The Courage to be Ordinary

Full disclaimer: I know the impact that work in Christian ministry has. I know that God is using my work to touch people’s lives in ways that I will never truly be able to understand.  I know that I’ll never be able to understand the impact I have on others through my conversations and presence in the workplace. I don’t want to diminish what I and others do at ALL because I fully know its eternal worth. But let’s set that aside for just a moment.

I’ve spent my whole life settled in the fact that God was going to do something amazing in my life. Based on the encouragement of my parents, I knew I was smart and could do anything in the world I wanted to do. And from my Bible knowledge, I knew there was nothing that God and I couldn’t do.

When I decided to go into the film industry, I told God that I was going to do amazing things for Him as long as He helped me along the way. I’d be “a light” to my coworkers if God would help me get the job, find merit with my superviser and coworkers, and work up the ranks in Corporate America. And after I’d secured the job at Sony Pictures, I knew my plan was right on track. God seemed to be blessing me as my aspirations turned into reality. Accepting the job and walking in on the first day was daunting, as was learning the ropes of the position and trying to integrate into the corporate culture, but spurred on by my confidence and self-esteem, it was an easy transition. I’d secured a job that 4,000 other people had applied for. I was special, and my presence at Sony Pictures reminded me of that, so I knew that I could tackle anything else that came my way.

But when God called me out of that industry and into full-time ministry at my church, I faced my toughest decision. I had dreams and visions for my life that wouldn’t be possible if I changed careers. I knew the repercussions. Money would be tight, and I’d be working a job that, by any sane person’s standards, was ordinary. I didn’t have ordinary dreams. I hadn’t had an ordinary education. I hadn’t worked so hard in all of my internships to be ordinary.

My father was the first to remind me of this: “I don’t think you needed a $160,000 education to work that job. I don’t think this job was an upgrade.” I knew he meant well. He wanted the best for me, and he still does. His love for me is apparent, and I don’t take it for granted, but each word reminded me that the life I was choosing would be plain. But I took the job.

In a world where bigger and better is glamorized, even in Christianity, it’s hard to lead the simple life talked about in Thessalonians 4:11:

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands…”

Many pastors encourage their congregations to do huge things for God, calling them to move past their fears and get out of their comfort zone. God’s been leading me on a journey to overcome my fears, so I know there’s something to the whole “defy your fear and trust God” thing, and I’m not demeaning that in any way. But personally speaking, one of my greatest fears is of being ordinary, plain, unseen, and unrecognized. And if other people were honest, I think most of us share this fear in some way. We all want to matter. We all want to prove exactly how much we can do.

So maybe, sometimes, it takes more courage to be ordinary than amazing. It took more courage for me to use my abilities in a church than in a internationally-known film studio. It’s taking more courage for me to live a life of financial struggles and dependence on God rather than financial ease and independence. It is definitely taking more courage for me to battle my feelings of insignificance than being able to take pride in what I’ve achieved. It’s taken a lot of courage for me to work on changing my standard of success to what God sees my potential being rather than how my dad, professors, and friends, measure success.

I’m 22, and right now my biggest dream is be able to afford car repairs. Then, I want to move into a place of my own… someplace where my actions aren’t dictated by the person who owns the house or apartment. And then I want to get married. Big dreams, huh? No, they’re actually quite plain and ordinary. Simple. But right now they are so far out of reach that they seem like HUGE dreams. It takes a lot of courage to have hope that the impossible will happen despite the circumstances.

So my encouragement to you is this:

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

Muster up the courage to do whatever God is calling you to do, whether it’s to be extraordinary or to be ordinary.

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Low Self-Esteem – The Antidote?

Many people these days, myself included, battle with what we call “low self-esteem:” condemning thoughts about our abilities, gifts, appearance, and value.

As Christians, one of our reactions is usually to dismiss the battle all together by saying that it doesn’t matter and trying to shrug it off. But like anything that rests under the surface for a while, it manifests in other ways. We see it in diets, eating disorders, and people grasping at status objects to boost their worth.

Often our other approach is to go to God and the Bible to counteract those attacks with what we know to be true. But there tends to be a problem with that approach too: if I am so busy trying to tell myself I’m worth it and that God made me unique, even using scripture, I’m fighting fire with fire. The world will always be telling me that I’m not _____________ (pretty, smart, talented, fill in the blank…) enough. If I’m always running to other people, God, or the Bible to tell me I’m ___________ enough, I’m never going to win that battle, because I’d have to spend every waking moment building myself up to counteract the world that is always tearing me down. It’s never enough to satisfy long-term. Plus, even when I’m “winning” that battle and feeling pretty confident about who God made me to be, by placing my faith in the person God designed me as, I’m still being prideful, because I’m still placing my faith in ME and how God made ME. Then, as soon as I stumble, which God promises will happen to the prideful (“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud,” Proverbs 18:12), I’m back to clamoring for encouragement from God and others. It’s a pendulum.

One of the above routes leads to addictions and disorders. The other leads to a crazy cycle of pride and low self-esteem. Basically, we’re screwed either way. So, what should our response to the battle with low self esteem be? Humility.

We know the opposite of pride is humility. But opposite of low self esteem is humility? I’m beginning to think so.

Pride is “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority…” (dictionary.com). A good amount of self esteem could be defined as an accurate opinion of one’s own dignity and importance. Low self esteem could be defined as a low opinion of one’s own dignity and importance. Herein lies the problem: either way, we are focussing on OUR own dignity, importance, etc, whether we feel good about it at the moment or not.

Some of you who have been around Christian churches a while have heard the old saying “Humility isn’t thinking LESS about yourself, it’s thinking less ABOUT yourself.” That seems consistent with humility being the antidote to self-esteem issues. But we always need to discover what the Bible says.

Let’s take a look at how Jesus lived His life, because I’m willing to bet He didn’t wrestle with low self-esteem at all. He knew who He was: the living bread, (John 6:51), the light of the world (John 8:12), the good shepherd (John 10:9), the Son of God (John 10:36), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), and the list goes on. He knew that He was fulfilling prophesy from Isaiah. He was outspoken about who He was. But as Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-7, He didn’t take pride in the fact that He was God’s son; he humbled himself like a servant. He was the ultimate servant. Still, He fulfilled His purpose here on earth, and when someone asked Him who He was, He told them.

Most of know the connotations that humility brings: undervaluing yourself, soft-spokenness, and timidity. But there’s is power in humility.

In the Bible, humility is often correlated with exaltation: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”(1 Peter 5:6; see also Luke 14:11, Matt. 23:12, James 4:10). Exaltation isn’t the goal of humility, but if by seeking humility we seek to make ourselves less, isn’t that contrary to what God would like to do in us (exalt us) ultimately? So then humility isn’t tearing yourself down or downplaying your abilities.

In Matthew 12:31 Jesus says to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He doesn’t say to love your neighbor more than yourself, or to love yourself less. He wants that love to be equal and proportionate. After all, He made us all equally and individually and delights in each of us (Psalms 139:13-15). So no one person is better than the other. And according to the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:6) “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” What is truth? It’s the entire Bible and what God says about His children… like that we’re all gifted in different areas and are responsible for using those gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12:6-7).

C.S. Lewis, in Screwtape Letters, says this: “…Thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools… [God] wants [man], in the end, to be free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as his neighbor’s talents–or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.”

I think it’s a fantastic summary of how we should view humility. If we rejoiced in our own talents as frankly and gratefully as our neighbor’s talents, we wouldn’t be prideful nor lack self esteem. It would be just the right balance.

So let me ask you (and myself) this: have you spent as much time and energy delighting in and being thankful for your, other people’s, and God’s abilities as you’ve spent trying to fight off those voices that are telling you “You aren’t ______________ (skinny, attractive, qualified, smart, etc.) enough.” Maybe that’s where the key lies.

Shut up, Martha

Today was day #1 of 3 at the Jesus Culture Worship Conference I’m attending this weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect walking in. I’d done my homework on Jesus Culture and Bethel Church, so I knew they tended to be quite charismatic in their worship and teachings. I went in today knowing that God was going to use this weekend to stretch me spiritually and move me out of my comfort zone, but I’m always hesitant to “drink the Kool-aid” and get sucked into “the experience” of it all. I’m just there to seek God and spend time with other people who are seeking Him too. But that’s a side-note to where I’m really going with this post.

As with most conferences, there are prayers-provoking songs, and teachings from passionate speakers. My prayers going into these types of events is this: “God, what do you want to show me? What about me needs to change? How do you want me to grow? What do I need to do as a result of these teachings?” And today’s event was no different. After a long time of worship and hearing a extremely emboldened charismatic speaker, I began tossing and turning the thoughts in my head. Revival. Bring God back to my city. Bring His passion and His power back to my church. Take hold of His power. Etc, etc, etc.

I prayed, “God, there were a lot of cool things said tonight… but I need you to show me what it means to ME… what I’m supposed to do about it.”

I didn’t really expect an answer until maybe later this weekend, but He wasn’t going to wait that long. “Hannah girl, stop thinking.” Yeah, it was that simple.

I’m a doer. I always have been and probably always will be. In Biblical terms, I’m a “Martha.” And with God, I always feel this need to do more, give up more, be more, confess more, worship more, volunteer more, speak out more, etc. In essence, I’d been asking Him, “God, what else do I need to do?” His reply? Shut up and just experience Me. Spend time with Me. Love Me.

Not-so-ironically enough, that’s exactly what I’ve been working with my Biblical counselors these past couple weeks. I think too much and push too hard, trying to become all I can be for God. Often that leaves me drained and frustrated because I’m failing to meet my own unrealistic expectations. Instead of always pushing to please God by always doing the right thing or being the right kind of person, I need to learn to just sit at His feet and soak Him in. And to maybe lose control of my thoughts for a few minutes and follow where my heart/spirit leads.

I know that if there’s one thing that gets in the way with my relationship with God, it’s my head. I’m praying that this weekend I’m able to get outside my head a bit more on focus on just God. Not my thoughts, or what my actions should be, but just focus on who He is and praise Him.

If you need me, I’ll be in LA on Friday and Saturday, practicing soaking up God’s presence. And who knows, He might decide to teach me something else along the way… we’ll see. And if you’re lucky, I might post about it 😛

Fear

I started attending Biblical Counseling a few weeks ago. I’ve never been in counseling before… it’s kind of a cool thing, but it’s also daunting as I’m sure you can imagine.

The best way I can describe Biblical Counseling is this: it’s like relationship counseling with God. They diagnose relationship issues: Do you really know Him? Do you trust Him? Do you REALLY trust Him? Do you spend time with Him? Do you know your identity in Him? Etc, etc, etc. They also look at every area in your life (struggles, habits, anxieties, experiences, relationships etc.) and determine if your responses and attitudes are godly in nature and correspond with the Bible.

With so many questions, my head feels like it’s about to explode. I’m learning so much so quickly that it’s hard to take it all in. And I’m being thrown so many challenging questions that I’m not sure which to answer first, nor which is most important. But in all of this TALKING (which drives me crazy), I’ve learned one key thing about myself: I am scared to death of being alone.

It was something my mom said to me during one of our casual conversations. She said it flippantly, but I’d never heard myself described that way, so it stoof out. “You are so afraid of being alone…” In counseling we are working on my anxiety levels. In response to that, one of my assignments was to write down my concerns as I began to stress out. My list looked like this: Did I say too much? Too little? Did I make him/her mad? How are people perceiving me? Am I a good enough leader/friend/employee/daughter? After reading that list to my counselor, she looked at me and said, “Hannah, the major thing I see in that list is fear.”

I sat there like a deer in the headlights. I’ve never considered myself a fearful person. I can be extremely adventurous, especially when there’s opposition telling me I can’t do it. I’m stubborn, and I’m often the first person in a group to go out on a limb and do something. I don’t stress over finances or my future. I’m a pretty level-headed person. But the more I think about what my mom and my counselor said, the more I see they are right. Most every bad thing in my life, whether it was a bad experience or something I struggle with in my head currently, is a result of fear. It runs my life. In some areas it is paralyzing. There are weeks where I physically cannot lead Bible study because I feel so weak and ill-equipped, and there are some days where I’m so scared of what other people are going to think of me that I refuse to talk to them or make eye contact. In other areas it’s motivating, like when I over-exert myself to make a friend of mine happy or when my primary reason behind working is to please my boss.

In talking with my mom, I realized that this fear goes all the way back to when I was a toddler. She told me that I would even insist on accompanying her to the bathroom until my sister was born (I was 2.5 years old at that time). My mom couldn’t get a single minute alone away from me, because I was always at her side. She never had to worry about me wandering off, because I was always there. I remember when I got older, there were times where my parents would tuck me into bed and then go on a walk around the block as the sun set. If I found out they’d left, I’d go running down the street after them in my pajamas, crying because they’d left me. I’m sure my years in middle school of being relatively alone didn’t help either.

It’s an obvious thing, but the reason I didn’t let anyone get close to me for so many years was because of fear, too. If they got close enough, they probably wouldn’t like me, and then I’d go from having a few good acquaintances to having no one.

So now I’m left with this new discovery, and I’m still trying to figure out what to do about it. The only thing I can think to do at the moment is learn what God has to say about fear, and pray against it. Knowing that this is something that’s a large part of me should help me overcome it.

Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.
Proverbs 3:25-26

In God I trust and am not afraid.What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:11

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
Psalm 56:11

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Romans 8:15

A Whale Tale

Tuesday was a hard day for me. I woke up in time to get ready for class, like I usually do, and jumped in the shower. I got out and began getting ready, but I was so exhausted (emotionally) that I decided to skip class and go back to bed. I sat down and began praying, but I fell asleep half-way through. I woke up two hours later feeling like I’d been hit by a car. I was drained, had a headache, and just wanted to sleep, but I had so much to do. I knew what the problem was. I’d been trying to do everything on my own; I’d only been talking to God in passing and hadn’t taken my time to surrender my worries to Him. I knew I needed to have a good prayer session where I just sat and talked to Him for a while without any distractions. But I had a lot to do, so I picked up my computer and started working on homework.

But God has a funny way of letting us know what He wants us to do. I have a worship playlist I frequently listen to, and it was playing on my computer that afternoon. One of Kari Jobe’s songs started playing, and I began crying. I wasn’t thinking of anything other than the content of my essay, but my emotions were running wild. It was like my spirit said “Hannah, you may not be paying attention, but I need this, so it’s happening whether your head is engaged or not.”

I texted one of my friends to vent. I told there I was sitting there, typing my essay, and I had started crying and couldn’t stop. She told me to go to the beach and let it all out. I knew I needed to do something or I was going to implode, so I packed up my stuff and went to the beach.

As I sat there on the sand, I had a hard time getting started. I always have a hard time talking when I’m supposed to spill, even if it’s to God. But I started talking about my new job, graduation, finances, relationships, and everything else I’d been thinking or worrying about. I just started rambling. And soon enough, I got down to what some of the core issues were, just by talking it out. Tears streamed down my face for a half hour. I talked and talked and talked, praying for every item that came to mind.

At one point I sat there with my eyes closed, listening to the water. I told Him, “God, I see you working all around me. And I’m grateful. But sometimes it just feels like you’re so far away. I miss you.” At that moment I opened my eyes to the wide expanse of cold, blue water that was in front of me. Right where my eyes were looking, there was a gray whale breaching. She came up ever so gracefully. I immediately looked around, wide-eyed, wondering if anyone else was around to see her. But I was the only one. Instantly my spirit knew that God had sent her. It sounds silly, but I know it was His was of telling me “Hey, Hannah. Hey, you! I’m here. It’s ok. I’m here. And I love you.”

I lost it. Whatever inhibitions I had before were now gone. I sat there amazed, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the God of the universe loved me. And He loved me enough to instruct a whale to swim up to the shore so I could see her and be reminded of God’s greatness. I love God’s grand, sweeping gestures, but I really love the little things He does. I’m about the details. I watched the whale come up, then dip below the water again, then come up. I kept telling God, “Wow, make her do it again. Please?! Can I see it again?” She breached four or five times… each and every time I asked. When I stopped asking, when I’d been convinced that I’d actually seen her and that I wasn’t making it up, she stayed under. I sat there stunned for a while, telling Him over and over, “She’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. Thank you.” It was so peaceful.

He reminded me that He loved me. I read it over and over in the Bible, and I’m shown His love by other believers constantly. But sometimes I just need a visual reminder, from Him, that He loves me. And when I needed it most, He sent it. God used a gray whale off the coast of Southern California to tell me He loves me. How cool is that?

Just thought I’d share 🙂

[Article Response] “God Saw My Rape and He Didn’t Stop It”

I’ve been coming across many good articles lately that I’d like to share with those of you who are interested. I figured this is as good of a platform as any for me to share my thoughts/responses to these articles while encouraging you to spend a few minutes reading them.

My first article response is title “God Saw My Rape and He Didn’t Stop It.” The title was designed to kick readers in the gut, I’m sure. But it summarizes the article well, and probably summarizes how a lot of people feel about how God was a silent witness to the bad things in their lives. The author tells about the crisis of faith that she had after realizing that God, in his all-powerful and all-knowing majesty, stood by idly and watched as a friend of a friend brutally raped her. She chronicles her immediate response to the rape, how she came about this realization, how she felt after realizing it, and how, when she immersed herself into the Word, she began to understand why God didn’t stop it.

The author says:

God knows pain. He knows what it feels to be rejected and abused and despairing, because Jesus felt those things first. This truth is difficult. It’s not as pretty or tidy or straightforward, but it’s real.

I find comfort in the reality that God was there, because the only thing worse than realizing He was there is thinking that He wasn’t.

I am comforted that by being there when I was raped, God saw it for how bad it was. He heard my cries and He hears them now. He sees. He knows. He understands.

I may never understand why God allowed rape to happen to me. But of this I am sure: God came to my rescue in the dark aftermath of my rape and he continues to come to my rescue on my up-and-down path of healing.

I never struggled with this concept of “Why didn’t God do anything?!” after my abuse. I’m not sure why I didn’t, but maybe it’s because I embraced the idea of free will early on in my life and knew that God, though He had the power, probably wouldn’t intervene to save me. He had a purpose for everything, even the bad things, and I had to trust that and see it through.

It’s the last parts of the article that I really resonate with, though. The author says:

I can proclaim that rape does not determine my identity or limit my potential… I’m opening up about rape and pain and hurt in full confidence that it’s a gift to be able to talk about it, and in hope that some woman, somewhere will hear in my words that she is not alone, and that our God is very good.

I’ve seen first-hand what ignoring pain and abuse does to a person. It’s not pretty. They shut down emotionally and spiritually. They put up walls so high that they don’t know they are there, and they don’t realize they are blind to the joy and fulfillment that is just on the other side. I’m one of those people, but I think I’m beginning to see my walls. And that’s the first step to tearing them down. I’m tired of people not talking about sexual abuse. It’s a nasty, horrid monster, but like with many things, when you shine a little light on it, it’s not nearly as scary. And the more a person talks about it, the less painful and traumatic the memories become. So I’m going to keep talking. I love what the author wrote: “I’m opening up about rape and pain and hurt in full confidence that it’s a gift to be able to talk about it.” I feel that’s so true. It’s a God thing that I’m able to type these things out.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Roman 8:38

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

 

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)…….