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.

A Friend

Three years ago God began revealing something to me: Love Him, others, then myself. Everywhere I turned, the message was clear. I was pretty bad at loving people, and He was doing a pretty good job of showing me that. But I was too calloused and stubborn to really see and love people, so He had some work to do.

At the moment when things started to shift in my life, I quickly formed a couple deep friendships quickly. The Lord had brought people into my life that hadn’t really been there before, and friendships rose out of crisis. These relationships weren’t out of mutual respect or admiration but rather out of needs that needed to be filled. These friends needed a shoulder to cry on, and as I would find out later, I really needed to be needed. And I wasn’t afraid to manipulate, push, or deceive to fill that need, and all-the-while I was convinced that I was being selfless in my  actions because I was caring for them. As quickly as the friendships arose, they crumbled. There came a time when I no longer felt needed, so I became desperate, and the relationships, which didn’t have a stable foundation to begin with, died as a result of my actions.

Within two months, I went from having few friends to having two “best friends.” Six months later, I had royally messed up both relationships and distanced what friends I’d had before the whirlwind began. Crash and burn.

Somewhere in that messy process, God awakened my heart. He showed me my deep need for relationships, which I’d never known before. I think that’s part of the reason I went so crazy when I finally had people around me who I felt cared. I’d never really known that, outside of my family. I craved that feeling of companionship. I panicked when I wasn’t around someone. Even my poor roommate had to deal with my extreme neediness.

But as He’d planned, when I felt all was lost and I thought I’d lost my two closest friends, I turned back to God. He was all I had, and, as I remembered, all I needed. He showed me His grace and then humbled me by bringing in other friends, friends who’d I’d distanced through those few months, to love me and support me with no questions asked.

Both friends have opened their hearts back up to me. We’re building on new foundations now… a foundation of trust, boundaries, respect, and admiration. I don’t know how far or how long I’ll be blessed to have them in my life, but I’m still humbled by their forgiving hearts. The relationships are drastically different now, and that’s hard for me. I’m having to reshape how I think, how I behave, and how I respond to my feelings.

I want more than anything to have mature, Christ-seeking, young women in my life who can come alongside of me and pray WITH me, not just FOR me. I want mature friendships, but I know in order to have those, I must be mature. And I must learn how to LOVE. Easier said than done.

Moreover, I want to be known. I want to be understood by someone. I want inside jokes, and coffee dates, and shared favorite movies. I want someone to care about how my day went at work or if there was traffic on the way home. I want to be known for all my faults and loved anyway. Part of me says that if God would just hurry up and bring me the right man, that’d all be fixed.

But I know better. I know MYSELF better. This isn’t a physical need that deserves a practical solution. It’s a spiritual need that deserves a supernatural solution. I think about what King David wrote in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! … Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether… You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

David was admired by his kingdom and loved deeply by his many wives. Surely he had enough companionship! But David’s search for love, more often than not, got him into trouble. But he knew how well God knew him, and I imagine that as he wrote those words down, it was an encouragement to him.

Like David, I deeply want to be known by someone. I don’t want to struggle with loneliness anymore. But I know it’s a battle that’s mine alone to fight, a battle of the heart as I seek to be nearer to Christ. I know He can fill that hunger I have. But truthfully, I don’t know how to let Him do that. I don’t know how to let Him be my friend and confidant. So that’s what I’m praying about. Tips are welcome.

That said, I’ve become all too aware of my own messiness and increasingly aware of Christ’s grace and patience with me. He loves me on the days I can’t stand to be around myself, and He makes it bearable. It’s that kind of love that I want to be the foundation of all my future friendships and relationships… love as an outpouring of what’s inside me for the glory of God, not demanding from others what I lack for my own fulfillment.

So I’m discovering what it’s like to have a real friend in Christ. He’s the best role model for everything else, so I guess that makes sense that He’d be good at this whole love and friendship thing too.

John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

 

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

[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

 

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.

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)…….

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.

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.