chuck that script, and most TV shows and films, out the window. I wanted to work with ideas that were wholesome. Not necessarily something”religious”, but something that would be edifying instead of degrading. And since I’m a marketer, it would be my responsibility to promote whatever product was placed before me. I couldn’t promote what that script, or most TV shows or films, were saying.

It took me a day or two to wrap my head around what God and my heart were telling me, but when I finally did, it felt like someone had pulled the floor out from under me. I was spinning. I was sad. I wasn’t scared, because I knew that if God was going to take away my desire for this dream, He would replace it with another dream. And if I approached Him in humility and sought His direction, He’d replace it with His dream for me that would be bigger and better than I ever would have expected. But at the same time, my dream of 4 years had died. And in that, part of myself (my old self, if you will), died. I felt like I needed to attend a funeral and say a few parting words.

I had a couple months left in my internship at Sony, so I fulfilled that obligation, all-the while searching for what God’s dream for me is.

Now, I must address the title of this post: it takes faith to dream. I’d always had faith in myself, which was all I needed for me-sized dreams of working in the entertainment industry and becoming rich and powerful (in not so many words). But when my me-sized dream died, I knew it was because God was trying to replace it with a God-sized dream. God-sized dreams are so stinkin’ huge that we often can’t even comprehend what they are until we’re in the middle of them or at least at the precipice. Our brains just can’t go that large when we’re looking at the big picture. After months of stewing, praying, and having a lot of conversations with some really amazing people in my life, I’m beginning to get a clear picture of what my God-sized dream is. And the funny thing is that my God-sized dream is so “small” (in the world’s eyes) in comparison to my me-sized dream. Forget marketing multi-million dollar films with twisted morality and worldviews. I want to market God to a world that so badly needs what He has to offer. Plain and simple.

On top of that, I think God is giving me a dream of combatting sexual abuse and making a difference in young kids’ lives. And when I say “combat”, I mean guns-drawn, armies rallied, fortresses built, and missiles on stand-by. I’m declaring an all-out war. This is the part that really requires faith. I want to use my experience and my strengths/abilities to make a difference on a grand scale, and I think God will let me if I keep my heart in check and wait for His timing. But I don’t WANT to. It’s my dream from God, but it terrifies me more than it does excite me. It is a much bigger dream than I could ever handle. But I feel this unexplainable urge to DO something about it. If you get me talking about how sexual abuse shouldn’t be so taboo and how people don’t need to be so afraid of talking about it (because that’s the very thing that helps give it it’s power and make it such a prevalent issue), I literally feel like I’m on fire. I feel like I could run a marathon, or fly to the moon, or live forever. To read about what I’m actually working on doing about this part of my dream, see my previous post, A Piece of My Heart.

And lastly, part of my new dream is to get married and have kids. It had always been an afterthought, a nice “accessory” if you will, in addition to my fancy life. Now my priorities are different. I’d love to be married in a couple years, to have a companion by my side. A real , Christ-like man that I could respect and trust, which is harder to do than you might think, given my history. And I really, really, REALLY want kids. I’d never really seen myself as a mom before, but that has changed drastically. I can’t wait until I get the chance to raise up a couple (hopefully) godly men and women… tiny people I could invest all of my time/energy/love/experiences/encouragement into. I have more to give than I’d ever thought before.

But my point in this post is this: it takes a lot of faith to dream. To REALLY dream God-sized dreams. And those are the only dreams that combine every bit and piece of you. Don’t get me wrong, I had HUGE, worldly, me-sized dreams. I had a lot of faith in myself and in what I could accomplish. People told me I wouldn’t be able to come to California for college, or graduate, or work in the industry I wanted to. I did all that. I could handle that on my own. But these new dreams that God is giving me are scary. They aren’t ambitious; they’re subtle, because that’s how God works. He uses servants. These dreams will probably make me lead a life with many financial struggles and even more uncertainties. But that’s what makes it a dream… it’ll be hard but SO worth it in the end.

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

 

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A Piece of My Heart

I want to warn you by saying that this post may have more info about me than you want to know. I second-guessed writing it, but I feel the need to brag about God and what He’s doing in my life no matter how I personally feel about it. He’s worth more than that. He’s bigger than that.

Gen-Why, the young adult small group through my church that I help lead, has been studying a book by the name of SHAPE. It helps us examine our exact shape, or footprint, of who God made each of us to be. It walks us through the spiritual gifts, interests, passions, and experiences that God gave each of us, and it leads us closer to using those things to glorify God (our ultimate purpose in life). For those of you who have read Purpose Driven Life, this book was written almost as a sequel to go a bit more in-depth on how each person is designed uniquely. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, enough about the book. This week’s chapter, as we wrap up our study, was designed to start pulling some of the individual chapters/pieces together into a portrait of how God designed us and perhaps what He has in mind for our futures. I started pulling some of these pieces about myself together (below). Notice the lovely SHAPE acronym.

Spiritual Gifts: (I am gifted in…)
Counseling, administration, discernment, leadership, wisdom

Heart: (I feel passionately towards serving…)
Young girls. See “Experiences” section below.

Abilities: (I am good at…)
Coordinating, encouraging, designing, planning

Personality:  (I…)
Am better with one on one interaction, like to lead, am self-controlled

Experiences: (I’ve been through…)
I’ve never written out a “testimony” for the world to see… maybe one day. If you’re interested in hearing the full version, or at least the version I’ve been able to wrap my pea-brain around, I’d love to share it over a cup of coffee. But much of it can be summed up in a sentence that I’ve recited every Tuesday night at Celebrate Recovery: “God is granting me victory over issues related to childhood sexual abuse.” It sounds so clinical, doesn’t it? But it’s the truth, and that truth is setting me free (John 8:32) from a lot of years of pain, anger, confusion, and apathy. Long story short, it’s this experience that God is really calling me to use for His Kingdom. And it’s this experience that really gives me a heart for sexual abuse victims. I understand them in a way that other people can’t. And because it happened while I was in middle school, I really have a passion for middle schoolers, especially girls. And I want to stop it from happening to anyone else.
As I started pulling each of these pieces together, I got a very distinct impression of what I was supposed to do. Maybe not “do with my life”, but definitely “do now”. For the first time I was able to get a clear picture of who I was, what God had gifted me with, what experiences He’d given me, and how I was supposed to use those to really make a difference. In my head I immediately got this mental image of me working in/for an organization that helped educate parents and kids on the issue of sexual abuse, mainly focussing on preventing it. Either that, or me working in/for an organization that helps victims and their parents deal with it after it’s already happened.

But what was my next step? On Thursday I had no clue, but God let me know on Friday morning during my devotional time: “Hannah, go talk to Cori.” For those of you who don’t know Cori, she’s the pastor’s wife and Children’s Ministry coordinator at my church. I’ve been working with her for years, since I teach the middle schoolers in Sunday school, and we have a good relationship. My task tomorrow is to share this piece of my heart with her and see if there’s any place for my “ministry” within the church. I feel strongly that we should talk to parents in our church on how to prepare their children to stick up for themselves and educate them just enough to keep them out of harm’s way. I could be wrong… maybe the church isn’t the right setting. Maybe there’s an organization I should join outside the church to campaign for that. But either way, I’m showing up tomorrow to do what God asked. We’ll see how this goes.

Drawing Near and Forgiveness

I woke up at 6am this morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise. I was thirsty, so I got up for a drink and crawled back under the warm covers. I laid there, watching the light getting brighter through the slats in my blinds.

Last night I participated in something my church does each year before Good Friday service called Power of the Cross. It’s a room that is set up with various activities and devotionals. There are different “stations” that you visit, each with its own theme, set of Bible verses, and actions that are designed to teach you something about Christ’s nature or sacrifice. With a total of 5 or 6 stations, I was in that room for 2 hours last night, praying, reading, singing, and crying. It was such a fulfilling and humbling experience.

There was one moment last night where I knelt down at one of the stations in front of a cross. I was reminded of how He was mocked and assaulted before His crucifixion. For the people in this world that I really love, I get very protective: physically and emotionally protective. I sat there on my knees and thought of Christ. Not only did He carry His own cross up to the hill before they nailed His hands and feet, but they mocked Him. While He was in the most excruciating physical pain, they made fun of Him. I don’t know why this realization made such an impact on me. Maybe it’s because I can’t even begin to comprehend the physical pain that Christ experienced that day and that night. But I do know what it feels like to be left behind by your friends and what it feels like to be cruelly mocked. It just made His pain so much more real to me, and I was all-the-more grateful.

I laid in my bed this morning thinking of the Power of the Cross experience I’d had last night. God is becoming so real to me lately. I feel so close to Him sometimes that His physical presence is palpable. And when I forget about the excitement of my friends, my work, school, media, and everything else that serves as a distraction, I  realize that all I want is to be near Him. Close to Him. Next to Him. As I thought about this, laying in my bed, an image came to mind from one of the Bible stories I hadn’t read in a long time. In Luke 7, there is a prostitute who interrupts Jesus’ dinner with his apostles and some pharisees:

“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:37-38)

I don’t know why this story came to mind, but when I remembered it, I suddenly understood the story on a much deeper level than I ever had before. I think it’s because of where I am spiritually, how much I’m able to see now because I’ve been praying more and spending more time in the Bible, but I can relate to that woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be a prostitute or to carry that kind of reputation with you when you enter a room full of “holy” people (Jesus, His followers, and the pharisees), but I do know what it’s like to be so overwhelmed with your sin that you don’t feel worthy to walk into church or a Bible study. And now I understand why she had to be near Jesus. She didn’t make an appointment; she found out where He was and ran to see Him. It was that simple. Who knows what kind of trouble she could have gotten into just by entering, but she did anyway because she had to see Jesus. She just had to be near Him.

As soon as she seems Him, she breaks down, and she cries so much and so hard that she’s able to wash his dusty feet with her tears. I’ve certainly never washed anyone’s feet with the tears I’ve cried, but I have definitely cried so many tears in God’s presence that I could wash a car or two. I know what it’s like to totally lose all control and composure when I’m around Him.

In Luke we don’t see Jesus talking to her before the end of the story. She enters, weeps over Jesus’ feet, and dries His feet with her hair before Jesus ever responds to her. I’ve felt like that a lot, where I’ve been crying out to Jesus but He seems silent. I have to remind myself that maybe it’s because He’s just taking it in. Maybe He’s just listening and enjoying my company and my surrendered spirit.

As she is washing His feet, there is some dialogue between Jesus and the people having dinner with Him:

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:39-47)

It’s here that Jesus finally speaks to the woman herself:

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

I love that line: “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” The more I’m honest with myself about how messed up I really am, the more I’m realizing what’s Christ’s actions on the cross did for me… how he really redeemed me. It’s a challenging experience to have God point out my flaws and to work with Him to address my issues, but at the same time, I’m learning how perfect He is. And I think it’s worth the tradeoff.

The Great Tapestry

I have an eye for detail. And it isn’t that I just notice details; I delight in them. I hate going for nature walks because I pass by everything no matter how slow you go, because isn’t the the goal of a “nature walk”? To keep walking onto the top of the mountain or end of the trail? I’d rather just sit there and stare at a tall tree from afar, then get up close to it to look at the cracks in the bark and pick up a leaf to look at the veins. I’m amazed by details. I’m the same way with works of art. I’ll sit and stare at a painting for a while, but my urge to get closer is too strong, so I eventually end up staring at the piece from 2 inches away. I like to get close and see the details: the brush strokes, the individual colors, the intricacies that went into the final product. I look like an idiot standing so close to things, but I don’t really care, because it’s what fascinates me.

I’m like that when it comes to God and His master plan, too. I’ll often sit and think about all of the little events that happened in order for me to be where I’m at (spiritually, mentally, and physically) today. It’s amazing, and overwhelming, to know that God began arranging things in my life long before I had the mental capacity to understand cause and effect, and long before I had an uncontrollable urge to manipulate the events and situations in my life.

I labeled this post “The Great Tapestry” because as I was brainstorming what I should blog about today, an image came to mind. Think of a tapestry, or maybe a woven blanket like this one, since “tapestry” is a bit of an outdated term:

If you look at a cotton thread, it’s simple. It doesn’t carry much weight, and it isn’t of much importance. Threads are events, people, and ideas in our life. There are a few large, life-changing factors that enter into our life at critical points, but for the post part, the events, people, and ideas in our life play small roles. That’s why there’s a lot of them. And I’m sure you’ve guessed where I’m going with the tapestry/blanket: it’s our life. Wow, I’m so original.

There are so many things that can be drawn from this metaphor though, especially when you zoom up close to the detail of the threads, as I tend to do.

First of all, the threads are very different from each other. It takes all kinds of people, events, and ideas to make our life (and us!) colorful and interesting. You need all kinds of dark, bright, and colorful moments and people in your life to make your tapestry interesting. Each plays its own role. Don’t get so focussed on the black thread (let’s say it’s a dark event in your life or the person that really drives you crazy) that you forget about the yellow thread next to it. It’s the black thread that makes the yellow look so stunning and wonderful.

Secondly, you’ll notice that sometimes threads disappear for a while, only to pop back up elsewhere, seemingly out of nowhere. If you were knitting a blanket, you couldn’t simply cut off a thread when you were done with that color. Each thread remains a part of the blanket until the ends are tied and finished. It may not be visible in all places, but it might be in the back, holding together threads in the front. And it’s always there, it never goes away. In the same way, I think that every event and person that comes into our lives always leaves an impression. The person might not always be present and the event might not always be on the forefront of our minds, but the impression those things leave on us and the way they affected us will always be a part of our life; for the good or bad. And their impact will always have an effect on who we are as a person, whether we let it show to others or not.

Thirdly, if we zoom out, we can see the big picture that God is working on. Since He’s the master knitter (I just got this awesome image in my head of God with two big knitting needles, haha!), we have to trust that He knows what He’s doing. Because I’m so detailed-oriented, something I have to constantly remind myself to do is focus on the bigger pictures. I get so caught up in the tangled threads as they are coming together that I miss the tapestry God has already, and I lose faith in the final product. I can’t look at my life’s tapestry and get frustrated because it doesn’t quite look right. It’s because God isn’t finished with me yet.

There’s a lot more details in life than we notice. I challenge you to stop today and look at the cracks in the pavement, the creases in your best friend’s face as he/she smiles, the scuff marks on your favorite pair of tennis shoes, and the colors of the hairs on your dog’s head as he sits in your lap. You might be surprised at all of the details you’ve missed.   And with that, think about the events and people in your life and the roles they’ve played. You might be surprised at where your train of thought goes.

Do not let your heart be troubled

My mom used to tell me when I was a little kid that I was choosing to have a bad attitude. She tried to teach me early on that my attitude was my choice, and I had control over it despite the circumstances. Often I had a bad attitude because something wasn’t going my way or I didn’t have control over the situation. But how I dealt with those feelings was always my choice, she said. I hated it when she said that, because it was always so much easier to blame her or the situation for my tantrum.

Even now, I still throw tantrums. I’m still very much a baby Christian. I’ll throw a “spiritual” fit and get frustrated with God because of all of the work He’s doing on my heart. He’s taking the time to teach me a lot about myself, Himself, and how the world works, and to be honest, it’s resulting in me often feeling spiritually and emotionally drained. And that exhaustion often leaves me frustrated with myself, God, and the people around me. When I’m not frustrated, I’m mopey and pouty. I don’t really have a reason to be… but I still like throwing my baby fits.

But the “mature” side of me knows what the Bible says:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” John 14:1

Our pastor brought up this verse during his sermon on Sunday. I know it well, but it hit me in a funny way on Sunday. And as I was laying in bed this morning pouting about my circumstances (even though, like I said, I don’t really have a reason to pout), God reminded me of this verse. “Do not let…” If I don’t let something bother me, I have a choice. Which means I have a choice over whether or not my heart is burdened.

But how do I make that choice?

I don’t know the Bible through and through, but one thing I’ve seen from the passages I know is that our thoughts have power. Anxiety, lust, jealousy, pride, and anger all have physical manifestations, but they begin in the mind. David pleaded with God:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Where our thoughts go most often is where our heart is. The things that I think about the most are probably what I’m putting first in my life. God is often not far from my thoughts… but I tend to focus on the hard parts on my journey with Him more than the easy parts. I put my God-approved troubles and experiences above my God-given strength and encouragement. He is so good about sending me reminders and demonstrating how easy His yoke is (Matthew 11:30), but even still, it is so easy to let my heart be troubled and focus my thoughts on how hard life is.

A friend of mine made an art/photo collage for me a few weeks ago that has this verse affixed to the middle. It’s something I seriously need to take to heart and live by:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

On a more personal note… I sit here typing this, being all “spiritually mature” with my Bible verses, after throwing a tantrum last night. I was up late pouting, went to bed pouting, and woke up pouting. But then that verse, John 14:1, came to mind. I know it was God, slapping me gently and reminding me that I didn’t have to be a baby. Dang it.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m up, down, and all over the place when it comes to my walk with Christ. Most of the time I’m in the middle, and I feel like my high points are getting higher as I spend more time in prayer and reading the Bible, but I’m still soooooo far from where I want to be. I know that I’m not who I’m supposed to be yet. There is still so much that God has to do within me. He’s done a lot these past 6 months, but He’s only getting started. In some ways that’s encouraging, but it’s also a harrowing idea to entertain because there have been so many difficult steps these past few months already. However, I have an idea of the person God is growing me to be. I can almost see her… and I want to be her, really badly. I get glimpses of her when I’m really on fire for Him… selfless, gracious, pure in deeds and thought, and most importantly, a champion for Christ. But I’m very far from that ideal right now, so I guess God and I are going to keep working (Philippians 1:6)…….

Captivated

There have already been a lot of posts written about the book Captivating, so you can add this to the list. But I’ll try to go above and beyond the content of the book to explain what it’s taught/teaching me. The thing is, I’m only a chapter into the book and it’s already changing how I view my relationship with Christ. Talk about epic!

The book talks about the heart of a woman: how she wants to be pursued and admired for her strengths and passions. She is strong and independent, but her soul was designed to want someone (a man) to fight for her, someone who has strengths that complement hers. The book briefly goes into how a man is designed, and how men and women are designed to be perfect companions. Sounds a little gushy, doesn’t it? But it’s not nearly as sappy as it sounds.

I want to be married eventually, and I want kids. I want the whole stinkin’ American dream with the white picket fence and Mini Cooper in the driveway. But at the moment, I don’t want any of that. I’m happy. The book touches on a very important part that’s often left out of modern-day Christianity: Christ is the groom of the church. I feel that women have the potential to have a unique relationship with Christ. As women, we have the capacity to love the Savior of the world in an emotionally intimate and loving way… the same way that we longed to be loved by an earthly man.

As I put down the book after reading the first chapter last night, my mind began to spin. I began thinking about how much my relationship with God has grown over the past few months. I can’t explain the details of how or why it’s grow, but it has. As I grow in my daily (more like moment-by-moment) walk with Him, I’m getting to know Him better and better. I’m delighting in His features… His personality quirks… His sense of humor. And in return, I can feel Him smiling in my direction. Sometimes it’s when I’m being a total dork or say something stupid, and sometimes it’s when I’ve done something that really makes Him proud. There have been so many quiet moments between Him and I where He catches my eye or ear in a room full of people. I’m surrounded, yet He’s the only one I can focus on. I’m captivated. It reminds me of one of those movies where the girl walks into a room, she makes eye contact with the guy, and everything else fades away. Nothing else matters. That’s kind of what it feels like. I’ve never been in a sincere, mature, adult dating relationship (I look forward to it!), but I think I’m learning what that’s going to feel like.

I’ve often thought “If I can’t have a sincere, loving relationship with the God of the universe, who is perfect, loving, patience, and doesn’t leave the toilet seat up, how can I have a true relationship with an imperfect man?!?” Well, maybe God is teaching me a few things………….

I’ll keep you updated.

</ food for thought >

Once Upon a Time

First of all, I’d like to say how honored I’ve been reading comments that you guys make about these blogs posts. It’s nice to know that what I’ve been learning can be of some benefit to others and that others can relate. So thanks for reading and for the encouragement.

Six months ago I had made it up in my mind that I didn’t really have a testimony. I had a lot of stories where God did something cool for me, but since I accepted Christ into my life when I was 3 years old, I didn’t have a radical “come to Christ” moment and there was no “before and after” story. I grew up in church and knew all the Bible stories. Ho hum. I felt that my only testimony was my day-to-day walk. I had no story that would win people to Christ.

There was a lot wrong with that conclusion. First of all, God had already done some amazing things in the short story of my life. He had delivered me from a painful/abusive situation, and by the time I was 18 I was able to give up that pain to God and forgive. I think in the back of my mind I always knew that would be a part of my testimony, but I didn’t consider it grand enough to be my entire story. And rightly so. God is a much bigger thinker than that. But still, I was wrong to write it off. The second thing that was wrong with that assumption was that I hadn’t been completely honest to myself (or others) about who I was. The person I pretended to be around other people (especially Christians) wasn’t who I was. That person was perfect, so she couldn’t have a “story.”

But God began to teach me something in September: everyone has a story. Including me.

My story, in just a few words, is this: God let me get hurt when I was young. I spent the next few years running away from people, hiding, and protecting myself, trying not to get hurt again. It worked; I was able to protect myself. As an adult I began to crack when the bitterness from not forgiving began to take over, and I let God take my heart and my burden while I learned to forgive. I did forgive. Then God began to break my heart into a million pieces while He rebuilt it. I had to be honest about my faults and flaws. He has been rearranging and reshaping me the past few months. The second part of my story is not just freedom from my past: it’s redemption from my present. In Him I’m finding freedom from everything I’m afraid of.

Doesn’t that sound like a typical testimony? Pain, bitterness, shame, regret, freedom and redemption? It is, because that’s how God works. The cool part is that I’m only 21, so God still has time to do a  LOT of work on me.

Chances are, too, that you have a testimony if you’re a Christian. It’s probably not “over”, but it’s at least in progress. You might be in the middle of trauma/crisis right now, or maybe you’re just coming out of something and are still in a daze about what just happened. Or maybe something happened years ago and you just haven’t realized it.

Whatever the case, your story, no matter how small or unimportant it feels, is meaningful. The cool thing about humans is our ability to relate to one another; your story could help or encourage someone right now who’s in the middle of hard times. Don’t be afraid of your story. Don’t hide behind the illusion of perfection. I hate to tell you, but we’re all screwed up. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. Especially when there is so much freedom that can be found in the honesty and transparency that Christ brings.

I don’t feel the timing is right to share the details of my story and struggled on the world wide web. Maybe soon. In the meantime, I much prefer one-on-one communication. If you’re interested in hearing more, I’ll be glad to share via FB or email. You know how to reach me.

A Rose By Any Other Name…

A few weeks ago I was listening to music on my phone in the car, like I normally do. Switchfoot’s song “24” began to play. I sang along, because I know the song well. One of the lines, “Wrestled the angel, for more than a name” grabbed my attention. I knew it was referring to Jacob wrestling the angel/God in Genesis 32, which I’ve heard rehearsed since I was a kid. It’d been a long time since I’d read the story, so when I got home that night, I picked up my Bible to refresh my memory.

After reading the story I thought about it for a while, trying to figure out why that line had stuck with me. Jacob had wrestled the angel in the middle of the night and wouldn’t let him go until the angel blessed him. The angel touched Jacob at his knee, taking it out of socket and leaving him with a permanent limp, but Jacob still pushed on, demanding that the angel bless him. He did eventually bless Jacob and gave him a new name: Israel. It was the name change that caught my attention, but again I wasn’t quite sure why.

The next week I was listening to Audrey Assad’s song “Wherever you Go,” and a couple of the lines again caught my attention: “Wrestling angels till dawn breaks through. There’s a blessing and a wound and you’re running from it.” Again it was a reference to the story of Jacob. I was beginning to sense that God was trying to tell me something, so I kept my ears open, straining to see what He was trying to say.

Last Tuesday I was Celebrate Recovery, and after we got done with sharing in our small groups we were “dismissed” and allowed to talk freely with the other women in the group. Our group leader was sharing about how that week God had placed it on her heart to look up the meaning of her name. God had been encouraging her that week to grab hold of the meaning of her name and stand by it, confident in her own identity. I was amazed at how what she  was sharing with the group correlated with what I’d been stewing on the past couple weeks: the meaning of names.

The problem was, however, that I already knew the meaning of my name, so I didn’t think that my solution was quite as simple as looking it up. Hannah means “full of grace,” and it’s something I’ve known for years. It’s also something I’ve aspired to.

At this point I started telling people about the odd change of events around the idea of name meanings. I started researching other people in the Bible who had their names changed by God, thinking that maybe there was something in there I was supposed to discover through research. That wasn’t it.

Saturday night I got on Facebook and read a blog post by a friend and fellow blogger who had recently discovered the meaning of her first and middle name. I knew for a fact now that God was really trying to communicate something to me, but I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what it was.

I was quite overdue to talk to my mom on the phone, so I called her this past Sunday. I talked to her for a bit about routine things, and then our conversation wound down, so we said our goodbyes. But hours later I still had a nagging feeling that I needed to talk to her about this mystery I was trying to uncover, so I called her back. I explained the series of events and waited for her response.

“Hm. So what does your name mean?” she asked.
“Full of grace,” I replied.
“What does ‘grace’ mean?” she responded. I was puzzled and started grasping for the dictionary definition. As a kid raised in church my whole life, I kind of knew what it meant. I knew what “graceful” meant. But I couldn’t describe it, so I typed “grace” into Google and looked at the results:

GRACE
Noun: Simple elegance or refinement of movement.
Verb: Do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.

The noun definition made sense. It was just about what I’d expected to find. The verb, however, was what got my attention. “Do honor or credit to someone/thing by one’s presence. I read it to my mom, and it began to sink in.

I burst into tears. My mom responded to my apparent silence: “Hannah, I think it’s ironic that you’re trying so hard to please God and honor Him with your life and with your time right now, and that’s exactly what your name means. To honor or credit to someone, God, by your presence.” I was crying too hard, and trying too hard to hide the fact that I was crying, to respond. I stood there in the kitchen speechless with tears streaming down my face, as my mom continued to encourage me. I felt like a little girl who’d been trying so hard to get Daddy’s attention, and then he’d finally turned around to smile at me. It was as if He was telling me “Hannah, it’s ok. You’re going a good job. You’re living your purpose right now. You’re exactly where I want you to be.

And He’d been trying for weeks to tell me that. I’d been so discouraged… I was tired and ready to give up. But God Himself was encouraging me. I’d never experienced that before. Numerous times He’s sent people to encourage me when I needed it, but never had He sent me a series of signals designed to tell me something Himself. I was amazed.

I was reminded of much God really cares about us and loves us. He doesn’t just take care of our needs. He encourages us when we’re feeling down with positive words, if we’re open to listening. They weren’t words of correction, which I’ve gotten so used to. He was spurring me on, being my cheerleader. Even now the thought brings tears to my eyes.

I’m learning to relate to Him in a more personal way than I ever have before. And He’s been speaking to me on levels I hadn’t expected. It’s such a cool experience. But it’s slow sometimes, and I have to learn patience and wait for the process. I don’t always get answers when I want them. In fact, I usually don’t. But I get them when I need them. And only God knows what I really need. Long story short, I’m loved. And Daddy is taking care of me.

2 Corinthians 6:18
And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.

Psalm 9:10
Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Who Am I?

I’ve been doing a lot of seeking lately: seeking out Christ, learning about myself, and trying to figure out what God’s will or purpose for my life is.  And for those of you who know anything about the process involved behind those things, you understand why I’ve been having a rough time lately.

The more I dig into who I am and who God created me to be, the more I’m learning exactly who I’m NOT. I’ve learned lately, and it’s come as no surprise, exactly how many issues I struggle with. That list keeps getting longer. And many of these issues carry side effects that I’ve long categorized as being parts of my personality. For example, I am a very loyal friend. I’m learning that intense loyalty, beyond what is normal or healthy, is a result of codependency. As I struggle with codependency and battle to find healthy boundaries, I will learn that not all people deserve my loyalty, and I will learn when and how to distance myself from unhealthy people.  I had clung to many of these traits, assuming they were strengths in my personality.

The person who I thought I was relied so many things other than Christ, that as I learn how to depend on Him for my needs instead of other people, so much of who I thought I was is disappearing. And that leaves me sitting here thinking, so who am I really? If so much of what I thought I was is a byproduct of sin and doing things my own way, what’s left?

So then I’m at this simple question again of “Who am I?” While I’m not sure yet, God knows, because He made me, and He has a few things to say about it in the Bible. I found a cool article from which I’ve pulled a few of the below bullets. I suggest reading the whole thing.

  • I am God’s child (John 1:12)
  • I have been set free from condemnation (Rom 8:1-2)
  • I have been given a sound mind (2 Timothy 1) and wisdom (Ephesians 1:8)
  • I am a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:14)
  • I am sheltered under his wing–protected (Psalms 91:4)
  • I have a hope that is sure and steadfast (Heb 6:19)
  • I can come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb 4:1)
  • I can do all things through Christ (Philip 4:13)
  • I cannot  be separated from God’s love (Rom 8:35-3)

While this list does little for helping me figure out the spiritual gifts, passions, and heart that are unique to me, it gives me a launching point from which to go from. These things remind me that I am WORTH me going through the struggle of learning about myself. God has a plan for me, and whether the world considers it significant or impactful,  I recognize that it’s still MY plan, mine. And no one else gets the privilege of walking in the steps God’s outlined for me.

Love Letter to God

Hi Daddy,

I love you. I love you for who you are, not what you do. I love your smile. I love your laugh. I adore your sense of humor. I love how you can whisper something to me in a crowded room and make me smile, and no one else understands, because you only told me. I love how you catch the corner of my eye when I least expect it and surprise me. I love that you’re always around.

I love that you are honest with me. You are genuine. I love the compassion in your eyes. I love that you LOVE everyone, and you are kind to them and love them with more strength than I could ever understand. I love that you always know exactly what to say or do to calm me down. I love that when I start freaking out, you wait patiently for me to come talk to you. I love that you always know exactly what I need.

I love that you let me yell at you, and you don’t get mad or yell back at me. And I love that when I come back on my knees, crying and apologizing for yelling at you, you take me in your arms and whisper to me, “I love you, Hannah. And I forgive you.” I love that you adore me, despite my irrationality and self-centeredness. I love that when I ask for your forgiveness, you give it freely and don’t hold it against me. I love how patient you are with me. I love that you have seen me at my worst, but when you look at me, you see me as my best.

At this moment I want nothing more than to do you proud. I want to be able to step into your thrown room and walk up to you confidently, knowing that my Daddy owns the place. I want you to come running to me, sweep me up off my feet, and say “Hey kiddo, welcome home!”

I wish I were home, with you, in Heaven. I’d love to see your face and crawl up in your lap, so you can wrap your arms around me and tell me that the fight is finished, and then I can rest. Then I could look up into your eyes, and everything would be complete. I can’t be with you now, I know that. But until then, I know you’re here with me on earth. And that’s enough. I’ll fight for you.

Oh, and thank you for the flowers. They are lovely 🙂

 

Love, your baby girl,

 

 

Romans 8:39
“Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

John 1:12
“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”