From the Basement

January 27, 2011

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?”

English departments have begun the arduous process of notifying applicants for graduate work. Stanford and Emory are interviewing, and Northwestern has already sent out acceptances and rejections. None of the programs I applied to have begun notifying yet, to the best of my knowledge, but an interesting few months are upon us.

Last year, I went through January in a state of relative bliss, not thinking about my applications, only to be hit with a truckload of force by my first rejection letter in early February. The resulting anxiety—will I get in? won’t I?—affected me on so deep a physical level that I was throwing up every morning for the month of February. I remember it vividly: wake up, make coffee, check email, work on some homework, and within a half hour to 45 minutes, I would be wretching in the toilet. The feeling was terrible—this focal point in my belly that felt black, that was wound tight with nerves and fear. What if I don’t get in? What does that mean? What if this isn’t God’s will? What if… what if… what if?

It’s that time again: the end of January, where a handful of schools are beating their peers to the punch by sending out acceptances and rejections. The majority of programs will notify mid February through late March, with wait-lists being accepted/rejected even through early May. Like I said, a long process to wait through.

But my perspective is different this year. Last year, I couldn’t imagine not going to graduate school. I was afraid of wasting my life, somehow. A year later, I know that anything we do—even if it’s unexpected, even if it’s not “using” our degree—is certainly not wasted… not wasted when you are seeking the Lord’s direction, however imperfectly, not wasted when you know that he holds the future in his hands.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. —Matthew 6:28-33 (NIV)

My fiancé loves to quote the verse 27 of this chapter, which states, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (NKJV).

Worrying will not make answers come more quickly. It will not affect an outcome, and it will not even make us feel better. Rather, it makes us feel worse and encourages the vines of self-doubt and pride, anxiety and fear to twine about us, choking out the good that is being nurtured in us.

Scripture tells us precisely what we are to do when faced with this sort of situation. 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast your anxiety on him, for he cares for you” (NKJV).

The sin often referenced in verses dealing with worry, anxiety, and/or fear is unbelief. John Piper articulates in many of his works that unbelief is the root of all sin: not trusting, not believing, not hoping in the promises of the Lord. Look back to the verse in Matthew 6: Jesus does not tell the disciples that they haven’t prayed enough, or haven’t turned to scripture enough, or haven’t worked hard enough, or haven’t done [fill in the blank] enough. No—he reproaches them: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

You of little faith. This is how Jesus addresses those who worry about whether he will provide, who do not fully trust his promises and live like they trust them.

Because this is the question: are we living like we trust Jesus? It’s one thing to say we trust him, but really—do we? Last February, I would have said with my mouth that I absolutely trusted God with the outcome… whilst my body betrayed the truth of my belief by wretching all my worry and fear into a toilet bowl.

When a situation is so terrible it is difficult to see how good could come of it, it is hard to believe on the promises of Christ. On the flip side, when we want something so badly and are praying for it fervently, casting all our hope on that to do something for us… it can be hard to take a step back, hold out an open palm, and let the Lord take that dream, saying “not now” or perhaps even “no.” But even in these times—especially in these times—we must hold fast; we cannot doubt his promise in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).

The first chapter of James offers a step-by-step manual, if you will, to dealing with these situations where we are tempted to worry, whether they are trials wrought by our own sin or by external circumstance, whether the outcome will be immediate or long-awaited.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. —James 1:2-8

We are not only exhorted to be patient, but to ask for wisdom. How often do we ask for wisdom as to how to handle a situation in a godly manner? So often I pray for outcomes when I should be praying for the proper, Christ-like attitude. And we should be praying with faith, with total trust, not doubting the promises of Him who is Faithful and True.

This passage ends, of course, with a rather convicting verse about the double-minded man. Oh, have I been the double-minded woman, doubting that the Lord would provide even as I prayed for provision. Or couching my A prayers with B and C prayers, rather like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel—“If this doesn’t happen Lord, then please let this happen, and if you see fit to do this but not this then…” You get the drift.

James calls this out for what this is: unbelief. Sin. How dare we approach the father and pray while doubting him—doubting his promises, which are his very nature—in the back of our minds? We have “some nerve,” my grandmother might say.

James’ words are harsh, but the point is made. We are exhorted throughout scripture to believe on his promises, to let them dwell in our hearts so that our transformation may be from the inside-out, our trust in the promises of God a direct correlation to our growth in Christ-likeness. And here’s the thing: we have no reason not to believe. He has told us that his promises are true, and I don’t know about you, but I can look back on my life—even these short 23 years—and see with stunning clarity how “his grace has brought me safe thus far.” And my prayer is that “his grace will lead me home” – and that I will be receptive to that leading.

He is good. He is faithful. He is true. He will never leave us or forsake us. He holds our lives in the palm of his hand. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, and he knows our beginning and our end. There is nothing to fear. He is freedom from fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

Whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the strength of my life;

Of whom shall I be afraid?

….

Wait on the Lord;

Be of good courage,

And He shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the Lord!

—Psalm 27:1, 14

Advertisements

January 6, 2011

Paul Wrote Letters – Realizations and Reflections

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 6:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I started reading Colossians the other day, totally random and a bit out of the blue, given how out of scripture I’ve been over the last few weeks. I was reading the commentary on the first few verses, in which Paul greets the church at Collose, and it noted that this was a letter Paul wrote from prison.

Paul wrote letters from prison. Let that sink in a minute. We hear it talked about so often that I think the incredible point is missed: Paul was in prison, his body bruised, his days confined to a solitary place with little opportunity for activity. He could not visit churches… to put a modern day spin on it, he couldn’t attend classes or host bible studies or go to a talk by returning missionaries or [fill in the blank here]. He couldn’t preach from a pulpit, in the traditional sense. He couldn’t do so many of those activities we in the western church seem to consider essential for a vibrant Christian life.

But he wrote letters.

Over the last few months, I have reflected on the purpose/direction of my life, which mostly included questioning it and typically being very frustrated with God. On the worst days, I lamented the amount of time spent applying for jobs I didn’t get, and the futility of various other aspects of life: being confined to my mother’s home for months in the middle of nowhere with no transportation and virtually zero social interaction – those feelings of isolation and loneliness and despair that breed when you question the futility of the situation in which God has placed you.

But I blogged. A lot. I am not about to compare myself to Paul, but the principle of the matter – that he wrote letters while in a confined space, trusting that God put him there for a reason and that no amount of isolation could separate him from others, as long as he could put words to paper – that is a source of hope. Paul did not know how his letters would be received. He wasn’t even guaranteed assurance of their arrival. But he wrote, and he trusted, and he sought to exhort others in their pursuit of Christ and conformity to Christ’s image.

The observation raises a lot of questions, of course. A blog is not a letter, and it doesn’t necessarily have an intended audience. A blog is somehow intrinsically more personal – akin to “this is what I’m going to, let me share” – than the letters Paul wrote to instruct and exhort the churches which, while personal, were definitely others-focused.

This year, I want to live more intentionally, which also includes writing intentionally. So I’m sort of coming back to the drawing board on why I blog and who I blog for – for myself, for God, for my friends, for random strangers who encounter this writing – or some mix thereof? I’ve always considered myself a writer, but if I’m not working on a novel I tend to think I’m failing, and the fact is that the majority of writing I did last year was on this blog. So reevaluating what “I am a writer” constitutes as well as stepping back and seeing the varied ways in which the Lord works through our words, in their varied formats, is also a must. And how do we define “success” in writing? Paul’s goals are the ones I need to adopt. Getting a literary agent and selling a novel does not mean that I am walking in the gift God has given me. Am I writing to love and better understand him? Am I writing to love others? Is the writing others-focused, or does it constantly dwell on my own problems?

Lots of food for thought.

But back to the point. The fact that Paul wrote letters from prison is an incredible encouragement to those of us writing letters from seemingly isolated places. You could be surrounded by dozens of people and still feel isolated. Paul’s ministry is an example and an encouragement – that our words are seeds that, sent out on the wings of the Holy Spirit, will find fallow ground. It may not be in our lifetime, and we may never receive even an inkling that those words have encouraged, convicted, exhorted, or brought forth fruit. But I have faith that His word does not return to Him void.

January 2, 2011

Happy New Year: A (more personal) Update

Filed under: Faith,Grad School,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:23 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

You crown the year with Your goodness

And Your paths drip with abundance.

Psalm 65:11 (NKJV)

My dad has reminded me of this verse lately – it’s been at the heart of the sermon series in his church, and I’ve been letting those words just marinate, becoming firm in my heart. He crowns the year with His goodness, and His paths drip with abundance.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, because New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken, but it just so happens that the dawning of this new year coincides with the tail end of the graduate school application process, so – there are many changes (in some cases, returns to previous habits) that will be happening this month, the first of which is blogging. I miss writing daily (or almost every day) just… down to my bones, I miss it. So I’ll be blogging regularly again.

And there are a few habits that, since moving to Dad’s, have fallen by the wayside that I’ll be picking back up. First and foremost, going to church. And, frankly, connecting with a body of believers. I have my excuses, and they’re just that – excuses – for not having connected with other believers in the last year. Even if I’m only here for eight months (and since I’m getting married this August and then hopefully going to grad school, I will only be with my dad for eight months), I still need to plunk myself down in a church and get involved in a small group. My social life is composed of Skype and phone dates with faraway friends, and what’s more, I need to dig into God’s word and have conversations with other believers in person, in a structured study. I haven’t had that for a long time, and I’m a little nervous. My fiancé and I were informed by the results of a premarital counseling questionnaire that I am “low” on the pleasing factor and not very socially inclined – that is, I recharge by being alone and can come off as proud, arrogant, cold, and hostile when I don’t know people. I tend to self-isolate when in new territory, especially with other believers, which is not good, so I’m pushing my boundaries. I started going to church again tonight, actually, at a church downtown that has a service on Saturday nights. It was a good service, and there’s a “women’s welcome” next weekend that I’m going to go to. I have never been to one of those so that will be interesting.

Second: getting back in shape. I actually enjoy cardio and was really good about keeping up with it in college. So going to the gym and jumping on the elliptical is not a problem for me. More difficult will be moderating my diet and maintaining a weight lifting regimen. Frankly, I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. My clothes do not fit (I’ve gone up a size), I am physically uncomfortable, I can tell that I’m slower, and my flexibility is fleeting – and flexibility is something I’ve never had to work on, so that more than anything freaks me out. Also, I’m getting married, and a wedding goes a long way in giving you a deadline to get in shape by. I don’t need to drop a ton of weight – just tone up, trim down a bit, and get back to (a more fit version of) the size I was before. That will make me very happy – and self-control is something I need to work on, anyway.

Third: reading. For the first time, I did not read my reading goal. I wanted to read 50 books in 2010 – I read 48. Darn it! Grad school and job applications are largely to blame, since they sucked my life toward the end of the year, but I got a slew of new books for Christmas that I am eager to dig into. Also, reading is just better for the mind than internet-surfing, and it makes me a better writer.

Fourth – maybe finish the novel I started last year and abandoned in August.

While major sources of stress in my life are mostly gone (I’m finally working, and the grad school apps are almost done), a few have entered. Wedding stress continues and there is family drama that promises to make this year the most interesting year yet. I have body image issues to keep working through, and relying on the promises of God is a must. Digging into scripture is crucial – these last few months have been very dry on that front and I miss it. I miss a close relationship with Jesus; he’s sort of been on the backburner lately and while we go through dry periods, it’s still not good.

On the plus side, I’m happy to report that my jobs are going very well and living with my dad is turning out better than expected.

Okay: this mostly personal update is coming to a close. I hope to be with you tomorrow or Monday talking about something in scripture, or possibly my review of the Disney film Tangled, which I have now seen twice (once on my birthday and once again with my fiancé when he came to visit – yes, he went to see it with me). I am quite happy to say that my predictions in an earlier blog did not come true; it blew me away, to be honest.

Wishing you all a blessed start to the year. No matter the circumstance, the year is crowned with His goodness.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.