Friday, December 1, 2017

God, what do You want from me?

That question is in my head on a daily basis, roaring out over all the noise and chaos that fills my mind. It colors everything I think about--every decision I make. For years now, I've been desperately seeking God's will for my life. I've begged and cried and prayed for some answer, for just a hint of what it is that God wants me to do for Him. I've made decisions based on what I thought would work best for serving Him...and then felt broken when those decisions led to plans that fell through.

I've wondered just what it is that I'll do for God since I was old enough to ask that question. I want to know His plans for my life, because I know and fully believe that God sees what is in my future and is there to guide my steps.

I have this tendency, though (well, bad habit if I'm being honest) to rely on my own thoughts and opinions and ideas instead of letting go and listening to God. Don't get me wrong--I know that His plans are better than mine and that I can't even begin to understand His mind.

I know that, but for some dumb reason I keep trying to do everything my way.

At church Sunday, though, Pop pointed something out that I didn't really want to hear. He was talking about someone he used to know who was constantly stressing over God's will for his life, wanting to make sure each and every step was in line with what God wanted for him. He may as well have been talking about me. To be honest, he most likely was talking to me when he pointed out this verse:

"Now this is God's will for you:
set yourselves apart and live holy lives"
(I Thessalonians 4:3a)

That's it? No stressing and striving to figure out if each and every step I take is falling exactly where it's supposed to?

I want to go where God leads me, in ever aspect of my life. What I'm starting to realize, though, it that it's a lot easier for God to lead me if I'm close to Him. So instead of focusing on the path, trying to figure out the exact place for each step, what I need to focus on is drawing closer to the One I'm supposed to be following.

"Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely;
    never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.
Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish,
    and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
And don’t think you can decide on your own
what is right and what is wrong."
(Proverbs 3:5-7)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I can do it myself...

I've spent most of my life determined to prove myself. I can't tell you when that started, but my mom has told me many times that "I can do it myself!" was a very common thing to hear me say when I was little. That hasn't changed much in the 33 years I've had on this earth.

Sometimes, that mantra is a good thing. Sometimes, my stubborn determination is what keeps me pushing through when times get hard. It's what got my backhandspring when I was doing gymnastics when I was little. It's what got my best friend and I to grit our teeth and push through basing an extension in cheerleading when we were told it was too hard for us. It's what got me through the initial shock of my brother's death. It's what got me through homework assignments that made my crazy and 2 physics degrees I never imagined getting.

The problem is, faith in my own abilities won't get me very far. Because, you see, knowing my strengths also gives me a really good view of something else--my weaknesses. And believe me, I know those all too well. I see them on a daily basis. I could go down the list of what I'm not good at and all the ways I've failed to live up to expectations (I have that list running through my head on a pretty regular basis).

When you're always trying to prove yourself and you have a front row seat to watch all the ways you mess it up, it's easy to start tying your worth to what you do. Or to be blatantly honest about myself, I seem to tie my worth to my failures.

I want my life to matter, to have some sort of significance. That desire has always been there, but I think it was magnified by my brother's death. Actually, that's not quite right. It was magnified by his life, but maybe brought to my attention by his death. I've gotten the chance to see just a hint of all the lives his touched, of the impact he made in his short 23 years, and it's made me examine my own life time and time again.

That, coupled with a youth that focused on learning about missionaries and a heart that breaks when I read stories of God's people around the world, makes me ask all the time if I'm doing enough for God. I'm so desperate for Him to use me, desperate to figure out where I fit in His plan and what it is He wants me to do for His Kingdom. I've had great men and women of God whisper in my ear, "God's got big plans for you," but so far I've just found myself lost...

But here's the thing--God's "big plans" probably don't have the same definition as mine. And besides, God doesn't actually need my help. He is full capable of accomplishing His will without me--He spoke all of creation into existence, so what would stop Him from simply speaking His will to happen?

So instead of focusing on what God wants me to do, I need to start focusing on who He wants me to be. Like the psalmist, I need to learn to say,

"My soul quietly waits for the True God alone
because I hope only in Him.
He alone is my rock and deliverance,
my citadel high on a hill;
I will not be shaken.
My salvation & my significance depend ultimately on God;
the core of my strength,
my shelter,
is in the True God."
~Psalm 62:5-7

Saturday, November 4, 2017

when it seems the bad outweighs the good

"Despite what you may think,
these ruling spirits are losing their grip on this world."
1 Corinthians 2:6b, The Voice
When you look around at this world, it's easy to see the bad. After all, that's what everyone is pointing out to us. The news is full of stories of evil and heartbreak. We see people hurting all around the world, often watching their loved ones get ripped away from them. There are threats of war, terrorist attacks, attacks on every value and ideal that used to be held dear.

And then there are the personal attacks, the bad things happening in our own lives that may not be evident to those on the outside. There are marriage issues, financial troubles, illnesses, and decisions that are simply the lesser of two evils.

Here on the new farm, there is sickness and injury and death and heartbreak right now. We are in a bit of a tricky situation, where we need the farm to succeed in order for us to afford to be home on the farm, but we need to be home on the farm in order for it to succeed. On Wednesday, we came home from a rough day at school to 4 dead goats. Then Thursday, we found another 5 bodies when we got home. We talked to the vet yesterday and went (again, after school) to pick up the vaccines and antibiotics he had suggested, then came home to 3 more goats dead, and multiple goats that were injured due to a dog attack--by our own family pet. That was after what, for me, had been one of my roughest days at school so far.

Sometimes it feels like the bad outweighs the good. It feels like Satan and his minions are winning the battle that is raging around us, and that we're just the casualties of war. It feels like God has turned away from us and is just letting the enemy do what it will. We feel forsaken.

Remember, though, you aren't alone in that thought. While Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani—My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). And those weren't just His words--in His agony, Jesus was repeating the words of David:

"My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?
    Your ears are deaf to my groans.  
O my God, I cry all day and You are silent;
    my tears in the night bring no relief."
(Psalm 22:1-2)

But what if just maybe, Satan is clawing like crazy for every small victory he can find because he knows he's losing the war? What if he sees the end getting closer, and that's why he is struggling so desperately against us?

Despite how this world looks, the war is drawing to an end. The victory has already been won, and the enemy is trying to get in a few final hits before they are vanquished for good.

While Jesus hung on the cross, I imagine it broke the Father's heart. I don't think God wanted to watch His Son suffer, and I don't think He wants to watch us suffer. But sometimes, I think He lets us go through the bad stuff because He knows that what's waiting for us on the other side is something better than we could have ever imagined.

Without the cross, there wouldn't be the glory of the resurrection.

Without the bad, there wouldn't be the beauty of the good.

In the midst of the bad times, may we be able to say like David did:
"Still, You are holy"
Psalm 22:3a

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Once upon a time, there was a school...

Once upon a time, there was a school. This school, like so many like it, was held in high regard in the community. When parents sent their children to this school, they had high expectations. After all, getting an education was a great privilege. And as is said, with great privilege comes great responsibility...and in the case of this school, even greater expectations.

When a student went to this school, he expected to work. His parents had often told him that nothing worth having came easy, so he didn't expect his education to come easily, either. He expected to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, but he didn't expect to do so without a lot of hard work. He expected long nights of studying and homework, time spent learning to do what he had to do instead of just doing what he wanted to do. He expected to compete with his peers for the top grades in the class--after all, competition is how you get better.

He expected his teachers to be strict and to to be tough, but his parents told him they were that way because they cared about him and wanted what was best for him. He knew better than to act up, because once the teachers told his parents, he would really be in trouble.

He knew that if he wanted to graduate, he would have to earn it. He would have to work hard to pass his classes, because they were designed to single out the best and the brightest. A diploma from his school wasn't something to be taken lightly, because having earned one meant you had truly gotten an education. That little piece of paper wasn't something you came by easily.

The students who went to this school had good reputations, because the school had a good reputation. Whether graduates went on to the university or went straight to work, they were known as hard workers who would push themselves to do better and to be better. These graduates had learned to be responsible for their own actions, and they knew that those actions--whether good or bad--had consequences. So when these graduates got out into the world, they knew how to take responsibility and to stand up and do the right thing, no matter the cost.

An education from this school was well respected. In fact, it was seen as world class. This school prided itself on taking boys and girls and turning them into young men and young women of intelligence, wisdom, and character. As a result, it helped shape the future through the students who left its halls to become leaders in their fields. It helped create a firm foundation for doctors, lawyers, electricians, teachers, scientists, preachers, entrepreneurs, historians, writers, and a whole host of others.

And then one day, this school was told that it had to change. It was told that it wasn't fair to single students out for excelling, because not all students were able to excel. It was told that the purpose of a school was simply to get kids to graduate--forget all that nonsense about teaching responsibility and a work ethic. It was told that the old way was too old fashioned. It needed to be progressive, to move forward, to change with the times.

So the school started letting kids get away with not working. After all, they couldn't punish a kid for not doing homework. They started telling the teachers that their goal should be to get every kid to pass. Forget the notion that not everyone is capable of the same things--teachers should be able to take kids who won't memorize multiplication facts and teach them to factor polynomials.

The teachers were no longer allowed to truly teach. Instead, their goal became to make everyone mediocre. After all, not everyone can be the best and the brightest. If you want everyone to be equal, you're going to have to lower the bar. So the teachers became discouraged. They started feeling like babysitters--and poorly paid ones at that. They still tried to teach, because that's what teachers do and who they are. They fought to teach responsibility and character, but they were reprimanded for correcting the kids. They tried to push the best and the brightest to do more and to be more, but they got in trouble for letting kids fall through the cracks.

The kids took full advantage of the system (because kids are smart), and they started slacking off even more (because kids, like adults, don't work harder than they have to). They stopped turning in work on time, because they knew no one would hold them to it. They stopped studying, because there was no reason to compete for a little piece of paper they were guaranteed to get, anyway.

When kids graduated from this school (which they did at an amazingly high rate), the colleges and workforce started turning them down. The kids didn't know how to work. They didn't show up on time, only put in a small amount of effort, and expected to  be praised for the tiny amount of work they put in. They blamed everyone else for their problems, and didn't know how to deal with the consequences of their actions. They thought everything should be handed to them--why work hard to earn something?

And for some reason, no one could understand why.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

what happens when we let Jesus down?

At church, we've been working on a chronological reading of the Bible. I was supposed to be a 1-year journey, but...we've been working on it for quite a while now. If I'm remembering right, we're heading into our third year.

So anyways, we've made our way up to the resurrection. In Luke 24, we're told that the women went to the tomb and found it empty. When they ran back to tell the eleven that Jesus's body wasn't in the tomb, the disciples didn't believe them. But Peter...he ran to the tomb.

A lot can be said about Peter (I've said quite a bit myself, including in my devotional--I think I identify with him more than I might want to admit). In this moment, I can only imagine what was going through Peter's head. Go back a couple days, and you find Peter standing his ground next to Jesus, ready to die by the sword for Him if necessary. He drew his sword--then Peter watched Jesus reattach a man's ear, and he followed the crowd to Ciaphas's house for Jesus to stand trial.

Think about that confusion for a second. Peter was ready to die for Jesus. Then he saw Jesus heal an ear that had been cut off. I imagine, as he followed the crowd that night, that Peter expected the ear to be just the start of Jesus's revelation of power. After all, Jesus had just talked about having legions of angels at His beck and call. Dealing with a few Pharisees wouldn't be a big deal.

And then came the denials. I think Peter was watching from a distance because he expected to see Jesus call down those 12 legions of angels He had mentioned in the garden.

But He didn't.

While he was watching the trial, Peter started getting nervous. Nothing spectacular was happening, the way Peter had expected. Instead, people started connecting Peter to the man being treated as a criminal.

So Peter did what many of us in our human weakness do--he distanced himself from Christ. He didn't want to be associated with Him--in that moment, it was too big a risk. And then it happened again...and again.

3 times, Peter denied even so much as a knowledge of who Jesus was. The last time, when he was in the middle of saying, "I have no idea what you're talking about," a rooster crowed.

Backtrack again, and you have a conversation between Jesus and His disciples as they were sitting around the table for Passover. Jesus singled Peter out to encourage him. He told Peter,

"Simon, Simon, how Satan has pursued you,
that he might make you part of his harvest.
But I have prayed for you.
I have prayed that your faith will hold firm
and that you will recover from your failure
and become a source of strength for your brothers here."
(Luke 22:31-32)
Peter, the calm, thoughtful man that he was, responded with (from The Voice, because I really like their take on this): 
"Lord, what are You talking about?
I'm going all the way to the end with You--
to prison, to execution--
I'm prepared to do anything for You."
(verse 33)
I can see the expression on Jesus's face as He smiled a sad smile and shook His head. He told Peter that that very night, before the rooster crowed in the morning, Peter would deny Him 3 times.

And now here's Peter, standing on the outskirts of the trial, telling people he didn't even know who Jesus was.
"And he hadn't even finished the sentence when a nearby rooster crowed.
The Lord turned toward Peter, and their eyes met."
(verse 61a)
In the middle of His trial, the moment Jesus knew would lead to His death, Jesus found Peter in the crowd.

Can you imagine what had to be happening in Peter's mind right then? It was hard enough hearing the rooster crow in the middle of his third denial. But then, Jesus looked at him. Jesus found Peter in the middle of the crowd, in the middle of what was arguably Peter's worst moment, and their eyes 

So when Peter heard that Jesus's body wasn't in the tomb, he ran to see for himself. We aren't told a whole lot about what happened to Peter right after that moment, but I can imagine what I would have been thinking. 

  • I would have been thinking that the last time I saw Jesus, He knew I was denying Him.
  • I would have been thinking about how much I had let Him down, and how I had blown my chance to stand with Him at His worst time.
  • I would have been thinking about my own failure, and how things hadn't gone according to my plans, and wondering how anything would work out the way Jesus had promised.

It's easy to feel like you've let God down. In fact, if we're honest we probably feel that way on a daily basis. I think it's important to remember, though, that even in our worst moments, Jesus sees us. He takes the time to find us in the crowd and to make sure we know we are still connected to Him.

"If we are unfaithful,
He remains faithful,
For He is not able to deny Himself."
(II Timothy 2:13)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

a prayer...

God, this world--our country--is a mess. We look around and can't help but see the bad.
  • Hate-filled words are thrown out. I wish I could say it is done without thought, but it isn't. Those words, filled with venom, are spit out with the sole purpose of hurting people, creating wounds that cut all the way to the heart.
  • Natural disasters wipe out years of hard work, leaving people homeless--but more devastatingly, hopeless.
  • Wicked men kill innocents, and while so many lives are snuffed out in the blink of an eye, countless other lives are turned inside-out and upside down.
  • Right is called wrong, and people try to justify evil.
Things are falling apart all around us. Dreams are shattered, families are broken, hopes are lost...the future seems to be fading right before our eyes.

Father, please pull us--Your children--close to You. Let us feel Your arms around us so that we are reminded of You in the middle of the mess.
  • Let us see Your strength, even as we're reminded of our own weakness.
  • Remind us that You are always the same, constant and steady despite the chaos.
  • Show us Your love for us, even when all we hear is hate.
  • Give us Your peace in the midst of disaster and loss.
  • Help us to remember that this world--this life--is temporary, and that You wait to welcome us home.
God, let Your love fill us and pour out of our broken places to spill over to those around us. Make us beacons of Your light to a world that seems to only be getting darker. Give us the courage to be different--so much so that people can't help but notice. Let us be reflections of You in a world that is searching for answers to questions they don't even know how to ask. God, our of our brokenness, help us to heal the broken parts around us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

40 years & a lifetime

Sunday, my parents celebrated 40 years of marriage. That alone is incredible, especially in this age of temporary marriages. What was more incredible to me, though, was how the day went...

My parents are servants--they always have been. I can't remember a time in my life when they weren't pouring themselves out for other people. And even on their big day, that didn't change. Mom loves to cook for people, so she prepared a feast for everyone there. She was in her element, making sure everybody had a full plate, full cup, and a full belly. Pop's service looks different, but it was evident Sunday, too. Above everything else, my parents were both focused on making sure everyone there Sunday left with a full heart.

Love overflows from them, and you can't help but see it. Their love for each other is unconditional (though that doesn't mean they don't have their arguments...), and that love spills out onto anyone they come into contact with. Their home that day was filled to the brim with family and friends, and I would venture to say that all of them felt at home that day.

I've always been a watcher, so that's what I did Sunday. I watched my parents move from one person to the next, ensuring every single person there knew how valued they were. I watched Pop lean in close to hear low voices, his attention fully on whoever he was with. I watched Mom refill drinks and hug necks and gush over everybody who came through the door.

And I saw friends who made the trip in from out of state, driving for hours, just to make sure Pop & Mom knew how loved they were. The house was full of food, love, stories, and laughter.

I can't even begin to explain what my parents have taught me about life and marriage, though I owe it to them to try...

I've learned:
~loving people means serving people
~"home" is a place to share with the people you love
~family doesn't have to mean blood relations
~sometimes, you feed people's bellies to fee their souls
~marriage means supporting each other through everything
~take turns in the spotlight
~love unconditionally
~never stop being in love
~hug & kiss often, even in front of your kids
~build each other up
~above all, there is God
photo credit: my mother-in-law :)