From the Basement

July 30, 2010

To Eschew:

Filed under: Choices,Faith,Fiction,Writing — jeannablue @ 4:06 am
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Deliberately avoid using; abstain from

“Eschew” is one of my favorite words. And right now, it could be used in the context of:

I am eschewing the job hunt for the next month in order to work on my novel – and to learn to trust God’s provision.

These last weeks have brought a lot of despondency and spiritual revelation, and I’m in a place – God, please help me – where I can honestly say that finishing the novel isn’t so much about selling it to a publisher as it is about learning to rely on my Savior for my daily bread. I cannot look to a job as my source of security, nor can I look to writing as my ticket out. My prayer this month is for a change in perspective — to develop a trust in God that resonates in the depths of my soul. I so identify with the cry of the father in Mark 9: “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Hebrews 13:5-6 is my prayer for this next month:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

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July 20, 2010

Curls, Control, & Contentment: An Essay on Faith

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 3, 2010

Floating in Water/Trusting God

Filed under: Faith,Love — jeannablue @ 4:37 pm
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It seems like everyone has a part of nature that they connect to in a special way, be it the sky, the mountains, rolling green hills, or prairies full of wildflowers. For me, it’s water, especially lakes and seas. Looking out at a body of water just floors me – the crashing waves and still waters, the whitecaps and colorless blue, the power and unpredictability. Something about it is just glorious, and I can’t help but praise in the face of such awesome creation.

All parts of nature glorify God, and I think that oftentimes, they reflect an aspect of God (as if being beautiful wasn’t enough!). One thing I love about water is its buoyancy – if you trust it, the water holds you up and moves you. Floating is so much easier than treading water, but floating requires trust. You have to trust the breath in your belly, trust that a big wave isn’t gonna come down on you (or that if it does, you’ll come right back up). You can’t always see where you’re going – scratch that. You rarely see where you’re going, but you’re present and focused on the act of floating, and that is enough. The water carries you. All you do is breathe – keep that belly full. Keep that trust.

On the other hand, treading is exhausting. You see where you are, you see how far you have to go, and it can be downright terrifying. And you get tired real fast. And for me, it’s a lot harder to swim after treading than it is after floating.

It’s an imperfect analogy, yeah? But the point is there. Water – and the human body in water – is such a beautiful metaphor of the love and buoyancy of God. He holds us up, but we have to trust him. He’ll do all the work – if we let him.

Trust, breathe, focus on floating, focus on Him… he’ll get us to where we’re going… in his own time… in his own way.

July 1, 2010

“So… God wants me to be unemployed?”: On Trust, Belief, and Trust

Trust Him. Praise Him.

Those are the encouraging or, alternately,  infuriating, soul-wrenching answers I get when I ask God about his plans for my employment (I hope it’s not too much to assume that I’ll find work?). I have been home since March and graduated since May. It is almost the 1st of July, and I’m still in my mom’s basement. I think many recent grads are in the same boat.

In honor of the classic song “Count Your Blessings,” I’ll count my blessings first. My parents live less than an hour apart and both have opened their homes to me for as long as I need it. I live rent free and occasionally chip in for coffee or pizza with my graduation money. I have no expenses, notwithstanding the Student Loans of Doom that are looming over the horizon.

In short, I’m blessed. I originally wrote “save the whole unemployment bit,” but even with that, I’m still blessed.

And yet, over the last few months, I’ve gone through days where I did not seek him, whether out of spite or laziness it’s hard to say. And then, on the flip side, there are the days that are glorious and praise-full and awesomely productive. And then there are the screaming days. Today was a combination of awesome + screaming.

On days like these, when I go out on my porch and sob and cry and throw a temper tantrum that could rival a two-year-old, I forget that I’ve learned a lot. On days like these, I forget that all things work to the good of those who love him, mostly because I’m too busy thinking that God is planning to use my life as the sequel to Job.

(On days like these, I really hope that Job was a one-time thing and that God’s not planning to do that again.)

In the aftermath of the tears, several truths become apparent. Things I’ve learned over the last few months.

  1. I could do everything right by human standards and still not get hired if it’s not God’s will.
  2. I could do everything wrong by human standards and get hired if God wants me to work there.
  3. God may be keeping me from employment to let me focus on other things.
  4. His name is still Faithful and True.
  5. He is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.
  6. He is using this time to make me into the woman he wants me to be.

As my mom reminded me today, he sees how these months fit into the span of my life. He knows what I’ll be doing a year from now. He knows the names of my children. He knows the plans he has for me. I see what’s on the screen. He’s already directed the whole picture.

I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. In verse 25, it says, she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. A righteous woman who seeks the Lord’s own heart – she laughs at the days to come. Others flee and cower, but she stands strong. Sans peur. No fear. After all, why should she fear? She knows that her God loves her, protects her, is for her, is not against her. She knows that there is nothing on this earth that can separate her from the extravagant, earth-shattering love of God.

God’s love is shattering. It’s such a revelation every time, and I so often feel shattered when faced with it. So painfully, acutely aware of the reasons I don’t deserve it. So ready with excuses of my humanity, of my proud refusal to believe that he means what he says. And yet he comes and scoops me up and holds me against his chest and murmurs in my ear that he loves me, and that he is enough – he is always enough.

I’ll be gone for the next two weeks visiting family and friends, and this evening, I was freaking out to my mom about how I don’t know what I’ll do about job searching for the next two weeks. Unreliable internet, etc. And she looked at me and said, take the time off! Enjoy the time away! I asked, what happens if the perfect job comes up and I don’t see it? And she looked at me, so loving, and asked if I really thought that God didn’t already have everything planned out and did I think I’d be going away for two weeks if he didn’t have everything under control?

And then I did that whole crying/wallowing thing.

And then something wonderful happened. God picked me up, put lyrics in my head that wouldn’t go away, and gave me the title to my next blog post. He uses writing to take me outside myself, to give perspective, to show his love – his shattering, wonderful love that has given me the gift of a two-week hiatus and more opportunities to lean on him and not on my own understanding.

To remind me that unemployment does not define me. That his plans are so much bigger.

Like sunlight burning at midnight

Making my life something so

Beautiful, beautiful

Mercy reaching to save me

All that I need

You are so

Beautiful, beautiful

– Francesca Battistelli, “Beautiful, Beautiful”

Link to video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbCfyZHSQbE

June 28, 2010

On Love & Experience

Tonight, I want to talk about love and experience within the context of romantic, Christ-centered relationships. This isn’t an overly comprehensive essay – just some of my thoughts on the matter.

I’ve been in a relationship for over a year and a half now, and it’s serious. We’re also in a period of long distance, and I know that I’m more prone to doubts and fears when I’m away from him. Something I’ve struggled with over the last few months is owning the fact that in times like these, I am barraged with lies. Self-doubts fester in me, infectious, and they creep into old wounds and plop themselves down and act like they are exclusively My Issues and not lies that I can rebuke.

One such lie is the lie that I don’t have enough life experience, that maybe I’m being over zealous. It is, after all, the first rock-solid, healthy, long-term relationship I’ve had (note the emphasis on healthy). So – why not wait a little while? Break up for a little while? See where life takes both of us? Who knows, maybe we’ll find other people.

Notwithstanding the fact that this thinking makes me sick to my stomach (the first sign that it’s not an expression of me), there are other reasons that it’s a lie and clearly not of God.

I’m going to step out on a limb here. My hypothesis is that experience is (or can be) the antithesis of trust. For the purposes of this post, I’ll venture to say that experience in relationships does not necessarily teach us how to love or, indeed, the very nature of love.

When we speak of being experienced, it seems – most often – to refer to sexual experience. That’s not the focus of this post, but I do want to briefly address it. I think that the following excerpt says it best. Josh Harris, author of the controversial I Kissed Dating Goodbye (I still don’t know how I feel about that book), was interviewed a few years ago on secular radio, where he was grilled on his virginity and lack of experience. But his response to this particular question left his interviewer speechless.

Taylor: So what’s going to happen when, let’s say you get married and you get to the honeymoon suite and she’s lousy in bed?

Josh: Well, I won’t have anything to compare it to.

A Christian man or woman’s sexual experience or lack thereof is a different post – but I did want to throw that in there to emphasize the point that experience does not necessarily correlate with: better sex, better relationship, better intimacy.

If anything, experience erodes our ability and/or willingness to let God into the picture. Personally, this happens with writing all the time. I’m only recently learning to pray about my writing; I’ve been doing it for so long that it feels like second nature. I’ve read dozens of writing books, written hundreds of thousands of words in my lifetime… and am only beginning to learn to include God in my process. “But I know what I’m doing,” I say. “But I know what I want to write about,” I say. “But I know my process! I know what I need,” I say. He pretty much just laughs and shows me how to do it better. Everything I thought I knew about writing is being tossed out the window. Okay, maybe not everything. I still abide by the As Few Adverbs As Possible rule.

Experience (oftentimes) begets pride. In parenting. Loving. Careers. Even ministry. “The way we worship has been working for years. Why fix what ain’t broke?” And that’s only one example.

When we have experience in relationships, we can convince ourselves that we know how to love when in fact it is Christ in us who teaches us how to love. It’s about remaining tender to his heart and to his leading. It’s about learning how to live out 1st Corinthians 13. It’s about choice.

This is such a radical concept in my life right now. God has been teaching me so much about choice over the last year – choice in worship. Choice in quiet time. Choice in writing. Choice in loving.

The qualities of love – which are, at their core, the qualities of God, who is love – are not based on “a fancy or a feeling,” to quote Jane Austen. They are not organized like “If you’ve loved one person, go to step A. If you’ve been in several relationships, skip to step C!” Rather, we are called to love others simply as Christ loved us. These are the qualities we are called to cultivate in our relationships:

  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Does not envy
  • Does not boast
  • Is not proud
  • Is not rude
  • Is not self-seeking
  • Is not easily angered
  • Keeps no record of wrongs
  • Does not delight in evil
  • Rejoices in the truth
  • Always protects
  • Always trusts
  • Always hopes
  • Always perseveres
  • Never fails

There is not a qualifier on these qualities, e.g. “be patient IF you feel like loving them.” No – I am called to practice these characteristics on the days when my mother is driving me up the wall. When my sister ignores me and stays in her room. When I don’t feel like loving my boyfriend. When the excitement isn’t bouncing off the walls.

These are characteristics that grow as we grow in our relationship with Christ and, yes, as we practice them over time. I’m not denying the value of experience – just suggesting that we not take it as the ultimate litmus test.

Ultimately, your ability to love is not based on the amount of relationship experience you have; it is a direct correlation of your relationship with Christ – how you understand and receive his love, and how you apply it to your relationships. Similarly, the depth of your commitment is not measured by the number of partners you have (that is to say, the number of people you’ve ruled out) but rather by your mutual commitment to Christ and to the qualities of love that you are cultivating in your relationship.

Relationships are like gardens; they need to be tended, watered, weeded, and sometimes just enjoyed, basked in. We garden because we love to look upon beautiful things, or because we love to reap the fruits of our labor and enjoy fresh produce on the table. I don’t want to take the food metaphor too far, but it is similar with relationships: we are designed to desire love, to want to bask in it. To quote the film Moulin Rouge, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

And, I would note, your experience with gardening is most often grown when you tend the same garden year in, year out, learning the nature of the soil, how much water to use, the way the light and shade fall at different types of day, the animals to ward against, the flowers that look best together. It is not much use if you begin a garden only to abandon it half-way through; you learn how to begin a garden, but you don’t learn how to tend it, nurture it, preserve it, keep it.

We’ve all had different experiences in life and in love. I have friends who have fluttered around like butterflies from flower to flower, enjoying the process and maintaining their integrity. I’ve had girlfriends who married the only man they seriously dated, and their marriages are things of beauty. And I have friends who have been in serious, long-term relationships only to have the relationship end after several years; I have marveled at how they still found joy and truth in the process.

A friend recently came to me seeking advice for maintaining a long distance relationship. The only advice I could give was, keep seeking after the Lord. If you are seeking after the Lord and your partner is seeking after Him, truly and honestly, with all your being, in prayer or reading or however you connect – if you both are seeking, then you both are finding, and you both are growing. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Quick memo: not all Christian relationships end in marriage (thank goodness), and I’m a firm believer in not putting that pressure on people … so that’s another post that’s currently brewing.

In the end, our God is too great to be boxed into patterns. One size does not fit all. This morning in church, Pastor Mike joked that there’s a reason we’re not given a formula for salvation, or else the church would find all sorts of ways to constrict people. The same applies to love. There’s not a formula for relationships given in the Bible – we’re simply told that love is the highest commandment, to first love God and then to love each other. We are given the qualities of love. But we are not told how to apply them, or an ideal number of relationships pre-marriage. Thank you Lord for that freedom! For the mercy! For the fluidity, the flexibility, the awesome adaptability and creativity that Jesus uses to bring people together, friends and spouses, parents and children, co-workers, colleagues, peers.

We truly serve an awesome God who loves us and who seeks to give us good gifts. My prayer is that I can trust him enough to accept this awesome gift of relationship that he’s given me. To trust him, to trust my boyfriend, to trust myself.

1st Corinthians 13:13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

June 18, 2010

Trust Your Characters

It’s a slow process, learning about characters. Sort of like making a new friend – it’s gradual. You can’t force it. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t force the characters. Force the characters and you risk killing the story. Ah hell, you kill the story.

It’s the same way with deciding which music will keep me going through the story. I write in silence but I listen to music to feed my muse, to put me in the mood, in that place that takes me there. Tonight, there were three songs that came to me for this story’s soundtrack: Beth (originally by Kiss, but I listen to the Glee version), Summer in the City (Regina Spektor), and Red Dirt Girl (Emmylou Harris). Summer in the City is for the piano; when I heard that song (God bless the random option on iTunes), I realized that my main character plays piano. Red Dirt Girl is for her mother. And Beth, I have no idea. Maybe the dad, who isn’t really in the story. Or maybe I just really like the texture of the song.

I cleaned my desk today. Clutter prevents creativeness. So I cleaned my desk, mostly. And I unwrapped a “note block” and started ripping off the small white notes (like Post-Its only without the sticky), and writing things I knew about my protagonist, and taping them onto my wall. I have 12 notes for her. Some are character traits, like that she’s impatient and restless. One is her favorite color (usually not something I think about, so that was weird, but it’s ice blue, in case you’re wondering). Some things come randomly, like the knowledge that she plays piano and her dad is the one who taught her. I know that she orders a Caesar salad with every meal and that she retreats into herself when asked about things she doesn’t want to talk about.

I also know that I have no idea what’s driving the internal conflict. Well, I know that it’s a conflict with her mother. Something happened three years prior to the story (that it was three years ago just got dropped into my lap), and I don’t know what. It’s big. But I don’t know. And I try to stop myself from filling in the gap: was it an abortion or a huge fight or manipulation or knowledge of her father or …? It does no good to fill it in. It’ll fill itself in.

When it comes to writing characters, I’m a firm believer that they should let themselves be discovered. I used to be the 20-step writer – you know, fill in 20 character traits, describe their physicality, decide on a personality, go from there. Now I’m more inclined to the Stephen King method (which actually applies to uncovering story, but I apply it to characters): they are bones that we as writers dig up. They’re already there. We just have to sense them, find them, excavate them carefully, removing one bit of dirt at a time until we get a clearer picture. It takes time, energy, devotion. The story is there. The characters are there. And if you trust yourself to find them, if you trust yourself enough to keep moving the pen, eventually the story and characters will start moving so fast you’ll struggle to keep up. Eventually, the story writes itself and the characters do their own thing.

That’s the point I’m excited to get to. I’m not there yet. I’m only three thousand words in right now. It’ll take a while longer before a picture starts to emerge. But it’s already changed from what I thought it was, and that’s a good thing.

Trust the process. And, to offer one of my favorite quotes on writing, never hope more than you work.

P.S. The reason for the hiatus was an excursion out west to attend the wedding of a dear friend. And then I was tired and took a break from blog writing. And now I’m back, working on a novel, still applying for jobs, and hopefully continuing to blog through the whole process.

May 25, 2010

Choosing Faith

Over the last few days, I’ve asked God, “What do you want from me?” (you know, sort of like the Adam Lambert song). The response every time has been, Faith.

When I was dipping my feet in the pool of abjection, faith seemed like a ludicrous and trite answer to such an enormous question. But really, in reflection, it’s the only answer that makes sense. It’s the only answer that can give hope.

I worship a God who does not deal in specifics when it comes to answering my prayers. That is, I never get a direct telephone line, “Just wanted to let you know that x, y, and z will be happening today. In case you’re wondering, spend the most time on x!” I trust that, even though I can’t see what’s coming, he knows the specifics; “For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). And from the same Psalm:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me,

You know my sitting down and my rising up;

You understand my thought afar off.

You comprehend my path and my lying down,

And are acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word on my tongue,

But behold, O Lord, You now it altogether.

You have hedged me behind and before,

And laid your hand upon me. Psalm 139:1-5, italics mine

My favorite Psalm. Verse five is my favorite: “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” A hedge is a form of protection. “Behind and before” implies both foresight and hindsight; he knows the scope and span of a life, of my life, of your life. He knows us intimately, sees the darkness, and protects us anyway.

It’s funny how in the mist of despair, in the midst of temper tantrums, in the midst of anger toward God, we can lose sight of his goodness and faithfulness to us. In my experience, anger and sadness are pretty much inevitable in any relationship, and since we’re human, it stands to reason that at some point, we will be angry or sad with something we perceive God has done/is doing. The danger is that when we lose sight of his goodness, of his glory, we cannot see the light, and if we cannot see the light, then we are in darkness.

I’ve been angry with God and still praised him (“Blessed Be Your Name” is a good song for those times). But this last week was a time when I felt angry, betrayed, rejected, a good for nothing … and there was no light. There was no glory. There was no praise.

A conversation with my mother reminded me that the quickest way out of darkness is praise, because darkness cannot remain in a room where the name of Jesus is being lifted high. She also exhorted me with that verse about the mustard seed and the mountain (Matthew 17:20) and challenged me: can you summon the faith of a mustard seed? Because even a small faith can move mountains in your situation.

In the gospels, we have numerous examples of situations where, by faith, people were healed and – this is crucial – the nature of Jesus was understood. By having faith in who he was and by acting in that knowledge, people were healed. The woman who bled for twelve years and reached out to touch the hem of his garment. The Roman centurion. And various others. They reached out to Jesus, having faith that he was the only one who could bring light and healing into their situation. They opened the door and invited his presence in.

Conversely, fear (among many other things) can cripple the power of an action taken in faith. When Jesus called to Peter to walk across the water to come to him, Peter was afraid and, taking steps in fear, began to sink. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 15:31). Peter doubted, so he sank, thus preventing the awesome experience that Jesus had called him to. But – and remember this! – immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him. Immediately, Peter was caught by his loving Lord. Immediately, Jesus acted and came to the rescue, catching his friend and pulling him back into the boat to recover. Immediately. Even when we doubt him, even when we’re fearful, even when we don’t believe him, Jesus catches us.

He knows us intimately. His love for us is vast and unfathomable. Even in our failure, he catches us, hedges us – protects us.

And still, faith is a choice. The fact that we choose to believe him or not – the fact that he gives us the option – continues to astound me. Even after salvation, everything is a choice. Prayer. Worship. Digging deeper. Having faith that he will come through in a difficult situation. Having faith that he will heal what has been broken. Having faith for x, y, or z. Opening your bible to read. Choice. At every step, we have the option of choosing him or not choosing him.

When we continuously choose to walk in light, the fruits of the spirit (Galations 5:22-23) are evidenced. While I often remember that patience, gentleness, and self-control are fruits of the spirit (a.k.a., things I have trouble with!), I so often forget that faithfulness is also a fruit. Faithfulness is one of those things that grows every time you choose it. It’s like a muscle; it grows when it is exercised. When we choose faith (or love, or joy, or peace, etc.), it grows. God is faithful to us even we are not faithful to him, but when we are faithful, the reward is great. More peace. More joy. More faith. And hope. Above all, hope.

Jeremiah 29:11-13: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”

May 20, 2010

“Go to the mattresses”

My mom recently bought new mattresses for my sister and I. Apparently, mattresses have a 10-15 year life span, and it’s advisable to get new ones at some point in that time frame. So we got new mattresses.

Two things come to mind when I hear the word mattress:

a)    a support system

b)    that quote from The Godfather – “Go to the mattreses” – that I only know because of the movie You’ve Got Mail

These two things seem inextricably interlinked at the present moment. In You’ve Got Mail, the quote is used to exhort the female protagonist to fight for her small business. So if you go to the mattresses, you’re fighting (and fighting hard) to get something. And then the second one is basic enough: a support system. A network of friends, of relationships.

Bear with me here, but let’s say that each of us has a mattress that we carry around with us. It’s our support system. Our relationships, our work maybe, our families, our privacy – whatever it is that you can collapse on at a moment’s notice. Whatever gives you rest. It’s something we fight for. It’s something we rely on, and we don’t realize how important it is until it starts breaking down.

Because the truth is, there are times when we need to get a new mattress. What used to give us support doesn’t anymore. Relationships change, wear out, and thin over time; to adapt a common adage, you go from the family you’re born with to the family you choose. Friends change, and even if friends don’t change, the nature of the friendship changes. And other things, too – the identity of being a student is a support that is two weeks away from being extinct (at least for now).

My “mattress,” as it were, is in a state of revision. And it’s a good thing. And I’m “going to the mattresses” to fight for my vision of what that could be. I can’t see it clearly yet, but I can feel it forming beneath me – and I’m choosing to trust that.

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 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.

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