From the Basement

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.

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November 12, 2010

“Give Me Jesus”

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

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

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

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

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

October 31, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in closing, she writes:

He is worthy.

He is your comfort.

He is the God who sees.

He does not grow weary.

He is your sufficiency.

He is your Savior.

He is here.

He is your strength.

He is generous.

He is your King and Father.

He is your Redeemer.

He is your hope.

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

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Matthew 22:36-40: “ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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

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

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

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

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)

October 17, 2010

“You Are Here” (God is faithful)

God is good all the time.

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

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

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

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. “How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.

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

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

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

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

Mike noted how David brings three questions to God:

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

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

Ephesians 2:1-10:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart will sing
no other name
Jesus, Jesus

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

October 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).

October 14, 2010

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” & contemplating job offers

First, let me apologize… give a disclaimer… okay, my fiancé’s voice is going through my head: stop apologizing!

Okay, so I guess what I want to say is, thank you. Thank you for reading, my dear friends, and supporting me. This blog is not neatly edited like chapters from a book or even snippets from a professional blog. It’s composed of my thoughts, imperfect and human that they are, inevitably affected by my own perception, bias, worldview. That doesn’t make them any less honest or any less real, but it does mean that you’re pretty much reading whatever my fingers throw at my poor Mac, without the benefit of an editorial eye.

So, thank you again for reading and putting up with The Craziness that is this unedited material. It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s honest, and hopefully it makes you think about some area of your own life. Or, at the very least, laugh a little at mine. *smile

I feel a need to do a sort of Q&A with myself about this job (yep, we’re still talking about the job offer). Reason being, I want to challenge myself regarding underlying reasons why I may be disinclined to take the job. As you saw in the last post, there are plenty of (what I think are) viable reasons to say no, e.g. time, expectation, and budget, but let’s really dig in here.

First off is the question of laziness. This has been… I’d call it a struggle, except it really hasn’t been. Over the last few months, I’ve gained weight and been a slouch, falling out of workout habits, overeating, and otherwise exercising a decided lack of discipline in my life.

So, for example, part of my trepidation about the job is because I realized that a move and learning a new job where you’re expected to put in night and weekend hours is possibly going to take more time than I’m able to give. The thing is, that means that my grad school applications might not get finished – because they’ve really yet to be begun. I haven’t finished the books I’m using for the writing sample, let alone started it, and I’m still in brainstorming mode for my statements of purpose. (Just because I got my apps in under the wire last year doesn’t mean I want to do that this year, and anyway, look how that turned out.) So I’m feeling convicted about my laziness in grad school apps and how I’m studdenly feeling convicted re: my lack of good stewardship with time, and how does a desire to “make up” time affect my disinclination to take a job where I wouldn’t have that “make up” time? (Make sense? Probably not. That’s okay.)

Moving would be work. The job would be a lot of work, which would be okay but it’s not my priority right now (grad school apps are) – but then I look at my schedule and say, girl, you’re not disciplined enough to have finished those by now anyway!

Okay: must not beat self up. Must not beat self up.

Also, perhaps there is financial laziness. Really, I’d be working so that I could live independently (working to keep myself in shelter, food, and gas money – seriously), as there’s very little that I’d be able to save over those months. But I’d get the experience of budgeting, etc. Is it lazy to desire to stay here where, because of living at home, I would be able to save more and have to budget less? Is laziness a part of the motivating factor?

There has to be a change in my lifestyle for the better regardless of whether I take this job. I have, have, HAVE to crack down on grad school apps and, frankly, exercising. I’m getting married in 10 months and it’d be nice to have my fiancé actually see a good looking naked woman on our wedding night vs. a flabby one. Harsh? Yeah, and I guarantee he will kill me for writing that since he thinks I look beautiful anyway, but there’s the rub in itself – I need to start exercising more and changing my body for me and my own self-image, which is currently in the toilet.

I have slid into a crazy-undisciplined life, and that needs to stop, regardless.

To kind of explain all this random self-examination and weird emotion, let me tell you about the week so far. I gave this job over to God, expecting of course He’d not offer it to me (thereby preventing all this rumination), and I’d also previously said “God, please work our wedding budget out” because I was so exhausted over it. Turns out the wedding budget we’ve been working on with the most promising location is still double what we can afford. So last night was fraught with anger and tears and today has been crazy emotional, and right now God is reminding me that turning things over to Him actually means that they get turned over to Him, and that working things to the good doesn’t necessarily mean to my definition of good (who knew?). I knew this, you know, with grad school apps last year and unemployment, etc., but for some reason, I was thinking that job stuff and wedding stuff would just work out this month and that I’d have yet another happy reason to praise God, that He’d bring me through the trial of yet another job failure and the triumph of FINALLY having a wedding budget we can afford.

~repeats to self~ He’s still good. He’s still good. He’s still good. He still keeps His promises. He will provide. He knows what He’s doing. He’s allowing these things to happen.

My fears surrounding money are, honestly, the biggest things tainting my reactions to the job and to the wedding budget falling flat on its face. I cannot even begin to describe how much money is a motivating factor in almost everything I do and plan. I am worried about not having enough… constantly. Our wedding budget has been entirely based on fear of not being able to afford more. On the one hand, I am driven by a desire to be realistic and to be a wise steward of funds and not spend what I don’t have (and not take jobs that will not allow for wise financial decisions). But at the same time, I know that ultimately it is not dependent on me… it’s all on God. Our wedding budget, how we’ll pay for grad school apps, how our families will pay for a wedding… God’s gotta work this out, because you guys, I am so afraid and freaked out and flailing right now it’s not even funny. Classic first-born. Organized to a fault, needing to be in control, always concerned about where everything’s going to come from and how things will come together.

This is just me being honest. It’s raw and unedited and imperfect and is at best encouraging and at worst self-centered…

I am reminded right now of how entirely dependent I am on God. For everything. I freak out about money and I let worldly wisdom dictate my decisions and I just want him to work everything out for me so that I don’t have to work any of it out on my own. Times like these, I feel like the height of laziness, self-centeredness, and Laodicea-esque warmth. Like I’m saying “God I trust you!” but I’m feeling “Oh [insert expletive here].” Seriously, that’s just where it is right now.

I love how in Angela Thomas’ books, she relays her own experience but scripture and encouragement and lessons for others are always at the forefront of the chapters. Then I come and read my blog and feel like, wow, I am so not there yet – notice how many times the word “I” is used. ~cringe~ So often I am caught in the whirlwind of Me Me Me that I can’t even lift my head to look out at You and wonder what you’re going through. And I’m sorry for that. Something for the Lord to work in me in the coming years.

I’ve probably referenced this before, but one of my favorite verses in all scripture is “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That is so honest. It’s so true. So where I’m at. And I’m guessing you’ve been there, too – desperately wanting to cling to the promise of God and yet feeling so convicted in how very selfish, doubting, and human you can be, yet remembering that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

God, why can’t you make it easy? – and other concerns about job offers

I have a job offer for a full-time position in higher education. I had a campus interview earlier this week and got an offer today – so, quite the whirlwind.

Thing is, I don’t feel as if, in good conscience, I can take this job. I prayed and prayed and asked God, please make this easy. Please don’t let me get the offer. Because see, my head says, TAKE THE JOB. It’s full-time! Benefits! Moving away from Mom and Dad! Why on earth would you not take it? (There are actually a few valid reasons.)

I’m frustrated. I feel as if the job hunt has gone on too long for relocating to be, at this point, a financially viable decision. Also, the college is in a situation whereby they would really want me to be there for at least a few years (this is my impression, not their words). There are a few pertinent points here:

  1. I’m getting married early next August
  2. We’re (hopefully) heading to grad school immediately thereafter
  3. Even if we don’t get into grad school, chances of us relocating to a major metro area are very high

Right now, it’s the middle of October. Relocating several states away to a rural area, buying a car (something I can’t afford now, something my future husband and I won’t be able to afford in grad school – and for this position it’s necessary), and living on a salary that, while decent for entry level, leaves me with little disposable income to save for grad school applications, the wedding, and early married life… well, you see my point.

I’ve been seriously job-hunting since June, and finally I have an offer… and it’s not viable. It’s October, and two things have changed since June: I decided to reapply to grad school and, more importantly, I’m engaged, which means no matter what happens with the future, my fiancé and I will be relocating in approximately 10 months.

The bigger reason, of course, is that of feeling – and knowing – that they are expecting far more of a time commitment than I can give. The school is in a major overhaul re: administration, enrollment, etc. – they are in the early stages of rebuilding, really, so this is a position that’s in it for the long haul. And by the time I relocated, I’d only be there for 9 months… or, more specifically, 7, since it’s just good etiquette to leave the position by June so as to allow the college time to find you a replacement in time for the crazy travel season that comes in the fall.

Now, I did not know how dire the straits were at this school before the campus interview. So that was a very good thing, interviewing and learning how they are expecting a much more substantial time commitment than I am able to give. Hence why buying a car, relocating, and starting this position only to leave in just over half a year is not seeming like a good idea. But that doesn’t change the fact that the interview was a fantastic experience, and I’m glad I did it.

This situation has forced me to seriously look at pros/cons and realize – oh my goodness – that I would be okay living at home through May of next summer, at which point I would hopefully have a place in a summer teaching program for June/July.

I wish God made decisions like this easy. I wish they hadn’t offered me the job, because that would be the easy route, versus being forced to look at budgets, etc. As my mom said, “God’s making you use the brain He gave you.” As my dad would say, “Why the hell wouldn’t you take a job – any job – right now?” (They’re very different people.) But at this point, waitressing downtown would be a better fit for me, financially and otherwise. Not to mention the two second-semester-only teaching jobs I recently applied for at private schools in the area (which would be a brilliant fit for both my interests and personal timeline).

I’ve made up my mind in my heart, as it were, and my heart – oh you guys, it’s just not in it at all. But in a time of rampant unemployment, when so many college grads are barely making it in survival jobs… in such a time as this, when I have an actual full-time amazing entry-level job opportunity, it seems stupid not to take it.

But so too am I aware that this is one of those times when God says, “There are two doors – pick one. I’ll be with you either way. I will provide for you.” As my “big sister” says, if you are walking in His will, you are going to stay in His will no matter what door you go through. He is there, He is with you, He will not leave you, He will provide for you… but sometimes, you just need to decide what to do.

Freewill can be a real… you know what I’m sayin’.

I don’t presume that I can plan my life better than God can. I can’t. If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that my abilities/worldly opportunities/connections/networking, etc. – none of that counts for anything if God doesn’t allow it to happen. And now God is allowing me a choice of this job – a belated (in my view, though not His) answer to my frantic prayers from early summer “Please get me out of my mom’s/dad’s house!” I know His timing is perfect and that there’s a reason He’s allowed this offer to come before me at this moment.

I’m not saying anything about the job yet… not turning it down and not taking it… I want to pray, I want to wait on God some more in a less tantrum-like way, because right now the frustration is so intense and the desire for an easy road and the job I really want (teaching English at a local private school next semester as a leave replacement) is so strong… there’s so much cloudiness, so much pride, so much fear, so much worry about money and budgeting and being able to save. There’s the tension of the desire to be a wise steward of money and thoughtfully consider finances while still trusting God and knowing that His provision supercedes every human endeavor. The anonymous $100 bill tucked in an envelope for a specific need has happened to me (among many other wondrous things). He really is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. He has always provided in the past, He’s providing right now, and He will provide in the future.

Right now, I just need to make a decision and trust that He’s going to be there to catch me one way or the other.

“Wait on the Lord;

Be of good courage,

And he shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the Lord!” — Psalm 27:14

EDIT: On the “Recommended Reading” sidebar, there’s a blog called “Thoughts for Only You,” which is the writing haven of my big sister (in heart and spirit, if not in blood). A huge blessing of the interview this week was that I was able to tack on time with her at the end of the trip. Anyhow, yesterday she wrote about my favorite verse in Proverbs 31, which is verse 25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she laughs at the days to come.” Oh, what an encouragement – that a woman after God’s own heart can laugh at the days to come…

September 22, 2010

On (a lack of) Patience & Endurance

Today, I am faced with a question: to take a part-time job with no insurance or benefits, one that involves children (and thus a lengthy commitment I cannot in good conscience back out of)… or to refuse, and continue on in the job hunt uncertain and unknowing.

Today, my heart and my gut are at war. Today, I really despise the gift of freewill and am rather desperate for God to just shove me through a door. Today, I do not want to be the person clinging to the life raft in the ocean who turns down the boat and the plane’s offers for rescue while saying “God will save me!”, not realizing that God in fact sent the boat and the plane.

Today, my family and friends tell me, a job is a job, and you can always back out, even when there are kids. Today, I have been chided for not applying for enough jobs, cautioned against ignoring my gut, and greatly encouraged to pursue any kind of reasonable employment, including temping and administrative work.

Today, I find it hard to trust God, yet I know I must claim that promise, that all things work to the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose. Today, I ask him what I have not done, that I do not yet have work. Today, I remind God that I’m feeling pretty humbled, and is it necessary to keep me barely employed for the next year to remind me of that?

Today has been a big day.

I have sought advice from my parents, from my writer friends, and from my fiancé, and I am now turning to prayer and the word of God, feeling convicted – once more – that I saw fit to cry and fuss and solicit the advice of others before turning to scripture. I read the gracious reminders of Psalm 139 and, in my impatience, did not feel much grace, and I’m now turning to the book I’ve been reading, Future Grace by John Piper, which I recalled had a chapter entitled “Faith in Future Grace vs. Impatience.”

Piper says, “Patience is the capacity to ‘wait and to endure’ without murmuring and disillusionment – to wait in the unplanned place, and endure the unplanned pace” (172). My friends, if that’s patience, I have not been patient these months. I have kicked and screamed and fought and fussed and whined and complained and been self-centered and bitchy every gosh darn step of the way. I have not waited restfully – there have been moments of rest but they are ever punctuated by the squalid cry of “Why are you doing this to me?”, ever marked by a desperation for worldly provision rather than spiritual, ever torn by the seeming division of my head and my heart and my spirit.

To wait in the unplanned place – my parents’ respective homes, which cause no end of annoyance and grief, even amidst the joy and comfort. To endure the unplanned pace – to apply for dozens of jobs… to sit listlessly staring at a computer screen, endlessly perusing job listings… to ask God, are you there? Do you know I’m waiting? Do you know I’m lonely? Do you know I’m desperate to get out of my parents’ homes? Do you know… do you know…

I don’t think I’ve once asked God, what can I do for you? Not that there’s anything I can do that he needs, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the gesture.

Trust me, I have played out every possible scenario of why I’m still unemployed and living at home, from me needing to be with my parents right now to God wanting to humble me (done) to God just being vindictive… which is not, of course, biblical.

Days like today, I am confronted with the immensity of my own weakness. My infallibility, pride, self-centeredness, ego, need for human approval, desire for attention, disbelief in God’s promise to provide, that very dangerous root of unbelief… if patience is evidence of inner strength, then my impatience is evidence of great weakness.

Luckily, I worship a God who says his power is made perfect in my weakness. I cannot comprehend how that is possible, but he says it is.

If I had a job interview for every tear I’ve shed these last months, I’d have been employed yesterday. At every turn, I question what I’ve done wrong, and then I’m reminded, it’s not about me. It’s about him, and about his kingdom, and if that means taking a nanny job, so be it – though that’s the last thing I want to do, trust me.

I am just feeling very lost and very unsure right now. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also don’t want to disappoint a family or children when another job (hopefully) comes along.

There are no easy answers. Right now, I’m reminded of something my future father-in-law told me a few months back – sometimes God just wants you to make a decision, and where you go, there He will be also, and He will bless that.

Or as Francesca Battistelli wrote, “I wish I could know what you’ve got in store for me/I try and try to read your mind/But I forget that patience is a virtue/You’re teaching me to hold on tight/And I don’t know how the story ends/But I’ll be all right cause you wrote it/I don’t know where the highway bends, but I’m doing just fine/Cause you’re in control even when I don’t know where my life’s gonna go/You’re keeping me guessing.”

August 12, 2010

Trusting God vs. Trusting Numbers

I want to let numbers determine my success, because numbers are easy things to measure.

It’s easy to feel like a failure when I have written approximately 0 words in a day. It’s easy to feel like a failure when I get on the scale and see that I’ve gained weight (when I can also say that I have worked out for approximately 0 minutes in a day). It’s incredibly easy to feel like a failure when I look at my grad school record – 11 rejections, 1 offer for an unfunded MA. Ouch.

On mornings like this, I whine and bitch and moan and want to throw up with the anxiety. I ask God, what is the point of taking a month off from job hunting to write if I have written very little? What about all those missed job opportunities?

It’s easy to get distracted by other things – good things, but other things which take away from our time with God and (feeling convicted here) from the things He has called us to do. It’s easy to forget that, like Angela Thomas said, God doesn’t make us superwoman; He makes us more dependent. And the thing is, He promises to make us more dependent. Isaiah 41:10 says,

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

When we are afraid and feeling weak, God’s response is that He will help us, that He will strengthen us. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you.”

This morning, I’m in need of His comfort and strength. I have asked Him for strength and self-discipline, but I’m still learning about what to do with what we receive… how to focus on Him, focus on the task at hand. I’m in a lazy slump and am in desperate need of a push to get out of it (the image of Jesus lifting me out of a pit while my feet are on his shoulders and him pushing my butt to get me over the freaking edge is rather funny).

Mornings like this, I read Isaiah 41:10 over and over and over, and I listen to songs like the one below, desperately reaching up for my Abba to take me in his lap once again, to take me back after my own failure, to comfort me and coax me back onto my feet again.

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