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

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October 17, 2010

“You Are Here” (God is faithful)

God is good all the time.

When I was in the shower getting ready for church, I begged God for an obvious confirmation of the decision to turn down the job. This in spite of the fact that he has sent many reminders: conversations and emails from trusted friends and spiritual advisors who confirm that he has me exactly where he wants me – and that that place is here, at home for the next 10 months, in preparation for marriage, letting him work in me.

God doesn’t always answer that prayer for obvious confirmation. A lot of the time, he offers the grace to endure, and he reminds me to trust him. But this morning, thank you Lord, he gave that obvious confirmation. The title of Pastor Mike’s sermon was “You Are Here: God As My Fixed Reference Point.”

He drew from 2 Samuel 7:18-22. To summarize the history, David is King of Israel and, seemingly convicted over the fact that he lives in a palace and that the Arc of the Covenant is in a tent, makes a decision to build God a grand temple. At first, Nathan agrees with David. But then, God comes to Nathan in a dream, telling him that David mustn’t build the temple – that God desires to dwell with his people and, amazingly, that he desires to bless David and does not demand David’s reciprocation. And this is David’s response (verses 18-22):

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: “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.

Mike paraphrases what God told David as, “You’re wanting to get somewhere, but you are here.” Oh, how that resonates in my life!

David, confident in his successes, wants to do something for God. His eye is fixed on what he feels he must do to honor God, to bring glory to God. And this is an honest desire… but it is not what God wants. God shuts David down and says, no, you are not going to work to bless me – I am going to keep blessing you.

Total grace. This is TOTAL grace that God shows to David. Oh, if anyone doubts there is grace in the Old Testament, offer this passage as proof that God’s character truly is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

One thing Mike pointed out that I just love is who David doesn’t beg or persuade or question or sing praises… he just sits with God. He’s just sitting with God, maybe with a cup of coffee in his hand (wishful thinking? Probably). David is comfortably sitting in the presence of the Lord, completely in awe and wonder of the goodness of his God. Our God.

Mike noted how David brings three questions to God:

  1. Who am I that you would bless me, especially considering my family background, not to mention my current circumstances!
  2. On what merits do you decide to bless people?
  3. I know my own heart… why on earth, O Lord, would you bless me?

In this situation, David learns about the unlimited and unmerited favor that God bestows on his people. There is truly no work we can do that will earn this kind of favor. We do not have to work to earn the Lord’s blessing. I don’t have to take this job to walk in his favor. I don’t have to act more sincere or pray more or read scripture more… those things are all nice, but they aren’t in any way connected to the grace the Lord gives. God’s will is accomplished through grace alone.

Ephesians 2:1-10:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

There was more to the sermon, but the take away message that, for me, confirmed the decision to turn down the job was simply… you are here. I am exactly where God wants me. I don’t need to strive to be somewhere else. So often I am consumed by trying to work for God and find the “right” path and make the “right” decision instead of just allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through me right where I’m at.

This morning, we opened and closed worship with the song “Forever Reign” by Hillsong. And this morning, this song is my confession: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au3EGgISYMc&feature=channel

You are good, You are good
When there’s nothing good in me
You are love, You are love
On display for all to see
You are light, You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope, You are hope
You have covered all my sin

You are peace, You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true, You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy, You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life, You are life,
In You death has lost it’s sting

Oh, I’m running to your arms,
I’m running to arms
The riches of your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

You are more, You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord, You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here, You are here
In your presence I’m made whole
You are God, You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

Oh, I’m running to your arms
I’m running to arms
The riches of your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

My heart will sing
no other name
Jesus, Jesus

Oh, I’m running to your arms
I’m running to arms
The riches of your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

October 7, 2010

Notes from Tullian Tchividjian’s talk at “Think”

On Friday, October 1, 2010, Tullian Tchividjian (pastor, author, and grandson of Billy & Ruth Graham) gave a talk entitled “Giving Thought to Gospel Math: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything” at the 2010 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference theme was “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.”

Tchividijian’s talk was based in the book of Colossians. This post is an attempt to highlight the main points and details of his talk.

He stressed that the gospel is for people inside the church as well as out – it’s fuel as well as ignition, that once God saves us, He doesn’t move us beyond the gospel but rather, further into it. While he’s very encouraged by this gospel centric resurgence in the church, he exhorted us to “amp it up a notch.”

The outline is as such, that “gospel math” addresses:

  1. Motivation
  2. Identity
  3. Idolatry

Motivation

There’s still some trepidation re: the gospel and grace because of a common misunderstanding about the nature of grace – e.g. “dangers to avoid” – legalism and lawlessness. As the argument goes, in order to maintain the equilibrium, we need to balance law and grace. However, framing it in this way keeps us from understanding the radical depth of God’s grace.

Tchividijian suggested that it’s more accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel – legalism – and that legalism can take two forms, both of which are “self-salvation projects.” First, there are the people who save themselves by doing right, performing well – front door legalism, as it were. Second are those who attempt to save themselves by breaking the rules, by ascribing to autonomous standards – that if we do what we want, then we find freedom.

The biggest lie about grace is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be kept in check. Believing this violates gospel advancement in the church and our lives.

The law scares us less than grace. Grace takes the focus off of us and puts it on Christ and HIS power, not on our own (rules). Relying on our own rules is much more comfortable.

Now, obedience matters. Tchividjian reminded us that as a pastor, he certainly understands the fear of “too much” grace – but he reminded us that fear comes from the pit of hell.

As a parent, he often thinks that the way to get his teenagers to behave is to crack down. But he has oftentimes concluded that the only way to “keep licentious people in line” is when they get a taste of God’s radical acceptance of sinners.

The irony of gospel growth is that those who obey more are those who realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience but Christ’s… not on our radical fetes for Jesus but rather on His fetes for us.

Only when our hearts are captured do we begin to obey more.

People need to hear less on what we can do for God and more on what God does for us!

And people become moralists – unintentional legalists – when the focus is on imperatives and not indicatives. He reminded pastors of their accountability in this.

He noted that the apostle Paul always spent time on indicatives before getting down to imperatives, first exhorting people on the gospel and the awesome power of God, on what God has done, on God’s love, before offering imperatives. Colossians is an example of this – the first two are spent on indicatives of God’s love, and chapters 3 and four get down to the imperatives to the church. As Tchividjian put it, “Paul spends the first two chapters on marinating the people in what God has done!”

Some more gospel math? Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities

Long-term sustained obedience must be grounded in the gospel rather than short-term fear/guilt. And God is interested in a certain kind of obedience – not just anything (look at Cain & Abel). Attitude matters to Him. He wants a cheerful giver – so what motivates our obedience?

Identity

The world wants us to locate our worth in something smaller than Jesus. The gospel liberates us from other identities.

Tchividjian described this last year as being the most difficult in his life. His church merged with another congregation and styles clashed, so for what he said was really the first time in his life, he lost acceptance and was subject to ridicule. It took away the identity that he had placed in what others thought, robbed him of the comfort of acceptance. And following this, his father died unexpectedly.

Colossians 1 – he loves us too much to give us over to old idols.

“Because Jesus was strong, I’m free to be weak. Because He won, I am free to lose. I can lose anything because my identity is in Him, and that is an identity I will never lose.”

Everything – Jesus = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

“In Christ, my identity is secure, which frees me to give everything I have because in Christ I have everything I need.”

One of the most powerful quotes of his talk was this: “Real slavery is living your life trying to gain favor. Real freedom is living your life knowing you have favor.”

Idolatry

The threat to the gospel is idols – idols within the church. Most idols are good things that become ultimate things.

He quoted C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters at length, specifically focusing on the passages where the older demon, Screwtape, is writing to his prodigy, Wormwood, as to ways to keep his “patient” (a young Christian man) distracted. Screwtape suggests the practice of “Christianity and.” Screwtape says to never let believers come to the place where they really believe that mere Christianity is enough.

So Tchividijian asked: what is the one thing that would devastate you to lose?

That is your idol. Those are your idols.

In closing, he read a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, a 20th century British journalist turned Christian apologist:

“We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

In one lifetime I have seen my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own assumption of power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.

Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomats, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”

EDIT: It has come to my attention that Pastor Tchividjian tweeted a link to this post. Thank you, Pastor, for your message last Friday. It convicted and encouraged me. Praise God for the things He did that weekend!

October 4, 2010

On Desiring God

Oh my friends, it has been a long time, and I apologize for my lack of faithfulness. I have been crippled by fear, by anxiety, by the overwhelming apathy of feeling there is nothing to say, nothing worthy to share.

I’m a bit on God overload right now – a much needed… well, I’d call it a kick in the pants, except it more feels like that hug you get from someone who you’d rather not have hug you right now, but they just keep hugging you and eventually your heart starts to soften as you are overwhelmed by their incredible love and persistence… that’s God right now.

This weekend, as I wrote before, I attended the Desiring God National Conference with my father in Minneapolis. I’ll be writing up my own impressions of the conference at some point, but in the meantime, you can find notes and audio from the talks on the Desiring God website, under “Resource Library,” then “Conference Messages,” then the Think conference. While all messages are to be listened to, may I highly recommend those by Chan and Mohler.

Then today, I arrived back at my mom’s to find that Angela Thomas’s latest book, Do You Know Who I Am? and other brave questions women ask, was waiting for me. I just finished the introduction and the first chapter, which is entitled “Do you know I am afraid to dream big? He is worthy.”

Right now, I am confronted by the mass of my own inadequacies – my stinking pride and selfishness, fear of what God will do in my life, fear of what God won’t do in my life… all of these lies which bundle together to create one enormous ball of yarn entitled Unbelief.

The root of sin, as John Piper writes, is unbelief, and Jesus’ constant admonition to His disciples is to have faith – “O ye of little faith!” One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is the man who cries, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Yet even while sitting in a puddle of my own fear, my own pride, my own fear of being successful for the knowledge that I would likely attribute it to my own skills – even in this state, even proud, even selfish, even untender, even fearful – God gently touches me and says, “Do you know who I AM?”

It’s funny – a few months ago, when I learned of the title of Angela Thomas’s latest book, I thought, that doesn’t really apply to what I’m going through right now. Oh, how my heart has changed! Oh, the pride in my soul that has been revealed! The questions in this book are the ones I have been crying to the Lord –do you know I’m afraid to dream big? Do you know I’m lonely? Do you know I’m afraid? Do you know I’m undisciplined? Do you know I’m disappointed? Do you know I’m ordinary?

The good news is that none of these questions are too big for Him. He is the One who created all. As R.C. Sproul told us this weekend, He is the only helozoistic being in the universe! – the only one who, by mere will, can move Himself and all creation! And the verse that opened this first chapter in Thomas’s book is Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” As Francis Chan reminded us in a powerful message on love and humility that was loving and humble because Chan himself was so evidently filled by the Spirit with loving humility and a desperation for Jesus Christ – he reminded us that the marvel is not that we know God, but that God knows us! As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” And in her introduction, Angela Thomas quotes J.I. Packer, who wrote:

“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it – the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.”

This is overwhelming. His grace never fails. His love never fails.

This weekend gave much thought to loving God. A central verse to the conference was Matthew 22:37, which is one of my favorite in all of scripture. In it, Jesus replies to the question, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ response: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” John Piper especially focused on how thinking is merely a means of loving – to think or to feel or to be spiritually moved are not synonymous with love. They are means of loving God, but loving God, Piper exhorted us, is treasuring God, cherishing Him, desiring Him, resting in His arms…

The greatest thing God desires of us is our love, the sort of love that transforms life itself. As authors far greater than I have written, we can only love Him because He first loved us. Thus, when certain world leaders say that they came to Christianity because of an admiration for its precepts, I am aghast! You admired Christ’s teachings? To be a Christian is to cast yourself on Jesus Christ, cognizant of all your own failings and iniquities, knowing that you deserve punishment, but being utterly blown away by the incredible knowledge that God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, that we may believe in Him and not perish but have eternal life – that we would have the marvelous experience on this earth of being transformed by His awesome and all-encompassing love for us.

I am a believer in Jesus Christ because I love Him, but ultimately because He first loved me, and that knowledge is utterly mind blowing. Me, guilty of unbelief? Me, who is afraid to let Him fully work in my life? Me, the unemployed? Me, the daughter of divorced parents? Me, with the genetic predisposition for alcoholism? Me? Really? You’re picking me, Lord?

He chose me. He chose you. He has cast our sins as far as the east is from the west – as the group Casting Crowns extrapolates on that psalm, from one scarred hand to the other. His love is overwhelming. It covers every sin. He is worthy. He is worthy. He is worthy. He is the giver of all good things; all good gifts are from the Father (James 1:17).

Who am I, Lord? Who am I?

I am your daughter… your beloved… your friend… your disciple… one who is longing and desperate to be in your arms… one who falls… thank you that you use broken people struggling in the dark, grasping at straws, desperate for your light… thank you thank you thank you… I want you… I want to know you more… I want to be more like you and less like me… I want to cast my own dreams for my life at the feet of the one the one who gives dreams… at the feet of the one who willed creation into being…

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.

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