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.

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Goodbye Shame, Goodbye Guilt

It hit me the other day just how much our society likes to measure us up. It starts with school. Each assignment is measured according to a number and letter system. The higher the number, or lower the letter, the better. It seems like a lot of life includes some sort of grading system like this. It becomes part of our mindset to try to perform well and wonder how we measure up. When we start viewing God as though He’s grading us, though, things go awry.

A big part of why we see God like this is because we focus so little on the relationship, and instead, end up focusing on the action part of faith. We do all the right things because we’re supposed. But living as though God were waiting for us to mess up so He could be mad at us is not good motivation for living a moral life.

In any healthy relationship, the people involved feel free to be themselves. The same thing applies to a relationship with God. He won’t hate you if you mess up, but He will convict and encourage you toward real holy change. Patience is an incredible attribute of God we can easily forget about.

We will mess up; we will sin. This is a fact, not something any one of us can defy with the most meticulous work. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8b) If that isn’t encouraging- that we are loved even when we’re at our worst- than I don’t know what is.

You and me will never be “too far gone” to approach the throne of grace. Any moment is a good moment to talk to God. And maybe by realizing His forgiveness and love for us, we can begin to let that define how we see ourselves.

It is the enemy who wants to destroy us with guilt and shame and fear; God brings peace and joy and love. That is the kind of relationship and life we are offered.

The Time Before Marriage

Growing up is strange and one of the most mysterious parts to me is dating and marriage. Dreaming lots of dreams for the future is part of growing up and that includes many you have no control at all over. The dream of marriage is one of those, in my opinion. American culture has placed so much value and attention on being in a relationship, and I have to wonder if it’s healthy. I watch old TV shows and they show a man pursuing a woman. It is so sweet and gets my mind and heart desiring that kind of story- right now. An appreciation for a sweet love story is good, especially in light of how it is a picture of Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5:22-32) When it becomes an obsession, though, it’s no longer so good and sweet. I believe God has a different plan for his people when it comes to the time before marriage.

I was not the girl who planned out her wedding at age 13. In fact, at age 21 I still can’t tell you what colors I’ll go with for my wedding day. (Of course, that’s assuming I will get married.) As a teenager I made multiple lists of characteristics I wanted my future husband to have, though. Looking at these long lists now, only a few of the items still stand.

  • Loves God and has an growing relationship with Him
  • Is a good leader
  • Loves people well

These are fairly general characteristics (yet it’s quite obvious when someone has them). There is a reason why they are so general: God can bring a man into my life who has a million little “perfect” characteristics that I would never ever think of. Honestly, some of the characteristics God would choose, I would not have appreciated as a younger me (including my-age me). (Also nobody is perfect, so that must be kept in mind.) At the end of the day, or life that is, God is much better at writing love stories than I am, so I don’t have to try to create the exact person I’m looking for on a piece of paper.

Even more than love stories, though, God is good at writing stories period. They’re never perfect- just look a the stories in the Bible! So living the single life is more than okay. (Despite what you may have heard at church or elsewhere.) Article after cliche online article tell us how life works and when the best time is to go to college, get married, have kids, etc. Life isn’t calculable enough to fit into any article- it’s amazing and beautiful and diverse- at least when we let God take the lead and stop trying to fit into those guidelines.

God is still good to those who don’t get married. In the season before getting married, and maybe even before seriously dating, is one that stretches our trust in God. So do you believe God is good no matter what? Is God good even if you never say, “I do”? I think that’s a good place to start. Falling in love with Jesus isn’t so much the replacement for a romantic relationship, but the bigger, better, authentic version. To live life everyday out of Jesus’ love makes everything sweeter, whether or not you’re dating or married.

Maybe, just maybe this season isn’t to be treated as one of waiting. What if we viewed it as a time to learn about and use the gifts we’ve been given? What if we learned to live and love well? What if we grew a trust in God so strong nothing could shake us? What if we stopped waiting for marriage to save us, and let Jesus save us and bring us into a fuller life right now?

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!

56. Power for Life

True peace, love, and happiness are not things you will find in a world without God. God is the very energy keeping the world in existence, though, so in reality you can’t separate the world from God.

I always love to find parallels between the natural world and spiritual world.  God sustains every rotation of the earth, and of the solar system, and even for the rest of the galaxy. If God can hold together all of that, why do I doubt He can provide for me?

My devotional today pointed out that so often our prayers are hindered because don’t think something can happen. In our minds, the situation has been a certain way for so long that we think it can’t change. And maybe that’s why Paul pointed out that “He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) Surely Paul wrote that sentence out of experience; the knowledge that God can do anything.

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Yes, this is a tissue… Love that quote, though!

But then right after that affirmation, he says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unit of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1) So because we have the power of God on our side, we can/ should live in this way.

I’ve watched God change multiple things recently that have blown me away. Why? Because I didn’t think they could be changed. God is in the business of miracles simply because He is God. And I think He loves reminding us of that.

“God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Accepting hardships as the partway to peace;

Taking as Jesus did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His Will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next.

Amen.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr

33. Every-Moment Grace

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Pause for just a minute.

Take a deep breath. Let out the air slowly.

Put your hand to your chest. Feel the thump, thump, thump.

Isn’t life fundamentally incredible? We like to add complexities to it until we forget just how precious simply living is. This is God’s grace provided to everyone, which even goes on to encompass the joys and successes. So if life is a gift of grace to anyone who is alive, what response is expected from everyone?

So often in classic literature, a higher force is referenced, given credit even. Especially in terms of death, authors have used this thread over and over in their storytelling. This discovery stands starkly against what I observe in twenty-first century American culture, and it gives me a picture of what is expected from us.

Just referencing a higher being does not necessarily imply a good God, or the Gospel for that matter. Since this grace is for everyone, though, being theologically correct does not hold nearly as much weight. (Of course people finding eternal salvation in the Gospel is important, but that is a higher step on the staircase that I will tackle in a future post.)

Speaking of the American culture, the mindset that you can make something of yourself and live the “American dream” helps us to forget that any success is given by God. The gift is given to those who work hard, yes, but success is not a result of willpower or talent.

If you refuse to see God in His gifts, they will turn out not to be gifts but High Court evidence of ingratitude. The Bible speaks of them first as “the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience” that point us to repentance (Romans 2:4). But when we presume upon them and do not cherish God’s grace in them, “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). – ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’ (Page 52) by John Piper

There are two parts to responding correctly to this very general grace. First, recognize that life and the joys found within it are gifts from God. Easy enough, right? Just like in those classic books, we give recognition to God for good friends, a job, freedom… the list is practically infinite!

The second step is to thank God for these simple gifts. Logical, right? We’re given something and we say, “thank you” to the the giver.

This is only the very fundamental level of our response to God’s grace; this is the grace that applies to everyone and expects the least response from us. It simply means we are quick to think of, and thank, God. Next week we’ll look at the grace of salvation.

26. Pain and Supplements

Starting in 5th grade, my mom became interested in the whole natural supplement approach. We got our “blood checked” and life as I knew it was over. No peanut butter, bread, or sugar for 3 months people! Tough times! Who wants to tell their Sunday school teacher who’s giving candy to everyone, “I can’t accept.”??

No matter how terrible those times were, I lived to tell the tale. Over the years, my mom has attained quite the collection of herbal products. You could say there’s a natural supplement pharmacy within our kitchen cabinets. (And who am I kidding, it also spills over onto the counters.)

The lie that comes along with all these supplements is that every little hurt, new symptom, or cold can and should be cured easily. If your knees hurt from running, take MSN. If you are getting a sore throat, take some Olive Leaf.

Whether we like it or not, life includes pain and not so happy times. [Which includes getting sick. (Which is actually good for you– who knew right!?) ] There comes a point when trying to fix every little thing that goes wrong cuts into our ability to live life, though.

Not only that, but usually when there’s a real problem, it takes more than a simple solution. For example, Lyme Disease is teaching me right now that you have to drastically change your whole schedule to accommodate for treatment.

In much the same way, I don’t think God wants us to read the daily Bible verse to cure anxiety or produce patience.

It’s more like giving God rule over your schedule and your pain. He’s not a pharmacy willing to hand out pain killers whenever we ask. That wouldn’t be healthy at all!

He is ready and able to provide complete healing, in His own time.

BUT something to remember is that our weakness proves God’s power to us and those around us, so maybe these aches, pains, and “thorns” aren’t so bad after all!

(2 Corinthians 4:11)

What are some ways you deal with the pain in life? Are there any things you find yourself running to as a quick cure? Is something keeping you from trusting God with your pain?