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.

 

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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 😛

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.

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.

Toddler Christians

I spent most of Thursday angry with God. There was even a moment where I was running through my house, screaming at Him. I then stopped, realizing that screaming in a close-knit condo complex was probably a bad idea. After waiting for a minute, half expecting someone to come knocking at the door or the phone to ring, I decided it was safe to keep on yelling. So I did. I told God exactly how I felt.

It’s been a long time since I last threw a temper tantrum, but I was definitely throwing one on Thursday. As I ran through the house screaming, I remarked at how spiritually young and immature I felt.

I’ve written before on how I’ve started feeling like a new Christian. Those feelings have only gotten stronger as I go through my weeks. I used to stand firm in my faith; it was something I could always rely on, and I took a lot of pride from it. I was GOOD at this whole “Christian” thing. But now things are different. I’m back to basics:  figuring out what faith is, how I’m supposed to feel about things, how I’m supposed to live out my faith, and what a relationship with God is like.

I feel like I’m spiritually walking around, running into things, and stubbing my toes like a toddler. I used to know the Bible really well, or I thought I did. I know the verses, the stories, and the people. I’d been raised in church, so I had Bible trivia down pat. But now I’m reading everything for the first time, seemingly. I know the words, but the words take on actual meaning now. They’re not just a cool phrase or a “food for thought” tidbit.

And on top of that, just when I think I know how to approach something, God comes alongside me and correct me in His soft, encouraging voice. There have been many times where God has corrected me. I’ll be struggling with something, and just when I think I’ve figured it out, He sends a person, song, or sermon to adjust my thinking. I’m usually not too far off base, but He keeps reminding me that not only do I not know everything, I don’t know anything. He’s teaching me daily humility. It’s hard to be cocky and proud when I keep running into things and making a fool of myself.

So I apologize in advanced if I appear clumsy or if I spend a lot of time licking my spiritual wounds and tending to my bumps and bruises. I might be a bumbling mess for a while. But I know that eventually I’ll stop getting knocked around so much, once I  develop a little more balance and coordination.

When Honesty Trumps

I’ve been going to the same church for 4 years. If you had asked me 3 months ago how to describe my church, it would have been as follows: It’s a great church, and the worship is phenomenal. We really have some talented musicians. The sermons are short, simple, and geared towards new believers, because they tend to be somewhat superficial. You really have to get into a small group to be challenged and to grow your faith.

I’d never been challenged by my church’s sermons. Every once in a while the pastor would make a good point that served as a reminder, but I never once felt convicted, and I never, ever, felt like the pastor was speaking directly to or about me.

But something happened in my life in November that changed that. God seriously and forcibly began working on my heart. As He broke down my walls I’d built to keep Him and everyone else out, I sat and looked at all of the pieces. He began pointing out my flaws, my struggles, and my sins. The more I embraced ALL of me, including the stuff I’d hidden from myself and other believers, the more I knew I needed God, His mercy, and His daily forgiveness.

I hadn’t realized how that would change my Sunday morning sermon experience, though. The more God worked on my heart, the more the pastor’s simple “new believer” sermons hit home for me. It was like I was a new believer, sitting in church for the first time. I went from getting very little out of his lessons to sitting there, petrified, because it felt like he knew my life story and what I was struggling with at that very moment. He talked about pain, pride and humility, addiction, honesty, and relationships. I could’ve sworn someone had told him. It’s been about three months since my first meltdown, and I still sit there and cry during sermons.

Yesterday’s sermon, titled “Temptation Island” (remind me to link to it when it’s up on the church website), convicted me more than any other sermon I’ve heard in my lifetime. It made me so uncomfortable that I had to resist the urge to get up and walk out of church. That’s saying a lot, especially for someone like myself who’s been a “Christian” and sitting in church for 18 years. I sat there, crying, and thinking to God “This isn’t fair. It’s not fair that you get to do this to me.” But then in the next breath I’m praying “Ok, this is ok. I know I need this. Thank you, I love you, please keep it up.” Talk about a war between the Spirit and the flesh…

With yesterday’s sermon came a small revelation. I never really connected with worship songs or sermons before I was honest to myself about myself. Now, it seems like I fit the bill for every screwed up sinner, duty-fulfilling servant, and grace-abiding child of God that’s mentioned in churches and worship songs. Suddenly I identify with EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. And as much as I hate this roller coaster I’m on, at least it feels real and honest. And I know that even though I can’t see the track, and it’s sometimes dark, I know there’s a light at the end of the the tunnel, and God is in the seat next to me, cradling my heart.