Sunday, January 30, 2011

Experiencing the Unavoidable

Oh life, how quickly it darts by, leaving me standing here to think about how old I feel.

This week, my alma mater, Moody Bible Institute, is celebrating its 125th anniversary of existence. All those years ago in 1886, D.L. Moody prayed about an institution that started small, but now equips people from all across the globe for ministry.

I don't really want to tout its greatness, because it's just another place of learning. But this anniversary does make me think back to a time when I was a student within its walls, thinking I would never make it to graduation. After all, it was such a long way off back then.

Those years were so easy, and yet so hard. It was easy to live, to love, to get into trouble and to make mistakes. It was hard to keep up with the course load, to not ditch studying for friends, to remember to keep my own faith alive. I grew up, experienced life and changed so much, I barely recognize the person I was all those years ago when I first enrolled.

I can't believe now that this May will mark the third year that has passed since my graduation. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm not the carefree college student anymore. Oh adulthood, weren't you supposed to wait a few more years to strike?

Now I have the slightly scary pleasure of watching younger people suddenly becoming those carefree college kids. I keep finding myself thinking, "You're in high school now?" Or, "How did he get to be a teenager?" (Namely, my brother who recently turned 13.)

My brother is probably my most consistent reminder that I'm not the kid I sometimes feel like. He was adopted when I was 12 and in seventh grade, a year I remember so well and a time I loved so much. Life was so fresh and new, every feeling was amplified a million times over because most of them had never been felt before. It was an awkward time, but so exciting as well.

Now my brother is in seventh grade, a not-so-subtle reminder that the time of his adoption is in the past, significantly. And I'm no longer the slightly awkward, nerdy pre-teen struggling to make sense of raging hormones. Thank goodness, I suppose?

Sometimes getting to the point of being "grown up" (not necessarily acting that way, just being there) isn't as great as we once thought it would be. Sure, we trade in childhood naivete for grown-up common sense, but sometimes I wish I didn't know everything I knew now. Some of life's experiences, I could've lived without.

Now I look at the kids around me, and sort of wish I could spare them that "Welcome to the real world!" slap in the face. That they could be spared from some of the events and circumstances that come with "growing up." Then reality sets in, and I must remind myself that that's impossible. You'd have to hold them prisoner in an empty room for their entire lives, which really isn't an option.

So my conclusion is, growing up and experiencing life is unavoidable. An obvious conclusion to make, no doubt, but one that should remind us to live in the present. There's nothing we can ever do to change the circumstances around us that we can't control, including time and its rather rapid passage. This is yet another element of life that must be accepted with grace and dignity. And that which can be controlled (our own thoughts and actions), should be done so with love and compassion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Recipe for Destruction

The topic of gossip in the church has been coming up a lot lately, so I felt compelled to write something as this subject is important to me personally. It primarily relates to gossiping against church leadership, but applies to the issue in general.

This story isn't really mine, so I want to limit myself in how much I share. It did, however, affect me greatly as it involved the people I love dearly.

When I was in high school, the aftermath of a wave of church gossip crumbled much of my world. Completely oblivious to all that went on, I never expected the people I loved and trusted like a family to do so much damage. Beneath a polite surface, there was complaining, griping, discord, and the spreading of numerous lies. It started small, but eventually grew to a tidal wave of disruption that crushed us all.

I've vowed to never allow myself to be a part of something so destructive, as I've seen how it's hurt a whole body of people, as well as the individual who it was focused on. You can't really know that level of pain until you've experienced it for yourself, and you never want to be a part of causing it.

Because of what I've seen and been through, I have a few strong "suggestions" (which are more like instructions) for those who actively attend church.

First, don't allow change or something you don't like to cause you to speak against a church leader to another congregant. If you have a problem, you don't need to infect others with your dissension. It has the potential to spread like a fire, and is just as destructive. Keep your opinions to yourself, pray about it, and if you need to talk about it, talk to the church leader. Don't lead others astray.

This policy also applies to anyone in the church you have a problem with. Matthew 18:15-20 lays out how to handle conflict in the church. If you have a genuine problem, follow this model. If not, you should either let it go, or speak with the individual, not to others who are not involved.

Second, if someone else comes to you with gossip, stop them before they start. Don't allow others to infect you and do not join in. Also, it is your duty as their brother/sister in Christ to confront them. Remind them of the biblical model in Matthew 18 and tell them to stop spreading gossip. Encourage them to go to the person they're talking about and resolve the issue immediately.

Finally, remember that this is a serious issue to God. James 4:11-12 is very clear on this, stating that if you speak against someone, you are making yourself a judge over that person. According to the passage, there is only One Lawgiver and Judge, and that's not you.

God has called you to be a working member of a body to strengthen and build it up. You can't perform this duty if you are tearing it down with your words. Most times in life, things happen that we don't like and can't control. We can, however, control ourselves and how we respond to situations. I encourage you to respond with grace and dignity, remembering that you are a child of the King.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Take a Sad Song...

This week I finalized my move to Clinton, Iowa, by getting all my belongings from Denver. It was rather daunting, but my family helped immensely. In a few short days we had everything I owned packed in two cars and were heading home.

As I was driving east, away from the city, I started re-thinking over what I was doing. I had already made up my mind, but as I watched the mountains disappear in my rear-view mirror, I thought that most people probably wouldn't understand what I was doing and why. Who would want to leave a beautiful place like Denver, Colorado, for a little place like Clinton?

As I watched the sun set over the mountains, the Beatles' song "Hey Jude" started playing from my iPod. Not exactly my life's theme song, but, one of the lines stuck out more than normal. "Take a sad song, and make it better." And that's what I felt like I was doing.

When I thought about Denver, why I moved there, and what it represented, I couldn't help feeling glad that it was vanishing in my rear-view. My reason for moving no longer existed. Most of my efforts had ended in failure. The freedom I had craved lead to a feeling of imprisonment. One of my closest friends was dead to me, locked in a literal prison. And most of all, I felt like I was slowly missing out on being a part of the lives that meant the most. Life was like a slow song played out in minor keys.

In retrospect, I feel like my move to Denver was a good example of what happens when you do what you want to do, not what God wants you to do. Just because I was able to move, doesn't mean it was the best option or decision. Like Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12, "'Everything is permissible for me'--but not everything is beneficial." Of course, at the time I didn't see it that way. What I saw was what I wanted, and I told myself if God didn't want it, he would close the doors.

Even though (now) I don't feel like what I did was the best, God still took care of me. He provided a job a month after I moved. I always had food, clothing, a place to live and transportation.

And then, over the course of time, God started closing doors. Relationships failed, efforts at involvement failed, friendships failed. I didn't like who I was becoming, a person I didn't know, making choices that I knew weren't the best. I had stopped doing what I loved.

Then I started to feel like God was pulling me in another direction, I just didn't want to rush into another move like I had before. So I waited. And then, my job failed, and I knew it was time to come home. My job really was the only thing keeping me in Denver because I didn't want to quit in a downward-spiraled economy. When that door closed, it was more of a slam, but it was all I needed.

I've written other blog posts about why I wanted to move, so I won't rehash everything. Besides feeling God's pull, I wanted to be close to family, to know that feeling of home again, and to be able to do more good than I was doing. So after flying home and being there about a week, I knew for sure that I wanted to move back.

Since getting everything moved, I've felt an incredible sense of peace and happiness. Even though I don't have a job yet, the process up to this point has shown me that God's working everything out just as he would have it. Each step has fallen into place perfectly, and I know that will continue. The sad song is being made better, little by little.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This One's for the Girls

I've been trying to practice the concept of saying good things that I usually don't, especially to other women.

In my experience, women seem to have a hard time complementing one another. There's typically an air of competition; women size each other up, determine who has the advantage, then find reasons to dislike each other.

In college, I experienced this the most, which was sad because I was among fellow believers. Girls I didn't even know found reasons to dislike me and spread false rumors. There's nothing quite like knowing you have a reputation that is primarily fueled by people you hardly know.

It's like the concept Tina Fey's character tries to impart in the movie "Mean Girls." There's lots of girl-on-girl crime, which doesn't help girls' relationships with guys or each other.

And really, what good does it do to cut down other people? It doesn't make you prettier or smarter or stronger. Rather, it proves a weakness, a need for affirmation and a lack of self-esteem.

One of the first steps in getting over this, is getting a big dose of self confidence, which as believers, is imparted by the Holy Spirit (and, I feel, a knowledge of yourself). When you know that you are loved completely, and that you are capable and competent, you will find a new self awareness. This will leave you feeling confident, knowing that you can do anything and be yourself while doing it.

It's taken me 24 years, dozens of life lessons with failures and victories, and an understanding of what makes me do the things I do, to come to the realm of self assurance. But I can say with complete confidence, it was well worth it.

However, it doesn't end there. Or rather, it shouldn't, though it often does. It seems that by the time women get to this place, they keep their confidence to themselves and don't use it to enrich others. But a self assured, confident woman can impart much good to others.

This is the place that I've come to, the knowledge that I can do much more good by speaking up than keeping silent. And that, has become my goal--to say what I normally wouldn't, not out of spite but almost out of ignorance. People don't really think about what they should say to others to build them up, they mostly just think it and then let it go.

I have about a million examples of this, because I tend to keep quiet in this area. I feel like every day I pass up an opportunity to encourage, complement or thank someone. I'm trying to pay attention to this, to look for moments to say things that will enrich and build up other women.

It can start as simply as complementing another girl on her hair, her outfit, her appearance. We as women know that we like to get complements. After that, it can include noticing someone's efforts and thanking them.

I noticed "Gina" was making herself available to meet and talk with another woman, even when it might not have been convenient. She was making herself available to help someone else who desperately needed it. I noticed, so I made a point to send her a message about it, encouraging and thanking her, which is not something I would typically have done.

I don't share all this to make myself sound perfect, because I'm not. I'm a work in progress like everyone else. I share it to encourage other women to the same action. Rather than using our successes to divide each other, we should be using them to unite and build each other up. This is the only way to ensure that we don't fall prey to the dividing nature of "angry woman syndrome."

So my challenge to you is this: in the next week, see how many positive things you notice about the women in your life (even the ones you don't like). It may go against your nature, so work on thinking positive thoughts the moment you see each woman. When you notice something, make it a point to then say something. You can write a message on Facebook, or better yet, tell her to her face. See how many women you can encourage, and then you'll see how it enriches your life in return.

We girls have to join together, love on and support each other. Only then can all of us succeed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finding Commitment

I am a firm believer in the truth that God can and does speak to us through anything. Nothing is just "random chance" or fate. All truth is God's truth, and he can use even the words of the smallest person or the greatest.

At church on Sunday, I joined my mom's class, a group of wonderful women of all ages. I always get good bits of wisdom from what is shared in that class, but this past Sunday, I got something really good. One of the women shared some encouragement from Psalm 37:1-5 (I went to verse 6 myself), and I felt like she had shared it just for me.

This passage is packed with good material, and the next day I studied it a little on my own. I came away with some key points that I felt were important for my life.

First, verse one speaks to not being envious of those who do wrong. I don't always necessarily envy those people, but I don't always try to separate myself from them either, whether by word or behavior. But as a child of the King, I know I need to be set apart. So I know in my life that's something I need to work on. I have been sanctified, so I need to live like it.

Second, Psalm 37 speaks often of not worrying, or fretting. This is something that is ongoing in my life, and a lesson I have to learn regularly. If I honestly believed and banked on the fact that God is in control of everything and taking care of me, then I wouldn't have to worry about anything. So in this time of upheaval in my life, I know that I don't have to worry about getting a job or finding a place to live. God will provide all that.

Third, verse four tells us to "delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." What this said to me was, stop being unhappy with what you don't have and how you wish your life was going. Just delight (find happiness, joy and pleasure) in the Maker of the universe, the Lord who loves you and created you for his divine purpose. Life will be much better and sweeter if I focus on God than on trying to make something of my life on my own. Through this delighting, God promises that he will deliver. He knows the desires of my heart, and truthfully, they're pretty simple.

Finally, verse five speaks to commitment. Oh that. Commitment is one area of my life that is lacking. I feel like that's pretty common for most people. We never want to commit to anything because we want to keep our schedule open, just in case something else we'd rather do comes up. But this verse specifically mentions commitment, committing our way to the Lord.

So I decided to make some changes based on what I found in these verses. Some specific commitments. First, I'm committing to getting involved in church programs and ministries. This also includes finding ways to contribute on a small level by loving on people, giving of my time and talents, and participating in Bible studies.

Second, I'm committing to delighting in the Lord. I thought for a while about what this would look like for me, and the biggest thing I came away with was that I need to allow time to simply focus on God. This means separating myself from the areas I tend to let "take over" my life, the areas that will get in the way. So, that being said, I've committed to not dating/remaining single for a select period of time. In that time, I'm focusing on God and the areas of my life I know he wants to work on.

Verse six follows-up on the instruction that we are to commit our way to the Lord. It says, "He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." This is what the Lord promises to do when we commit and trust in him. Our righteousness will be so unignorable, it will be like the sun. This isn't for our benefit, to make people stop and notice us. It's for God's glory, that people will stop and praise him. And really, isn't that what our lives are about as believers? Giving glory back to God in all things.

So this is part of what God's been teaching me. I know that it will bring an awareness of greater things, of his will and divine plan. I hope that you will find Psalm 37:1-6 encouraging as well, and that you will find commitment to the Lord.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Greater Good

I'm trying to learn what it means to be available, to put everything I want aside and be accessible.

Right now, it's a challenge because all I really want is to get everything figured out in my life. Well, maybe not everything, but at least the big things. Where to live and where to work are the main ones, and they go hand-in-hand.

The thing I keep trying to tell myself is that God works in his timing, not ours. This is becoming more and more obvious as I wait. My timing would be for everything to have been crystal clear yesterday. I always want things undeniably obvious, and the sooner the better. If things were obvious, I wouldn't have to question every little thing. Is what I'm doing right? Should I be someplace else? Am I wasting my time here?

But I suppose if things were always obvious, there would be no struggle, no learning experience. And if anything, I've learned a lot from the places I've been. I've learned that I sometimes make hard and fast decisions, which aren't always the best. And that, too, is probably why things aren't obvious right now.

So right now, I'm just trying to be available, open. Open to movement and direction. Open to needs beyond my own, and where I can do the most good. Clinton, I feel like, is one of those places. In Denver, I felt like I watched from the sidelines, lost in a beautiful but different world. Here, there's so much lacking, but so much room for me to give.

I want to contribute, more than I want the perfect job and perfect place. I want to help, to do good, and to benefit others. I want to move beyond a selfish existence, consumed with what I'll do and what I'll become. I won't become anything worth a second glance if all I care about is myself.

That's why this time is hard, but important. I'm learning what it means to let go, again. I have to move past my hang-ups and wants and focus on the greater good, and being available to help accomplish it. I hope that, in the being available, my next steps become undeniably clear, because I'm waiting to take them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life Purposeful

Why is it that I always, always have to try to take matters into my own hands? I want to do something, and rather than stop and think about whether I should do it, I do it anyway? Then, all I really succeed in doing is complicating life when it really should be more simple.

I feel like most times I'm counter-productive to myself. Rather than just letting things be, I have to get in, make a mess, and then wait for God to dig me out and clean me up. It's always the same vicious cycle, messing up, cleaning up, messing up...

I suppose the point isn't necessarily to get things right all of the time, it's to learn from the mistakes and move on. Learning from the mistakes is the hard part. Lots of times it's just easier to live in them, rather than rise above them.

I feel like now is really the time for me to get my act together, as life is changing so rapidly. It's time to rise above the foolish and silly things I let myself become involved in. I have to find what it is I'm really meant to do, beyond the mundane, and do it. Truthfully, this may be a challenge, but it will be well worth it in the end.

This week, being back home, I feel like it's time for me to explore my options and find out where God wants me to be. I'm praying that he'll make it clear, and as always, that he'll give me peace.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Life Escalated

These days, I'm happy just to have a few moments to breathe, to think. So much is happening so fast, I feel like I should be holding on to something so I don't get swept away.

Life, very rarely, is "planned out," even though we to do our best to plan it every day. We decide what we'll do and when, even making plans for the unexpected things that we didn't plan on happening.

Most times, however, those plans don't quite work out the way we thought or hoped they would. There's always a glitch, a flaw, something we didn't plan for. At least, that's the story of my life.

Now, once again, I'm tempted to try to plan life in this tumultuous time. But as tempted as I am, deep down I know it won't do me much good. Each of my plans has failed before, and the rest will probably fail too. The only plans that have succeeded are the ones I haven't come up with. The ones that God has written and directed. Which is why, in all this mess, I feel most at peace.

Peace, a word, a concept that's been reoccurring quite often, and I feel like is my word for the year. Peace knowing that God's got my life in his hands. Peace knowing I don't have to stress or worry. Peace in my heart, being able to be still and quiet and just exist. Peace in my relationships, letting them be as they are and letting go of what I cannot control. And being able to bring peace to others, however I can.

The past few days have been anything but peaceful, and I'm sure the next few will be similar. There have been so many times when I've wanted to stress out, or freak out, but this overwhelming feeling of peace and calm has kept me from it. It almost goes against human nature to relax in the hardest moments, but through God's grace I've been able to.

I have no idea what the days ahead will hold, but I sort of like that. I know that anything can happen, and with God in control, it will be good. For now, I'm just working on following his leading in every aspect of my life, and leaning always on his peace.
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