Neature

My favorite place to study on campus is in the garden next to the Armstrong-Browning library. It is tucked away in a quiet corner and they even have outlets on the trees. Today has been beautiful, so I decided to head there to study some Spanish and enjoy a book I’ve been wanting to read.

I began to hear two birds chirping at one another across the garden. I noticed one perched on the back of a chair at the table next to mine and was enthralled as I listened to the tune of their dialogue. About a minute into their conversation, his friend joined him. It took a couple tries as his friend was noticeably old and had impaired sight. He flew past the table & I heard the young bird chirp as to say, “I’m right here! Turn around!” When the older bird joined him on the table, he opened his mouth and the younger bird fed him. I stared as I was kind of in shock & then my eyes got a little watery. The younger bird was tending after him and it was just beautiful to see.

A little while later, I saw the older bird land on the same table again, calling out for his friend. The younger bird returned with food in his beak but didn’t give it to him. I assumed the younger one wanted a little grub before searching for his friend again. The older attempted to chase him around and I laughed as it was quite comical to see him squawking and trying to take the food while the younger easily evaded him. They were coming close to a fountain that’s on the side of the garden and the younger bird jumped onto it. I continued to watch–obviously more intrigued by their interactions than conjugating in the subjunctive–as the young bird dipped the food into the water. I was confused at first and then understood that he was dipping it into the water so the hard food would soften and be easier for the elder bird to eat. Real tears began to fall.  

These are two birds that I am talking about. The younger’s natural instinct was to provide for the older who could not provide for himself, he went as far as ensuring the food was easy for his friend to eat! We won’t get into the elder’s selfishness in chasing him around, lol, but it’s still wild to think about this animal doing a better job of showing compassion than I in most circumstances. Nature really is neat and it reflects an awesome Creator who loves us more dearly and cares for us more strongly than the young bird for his elder friend.

Matthew 6:25-27 came to mind as I continued to watch the little friends fly around the garden.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?…”

A New Thanksgiving

Here we are, a little over a week into a month of thanksgiving. A month when a scroll through your news feed brings memoirs & snippets of things people are thankful that they have. For me, if I’m being honest, this month reminds me of what I have lost. The last precious moments in the home that gave me shelter for nearly eighteen years of my life and the last memories with both of my grandfathers all took place within the week of Thanksgiving. When I think of those losses, it is hard for the many others of this life to not fill my thoughts as well.

Filled with gratitude is the last thing I want to be in this moment. I would rather shake my fist at God and fill Him in on how unfair my life has been than rejoice always or give thanks in this circumstance. I don’t deserve all the heartbreak I have been through. I don’t deserve to be so acquainted with grief and sorrow.

Most importantly, I don’t deserve His grace either. 

Looking back to two days before Grandpa passed away in August, I wrote in my journal how thankful I was for a living Savior, for the Infinite that comes in like a whirlwind and is with me at all times. That was two days before both my parents were fatherless, two days before I questioned what the point of my faith was if I kept going through trials, two days before I got another phone call that brought a sadness I have come to know well. In moments like these, when I want to list my grievances and explain why I do not deserve the things that have happened to me in this life I remember that truth, I remember the cross & the resurrection. Oh, how Christ did not deserve to die that death and I do not deserve for that act of selfless love and obedience to cover my sins.

Because of His grace, because He so loved me, I am able to love Papa, Grandpa, and all of my loved ones that have moved on from this Earth. This grace allows me to go home to a family that loves me, be surrounded by friends that love me, and serve the Almighty who loves me. I am mourning the loss of those I love but I am mourning with hope.

I don’t want you to get the impression that my life has only been filled with sorrow, that is not true. There has always been this undercurrent of joy, an influence of God’s goodness and presence in all seasons of life. While I let my vision become hazy sometimes and focus on all that seems to be going wrong, He is always at work. My hope is as alive as Jesus.

“As a follower of Christ, this life will not be easy or comfortable, but it will be real and full and lasting. Jesus says follow me and you will find inexpressible and glorious joy despite and even in really hard, bitter, heart-breaking, even excruciating moments and realities in your life.” (Marshall Segal)

So what does this mean in light of Thanksgiving? How is this month, this life, different in light of what I have been through, what I am going through?

It means that my bitter spirit is replaced with a generous one. When you thank God, you honor and glorify Him and that thankfulness comes from an honest place of truly rejoicing in who God is. While I have lost significant people and things, I have gained the most valuable. During those times where nothing seems to be going right, I can rest in the promises of our faithful God, especially the promise that my suffering is not meaningless. Our sovereign God is using it to conform me into the image of His Son. While this does not lessen the pain, it makes it bearable because I am not at it alone. I have a constant companion who truly has my best interest at heart and bears my burdens for me. That’s something worth celebrating more than one Thursday a year during November.

In the midst of trials I can say with integrity that I am thankful because the way I view the happenings of this life is forever tainted with the precious blood of Christ. The moments of doubt are real and they’re even expected to happen, but my faith has only been made stronger because of them. I have a solid foundation from which I am not shaken by anything that comes my way. To borrow from Tolkien, my deep roots are not reached by the frost because they are fixed in the One who never changes.

When November rolls around I can rejoice, I can be thankful because our God is good. The invisible thread that binds together all the experiences of this life is the fact I don’t deserve anything He has done, it’s the Gospel. His grace and redemption is relevant because it serves a real purpose. Thank goodness He doesn’t give me what I “deserve.” His plan is great and His grace is sufficient.

As you go about this month and the rest of you life, I pray that you join with me in remembering the truth of the Gospel and its relevance to every. single. moment.

 

 

Pretty Weeds

 

Some weeds are so pretty. Dandelions, wild violet, bindweed (the vines with leaves that look like hearts), and clovers all have pretty blooms and I think they make wonderful additions to my backyard. However, while they look like almost the same quality as the real flowers they grow next to, they’re impostors. Sometimes, they overshadow the real plants you are trying to grow. They grow faster, sometimes taller, are more abundant it seems, and they can take over and thrive almost anywhere. They’re also really hard to get rid of. They’re little blooms and green leaves show their heads almost immediately after you take it away. Like sin, they’re really tempting to give in to, to look at and add to your wildflower bouquet, but they choke the real joys.

Replace weeds and plants in the paragraph above with sin and temptation. Like the pretty weeds, sometimes we want sin to stay because aren’t some sins sweeter it seems than doing the right thing on various occasions? Isn’t giving in more fun than standing up for your convictions when your conviction means not going with the crowd or doing something that seems like a real good time, that satisfies your thirst to belong or your quest for meaning? The problem with giving in though is that it only satisfies for a little while, then you’re back searching for another way to feel whole. These weeds only seem nice for a moment, until we see real beauty. Once we’ve been exposed to glory it is really hard to settle for anything else.

Living like Christ, being a real flower, is tough. It calls us to sacrifice ourselves, to be someone that continually lays down their life in a selfish world that tells us over and over again how much we are supposed to find our lives in our pleasures and chasing our dreams. Flowers have to work to find the sunlight when weeds are taking up a lot of space. It is hard to get rooted when the soil is being overtaken by things that drain you. This life is full of things that make it everything but easy.

Read the Bible and you’ll find many lives that were far from comfortable and easy but they have one thing in common that got them through it: faith. An unwavering faith in what Christ did and that nothing we do can compromise it. A faith that knows grace in all it’s forms and rest in the promise that suffering will end when we are together again with our Creator. These people faced temptations and some gave in from time to time but they clung to the cross. Because the sacrifice Jesus made for us we can thrive among the weeds with abounding joy and a peace that surpasses understanding.

Remember that they’re just pretty, that’s it. They aren’t impressive or beautiful. What’s impressive is that joy remains despite everything that tries to overshadow or take it away. Joy is secure because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and  f o r e v e r . Go for the eternally satisfying, infinite King rather than the temporary, finite worldly things.

 

It Is Well

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”     -Phillipians 4:6-7

The verses above have filled my thoughts for the past few days. Peace that surpasses all understanding, that’s a pretty strong assertion. Peace that exceeds understanding, is greater than knowledge, is better than having it figured out. I want that.

Guess what? I’ve been given that by the sacrifice my Savior made on the cross for me. He lived a perfect, sinless life and died the death I fully deserve. Because He died for my sin, I can claim the promises that God has for His children.  There are certain words I save because I believe overusing words makes them lose their meaning… awesome is one of those. What Jesus did on the cross for me, that’s awesome. He is awesome.

He gives me this peace that takes away the need to “know” and comprehend my situation because in some way, I’m okay. Despite how the world tells me I’m supposed to feel or it’s okay to act because of all I have been through in this life, I’m full of joy. I don’t have to understand because this battle is won and the King is with me. He is directing my path and despite how well and easy I think I could make this road, His way is better. His is worth it because it is filled with sustaining grace. A grace that holds me up through the pain and is a sweet, sweet reminder of my need for Him.

His presence in my life, in all my days, is unmistakable.  I’ve got this joy that can never be taken away, only made richer by every new day and all it holds. My heart is sealed for Him because through tough experience, I know that He is all I need. He is my strength and my song. My reason to sing. I know He is holding the world in His hands, my world in His hands. Life is tough. It’s knocked me off my feet quite a few times, BUT (that is a magical word) God takes the weight off my shoulders. His burden is easy, His yoke is light.

He fills me up to overflow despite how desolate my situation. The hope the cross brings gets me through the tough days, the easy days, every day. His blood makes me whole again. I have peace and joy in the midst of my trials.

It is well because I have Him and He is all I will ever need. I’m thankful that love is patient and when I’m not so quick to hear, He is still working on my behalf. Everything about Him blows my mind and I love that everyday brings new lessons on how good He is.

My 2 Cents on the Past Two Decades

It feels weird to say I’m twenty… I don’t know if I’ll get used to it anytime soon. For the last seven years, my age ended with “teen” and now I’m in that time frame that “everything is supposed to happen. What does everything mean anyway?

I think to most, the everything they are talking about is graduating college, starting a career, getting married, having kids, all that grown-up stuff. All those things are good. So good. They are things that I want, but I don’t want those to be my everything. I don’t want to look back and be able to pick out a time-frame that was the best in my life. That sounds weird. It was weird to type, but basing the worth of a year off what I did or what happened to me just does not seem appealing. I want my twenties, my whole life for that matter, to be worth remembering not because of accomplishments but because something bigger than me and anything I can do was a part of it.

That something is God. There is nothing, no one else, that can make good and bad worth it, that can make everything I face have a purpose and each year merit remembering. I’ve had some tough years. Learning and understanding that God is not safe, but He’s good has been the most valuable lesson. Despite how hard or easy, painful or wonderful, confusing or clear, God’s providence and sovereignty has been so evident that it makes His goodness undeniable. Every year has been filled with joy despite my circumstances and peace that surpasses all understanding. His joy and His peace are available to me because of the cross. Jesus died so that my life could have meaning, a meaning that doesn’t come from anything I do, but all He’s done. Through His atoning sacrifice, I am forgiven, able to take on Christ’s identity, live a life free from the bondage of sin, and given hope that my actions and way others see me doesn’t define me. How can I look back on a life redeemed by Christ and see any part of it as better than the rest?

Will I look back and see some days as happier than others? Absolutely. However, my happiness doesn’t correlate with the value each day holds. From sunrise to sunset, each moment is brimming with the fullness of God. The breadth and length and height and depth of His inexhaustible, long-suffering love that constantly surrounds me gives value to any point of my life. My life has meaning because of what He did, is doing, and will do. The weight on my shoulders to “do” is gone. I don’t have to waste energy regretting the way things are or thinking about the way things might have been because I will search for His way in the midst of every circumstance.

So I guess that’s my goal for this next year and every year to come… to have God as the center of my life and to look back and be able to see nothing but Him. Not because those things I listed above aren’t worth remembering but because He is better. I want to have my trust so rooted that no situation can shake it. I want a faith that doesn’t think about consequences, hardships, or even good things that will come out of being a follower of God but just thinks about Him. He’s what I desire.

I don’t want it to seem like I have it all together and that I have this mindset, because I don’t. At least not yet. It is something I’m aiming for by turning to God every moment rather than the things of this world. It takes a lot of work and sacrifice. Who doesn’t want to have their dream job and a perfect family? I’m not saying I’ll stop wanting those things, but I’ll stop working towards them and instead working towards Him. Laying down my life, picking up my cross daily, and following Him is how every decade of this life will have meaning. It is how I look back and see meaning in my past.

I’m going to stop looking for me, to stop working for me, because my time will end. Instead, in whatever I do, from eating to teaching, I will do it all for His glory because that is the only everlasting everything.

What if everyone wanted to give a quarter that badly?

In the midst of finals and a month full of going through just a lot of really hard things, I was more than willing to go to the Christmas service at Columbus Avenue Baptist last night and it was definitely where I needed to be. It was beautiful and made the gospel feel so real. They had a live nativity scene and actually seeing a baby and knowing it’s fate, my heart broke. Then seeing Jesus as a little boy, a literally perfect boy who never sinned yet  will die because of my selfish ways? It really did open my eyes in a new way to the sacrifice our Heavenly Father and His Son made for us.

When the offering plate came around at the beginning of service, it was like any typical time where most gave their tithe, some gave nothing, and a few gave from their hearts and put in more than ten percent of their earnings. There was this precious little girl in front of us though who frantically searched for her coin pouch to pull out a quarter, but the usher had already moved to another row. She was so eager to get his attention so she could put her quarter in the offering plate and gave with pure joy. When he finally came back to her, the smile that spread across her face as she handed the plate back to him is one I will never forget.

As the service progressed and they told the story of our Savior’s birth, I began to wonder why I couldn’t give like her. I believe that Christ frowns upon comparison, but sometimes we need to be shown what faith looks like. This little girl wasn’t giving out of selfishness and wanting anything from giving the quarter, but she acted out of faith. She knows that Jesus loves her and that giving your tithe and offering are good things. She believes that the Lord will provide and isn’t worrying that she won’t be able to buy that candy bar at the checkout line.

Matthew 18:1-4 had never been more clear to me.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I think it goes deeper than believing what Jesus says because He is Lord like a toddler will literally believe anything you say. I remember a friend convincing the cutest little boy that the moon was made of cheese. He went around informing everyone about this new found “truth.” Rather, it speaks to a dependence on Him. Think of an infant, they cannot live without their parents. They need someone willing to sacrifice in order to keep them alive… someone to feed, bathe, and love them. While they can’t think because they don’t even know how to talk, there is some sort of understanding that they are counting on you because they cannot do it on their own. They have faith that you will take care of them and they relinquish control. I think that’s the kind of faith that Christ is talking about. One where we realize we cannot live without Him. He is the one who sustains us. We must humble ourselves and quit this war on independence.

I wish I could go back and give the dollar something in change that I had in my wallet, but I can’t. Grace is so amazing in times like this where I think of all my downfalls. Rather than frowning upon me, I know Christ is smiling just as He was when the little girl gave Sunday night. That doesn’t stop my desire to give even when it isn’t required, and now, with childlike faith, I can give with confidence that I will be provided for. That doesn’t mean being ignorant and giving all I own, but softening my heart to what God is calling me to give and not thinking that I know best. I’ll be the first to admit that I like to be in control and know what’s coming, but ya just can’t do that in this fallen world. So, why not relinquish control to the one who controls the waters and have faith that He won’t let you drown? Why not give like He so freely gave to you? Whether it’s money, time, or your talents, just give.

Do Not Lose Heart

I had heard about those phone calls that literally knock the breath out of you but never understood until last Wednesday… that’s when my mom called to tell me that my grandfather had passed away the night before. It was so sudden and so unexpected.

While I was packing to head home so I could be with family, I started to think about what I was doing while Tuesday night unfolded. It was after 9, so I was in staff meeting and this week I was doing the scripture at the end. What was this scripture about? Joy in trials. James 1:2 was the verse that I shared that night:

“Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds.”

If anyone taught me how to find joy, it was Papa. He had a story for everyday because he looked for the joy. No matter how the day seemed to go, he always had something positive to share from it. His stories always made you laugh and want to tell someone else about it. He found his reason for living: Christ and the joy that He brings in all times. Also, he knew that nothing he went through was meaningless. The pain I feel right now from his death is not meaningless. And yes, I can find joy in this time because every millisecond of this pain is producing a peculiar glory I will get because of this. I can’t see what it’s doing, but at the end of the day I will have a story of triumph and though I don’t understand why this all happens, I won’t lose heart, but take these truths and focus on them. I’ll get alone with God every moment until my heart sings with confidence in Him. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

For every trial and heartache, there are still 10,000 reasons for me to praise His name. The car I’m borrowing for the next two weeks breaking down is nothing. I’m safe and it’s in good hands. My granny is still her sassy self even after having a stroke yesterday (a week since Papa, her husband’s, passing) and God is in control. Papa’s death will take time to heal from, my heart will be put back together by the One who holds it in His hands. Life will never be the same, but I can find joy in every moment because of the way Papa lived, always looking for something that made each day special. God is full of grace and extending it to me all throughout this journey. Maybe a month of my life has as many trials as someone’s full life, but all these times when it’s too much for me to handle, Christ puts it on His shoulders. He puts these amazing people in my life that blow me away with their kind hearts. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand His will and plan, but I’ll find the beauty in this mystery because He is in control and I’ll be with Him in the end.

Ephesians 3 was where Papa left his bookmark in his Bible and I really encourage you to read the whole chapter. Pastor Feldshau based his message during the funeral off this passage and showed how Papa was like Paul. He laid down his life to live for the Lord and gave us an example of what a man after God’s heart looked like. I am so thankful that Papa was in my life these past nineteen years and it’s hard to imagine my days without him, but thankfully my Comforter is here, I’m not at this alone.

I encourage everyone who is going through any kind of trial or suffering to just turn to Christ. He’ll remind you that this affliction is momentary, it is nothing compared to the eternity that His followers will spend with Him where death is just a memory and tears are no more. The pain isn’t any less, but I have hope and will be singing as the evening comes because He has conquered this world. Hold onto the peace and joy that God has given you for every season and know that you aren’t at this alone. Do not lose heart.