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!

Money Talk

I’ve heard that my generation doesn’t want to address the topic of money. If I’m being honest, a year ago, the thought of managing money as an adult seemed so daunting that I, as well, wanted to let it be. But money “runs the world” as they say and it can not be ignored. I started reading a book about money, took an Economics class, and did a lot of writing in my “money book.” It is still complex to me, but it doesn’t seem impossible anymore.

My first introduction to money management came through Sunday School when I was about 7 years old. I don’t recall what the lesson was about, but afterward, we decorated paper wallets that had three envelopes stapled on. There was a saving envelope, a spending envelope, and an envelope for tithe. That Sunday School teacher will probably never know how much that one craft shaped my viewpoint on money. It was used for years and I still use a different form of that envelope system.

Growing up makes the saving and spending envelopes become more compartmentalized, though. There are regular payments and bigger items to save for. It also seems like wish lists grow, as well. I don’t believe it is possible to keep all of this straight without writing out a budget. (Even then it can be hard to keep all the numbers straight!)

Financial advisors are always suggesting that people save a good chunk of their money. I have rarely had a problem putting this advice into action. In fact, I have taken it too far at times. Taking an Economics class redefined the way I view money though: it is meant to be spent. I learned that if you put money into a savings account, you lose money long term. That blew my mind. I’m not arguing against saving here, though. It is wise to have some money put away in case of an emergency or ready to use if an incredible dead comes up. I am saying that there should be a balance between saving and spending.(Also, investing savings might be a better place for your money than the bank.) A good way to look at savings is as putting away money to spend in the future on something bigger\ better\ needed. At the same time, we should not place our security in having money in the bank. God provides for us as we walk the road He is leading us down.

Spending money can leave our wallets so quickly. In the American culture, it seems like everywhere we turn someone is trying to get us to buy something. Magazines, websites, and even social media show off enviable items to us. They show us the life we want. No wonder so many people are in debt! If we bought everything that caught our eye, we would spend far more money than we possess. I have a running wish list, but I have been trying to not focus on what I don’t own as much. Elisabeth Elliot offered wise words when she said, “By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.” I try to spend money on experiences versus things (specially specialty drinks that are gone in an hour!). An experience will enrich me. So for me, buying a piano or a camera is okay, because they will be used to create experiences and grow my hobbies. Travelling or seeing a play are also experiences worth spending money on. Clothes on the other hand do not usually hold as much importance to me because I already have enough of them.

The tithe category can also be called giving. The New Testament actually replaces the Old Testament %10 with what we feel lead to give. (Which often would end up being more than %10– probably why so many people stick with the number in black and white.) This category actually effects all the other categories. It opens our hands so we hold our money more freely; makes us more willing to give to others. It also gives money meaning. We see that we can make a difference in someone else’s life and give to organizations that will share the love of God.

I hope my generation will invest time into thinking through how they will spend their money. It is just another area that we have been given to steward. Creating a budget is a lot of work, but money will enslave us if we don’t make conscious, sometimes hard, decisions about how we will spend it.

 

Meaning in the Mundane

When I was a kid and my mom asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I gave her a schedule with a different occupation for each day of the week. Dolphin trainer and teacher were two of the ones I remember. I am a dreamer by nature. As a teenager, I was obsessed with dramatic interior design, bright color, and traveling. I wanted to go to other countries on mission trips. I wanted to create a blog and write a book that would influence the way people thought. I was the one who created a plan for my friend and I to follow so we wouldn’t waste our summer. I was the one who planned out exactly how we should redo the basement and what items I needed to decorate my room with. I took for granted all the business trips we went on with my dad and all the times we visited family.

It’s coming up on three years now that I have not traveled much, though. I guess you could say life after high school has redefined how I see the “good life.” Being “stuck” in one place for so long has taught me the value of the area I call home, Central Virginia. High school kids who grew up here often say there is nothing to do here. But as my Literature teacher pointed out this past semester, where ever you go, you will find it boring after being there a little while. Traveling and seeing other places and people is exciting, but living is mundane (even in other places).

Still, home has a special allure that traveling never can. It’s subtle, not flashy; comforting, not thrilling. The efforts to invest and put down roots can bring a special kind of contentment and joy. The mundane is a balance of restful and industrious, while being something expected. It is at home that we see the benefits of consistent labor. A garden takes consistent care. If it is given care each day and each week, it provides fruit, veggies, and beautiful flowers. The same goes for life. When we invest time and energy in the everyday tasks and whatever is placed in front of us, a beautiful life is made.

The big, exciting, perfect life is just not all it is cracked up to be. Simply reading that sentence won’t make you believe it, though. In fact, sometimes I don’t believe it. (Especially after spending time on social media!) The younger version of me who wanted adventure, a beautiful life (and house), and to serve God in a big way is still here. Just now I have less opinions and impatient drive and a little more grace for the detours that are life. Most of my goals are good, but when given too much control of our hearts and minds, even good things become bad things.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

Yet, goals and dreams are good things, so what were these authors getting at? I think they were asking us to examine why we are living the way we are. At the beginning of the day, do we love Jesus more? More than our desires? More than our goals? When Jesus is enough for us, not only do our goals take on new meaning but the mundane is transformed. It goes from boring to a sacred– we begin eagerly anticipating that God will move in the everyday. We can enjoy the big adventure moments of life, but we don’t need them to find joy in life when Jesus is at the center of our hearts and minds.

Instant Spirituality

We Americans tend to be a people addicted to instant results. Smartphones with data answer every little question we have in just a few seconds. Restaurants offer ready made dinner to customers. Microwaves heat up food in a fraction of the time an oven would take. Social media provides instant access to contacting a friend or catching up on their life. Yet, some of the most important things in life take more time and patience.

Doing something as quick as possible can drain the fun out of it and often, when I take the fast-track to get a result or answer, it doesn’t mean as much to me. I’m more prone to be dissatisfied with my accomplishment or even forget the question I was seeking an answer to! Quick just does not make as big of an impact.

Maybe that is why Jesus said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away” (Matthew 13:5-6).

Jesus’ disciples were confused by the parable that these verses are a part of, so there is actually an explanation of exactly what it means!

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21).

What strikes me is the word “immediate.” This person’s decisions are made in the moment. They immediately receive the Gospel with joy, which you would think was a good thing. Yet later, he immediately falls away.

Our instant culture has trained us to think immediate results are a good thing. Here we see that they fall short, though. When a habit, skill, or way of thinking is not given a good foundation of understanding and time to grow slowly, it will likely disappear just as quickly as it appeared. Over time we become who we are. Over time faith becomes part of who we are at our core. Nothing can replace the role that God has given time in our sanctification. Consistently saturating our mind with the Word and spending time in community will bring about lasting change.

What You Can Know When You Want to Say, “No!”

I was scrolling through Facebook and found a quote that cut right to the heart of what I have been learning lately:

“Only if your God can outrage you and make you struggle will you know that you worship the real God and not a figment of your imagination.” – Timothy Keller

It’s just like any other relationship, only more because God’s thinking is so much higher than ours. There will be conflict between what we believe or want and what God says or asks of us. When this happens, we will struggle with our heart.

In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus makes it clear that following Him will be hard.

 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The one that sticks out to me is having nowhere to call home. I hate that. A couple summers ago, I volunteered at a summer camp. The dorm-style rooms we stayed in were not very welcoming and overall did not feel like home. I looked forward to the weekends, when I could spend at least a few hours in a real home. A kitchen, a couch, a bedroom, a normal bathroom, decoration- it’s all so beautiful. Being home allows me to relax. But Jesus makes the point that sometimes we won’t have simple luxuries like home. Sometimes saying “yes” to Him means giving up something very valuable to you. Other times, it means jumping in right now without having everything squared away.

God’s plan is not our plan. To follow Him, we often have to let go of dreams and sometimes go against what makes logical sense. And that is okay because we serve a God who can turn water to wine (or blood), calm a ravenous storm, make the blind see and the seeing blind, and so much more! He knows what He’s doing and we can trust Him, even when it hurts, even when it doesn’t make sense. More so, we can know we serve and worship the real God when what He asks of us goes against our will and heart.

Waves That Crash

Over three weeks of the semester have passed. In this time, I’ve made friends and learned some fascinating things, but most of all I’ve been drained. A roller coaster of emotions and stress has drained my energy. Maybe you noticed that I haven’t been posting as often. This is the reason why.

This place of feeling tired isn’t new, and I find that my reaction each time it visits is to carefully control my activities and to dread the coming day or week. To an extent, I think stuarding the energy we’ve been given, along with every gift, is wise, yet always holding back and dreading is no way to live. (Especially in God’s upside-down kingdom.)

A couple summers ago I worked at a summer camp for two months and was beyond exhausted all the time. God came through for me in a way I had never experienced, though. Looking back, I know His strength is the only reason I made it. Each day I made it through and the days added up to two months.

By the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to ask for daily bread. In other words, the sustanence for today. Another beautiful truth we are reminded of is that His mercies are new every morning. God doesn’t give us the mercies we’ll need for the whole week at the beginning. Each morning we can look forward with eager anticipation to seeing how God will provide.

I’m learning a lot through this trial, especially about relying on Jesus each day, but that does not negate the dilemma of having less energy. Therefore, for this semester, I will post when I can but that probably won’t be every week.

Hope this post finds you well,

Sarah

Who’s Visiting the Mental Realm

What would Jesus do? A decade or so ago this catch phrase was popular, but now it’s considered cliche. Often we subconsciously ask, “What would mom do in this situation?” or “What would dad do?” or “What would my friend do?” or even, “What would a certain celebrity or leader do?” Sometimes this can be a good thing, especially if they are seeking after Jesus or living in a healthy manor. As a daily habit, though, it can take us off track. I think it’s important to ask who or what inhabits our mind. Because who and what we think about will shape who we become.

So who do you want to become like? Aspiring to have certain qualities we see in another person can be a good thing. We must be careful not to place a person on a pedastool and expect them to be perfect, though. In the end, that only leads to hurt.

I have to remind myself that Jesus is my main example. I’ve begun reading ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ which documents the thoughts and discoveries of Brother Lawrence. As you can probably guess by the title, he was very good at inviting God into his brain-space.

“When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul, and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself.” (‘The Practice of the Presence of God’)

In a letter he wrote, Brother Lawrence freely admitted that the first few years of striving to think of God often was extremely difficult and disheartening. Yet, it had become such a valuable part of his relationship with God and he recommended the habit to all he came into contact with. I think it’s encouraging to know that the mental realm doesn’t have to be won by tomorrow, nor does failure after failure have to make us quit. There is hope for the kind of closeness with God that Brother Lawrence experienced. There is hope that our minds will be filled with good, positive things. There is always hope. So strive towards that hope set before you!

Paul talked about “dying” in suffering like Christ so, “by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11) The road to freedom is marked by this dying; a relationship with God will inevitably come with suffering. Yet, we are not to run from hardship. The battle of the mind is pivotal and we can’t run from the struggle.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)