From the Basement

October 25, 2010

“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”: On Discouragement, Hope, & Faith

Discouragement can come out of nowhere. It’s a truly sneaky bastard. It can be a thought, a little thing, small and even funny from an outside perspective, but with what you’ve endured for the last few months, it can seem like the world is crumbling. Or it can be a shock that knocks you on your feet.

For me, it was realizing all the mistakes I made in two cover letters for jobs I want, for jobs that I have told God would be ideal. They’re teaching jobs, second semester replacements, and in light of a variety of things (including a one-line, incredibly rude response from an HR director at one of the schools), my confidence is in the toilet. And with it, my hope.

So often I lose hope the minute I doubt my own abilities or situation. And since I doubt my own abilities or situation a lot of the time, I seem to doubt my hope, as well.

I’m trying to figure out how to have hope and confidence in God while not having any in myself. I’m trying to figure out how people can survive ethnic genocide or sexual abuse or lose their husband while they’re pregnant or go through any number of horrific ordeals, and keep their hope in God. Or how my future in-laws, called to ministry in a dying church for 14 years, kept their hope. How my friend whose husband just lost his job is keeping her hope. How we keep our hope when life in all its ugly blackness happens.

One of my greatest abilities is to constantly be spinning possibilities. But it’s a double-edged sword, because sometimes, I get caught up in dwelling on the negative (“what if my fiancé died a few months into our marriage”, etc.). I lose sight of where I am, where God’s called me to be, and what he’s given me for today. I start doubting whether turning down that job was the right decision. I start wondering whether any plan I form for myself is a godly plan, since so few of them have worked out. I question whether God is just going to disregard everything I want and send me somewhere else.

Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – is so tricky. I firmly believe that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, our desires become conformed to his heart and his desires for us. But that begs the question, how many of my desires are my own and how many are his? And what desires has he given us so that he can bring them about to his glory?

When I am lonely, when I am disappointed, when I think about the trials of others, my possibility-driven mind spins into a very human mode, pulling me deeper into the depths of sin, bringing me to doubt all of my choices, even the ones that were such good gifts from God (e.g. my relationship, my choice of college).

Today, my discouragement stems from both my job situation as well as worries about graduate school. But it is almost as if the Lord has surrounded me in memories of past mercies to comfort me – all day long, my thoughts have been turning to the Women of Faith “Over the Top” conference that the women’s bible study attended seven months ago in March.

Let me paint the scene for you: it was mid-March in the Midwest and I was barely two weeks away from finishing the last class of my undergraduate career. And the icing on the cake? I had received rejections from most grad programs by this point. Now, for those of you who are perhaps just tuning in to this blog now, that had been The Plan. (I hadn’t really talked to God about The Plan, which was to enroll in an English Ph.D. program). Well, by the time the conference rolled around, The Plan was crumbling before my eyes. This top of the class, triple major, summa cum laude, Honors in English academic all-star was officially plan-less.

I walked into that weekend knowing I wanted to meet God but also knowing that I didn’t really feel like a woman of great faith. I had the faith of a mustard seed… maybe half of a mustard seed. Suffice to say, I was definitely not in the mountain-moving mood.

Saturday morning, the girls and I headed to the convention center, coffee in hand, ready to worship and learn and laugh. And I had my game face on – “Okay, God. I’m here. What do you want from me?”

Sandi Patty was one of the morning speakers, and she came on stage and started singing the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella. And I started to cry. My dream, I felt, was being crushed right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.

A dream is a wish your heart makes

When you’re fast asleep

In dreams, you will lose your heartaches

Whatever you wish for, you keep

Have faith in your dreams, and someday

Your rainbow will come smiling through

No matter how your heart is grieving,

If you keep on believing,

The dream that you wish will come true

As it turns out, her story of God’s “over the top” love was one of a dream denied and then a dream given. Her dream as a little girl was to sing at Disneyland. Once she was of age, she auditioned, and she waited for weeks to hear back. When she finally did hear back, it was that, while they had been impressed with her voice, they were unable to offer her a job because of her size. To say she was crushed was an understatement (her struggle with weight and body image is an enormous part of her testimony). She ended up going to college in the Midwest, and she gave music lessons on the side. As it turns out, some of her students were the children of Bill and Gloria Gaither (big gospel singers particularly famous during the ‘60s and ‘70s), and one day, Bill Gaither invited her to tour with them – and God used that start to take her dream further than she ever anticipated.

I just went and looked for my notes from the conference, and I didn’t write much down during her talk, except that she stressed how we are not enough… our abilities, our dreams are never enough – but He is enough. And sometimes, he says no to our dreams in order to say “yes” to the dream he has for us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

That was a wonderful conference, but it is Sandi’s message that I’ve taken with me in my heart and treasured as a reminder of the Hope and Future he has for us.

She also performed this song at the conference, and today, it is renewing my hope and reminding me of the greatness of our God. I hope it encourages you, too.

(I love how you can see Mandisa praising and raising her hands along with Sandi!)

Praise to the Lord, the almighty

The King of Creation

O my soul, praise him, for he is thy help and salvation

All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near

Joining in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord,

Who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth

Shelters thee under his wings

Yea, so gently sustaineth

Hast thou not seen?

How thy desires all have been

Granted in what he ordaineth

Praise to the Lord,

Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee

Surely his goodness and mercy daily attend thee

Ponder anew what the almighty can do

If with his love he befriend thee

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Praise to the Lord,

O let all that is in me adore him!

All that hath life and breath,

Come now with praises before him!

Let the amen sound from his people again

Gladly forever adore him

We adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Praise to the Lord!

“The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the one who seeks him.” – Lamentations 3:25

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

And the foundational verse of the “Over the Top” theme: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God?” – Romans 11:3 (MSG)

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October 15, 2010

In praise of the Great Restorer, the Giver of Rest

God works in mysterious ways. He’s used a job offer – the thing I wanted, prayed for, desired for months on end – to lead me back to Him.

I’m not taking the job, and that is incredibly freeing. I’m declining for aforementioned reasons – budget and timeline issues – but, more importantly, because there are things happening here, where I am, that lead me to believe this is what He has for me. Worldly wisdom says take a job, any job. Worldly wisdom says it’s necessary to live independently.

But living with my parents, healing my relationships with them, releasing the baggage from the divorce – this is one of the healthiest steps I can take for my marriage.

Living at home, saving money, putting it aside for the early days of marriage, for our first month’s rent, for an emergency savings fund – this is an investment in my marriage.

I want to volunteer. I want to be donating money and tithing. My prayer tonight is Lord, bring me to you. Please let me serve you – for the first time in months… years?… this is the prayer. Where can you best use me? I don’t think it’s at the place where I was offered the job, where an “ideal” employee was described as someone who burns the candle at both ends, a single person working tirelessly into the night.

I had a wonderful conversation tonight with my friend Kayla, a great blessing who is willing to act as a sounding board for my many questions and curvaceous conversations (in that thoughts tend to twist and turn in unusual directions to get to their point).

There are changes that need to happen in my life re: discipline with body, mind, and soul… but God has me… this is where He’s put me, for some reason… for His reason, for His glory, ever for His glory.

The events of the last few months defy worldly wisdom. The decision to turn down a full-time job defies worldly wisdom. Abba, I beg your peace and strength. I pray against weakness and fear and anxiety. You will provide. In all things, you provide. You are Jehovah Jireh but also Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, and it is your mission to heal and restore your people to yourself that you may be glorified and we may be filled with the joy that comes in knowing you. Where is the joy? Follow the joy. While there are opportunities to pursue my calling, I will not relent. I do not want to settle for anything less than Your very best, and I know that Your very best does not necessarily come with a hefty paycheck and a worldly definition of success. It does not necessarily come with independence, a car, an apartment, etc. Your provision and hope come in unusual ways – but they come; that is the promise, that is the everlasting promise.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” 2 Corinthians 1:9

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Today, my reading in Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am? was in the “Do You Know I Am Worn Out? He Does Not Grow Weary” chapter. How fitting. After last night’s emotional exhaustion followed by today’s confusion, worry, and fear, I was feeling very worn out. Thomas opens the chapter by quoting Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester: “I am worn to a raveling.” How my body collapsed in exhausted understanding upon reading that line. I am worn to a raveling. Oh, I am. The chapter’s title fit today: do you know I am worn out, Lord? Do you know I feel too tired to make any decision?

But Thomas reminds us that God’s character is self-sustaining (69). He does not grow weary; indeed, he provides the rest we so desperately seek.

“But those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Oh, how I long to run and not grow weary! Today, the longing to serve the Lord, loving people, is at the forefront of my desire. Today, the desire for a “good” job is secondary. A job that will provide for my present needs and help store up for my fiance’s and my future – yes. But something that will serve a higher purpose. His purpose. Let today’s rest sustain into tomorrow.

Lord, let me rest in you. I pray against those spirits of anxiety and fear that so seek to take root in my heart. You have me right where you want me. And sometimes, as Kayla said tonight, we are challenged to have the courage to remain where we are – ever pushing towards the goal, our eyes unwavering in their focus on their Creator, ignoring the world’s distractions, trusting in the only One who both offers and renews our hope.

Thomas puts it beautifully: “A hope that is firmly centered on the Lord renews our strength” (70). How true. My body wearies, my mind grows faint, my emotions fluctuate, and the world itself is always spinning, but He remains constant, the same yesterday, today, and forever, an ever-replenished spring of healing, restorative water. He does not grow weary. He provides the comfort and love and rest we so desperately seek. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

September 8, 2010

Faith in Future Grace

On Sex & the City, Charlotte is the friend who insists that things happen for a reason. Her cynical friends tend to not believe her, but this is a hope to which she stubbornly clings.

I’m often that person. No matter how desperate the situation, I’m the annoying friend who will tell you that God will use this for good.

I believe that many things happen for a reason – some things in life are inevitable, even if tragic (death comes to mind). But I believe that in all things, in all situations, God works to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I also believe that He who begins a good work in us is faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). My mom’s two favorite names for God are Jehovah Jireh (God who will provide) and Faithful & True. He does provide, and He is faithful and true.

These are the promises – the hopes – the future graces, as Piper may call them – that we need to cling to, in all situations. It seems generally agreed upon that God has three responses to our prayers: yes, no, and wait. “Wait” is where I’m at right now, and “wait” – more often than not – sounds like silence. It’s still, it’s there, it’s wordless, but somehow, if I’m tuned in, there’s a peace that descends… and I take that to mean, “Wait, my child, have faith.”

I’m reading another John Piper book, and this one is focused on having faith in “future grace” (the title is, fittingly, Future Grace). Piper’s basic thesis is that faith stems from trusting God’s promises for the present and the future; the book also serves as an indictment of the implication that gratitude for past grace is enough to sustain our faith. Trusting what God has promised and having faith and hope in what He will do – this is the key to saving faith.

Piper makes the wonderful point that in the Bible, people are never chastened for having little gratitude. Rather, Christ says, “O ye of little faith.” It is by faith that we are enabled to further put our hope and trust in God, by faith that we are able to act, by faith that we are able to grow.

Lack of faith is the crux of sin, yeah? In times when my faith is lacking, oh, that is when the anxiety, worry, and fear come… that is when I stumble… that is when I fall. I am so grateful – yes, grateful! – that God has picked me up time and time again, and His word tells me that He will continue to do so.

All this to say, I can’t identify a “reason” why I’m still unemployed or why I’m still living at home. If it’s to finish the novel, well, crap, because trust me, the novel ain’t getting’ done any time soon! If it’s to learn compassion for my family, I fail a lot in that area. If it’s to learn patience, well, okay Lord, you have my attention.

But I do have faith that whatever purpose (or lack of purpose) is behind my current situation, that however I fail when I’m here at home, that whatever happens – I know that my God is for me and not against me. I know He is faithful & true. I know He will continue to provide as He’s been doing. And I know that He will be faithful to complete the good work He started in me. And maybe someday, I’ll look back on this and see exactly how God was piecing things together to set plans in motion that are unfathomable right now.

I want to be a woman of great, unshakable faith. Maybe this is part of becoming that woman.

July 26, 2010

Youth is not a Limitation for God

In the last blog, I wrote that these last few months have been turbulent times filled with spiritual challenge and learning and growth, but also pain, heartache, doubt, fear, and anxiety. This week – the last few days – in particular have brought an avalanche of revelation.

What I would like to focus on tonight is one lie that has seeped into my life: that my youth and inexperience will keep God from using me, particularly in my calling. I put my faith in conventional wisdom that says that countless rejections must be collected before “breaking in”; what’s more, I measure success in human standards of being published. And when it comes to the ever-frightening idea of writing a non-fiction book on Christian living, or just meditations on faith from an unemployed college graduate, I practically freeze with fear, knowing that I lack the credentials – the degrees, the experience – to be published.

It’s really hard to put it out there and say that yeah, I have those dreams.

One caveat here. Over the last few months, I’ve read a flood of articles on unemployed college graduates and on the “Entitlement” complex of Generation Y – how we think we’re entitled to better work and whatnot. Personally, I’m totally willing to do the grunt assistant jobs. Get coffee for someone for years before “making it”? Sure! I’m willing to pay my dues. And similarly, when it comes to publication, I’m willing to start at the bottom. Rejection will happen and a thick skin is necessary. I recently sent out my first story to a professional publication, and I hold no illusions about making it in – it’s valuable experience and you know, I’m putting myself out there. We’ll see what happens.

Here’s my issue: conventional wisdom says that youth = inexperience = lack of wisdom, lack of success. And it’s common wisdom for a reason – it’s common!

BUT. With God, all things are possible. Do we really believe this? Youth is not a limitation for God. Inexperience is not a limitation for God. And it is dangerous when the youth internalize this “conventional wisdom” – that they must wait for wisdom, wait to be used, wait for Their Calling, simply because they are young.

It’s about keeping a right perspective. The fact is, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority are some of the most powerful tools Satan can use to keep us down.

It is crucial to remember that God doesn’t call the equipped – he equips the called. We are called to lean on him and not on our own understanding; we claim that the joy of the Lord is our strength and our salvation. God does not require an advanced degree or decades of experience to be used. In fact, he delights to show his strength in our weakness. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul writes:

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A dear friend of mine is going to a foreign country for ten months to set up an organization in a field she is not trained in. She’s the one who first told me that God equips the called, and it was a blessing to be able to repeat her words back to her when we had lunch a few days ago. Skills and knowledge can be learned – the content she’s working with can be learned – but she has an invaluable knowledge going in: the knowledge of the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus and her ability to show His compassionate love to others. Jesus will make a way where there is seemingly no way.

Our youth and inexperience are perfect opportunities for the Lord to make manifest His glory, for we really cannot boast on our own wisdom and understanding. Indeed, God recently slammed a door in my face that would have brought me that advanced degree and the worldly respect that accompanies it.

It is not wishful thinking or naiveté that gives me so powerful an assurance in this wonderful quality of God’s, but rather His own words. God delights to use the ill equipped, the young, the “wrong” choice to bring about His glory. Two examples come to mind: Moses and Esther. When God drew Moses to Himself via the burning bush (such an awesome idea), He said: “Come now… I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses’ reply falls from his lips before he can stop himself – “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

He protests. Even though we can see how Moses is uniquely, wondrously called to this task (saved from Pharaoh’s edict as a baby, raised in the palace, familiar with Egyptian customs, and y’know, he’s sort of the brother of the current Pharaoh) – in spite of all this, Moses clearly felt himself ill qualified. He doubted himself. He didn’t think he was worthy.

God’s response to Moses’ fears? “I will certainly be with you.”

We are never enough; He is always enough. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Of course, God’s assurances do not assure Moses – a chapter later, Moses is still arguing with God, saying he’s not eloquent enough to speak. And yet God provides for this weakness, as well (Moses’ biological brother, Aaron, is a gifted speaker).

God will make a way where there is no way.

Similarly, Esther is called to act in a radical way. She is a young Jewish girl hiding her beliefs from her new husband, who just happens to be the King of Persia. She’s inexperienced and, in spite of the presence of her cousin Mordecai, frighteningly alone. However, she is thrust into Purpose headfirst when one of the king’s advisors, Haman, hatches a plot that would destroy all Jews in Persia (the Holocaust, only thousands of years earlier).

Mordecai implores Esther to go to the King and beg his mercy, and she protests, reminding Mordecai that no one can enter the King’s inner sanctum unless personally called (death is a possibility for such radical disobedience). Mordecai’s response to Esther’s fear is famous: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

In spite of their youth and inexperience, even in the face of their fear and anguish, God used Moses and Esther to deliver His people in marvelous ways. In fact, he positioned them perfectly. They acted against convention, against “common wisdom” – they were willing to risk death in order to obey the call of God on their lives.

They were willing to be used. Humility and submission: these are the qualities we are all to cultivate in terms of obedience to God. The aged and the young, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated – regardless of status, a humble, submissive spirit before the throne can and will be used by the Father.

One example of awesome humility and submission was Mary, the mother of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel came to her, she was 14 – eight years younger than I am right now. Luke tells us that Mary was “troubled” at the angel’s appearance and greeting; Gabriel exhorted her to not be afraid. When he told her of her calling – to bear the son of God! – her one question was an understandably logistical one (that she was sort of a virgin). The angel answered her question, finishing “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Mary then replied, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Wow. Wow.

Mary then visits her cousin Elizabeth (who is preggers with John the Baptist) and her song is just incredible.

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name. (Luke 1:46-49)

She is 14, engaged, pregnant with the son of God, and about to face ridicule, condemnation, and public gossip. (Remember that Joseph almost leaves her over this.) She is no fool – she is well aware of what happens to women in her situation, and yet her faith is absolute. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” – let that be an inspiration and exhortation to us today.

(I realize that it may sound as if I am implying that youth and inexperience are inherently limitations and weaknesses. Not so! We all are possessed of limitations and weaknesses that seem like mountains, but these are nothing for our God.)

How glorious it is, as a young person, to know our savior, redeemer, lover, friend. How wonderful is it to be pursuing His heart, His right thinking this early! To not waste decades and years on the pursuit of vanity – things that cannot possibly fill us. How awesome to be walking in His light, to be seeking Him, to be latching onto our callings at such a young age! Oh, my prayer, friends, is that we would all walk in our callings, for how beautiful will they unfold – like flowers opening under the sun – over the years and decades of our lives to come.

I would like to offer a snippet of a sermon from John Piper on this subject of youth and wisdom. He uses quotes from Ecclesiastes and Job that are just outstanding sources of encouragement on this topic.

To bring our minds into conformity with God. Job 32:8: “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” To walk in the Spirit, pursuing His calling on our lives in our youth, for indeed, we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

I really like the song “Song of Hope (Heaven Come Down)” by Robbie Seay Band. And there’s one line that gives me chills – it’s the first line of the chorus.

I will sing a song of hope, sing along

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

Just to know that you are near is enough

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

I will sing a song of hope. That is our calling – all of our calling – on this earth. Not literally singing, perhaps, but proclaiming the perfect Hope we have in our Creator.

Lord, I pray that I would have the courage to sing a song of hope, in whatever form you want me to sing, to whoever you want me to sing to. That I would not let my own fear get in the way. My own insecurities, my own anxieties about youth or inexperience or pride or whatever else I’m dealing with. Jesus, your strength is made perfect in my weakness. You are enough. All of you is enough for all of me. I pray for the strength to proclaim your word boldly, to love boldly, to sing boldly, to hope with a boldness and strength that can only come from you. Amen.

July 18, 2010

Desiring God/Desiring Publication

There’s a set of questions that have been tangled up in my mind lately, and they go something like this:

Is publication a godly goal? Is publication the eventual end game of all this writing? What happens if I don’t get published? Is it even okay to desire publication?

I’ve been reading Desiring God by John Piper, and I highly recommend it. He argues that the pursuit of pleasure is absolutely essential to the Christian life; that anything done without that joy is not edifying to others or glorifying to God, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (I am oversimplifying his thesis here, so bear with me). Over the last few days, the readings on love, joy, and giving have been blowing my mind, and today, I was struck by how applicable some of his discussions were to this issue of Calling.

One issue Piper deals with is the contention that pleasure and virtue are mutually exclusive – that as believers, we cannot (should not) seek pleasure or reward in our actions (he, of course, argues that we can and we should). To me, publication is one of many writing “rewards.” You see the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon connection game that my brain played in about five seconds?

Let’s take a few steps back and start small. Let’s forget publication for a few minutes and talk about the relationship between action and reward, and the supposed binary between virtuous acts/pleasurable acts. Can a virtuous act be pleasurable?

To expound on that question, should an act be virtuous in and of itself, without reward? I’ve never understood the phrase “writing for the sake of writing.” At its heart is a worldly wisdom which says that for an act to be virtuous, we shouldn’t seek a reward. If it comes, okay, but we should not expect one. To that assertion, everything in me says, what a load of bollocks! I don’t write simply to put words on a page anymore than a painter paints so that he can brush some red stuff against a canvas. I write so that people will read, and what’s more, I find writing to be an intrinsically enjoyable pursuit. Is it still virtuous?

In 1941, C.S. Lewis basically A-bombed the idea that pleasure and virtue are irreconcilable in Christianity. He preached, “I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires [our pleasures] not too strong, but too weak.”

John Piper further expurgates this notion of virtue/pleasure as a binary with his thesis that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Piper writes: “If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of other people, and if God loves such joyful givers, then this joy in giving is a Christian duty, and the effort not to pursue it is sin” (104, italics mine).

I write because I am pursuing joy, because it is the most powerful way in which I experience God. I hold no illusions about giving back to God; there’s nothing I can give that He hasn’t first given me. Thus, writing has to be a primarily hedonistic pursuit, even though others are reading my work. It would be wrong for me to write out of duty – to say I am writing for your edification and not my own, to abandon any pleasure in the act. Joy comes from above, and so if I am joyless, then my work is empty, and it is not going to edify you at all. Piper uses the analogy of marriage: how awful would it be for him to bring his wife roses on their anniversary if he were motivated by duty and not by love. And so it is with God: we are to worship because of an overflow of love rather than because it is our “duty.” Piper reminds us that yes, God loves a cheerful giver!

It is right – it is pure – to seek joy and pleasure in the act and to invite others to come and experience the joy as well. Thus, my joy is your joy, and your joy is my joy. There is a natural culmination, a natural reward of such overflowing abundance.

There are those who may say that it is wrong to desire public joy in the fruits of your labor, as it were. That it is unvirtuous or ungodly to expect reward in an act of love or calling. To them, Piper offers the words of C.S. Lewis, who writes:

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not…. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.

The proper consummation, or reward, of writing is readership. It is not wrong to desire to reach people, to hope that others are edified by your work, for their enjoyment and edification may be seen as the consummation of the act. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul exhorts believers to use their gifts for the edification of the church, of the body. Indeed, he places the public expression of gifts over private in terms of edification – that it is better to edify the body rather than yourself alone (for in edifying the body, you are edifying yourself).

Enter my desire for publication – and this is where things get tricky. The desire for publication, for readers, may well be satisfied by sending essays to friends in email form or by blogging – and I’ve done both. Given our discussion of joy and public edification, readership in any form may be interpreted as Lewis’ ‘consummation.’

And yet in me there is both a contentment and a discontentment. There is pleasure in what I have, but there is the intense desire to pursue more of that pleasure.

This is the relationship we are to have with God, yes? Piper talks about it; Lewis does, too. There is in the believer a beautiful tension – holy contentment and holy discontentment working in tandem to till the heart, to work the soil for the Maker’s glory. My utmost for His highest, as it were.

On a good day, this is where I am with God: basking in his love, yet desperate to learn more. This is also where I like to be in my relationship – content with my beloved, yet yearning for greater depth and intimacy with him. And so it is with my writing. I am content with what I do, but I desire greater skill, greater knowledge, and – frankly – greater impact.

So where is the line? Does “impact” mean more readers? I’ll be honest – I often think it does. Does “impact” mean getting paid for my writing? – again, I often think it does. And there’s the rub.

It strikes me that the idea of getting paid to do what you love is a worldly goal. This is not to say that it is never a spiritual outcome; there are plenty of doctors, craftsmen, and writers whose callings have become intertwined with financial security. Piper and Lewis, for example.

But there is a danger when we start seeing money/worldly success as the end game, when we perceive that if there is not that success, then we have not fulfilled or obeyed our calling, or – worse – that the calling is not important. Too often, I fall into the trap of thinking something like this: I’m not published, so my writing isn’t touching anyone.

Which is, of course, total crap. I’ve only to look at my own life for examples of the contrary. One friend is a marvelously gifted actress, and the fact that she isn’t on Broadway (yet) does not mean that her talent and joy are not being shared with her audiences. It does not mean that she’s not walking in her calling. It does not mean that God is not bringing fruit – quite the contrary.

When the endgame becomes worldly success – getting paid to do what you love, as it were – it dilutes the joy in the act. It dilutes my present contentment, and it confuses my definition of “more impact.” When concern for money or security creeps in, holy discontent becomes sin.

John Piper says, “The ‘eagerness’ of ministry should not come from the extrinsic reward of money, but from the intrinsic reward of seeing God’s grace flow through you to others’” (109).

Is that reward enough for you today? Is it enough for me? We must be careful, lest our desire for the gift eclipse our yearning for the Giver.

Paul said that we act for the joy set before us. Are we acting for that joy? Are we hoping for that joy? Are we expecting that joy? One of my girlfriends likes to say, “Expect good things.” And indeed, that is the promise that is made – not easy things, not secure things, but pure things, good gifts from our perfect Father. Joy. Love. Encouragement. Relationship. Mercy. Forgiveness. Hope. Purpose.

Those are reasons to praise.

Those are reasons to write.

May 21, 2010

“Traveling”

I’ve been traveling, I suppose. It’s something I had to do. What appears to be listless time sitting at the breakfast bar to my mother has been, at the core, a very important time in my life.

I’m in transition. In transition toward purpose. Toward something. I don’t know what. While my peers are still in class, I’ve had two blessed (and equally rocky) months at home, sprinkled with visits and conversation, but on the whole, a time of solitude and reflection. I’ve taken two months off from the “real world,” as it were; in spite of all the job applications, it’s been months of journeying into myself, wondering, questioning.

Characters in books do it all the time. Jessie, the protagonist of Susan Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair (which I’m currently reading), returns to Egret Island off the coast of South Carolina to care for her mentally ailing mother and ends up staying for an indefinite period of time. She rediscovers her love for art, takes a hiatus from her marriage, uncovers revelatory and shocking information about her father’s death, and has an affair with a monk who is months away from taking his final vows.

Notwithstanding the monk and marriage parts, I can relate to her hiatus. I’ve unearthed a deep love for reading and especially writing, a love buried under the dirt and grime of academia and banal to-do lists. I’ve rediscovered how much I love my boyfriend. How desperate I am to strike out on my life. Also, how bad I am at waiting on God. (Some days are better than others, and the last few days, I have been racked with an impatience that is sometimes angry, sometimes bitter, but never pleasant.)

“Traveling,” is what a character in The Mermaid Chair calls it. A spiritual journey into your soul, into yourself. Figuring myself out, though the last few months have posed more questions than answers. The only thing that has strengthened has been my relationship and reliance on God, in spite of the toddler in me that throws tantrums in the waiting room – he remains the constant that ties the threads of my life together. He’s the only thing that makes things make sense.

A part of me wants to apologize to the friends that are reading this blog – it may feel monotonous at times, the same concerns – the waiting, the job hunting, reflecting on the transient state of my life. But the truth is, even though this is public and numerous friends have been directed toward it … it’s for me. All my life, I’ve processed by writing. My prayers are almost always written; I get distracted by shiny objects and a need for coffee otherwise. And writing this blog has been an indescribably wonderful source of support over the last month. So really, I just want to say that I appreciate my friends’ dedication and patience, and that you are welcome to tune in whenever you like. And in the meantime, I’ll keep writing, reading, processing, praying.

“Patience is more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says–‘I cannot stand anymore.’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands. Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith.” – Oswald Chambers

“We work in our darkness a great deal with little real knowledge of what we are doing.” – John Steinbeck

May 14, 2010

On Waiting

Fact: since I got into college, I have not received or been accepted to any job/school/internship to which I applied. Before every summer, I would be filled with anxiety about where I’d find work, because I’d apply and apply and apply and nothing would come through. So the summer after my freshman year, I waitressed at Perkins, a job I got via my mom’s connections. The summer after my sophomore year, I interned at a regional non-profit in my hometown, also received because of my mom. Last summer, I was the lead teacher for the K-5 kids in a summer program at a local daycare, something I got via my boyfriend’s connections.

God always came through.

And then this year, it was across-the-board rejections at graduate programs. I’ve also been rejected from a fellowship and an internship, and there are several positions that I started to apply for but that were filled before I could finish the application. Right now, I’m waiting to hear from a place I interviewed with about 2 1/2 weeks ago, and I’m also waiting to see if the resumes I sent out to some contacts are going to turn up anything. I’ve submitted my resume online to several job openings; nada.

You know what? God’s still coming through.

I’ve been learning a lot about waiting this past year. I don’t know what exactly this post is shaping up to be, but I want to encourage you – in whatever you’re waiting for – to keep persevering. There’s this great quote from Oswald Chambers that says, “He works where He sends us to wait.” There is work being done in the waiting. We learn so much more through waiting than we do through immediate gratification: patience, trust, and maybe wisdom, too.

This has, thus far, been the least anxiety filled May that I’ve had in the last four years, even though by others’ standards, it should be the worst. I’m graduating in two weeks. I don’t have a job. I didn’t get into grad school. I have few job prospects. Networking has not turned up anything thus far. … and yet God is faithful. He is doing a good work. I can sense it. I trust it.

There’s a reason I am not going to grad school this fall, and I think it has to do with learning to trust God and the gift He’s given me: writing. I am officially taking a year off, and I am feeling called in a powerful way to begin to send out my writing. To keep producing work and to start sending it out. It took closing every door possible to get me to pay attention that voice, that still small voice that’s been nagging at me for years.

In the midst of resounding silence, I’ve found a calling.

But I’m also learning to trust. To not freak out. To know that my Abba will do things in his own way and time, and that I’d just better keep praying and waiting. My dismal record of job applications shows that I’m pretty bad at getting work on my own, and yet He has always brought the perfect thing at the perfect time that taught me just what I needed to be taught. And so I’m trusting that He will find a way to provide for me. A voice of worry says, “You need to start paying student loans back in November.” And I pray, Lord, please help me find a way to pay them back. Trust.

I have grown so much more over the last few months because I’ve been waiting – and I am so grateful. At times, the months were anxiety filled; at times, my head was (literally) in the toilet, my emotions exacting a heavy toll from my physical body. But worry accomplishes nothing. Anxiety and fear accomplish nothing. That voice that says, you could be doing more, you should be doing more, you can do it alone – lies.

Ultimately, my confidence cannot lie in my own abilities. Plenty of people do everything right and have nothing turn out. My professors and various others have expressed fury on my behalf that [fill in the blank] didn’t work out. And you all probably know people like that, or perhaps you’ve been in that position or are in that position.

The good news is, we can have total confidence in the promises of our Savior. That he who begins a good work will be faithful to complete it. That he is with us always. That he gives wisdom to those who ask. That he will grant prayers for patience (oh, will he grant them!).

I’m going through a book by Angela Thomas, and the section for today was entitled Pray & Stand. I started to cry when I read one of the verses; it very much articulates where I’m at, and it is an awesome encouragement.

Ephesians 6:13 – “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

He gives us the strength to stand in the face of adversity, of trial, of desert places, of pain, of brokenness … even better, he is there with us. We can trust that he has a plan and a purpose, that – as “Desert Song” says – “All of my life, in every season, you are still God, I have a reason to sing… I have a reason to worship.”

When I’m unemployed, I have a reason to worship God. When I’m worried about how I’m going to pay the bills, I can trust him. When I’m filled with fear and anxiety, I can invite him in and watch as his awesome love casts everything else out. I know in my heart of hearts that he fights for me, that he loves me, and that even in the waiting – especially in the waiting – he is shaping me into the woman he wants me to be.

Psalm 118:1, 5-9, 13-14 – “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever …. In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper … It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. …. I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

May 11, 2010

Trusting Your Gifts

Talents. Abilities. Instincts. Smarts. Whatever you call them, most everyone has some special talent (my favorite word for it). Whatever your gifting is, my question for you today is: are you walking in it? Are you doing it? Are you practicing? Are you finding a way to incorporate it into your daily life?

I believe that our gifts are given to us for a reason, but too many of us live in fear of them. Perhaps it’s a fear of failure, but perhaps it’s a fear of what will happen when you start walking in the gifting you’ve been given. Maybe you’re just afraid to hope that what you love to do is something that you could walk in every day or even – woah – get paid to do.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about jobs lately. The job hunt, the job market. Y’know – things that are pretty rough right now. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has at some point asked about the fallback, the safety job, survival. When I lead the conversation with the subject of My Writing, the person almost immediately clams up. Or they say “That’s nice. And if that doesn’t work out…?”

All this has me thinking that our culture doesn’t have its priorities straight. We value what pays rather than what edifies and, to be sure, things that are personally edifying won’t necessarily pay the bills. But I can’t help but think that our hope is drowning in our pragmatism. There’s this pervading, latent theme in conversation: it’s not that what we love can’t pay, just that it won’t pay. Too many people seem determined to pass that belief on to others. Don’t even think about pursuing something you love; it won’t pay and you’ll end up disappointed and embarassed, and then where will you be?

I am so sick of hearing that.

We learn early on to disregard our deepest desires, our giftings, our talents. When we’re little, it’s “what I want to do when I grow up!” Have you ever noticed how little kids always have an answer to that question, regardless of their level of talent/ability/opportunity in their chosen career field? But later on in life, we call the things we enjoy “hobbies.” We say “it’s called work for a reason.” And after college, we learn to look for what will pay rather than what we want. What we want might well pay – it’ll just take work and perhaps a thickness of skin that is too much to bear. (Or so we think.) And then we get lazy. We settle into that job or career or industry that wasn’t for us and still isn’t for us, but that pays the bills.

I am determined to not live in fear of my dreams. I am determined to not get lazy. But more than anything, I am determined in my belief that I was given my giftings for a reason … and why would I be given them if I wasn’t supposed to use them?

April 16, 2010

Living On Purpose

Filed under: Choices,Faith,Uncategorized — jeannablue @ 2:34 am
Tags: , ,

I recently met up with a friend who chose a very different route in life than I did. When we were 18 years old, I went off to college, eager for independence. She got married and prepared to start a family. Four years later, we found ourselves laughing in a coffeeshop. She congratulated me on the end of my college career while she rocked the baby, and I shared part of my doughnut with her two-year-old.

It’s interesting to stop and take stock of where life takes us. I’ve been listening to a relationship series by Pastor Danny Silk (hence the quote in the last post), and he talks about how couples should move with purpose, with vision – that the problem with so many couples is that they outlast their destiny.

This question of destiny applies to individuals as well as couples. Are we moving in a direction with a decided heart? Is there a purpose driving us through life? Or are we just hopping from lily pad to lily pad, following a traditional path – college –> job –> marriage –> kids –> … then what?

It reminds me of a description I once read in a book about hustling pool. The author, Jennifer Crusie, talked about how some players could see nothing more than the ball that was in front of them, whereas a strategic player would position themselves based on where they wanted to be. They played based on the unseen rather than the seen, their envisioned outcome rather than the current reality. It comes as no surprise that the players with long-range vision hustle those without vision.

I don’t want to go through life reacting to the ball that’s in front of me, focusing on the current play rather than the game. While it’s true that you can make a car trip with your lights guiding you five feet at a time, what is it that gives you the motivation to keep driving? The knowledge of a destination. That sense of purpose makes all the difference in the world.

Sometimes, what you envision doesn’t work out the way you planned. But the thing is that it’s just one play in the game that is your life. The play didn’t work out, but the game’s still yours. Right now, in that place of “now what?”, I’m discovering a freedom I never thought possible. I’m asking questions I never asked before, trusting that even when I think the car is stalled, something is happening.

My friend is driving on the road she’s chosen – her girls are growing up in front of her every single day. Interestingly enough, she says that she still occasionally wonders, “What if I’d done it differently? How would my life look?” Some people can get stuck in that spiral for years, but the question in itself isn’t harmful. In fact, it can be useful. My friend asks this question and ultimately feels content with her life, grateful for the decisions she’s made and how they’ve led her to her lifelong dream.

While I’m not a proponent of living in fear or anticipation of the future, I don’t think it hurts to take a moment, slow down, and think about how our current actions are affecting the game. Are we playing to win, or are we just biding time, hoping that it ends before we get too hurt?

Are we living on purpose?

My friend and I are about as different as they come in regards to temperament and life choices. We’d both be miserable doing what the other is doing. But we want to encourage the other as they pursue their purpose, as they live out their vision. We were uniquely created by our awesome Creator for a purpose, and we both know that His plans are too big to shoehorn into a traditional “life path.” He’s got some awesome roads for every single one of us. Me. Her. And you.

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