Friday, January 15, 2016

Greatest Desire for 2016

At the beginning of 2015, I tried something new.

I had given up resolutions many years before, and decided to try picking a word for the year instead.

My word was intentional. It felt like a good word.

I wanted to be more intentional about my career, and so in 2015 I pursued different opportunities to get back into writing and the editorial world.

I wanted to be more intentional about my creative hobbies, like writing and photography, and so I looked at a lot of different class options and made some new contacts.

I wanted to be more intentional about my relationships--mostly friendships, but also in the romance category. And so I said "yes" to things I was tempted to say "no" to, and signed up for things at church and beyond in order to get involved and meet more people.

I wanted to be more intentional about my health, and did a barre class once a week for a while. And drank more water, and ate healthy in general.

I wanted to be more intentional at home... cooking, cleaning, hospitality. And well... I did host a jewelry party, put together a lot of new bookshelves.

Basically the goal for the year was to take life by the horns, to not be as reactive to things in life, and ultimately pursue the things I felt would make my life better, happier, richer.

By the end of 2015, I had done a lot of cool things that wouldn't have happened if I had not been a bit more intentional. I traveled to Haiti, Spain, France, Italy and Rwanda. I got involved in a few different Bible study groups and began to build some new friendships. I have an awesome new apartment with a great landlord and great neighbors. I started a new romantic relationship. I had the BEST month-long 30th birthday celebration, which included finally fulfilling my dream of going to Disney World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If my year could be told in Instagram pictures alone, 2015 was a year that would be hard to top.

But Instagram only shows the best of things. As the last few months of 2015 began to pass, I felt more and more listless. Even with all that went right, a lot still just felt wrong. Or not a fulfilling as I thought it would be.  I still felt really empty. I felt the same way I felt at the end of 2014, like my life was going nowhere in the direction I desired or dreamed. Being intentional didn't make me happier, and I was (or am) still without direction or a sense of control over my life.

While I was more intentional with my career, I didn't get either of the jobs I applied and interviewed for. And so I went in for my 5th year of teaching, which started with so many changes that I felt unbalanced and off-kilter for the first 2 months. I was miserable. I also was still working long hours and days, which meant there was no time to take any of the writing or photography classes I wanted to do, or even do the side projects I thought I'd have time for.

And relationships? Many of the friendships I started to build either stalled, or just didn't develop to be as deep as I hoped they would be. I still spend most of my time alone, and often felt alone. And the new romantic relationship? Crashed and burned a few months in.

Cooking, cleaning, working out, entertaining... all that fell by the wayside. Especially since I was "homeless" all summer, was traveling a lot, and then I'm still trying to unpack my new place.

It was like being back at square one. Expect because I started the year with an expectation that being intentional about my desires would make things better and make me happier, there was now the taste of bitter disappointment growing stronger as the year wrapped up.

I debated not picking a word for 2016. Why set myself up to be disappointed again? But there was a word that kept coming up in my devotions and Bible studies and in church sermons was JOY. The idea of being content with my lot, good or bad, because I have the joy of the Lord.

I settled on the word, but didn't really think about why it would work for 2016 until today.

I wasn't happier after a year of intentionality because I spent the year pursing desires that were worldly and temporary. And not that any of those things were bad. And not that I don't still have all those desires. But I think pursuing them was more important that just pursing the Lord. Leaning into Him. Trusting His plan. Finding my joy (happiness, bliss, excitement, contentment) in Him first and foremost.

So in this new year, that's what I am seeking to rest in: His Joy.

I've chosen Psalm 40 as the scripture to help guide the year (or at least thought it). Here are some verses that remind me to rejoice in the Lord!

Psalm 40:3... "He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God."

Psalm 40: 16a, 17b ... "But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you...but the Lord takes thought for me." 

And one more verse, not from chapter 40, but that also really stood out to me as one to hold on to:
Psalm 4:7 ... "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound."

Ultimately, in reflecting over 2015 and looking into 2016, I realized that nothing I do will bring me joy. Only the Lord can make my heart glad. So I'm giving Him my desires, making Him my FIRST desire and I believe that the best thing I can do is to "delight [my]self in the Lord, and he will give [me] the desires of [my] heart." (Psalm 37:4)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

You Don't Have to Remember, if You Know...

In some Christian circles, it is the "thing" to ask people their salvation story. How did you come to know the Lord?

It is often on mission trip applications, volunteer forms, and it might even comes up when you're meeting your new boyfriend's friends, mentors or family. Someone, somewhere is going to ask.

Tell us your testimony.

This has always made me a little uncomfortable, or sometimes even rubbed me the wrong way. And then I'd feel guilt. Shouldn't I be excited to share my story? To shout from the rooftops the story of how God saved me, redeemed me, made me whole?

So why do I feel a little bit of discomfort or shame when I think of my story? Of the place where I first met the Lord? It's taken me a while, but I realized it boiled down to one thing: I don't remember it. 

I don't remember the day, the time, the moment where I first surrendered to His call and embraced the message of the Gospel.

I grew up in a Christian home. When I was born, my dad was in the middle of one of many Seminary degrees. He was in the process of starting an African Mission church with two of his close friends. I was the first baby born in that church. And as I grew, that church was my family. The men where my uncles, the women were my aunts, the children were my cousins.

I was raised with praises songs on my lips, scripture in my mind. Church was my favorite place. And it was my home. I was taught to love Jesus. I was taught He loved me. And I had no reason to ever doubt it. In a sense, you could argue that I have always known the Lord.

But... at some point, my faith had to have become my own. At some point, I had to clearly recognize my personal depravity and see my undeniable need for a Savior.

But... I don't remember what that point was.

I often tell this story:

It's a little memory that I have in my mind. I am not even sure how real it is, or if it is more imagined. But I remember being between 5 and 7. I know it is around this age because we were at the Beddell house and no longer living in Seminary housing. I know that my sisters and I shared the back room. And it was when we were really into puzzles. We had just gotten a 5,000 (or was it 10,000 piece) puzzle of a cabin in the woods. Most of the puzzle was composed of leaves. Lots of shades of green. That looked very much a like and was very hard to piece together.

The puzzle was being put together on a desk or table in our room. The desk sat right under one of the windows in the room. In my memory, the puzzle is mostly completed except for the top left quarter. All those dang green pieces we couldn't quite get. And in my memory, I walk into the room and see sunbeams streaming in, shining directly onto our incomplete puzzle.

I remember being struck by the beauty of it all. And I remember thinking... I want to belong to that light. I want to belong to The Light.

And if you grow up in church or a Christian home, then you are bound to have been led, or heard people being led in the "salvation prayer." And if you're like me, you probably have already said it at some point, maybe every Sunday, but not really understood what it meant.

Either way, in my memory, I said the prayer then.

And that would be my story. Except... like I said earlier, I don't even know if it is real.

I do know that not a whole lot about my life changed. Church remained a central part of our lives, serving in the church and community was my family's M.O. I continued to learn about the Lord, be taught to love the Lord, and taught that the Lord loved me.

And while I have no doubt that I understand the Gospel. That I understand the sacrifice made for me on the Cross. That I have a relationship with the Almighty God, the Great I AM. When I hear a Christian ask me, "So what's your testimony?" I cringe and feel a little bit of fear. That maybe they will see me as a fraud. They will doubt that I am legit. I will not be counted as one of them.

Isn't that horrible?

Somewhere along the line, I learned to believe that my story didn't matter. It wasn't cool enough, groundbreaking enough, a testimony of God's power enough.

But recently, something changed that for me.

I was starting a relationship with this guy, and happened to meet some of his friends. And the question came up... "So, how did you come to know the Lord?" I took a deep breath and told the truth that I know: I grew up in the church, my dad is a pastor, I was taught to love the Lord and that He loved me. I don't remember the exact day or time, but I know that with each year of my life I have grown more aware of how real God is, and I daily surrender my life to Him.

And then I waited for the deeper, probing questions. The ones laced with doubt and concern. Did I really know the Lord? Or am I a fake? But what came instead was some insight that changed everything for me.

As a parent, your greatest hope and desire is that your child(ren) know your love. Without doubt. Unconditionally. And you would rather have your child know you loved them from the day they were born versus spending most of their lives feeling lost, alone and empty and then discovering you loved them as a teen, a young adult, at middle age. We'd hope to protect our children from the pain of poor choices, or from any kind of despair. Right? Wouldn't that be the dream of all parents?

And if that is our desire as mere human beings, how much more would that be God's desire for each of us? My story is exactly what God would want for any of His children. To know they are loved by Him from Day 1, and to live a life protected by that love.

I've got to have a personal relationship with God for so long, and even if I can't remember it, I know it. I know that an infinite God seeks me out. That an infinite God became a man, lived and dwelt among us, wounded and bruised for me, nailed on a cross, died... and rose again. I know that I can have a personal relationship with that God because the veil had been torn, sin has been defeated, His righteousness has cleansed me from my unrighteousness.

And so even though I can't remember... I KNOW. 

And that's what matters beyond anything else. 
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