Peering into the Mirror of My Soul… Pondering 2013 and Hoping for 2014

It’s the closing of 2013, and I can safely say, looking into the mirror of my soul, that I do not well recognize the girl who began this year.  I’m not sure what I expected for 2013, but I’m fairly certain that very little of it came to pass.  Instead, God had better plans, more exciting plans, plans to grow me and challenge me.

To begin 2013, I chose a word (or should I rather say, God chose a word) as a theme for the year: TRUST.  The funny thing is, that’s the word that defined 2012 as well.  Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson the first time. = ) When I prayed about the upcoming year and what word might set the stage for its arrival, God really surprised me with this one. I honestly never thought I had many issues with trusting God, and any that I had were taken care of the year before. But apparently, that was because I hadn’t been through the Refiner’s fire enough.  Too much of my life had been “in my control” and mapped out, for me to really know the life-changing impact of that one, little word.  Praise God that He didn’t choose to take me through a completely chaotic season to teach me, but He certainly did guide me through a twisty road.  A road upon which I traveled, unable to see around the next bend… or even past the next step.  Many times I felt (and feel) like Abraham, going to a land that “God will show me.” A land of promise, yet cloaked in mystery.  I am still walking this twisty road, one faltering step after another.

I started the year as a part-time freelance editor, college graduate, “in-control”, prideful woman, and most confidently of all, NOT a teacher.

Let’s just say I’m ending the year as an Associate Editor at Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (still doing freelance), a woman who’s learning she’s not-so-in-control but can trust the One Who is, a woman who still struggles with pride, but is fighting it in God’s strength, and most shockingly of all, A TEACHER.  God sure has crazy awesome plans, overabundant grace, and a sense of humor, doesn’t He?

Most incredible of all are the changes in my life that probably only those closest to me can recognize, and which words cannot adequately capture.  God is truly taking this weak soul and making it strong by His grace.  He is taking brokenness aside and making it beautiful.

This year, God has taught me so many beautiful, yet difficult truths, that I barely know where to start.  He has taught me that, believe it or not, life is not about me, my comforts, my desires, or my wishes.  Yes, He loves me and wants HIS best for me, but that doesn’t always look like MY best.

I’ve learned that life is complicated and things don’t always go as I plan, but God has it all under control.  This year has breathed a whole new meaning into James 4:13-15:

‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’

This is a lesson I feel like I’m still struggling to learn, but God has shown me how futile it is to make my own plans apart from Him.  He’s shown me the pointless vanity in “never”s, “I will”s, and “always”s.  Instead, I’ve found that, when I submit my plans, wishes, and dreams to Him, His plans are so much more incredible than my own.

Reigning supreme this year is the all-consuming reality that God is fully in control, He has a plan, He loves me and cares about the details of my life, and that His plan is way bigger than me.  Only when I am fully satisfied in Him, fully surrendered to His plan, can I be bringing Him the greatest glory.  It is no strength of my own or self-righteous sacrifice of my desires that He asks of me.  Instead, it is acknowledging my weakness so He can be made strong, and delighting myself in Him so that all other desires pale in comparison.

I’ve also discovered that relationships are messy and often difficult, because they are two (or more) flawed, messed-up, complicated individuals joining different parts of their lives together.  I’ve found that this joining, no matter to what degree or in what setting (whether passing contact, or life-long friendship), requires sacrifice and effort.  But you know what?  I’ve also learned that it is so worth the sacrifice.  Because relationships with other people are beautiful.  They’re beautiful because God designed them, He made us to crave relationships, both with Him and other people.

God uses relationships as mirrors to show us faults in our own lives, reveal blindspots, and uncover hidden weaknesses.  But, He also uses them to challenge, encourage, and strengthen us as we grow.  Over and over, I’ve learned to give the benefit of the doubt, think of a situation from the other person’s perspective, and recognize that my imagination is almost always worse than reality.  I am beyond blessed with family and friends who have stood by me through many obstacles, challenged me to persevere, shown themselves faithful, and who make me smile and praise God when I think of them. These are the people who I have laughed with, prayed with, waded through life with, worshipped God with, and been raw and real with.  You guys know who you are; thank you for your faithful friendship.  I love ya’ll!

All of this is barely scratching the surface of what God has taught me and the ways He has turned my world upside-down, but for the sake of brevity I must end my rambling reflections here.  I pray for myself and every one of you reading this, a year in which God does whatever it takes to bring each of us to a place where He is our everything and where we bring Him the most glory.

And now, as I peer through squinted eyes into the foggy shadows of 2014, I see beams of sunlight silhouetting the outlines of what is to come.  I sense even more change and growth, I anticipate the many decisions I must make, and I eagerly taste a hint of what floats mysteriously in the air: hope.

It’s the closing of 2013, and I can safely say, looking into the mirror of my soul, that I do not well recognize the girl who began this year.  I’m not sure what I expected for 2013, but I’m fairly certain that very little of it came to pass.  Instead, God had better plans, more exciting plans, plans to grow me and challenge me.

To begin 2013, I chose a word (or should I rather say, God chose a word) as a theme for the year: TRUST.  When I prayed about the upcoming year and what word might set the stage for its arrival, God really surprised me with this one. I honestly never thought I had many issues with trusting God, but apparently that was because I hadn’t been through the Refiner’s fire enough.  Too much of my life had been “in my control” and mapped out, for me to really know the life-changing impact of that one, little word.  Praise God that He didn’t choose to take me through a completely chaotic season to teach me, but He certainly did guide me through a twisty road.  A road upon which I traveled, unable to see around the next bend… or even past the next step.  Many times I felt (and feel) like Abraham, going to a land that “God will show me.” A land of promise, yet cloaked in mystery.  I am still walking this twisty road, one faltering step after another.

I started the year as a part-time freelance editor, college graduate, “in-control”, prideful woman, and most confidently of all, NOT a teacher.

Let’s just say I’m ending the year as an Associate Editor at Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (still doing freelance), a woman who’s learning she’s not-so-in-control but can trust the One Who is, a woman who still struggles with pride, but is fighting it in God’s strength, and most shockingly of all, A TEACHER.  God sure has crazy awesome plans, overabundant grace, and a sense of humor, doesn’t He?

Most incredible of all are the changes in my life that probably only those closest to me can recognize, and which words cannot adequately capture.  God is truly taking this weak soul and making it strong by His grace.  He is taking brokenness aside and making it beautiful.

This year, God has taught me so many beautiful, yet difficult truths, that I barely know where to start.  He has taught me that, believe it or not, life is not about me, my comforts, my desires, or my wishes.  Yes, He loves me and wants HIS best for me, but that doesn’t always look like MY best.

I’ve learned that life is complicated and things don’t always go as I plan, but God has it all under control.  This year has breathed a whole new meaning into James 4:13-15:

‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’

This is a lesson I feel like I’m still struggling to learn, but God has shown me how futile it is to make my own plans apart from Him.  He’s shown me the pointless vanity in “never”s, “I will”s, and “always”s.  Instead, I’ve found that, when I submit my plans, wishes, and dreams to Him, His plans are so much more incredible than my own.

Reigning supreme this year is the all-consuming reality that God is fully in control, He has a plan, He loves me and cares about the details of my life, and that His plan is way bigger than me.  Only when I am fully satisfied in Him, fully surrendered to His plan, can I be bringing Him the greatest glory.  It is no strength of my own or self-righteous sacrifice of my desires that He asks of me.  Instead, it is acknowledging my weakness so He can be made strong, and delighting myself in Him so that all other desires pale in comparison.

I’ve also discovered that relationships are messy and often difficult, because they are two (or more) flawed, messed-up, complicated individuals joining different parts of their lives together.  I’ve found that this joining, no matter to what degree or in what setting (whether passing contact, or life-long friendship), requires sacrifice and effort.  But you know what?  I’ve also learned that it is so worth the sacrifice.  Because relationships with other people are beautiful.  They’re beautiful because God designed them, He made us to crave relationships, both with Him and other people.

God uses relationships as mirrors to show us faults in our own lives, reveal blindspots, and uncover hidden weaknesses.  But, He also uses them to challenge, encourage, and strengthen us as we grow.  Over and over, I’ve learned to give the benefit of the doubt, think of a situation from the other person’s perspective, and recognize that my imagination is almost always worse than reality.  I am beyond blessed with family and friends who have stood by me through many obstacles, challenged me to persevere, shown themselves faithful, and who make me smile and praise God when I think of them. These are the people who I have laughed with, prayed with, waded through life with, worshipped God with, and been raw and real with.  You guys know who you are; thank you for your faithful friendship.  I love ya’ll!

All of this is barely scratching the surface of what God has taught me and the ways He has turned my world upside-down, but for the sake of brevity I must end my rambling reflections here.  I pray for myself and every one of you reading this, a year in which God does whatever it takes to bring each of us to a place where He is our everything and where we bring Him the most glory.

And now, as I peer through squinted eyes into the foggy shadows of 2014, I see beams of sunlight silhouetting the outlines of what is to come.  I sense even more change and growth, I anticipate the many decisions I must make, and I eagerly taste a hint of what floats mysteriously in the air: hope.

Solace in the Sparkle of Christmas

I’ve always been a little sentimental, and this time of year has always held a bit of sparkle or magic, no matter what my life is like at the time.  Maybe it’s the way everything seems to glisten, or the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to have jingling music about my Savior playing everywhere 24/7; or perhaps it’s the feeling I get when I lay under the tree and stare up through all of the little twinkling lights.  Whatever it is, every year I am filled with renewed wonder.  Just a certain Christmas song, a special ornament, or the bleary glow of lights seeping through squinted eyes can bring a flood of memories.  And with those memories, I am instantly returned to a time in my life that was a whole lot less complicated, where I took things at face value and lived life as it came.

Just like the moments before sunset where the earth holds its breath and the skies whisper soothing words to my soul, Christmastime is a season where time stands still and all is well, even if only for the time. There is peace in the familiar and rest in the constant.  There is also something about knowing that you are not alone in such blissful moments. That your joy transcends the moment, your location, and your life. That somewhere, at the same time, someone else is experiencing the same pleasures; someone else is listening to ‘What Child is This’ by their Christmas tree or basking in the watercolor sky at dusk.

I never want to take these moments or seasons for granted. God created us to seek refuge in Him and seek rest in our hectic lives, and I believe He offers us little respites like sunsets and glittering Christmas lights to slow the whirling in our hearts and refocus our scattered minds onto the familiar and the beautiful.

This season, no matter what pain you face, stress you are under, or anxiety you battle, enjoy the solace of the small things and seek shelter in God.

You Don’t Have a Soul-Mate, But God Has a Plan

Admidst the plethora and pendulum of relationship articles circulating the christian corner of the world wide web, there is little left to be said that hasn’t been, and even fewer ways left to say it.  And yet, as is often the case, I am bubbling over with thoughts too long repressed that have been left to simmer on the back burner of my overactive mind.  I don’t claim any special knowledge, wisdom, or understanding superior to those who have written before me.  Neither do I aspire to refute their viewpoints. Rather, I simply hope to capture some of my roiling thoughts in some controllable, understandable fashion, almost more for my own sanity than others’ benefit.

My goal is not to endorse any relationship ‘system,’ be it courtship, dating, dating with a purpose, prearranged marriage, or betrothal.  Honestly, the more I think about it, the less any of those defining terms matter to me.  Kind of like walking with Jesus, romantic relationships transcend legalistic terms, rules, and conditions.  Yes, rules and guidelines are important, just as they are when following Christ, but they should be symptoms of an end (a state of heart) rather than a means to that end.  Basically, all I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter what ‘system’ you use to pursue a deeper relationship with someone of the opposite gender.  What matters is the motivation behind that pursuit and the hearts of those involved.

Okay, that was my rabbit trail for the day, but the main issue I want to address is one that has been making its rounds through my head, but now demands to be let out.  Recently, I’ve noticed a large rebellion forming in response to both the rampant hollywood ideal of ‘soul-mates’ and the more conservative belief that God has ‘the one’ picked out for each of His followers.  This fledgeling movement of God-seekers quickly attracted my attention with its counter-cultural stand and bold message of biblical love.  It declared independence from the bondage of believing in a single soul-mate roaming the planet somewhere, eternally seeking their other half, and leaving behind a trail of shattered homes and broken hearts.  Instead, this movement promised the freedom that Christians may marry whoever they please, whenever they please, so long as the other person is a spiritual equal.

Frankly, this sounded groundbreaking and insanely liberating!  No more long, agonizing hours spent storming God’s throne, begging Him to show me whether or not each guy who came along was right for me.  No more thoughts wasted poring over what His will was in my romantic life. Best of all, no more worries that I might marry someone who wasn’t ‘right’ for me!  Basically, as long as they were a Christian pursuing God, I was set! The bottom line in this recent revolution was that there was no ‘one’ person picked out for me, but whoever I married would become the right one.  Love is a choice, and should be approached as such.  I loved this refreshingly committed way of thinking and saw much biblical basis for most of it.

But, somehow the thought as a whole just didn’t sit right with me.  I tried to make it settle in my heart and head, I really did.  But it just wouldn’t.  I began to seek God about it, asking Him to show me biblically how all of this related to my life and my walk with Him.

Suddenly, as I read through scripture each day, verses began to pop out to me about God’s individual will and purpose for each man’s life.  Verses about Him guiding our footsteps and directing our paths.  How could God, who has a purpose for my life, directs my path, and leads me step by step, cut me loose on one of my biggest life decisions?  Would He really just wish me luck in finding a life partner and leave me to my own, sinful, finite devices?  Whew!  I sure hoped not.  And the more I prayed and searched the Bible, the more convinced I became that He would not.

So how did this compute with the movement which was so quickly growing and held such appeal to me in a world of love ‘em and leave ‘ems?  Could the two patterns of thought be unified into one, balanced approach?  My optimistic side said ‘yes!’  And so, after sorting it through in my own heart, I have come to these basic conclusions: yes, love is a choice, no, there is not one ‘soul-mate’ wandering around out there for me, and yes, whoever I marry will become ‘the one’ by God’s grace, because divorce will not ever be an option. BUT, that does not mean that God has cut me loose and has no opinion or say in the matter.  He may not have *one* person picked out for me, but I firmly believe He has a ‘best option’ for me for where I’m at in my life and the path I am walking.  No, I’m not doomed to life of celibacy or wedded tragedy if I miss God’s call to California and stay here in Florida. Nowhere in the Bible does God say that He has one soul-mate roaming the earth, waiting to bump into me.  However, doesn’t it make sense that, if God is all-wise, all-powerful, and all-knowing, we should seek His will before making the biggest decision of our lives?  Wouldn’t it stand to reason that, if our lives are not our own, we should consult Him before joining them to another person?

So how does this affect the way we should pursue romantic (or any) relationships? By reminding us that we aren’t solo agents, set loose by a distant God who doesn’t care what we do.  That instead, we are following a Shepherd who LEADS us, who guides us, and who, by knowing our futures and hearts better than we ever could, has a plan for us.  This doesn’t mean His plan is easy.  I’m pretty sure no one in the Bible ever had a fairytale life, but those who committed their lives to God found fulfillment in Him. Every time. Will we face His wrath or be doomed to a terrible, ineffective life if we don’t listen to His guidance in seeking a spouse?  No.  But is it a good, even logical, biblical, idea?  You betcha.

A Busy Heart and Soul…

Well, once I again, I find myself sitting down to write and realizing that it has been wayyy too long.  Again.  And, once again, I find myself apologizing and making hopeful promises (which hopefully I will keep more faithfully this time) to write more often.

What’s my excuse for this complete negligence of my teensy piece of internet real estate?  Oh, the usual… I’ve been super busy, and life’s been crazy, it’s the Christmas season… blah, blah, blah…  Now don’t get me wrong, all of that is true, and not even bad excuses, but, in the midst of a hectic schedule and similarly clouded brain, I’ve been realizing that I have more control over my scatteredness than I realize, or perhaps even want to realize…

I was reading a book called ‘The Praying Life’ by David Paulison a little while ago (AMAZING book by the way!  Seriously, one of the best I’ve ever read besides the Bible… I very much recommend it!) and I came across a quote that has stuck with me ever since.

‘It’s okay to have a busy life.  It’s crazy to have a busy soul.’

When I read it, I was definitely convicted, because I have the tendency to let the state of my soul match my circumstances… which, quite often, tends to make it… busy.  Which, if I think about it, makes NO sense!  I mean, the lyrics to one of my favorite hymns ever, declare beautifully that ‘…whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.’  And as long as I’m letting my circumstances toss me around like a kite in a stormy sky, then I’m not embracing the promise my Savior has given me of a peaceful heart.  Because of His love and sacrifice for me, the peace of my soul is completely independent of my circumstances.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27.

The state of my soul may be independent of my life, but the state of my life is dependent on the state of my soul, which is directly dependent on my relationship to my heavenly Father, and daily surrender to Him!

My encouragement and challenge and prayer to and for all of you is that you would come before God and pray that the state of your soul would not match your circumstances.  Pray that He would be the Master in your heart, mind, soul, and life so that you can honestly say, ‘it is well with MY soul…’

A very Merry (and peaceful!) Christmas to you all!  = )

Jesus: He’s Been There and Suffered That…

So I was sharing some of my thoughts (or I guess God’s thoughts…I can’t take credit for them!) from my devotion time with a friend of mine the other day and she suggested that I share them on my blog with all of you.  Which, since I’m now apparently gravely overdue for a ‘real’ post, sounded like a great idea.  The issue was finding a time where I could sit down, collect my thoughts, and attempt to convey them in a semi-coherent fashion. It seems that now is as good of a time as ever…

So, I was reading in Hebrews, which is one of my favorite books of all time by the way!  I mean, it’s so complex and rich and comforting and enlightening and… you get the idea!  I still have a hard time believing I used to shy away from this book in the past because it was too complex (which it is complex, but it’s still so cool and I get something new from it every time!)  Anyway, in Hebrews chapter 4, it says:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

WHOA WHOA WHOA!  Stop, think about what you just read.  Seriously, do. it.  If you aren’t just blown away and crazy excited, re-read it and think again.  If you still aren’t at all moved by your Savior’s logic-defying love, then… wow… let me attempt to, by God’s grace, help you out!

So, not only did Jesus come and live on our little planet and die a horrific death, just for the terrible stuff we do, but He also suffered in all the same ways we do!

Think about it: as God, He could have chosen to just come and die, or come live on the earth and avoid the stuff humans go through, then die.  Instead, He chose to live like we do and subject himself to all our our human suffering so that He could say to us, ‘I’ve been there and I know what you’re going through, I’m not only hurting for you, but I’ve hurt WITH you.’  Wow!  Pretty much, Jesus lived just like we do and suffered just like we do, except He didn’t sin.  Doesn’t that take His already insanely amazing love to a whole new sacrificial level?  Isn’t it twice as comforting to know that Jesus really truly understands what you’re dealing with?

I was then thinking that meant Jesus suffered every pain we experience except guilt, because He never sinned.  BUTTTT, then I realized He endured that too!  When He died on the cross, He ‘bore our sins in His body.’  So, He not only suffered the agony of guilt and separation from His Father, but He endured the guilt of ALL MANKIND.  The physical suffering He experienced must have been nothing compared to the spiritual anguish.

When we sin and are struggling with guilt, Jesus understands how we feel, not because He did anything that would deserve guilt, but because He chose to endure it for us.  Whatever you are suffering from or struggling with, take it straight to Jesus.  He doesn’t ‘just’ care, He understands because He’s BEEN THERE.  He says to approach His throne with CONFIDENCE and we will find mercy and grace when we need it most!

Praise God He doesn’t turn us away when we come crawling to Him with our pathetic sinful selves, begging for mercy and forgiveness.  ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.’ – Ephesians 2:8-9.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Reflections of a Runner: For the Joy Set Before Us…

It seems that almost every time I run, I discover a new parallel between running and life and I no longer wonder why Paul likened christians to runners.  Every time God shows me another facet of the connection between running and my relationship with Him, I get so excited by the creative and incredible God we serve and the many ways He speaks to us.  Although none of these ‘discoveries’ are exactly revolutionary, I find them worth sharing to encourage ya’ll like they encouraged me.  So, as these parallels surface, I’ll do my best to share them with ya’ll.

While running the other evening, I caught myself looking at the ground a lot and feeling mentally weary of my run.  I then remembered a running tip I had heard; this tip advised that looking ahead while running instead of looking at the ground made running easier and more enjoyable by giving the runner a focal point and goal rather than just the narrow monotony of the ground in front of them.  Consequently, I began to look ahead of me and found that this advice was quite true; my run became twice as enjoyable and went by much faster.

As I was pondering why this was, I realized that life is much the same.  If we spend our whole lives never looking past what is directly in front of us, so wrapped up in our current struggles, we will lose our focus.  Although we need to glance down now and then to check our footsteps and keep from tripping, if we never look around us, we’ll never be able to soak in the beauty that God has surrounded us with.  Just like on my run, when we lift our eyes off of ourselves and our present situation, we begin to not only appreciate our surroundings, but are able to look ahead at the reason we are even running.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 2:2

If, as we run the race of life, we fix our eyes on Jesus, not only will our ‘run’ have a goal, but it will be more fulfilling.  Rather than getting bogged down in the details of life, I want to run for the joy set before me, knowing someday I will stand before my Creator and longing to hear Him say ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” – Colossians 3:2