Take Heart

Trials will come. We live in a world broken with sin, have an enemy who wants to destroy us, and are also in the process of sanctification. Knowing the reasons why we go through hard things, doesn’t usually make them any easier. The great news is that we are not left alone in our troubles. Jesus has gone before us and we can cry out to our Father God. The Holy Spirit also leads us as we seek Him.

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8 NASB).

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NASB).

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10 NASB).

So take heart.

Cast your cares.

He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

“The disposition… to leave the dearest objects of our hearts in the sublime keeping of the general and unspecific belief that God is now answering our prayers in His own time and way, and in the best manner, involves a present process of inward crucifixion which is obviously unfavorable to the growth and even the existence of the life of self.” (T.C. Upham)

We are kept even as we struggle. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 ESV).

So keep on keeping on. Keep following. Take heart because you are held, loved, and cared for.

 

Growing in Grace

My life has been in upheaval quite a bit so far this summer. (And it’s only nearing the end of June!) My goal has been to just go with it and keep taking the next step. And it’s worked. I’m actually starting to thrive off the busier, all-over-the-place-ness that is my schedule. It seems like God is teaching me a million things right now, but a big one is being willing to step out and into what He wants for me. That often means leaving my anxiety behind/ acting in spite of it. One of the ways my anxiety manifests itself is in relation to other people. I tend to keep my distance and not engage because of that. If people come to me, that is usually okay because I actually genuinely love people a lot.

Sharing the love of Jesus is hard when fear keeps you from striking up conversations  with your co-workers or walking across the room to a group of people. Unlike other times in my life, right now, this is a battle worth fighting. I know so many people who are great at reaching out to people and making them feel accepted. I’ve benefited from this on many, many occasions. It is one of the best feelings- to be drawn out and have someone be interested in you and your life! I want to offer that gift to the people I come into contact with. (Er, the ones I could be coming into contact with…)

Walls must come down; having open hands is necessary. As a Christian, I have received love, grace, and forgiveness, and still do receive them daily. Why would I feel the need to protect myself when I belong to God? Letting what had been given to me flow freely to others is the only way to actually experience the freedom those gifts were meant to give.

As the person who likes to stand back and observe, this all means I need to step forward and be the one who speaks, pursues relationships, and acts kindly toward others. It means I stop worrying about what someone will think of me if I say or do something. It means that I start acting more and observing a little less. It means that I look beyond myself in action taken and words spoken.

Yet, I cannot count how many times I have done the opposite when the opportunity arose. I have been glued to the ground, unable to open my mouth, left conversations unfinished, and far too often have not even been able to make eye contact with people. All because of my anxiety. It’s so frustrating and heaps shame on me. In those moments, I have to accept the grace to not engage just as readily as I would need to accept the grace to overcome and engage. I have to take to heart God’s power and love in a whole new way just so I don’t drown in guilt. Second, third, and hundreth chances are the way God rolls, though, because He’s not keeping track. Thank goodness!

2016: Heart Change

I almost didn’t write a review of this year. It seemed like it would be a waste of time. But looking back periodically can be a good idea- you will see lessons learned, and how God worked. This past year it felt like Jesus led me along in the things He wanted me to do. Which is probably the way it’s supposed to work… and honestly it’s a lot nicer than trying all the time to make things work out. At the beginning of the year, I was just coming away from all my dreams being crushed and was in a very fragile, defeated place. From there the year turned out to hold what I had been praying and hoping for for years.

My brother, a couple of friends, and I went to College for a Weekend during the Spring semester, which is exactly what it sounds like. After spending most of my time at home for many months, it was a big event. Eating on campus, going to class, attending convocation are a few of the things we did (plus lots of walking!). My friend who didn’t like concerts, and had said she would never go to one, decided she wanted to go to the Rend Collective concert that weekend. Despite my own reservations about the band and attending a loud concert, we went. I’m so glad I took the chance on buying that ticket because God met me that night through Rend Collective’s ministry. Not only were they not burst-your-eardrum loud, but they took time to tell everyday, encouraging stories throughout the show. They pointed out that life is hard, but God meets us in the hard stuff and helps us fight it. Lyrics only backed this message up: “When my fears like Jericho build their walls around my soul, when my heart is overthrown, Your love is my battle cry, the anthem for all my life.”

When I got home from the concert, I was scrolling through social media only to see that one of my long-time friends was in distress-  her older brother had passed on that evening. Other than making big tears flow down my face that night, this affected me in two big ways:

1. The way he lived. In less than 25 years he fit more life in than many do in 3 times that. He loved Jesus and people so well. Over 5000 people came to the viewing. Like, what? Crazy! And they all had a story about what he had meant to them. I remember his transition to this way of living too, because he wasn’t always like that. Jesus was to blame. Through it all, he kept pushing through depression and anxiety. That gave/gives me hope.

2. The way my friend and her family responded. My friend’s mom said her response to the news was, “Lord, bring him back to life. I know you can.” They went through grief and questioning God, but never let themselves question His goodness. His young widow, who had watched him go, wrote a blog post explaining how she had searched out the sovereignty of God a few years before and came to this: that God knows what will happen if we make a certain decision, kind of like how an adventure video game works. That knowledge was a comfort to her now. These things greatly impacted my faith and how I view life. (I wrote a post during this time.)

Life’s Healing Choices was a small group series at my church for healing your hurts, habits, and hang-ups. I went for my anxiety, and boy, did it stir it up the first session! I decided I wasn’t putting myself through that level of anxiety on purpose again. With the encouragement of my leader, though, I sought God each week with whether I should attend the sharing session. It was during this time that I learned to do what God asked of me again. I hadn’t fully trusted Him in a while and I was slowly taking steps of obedience- one at a time.

All this time I have recounted so far, I was in emotional pain. But, I was watching God answer my prayers. I would pray verses that the Lord had led me to over myself, family, and friends. There are so many instances when God worked and/or gave me direction, but more often He also changed my heart.

When summer approached, I had 2 projects in mind: making a quilt and learning how to keep plants alive. These long-term goals taught me the importance of enjoying each step of the journey. I also watched a series of lectures on nutrition. This sparked my interest.

My doctor had recommended I have the Body Code/Emotion Code done to release old anxieties (so I would stop slipping into anxiety so easily). I ended up going twice, and learned of many past experiences that had shaped me. This gave me a bit of insight into why I think and act the way I do and also gave me the freedom/ space to change.

My dad was let go from his job, but God gave so much peace during that time. It ended up causing my dad to get a different (healthier for him) job, my mom to get a part-time job, and all of us to grow closer.

College was something I knew God was leading me toward, and I was excited, but I was also quite scared. While anxiety-wise it was the best semester yet, I still fought enormous battles in my mind. God was fighting for me, though, I could tell. That was my main comfort. My favorite part of this semester was that I got to go with my brother and we even were in one class together (along with a friend of mine). Being with people on a weekly basis did me good on so many levels.

Right now, the Lord is giving me a strong desire to dig into His Word and live out my faith. This includes the idea of missions, which I am letting roll around in my mind.

“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” -John 15:14-15

The main running theme this year was having faith in God. From that root, God worked on my heart, diminished anxiety’s power, taught me to enjoy life more, and brought healing in countless ways. I’m so very thankful for all this year has held!

64. Hope[less?]

“Hopelessness.” She named my emotion. Immediately both shame and relief flooded me. I had always called it depression, but this new name had so much more power- it was real. More than that though, my suffering was being acknowledged and on some deep level, it finally clicked that it wasn’t normal to feel like that. Each of these brought relief, but shame came as well. What Jesus follower is hopeless? That goes against the hope filled gospel I claim to believe- indeed I do believe!

I came across some encouraging verses about hope, though:

“Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things- thinks that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook you work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” – Hebrews 6:9-12

This is simply one way that God is working healing in my life. I am learning to view life in a more positive way, such as, actually enjoying it. As a friend told me the other day, “You’re extremely talented at stressing- and that’s not a good thing!” My normal pattern of thought makes living pretty miserable.

So far, what I’ve experienced of the positive life is different then I expected, though. It’s not so much about never planning for what could go wrong or acknowledging pain. I’ve found it means letting myself feel a full range of emotions but coming home to peace and contentment in Jesus. (Even if I can’t feel those emotions at the time, I can trust that they are what Jesus wants for me.) It means reminding myself every morning that 1, Jesus loves me, and 2, today is worth living- any good, bad, or awkward moment is worth experiencing in its fullness.

Just like when forming any new habit, it’s a battle; I fall back into the old way of thinking at times. Even in the failing, though, I can see Jesus’ love more clearly. Knowing the fullness of life He wants me to experience and the hope He wants me to hold provides fresh motivation to try again!

54. Hope in the Waking

What is your outlook when you wake up? If you’re anything like me, it’s not so hopeful. Jumping out of bed because I’m just so excited to start my day doesn’t happen very often. Instead, it’s more like a game of how long can I stay snuggled with eyes closed.

But then this morning I awoke to these song lyrics playing in my head:

“At break of day, in hope we rise.
We speak Your Name, we lift our eyes.
Tune our hearts into Your beat.
Where we walk, there You’ll be…

You will never fade away, Your love is here to stay
By my side, in my life, shining through me everyday.”

(Wake by Hillsong Young and Free)

In hope I start my day. Not in dread, or fear, or even dwelling on feeling tired.

Why? Because of the gospel. A great hope for life has been given through it. “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19)

Jesus was referring to his coming death and the eternal life that would be given to His followers. Eternal life. It is far greater than this current experience held dearly by so many. The point is not that nothing in this mortal life matters, but that our future eternal life influences how we live this one.

Hope leaves us ready and willing to follow God’s leading in this life. It leaves us excited to see what is to come. Most importantly, it gives us a reason to look forward to each day.

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Disclaimer: this picture is actually of a sunset… but you get the idea.

37. Lessons Through Lyme

In my last post on Lyme, I explained what it was like physically, mentally, and emotionally as the bacteria started wreaking havoc on my body. I purposefully left out the spiritual aspect, for multiple reasons, the main one being space. There were just too many words to be said about how Lyme has effected my relationship with God/ what I have learned through this trial so far.

I was all set to attend the Word of Life Bible Institute, which I thought God had led me to, when the Lyme symptoms became life-altering. The idea that when God leads you someplace, maybe it’s not for the reason you think was hard to swallow as I navigated the tough decision of saying no to attending school and experienced the awkward situations involved with pulling out of the commitment.

Next, the fact that God was allowing this to happen to my body hit; He wasn’t protecting me from the bacteria that wanted to destroy my body. That’s the way I saw it, at least.

God did not correct my thinking the way I expected. Another lesson in God’s ways being higher than my ways.

What I wanted was for God to assure me right away that He was in control and was protecting me. From my perspective, that would probably have meant healing me outright. God had a different plan. Instead, I entered  what felt like “the valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23:4)  During that time, John 3:16 became more real than ever before. The hope of salvation was placed in front of me. God showed me that my hope to get back to good health, to get a college degree, to get a job, and to serve Him were not where my hope should be. My strong hope should be that one day when I die I will be with Jesus. My well-being, in light of eternity, is not that big of a deal..

Being torn away from my plans humbled me so much that I was scared to make any strong statements on any type of future plans for a little while, no matter how small. (Probably a good practice to implement, though.) Along with the lesson of this life not mattering so much, came that fact that my life didn’t have a great deal of weight; God is the one that matters at any and every given time in history. I am a goal oriented person so this lesson on how nothing I accomplish matters if not done for, and by, God shook me to the core.

Something I wrote in my prayer journal during that time is, “You don’t want beautiful actions nearly as much as You want our choice of Yourself.”

I also pulled these quotes out of my journal from during those difficult days:

“I can be brought low by Him who strengthens me.” -John Piper

“But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head.” -Psalm 3:3

At my lowest, God met me. Even when it felt like He was not protecting me, He was my shield. Like Job in the Old Testament clearly shows, God had complete control over how much would be allowed to “go wrong.” I am so thankful that I had God to turn to in that dark time and I hope to take these lessons learned with me, even after Lyme stops being such a defining part of my life.

 

22. Placing Hope

Guess you could say the start of it was watching a series on 1 Peter by John Piper. The climax came on a night filled not with sleep, but with shooting pain and anxiety.

The work of making a man new belongs only to the Holy Spirit and He finds the most perfect ways of doing so.

A passage of the Word is a mish-mash of words until He shows up, even when it is being taught well.

Lyme Disease brings with it waves of symptoms. For the first time, a big one was hitting and my hope was that tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow came, over and over. There was no better, but in fact, worse.

Hope began to fade as depression took over.

To make matters worse, a night of poor sleep came. The next night came and sleep evaded me effectively as I tried to deal with new pain and anguish.

Finally, enough was enough. Who cares about sleep. It was time to talk to the Shepherd. To be more correct though, it would be called listening.

They weren’t so much like questions coming from Him, but:

What if this life is so short that no pleasure is okay?

What if the sole hope is best placed in Jesus and eternity, rather then in feeling better?

What if this world is not my home?

Do you know, the coming sleep deprived day, and the days following were overflowing with joy. The wave of Lyme symptoms morphed from my greatest nuisance into my valuable treasure.

A correctly placed hope has a way of infusing any and every situation with strong joy, this I have experienced.

So to quote some of the beautiful, precious words that unknown to me at the time began the journey to this ah-ha moment:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1:3-9