From the Basement

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

August 2, 2010

Don’t Give It Away: Notes from My Younger Self

Today, I was digging for books in the closet under the stairs, looking for books from a favorite series I’ve been re-reading, but I found a few other things, instead: books on writing, books on business, my long-lost Scrabble dictionary,The Sacred Romance, An Unfinished Marriage – all these books I remember from pre-college days but had long since lost and forgotten about.

There was one particular book I pulled from the pile: Don’t Give It Away! by Iyanla Vanzart, a workbook on self-awareness and self-affirmations for young women. Can I just say that I love my mom for giving me that kind of book as a teenage girl?  I learned to write through my emotions at an early age, and I was bad at keeping a consistent journal, so books like this one are precious to me – glimpses into the psyche of my earlier self.

True to form, my mom wrote notes to me throughout the book, many that were centered on Jesus, as Vanzart’s books – while spiritual – draw from a variety of faiths. Mom was wonderful, writing things like: Be patient and fearless. Let Jesus be the center of your joy! You are an original, unique creation. You are overflowing with linguistic intelligence – use it for good! Don’t worry over someone else’s opinion of you! Ask yourself, ‘Am I pleasing God?’ If the answer is yes, then let God take care of the rest. The answers to all of your questions can be found in God’s Word. Bury His Word in your heart!

My mom had a mom who did not encourage her, so she was always sure to affirm and encourage her daughters; she poured out her love into us and told us about the ever-flowing, gracious love of our Creator.

I wanted to share some notes I found in the book, notes from my earlier self and notes I wrote down today. Something I love about myself is how I date things; I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I like to go back and see what I’m thinking. The first notes in this book were between 1999-2001 (mom gave it to me on my first day of middle school).

And then, there are notes from 2004, when I was at the Crazy Church (I don’t think I’ve written about the Crazy Church, but I will at some point). Even if there weren’t dates, I would know it was that time – the language (the emphasis on being “sold out”), the belief that God would do what He wanted with me regardless of the desires He put on my heart, the overpowering guilt – these feelings are both tacit and stated in my comments. Now, being God centered is, of course, not a bad thing! But everything was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus – there was no enjoyment of the gifts He has given, and no faith that He would work in ways I enjoyed (He doesn’t always, of course, but feeling sure that He never will is not healthy). There are two extremes: being so about Jesus that you totally ignore the world and the gifts that are here and, alternately, being so consumed with the world and the gifts that we forget the Giver.  I’ve definitely been on both sides of that coin.

So, sharing a few notable items that stuck out. The first one caught my eye because I was talking about striving. At age 13 or 14. And thinking it was good. Oh goodness.

Prompt: The most perfect thing about me is…

2001, age 14: that I strive in my spiritual life. I nurture my talents. Note: this is when I still thought striving was a virtue. I say that because I’ve only recently realized that it isn’t.

2004, age 17 (at the Crazy Church): I am not perfect. I’m a work in progress, needing continual rebuilding. I can’t get through a day without God catching me at least 50 times. Note: that is so true! But I can feel the self-recrimination in my younger self’s voice (in this comment and others), and I know what happens to her the next year: total spiritual breakdown, total darkness. I feel her feelings of not being enough, of being constantly told she’s a sinner without being reminded that God’s grace extends beyond initial salvation! I feel her lack of mercy. Oh, I have such compassion for her!

2010, age 22, almost 23 (because I couldn’t resist making more notes): That I am a daughter of the King. He loves me perfectly, exquisitely! His promises are always true and His mercies are new every morning. When all is stripped away, there I am, in the middle of the road, walking hand in hand with the One who put the stars in the sky.

Another prompt demonstrates how changeable and glorious the young, imaginative mind is – I was always coming up with crazy new careers to pursue. What careers did you want to pursue when you were younger, and what did they say about your desires?

Prompt: I dream that one day I will…

6th grade: Save a premature baby. I will write a bestseller. I will score the winning basket!

7th grade: I will be a market-researching executive. I’ll write a bestseller. I’ll make varsity volleyball. I’ll get a full ride scholarship to UM. I’ll grow in Christ. I’ll own my own business.

8th grade: I’ll be a lawyer/writer. I’ll go to Duke and Harvard Law.

10th grade: Writer, business – but whatever God puts in front of me. (There’s that doubt that God would give me what I wanted… so pervasive in the 2004 comments; it wasn’t there earlier.) U of Chicago. Wheaton. U of Iowa. (I went to a private, secular liberal arts college, LOL!)

After college: write a novel, marry the BF, adopt kids, learn to rest! 🙂

Some things are so striking in their consistency across the years: a seeming inability to believe in good things, the prayer for wisdom, frustration with my baby sister, the song “Hold Me Now” by Jennifer Knapp, issues with control and striving.

Can I share a few funnies? I laugh when I read things my younger self wrote, but she is so right!

“When I look at me, I see a young woman with drive, ambition, and gorgeous lips! I love me! I am totally awesome – a rockin’ gurl who is 14 and one day!” (Yes, girl is spelled that way and it is underlined.)

“The best thing I can do for myself is eat healthily, read the Bible, and pray – and pamper myself!” (this was pre-Crazy Church, when I wouldn’t have written “pamper myself”)

My 13 or 14-year-old self, in response to The thing that really confuses me is: “Love! Everyone says it’s wonderful and horrible. I have no clue.” Amen, sister.

And last but not least… after one of the notes I wrote today, I added a P.S. for my older self:

I hope you are writing. I hope you are finding peace and joy in Him who loves you as no one else will ever love you. I hope you are resting in His arms.

July 20, 2010

Curls, Control, & Contentment: An Essay on Faith

I wrote this back in January (hence the references to grad school), but I really needed to read it today. How awesome is it when God uses us to remind ourselves of His goodness and mercy…

~*~

I’m currently sitting at my aunt’s office desk, and for some inexplicable reason I have a bottle of hairspray next to me. It is extreme hold hairspray. It literally says that. Extreme. It is beyond strong, beyond maximum – extreme (Aussie Instant Freeze). On the front, it says that it “arrests your style.” Seriously? My hair is under arrest! That is the level to which I’ve resorted in order to feel like I’m in control.

Let’s back up. In 7th grade, I cut my budding curls down to a pixie cut. As in, early 1990s Winona Ryder short. My hair, which went from straight to curly during those peachy puberty years, absolutely terrified me. I had no confidence in my ability to manage my curls. So I cut them off until I was ready to grow them back out, ready to deal with them (it took a year).

This is me in a nutshell. I was so scared of this unruly thing in my life (it just so happened to be growing on my head), that I cut it off and kept it at a distance until I was ready to let it back into my life, where I timidly began to think about creative ways to manage it. I am now to the point where I’m perfectly comfortable letting my three (maybe four) day hair be shown in public – or perhaps that’s senioritis attacking my personal hygiene. Who knows.

At the root of this fear is a lack of confidence. I didn’t have confidence in what I was given. I also didn’t have confidence in my ability to manage the situation. But really, I didn’t have confidence in myself (or my Creator). We control-freaks hold things with a death grip, terrified that letting go means falling into the unknown – into the painful truth that we don’t control nearly as much as we think we do. The world does not revolve around our plans and schedules, wants and desires. There are plenty of things that are absolutely outside of our control, and we have to learn to accept that. Easier said than done. I for one am so not there yet, but it’s where my heart wants to be, and I think that counts for something.

As graduating seniors, we are concerned with getting a job, getting into graduate school – things that are decidedly outside of our control. Our conversations abound with negative prophecies and heart-heavy predictions. There are so many unknown factors, things that can have absolutely nothing to do with us – budgets, hiring cuts, smaller acceptance rates. Maybe… maybe… maybe… We love to torture ourselves with fantasies of worst-case scenarios. And to what end? Imagining the future only leads to heartache. It distracts us from the present as well as from the promises of our faith. As C.S. Lewis said, the future is the thing that is least like eternity. When it comes down to it, dwelling on the future merely feeds my lust for control.

It helps to get perspective, and that can come from both good and bad situations. I most recently got a reality-check from the latter. I met a friend for lunch the other day. That morning, I’d completed yet another application and for some reason, the anxiety was shooting through the roof, to the point where I ended up running to the toilet. Proof that all those negative anxieties and fantasies we indulge in affect our bodies.

So I met my friend for lunch. My news – applications (what else is new?). Her news – her cousin, who is around our age, was diagnosed with cancer. Talk about perspective. Now, this is not one of those “it can always be worse” exhortations – that’s not a productive method of coping. Rather, that lunch was a reminder. Even though there is the fundamental difference that I invited my situation and her cousin did not, life remains a series of unknowns for us both and, indeed, for everyone. It takes a lot of faith to get through each day.

The unknowns can bad things we don’t expect. Illness. The death of a loved one. A breakup, a divorce. Arrest. And then they can be things that we do – like knowing we’ll hear back, one way or the other, from prospective jobs, internships, schools. Getting to hold a newborn baby. Going home for Christmas to find the house chock-full of treats baked in anticipation of your arrival. And then, wow, there are the genuine surprises – like meeting the right person at the right time or unexpectedly finding a way to pay for something you’ve needed. The fun chances, the joyful surprises – these happen all around us, too!

We forget that it’s not our ability to predict or expect outcomes that matters. None of us have that kind of foresight. It’s how we handle those outcomes, those journeys. It comes down to having confidence in yourself and not in your trappings or expectations. It’s about trusting who you are. Because we each have worth, we each have value, and no matter what situation we are placed in, those things are sure.

As believers, we are the beloved of Christ, and it is in His eyes that we are made whole and complete. When we find our identity in Him – when we know that Jesus is at our side and that He is our Abba Father who is for us, offering the gifts of peace and joy and grace and love – when we can rest in His loving arms and say “come what may” because all things work to the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose – when we know that if our earthly parents love us and want to give us good gifts, how much more does He want to give! – when we know these things and can rest in them, there is confidence. There is peace. There is light. And it is that light in a difficult situation, that peace that surpasses all understanding – those are the things that mark us as His.

I want more peace. I want to radiate joy and contentment, not anxiety and fear. I have nothing to be afraid of. Nothing! He has hedged me behind and before, and as long as I just crawl up into His lap and remember that, first and foremost, I am a daughter of the King, all is good. Because life with him is good.

I’m reminded of the Niebuhr prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The good news is that He gives us serenity, courage, and wisdom. All we have to do is ask. We should consistently turn our situations over to Him in prayer, but so too should we ask for the character and the mindset that will alter how we see the situation. More righteousness. More Christlikeness – more like Christ.

Christ is perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear. Lately, my fear has been crowding out my excitement. I don’t always feel like I can choose excitement, and that’s partly due to my internalization of the world telling me that a good student and an ambitious individual should be worrisome, anxious, nervous for their future. But why on earth am I taking their advice? I have EVERY reason to be excited right now. Every reason to have faith that all will work to the good. I rebuke the words that tell me that sitting around every day nervously checking my email and mailbox is a proper way to manage my time. Like my curls, I have no control over what’s growing right now.

Another issue at play here is waiting. Waiting is a blessed time, truly. In the Bible (and in life), it’s a time of preparation. Of prayerful supplication. Of purification. In short, waiting is a process to be embraced.

And I want to embrace this time: the waiting, the joy, and the knowledge that come what may, my Abba has got me on His lap and He’s saying “Wait for what I do next – I’ve got so many wonderful things planned for you! You’re going to love how I have you do My work, the opportunities to love people, to reach people – you’re going to love it, you’re just going to love it.” I want to shuck fear off of me, to slither out of that skin of anxiety and worry, to just be joy. I want that. And as long as my eyes are focused on my Abba, the joy is for the taking.

May 27, 2010

Graduation

Filed under: Faith,Graduating,Uncategorized — jeannablue @ 10:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m graduating this weekend, so the blog will be on hiatus until Monday or Tuesday of next week. Surprisingly, I’ve been feeling rather anxious – not dreading it, but certainly not looking forward to it, in spite of the fact that it means seeing friends and professors (not to mention family). I think it’s a natural resistance that’s rising and that will ebb with the tide when I leave for campus tomorrow. This Saturday marks the official end of an era – college – as well as the beginning of a new one (which is, at present, Unemployed).

In the midst of all those strange feelings, the following verses have been laid on my heart:

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say: rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

While this set of passages is famous for many things, what always strikes me is Be anxious for nothing. It’s a command – literally. We are commanded to not have anxiety over any situation, but rather to pray and receive the peace of Christ. It’s a heady promise, one that I don’t always grasp onto, but I’m holding on to it right now.

Be blessed this weekend.

April 22, 2010

On Perfectionism

There’s this great line in the song “Free to Be Me” by Francesca Battistelli. It says, “Perfection is my enemy.”

How true. How terrifying, how limiting, how crippling is that perfectionistic streak that runs through so many of us.

Lately, perfectionism has been blocking my writing. Obviously not on this blog – having a daily goal and a few people reading does a lot in the way of accountability. But there’s this story I’m writing that’s due in five days to an online exchange and I have had the assignment for months and I cannot for the life of me find the focus to finish the second chapter.

Perfectionism, so defined by Webster’s, is “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” The question is, why do we hold ourselves to that standard in the first place? No one does something perfectly the first time. Heck, people don’t do things perfectly after years in a business – years of writing, of professional athletics, of making deals.

I have some friends who struggle with this. I have struggled with it – but I find that my struggle doesn’t usually focus on the goal of perfection. My struggle has been my own intense dissatisfaction with what I’ve produced, what I’ve written. It could be better. It could be a bestseller. Why can’t I write bestselling material on the first try? Why can’t I finish this story? – my perfectionism manifests itself in intense negativity. Usually, I can get work finished. But I have a passionate dislike for it. I say it’s the worst paper I’ve ever written or it’s the worst story I’ve ever written or…

You get the picture.

We cart around skyscraper-high standards all day, forgetting that the only way you scale that building is one inch at a time. The goal of moving an inch forward is a lot more reasonable than our desire to make a Spiderman leap to the top. Nobody can be Spiderman. Nobody can be perfect. Spiderman wasn’t perfect. So there you go. (Now I feel like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding…)

We forget to break it down. Short assignments. Attainable goals with an eye to the finish line. And, ultimately, laying down our pride, our need to be the best, our need to prove something to other people, our need to prove something to ourselves.

In her book Do You Think I’m Beautiful?, Angela Thomas talks about how we carry around ash sacks full of regret, sin, and shame. We are doubled over with those sacks on our back, and there’s Jesus standing in front of us offering to take the burden, and we say, “No, no, I’ve got it – see, this is my sack of ashes. I’m comfortable carrying it. I’m used to it.”

And we’re really saying, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to stand up straight.

I think that perfectionism is like a sack of ashes. We carry it around with us every day – something that started as a bundle of expectation and dreams becomes weighted down by the disappointment of shattered hope, bitterness, self-loathing, and regret.

Perfectionism is self-flagellation on a daily basis. Really, it is. We will never meet our own standards. What does a first-time bestselling author do? Freak out about the pressure they now face – that they’d better write another bestseller.

Nothing is ever good enough. Nothing ever satisfies. Getting everything you want does not bring peace. There are oh so many examples of that in the world around us, and not just the rich and famous, but the people we know – co-workers, fellow students, bosses, people at church, people in our neighborhood, maybe even people we love.

The standard is not our own worldly concept of perfection. The standard is Jesus Christ and the example He set with His beautiful love laced with jewels of mercy, threads of passion, and the comfort of His peace. He calls us to lay down our lives and follow Him. Lay down your need for acceptance, and be accepted in His arms. Lay down your need for perfection, and become enamored by the perfection of your awesome Creator. He is enough when we are not. And we are never enough, so He is always enough.

When we rest in His arms, we can be at peace with ourselves. So often, I “strive” for peace – what a joke! I am trying, trying, trying to feel peaceful just for a minute when all I need to do is sit back and bask in the warm love my Savior, my lover, my comforter, my friend.

When we call Christ our savior, we are in turn called to show His love to others. And it is very difficult for others to feel that they could be loved by someone who holds themselves to an unattainable standard of perfection. When we hold ourselves to that standard – even if we don’t think we are inflicting it on other people… we are. How hard it is to love others when we never feel we can do it successfully. How hard it is to accept love from someone who is never satisfied.

Rest. Lay back in His arms. Accept His love for yourself. And then show it to others. Lay down your own standards. He is enough. He is always enough.

The chorus of Francesca Battistelli’s “Free to Be Me” goes like this

I got a couple dents in my fender

Got a couple rips in my jeans

Try to fit the pieces together

But perfection is my enemy

And my own, I’m so clumsy

But on your shoulders I can see

I’m free to be me

In the freeing, peaceful, awesome love of Jesus Christ, we are free to be ourselves. Free to write imperfectly, dance crazily, and love wholeheartedly. And that is news worth celebrating.

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