From the Basement

April 5, 2011

On Apathy and His Enough-ness

Life has tasted stale lately. Mundane. Listless. This lethargy started infecting my spiritual life, and it has since extended to all aspects of my life—from diet and exercise to writing habits. And the funny thing is, this Blah-ness started after I got a job. I prayed for work for months and months and threw myself on the promises of God, and then I got a job and … I tumbled off of the mountain of those promises. Somehow forgot about the follow-through. And then I applied to graduate school and, wonder of wonders, got in, and not only to one program but three—three fully funded offers from prestigious programs. What more could a girl want? But it hasn’t shaken the lethargy that has taken root in my system over these last few months.

I’m getting married in 4 months, after which my husband and I will move out east, where grad school awaits. So many reasons to praise! So many prayers brought to fruition in His timing!

So much apathy it’s amazing I get out of bed some mornings.

Some things are starting to pierce through, though. Today I got a devotional in the mail from my mom (Fresh Grounded Faith by Jennifer Rothschild), and the first devotional featured the story of a woman named Julie. Rothschild met Julie at a women’s conference when she was doing a book signing; the author is blind, as is Julie, a Pakistani Christian who, after standing up to a man who touched her inappropriately, was attacked with acid by that same man. Burned and blinded, she went to the United States to recover, but at the time she met Rothschild, she was preparing to go back to Pakistan. Asked about her safety, Julie replied, “No matter. If something happens, I will be home with Jesus” (14).

Fearless. Absolutely fearless. That kind of courage in the face of danger is remarkable, and the unshakable courage and conviction that enables one to face that kind of danger can only come from Christ. Unwavering steadfastness. Fearless faith. These are the signs of one who is firmly grounded in Christ Jesus.

I talked with my fiancé last night, and he was recounting some of the messages at the Passion conference. John Piper’s message really impacted him, and during the message, Piper said something to the effect of, you are only as strong as the foundation of your joy.

We are only as strong as the foundation of our faith. Right now, I’m remembering that my faith is strong enough, in Christ, to withstand the drought that is apathy and disconnect. It’s very, very hard to write that. At the moment, I’ll settle for actually wanting to read the Bible, let alone having the sort of faith that could lead me to face down martyrdom.

I feel very, very weak, so it’s probably a good thing that the reality of our spiritual state doesn’t depend on our emotions. I know my faith can weather this drought because I know my Abba is bigger. And if I possess even the faith of a mustard seed, my faith can move a mountain. And mustard seeds are small, people.

I don’t know how big or small your faith is right now. But no matter the size, it is enough for Him, because He is enough for us. His immensity covers our smallness; his wisdom, our foolishness; his strength, our weakness. He is enough.

Matthew 17:20: He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

February 20, 2011

Praise Report :) (too cliche’d?)

Today, I was admitted to a PhD-track program with full funding. My first admit in my second year of applying.

I jumped up in down in ecstasy and practically launch-hugged myself at my father. I called my fiancé and squealed, then called my mom, and then chatted with those friends who have been so supportive of me over this last year—who have seen me through one season of across-the-board rejections and now this new season, starting with such promise.

I have been on Cloud 9 since that phone call came around 10 a.m. Regardless of whether or not this is the program I attend, I will always remember how this day felt. I feel joy and pleasure and relief and right now, the feeling emerging is one of intense humility.

There is nothing that comes to me that has not passed through His hand.

Last year, I applied to PhD programs with little prayer and even less preparation. Part of this was because I was applying whilst finishing my honors project; my attention was very much divided. Part of it is simply that I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t thought long and hard about why I really wanted it.

I didn’t even contemplate the thought that it wouldn’t work out. Suffice it to say, across-the-board rejections are very humbling. Those of us who could perhaps be called Department Darlings went into the process with the blinders on, buoyed by the praise of our advisors, not even contemplating the possibility that there would be no admits.

Yeah, I had a wake up call. Most of you who read then are reading now, and you saw the aftermath of that process.

Over the last year, I have thought of every reason why I should not be in a PhD program—why it’s something my Abba Father should not allow to come to me. Issue #1: Pride. I have a mile-wide streak of hardcore intellectual pride. There’s uncertainty and insecurity threaded in with that, but it’s still pride. Also, a love for the praise of others—I am always so convicted when I sing the line, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise; Thou mine inheritance now and always.” And, of course, the possibility of valuing worldly intellect and wisdom above that of my Father. Academia is not exactly fertile ground for faith.

^Which is why my fiancé and I are so determined to serve there. (Another question I considered, really for the first time: Am I as willing to follow him to school as he is to follow me? Last year, I said “He’s going to follow me, and that’s that.” Lots of growth in that arena over this last year. Lots.)

Many questions have been considered, prayed about, and considered some more over this last year. Do I learn because I love? (Thank you, Francis Chan.) Am I more concerned about loving and witnessing to my colleagues than I am about impressing them? Am I aware that any “wisdom” or intellectual prowess I have is a gift from my Abba, and I am to use it according to His will?

Perhaps most notable of all has been the emergence of the previously nascent idea that part of what draws me to the study of literature is that we are all designed to be part of a Great Story—one in which the Creator redeems the created.

Even English professors acknowledge that redemption is one of the most powerful themes in literature. So, I’ve spent time thinking about how, latent in the process studying lit and teaching lit, is an opportunity to subtly point my students towards that Great Story.

All this to say, it’s been a struggle to hold this application season in an open palm, telling the Lord, I am reapplying because I want this, but if you don’t want it for me, I trust you. Truth be told, I didn’t think I could stand a second year of across-the-board rejections, not when I’d done so much to strengthen my application (including writing a brand-new 20-page writing sample), but I took heart in Romans 8:28, “All things work to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.”

This acceptance has come because He has allowed it to—not that I’m saying “God wants me to go to [this school]”—it could be my only admit, but there could be other options, and my fiancé’s prospects are still up in the air—but I firmly believe—I know—that nothing comes our way that has not passed through His hand.

I am amazed, and humbled, and so very, very grateful that He is giving me this chance. In spite of my sin and imperfection, in spite of everything, He is allowing this to come my way.

And I am so very grateful.

Last night, the sermon was on John 7:37-38: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”

As my fiancé and I wait through this admissions season, and as we begin new life as a married couple this fall, my prayer is that we would believe on our Lord, and that out of us would flow rivers of living water.

And because this is the song going through my head (it’s been posted on this blog before, but it’s marvelous):

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…”

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

January 6, 2011

Paul Wrote Letters – Realizations and Reflections

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

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 14, 2010

Operation Christmas Child

We are so blessed to live in the western world. So. Freaking. Blessed.

Today, my dad and I went out and bought gifts for two children, a boy and a girl, age 10-14, living somewhere in the world in destitute conditions. And yet somehow, over the next few weeks, God will guide these boxes, full of hygienic items, school and art supplies, hard candy, and a letter from a sister who loves them, to those two children. And on the day they get their shoebox, greatest gift they will receive is the news of how God loves them – how they are His precious child who he provides for, cares for, and watches over.

Tonight, that little boy and that little girl are on my heart in a powerful way. My heart is full of love for them, of hope that they would come to know just how much their heavenly Abba loves them, and – frankly – of gratitude. Gratitude and awe that we live in a country where a $3 pack of 12 washcloths is considered “cheap.” And I am ashamed – so ashamed – at the thought that “what if the kids don’t like what’s in the box”… these are children who have nothing. What looks ordinary to me is a rare treasure for them.

Matthew 19:14: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

For those who are unfamiliar, Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham. See the introductory video here: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid17736666001?bclid=36000809001&bctid=260796487001

November 12, 2010

“Give Me Jesus”

This morning was totally fragmented. Concerns about the part-time seasonal job I start this weekend (Barnes & Noble!) coupled with grad school applications and family drama had me doubting and questioning. But in all the questioning (which somehow got me on the “is it okay to be a working Christian mom?” question), the Lord led me to this verse:

2 Timothy 3:14: But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from where you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ.

Continue in what you have learned. Trust what you have learned – what you have been assured of. Know where you learned it from. Know that it is through feeding our souls the Holy Word of God that we grow and develop and better trust Him.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And our faith is to be placed in our hope, the only hope that never fails – our savior Christ Jesus.

Sometimes the uncertainties of this life seem overwhelming. The answer is always the same. Go to Jesus. “Come to me all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He is our savior. He is our redeemer. By him we cry out, “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15). He is our rock, our refuge, our Lord in whom we put our trust (Psalm 18). He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). And He is the good shepherd – “I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:15).

October 31, 2010

“Do you learn because you love?” – On Francis Chan, Humility, & Graduate School

One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard, hands down, was Francis Chan’s message at the Think conference. I posted the link to the video in the last entry; you should really take a look, it’s fantastic. His talk centered on 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

Chan quoted John MacArthur who said “Knowledge is essential, but it’s not sufficient.” The pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking is absolutely crucial to the Christian life, but it must be girded, hedged behind and before, with the love of God, without which our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.

The focus of the sermon was humility, and even though Chan’s illustrations about speaking were obviously meant to apply to, y’know, speakin’ and preachin’, I took them heart even regarding my applications:

“I’ve told my preaching students, if you feel nervous, it’s probably because there’s sin in your life. And you’re thinking about a person, you’re thinking about pleasing someone, you want someone to approve of your message, rather than thinking about God. And the nerves often are not because you love the people, it’s because you want them to love you and you want them to like you.”

Before he preaches, Chan asks himself questions in order to check his heart, such as “Am I worried about what people will think of my message, or am I more concerned about what God thinks?” and “Do I genuinely love these people?” Because this is what he emphasized: when you are giving a message or leading a bible study or speaking even in a conversation, is your motivation to be loved or to love them? Are you asking God for the words that will best enable you to love them or are you worried about being seen as intelligent or articulate or [fill in the blank]?

Chan posed the question: “Do you learn because you love?”

Wow. Do I learn because I love? Is my desire to learn, to go to graduate school, for my colleagues, for those in my cohort, for my advisors – is my ultimate goal to love them to bring glory to my Redeemer, who because of his gracious nature alone saw fit to rescue me from the pit? Is my desire that they too would be rescued? Do I have, as Chan quoted the Apostle Paul, an unceasing anguish for the lost?

Sometimes, I feel like Jonah. I want the easy road; I am scared to minister to the people I think God’s calling me to (confirmation: when your fiance wants to minister to them, that’s probably a sign from God!). Sometimes, I think and pray, “Oh God, why can’t a literary agent just stumble onto my blog and I can write a book and go around speaking at Women of Faith conferences or something and just talk to other broken down Jesus Girls whose parents are divorced and who don’t know what love and marriage look like and who are looking to feminism and women’s studies as the answer and oh God, why can’t you just let me minister to women like me, women who need encouragement and who just want someone to love them?”

Because women like me go to college and grad school. Because women like me look to the life of the mind – to intellectualism – for answers. Women like me think we’ve got life beat. Women like me need Jesus.

My heroes are in academia. Some of the people who have had the greatest impact on my intellect, who I know God allowed to be my professors, who he put in my life in specific ways to nurture and guide my intellectual development – many of them are not believers. My honors advisor, who I love so dearly, has an utter disdain for religion and Christianity and marriage, and for the life of her, she cannot comprehend my faith. We’ve touched on it occasionally, but so much went unsaid throughout those four years. So many opportunities passed me by to share my faith with her, to try and help her see.

And you hear about how academia in the United States is one of the most hostile environments for faith, and I’m sure that many of you who’ve gone through college have encountered at least one openly anti-Christian professor on campus, and probably many more who were implicitly critical of religion, and I can’t help but think, what purpose would this serve, Lord? Evangelical Christians have zero cultural capital in higher education. To put it another way, they have no intellectual blue chips. My faith and my education are so seemingly at odds in the world, even if I see them as flowing beautifully together… and I ask again, to what purpose, Lord?

I think that we forget that people are watching. I think we forget that our calling is higher. Loving them in word and deed is far more important than being hailed as wise and knowledgeable in the ways of the world.

One of the writer friends I cherish most dearly is probably almost twice my age. She went to a top 10 English program, has written books, articles, you name it, she’s done it – and she cares about her students. She’s also one of the most ridiculously intelligent women I’ve ever met; she explained a complicated literary theorist to me using Harry Potter. I mean, come on!

Well, she and other writer friends of mine were at a convention, and apparently the conversation in her suite turned to faith, Christianity and Harry Potter. She sent me a message saying she wished I had been there to share my insights.

They are looking. They do notice that you’re different. I say to God, my professors – these are my heroes – they’re so smart – they write books and articles and prepare hour long lectures that leave me just mind-blown and they debate supreme court justices and went to top 10 and top 20 programs and – I get so intimidated by them. And so scared to talk to them about matters of faith. What could I have to say to them about Jesus and about what he has done in my life, how knowing I am loved by him gives me vigor and excitement that only further stimulates my mind?

Do I love them more than I care about them respecting me? That’s the question. Do I love them enough to risk my scholarship not being taken seriously?

In grad school, is it more important that I love people, emulating Christ, or that I produce groundbreaking scholarship?

And does what’s on the other side of grad school really matter? If God sends my fiancé and I to grad school, it’s to love people, pure and simple. Whether I’m teaching or writing or working in publishing or doing whatever on the other end of it doesn’t really matter – God will put me where He can use me. Here I am, Lord.

1 John 4:12 tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” It is by our love that people will know we are his disciples (John 13:35). Are we acting this out?

Chan reminded us of 1 Corinthians 12:7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In response to this verse, he said, “Why did God gift you in the way that He did? It’s for us, it’s not for you! [The question to ask is] how can I build my brother up? How can I build my sister up?”

Today is my self-imposed deadline for the statement of purpose. Suffice to say, it’s not finished, even though there’s plenty written. And all day, I’ve been terribly nervous, trying to remember that no matter how I articulate my research interests, God has the final say.

Chan’s words have convicted me. Why on earth am I nervous? Because I want them to like me? In short, yes. But God’s the one who has the final say, and I can’t enter a program all willy-nilly over wanting to be liked. To repeat a phrase, if God puts my fiancé and I in grad school, it’s to love people. To witness to them. Plain and simple. Whether I’m teaching at an R1 on the other end doesn’t really matter.

This is what the LORD says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom

or the strong man boast of his strength

or the rich man boast of his riches,

but let him who boasts boast about this:

that he understands and knows me,

that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight,”

declares the LORD. — Jeremiah 9:23-24


What is the life of the mind without the love of God?

There is a video that was posted on the lit forum at thegradcafe.com which I then shared with various friends. Entitled, “So you want to get a PhD in the Humanities,” it has been hailed as alternately funny and depressing by friends who are professors and grad students – depressing because it’s true. (http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7451115/)

The video isn’t what took the wind out of my sails this week, but it reminded me of the numerous doubts and thoughts that creep into my mind unguarded:

Do you think this is a good use of your time, doing research that no one cares about?

Academia is one of the most hostile environments for faith in the United States. Do you honestly think you can make a difference?

Won’t any impact you have be impeded by your own intellectual pride?

This isn’t a Christian pursuit – how does teaching about women’s writing in the 1790s further the cause of faith, exactly?

Not to mention the concerns over the fact that I’m in a dual-academic relationship, so we’re trying to get into schools in the same geographic area (easier said than done) and then, on the job market (provided the Lord allows), we’ll have to limit our choices in an already difficult market to places that are hiring in both Physics and English.

Then there’s the fact that the first application is due December 1st and my statement of purpose and writing sample have yet to be written.

And then, that several of my professors or friends who are professors or grad students are suffering severe disenchantment with the field.

And then there’s the cloud hanging over all of this, that I got across the board rejections last year.

My friends, it is very easy to become discouraged, but in times of discouragement, we must cling to His hope.

I was spilling my guts to God and partly trying to remind myself of why this is a godly pursuit, and the line came to me:

“What is the life of the mind without the love of God?”

My brain is obviously taking cues from the Think conference I attended earlier this month, but it is so very true. To the doubts that look to the disenchantment in the academia, especially in the humanities, that say it’s not worthwhile, that say that God could not place this desire on my heart – of course the life of the mind is painful WITHOUT the love of God! Knowledge and intellectualism do not satisfy. We are human. We fail. But when the pursuit of knowledge and – more importantly – ministry to those who pursue knowledge is buoyed and anchored by a passionate knowledge that I am loved by God, oh, the mighty things that can happen!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

I must remind myself, ever, that it is for His glory. I am aware of the danger in this pursuit, namely that it plays very close to a great weakness of mine, which is intellectual pride, but Lord, keep me humble. I pray for a passionate love for my future students, colleagues, and advisors –

My fiancé and I have often talked on how our hoped-for ministry as professors is sort of like going into the lion’s den. These are people who, for the most part, think they have life beat. They are the educated, the knowledgeable, the worldly wise, the philosophical elite who Paul tangoed with in Greece… they are the Seekers who have yet to find – who perhaps do not want to find. They turn down their nose at religion. Are there believers among college faculties? To be sure. But many of my closest advisors had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity, and of my peers… well, in college it’s cool to seek but not quite as cool to find.

I know that, should God choose to use my fiancé and I in this way, it would be powerful, and Abba, let it ever be for YOUR glory and not our own. That He chooses to use us in ways that magnify our gifts and give us great joy is truly beyond me. I remember hearing harsh scriptures or sermons as a child that had me convinced that God only used people who were in “Christian” careers. I thought, is it bad that I don’t want to be a missionary? It took me years to realize that He uses us where we’re at, in many, many careers “outside” official Christian ministry. That being a college professor, as a Christian, is your ministry. That teaching about women writers in the 1790s is a ministry!

We are all called to ministry in different ways. Writing is my primary calling, but I am inextricably drawn to academia, and I love to teach, and I see great opportunity, a great platform on which to build a ministry. Should God allow. I keep saying “should God allow” because this last year has been an exercise in being brought to my knees… he humbles us to draw us closer to him.

God has been putting this verse in my life through sermons and readings, and I want to share it:

Psalm 18:1-3: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

And this verse:

Psalm 73:23-26,28: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.”

We are called to place our hope in Him. To trust His plan. To know that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. To be assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is our Savior, our lover, our husband, our friend. He holds us. Even when we do not want to let him, he is still holding us.

In Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am?, she offers the following as exhortations to hope:

Hope ushers in the goodness of God: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25

Hope gives us protection: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness.” Psalm 33:18

Hope gives us strength, courage, boldness: “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

Hope gives us confidence for this life and our callings: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” 1 Timothy 4:10

And in closing, she writes:

He is worthy.

He is your comfort.

He is the God who sees.

He does not grow weary.

He is your sufficiency.

He is your Savior.

He is here.

He is your strength.

He is generous.

He is your King and Father.

He is your Redeemer.

He is your hope.

He calls you His daughter and treats you as His own. (211)

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is 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.”

I love that. We are called to love God, and a means of loving God is using our minds. And then we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And John 13:35 follows this line of thinking: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Love is the mark of a Christian. Not what we do as a career, but what we do in the everyday minutiae: when you’re in the break room, when you’re in the hallway, when you’re greeting your co-workers in the morning.

A struggle for me is making plans for myself while knowing that God has “better.” I struggle and think, since I’m applying to grad school, does this mean I won’t get in? Am I pursuing the right plan? What if this isn’t what He has for me? And then I remember: he places desires on our hearts for a reason. He places people and situations in our lives for a reason. And sometimes what we think is “no” just means “not now.”

I don’t know how these next few months will turn out. But I know that my Abba is good. I know that he loves me. I know that to love Him is the greatest thing I can do in this life. I know that only by His enabling will I ever be able to love him and other people. And I pray for the grace to endure, to persist in that truth.

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