- Phantom of the Opera
Transforming the Body
I know what you’re thinking: “You weren’t in class on Sunday?!” Calm down*. Actually, most of you probably weren’t thinking that. Most of you had no idea because you don’t ever notice me in the class and some of you don’t even know who I am. It’s cool, I don’t know who you are either. But, alas, here I am: recapping the lesson because I can read minds and see the future (and/or the past).
Does anybody else secretly want to throw this book in your fireplace and stop this series? I hope so so I don't feel like a horrible person. I mean, I thought I was doing pretty well until I started coming to class. Now, I am convinced of how completely totally depraved and heretically I am. (I am using dramatic language on purpose). It’s annoying.
I thought Ms. Shawn did an awesome job with the lesson. She tackled another super lofty lesson and made it relatable and, just like every other lady who has taught, her personality shown through.
We can’t have full, complete redemption without any of the pieces we have talked about so far. The body being one of them. We can be slave to our body just like we can be slave to our emotions, our thought, or our will. We must not give in to our bodies but we must give over our bodies to the Lord to let him begin a deep work in us. A beautiful, but daunting work. Just like every other element, you can’t just simply throw your body away or even ask for a new one. You’re stuck with the one you got. Uneven nostrils and all. But, the body is amazing. It breathes while you sleep! It doesn’t need us to tell it what to do. It just reacts. And to sum up what Shawn unpacked in 23 (20 pt. font) pages… We have to train and program our body to react right. If we don’t train, we’ll never react right in the moment.
Have you ever thought “Okay next time that happens, I will react this way”. I do all the time and when that thing happens I react in the same way I always do. Cause I don’t really train. I just try to have good will power. Which, we learned last week, no one has good enough will power. Our body is a very powerful tool. But it can be trained. And we must train it.
Shawn used Roger Federer and computer programming as her example of training our bodies. Federer has won like a million trophies for his tennis playing but he has also probably spent a minute for every trophy he’s won (that’s a million minutes) training his body to do exactly what he wants to do under pressure. It’s not easy. Nothing about renovating the heart is easy. And that’s why I want to chunk this book against a wall. But it will be worth it!!!!
God is gonna do his part in caring for our body. But we have to do our part too. Take care of your body. Watch what you put in it (both physically and emotionally and spiritually), watch how you use it, watch what you say to it, and let it use its muscles every once in a while.
(That above paragraph needs its own book in expansion because it is easier said than done. But, alas, I am trying to make these slightly shorter.)
There is hope yet. I like thinking of my body as a computer because it kinda calms my angsty ways. My body is just a machine, it is not a monster that is constantly trying to destroy me. It can be trained like a dog. When you say “sit” the body will sit. (Wow, I was using that as a metaphor but that is quite literal). So once I start inputing the program Holiness 3000, I will output gold and doves and peace and love. Your body is just a machine. You can transform it.
How do we train it? Heck if I know. But, you gotta use it to train it. Journaling is the example Ms. Shawn brings up. The actual act of taking your thoughts through your veins to your fingers through the pen onto paper is a powerful thing. And, it slows you down. (which I hate but I try to do it). Write down Bible verses, say them till your blue in your face. And get on your knees. Make your body low. Pray, pray, pray. And wait. God is faithful to answer.
Also, service. Using your body for someone else’s gain is an easy way to put your body in it's place.
Jesus came down and put skin on his deity and that is more significant than we’ll ever realize. If we want to transform our body, don’t you think we should look at what Jesus did when he had one? Ms. Shawn says that to train our body we have to follow Christ’s overall lifestyle and take on his disciplines of prayer, solitude, fasting (denying the body), etc. And I love that Ms. Shawn says the difference between Federer and Jesus is that Jesus comes inside of us and transforms us from the inside out. Don’t we all wish that Federer’s spirit could maybe come inside of us too? Give me some body coordination please!!
I didn't really do this lesson justice. This just barely touches the surface of the complexity of the body. But, hopefully it will get you thinking and will lead you to the truth. Or hopefully it just makes you laugh.
The will. A much more abstract and wide-ranging topic than I first thought. Also, a more important topic than I first thought. Thankfully for you, the reader, this topic appeals more to my logical, practical, thinking side so it won’t sound like a 13 year old emo kid who just discovered what a diary was (although, as Marilyn pointed out, your thoughts, feelings and will are all connected. So this week is not void of emotion). Marilyn spoke this week and it was a simple message, but a powerful one.
So what exactly is your will? Words that were thrown out were: drive, desire, determination, stubbornness, and control.
Letting go of your own will and giving into God’s will requires trust. You have to trust God to want to follow him. And for someone who is a control freak, like me, I only trust myself. (Who is the LEAST trustworthy person cause I deceive myself like a boss). So, to give up the will is to give up control. For me, at least. But, as my mom said, I am not alone in this. Getting off my chair is really acknowledging that I’m not in control. And saying that I am okay with whatever happens. But, control freaks aren’t okay with “whatever happens”. They want to know what is going to happen. Even if it’s not what I would want, necessarily, I want to consciously decide to do that thing and know exactly the outcome. But, that’s not how God works. And there’s the rub. Giving in to God is supposed to bring you peace but it literally causes me to shake.
I remember my freshmen year of college I had to make a big decision (it was actually pretty petty) and I was kinda new to walking with God through my decisions so I really wanted to be super holy and spiritual and just ask God and whatever he says I wanted to do. But, I was completely riddled with anxiety. The second I would open up my Bible I would start shaking and my heart would pound because I was afraid of the answer. I was “hearing” all these weird things that were probably the devil messing with me. I couldn’t see straight and I ended up making the decision that I would have wanted to make. I think that it was the right decision- for that time- but I never came to a “peace” that that was what God told me to do. But, I thought my heart might actually explode if I prayed about it anymore. That happens to me more than I would like to admit. I want control. I want God to bend to my will and bless me through it all, but I don’t want to bend to his. If I knew the answer to how to fix this, I would. And I would share it with you right here. Alas, I don’t.
Marilyn said that it isn’t about “will power”. It’s about the “want to” factor. Our will, when aligned with God, is our desire to do what God’s will is. And God’s will is the things he wants to see happen in this day and age.
There is a timeline for conquering the will: Willard states it as Surrender Abandonment Contentment Participation.
Surrender: Losing control. (See above).
Abandonment: Living life with open hands as I like to say. Knowing we deserve nothing so being thankful for everything. And living like we know the end of the book (which we do). One of my favorite lyrics in a worship song is from the song Strong Love by Jon Thurlow (everyone admire my hipsterness). He says: “I know the end of the story I come up from the wilderness, leaning on my beloved.” I love that so much. That’s all I wanted to say about that.
Contentment: Peace with God and peace with ourselves.
Participation: God is cool and gracious and loving enough to let us take part in his will. It’s much better than ours.
Marilyn made a good point that it’s not about getting past step one and never returning. You will go in circles with this. You will have to start over. And… I say that to be comforting. To better explain these points, Marilyn made her own timeline: I don’t want to I have to I want to want to I want to I get to.
What would your life look like if you were completely abandoned to the will of God? Think about that. Me? I’d probably have more peace and more joy, which is ironic because those are the things I desperately want. If I am honest, right now I am in the “want to want to” stage and about some things I am in the “I don’t want to” stage. But the first step to freedom is admitting you have a problem, right?
To be honest, I don’t remember where this fit into the lesson because I take really vague, horrible notes, but it’s an important point: We’ve got to talk about what is going on in our head. (Which I hate doing). We have to get it out, we have to process, and we have to not believe that we are the only ones thinking these thoughts. So, start talking about your thoughts (no matter how scary, dirty, awful, crazy they are). Do work today and don’t let this lesson collect dust on the shelf.
Spiritual Formation and Our Feelings.
You know, I give Jeannine major props for tackling this lesson. Trying to just dictate what she said has been days of anguish and rewriting and thinking and reading. I’m gonna go out of order for this recap, if you will let me. To begin the lesson, Ms. Jeannine stood behind a decorative chair and delivered a scripted, but not lacking in honesty and meaning, monologue urging us to climb out of the chair of our hearts and place God on it for he is the only one worthy. But I wanna save that for later. (Hopefully my 1am brain will get there and will make sense.)
I read the chapter. And I would say that, if you read only one chapter in this book, you should read this one. (I am saying that only having read this one and sorta the first one). And, like I said, props to Ms. Jeannine. Willard does such a great job at unpacking feelings and emotions that it’s kinda overwhelming. But, I think Jeannine captured the essence well. I will try to capture the essence of the essence somewhat coherently. Though I filled up about 5 pages in my journal, my notes aren’t that great.
Feelings are important. We got ‘em. We ain’t getting rid of them. We have to understand that. Feelings are powerful. They will carry us into sin if we are not careful. We can’t deny they are there, repress them, or try to starve them. We have to reorder them and let God renovate them to be the healthy, beautiful gifts he made them. (Just like everything else). Faith, hope, love, joy, and peace are the key to a spiritual transformation. Faith and hope give us the confidence in Jesus and his word. Love is the foundation. And it is a circling flow. God first loved us so we love him which in turns makes us love others and those other’s love us because we are the other’s others. Make sense? We don’t have to worry about being loved. We already are by God. And if we focus on loving our brothers and sisters we will be loved if the body is the body. Joy is our strength and our anthem that shouts “all is well” in hard times. We gain joy through thankfulness and meditation on the goodness and love of God. Then comes peace. We have peace with ourselves, with God, and with others. And that helps us love more. Thus the cycle continues. All we have to do is let go. Loosen the grip and let go.
That recap is short and sorta shallow and for that I do apologize. But I can’t go into any more depth without a) my brain exploding and b) being completely overwhelmed with feelings. Talking about feelings makes me have a lot of feelings and those feelings usually start with ‘a’ and end with ‘ngsty’. But, honestly, her lesson was less about feelings and more about God. And that’s how it should be.
So what I really wanna talk about is the first five to ten minutes of the lesson. Like I said, Ms. Jeannine used a chair to illustrate her point of us being on our own throne. She encouraged us to get off of it. I remember tracking with her and doing the holy-agreement-moan, but I also thought it was a strange place to start. What does this have to do with feelings? I mean, sure, sometimes (all the time) we put our emotions on that chair, but that's not the only thing we put on the chair. But I realized it was the perfect place to start. For every single lesson. Because if we don't get that part right we might as well stop. Close the books and go home. God cannot renovate our heart with us still inside. No one is going to bulldoze a house with the former owner still inside. They cannot renovate it. No one’s gonna cut down the tree with Butterfly staked up in it in protest. When we are on the "chair", we are in constant protest of what God wants to do in our hearts.
And that’s when it dawned on me. I’ve been focusing more on changing my behavior and less on just walking out of the stupid house or getting up off the stupid chair. It’s so simple, right? But, that’s the thing. We always act like surrendering our lives to Jesus is simple and easy. That’s why we get so defeated when that doesn’t work. If I knew how to actually literally surrender my life to Jesus I would do it. Because I have prayed the prayer, I have stood up in countless sermons and shouted, whispered, prayed, or raised my hand in surrender so many times. I have again and again fully committed my life to Jesus. I have sang "my life is yours" “take my life” “you’re all I want” probably a million times. And some of those times were truly moments of myself walking out of the house. But, it’s annoying how I can feel like I really learned something or took a step forward and then I walk out of the room and it all just fades. Honestly, I’m not worthy to write these recaps. Because how many times have I listened to my own words? About 0 times. It’s like in the movie Father of the Bride. (I think it’s in the second one but I can’t remember exactly). (if you haven’t seen those movies please stop reading and go watch them.) They sell their house to this couple who wants to demolish it. They have the bulldozer and they are about to bulldoze the house down when Steve Martin’s character runs in front of the bulldozer to save the house. How many times have I done that? I walk out of the house and give over the keys, and God finally begins the renovation process. But, at the last moment, I run in front of the bulldozer- almost destroying my life- to protect the house. And the work stops.
If we were just honest with how hard it is and how much work it takes… maybe more people would begin to see transformation. Spiritual transformation and surrendering to Jesus is gonna be hard. It’s gonna take time. But, it’s work that has to be done. And God is doing all the hard work! We just have to stop digging our finger nails into our palms. Literally, Jesus is like “dude, come chill at my super cool party 24/7” and we’re all like “it’s too hard! Wahhhh”.
But who can really blame us, right? Life is confusing. Our hearts are deceivers. Our emotions are stealthy. They protect us so we trust them and then they attack us from behind. And so many sermons tell us that God gave us our emotions, so feeling isn’t bad. And that’s completely true. But I can’t keep straight was is good and what is bad and everything in moderation and take your thoughts captive to the Lord and so forth. But my thoughts are kind to me. On a good day. Yeah, they can be kinda harsh sometimes… but they never lie… right? And what can I trust besides my thoughts? I can't trust my circumstances. I most certainly can’t trust in relationships. Because they'll leave. And that's not fair. Most of the time I don’t even know if I can trust God. He’s the only one with a perfect track record of faithfulness but he is the least trustworthy. (I seem to believe).
But I know I don’t actually believe that. Because I am sitting at my kitchen table feeling empty and lonely for the umpteenth time. I don’t consider myself a lonely, depressed person until someone I care about leaves or just simply doesn’t care as much as I do. God has been so good to constantly provide a group of friends in my life but I use them to mask the loneliness I feel in my heart. I don’t know where or when or why the loneliness began but I think I’ve felt it most of my life. I won’t try to explain it away because it doesn’t need that power. Anyway, I’ve been shaking my fist at the sky and succumbing to cynical ways about how nothing in this life is safe and I can’t trust anything but my pain and blah blah blah when God simply, in his goodness, whispered to me to stop using people as Band-Aids. No one will fill the deep holes in my heart the way God will and no one was meant to. But, I have gone from person to person to temporarily fix my aching and I have continually ignored God’s call in the morning to let him love me. I have pushed it away for years. And I always thought it was just because of laziness or business or some small excuse that I could easily fix tomorrow. Like, I really do wanna accept his Love but I gotta run out the door. But, honestly, I don’t want to be satisfied in God alone because it’s scary and it’s not secure because it’s not based on feeling. And feelings are all I know. They are all I have listened to my whole life. They are my false sense of security. God will definitely give you feelings, but he will not let them master you. Because there is only one master. So, when it boils down I am more afraid of not feeling than I am confident in the goodness of God’s love. And that is the ruined condition of my heart. I won’t let God take away my feelings. But, still, despite my doubts, he’s so freaking good. (pardon my language, mom). Because he just lets me go and lets me make dumb mistakes. But he’s always ready to run to me when I come crawling home. So, at 2 in the morning I know in my mind that he is the only trustworthy source. I do know it. I just hate it sometimes. Because, God is risk. He is a safe refuge. But he is a risk. With God, your life is a hard-hat zone. (that metaphor I just came up with sounds brilliant in my current state of mind.)
So, for me, I have to raise my white flag. And I am learning more and more through this book and this class that I don’t think I truly have. I still sit on my chair. And I’m stubborn. So, my simple prayer this week has been: “Jesus, teach me how to live.” I just need him to teach me what it means to live this life with him. Because, I don’t know.
“Transforming the Mind, 1: Spiritual Formation and the Thought Life”
Ah, the mind. What a strange, scary, complex, irrational, amazing place. Everything that has been created – both good and evil – started as a dream or a vision or flash of brilliance in the mind. The mind is the kindest and cruelest thing to you. It is the best secret keeper, but it never lets you forget. It has no limits and no boundaries to the things you can achieve, giving you your dreams and telling you to follow them. But it also spews at you the worst insults and makes you swallow the most dirt, telling you to never believe in yourself. All in about .2 seconds. See: Scary.
It is important, then, to talk about the mind. And to work out our thought life. And that is why, I’m assuming, Dallas Willard spent not one but two chapters on our mind. (The next one is next week)
“As we first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that the first movements toward the renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change” (p. 95). I think this quote sums up perfectly what Willard is trying to get at in the sixth chapter in the book. We must get our thoughts right. We must think rightly about God, ourselves, and our faith. And that takes working out our salvation (cue last week!)
Now, to recap this week’s lesson: It was taught by a vulnerable and open Stephanie Tipton. The lesson sorta unpacked how we think. Willard calls it the Four Factors of Thought: Ideas, Images, Information, and Our Ability to Think. Ideas are the general models of or assumptions about reality. Images are the concrete perceptions that occupy our mind (like symbols i.e. the cross). Information is kinda self-explanatory. And Our ability to think is “the activity of searching out what must be true, or cannot be true, in light of given facts or assumptions” (p. 104). So, basically, this means actually thinking about and dwelling on the other three categories. Stephanie kinda rearranged the order to show the flow that they go through. We receive information (in all different types of ways) and that filters through our ability to think. We form ideas about what we just thought about and then an image solidifies our abstract idea.
Stephanie said that the thinking portion is key but the most neglected. We too often just take things for granted and become a sponge taking on whatever it is whoever we happen to be listening to at the moment believes. I know I do that like crazy. That’s probably why my mind is a mess. It doesn’t have much to stand on. We, as Christians, sometimes act as if we believe that our faith will take a hit if we think. But, that is so false. I love that Dallas Willard says on page 105: “We too easily forget that it is great thinkers who have given direction to the people of Christ in their greatest moments: Paul, John, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley…” These guys were scholars. Thankfully, you don’t have to even go to school to know the depths of God and his word… but you don’t have to fear knowledge or thinking. How freeing! We don’t have to fear our questions or our doubts or our general curiosity. A song I really like says “all the doubts I’ve faced, I continue to face them/but nothing is a waste if you learn from it/ and the sun, it does not cause us to grow/ it is the rain that will strengthen your soul” (“I Have Made Mistakes” by The Oh Hello’s). I love the powerful, simple, and sorta angsty truth of this song. Doubting is not bad. Doubting can bring you closer to the truth. It can and will strengthen your soul. Asking tough questions should never be shameful. It is shameful to NOT ask tough questions.***
Stephanie shared how she, through circumstances, has discovered some false views of God that she has believed. And she was honest that it’s hard not to continue to believe them. But, identifying our false views of God is the thing. It forces us to go back to the word and seek out what it really says. It is all a part of the process. It is our sanctifying. It is taking back the thing that has been stolen from us through the fall of man and it is the renovating of our heart.
We have to take note of our thoughts. What do I think about God? What do I think about myself? Is that the truth? I don’t know. But I do know where I can find out. And it ties in so wonderfully with last week’s lesson… KNOW THE WORD. Read your Bible! I cannot stress that enough to myself. Read. Read. Read. It can be boring. It can be dry. But, hey, Stephanie found a big answer to a big question she had in her life in Leviticus. And I have had many revelations through reading Numbers. (Talking donkeys!) And think about what you read. Figure out what it’s saying. Read other books. Pray. Talk with people. And don’t fear when people have different views from you. Listen. I think we’ll all surprise ourselves with how we come one step closer to the truth every time.
And I loved how the lesson ended. Thinking will always lead us to worship. Cause when you think… you think “man, God is awesome.” or “Wow! God thinks THAT about me?” or “I didn’t realize God promises this!” or “Look how faithful God is to those stinking Israelites” or “Wow. God is the most creative person ever I wanna go paint something” etc.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably scared of what’s up there. What’s inside of you. What you’re about to start thinking about. But, a good friend (Paul David Tripp) once told me: “do not be afraid of your heart.” (or, in this instance…. Your mind.) (He’s not really a good friend… I just read his book). And, more importantly, don’t be afraid of God. He’s not surprised or thrown off by ANYTHING you do.
This week was more about the thinking processes and next week Willard continues with the mind and talks about feelings (Jeannine is speaking!). And, just like we have to reorder our thought life, we definitely need to reorder our feelings. I have to remind myself about 20,349,170,283 times a day to not let my emotions run me. I can’t satisfy the insatiable feelings I have no matter how hard I try. So, I must give in and let God satisfy my feelings and change them to be the beautiful thing they should be. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Can’t wait for Sunday to hear this lesson.
*** Willard makes a solid point that I want to clarify. When we think about God we begin to think about him more steadily. Meaning: we’re not gonna be doubting Thomas’ forever. When we think, we get a right view of God. And that, again, sanctifies us.
The lesson was on chapter 5 of Renovation of the Heart, which, honestly, I didn't read. (I was hoping to be really good with the readings and keep up every week but I'm still on chapter 2... but that's okay.) The chapter is called Spiritual Change: The Reliable Pattern. The lovely Marilyn Maddox spoke. She shared her story which intertwined nicely with what she wanted to teach in the lesson. She spoke about running from God in her earlier years and how he continually pursued her. It was when she had to face her beliefs and began to question her faith that she began to turn to God. She began to let God work in her and to go to scripture to figure out what it said about God and about her beliefs and that changed her. (I hope I didn't completely butcher your story, Marilyn.)
The lesson was about obedience and working out your salvation to really know what it is you say you believe. The book gives an acronym VIM which stands for Vision, Intention, Means. To undergo spiritual change, we must have a vision that aligns with God's vision. His will and our will are one. And that does not mean that our will is the way, but it is God's will that will prevail. (How many times can I say "will" in one sentence?) That, honestly, is the hardest part for me. Which, when I think about it, I will say that for each part. Marilyn, and the book, talked a lot about how if we don't work at it, we won't get change. It is an active decision on our part to begin the change. It is through the grace of God and he does the changing, but we daily have to work out our salvation. And part of that is reading the word and figuring out what the heck it is that we say we are aligning ourselves with. That is the Intention part of VIM. The Means is how God changes us. And how we go about working out our salvation.
I've never been good at obedience. I like to think I have a delayed obedience to the Lord. I usually (sometimes) do what God asks me to do but it may take a couple days or couple of months. So any lesson on obedience usually makes me slightly uncomfortable. (Conviction is hard). But, even though we have to have the mindset of "duty to delight", it' not always about willing your way into it. It's about working out your salvation and getting in the word and really getting to know the God we confess to follow and know the things we believe. And through that-- my favorite phase-- "beholding is becoming". We behold the Lord and his word and we become more like him- if only slightly -day by day. And that is encouraging. I think it's important to realize that we do have to work. We do have to do something with our faith. And I fully believe that if I am 1% faithful, God will be 99% faithful. He will close the distance because he is THAT good. Way too good for me. I don't deserve the grace he has bestowed upon me. So I just have to bring the very little I offer and let him take that tiny thing and make it a kingdom. I won't begin to try to explain why he chooses to do this or why he chose to walk with us and give us his spirit and work in us for transformation but He did. And that is awesome. If I can get this first part right, then I will start to see the obedience be slightly easier. And I will want to because I will be so in love with Jesus and I will know fully that his ways are best and he is a safe hiding place. I just wish I wasn't so fickle.
Marilyn mentioned that when she counsels she looks for biblical thinking and how there is a lot of unbiblical thinking in people. That is why she really encouraged us to question whether we really believe what we say we believe. I was talking this morning with some friends that we know the truth in our minds but we don't feel it in our hearts. So we are plagued with doubt, fear, and uncertainty. And it's true. We have to look within and say "do I really believe this?" and, if I don't, why not? Why am I not convinced? And then go to the source. The breath of God. Man, I need to do that more. I am so weak in my mind. I just let it sway back and forth. We need to have a firm foundation (and we do in Christ), but we need weapons to fight off the enemy. I too often run on my own strength or on past seasons of plenty. Honestly, right now I am living as if I don't need to refuel and learn more about Christ. I am living on what I have built in Christ these past 5 years. On a shallow surface that might seem like it would work, but it doesn't. I am swayed. I want to lean on my own opinions. I am fearful. But, starting in his word and letting that be my daily bread will a) give me a firm faith that, when trials come my way, I will know that I know that God will be good and will work it out and b) I will be more willing to lean into his will and obey.
So, get your weights and treadmills and cute workout outfits on and don't sit back. Let's be women who build our muscles to fight off the temptations and trials with a knowledge of Christ and who seek to obey him in all that we do. I hope you didn't hate my awful metaphor.
To be honest, the Texas-Arkansas game a couple nights ago is what inspired this post.
As I was going to bed without even finishing the game, I couldn't stop thinking about Swoops** (the quarterback) and how embarrassing him and the whole team played. It literally kept me up at night. Because, here is this kid who became the starting quarterback of a huge school and still... he failed. Sure it's just one game. But all season long Texas was mediocre at best. I mean, maybe he is happy. Maybe he is satisfied. But, looking at his face, he seemed sad. He seemed disappointed. Yes, he made it to college football. But he didn't excel. He didn't succeed. So, did he fail?
A couple months away from graduation, I am becoming more and more aware of how hard it is to be successful. I mean, you could make it to the top and still be unsuccessful (in the world's eyes). And that scares the heck out of me. That makes me want to not even try. I just want to find a job that will pay my bills and settle for a seemingly purposeless life.
Call me selfish or entitled or dramatic or whatever-- but I don't want to just work to pay bills. But the thing I have to figure out is what scares me more? Failing or mediocrity? Failing trying for something I love or successfully doing something I just have to do to survive?
Is getting all the way to the top and still not really making it failing? Is that good enough? Is it worth it? Should I care? Should it keep me from trying?
I've never really been one of those people who got super angsty if someone revealed the big ending or plot twist to a movie/book/TV show, etc. I wouldn't go searching for spoilers, but if I happened upon one it wouldn't keep me from watching the movie or reading the book. Because, to me, the journey and the how they got to the big climatic surprise twist moment was more important. That was the part I was interested in.
Can that be true for my life? Am I more interested in how I get to where I get rather than where I get. Cause, really, we all arrive at the same place eventually. (The grave). And all these earthly riches and fame and glories or lack of fame and glories will disappear.
So maybe, just maybe, the point of life is to find that one thing that makes failing worth it and pursue that with everything you've got. Maybe failing at that is not actually failing at all.
And what's so scary about failing anyway? As much as I feel like everyone is riding on how well I do in life... no one actually cares. The only person I would really disappoint is myself. And I am slowly figuring out that I can't really trust myself. [ANGST]. And I shouldn't trust myself because myself is whacked up and says really dumb things to myself and just makes myself more sad and mad and angry than I was before. Stupid myself. Why can't we all just get along?
Life is scary. Life is hard. But life is just life. It has so many twists and turns and is so flexible and fluid. And in the heartache there is always some gold to pull from it. Life is fragile but life is only life. So, take a deep breath. Don't sweat so much. And go out there and make your way in the world. In your own unique way. And if you lose a football game or two or seven along the way, at least you got your hand on the football.
[These are the conversations I have with myself everyday.]
**I realize that I actually don't know much about football and Swoopes could be much better than I am giving him credit or whatnot. But just go with me.
I'm reading through 1 Samuel and this morning I read chapter 15 which is titled "The Lord rejects Saul". I've read this chapter many times at this point and it always bothers me. Basically in it God is like "go fight the Amalekites and leave no one alive". Saul does that but brings the king Agag alive and some of the best ox and sheep. He was planning on sacrificing these things to God. But, God is like "that's not what I asked you to do. I reject you. I'm choosing someone else to be King."
Every time I read this chapter I can't help but think "Gosh, God. Ain't that a little harsh?" I mean, Saul wanted to sacrifice to God. He was doing something that, in his eyes, seemed holy and right. He probably was thinking that God was even gonna be proud of him for how extra spiritual he was going to be today. Instead, God rejects him.
I think one reason why this chapter bothers me is because I like control. I like being the one who controls my destiny or even just what I'm going to eat for breakfast. I want to make life the way I want to make it. I want God to be there with me, but I want to make it. I want God to bless my endeavors, but I want them to be my endeavors. And I've even been led to believe that that's what God wants to.
But Samuel says in the chapter:
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has also rejected you from being king.”
(1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV)
God knew that, for whatever reason, this group of people needed to be completely destroyed. Saul's obedience was that important. But, also, I think God was trying to teach him and me, thousands of years later, that God doesn't care of what we think we can do for God. He is not concerned with my grand plans and "sacrifices" I have and will make with every good intention. Not because God is just that stubborn or strict or cruel but because (a) it's not about me and (b) he knows that wherever he has called me is exactly where I am supposed to be. And it's better than anything I have planned.
That scares me. Because I know what I want in life. And the things I want are all good things. It's not like I'm deciding between a path of becoming a serial killer or a doctor. The wrong route there is a little more obvious. But I find it so interesting that Samuel says "presumption is as iniquity and idolatry". Saul presumed that God would want sacrifices. But God wasn't lying when he said he wanted no one left alive. Presuming we know what God wants for us is idolatry. That's crazy. But I can see that in my own life. Sometimes the dreams I have that start out as dreams of ministry turn into my dreams. Dreams I have to have or I won't be happy. Dreams that make me great. But I have to live life with open hands. I cannot hold too tightly to the dreams I have or the things I've been given thinking I have a right to them. Because God is gonna call me to exactly where He wants me. And He's gonna get me there no matter what. But if he has to pry me away from the things I grip on with my life because I want them it will be a much more painful process.
I know I'm kind of making a stretch with my connection but the bottom line is: God desires obedience to him rather than the measly little sacrifices we try to make him. He desires us to follow his lead rather than us create a life based on how we think we can serve God.
And this chapter ends with Samuel hacking Agag to pieces so that's cool too.
The other morning I was reading my bible and it was one of those times when you read the Bible and every verse is alive and refreshing to you. Every chapter I read, God was speaking to me in a specific way and I was filling up pages in my journals with verses, thoughts, prayers, etc. I kept thinking "man, if only God always spoke to me this way and I got this much refreshment from reading every day". But, then God stopped me in my tracks. I guess I realized that it wasn't God who decided to "show up" that day but it was me. God is always speaking. God is always there. God's word never comes back void. The Holy Spirit is always whispering. Am I listening? Do I come to God and wait? Many days I'm too impatient. But, if I be still maybe I would hear what he's been saying all along.
I've kind of struggled with hating the fact that every time I spend time with God I have to work through the same thing over and over. I think of all the things I could be learning instead of the same lesson over and over that I can't seem to actually believe or apply. So, I decided to strengthen my mind and strengthen my will (which are good things) but that process is harder than I wanted it to be.
This phrase keeps running in my mind: this summer is going to be a win. It's usually when I feel the weakest that I speak this because I want so badly for this to be true. I already alluded to this but the summer has started off rocky. I have struggled to keep my mind on the Lord. I am swaying way too quickly to idolatry and to desires of the flesh. And I know when it's happening but I am too weak to stop it. It makes for kind of pitiful prayer times that are consumed in my woes. And I keep thinking to myself that if I work harder, if I control myself better, if I put all these parameters up in my life maybe I'll come out happier or more at peace. And if I could just let go of my idols and not ever think about them then I could put a W next to Summer 2014. But maybe instead of seeing those accomplishments as "wins", maybe just coming to God every day and laying at his feet even if I am too weak and too sad to say anything is the win I need. Just coming to God. Just laying out everything in front of me. Maybe if I can focus on that, this summer will be a "win" whether I get over all my idols and sinful desires or not. Because Jesus is the point. Not a cleaned-up life. And coming to Jesus will ultimately purify and sanctify me. But if I focus on the purifying part instead of focusing on Jesus I won't get as far. I'd be worse off actually.
God is always faithful. I am mostly not. But, if I can just show up and if I can get with God I can hear what he has to say and what he is trying to teach me. And it'll change me because his word is living and active and does not come back void. And all that right there is all I need. Jesus' win on the cross is all I need to make it through. He pours out his love and his grace daily. All I need to do is turn and hold out my hand to receive it. And I'll consider that a win any day.
I am speaking about this humbly from a place of actually experiencing this. I feel like it's something that a lot of people need to hear.
One of my friends and pastor said this and it really hit me even though I have heard it many times before: "The church is full of broken people- just like you- who are so enthused about loving people because God loved them."
I want to speak to both parts of that statement. For the first half: I expect way too much from people. I think we all expect way too much from people. And, for some reason, we expect even more from people in the church. We expect them to love us the way we want to be loved and we expect them to never mess up. And we only give them one chance. The moment they screw up is the moment we write them off as hypocrites. And we run.
Yes, the church should love. We need to be loving more than any other institute or organization or group of people in this world because we are the only one who know the One True Love. BUT we are still imperfect people. I have a messed up life. I can't expect that my friends at church don't. They do too.
I need to stop playing the victim. And I think many people need to hear that too. Too long have I pointed my finger and in doing so I have chained myself up to my self-pity, my selfishness, my pride, and the lie that everyone is against me or no one understands me or they don't love me like I deserve. I deserve a pile of dirt. Worse, I deserve death. It is by the grace of God that I am loved by Him and by others.
Yeah some people probably said some things and did some things that legitimately hurt me or hurt my friends. But they have not done anything that is too far from forgiveness and grace. And I have to remember: They are broken just like me. The beauty of the church is that we are broken but we all know hope. The reason that the church is messy and not always fun or not always the place I want to be is because it is made up of broken, sinful people. But we get to gather weekly and remember the perfect man that was broken so we could be made whole. And, as God sanctifies us, that is somehow enough.
On to the second half. I realized something about this past year: Once I forgot the love that God had for me I started waiting around for someone to initiate loving me like I felt I deserved. Once I forgot the love that God gives me I started believing that no one understands me. Who cares whether people understand me? THE GOD OF THIS UNIVERSE knows me better than I know myself. He understands my every thought and my every temptation and he can sympathize with me. I need to stop putting so much weight on what my church friends think of me. The only opinion that matters is God's opinion. As the body they have the right to speak into my life but at the end of the day I answer to God.
I can only give what I have been given. I need to be reminded daily- every hour-of the love of God so that I can in turn give away love to my brothers and sisters. And if I stop waiting for someone to initiate with me and just choose to love those around me I will be less lonely and less angry and less fearful. The reason I was lonely and mad this year was because I put too much on the shoulders of others and when they couldn't meet the expectations they were never meant to have I felt lonely and sad.
I'm not saying that all you have to do is give give give without receiving, but I also believe you will never relieve if you never give. If I just wait by my phone until someone invites me to church instead of just going I'll never feel accepted. If I actually show up to things I'd be surprised how accepted I felt. I know this because I've seen this in my life countless times. Self-pity never works. It's easy. But it doesn't work.
I guess my point is that I have to make a choice: Am I going to wait till people treat me "right" to jump into the church or will I decide to love the people around me because I know God's love for me and these people deserve it just as much as I do. The first choice will leave me disappointed and the second choice will bring me one step closer to Christ.
Living life with people is hard. Everyone will disappoint you at one point. But Christ came and died for the church and he already promised the church will prevail. So I have to believe it will prevail.
On the eve of Easter weekend
Celebrating the greatest day in history
The day where the Son of God,
Who found it pleasing to walk this very earth,
Would face a tragic death on a cross
I doubted His love, His goodness toward me.
I asked every "why" question there is.
I actually believed He was cruel.
He was unfair.
He was distant.
But in His kindness, He turned me to the cross.
The greatest expression of love,
The greatest gift of goodness.
Grace and Mercy still nailed to the cross
where Perfection suffered so many years ago.
It's so easy for me to get caught up in my own world
To say "Poor Bethany, how sad is she."
My problems become so big in my mind
But Jesus turned my eyes.
He turned my heart.
He reminded me that on that cross He defeated it all.
He defeated my shame.
He defeated my sin.
And in dying He promised me life.
How could I doubt?
How could I question for one second His love for me?
How could I believe that He doesn't have good for me?
Why do I look at the temporary pain?
Why do I give it so much weight?
Jesus, you are enough.
I have repeated this so many times.
When will I believe it?
You are enough.
I wasn't sure if I would ever get out of this pit.
The pit of my own sin and destruction.
I felt like I was only digging a deeper hole for myself.
But then here comes Easter Sunday.
And we would sing "O Death, where is your sting?"
The Resurrected King said you were defeated and defeated you shall be.
And Jesus reminded me that
the hand that was nailed to the cross
is the very hand that reaches into my pit and pulls me out.
He says "You are not stuck.
You can move forward."
God's goodness can always find a way to break through
And can awaken me to love and to truth.
I cannot nullify the cross or the grave
By believing the lie
that death and sin are still alive
and still hold power over me.
The Resurrected King said they were defeated
and defeated they shall be.
And so I walk on solid ground.
And so a new dawn comes.
I find grace to make me new.
I find strength to get me through.
I find joy for all my days.
I find love.
I find Jesus.
And he is more than enough.
I will overcome because
He has overcome.
Thank you for the cross.
Thank you for the grave.
Thank you for your life.
Thank you for your Spirit.
Thank you that you are coming again.
I was flipping through my journal today and came across something I wrote on October 25, 2013:
"'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you [Jesus being the Christ], but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' Matthew 16:18.
"No matter what 'problems' there are in the church- the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Jesus will WIN."
Most people know that one of my biggest struggle this year, and in my spiritual journey, is that I've had a lot of anger towards the church (well, a specific church). It kind of just snuck up on me slowly but surely. I've never been one to be angry towards church or towards God but this year, before I knew it, I was playing the victim and the church had harmed me. Even today, it has been easy to criticize the church and find the ways that they are wrong or have wronged me.
Therefore, I pulled away. I don't think it was noticeable from the outside. I still went to church. But I had an arms reach to the people there and took everything that was said with a grain of salt. I sat back and took on the role of critic instead of being an active member in the body.
It affected me. It affected me big time. But, it affected me slowly. It didn't happen over night but each day as I turned from community and to agreeing ears, I was just turning more and more cold. I did talk it through with certain third party people that I trust and love and they always gave me good advice that I needed to hear. But, once you let bitterness into your life-- it's really hard to get it out.
I read this verse along time ago and wrote down that small statement with it. I think it spoke to me then but it really hit me yesterday. I so easily pick at the problems and magnify the bad and try to find ways that I'm right and I'm better than them but I failed to realize that there are always going to be problems. You will never find a perfect church. It's not out there. The church is made up of a bunch of imperfect humans. Every church community has it's weaknesses. People have been legitimately hurt by some people in the church. But the church was established by Jesus himself. The church was established on perfection and on grace. The church was established on faith that JESUS is Lord. And Jesus made a promise: the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against the church. The church is not going anywhere. The devil can't touch it. No matter how much junk is in the church, the doorpost has been painted with the blood of the lamb and we are saved from death. The only way that the devil can reach the church is by stealing it's people. It's by grabbing on to people like me who let a seed of some small situation grow into a weed of hurt, bitterness, and anger. The only way the devil gets power is if we give him power. If we turn from the church, we share the same enemy as the devil.
I'm speaking to myself first and foremost because I need to hear this: it is a dangerous road you travel when you criticize the church. Jesus LOVES the church therefore we, as his followers, must love it too. Church isn't just an option that is there. It is the key to victory. Without it, we would lose. This religion isn't about individuals believing in the same God. It's about God gathering his people back to him. We can't do this alone. We weren't made to do it alone. We need the church. We need to love the church. We need to care for the church. We need to see the church be changed and grow in love and wisdom and truth.
The church needs you. The church needs what you have to say and what you think. The church needs your gifts. The body of Christ needs you. We can't turn towards each other. We must stand as one. It seems difficult in this world of many opinions and interpretations but we stand on the ROCK. We have a sure foundation. We have the Word. We have the lamb. We cannot fail.
I don't have to let the problems of the church defeat me because Jesus died on the cross for those problems. And, hopefully, if the community of believers are seeking God, he will sanctify the church into more Christ-likeness with every passing day.
The church isn't perfect. But Jesus is. And when God looks at the church, he sees Jesus. Jesus came to die for his church.
I repent of the ways that I have bashed the church. I repent for not extending grace the same way it has been extended to me. I repent of expecting people to know and understand me fully. I repent of judging others who see things differently than me. I repent of letting anger boil in my heart. I repent of turning cold. I repent of my passivity.
So yesterday I was sitting on my bed staring at my bookshelf like I often do. I have probably 50 books on that shelf. I've read probably half of them if even. That's not really the point, but I was sitting there thinking about all the books I need to read and I spotted a book that I have read: And He Dwelt Among Us by A.W. Tozer. It was the first Christian book (besides the Bible obviously) that I bought and read. I remember going to Borders with my sister and father wanting to find a Christian book to read. I picked it out randomly not knowing who A.W. Tozer was. Nobody recommended the book for me and I had no idea what it was about besides what the back told me. But I picked it out, bought it, and read it. I read it pretty quickly. I think it was my junior or senior year of high school.
I was sitting there staring at this stupid book and thinking back to my senior self and how I found a random book about God, written by a guy who is already dead, and read it because I was that hungry.
I'm so thankful for that year and the year after that. I'm so thankful that God continually stirred my hunger up and continually responded to fill my hunger. I'm so thankful that I spent so much time reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, reading, searching, soaking up, taking risks, growing, stretching.
I could probably describe the season I'm in as one that is not easy. Nothing comes out of an overflow for me. Reading the Bible is a discipline- one that I too often don't practice.
But what that book symbolized for me yesterday was that those seasons of extreme hunger and intense pursuit were not in vain. They are not lost. They are not just memories. But they have made me who I am today. Every time I spent with God, he was planting roots in my heart. And those roots are still here today. All is not lost. I didn't lose the secrets and truth that God has poured into me.
And that makes me so thankful. I'm thankful I had those days because they are not as everlasting as I would have hoped. I go through seasons of questions, and dryness, and fear, and confusion. But I still have the foundation of meeting God face to face and falling in love with him and falling in love with his word. It's still with me today.
And continually I learn, every day, that God is worth my life. No matter my circumstances.
For the weary heart
For the restless mind
For the wandering soul
For the lost sheep
For the prodigal son
For the unmotivated one
For the desert dweller
For the cold heart
For the restless child
For anyone who feels trapped, confused, scared, lost, dry, overwhelmed, passive.
Lift up your eyes
To the Giver of Life.
The Faithful One.
The Holy One.
The Tender One.
The All-Consuming Fire.
The Prince of Peace.
The King of Kings.
The Lord of Lords.
The Creator of the Earth.
The Father to the Fatherless.
The Mighty Savior.
The Same Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
He is constant.
Even though we are constantly changing.
He is the same God
When we had the mountaintop experience.
He is the same God
When life was full of meaning.
He is the same God
When joy and grace abounded.
He is the same God
When everything was out of overflow
He is the same.
Bring to him all you have.
Bring to him the nothing you have.
Drop at his feet your fears.
Ask him every question.
Say nothing at all.
Sing to him praise.
Sit quietly and listen.
There is no agenda.
There is no plan.
Be still and know that He is God.
In him there is peace.
In him there is joy.
In him there is living water.
In him there is healing.
In him there are answers to your questions.
In him there is love.
Don't think about the things you haven't done.
Don't look behind you.
Just come today.
Just come as you are.
Know he has already won.
He has defeated the grave.
He is sitting on his throne.
His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
He is worthy.
He is good.
He is faithful.
He is near.
Nothing can separate you from his love.
You are sealed.
You are set in his hands.
His ways are higher than your ways.
His thoughts are higher than your thoughts.
He is the Creator of the Universe and he knows your name.
He is the King of Kings and yet he gave his life for you.
At the sound of his name the rocks tremble.
He is glory.
He is majesty.
He is the lion and the lamb.
And he has you in his hands.
Let everything else fade away.
The ever surrounding voices of others.
And lift up your eyes to the giver of life.
Are you thirsty? Come to the fountain.
Are you scared? Come to the hiding place.
Are you doubtful? Come to the source of wisdom.
Are you tired? Come to rest.
Are you anxious? Come to peace.
Are you bored? Come to abundant life.
His love is better than all this world can give.
Keep going, weary traveler.
Step by step.
"May my prayer like incense rise before You
The lifting of my hands as sacrifice
Oh Lord Jesus turn Your eyes upon me
For I know there is mercy in Your sight
Your statutes are my heritage forever
My heart is set on keeping Your decrees
Please still my anxious urge toward rebellion
Let Love keep my will upon its knees
To all creation I can see a limit
But Your commands are boundless and have none
So Your Word is my joy and meditation
From the rising to the setting of the sun
All Your ways are loving and are faithful
The road is narrow but Your burden light
Because You gladly lean to lead the humble
I shall gladly kneel to leave my pride
Oh God, you are my God.
And I will ever praise you.
I will seek you in the morning.
And I will learn to walk in your ways.
And step by step you'll lead me.
And I will follow you all my days."
-Like Incense/Sometimes By Step (Hillsong)
First off I just want to say that I am no one. I don't have anything that original or dire to say. My opinions do not have added weight to them. I probably really shouldn't have a blog. But, the reason I like blogging is because (for some strange reason) it helps me gather my thoughts. I am not an eloquent writer by far but I think this helps me get some what better. I am thinking about how to come across clearly and precisely. Also, I know that my family likes to know what is going on in my life. So... for that I will ramble on about things I am learning. Or something.
As I grow older I am constantly learning new things and I think God is chipping away at parts of me that are skewed or misguided. I hope it's not due to skepticism, which I can bend towards, but actually my spirit within me testing things against scripture. But this past semester I had a lot of questions. A lot of things that I once accepted were now not so simple. Practices, traditions, terminology, ideas, beliefs. Everything. I don't believe any of my doubts and questions were deal-breakers but grey areas. I had questions about worship, spiritual gifts, evangelism, sin, love, etc. Big, important things but not things that risked my salvation.
In a lot of ways it seemed like I took steps back spiritually. I wasn't as involved with my church and I lacked passion and joy for a lot of the semester. My personal time with God (or whatever you want to call it) was a little more sporadic, I grew increasingly behind on my Bible reading, and I was kind of floating when it came to finding a place to serve. Simply put I feel like I lacked a lot of discipline. These are things that I hope to work out in the future and find my way, but here's why I think I grew instead of backtracked this semester:
(This is just one example of many things) I remember sometime in my college experience someone I respect and admire greatly told a story about how he was getting up every morning and getting alone with God and having awesome devotions and what not and it really jump started his day and helped him get through his job. Well, one morning, by accident he slept in and didn't have time to really sit and be with God, but I think he quickly skimmed a chapter in the Bible. And he said his day was hard and he had church that night and he was having trouble engaging in the worship. And he went to the front during the ministry time to pray and ask God why he felt so disconnected and he remembers just saying "I miss you God" at the front because he missed him during the day. His point was that he was so used to spending time with God in the morning and because of that he really felt the presence of God throughout the day. So when he wouldn't have his quiet time he would have trouble "feeling" God as he went about the day. I remember thinking (almost subconsciously) that if I could get to that point where I would have crummy days when I missed my quiet time than I would have made it. Later, I remember having a day much like his. I didn't have a quiet time for whatever reason and at church that night I was having trouble worshiping and couldn't feel God with me. I don't know if those things are connected, but I remember telling my friend later that that was happening to me. And there was an air of arrogance in my voice as I told her. I was proud that I couldn't feel God's presence because I didn't get into my prayer closet that morning.
That story he told has stuck with me. I think about it often I don't know why. But I thought about it sometime this semester and I thought about that day I had and me telling my friend and I just grew sick to my stomach. And I thought to myself that I don't ever want to get to a point that if I miss reading my Bible and praying for a day that I will have a horrible day and I won't feel God. I don't know. That just sounds awful. I don't want to not be able to find God because of my lack of faithfulness. And it puts everything on my shoulders. It makes it about what I am doing instead of Jesus and the cross. And I realized something that I think is so important for myself to hear: a good quiet time is not the goal. I have put SO much emphasis on getting up in the morning and making sure I clock my hour in and it has to happen EVERY DAY or I fail. And I've seen so many others pressured into getting up at 6 and sleeping through their time with God because they are so tired. I've gone to several seminars on how to construct the perfect quiet time and have gotten at least three packets on it.
Now, before I go on, let me clarify. I believe so much in the power of spending intentional time with God. My family has instilled that in me and it is something I take very seriously. I want to get up and read my Bible, I want so badly to grow in my prayer life (which has pretty much been non-existent lately). And, if Jesus had to go by himself to get alone with God... so should I. And, honestly, the thing that stirred my heart for the first time and actually made me fall in love with Jesus was getting up every morning and getting into my closet and journaling, praying, and reading the Bible as a 17 year old. I still remember sitting with Molly at Macaroni Grill as she shared with me how she spent time with God and I took everything she said and did it myself and it was awesome. Some of the sweetest memories I have with God. So I think that spending time with God is important, necessary, and life-changing. I got so off track though. A good devotional life = a good, mature spiritual Bethany. A good devotional life became my God. I did EVERYTHING I could to perfect it. And, just like everything else, me doing it on my own just wasn't working. I got tired. I burned out. It wasn't fun. It wasn't effective. It was just me writing words on pages trying to pretend like I was connecting with God. But it had to be my way. My time.
Some of the most inspiring, God-filled "quiet times" I've had in my life have been really unconventional. They've been at random times, in random places (bottom floor of Moody Library has seen some good Jesus+Bethany times). They've been for different amounts of time (ranging from like 5 minutes to an hour and a half). They didn't follow a schedule or a plan. It was all about me just connecting with God. And BEING with him. Sometimes I didn't open my Bible. Sometimes all I did was read. Sometimes I just needed to journal. Other times I needed to blog. Some times I needed to just put on some worship music. Most times I did a combination of all that. But it was raw and real. And I remember those times. I can't remember what half of the times when I had my designated place/time/schedule. Those are all good and they work in some seasons... but after a while they stopped working for me.
This semester I threw out all conventions. I just made an effort to spend time with God every day. No rules. No expectations. And to do at least SOMETHING in the morning. Whether it would be to read a psalm or just start with a worship song. And it was rough. I will be honest and say I didn't have a "quiet time" every day. And I sometimes didn't have any desire to. But, most days I would get so much out of them. And God is SO gentle and kind and silenced any voices I tend to listen to besides his. And he knew what I needed more than I did.
I am still on a journey. Still in the process. But, even though if I put my life on a scale of others or what I expected from myself it would like like I fell short, I believe that I took one baby step closer to getting it. It isn't about mastering the perfect quiet time. It is about God. It's about his grace. It's about knowing HIM and being known by him. And that can look a little different than I think. Having a quiet time is supposed to be about worshiping God, praying, soaking in His word, and gaining the tools I need to make it through this life. It is only a mean to get to an end. It is not the end. The goal is Jesus. Wherever. Whenever. However. Simply Jesus.
That is how I see it as a 20 year old girl. I'm sure I am wrong in some areas and know I have places I will grow. And I'm open to being wrong. But the older I get the more I realize that all I need I have because all I need is Jesus.
If you know me, you probably know I love theatre. There is not much I love more than theatre. And every day I fall more in love with it.
There are several reasons for why I love it. I can't deny that it is just plain fun. But there is so much more than that. It's hard, it's challenging, it's scary, it's vulnerable. But it never fails to move me. (Good theatre... To clarify). But, one of the biggest blessings that has come from studying theatre at Baylor University is what is has taught me about life, people, and God. I thought I would share some of those things with you.
1) the main method that they teach us here about acting is to try to affect the other person. They want us to steer away from self-indulgent performances and get us to do everything we do to be about the other person.
To be honest, sometimes I can be very self absorbed. I mean, who isn't from time to time? But sometimes I have the daily struggle of feeling like I don't love people enough or like God has commanded us. And, no joke, I was praying about this and wanting to grow and God brought me back to what we learn in acting. If while I am acting I am always focused on the other person and making them feel a certain way why can't I do that in real life? Now, while acting it can be a very manipulative tool. But I realized that when I leave a conversation with someone I want them to feel more loved and valued and encouraged than when we began. That's simple. And it's very humbling. The second you focus on yourself while acting it is 9 times out of 10 less interesting than when you keep your focus on the other person. You don't care how you look or play for the audience you just do whatever you need to to get what you want from the other. You actually have to be very humble to act.
2) not every role is right for me to play. This has been a harder lesson to learn- both in life and acting. It's hard to see the cast list and not see your name. But I was not made to fill every role. But I am made to fit some role.
Same thing in life. God has given each and every one of us different gifts. So I can't compare myself with others. If someone gets cast and I don't- it's not always about whose more talented. Sometimes it's as simple as I'm too short or not blonde or whatever. Same in the church. If someone is in a role and thriving and that's not where God has put me I can't say that their role is better than mine. Because what God has made me for is what he wants me to do. So I should be thankful and celebrate that.
3) I can't judge my character. Sometimes I play roles that are very different than me. I've played roles where I don't agree with the life my character lives. But if I judge them the audience will see and it won't be as believable. I have to find some way to relate to the character and believe my character is right.
I can't judge others. Now, I don't necessarily have to justify there actions or dig deep in myself to relate with them. But judging others is not my job. And I have learned many many times that when I do judge others... I usually find myself doing the same thing sooner or later. So i shouldn't judge when I don't know their heart. Because things are always more complicated than they seem. Acting has made me more compassionate because you step inside their head and see, sometimes, it's not all black and white.
4) life is messy. I feel like I've spent too much time trying to run from the ickiness of this world. As a Christian I have tried so hard to paint this picture that I am perfect and have it all together. But I'm not and I don't. At all. And I think that we need to not be so afraid to explore some areas of life that are hard. Not comprimising what the Bible says but just opening our eyes to the fact that life is messy. People are messy. We make mistakes. And that makes grace so beautiful. That makes hope so much more real. There are some things in theatre that I wouldn't feel comfortable doing for various reasons (like I will never be in 50 Shades of Grey: The Musical). But instead of shielding my eyes (which I watch a lot of theatre as a theatre major so I really can't) we should talk about these things, let the script and the actors teach us something, and then say that grace, hope, and Jesus are real. This is a very complicated part of the theatre that I don't think I could really flesh out on here, but a HUGE lesson I've learned in college.
Everyone has a story to tell. And I realized that a lot of sharing the gospel with them is also letting them share their life with me.
All this points me towards Jesus. It all drives me to my knees in awe, thankfulness, and desperation for my savior. And I love that.
It's funny how God breaks through to me. It's funny how one conversation with one friend changes my perspective on my semester.
This semester really hasn't been horrible. I LOVE my acting class and have learned so much in that class. I fall more in love with theatre everyday which confirms for me that this is where I'm supposed to be. Baylor football is dominating. Friends are abundant and life-giving. I got cast in my first show, etc. But you know how everyone always asks "how is your semester going?"? Well, I found it really hard to say "it's going good." I don't know why. I could only muster up "it's really hard." Because deep down inside I have struggled to be happy this semester. There are many reasons why- and I know most of them- but it has a lot to do with the fact that this semester has been a huge transition, one long search and journey, and lots of changes. I mean... That's life in general. But I've just struggled to feel purpose, belonging, and happiness anywhere. And when you have felt that in the past, the times you don't feel it are magnified. And I hate it. It sucks.
I was kinda worried about the end of the semester and going home. I didn't want it to end on a low note. I didn't want it to end as it has been going. I didn't want this to be my story when I recount my semester.
But then I was talking to a friend over dinner about life and God and all the things girls love to discuss when I kind of stumbled into this truth: happiness is cheap.
I love being happy. I love laughing. I love being the life of the party. I love those moments when you can't stop smiling and you just want that moment to last forever. And, honestly, I can point to moments this semester when I've had that. But those moments don't last. They aren't with us forever. One day I'm happy the next day I'm not. Happiness is fleeting. So I can't bank on it. I can't pursue it or chase after the things that I think will make me happy. They don't last. I've tried.
So, yes, this semester I've struggled to be happy. But, I'm okay with that, because that's not my goal for life. My goal in life is simple: to know Jesus and to make him known. And you know what isn't cheap? JOY. When I have a hold of the sure foundation of Jesus he promises joy in all circumstances. And joy isn't dependent on my circumstances. It just is. And that's so hopeful and so freeing!
All the details of what to do and where to go in life haunt me daily, but if I focus more on KNOWING and BEING with Jesus that will all come together. He'll guide me. He won't let me go. He won't let me wander too far off the path.
And that's my semester.
Something that I feel like God has kept speaking to me over and over again this past week is the simple phrase: "Move forward."
When I am not sure whether I should do this or do that or where to go next or if I am doing the right thing or if I am wrong, God has reminded me to keep moving forward. To take the next step. He'll stop me if I'm going the wrong way, he'll narrow my focus to exactly where he wants me, he'll keep me from straying off the path, and he'll bring me back if I do. I kinda think that I won't know where God is leading me until I get there. I don't know if that is a cliche or a truth or both... but it's what I feel.
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you" Matthew 6:33
As long as I am continually seeking God and moving forward... I trust he will lead me in the correct way. I don't have to have all my cards straight or my ducks in a row... I just have to keep moving forward in love, in joy, and in peace.
Freshman year I was a part of the club "Asians For Christ" for a little bit. No, I am not asian. But they accepted me anyways. It was fun for the couple weeks I went but then life got in the way and I realized I wouldn't be able to really plug myself in that specific community. So, I stopped showing up. I wasn't there long enough for anyone to miss me. But it's still funny to think about the days when I was in Asians For Christ.
I don't know what it is about junior year. I don't know if this is normal or just the season I am in. But I think as college goes on people realize they can't be in the 20 clubs they signed up for at Late Night freshman year. People can't just go to AFC because it's fun. Time is precious to all and we all are deciding what we are going to do with the time given to us. (Unintentional LOTR quote). And we're deciding what is really important to us. And what we really believe.
I have two main passions in life: Theatre and Church. I love acting more than most things in this world. And I love the church and community and God. Probably my biggest struggle in college has been figuring out how these two fit together and fit in my life. Without fail, all my theatre things and all my church things happen same day, same time. Quite literally. And I am always having to choose. Or it's not a choice... it is mandatory that I'm at one of the things. A couple times it has been mandatory that I go to both.
Because of that, I feel like either a bad theatre student or a bad church goer. It's never a win for me. I feel like I'm betraying one when I go to the other. At first I almost always chose church over theatre. And I suffered in the theatre department because of it. I was involved minimally at best. So this year I said things were going to be different. I said I wanted to be more involved in the theatre department. I thought I had made my choice. But then I have weeks like this past week and all I want to do is get away from the theatre building. I am so consumed with self-ness and comparison and competition and I feel gross all over. Everyone is on edge and I feel like I have to walk on egg shells.
But then I'm at church and I question whether I care enough about theatre to really pursue it. If I really cared I would do anything and everything to get better. And I would go to all the events, right? So why am I not there? Am I selfish for going to church? Yes, I have thought these thoughts. I go to church because "I need it. It's good for me." Shouldn't I be focused on loving and serving people?
But I have seen too many people walk away. I have watched person after person compromise just a little until they are so far away they don't even know how they go there. I can't be passive about God. I can't be passive about church. I am not strong enough.
I have less than two years left with Baylor Theatre. In two years I will no longer be in the department. I have no idea where I'll be or what I'll be doing. But I won't be a Baylor student. These days will just be memories that I will take with me. But when I chose Jesus I was signing on for a lifetime membership. There isn't a "season of Jesus". He is forever. He is when everything else fades away. So why am I trying SO hard to gain success that is so fleeting? Why am I trying to impress or please people that I won't be with forever? The Word of the Lord remains forever (1 Peter 1:24-25). And only The Word.
I can't be passive. I have to press in. This is the only option I have. It is so hard though. It is so hard feeling slightly different than all my friends. It is so hard saying no to things that everyone else says yes to. It is hard feeling lonely. It is hard knowing that many won't understand. And it is hard not knowing what God is doing and will do.
Honestly, maybe I am being a little melodramatic. I have many friends at the church that are on fire for Jesus. I have many friends in the theatre department that are also on fire for Jesus. I have many people in my life to encourage me and to pray for me and that I can serve along with. I am blessed. And I know I am. But I keep coming back to this crossroad. And I have to keep choosing Jesus. It is easy for me to get distracted and stray off. But as long as God's mercy is real I will always come back to this crossroad. And every day I wake up I want to choose Jesus. If my whole family left the church and decided they were done with God, it would be the hardest thing ever but I will STILL follow Jesus. I have found life is better with him. And there is no going back for me.
Choosing Jesus doesn't mean becoming a nun and shutting myself up from the world. I am still a theatre major. I still have so many awesome opportunities. I still have a life of adventure and crazy blessings ahead of me. But it does mean that my life looks a little different. And sometimes I have to put down my dreams and attempts to "be someone" in the theatre aside and give God a couple hours of my night to speak to me. And I'm learning... that's ok. After all, if I'm going to have any impact on the lives of the people around me I need to actually know who it is I am an ambassador of.
There are so many things on my mind. I'm not an eloquent writer. I'm sort of a broken record. I still have no idea what I feel. But I will leave you with this:
"When all around my soul gives way. He then is all my hope and stay. There's only one Holy one."
The other day a friend of mine did something- or rather, didn't do something- that kinda hurt me. They don't even know they did it and really it was not a big deal. But still I was disappointed. I was going to see them and I was in the car trying to not be so upset. I knew how to respond. I knew I should give it over to God and pray through my emotions and forgive and move on. Even though I knew that was what I was supposed to do it was not natural at all. I didn't want to do it. I wanted to just let my emotions get the best of me and shut down when I saw my friend.
I started questioning why it was so hard for me to talk to God. Why that wasn't my natural response? I've been following God for a while now... I claim we are close... but it takes discipline and intentionality to talk to him. Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that my first thought when this happened was a clever tweet.
Now, I don't like to subtweet or whatever. I've been accused of subtweeting before... but I never intentionally put something out there that is passive aggressive or aimed at a specific person. But, honestly, I think in tweets now. That's probably really sad but also kinda of true. Everything that I do I am formulating in my head how I could fit that in an interesting, 140 character sentence. I'm strategic with when I tweet and I am constantly checking for who favorited it. I try real hard to post inspirational things or Bible verses because I want to seem spiritual. Thankfully, I've learned to not tweet every thought that runs through my head but if I really wanted to I could probably tweet 1000 things a day.
I love twitter and don't think it's of the devil or that we should flee from it. But, I realized that it is SO much easier to post my thoughts- good and bad- up on the internet than to bring them to God. To me, that "heals" me from them. I feel better when I post them because I did something about it. And it's so natural to me. Tweeting is how I deal with things. My twitter feed has become my god. Instead of processing my life with the ONE TRUE God who can actually respond to me I settle for this social media site that, at it's worst, fosters shallow relationships, isolation, and narcissism.
Whenever I'm excited-- I should go to God. Whenever I'm overwhelmed-- I should go to God. Whenever I'm upset-- I should go to God. Whenever I'm thankful-- I should go to God.
I want to cultivate my relationship with God so it is a natural reaction for me to go to him first for everything. Tweeting should be my second (or third or fourth) instinct.
That song has been running through my head all week:
"I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, No turning back...
The cross before me, the world behind me
No turning back, no turning back."
I don't know about you but sometimes I am overwhelmed by where God has lead me. I look around and I think that I would not want to be anywhere else. I am overflowing with thankfulness for where God has placed me and the people he has blessed me with. I am filled with vision for serving others. I have grand dreams of what the ministry I am in will accomplish with God on my side.
Then other days I am sitting alone and realize that my impact for the kingdom is weak and minimal. I'm lost of all passion. Everything is a duty and burden. I am just selfishly living my days away. I'm too awkward. I'm too shy. I'm not relatable. I'm too selfish.
And the thought crosses my mind "so this is the life I chose". Now I'm sure you could debate that the implications of that statement are not theological, but that has crossed my mind. And I fear I'm wrong. I fear that God really hasn't called me to Baylor University. To the theatre department. Because it should be this exciting adventure, right? It shouldn't be mundane and hard and eventless.
Sometimes it's really hard. It's hard choosing a different lifestyle than most your friends. It's hard trying to convince a dying world of the Hope of Jesus. It's hard being intentional with people. Especially those you don't just naturally click with. It's hard. It's lonely sometimes.
But I have decided to follow Jesus. NO turning back. No turning back. I put aside the world for a greater hope, a greater life, a greater joy, a greater love. Not every day is going to be miraculous. Not every day is going to be life-giving. But I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back. And what I gain is SO much better than what I "lost". What I lost is rubbage. I don't even want half of what this world offers. Sometimes I think I do. But I have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord.
So I keep on walking in faith. I am scared many days that I am wrong. But I keep on. I keep loving. I keep serving. And I know that the work I do in the Lord is NOT in vain. And He is worth it all. He is worth following. He is Life and without him I am dead. So until the end of the days I will sing this song. His praise will be on my lips and his will on my heart.
And, goodnight. :)