From the Basement

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):

November 17, 2010

Little Drummer Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will bless the LORD at all times;

His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;

The humble shall hear of it and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the LORD, and He heard me,

And delivered me from all my fears.

They looked to Him and were radiant,

And their faces were not ashamed.

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

And saved him out of all his troubles.

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

And delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;

Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!

There is no want to those who fear Him.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger;

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

November 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).

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.

August 3, 2010

On Faith, Daughtership, and not being Superwoman

The one writer I follow on facebook is Angela Thomas. She posts words of encouragement regularly, and I take heart in her exhortations. I want to share something she posted the other day:

“I asked God to make me superwoman. He is choosing to make me more dependent.”

Amen, sister.

Lately, the writing has been very difficult – I’m still relying on my own strength. I’ve been doing a poor job of dedicating this time to God and praying through writing, and so my weakness is becoming ever-apparent and ever-crippling. A lack of focus has pervaded these last days – to quote David Mamet, “I have contracted to write a book about Vermont, and so find myself obsessed with Indiana.”

But – His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and He brings us to our knees to raise us up in Him. John 3:30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I was reading in Hebrews this morning and found encouragement in such verses as, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23) and “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance…” (10:35-36a).

The author of Hebrews exhorts us in our faith, stating: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:1,6). And we are reminded that the reward – hope in Jesus Christ, the fruits of the spirit, everlasting grace, eternal life with our Abba Father – is so much greater than the things of this earth. “By faith Moses…. [esteemed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (11:24,26).

In chapter 12 comes the great exhortation of Hebrews, the “race of faith”: “Therefore… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-2).

And chapter 13, the last chapter of Hebrews, opens with what was my initial prayer for this month: “Let your conduct be without covetousness: be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (13:5-6).

To quote a popular worship song, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain – He washed it white as snow.” What can man do to me, indeed? We have nothing to lose by casting our anxieties, fears, worries, and even our talents on the cross. “Oh, praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!”

We decrease so that He may increase. We are not superwomen – we are women stripped bare of every care and concern, humbly clinging to our Abba. We crawl up in His lap and say, I can’t do this alone.

He desires to bring us to that place. And I can’t say it eloquently like John; all I know is that in our weakness and brokenness and utter failure, there is redemption. Because He delights to show us mercy and grace, to give us strength where we knew we had none of our own. It’s for His glory. And it is His pleasure to love us like that.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together – Romans 8:15-17

July 25, 2010

Fighting for Faith

Over the last few weeks, I have been digging into the word, reading wonderful literature (John Piper, C.S. Lewis), and writing (and not writing) the novel. But while the weeks have been full of learning, growth, and challenge, so too have they been full of doubts. The fight for faith, the fight for joy, seems to get harder every day, and some days are better than others. No one can take my joy – this I know. Thing is, sometimes it feels as if I am standing in the way of my own joy.

I’ve been writing and praying a lot, and there several topics that are vying for more detailed attention. These include what I’ve dubbed “Lies I Believe”: that I am too young and inexperienced to be used by God, that my fear stands in the way of being used by God, that I must fully let go to be used by God – all of which culminate in feeling separated from God when I know I am not. (See a pattern?) I’ve also just finished the book of Ecclesiastes – I zipped through it in two days and wow, is it rife with rich material. I would like to write about it, though some themes tie in with youth/inexperience. And the last category is more fully addressing how some notions of “Biblical” femininity are culturally informed (e.g., women shouldn’t work outside the home).

Because I’m digesting a lot right now, including this morning’s wonderful sermon, I’m not really in a place to offer cohesive or cogent thoughts. Rather, I’d like to offer a few quotes and verses. It’s funny: fear and pride have been my daily companions, yet I forget that I’ve posted encouragements for myself in places I visit every day. Namely, the computer desktop and Facebook. So those are the encouragements I’m going to share.

Posted in my “Religious Views” is a quote from John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. Towards the end of his life, Newton wrote:

“I remember two things – that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior.”

And in favorite quotes, Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

On the desktop is a verse from my favorite hymn, Be Thou My Vision.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise.

Thou my inheritance, now and always.

Thou and thou only, first in my heart.

High king of heaven, my treasure thou art.

And because the last verse is so beautiful —

High king of heaven, my victory won!

May I reach heaven’s joys, oh bright heaven’s son.

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall –

Still be my vision, oh Ruler of all.

July 22, 2010

How God used Hilary Duff & the Rascal Flatts to get my attention (again)

Tonight, I was going through CD’s from high school. In between the incredulity (all the rap!) and laughter (Girl All The Bad Guys Want, anyone?), I found inspiration and hope in the last CD I put in… God’s timing, man, God’s timing.

The only quote that seems appropriate to introduce these songs (which are few among many of their kind in my musical history) is something President Lincoln said – “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

“On the Way Down” – Ryan Cabrera

Sick and tired of this world; there’s no more air, trippin’ over myself goin’ nowhere – waiting, suffocating, no direction and I took a dive and –

On the way down, I saw you and you saved me from myself. And I won’t forget the way you loved me. On the way down, I almost fell right through, but I held onto you….

I was so afraid of going under, but now the weight of the world feels like nothing, no, nothing…. And I won’t forget the way you loved me…. All that I wanted, all that I needed…

“So Yesterday” – Hilary Duff (yes, Hilary Duff). The song is about a breakup, but the chorus is so full of hope and release – being able to let it go.

Cause if it’s over, let it go and come tomorrow it will seem so yesterday, so yesterday – I’m just a bird that’s already flown away. Laugh it off, and let it go, and when you wake up it will seem so yesterday, so yesterday – haven’t you heard that I’m gonna be okay?

“Feels Like Today” – Rascal Flatts. This bit is from the first verse:

But I know something is coming. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s amazing, you save me. My time is coming, and I’ll find my way out of this longest drought…

And hearing that song inspired me to go listen to my favorite Rascal Flatts tune, their cover of “Bless the Broken Road.” Rascal Flatts is a country band that has owned the faith-filled messages in their music. Even though Selah released a “Christian” version of the song that substitutes the word “savior” for “lover” at the end, I prefer lover. For Jesus is the lover of our souls, and his passion for us is overwhelming.

This is one of the most beautiful, humbling praises I’ve ever heard… even if you don’t like country, I exhort you to listen.

We worship a faithful God. In our darkest hours and our loneliest times, in the light of day and in the dead of night, he is there. We can just roll on home into our Lover’s arms – thank you Jesus for the mercy and intimacy, for how you are a refuge for my soul. When this world feels chaotic and hectic and frenzied, you are there in the midst of it. You are for us, therefore no one can be against us. And nothing – not the powers of this earth, not the government, not a difficult economy or crazy job market or concern over using the right words, not fear or pride – nothing can separate us from you and your will for our loves, from the awesome, terrible, awe-inspiring love you hold for us. Nothing can separate us from your love. Nothing can divide us from your purpose. We are in your light, and there cannot be dark where there is light. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

May 12, 2010

Clarity vs. Trust

During my reading this morning, I came across a beautiful story told by the author of Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning. He recounted his experience meeting Mother Teresa. When she asked how she could pray for him, he requested a prayer for clarity. But, to his surprise, she refused. When asked to elaborate, she said (and I’m paraphrasing) that clarity and trust were incompatible – that a prayer for clarity belies fear and a spirit that does not trust God.

We are called to trust what we cannot see, to trust the promises of God, and more often than not, a prayer for clarity is a prayer for clear direction – so that we can walk toward the visible rather than walking by faith. I am certainly guilty of this. While I think that praying for clarity (e.g. that we would sense His hand in a situation) is not in itself a bad thing, my prayers for clarity are so often out of fear of the future … mistrust. I know that I’ve abided in that very human, very dark spirit of fear and anxiety rather than abiding and trusting in my Maker.

I know I posted a portion of Romans 8 a few days ago, and I think these verses were in that post, but I just want to affirm the awesome power and hope that is in these verses:

“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. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He alos justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:28-31

Be blessed today.

May 5, 2010

An Encouragement from Romans 8

I’m heading back to Tiny Rural College Town today and am drinking copious amounts of coffee in eager anticipation. Jenelle and I will be on the road here shortly, and I want to get a post in, and what better way to start the day than by reading scripture? This is from Romans 8, one of my favorite chapters in the Bible (bar none). I discover new meaning in this passage every time I read it. Right now, I’m applying for one job, waiting to hear from another, preparing for a mock interview tomorrow and then a big interview next week, getting ready to see friends … and the list goes on. In all of it, Jesus is there, holding me in the center, in the eye of the storm, saying “I’ve got you. I’ve got you. … I love you.”

Romans 8:28-39

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

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