From the Basement

February 7, 2011

Lyric Post: I Will Waste My Life

This morning, I am clinging to 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you.” Anxiety surrounding one of my jobs (for which I submitted my two weeks notice on Friday), grad school, the future, and a situation with a family member has crowded in, like vines choking out the good, and this morning, I am losing myself in the Psalms, praying for a spirit of hope and light.

“I’ll turn my back on every other lover, and I’ll press on…”

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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

December 7, 2010

a disjointed, erratic post on worry

Grad school apps have been consuming my life. When I say that, I mean that finishing (and not finishing) the statement of purpose and writing sample have been consuming my life.

He’s in control. When I’m freaking out and worrying that the paper won’t be good enough – well, who am I kidding? It won’t be. My paper will be finished literally the day I turn it in. And the statement of purpose won’t be much better.

Perfection is unnecessary and what’s more, it’s unrealistic. The idea that human perfection immediately merits results is ridiculous and completely unfounded. We are to work to the best of our abilities… and then to see what he allows to come our way. Example: I recently landed two part-time nanny jobs, and I started one of them today. I have work! This is cause for much celebration! And I find it rather entertaining – I interviewed with this nanny agency in September and they wanted me to start then, and I stopped the process because I was still seeking full-time work… how entertaining that it’s in fact where I end up. And I’ve spent some time thinking, oh, if only I’d started then – how many more months of income would I have accrued! But thinking like that is fruitless. It’s pretty much the same thing as thinking, “Oh, what if my writing sample was perfect already?”

God’s timing is perfect. We act, and then there’s his timing.

Over Thanksgiving, I read a bit of Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something – which on the basis of 60 pages alone I’d recommend – but I had to fight my own spirit of condemnation when reading. His thesis is that our generation spends so much time trying to discern God’s will when, in fact, we just need to make decisions and go for it. Praying for direction is good, but dawdling about in some quasi-spiritual state waiting to hear from God is ridiculous – he says it much more truthfully, lovingly, and thesis-ly than I can. But you get his point. So I was reading this book, still unemployed, I was thinking, what the heck? I’ve been trying to just do something, and that hasn’t worked! (… immediately after the holiday I got in touch with the nanny agency – within the last week I’ve interviewed and been placed, so boo yah, when God lets something happen it happens fast – at least in this case. After the ~counts~ 7 month build up?)

There is not a thesis to this post. I’ve been feeling bad about not blogging and wanting to just write and reaffirm… yes, I trust God, yes, I know he’s in control, yes, my abilities are God-given but his will is ultimate, and yes, it is okay that I am exactly where I’m at with my grad school applications. I need to stop comparing myself to other people and ask, am I pursuing this in a godly way?

Cue the wave of conviction that hits like a tidal wave. Okay, God. And what am I feeling convicted over suddenly? Not that I procrastinated – well, I’m worrying that I procrastinated too much to submit a strong application. Worry is what I feel convicted over. I worry … so much. Ask my fiancé. I worry and he is calm. In that way I’m sort of freaky-similar to his mother. ~not contemplating that similarity~ Of course, I’m also similar to my own mother in that way. And most women I know. I worry. So much. So freaking much. My fiancé likes to quote that verse about how worrying will not add one cubit to my height.

Well, this post might have a point after all. I’m going to go dig for some verses on worrying and share them. Sound kosher? (Have I done this before? Hmm…)

Matthew 6:25-27: “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life span?”

Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. [Each] day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 37:5: “Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.”

Psalm 46:10: “Cease [striving] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 121:1-2: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help [comes] from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

There are so many rich promises in these verses. Lean on them! I want to let each of these verses fall as a seed on my heart, and just nurture it, cling to it, and protect it from the fear and worry that creep in… fear and worry are never from the Spirit – joy, peace, and righteousness come from the Spirit. We can be assured of our savior’s love and of his desire that we not worry and that we trust him for every day’s needs simply because he told us so. And this is what Kevin DeYoung talks about in his book – why do we spend so much time striving to discern God’s will when he has graciously written so much of it for us?

His will is that we follow him. Simple.

November 17, 2010

Little Drummer Boy

“Little Drummer Boy” is one of most humbling songs. It articulates a little boy’s desire to give a gift to the baby Jesus – but he has no gift “that’s fit to give a king.”

Most of the time, I don’t feel that I have a gift that’s fit to give a king. He gave me gifts, but they are so often tainted and limited by my own humanity – my own pride, selfishness, fear, doubt.

But he has given us specific gifts for a reason – to glorify him, to build up the body – and we are called to play our best for him. The first card my mom ever sent me at college had a quote from Max Lucado on the front: “In the great orchestra we call life, you have an instrument and a song, and you owe it to God to play them both sublimely.”

I long to be able to say, wholeheartedly and without any doubt, that I played my best for him, that He may say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

He has given me a drum to play. As I struggle through the writing my writing sample for grad school apps (which are coming due very soon), I cling to such verses as Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And verse 19 follows, “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” And Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” He has hedged me behind and before (Psalm 139:4) and he has a plan to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

The sermon this last Sunday exhorted us to guard our hearts – to plant those seeds of scripture in our hearts and nurture them, to zealously guard them and not allow doubt and attack to crowd out the harvest that is reaped when we believe on such verses as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Cling to the promise. Trust the promise. And live like you trust it.

“Then he smiled at me” – he loves us. When we use the gifts he has given us in a way that honors him, he is pleased. He is delighted when we rejoice in him! And he delights to bless the gifts he gives us. I have asked him for focus and strength today, and these he has provided bountifully; I have asked for breakthroughs in the paper and he has allowed me new insight. Matthew 7:11: “If you, then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

When we are afraid that we cannot play our drum, or that our playing is not good enough, remember Psalm 34:1-10, and be assured of his goodness and strength… remember that he is worthy to be praised.

I will bless the LORD at all times;

His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;

The humble shall hear of it and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the LORD, and He heard me,

And delivered me from all my fears.

They looked to Him and were radiant,

And their faces were not ashamed.

This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him,

And saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,

And delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;

Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!

There is no want to those who fear Him.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger;

But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.

November 5, 2010

In the face of discouragement, He is my Refuge

Right now, it’s a struggle to remain encouraged. As many of you know, following my turning down of the full-time university job, I switched my focus to the metro area where I’m currently staying. I’ve applied for three jobs as a leave replacement middle school English teacher, I’ve submitted my resume to a temp agency, I’ve visited numerous retail outlets and applied both in person and online, had several on-the-spot interviews, visited restaurants in our neighborhood only to find that they’ve just finished hiring or aren’t hiring or have some strange hiring practice…

Y’all, even with applying for administrative, retail, and restaurant gigs, I am still having trouble finding work. I do have a sort-of outstanding offer with Barnes & Noble downtown, but the pay is only $7.25/hour. Not much. They’re calling me on Monday to confirm whether or not they’ll hire me.

I’m starting to feel frantic. I know I haven’t applied to a ton of places, but I’ve applied to quite a few, and have heard nothing. Or been outright rejected. Or have them tell me, we’re sorry, we can’t work with your schedule.

I still ask: God, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I changed my focus! I’m looking for retail gigs! Am I not humble enough yet? I could always be looking more and be out there every day all day, but I also have grad school apps to work on. And on Wednesday, I stayed in the loft all day, because I walked so much between Monday and Tuesday that by the time I was on my way home Tuesday evening, I was limping. I limped… a dozen city blocks?… back to the apartment, where I proceeded to almost collapse upon arrival. So Wednesday, I bummed around because I couldn’t walk more than five feet without needing to sit down.

Again, I have no idea what God is doing.

Yesterday was a reminder that He provides in unconventional ways. I want a job. Have I said it loudly enough yet? I want a job! And even the easy ones – I can’t get even the easy jobs! OK, there is the Barnes & Noble offer, which I will take if nothing else comes through. $7.25/hour, 25 hours a week? That’s it? Okay, God. Okay.

But I digress – yesterday, He provided in a cool way. My future mother-in-law’s boss has a friend who is an OXO rep (OXO being a line of kitchenware, for y’all who don’t cook), and future MiL’s boss must have told him about my fiancé and I, and so the OXO rep, out of the blue, gives us almost $200 worth of FREE items from our registry. The measuring cups, measuring spoons, can opener, swivel peeler, salad spinner, the three mixing bowls… everything. What generosity. What a blessing.

God provides. His methods are unexpected and unusual and most of the time, I have no idea why He’s doing what He’s doing. How hard should it be to find a retail job that pays more than $8/hour? Even a seasonal temp job? (Which is what the B&N gig is.)

This week I’ve had my dad’s downtown loft to myself as he’s out of state training with his company. And honestly, my quiet time has sort of diminished. I’ve been frantically applying for jobs and working on grad school apps and, frankly, flipping the eff out over both. Worrying that no matter what I do, it won’t be enough. Worrying about whether I’m doing the “right” topic for my writing sample. Whether my statement of purpose is focused enough. Whether my cover letters – my freaking awesome cover letters for RETAIL jobs, people – are good enough.

I am worrying whether they’re good enough for the eyes of humans rather than trying to please my heavenly Father. And what pleases him is not a perfectly worded cover letter or a perfectly constructed 25-page writing sample. What pleases him is my heart. My attitude. Whether or not I trust him. And frankly, I haven’t been acting like I trust him this week. Ain’t that a kick in the pants?

And even in the midst of trust, he somehow puts it on a guy’s heart to offer my fiancé and I some much-needed items for our kitchen. Even when I’m not trusting. Even when I’m worrying. He provides. In his own way and in his own time.

I wish I knew his mind. I wish I knew what he was planning right now. If I let myself, it’s very easy to feel like a failure. The on-the-spot interviews I had all took one look at my resume and asked what exactly I was doing and is there a reason I’m not employed?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

But so too is He our refuge, the God who sees, the God who is accessible to his people because he loves them.

As for God, his way is perfect:

The LORD’s word is flawless;

he shields all who take refuge in him.

For who is God besides the LORD?

And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength

and keeps my way secure.

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;

he causes me to stand on the heights.

He trains my hands for battle;

my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

You make your saving help my shield,

and your right hand sustains me;

your help has made me great.

You provide a broad path for my feet,

so that my ankles do not give way. — Psalm 18:30-36

My mom says that when I was a little girl, verse 34 was my absolute favorite verse, that I would walk around quoting it: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze!” Something in me clung to that fighting imagery, that the fight was in my hands, in my fingers, in my arms. Given that I’m a writer by vocation, it’s decently prophetic. But these verses still inspire me today. They give me strength. Everything the Lord gives us, every situation Jesus allows us to walk through – it’s preparation. These verses are reminiscent of putting on the “armor of God,” as Paul writes in Ephesians 6, but what I love about this is that David is talking about how God trains him, how God gives him the strength. “You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me… you provide a broad path for my feet.” Mm. I love that.

“He shields all who take refuge in Him.” It doesn’t matter what we need shielding from. Unemployment. Alternately, the job you’re in. A relationship. Doubt. Discouragement. Fear. Feelings of unworthiness. Abuse. There is no difficulty or hardship in this world that our heavenly Father cannot shield us from. He is our hope when we are discouraged. He is our strength when we have none. In Him can we boast. He is our delight.

Psalm 37 exhorts us, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But I want to focus on the first clause: take delight in the Lord. Delight yourselves in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always. These commands permeate scripture. In every situation, we are to delight in Him.

I don’t have an eloquent way to end this post, but to proclaim Christ’s sovereignty over my life. I am so thankful that my imperfections and shortcomings are filled up with his spirit, that my sins are covered by his blood, that he is my refuge and my rock, my Redeemer in whom I take all delight.

October 21, 2010

“Love One Another”: On Jealousy in Friendships

Today, I want to talk about jealousy. This is an issue that I’ve felt called to write about because it’s an issue I have struggled with for many, many years. Thing is, it’s the sort of sin that usually keeps itself quiet, only occasionally rearing its ugly head in all its grotesque splendor… it was a thought here and there, a desire, a strong emotion, usually distilled by the passing of time and distance from those involved.

I have never had a female “best friend” – the quintessential best friend, the dynamic duo, the person you go to for everything. However, God has always given me an eclectic, dynamic group of close female friends. From the time I was in middle school, I have been surrounded by wonderful women, by one or two handfuls of close friends to go to for various issues, whether spiritual, emotional, familial, romantic, academic… you get the idea. I was never a “loner,” but because I didn’t have that BFF, I thought I was somehow less. Insecurity is a bee-yatch, you guys.

Because of this – the always having several close friends but never one BFF – jealousy has been a struggle, especially – exclusively? – with close friends who themselves are a “pair” of best friends – always together, roommates, you get the idea. Many times, though, it wasn’t a “struggle” because I gave into it immediately, letting it fester and poison several friendships, for which I am sincerely sorry.

It’s one of those deep, dark corners of the heart that you keep locked away, an issue that’s never talked about. But the problem with those sins is that though they seem dormant (or so it seems), they are really taking root, twining themselves around your heart, and the longer the sin goes unconfessed, the longer it’s not dealt with, the worse it gets.

Today was a big step: I confessed this jealousy to one of my closest friends – the friend I’ve asked to be my Maid of Honor. She has a BFF who is also a friend of mine, and telling her about this feeling of jealousy was a huge step for me. She immediately forgave me, and in turn asked forgiveness for any slights on her part, and oh, does it feel like a weight to have it in the open, freely confessed and forgiven.

Ironically enough, it was selecting my bridal party that brought this issue to a head. I had only ever planned on having my sister, which saved me from the inevitable drama of picking other people (and being reminded of how many of my close friends have a “bestie”). However, I’m getting married significantly earlier than I ever thought, which means my sister is too young to be my Maid of Honor. Also, my affianced is having four groomsmen, and as cool as I am with having uneven numbers of attendants, 1-4 is a rather awkward ratio.

So, I was tasked with selecting other attendants, and suffice to say, I ended up with 6 attendants total. 3 are the sisters – my sister and his sisters, who I love dearly. The other 3 are close friends – there’s my MoH, who was one of my closest friends all through college, and then two of my oldest friends.

It was here where the sin in my heart really became noticeable. Of the three friends in my bridal party, all have a “bestie,” and most have been bridesmaids in other friends’ weddings. The issue of jealousy was ugly, ugly, ugly. I was afraid that they didn’t reciprocate the friendship, didn’t treasure our friendship as I did. There was the knowledge that I may not be included in their bridal party, and thus there was the fear of rejection, of having a bridal party full of friends who I care about but who are “meh” about me. Fears of rejection – fear of what others think – insecurity – desperation for acceptance… all ugly emotions existing in me.

I’m only starting to deal with this sin, and turning to scripture is a must. But it’s not enough to go to scripture that condemns envy and chronicles its ill effects, nor is it enough to turn to famous verses on friendship. First, we must start with love – with God’s love. Bathing ourselves in the light that is the love of God is a direct attack on the sin in our lives – in the face of His awesome love, nothing can stand.

John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Matthew 22:36-40: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 15:12-15: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (italics mine)

1 Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 John 4:8: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Galatians 5:22-26: But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

The greatest gift anyone on this earth will ever know is the all-powerful, all-consuming, incredible, passionate, unceasing love of God. And when we come to know this love, embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, by which we are enabled to love our neighbor as ourselves. Christ tells us that the world will know we are his disciples by this: that we love one another.

Envy is the enemy of love. It is, by definition, self-serving and self-seeking: “A feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another.” It is insecure. It is not satisfied, and it is easily spun into idolatry as we seek full satisfaction in something that is not God. It does not rejoice in the good gifts of the Father but whines and pines for more. There is a reason that “Thou shalt not covet” is one of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:17).

Envy of relationships is a particularly insidious sort, because not only does it give way to idolatry (hence poisoning your love for God by seeking satisfaction in something other than him), but it also poisons love for your neighbor. When you are jealous of someone else’s friendship, or relationship, or marriage, or children, how can you love them? How does Christ’s love thrive and edify? Answer: it doesn’t.

Scripture chronicles the consequences of envy:

Proverbs 14:30: A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Ecclesiastes 4:4: And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

James 3:14-16: If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (italics mine)

Lord, I confess the sin of envy in my life and I beg your forgiveness and your mercy on the friendships it has affected. I want this sin uprooted, and that is only possible through the infusion of your perfect love into my life, the perfect love that casts out fear of rejection and unworthiness. You notice me. You love me. And that is enough; may that ever be enough. You have been so gracious in the relationships you have given me – family, friends, my fiancé – and I pray your blessing on them, that they may be fruitful and give glory to you.

I pray for a passionate, Christ-like love for my friends – all of my friends. Praise God that we are given a diversity of relationships! I am confident that he has brought these varied and wonderful friendships into my life for a reason. When I envy their friendships with other people, when I am concerned about whether my love for them is reciprocated, when I am worried about being accepted or valued, when I am insecure in my own value – these feelings have no place in friendships allowed by his love, and they are attitudes that have no place in the heart of a daughter of the King. He is my God, my Abba Father, and I will praise him:

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.” 2 Samuel 7:18-22

October 14, 2010

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” & contemplating job offers

First, let me apologize… give a disclaimer… okay, my fiancé’s voice is going through my head: stop apologizing!

Okay, so I guess what I want to say is, thank you. Thank you for reading, my dear friends, and supporting me. This blog is not neatly edited like chapters from a book or even snippets from a professional blog. It’s composed of my thoughts, imperfect and human that they are, inevitably affected by my own perception, bias, worldview. That doesn’t make them any less honest or any less real, but it does mean that you’re pretty much reading whatever my fingers throw at my poor Mac, without the benefit of an editorial eye.

So, thank you again for reading and putting up with The Craziness that is this unedited material. It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s honest, and hopefully it makes you think about some area of your own life. Or, at the very least, laugh a little at mine. *smile

I feel a need to do a sort of Q&A with myself about this job (yep, we’re still talking about the job offer). Reason being, I want to challenge myself regarding underlying reasons why I may be disinclined to take the job. As you saw in the last post, there are plenty of (what I think are) viable reasons to say no, e.g. time, expectation, and budget, but let’s really dig in here.

First off is the question of laziness. This has been… I’d call it a struggle, except it really hasn’t been. Over the last few months, I’ve gained weight and been a slouch, falling out of workout habits, overeating, and otherwise exercising a decided lack of discipline in my life.

So, for example, part of my trepidation about the job is because I realized that a move and learning a new job where you’re expected to put in night and weekend hours is possibly going to take more time than I’m able to give. The thing is, that means that my grad school applications might not get finished – because they’ve really yet to be begun. I haven’t finished the books I’m using for the writing sample, let alone started it, and I’m still in brainstorming mode for my statements of purpose. (Just because I got my apps in under the wire last year doesn’t mean I want to do that this year, and anyway, look how that turned out.) So I’m feeling convicted about my laziness in grad school apps and how I’m studdenly feeling convicted re: my lack of good stewardship with time, and how does a desire to “make up” time affect my disinclination to take a job where I wouldn’t have that “make up” time? (Make sense? Probably not. That’s okay.)

Moving would be work. The job would be a lot of work, which would be okay but it’s not my priority right now (grad school apps are) – but then I look at my schedule and say, girl, you’re not disciplined enough to have finished those by now anyway!

Okay: must not beat self up. Must not beat self up.

Also, perhaps there is financial laziness. Really, I’d be working so that I could live independently (working to keep myself in shelter, food, and gas money – seriously), as there’s very little that I’d be able to save over those months. But I’d get the experience of budgeting, etc. Is it lazy to desire to stay here where, because of living at home, I would be able to save more and have to budget less? Is laziness a part of the motivating factor?

There has to be a change in my lifestyle for the better regardless of whether I take this job. I have, have, HAVE to crack down on grad school apps and, frankly, exercising. I’m getting married in 10 months and it’d be nice to have my fiancé actually see a good looking naked woman on our wedding night vs. a flabby one. Harsh? Yeah, and I guarantee he will kill me for writing that since he thinks I look beautiful anyway, but there’s the rub in itself – I need to start exercising more and changing my body for me and my own self-image, which is currently in the toilet.

I have slid into a crazy-undisciplined life, and that needs to stop, regardless.

To kind of explain all this random self-examination and weird emotion, let me tell you about the week so far. I gave this job over to God, expecting of course He’d not offer it to me (thereby preventing all this rumination), and I’d also previously said “God, please work our wedding budget out” because I was so exhausted over it. Turns out the wedding budget we’ve been working on with the most promising location is still double what we can afford. So last night was fraught with anger and tears and today has been crazy emotional, and right now God is reminding me that turning things over to Him actually means that they get turned over to Him, and that working things to the good doesn’t necessarily mean to my definition of good (who knew?). I knew this, you know, with grad school apps last year and unemployment, etc., but for some reason, I was thinking that job stuff and wedding stuff would just work out this month and that I’d have yet another happy reason to praise God, that He’d bring me through the trial of yet another job failure and the triumph of FINALLY having a wedding budget we can afford.

~repeats to self~ He’s still good. He’s still good. He’s still good. He still keeps His promises. He will provide. He knows what He’s doing. He’s allowing these things to happen.

My fears surrounding money are, honestly, the biggest things tainting my reactions to the job and to the wedding budget falling flat on its face. I cannot even begin to describe how much money is a motivating factor in almost everything I do and plan. I am worried about not having enough… constantly. Our wedding budget has been entirely based on fear of not being able to afford more. On the one hand, I am driven by a desire to be realistic and to be a wise steward of funds and not spend what I don’t have (and not take jobs that will not allow for wise financial decisions). But at the same time, I know that ultimately it is not dependent on me… it’s all on God. Our wedding budget, how we’ll pay for grad school apps, how our families will pay for a wedding… God’s gotta work this out, because you guys, I am so afraid and freaked out and flailing right now it’s not even funny. Classic first-born. Organized to a fault, needing to be in control, always concerned about where everything’s going to come from and how things will come together.

This is just me being honest. It’s raw and unedited and imperfect and is at best encouraging and at worst self-centered…

I am reminded right now of how entirely dependent I am on God. For everything. I freak out about money and I let worldly wisdom dictate my decisions and I just want him to work everything out for me so that I don’t have to work any of it out on my own. Times like these, I feel like the height of laziness, self-centeredness, and Laodicea-esque warmth. Like I’m saying “God I trust you!” but I’m feeling “Oh [insert expletive here].” Seriously, that’s just where it is right now.

I love how in Angela Thomas’ books, she relays her own experience but scripture and encouragement and lessons for others are always at the forefront of the chapters. Then I come and read my blog and feel like, wow, I am so not there yet – notice how many times the word “I” is used. ~cringe~ So often I am caught in the whirlwind of Me Me Me that I can’t even lift my head to look out at You and wonder what you’re going through. And I’m sorry for that. Something for the Lord to work in me in the coming years.

I’ve probably referenced this before, but one of my favorite verses in all scripture is “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That is so honest. It’s so true. So where I’m at. And I’m guessing you’ve been there, too – desperately wanting to cling to the promise of God and yet feeling so convicted in how very selfish, doubting, and human you can be, yet remembering that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

September 22, 2010

On (a lack of) Patience & Endurance

Today, I am faced with a question: to take a part-time job with no insurance or benefits, one that involves children (and thus a lengthy commitment I cannot in good conscience back out of)… or to refuse, and continue on in the job hunt uncertain and unknowing.

Today, my heart and my gut are at war. Today, I really despise the gift of freewill and am rather desperate for God to just shove me through a door. Today, I do not want to be the person clinging to the life raft in the ocean who turns down the boat and the plane’s offers for rescue while saying “God will save me!”, not realizing that God in fact sent the boat and the plane.

Today, my family and friends tell me, a job is a job, and you can always back out, even when there are kids. Today, I have been chided for not applying for enough jobs, cautioned against ignoring my gut, and greatly encouraged to pursue any kind of reasonable employment, including temping and administrative work.

Today, I find it hard to trust God, yet I know I must claim that promise, that all things work to the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose. Today, I ask him what I have not done, that I do not yet have work. Today, I remind God that I’m feeling pretty humbled, and is it necessary to keep me barely employed for the next year to remind me of that?

Today has been a big day.

I have sought advice from my parents, from my writer friends, and from my fiancé, and I am now turning to prayer and the word of God, feeling convicted – once more – that I saw fit to cry and fuss and solicit the advice of others before turning to scripture. I read the gracious reminders of Psalm 139 and, in my impatience, did not feel much grace, and I’m now turning to the book I’ve been reading, Future Grace by John Piper, which I recalled had a chapter entitled “Faith in Future Grace vs. Impatience.”

Piper says, “Patience is the capacity to ‘wait and to endure’ without murmuring and disillusionment – to wait in the unplanned place, and endure the unplanned pace” (172). My friends, if that’s patience, I have not been patient these months. I have kicked and screamed and fought and fussed and whined and complained and been self-centered and bitchy every gosh darn step of the way. I have not waited restfully – there have been moments of rest but they are ever punctuated by the squalid cry of “Why are you doing this to me?”, ever marked by a desperation for worldly provision rather than spiritual, ever torn by the seeming division of my head and my heart and my spirit.

To wait in the unplanned place – my parents’ respective homes, which cause no end of annoyance and grief, even amidst the joy and comfort. To endure the unplanned pace – to apply for dozens of jobs… to sit listlessly staring at a computer screen, endlessly perusing job listings… to ask God, are you there? Do you know I’m waiting? Do you know I’m lonely? Do you know I’m desperate to get out of my parents’ homes? Do you know… do you know…

I don’t think I’ve once asked God, what can I do for you? Not that there’s anything I can do that he needs, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the gesture.

Trust me, I have played out every possible scenario of why I’m still unemployed and living at home, from me needing to be with my parents right now to God wanting to humble me (done) to God just being vindictive… which is not, of course, biblical.

Days like today, I am confronted with the immensity of my own weakness. My infallibility, pride, self-centeredness, ego, need for human approval, desire for attention, disbelief in God’s promise to provide, that very dangerous root of unbelief… if patience is evidence of inner strength, then my impatience is evidence of great weakness.

Luckily, I worship a God who says his power is made perfect in my weakness. I cannot comprehend how that is possible, but he says it is.

If I had a job interview for every tear I’ve shed these last months, I’d have been employed yesterday. At every turn, I question what I’ve done wrong, and then I’m reminded, it’s not about me. It’s about him, and about his kingdom, and if that means taking a nanny job, so be it – though that’s the last thing I want to do, trust me.

I am just feeling very lost and very unsure right now. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also don’t want to disappoint a family or children when another job (hopefully) comes along.

There are no easy answers. Right now, I’m reminded of something my future father-in-law told me a few months back – sometimes God just wants you to make a decision, and where you go, there He will be also, and He will bless that.

Or as Francesca Battistelli wrote, “I wish I could know what you’ve got in store for me/I try and try to read your mind/But I forget that patience is a virtue/You’re teaching me to hold on tight/And I don’t know how the story ends/But I’ll be all right cause you wrote it/I don’t know where the highway bends, but I’m doing just fine/Cause you’re in control even when I don’t know where my life’s gonna go/You’re keeping me guessing.”

September 15, 2010

On Pride, Self Pity, & Grace

(So after that last post, I started freewriting, and I figured hey, let’s just jump into my random thought process and see where it goes.)

I long for human recognition – it makes me feel like my life is worth something. Like people have noticed. Like they’ve cared. Like they were able to take something valuable away. Times like these, my life doesn’t feel like it’s worth anything.

That’s self-pity, I know. In my head, I know that Jesus loves me, that grace is free, that as that wonderful Third Day song goes, “you just call my name and I’ll be there.” In my head, I know those things. My heart is a different matter. My heart is traitorous, vacillating, easily swayed.

I have not yet learned humility. I don’t know how to be confident and hopeful while still being okay if I fail. Either I’m invincible or I’m in the land of self-pity. These days, the latter has become my coffeeshop of choice.

I don’t know how to have confidence in my own abilities. Thank God my mom reads over my cover letters because I do not trust one word I write.

The response to this is, we’re not supposed to have confidence in our own abilities. We’re supposed to have confidence in God, who gave us our abilities for a reason. Again, in my head, I know that to be true. The fact is, though, I still think I can imagine a better future for myself than God can. I’m not willing to trust him. Oh, there are days when I do, but so too are there days when it feels like darkness is all around.

Let me tell you, when you sit alone day in and day out for months on end, when it’s just you and your laptop searching for jobs for hours at a time, compulsively checking email, trying not to obsess about the future… you become acutely aware of how many times in a day you sway from Trust to Fear.

I have become acutely aware of my failings in this department. And acute is a great word so don’t accuse me of overusing it. Acute means sharp or severe – it’s brief and staggering, as opposed to chronic. It’s most often used to contextualize types of grief, sorrow, and pain – it’s the right word to describe the pain when you go from a spiritual high to spiraling downward in a matter of minutes.

When it’s just you in the silence, and you don’t have class, work, meetings, friends, or even bloody homework to distract you – when it’s just you, for days and months on end, trying to hope but utterly unable to sustain yourself – there’s a special brand of self-loathing that develops there.

It’s pride in one of its many forms, and it worships at the altar of “I.” Pride, above all, must be self-sustaining. It has a singular concentration on independence, on the ability to do it all… there is not a greater power, you are in total control – this is the lie of the “I.” It is pride that tells people they “should” have work when they don’t, because they’re qualified – pride trusts human ability over God’s design, my own imagination over my Creator’s.

I feel like if God’s put me in this prison – because I love my parents, but being at their homes day after day feels like prison – to rid me of pride, or even to try to get at the root, well, we’re going to be here a lot longer, because the pride seems to be swelling and growing more now than it has all summer.

Not to get all metaphoric, but the garden always seems like a good metaphor for the soul. If you put seeds in dirt, the sun and the rain will do almost everything. But you have to tend it. You have to weed it. You have to go out with the hose and water the damn flowers when there is no rain. There are dry spells and cloudy days and times when you feel like you’re not keeping the garden alive, even though it still is.

My mom recently went out of town on an extended trip, and I had to take care of the gardens. Now, I know relatively little about gardening, and I freaked out because during those two weeks, there was no rain, and even though I watered the plants almost perfectly on schedule, to me – the untrained eye – it looked utterly bereft. But when my mom returned, she said I’d done a great job and that the yard looked wonderful.

The untrained eye versus the expert’s eye… the human eye versus the master gardener’s eye. When I look at my life, I see loss and loneliness and despair. I see sin and hopelessness and wretched external forces weighing down. I see uncertainty and doubt and spiritual vacillations of bi-polar proportion.

But that’s not what he sees. He looks at me and sees his son. He looks at me and sees his daughter, redeemed. He looks and sees many broken pieces just waiting to be put back together in a form so beautiful no one else could have imagined it. He sees opportunities for restoration and renewal and rebirth. For growth and pruning and tending. He sees the big picture. He sees exactly how these moments – every moment, every acute pain and tender joy – fit into the pattern.

I’m not to the point where I can doubt and immediately lift it up to him. I still wallow in self-pity. I cross my arms and plop down in my mud puddle, a perfect picture of a childhood tantrum. But it’s taking less time for me to grasp onto his hand and let him lift me out of the mud puddle. So in that, there is growth. It is small and it is fragile, but it is there. And it’s only by his grace, because I’m a train wreck without grace.

Psalm 23:3: He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Trepidation

Filed under: Faith,Grad School,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:10 am
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I need to get back into the practice of blogging. For a few months there, it got so easy. I just typed and boom, there was an entry. Wading back in after time away is a little harder. There’s trepidation. Nerves. The knowledge that this isn’t something I can’t do on my own.

It’s the same feeling I get when I think about reapplying to grad school. When I apply for job after job, day after day, trusting that something will work out.

Times like these, it’s easy to get downtrodden, discouraged. Out of practice of writing, out of shape with lack of consistent exercise, and twice shy about reapplying to schools that bit you in the ass last time.

I wrote a lot of blog-ish stuff today – questions I’m asking God right now, how I’m feeling… battling the loneliness, the drag of monotonous life at home, the disappointment that hits in waves as I apply to dozens of jobs and don’t hear back.

But fact is, right now I don’t know how to write without self-pity, and that is a perverse form of pride. I don’t know how to write without taking pride in it, no matter how joyful or low the subject matter. I can’t do it without God, and right now it doesn’t seem like he feels like helping me, so…

I’ll leave you with something more encouraging. It’s a song – well, it’s one of my all-time favorites. It really buoyed me through those first few months at home. This last month, I haven’t listened to it, which probably shows how much I need it right now.

Hope it hits you where you need it.

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