Occupied By Joy

There is no better place to consider the status of your life goals & dreams than in the line for a roller coaster at a theme park. I created that statement 2 blinks ago yet….I think it’s mostly bogus. But, for good or bad, I have done this “soul searching” in the winding, stinking lines of thrill-seekers multiple times. Yesterday, as well as years ago, when I was a bruised teenager who did not know where she ended & where others started. I gazed glossy eyes at thin women in small bathing suits or tank tops, wearing confidence I never dreamed of having. My heart bled all over my family (foul words & festering attitudes) as I searched & searched the crowd for something to make me happy. What missing piece did others have that made them happy & left me empty? I saw teenagers too close, mouthing each other here & there & felt pangs of loneliness I was sure no one else had ever experienced. I thought that a man’s physical touch would make me happy. Month after month I swung between feeling that my diet was the only thing I could control–and restricting my intake severely–to feeling I had no control & was stuck swelling larger & larger. When I needed to say “yes”, I was powerless. When I needed to say “no”, well, I was unaware of the power my “no” had so I neglected it (until I broke down in burned-out, teary exhaustion). Certainly, I thought, I am the most unhappy girl in the world, with the sorriest life. I didn’t just think it, I believed it, deep into my bones. Everyone else has it all, and God has left me with nothing.
These agreements with the Enemy, this despair that he spun into a sticky web stuck against the walls of my heart caused pain for years. Resolution after broken resolution led me to the end of myself time & again. There was emptiness, hollowness, & desperation that culminated in many gooey, dirty encounters with people who seemed more concerned about keeping themselves clean than trying to understand my agony.
The aching made me long for life to speed by. I wanted the painful moments to rush away towards–where?–I didn’t know or care to think.
Yet all that time, something inside me wouldn’t give up. Settling for this pained existence wasn’t an option. Even in my despair, a whisper graced the atmosphere around my mind: Why would God make life purely for desperation & no joy? Why would He create a world only to make it suffer? Why would he bless everyone else but not me? Why would He make me hollow without filling me up?
So I plunged deeper & deeper into his Word. Even when I hated it, I read it. I wrote it on my wrist & on my mirror. I engaged people who did not know Christ & encountered messes that made the hair on my arms stand up. I believed from the center of my chest that there was hope. And when I did not believe, He believed for me.
A transition began with no bells or whistles at the turning point. No altar call. More nights alone feeling abandoned & empty than nights with friends or at a church. I went from crying to weeping, from agony to relief (& eventually expectancy), from flicking ash off the end of cigarettes to showing children of poverty how smoke leaves our lungs dark & shriveled. I took the route of prayer, the role of seeker, the process of making room within myself. I went from determination not to break, to embracing my brokenness.

As indeed He says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’~Romans 9:25

The contrast between my thoughts this weekend & my thoughts years ago shocked me. I stood in the line to ride a gravity defying machine yesterday & as I looked around, concern for the wellbeing of the poor souls around me flooded my spirit. I wanted them to know Jesus. I wanted my life for them, the teens too close as well as the women whose veil of shallow confidence I could now see through. Now that the blinders have been lifted from my eyes I see that everyone else is not blissfully happy. We’re all broken. Fearful. Desperate. Rebellious. Hurting. Addicts. Lonely. Hungry. By a wonder bigger than this universe I have gone from one extreme to the other. I’m deeply in love; I’m deeply loved. Each morning is a priceless gift instead of drudgery. Even on bad days, I know I have purpose. When I am angry, I know that there is power available to help me overcome it. When people revile & wound & ignore me, I am seen & nurtured & blessed. I am truly the most fortunate woman alive; I went from believing that God had given me nothing, to believing He has spared no expense on my life. None of my worst fears will ever come true. He lavishes gifts on me from season to season.

For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps me occupied with joy in his heart.~Ecclesiastes 5:20

If I could change one thing about my life, I wouldn’t. The pain, the tears, the sorrow…it’s all leading me home, intensifying the ache for a beautiful & secure tomorrow. I could gush on & on, but truly it comes down to this: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness & transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son. ~Colossians 1:13-14
How did I come this far? What car carried this heart from waste land to Promised Land?
I offer no A,B, C formula for how to get from one to the other. It wasn’t my mentor–though she helped. It wasn’t being involved in ministry–though it got me headed in the right direction. It wasn’t my church. It wasn’t my location or my school or my job.
It was simply the One who says: When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. ~Isaiah 43:1b, Message
He threw me a rope, and by his mercy & Jesus’ blood, I grabbed it.

For thus says the One who is high & lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high & holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite & lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’~Isaiah 57:15

We’re broken, whether we like it or not. Low & dirty is our natural state, but it doesn’t have to be anyone’s final state. Seek Him & be healed tonight, sweet friends. He makes masterpieces of our mud pies.

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

Advertisements

10 Lessons of Hope

I have accumulated some great nuggets of knowledge over the past year and I want to share them! Not because I know it all, or even half of it all, but because I know different things than you do, and sharing our lessons is a good way to practice loving each other and living wise.

Here we go…

  • Wherever you are, be there. Community is built by people who invest in the lives of those around them rather than spend time searching for the group to be in. I realized this last summer when I noticed that the “favorites” list on my phone was over a page long, and full of people I did not talk to on a weekly basis. I had accumulated a list of the people I thought I needed to be with, and that had only served to damage the community God had placed me in. I trimmed the list down to seven people: it is far more user-friendly now, and I do not so often feel stretched out and stressed by the demands myriads of friends used to place on me.

“There isn’t anything on earth like relationships to make you holy.” ~Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 146

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ~Acts 9:11, ESV

  • Be refreshed by the things you like to do. If you tend to overwork yourself (like me), you may find no space in your life for activities you enjoy. Change that. You need to do frequent, inexpensive things that you find refreshing. God gives us these pleasures as blessings; they help us through the ache of everyday life. For me it is yoga, and writing in my journal. Other people go on walks, cook, or build bonfires outdoors. (**Beware of idolatry: don’t turn these blessings into curses by giving them the heart that only belongs to God.**)

“But a heart alive is a heart that is awake and curious and pressing in to more.” ~ Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 115

  • Be (extra) kind to minorities. Not because they are any more desperate or less important than the ethnic majority, but because, odds are, things in their family tree haven’t gone so smoothly. Why else would they be far from their biological roots? Just subtly offer to pay for dinner when you’re out with a friend who is a minority member, or get plugged in to a mentoring program for at-risk youth. America has a situation on her hands. What are you gonna do about it?

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 7:12, ESV

  • Own what you’re good at. I’ve wasted too many compliments, shrugging them away, saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m not that good.” Take the compliment! Don’t be puffed up with unrighteous pride, but don’t apologize for being good at something either. I struggle with math and science but I’ve wowed some college instructors with essays and short stories. God has made me this way so I can serve HIS amazing purposes!

“God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.”  ~Ephesians 2:10, CEV

  • Learn to say “no” to demands people place on you. Practice it if you have to; I did. This is especially difficult and of key importance if you have an enabling personality. Ask God, not men, what he would have you do with your time.

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks. Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job and what isn’t. Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.” ~Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, 27

  • Be OKAY with not knowing. No one knows it all. Don’t drive yourself mad searching for the answer to every question that flies through your head in a day. *You don’t have to win the arguments.* Doing research, learning, and seeking council is good, but no amount of historical data or advice or analysis can set your heart to rest. Only God offers real rest. Trust him as you spend a lifetime learning the truth.

God, show me the truth and show me the lies.

      “We are not uncertain about God, but uncertain of what He will do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 120

  • Beware of people who do know. Again, no one knows it all. The president, scientists, your parents, your mentors, your pastor, your therapist, they may have pieces of truth that cultivate discernment within you but they do not know it all. Our not-knowing is what makes us human, and spurs us forward to humble reliance on God. His ways are **not** our ways. Look out for people who have the answers to all your questions. Imagine a librarian who, when asked for books about World War II, starts reciting her personal knowledge of the war. You’d probably walk away slowly and Google it later. Surround yourself with people who don’t have all the answers, but are quick to point you in the right direction.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”~1 John 4:1, ESV

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14, ESV

  • Grieve. It’s OKAY to cry when you leave a job you have only had for two years. It is OKAY to spend an entire afternoon writing down memories of a loved one who passed away. If you need to weep, weep. If you need to take time thinking and wading through your emotions, set aside that time. You can experience the pain now or let it snowball for the rest of your life. God wants to bring healing to the pain in your heart, it’s part of your restoration.

“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 30:17, ESV

“Jesus wept.” ~John 11:35, ESV

“Smooth sailing does not make a good sailor.” ~Louis Zamperini, Devil at My Heels

((for more on grief check out Prayer as a Place, by Charles Bello))

  • Ask God what his special love language is for you. Heather Nelson (http://sunshinedreams2u.blogspot.com/) told me this at a retreat a few weeks ago, and little did I know, God would reveal our special language to me less than an hour later. I stood next to a window and the sun slowly peeked around a thick tree. The white rays pierced glass and kissed my forehead. Sunlight. Sunshine. That is one of the way God speaks to me, letting me know he is near. Today I basked in that same glow, feeling alive and rejuvenated by this tangible taste of everlasting love. Perhaps he speaks to you in dreams, or via shapes or sounds. Just ask!

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” ~Ephesians 2:17&18, ESV, emphasis mine

  • If you are not a slave to God, you are a slave to death. In a way, slavery is our only option. But the slavery of God leads to fruit, to life! With God as our master, we find true freedom and the ability to rest in his grace and do good things. The other option is default mode: remaining in bondage to our own fickle, wounded hearts. None of our decisions are for good when we live by the flesh, but though the war rages on when we live by the Spirit, we are able to surrender to God’s excellent plan for the redemption of our souls and this planet.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” ~Romans 6:16-18, NIV

“Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.” ~AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 197 (http://www.aholyexperience.com/)

Have a new year filled with hope, friends. Happy 2015!

Doubt Flees

Sidling in each ear

via shouted words

from missionary kid mouth

now tall, angry activist.

 

Doubt creeps in.

 

Slits on wrists scream, “no God,”

truth tossed aside.

like too hot Pop Tart. However,

the no-shoes God man is here.

 

Request for sick mother placed

in paper draped box, signed

The Atheist, subpoena

to the Holy One unheard.

Audacity to Ask

54 days ago:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom~Psalm 90:12

The last journal started in struggle and ended in burn out. A lot was accomplished in between. But no amount of productivity is worth the forfeit of my soul’s health. I want this journal to be full of all the joy and health that comes from living Coram Deo [in the presence of God]. I hope it is peppered with instances in which I put down what I am doing at the slightest urging, and readily join God in whatever He is up to. I want to follow Him in all things, everyday submitting myself to His great self. Every day an expedition into grace and He is my Captain. Where will we go, Lord? What will happen? Only You know, and that is what is best. I hope to be renewed by deeper connection to the Fount of Living Water. You can make these dreams come true in my life, Lord, and I pray that You will, knowing that even as I pray You have already answered. 

On the last page of the same journal I wrote:

My God overwhelms the giants. He slays dragons. He gives us what it takes to lift trembling sword in the fact of monsters unimaginable. He puts the war cry for justice deep in our throats. He sets fire in our belly so we can stand appalled and indignant in the way of abuse and terror. It’s His breath in our lungs anyway. Let’s praise Him with it.

Amazing that He answered my prayers even before the journal was spent.

Receiving God’s gifts is a gentle, simple movement of stooping lower.~Ann Voskamp

Little Bits of God

Working as a counselor at summer camp this week I got a card from my sister. It did not say much but it contained a piece of construction paper shaped like a heart. On it were words I wrote months ago: God’s powerful and patient grace is rescuing us all.
I had given my sister a jar full of hearts with truths written on them. This week, as a way to encourage me, she sent one back. What a blessing. What an example of how we are supposed to operate, passing on the Truths that we encounter. The little bits of God that we stumble upon are meant to be treasured first, and then shared.
How tightly I feel His arms wrap around me even as I trudge through trials and confusions.

…You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. (Isaiah 43:4)

Is there any Scripture sweeter than this?

It is the Lord’s house that I work to fill up with worshipers.
I can write their names in my book a thousand times and it will do no good.
In His arms is the book of life. And I pray that these names are written there.

PIC

Unforced Grace

You, Lord, are enthroned forever.

In my little life, You have already done so much.
You raised me up in Your word via loving parents.
You ignited that knowledge of the Scriptures by Your Holy Spirit.
You took me to Jamaica to break my heart for the nations.
You led me to a Native American Reservation in Washington state to set me face to face with the choice of who I will worship. In a fierce competition between me and You, You won.
Blessed be Your name.
You broke my body and wholly took control, though I fought it tooth and nail.
You shattered my pride and claimed my heart for Your own.
You led me to Mexico to discover grace and peace.
You drew me to North Little Rock to glimpse Your heart for the marginalized.
You allowed tragedy to strike as close to my heart as possible outside of my nuclear family.
I don’t know Your plan but I can see Your hand
Moving, shaping, preparing, making.

Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly~George MacDonald

When I take a moment to reflect on the road I am walking,
I quickly become overwhelmed by what an eloquently written story my life is.
This God–His way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythm of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.~Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Sojourner (Un)selfish

Bear with me as I indulge in a Big Bang Theory analogy. It’s not long, I promise.

In this story (life) we are more like Leonard than Sheldon. Everything Leonard does contributes to Sheldon’s joke. It’s not about Leonard. No one wants it to be about Leonard. Sheldon is funnier, so he gets the grand punch line and credit for the joke.

I try and take credit for the exceptional things the Lord does in my life. He gives me strength, and fills my life with blessings. In return, I pat myself on the back and start to think the Christian life is not so challenging after all. To put it simply: I am foolish. Nobody wants this to be about me. That would be one miserable, twisted story!

Praise Him; it is not about me! None of this is thanks to me. Were I to start believing it is so and act accordingly, God would no doubt remove His hand from under me. I would free-fall into despair.

Ever since I rededicated myself to Christ (February 23, 2010,) my life has been characterized by searching. I have looked and sought the ministry God would have me sink my hands into. For so long, everyone around me seemed fine and taken care of: not in need of help (keep in mind, I live among the wealthiest 2% of people in the world!) I felt unnecessary without work to do, listless. As I transitioned out of childhood and into the company of people who did not have such privilege, I felt my life begin to fall into place.

I am finding my place in the company of the marginalized. Children with dyslexia and ADHD and bad behavior need a servant of God to come alongside them and teach them about responsibility and walking with Jesus Christ. Their parents often need a friend. People who are barely making it financially (if your children go to a private school and/or you have never been on food stamps, do not even consider putting yourself in this category) need friends who have access to a network of human resources. I had the access, now I have the friends with tangible needs. Every relationship is a work in progress. Generally I am in the background working, thankful to be among diverse people. (By diverse I mean to hit all the bases: fiscally, ethnically, geographically, religiously, and generationally.)

It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. ~Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel

Now that I have been here, on the front line of the battle for souls in America, I am appreciative, at peace, and tired. This journey on earth is a long, hard one. I say that like I am old. I am young (in age and in Christ), but I have gotten a glimpse into the Christian life as a mission, and it has given me a deep perspective. I cannot say that my response to this perspective has been righteous or mature (“I’m just going to stop right here and do my own thing, OK, God? This is too much for me.” “No, Lydia, follow me.” Something along those lines.) but I am learning.

There are multitudes of needy souls here (as everywhere.) The work is plentiful; the fields are white (ready) for harvest.

It is not at all perfect and joyful working with poor, Bible-illiterate people. Unrestrained bad attitudes and grudges are rampant. Sexual preoccupations are entertained and discussed, making it difficult to keep my own mind and body pure. Finances are tight because I am constantly driving across town (Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing both sides of my city, there is just that whole gasoline nonsense to be dealt with.) Children distract me during church. I don’t get a moment to sing or lift my hands or listen to the voice of the local body, or look up verses in my Bible.

This is service and love: sacrifice.

Missing out on all those things is fine because–guess what–it’s not about me! This is a story about a great God who is filling up Eternity with souls. My ministry is not only how I obey God’s commandments, it is how I declare that there is a divine purpose. I work hard for others to no personal gain because there is a greater cause. Doing ministry is how I make my unsteady faith known. The best part is that He does not ask me to overcome these struggles by my own strength. God invites me to rely on Him totally (how radical!) He lets me know that I am not in this alone. He is my Comforter, King, Savior, Buddy, and Accomplice in this transcendent scheme of love. It is His show, His stage, and I am delighted to play my part (trips on stairs, poorly recited lines, smudged makeup, and all!)

Jesus says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. If the yoke you are carrying is heavy, then it is not His yoke you are carrying, but the yoke of someone else. ~Jen Hatmaker

It’s not about me=friendship with people who have nothing to offer you.
It’s not about me=long-term evangelism.
It’s not about me=working for literacy.
It’s not about me=recycling.
It’s not about me=donating to end poverty.
It’s not about me=spending more of your excess resources on others than you spend on yourself.
It’s not about me=donate your time to someone who needs a friend.
It’s not about me=participating in activities you do not necessarily enjoy in an attempt to bless other people.

It’s not about me is a concept that everyone would be better for putting into practice. Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, Consumerist, Catholic; the earth will become a more friendly place if we live for something–or someone–greater than ourselves. There is no formula for living this way, just a profound God who calls you to sojourn with Him. Enjoy today, soak in the beauty of today, but question yourself; hurt is brought about by what we don’t do as much as by what we do. Riddled with doubts, let us press on towards something higher and brighter than ourselves.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. ~Colossians 1:9-10

Father be with:

Rickaundia
Ricky Lewis
Malik
Aaliyah
DeeDee
Kiyah

…all of these kids whose lives You have given me a brief window into. Allow me to give them just a taste, just a hint, just a nudge towards You. Please, God, use me that they may know and worship the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

I do not know where I am headed
I do not know what countries I will live in
I do not know what languages I will learn to speak
I do not know exactly how much I will be called to give up (Luke 12:15)
I do know that He desires all of me.

It is a joy and privilege to give Him my everything.

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. ~Luke 14:33

Slowly, shakily, I follow You.

It’s All God’s Anyway

Pardon the abrupt transition from airy hypothetical posts filled with wordy generalizations to, well, me.

Three days ago I started a “fast” from buying (I know that to fast traditionally means to abstain from food. Use your imaginations, people.)
Thanks to my ingeniously frugal mother I’m not a huge spender, (OK, so I pack my lunch everyday, never order anything but water, and make it a point to avoid weekend movies because of the price) but I am a rabid control freak. I want to be in control of….it all. A few days ago I noticed a thoughtlessly consumerist tendency in myself: when I get to what I see as a comfortable place financially I start to spend. I spend on me and I buy other people stuff and then I spend more on me. Not huge amounts of money, but the green is flowing faster than it was two weeks ago when I was tight-wadded due to worry. I hate that my spending (giving included) fluctuates depending on how I feel I’m doing financially.

And why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow: they do not work or make clothes for themselves…It is God who clothes the wild grass….~Matthew 6:28 and 30a

So I’m not going to spend. Extreme, you say?

Abject poverty is extreme. Not being ABLE to buy things to meet ones’ basic needs is extreme.
My aim with this silly little fast is not to save money; it’s about not having control. The time I would have spent in line, I will spend in prayer. The movies, book sales, dinners or sports games I would have attended will be replaced by conversation and by solitude. I’ll have to get creative. I’ll have to go without the luxuries I usually bestow upon myself with the swipe of a card. And next time I roll up to a couple of ladies sitting outside of the Salvation Army on 2nd street it will just be me. No brownies and baby shoes. I won’t be a giver or benefactor, I’ll just be a face, and hopefully, soon, a friend.

There it is then, written down. I won’t be buying anything but gas this month (not even Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s new and undoubtedly wonderful CD!) My food is well provided for-gosh, I’m not that crazy. But right down to chewing gum and loose-leaf paper, I hand my control of the money that passes through my fingers to God. Sayonara receipts and restaurants.

Distractions minimized, I hope for two things: clarity towards my own wrong perceptions of money, and a better understanding of how to close the gap between the well-meaning rich and the hungry poor.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him? ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Talitha Cumi

Who am I that You have brought me thus far?~David, 2 Samuel 7:18-29

Who am I that You pour out all joy on me?
Who am I that You bless me in every way?
Who am I to help care for the needy people here on earth?
Who am I that you lead sojourners into my life?

The world I see is a lovely one. It’s a world of hope and mercy. A place of confusion but not suspicion. It’s a world of broken people and broken hearts, and potential to be made well. It’s a land bursting with opportunity, with chances to make changes. This is a world where people who believe in something can come together and give their dream birth. It’s a nation indulging in sin while crying out for knowledge. It’s a world that says, “help, I’m drowning!” It’s a country that gives some much so that they will be equipped to help those with little.
It’s a planet in the hands of a lively, creative God who loves His children and looks forward to the time of restoration.

And He says to me, “Little girl, arise.”

Let us hold less tightly to our interpretations of God’s law and cling more desperately to Jesus and the relationships we have with other sinners.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. ~Matthew 22:37-40