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 😛

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Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Whale Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just thought I’d share 🙂

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.

The King and I

During summer 2011 I enrolled in a 14-week class that my church offered called “Experiencing God”. We went through a workbook by the same name, written by Blackaby, Blackaby and King. It was an eye-opening process for me; I was at a stage in my life where I was really ready to see God, to EXPERIENCE Him in a way I hadn’t before. I was also at a personal crossroads and was looking for His direction in my choices.

The study had a ripple effect on many things in my life, but one of those ripples was an idea that I’d always been taught growing yp, but I had never embraced or understood it before: When we pray, we should expect an answer from God.

I didn’t know what “expect” really meant until now, though. Was I supposed to just be determined that God was going to respond to me in His small, quiet voice eventually, if I sat in the silence for long enough? Was I supposed to open my Bible to a random page, pick a verse with closed eyes, and try to interpret it to fit my situation? Was I supposed to go ask the wisest Christian I know their opinion, and go with it? How was I supposed to know when and where my “answer” would appear? What was I supposed to DO?

This past week has been intense. God has been teaching me more in this past week than He has in the past year of my life. And it’s only getting more exciting. But what I’ll pull out of those ramblings for the purpose of this blog post is that GOD RESPONDS. He not only responds to prayer, but He responds to our thoughts and ideas.

After my last blog post, “Just Show Up,” was published, I went to bed and opened my Bible. I usually read two chapters a night, unless I’m especially on fire. The last section I read was from Luke 17:

 7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

I sat there and cried like I often do these days as God’s power washed over me. I was amazed that God had listened to my rambling thoughts just an hour before when I wrote my blog post. Those thoughts hadn’t even been expressed in “prayer mode”… I had just been thinking. And I was amazed that He sent me to a part of His Word where I could find His thoughts and His words about the subject.

So, this is what “expecting” looks like: It’s listening, everywhere and to everything, but not trying to FIND the answer. There have been times this week when I’d hear a verse in a worship song that speaks to what I’m experiencing. It encourages me and puts little joy in my heart. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a random stranger or a friend, and they word something just so, and I know that what they said was a hint to me from God (for an example, see the 5th paragraph in my post “The Godly Condition” about not being able to let God down). Or I’ll open my Bible to do my nightly reading, and something LEAPS off the page at me, and I can’t help but sit there in amazement.

I’m not wise, but I am a quick learner usually. One thing I’ve seen these past few weeks is that when God really shows up, and when He speaks and I’m listening, it’s very hard to miss because it clicks in my heart and my head. When I’m aware of His power and His caring concern over the details of my life, I know when He’s telling me something. It has been a daily exchange between the King and I.

But I’m learning to DO less and TRUST more. I need to stop trying to do the right things to find the answers to my prayers…

I need to TRUST (there’s that word again!) that if I keep living on God’s path, He’s going to walk by my side. Then I won’t have to go looking for Him when I need some advice.