Stay Awake & Become

This has been my lifelong struggle – simply getting out of bed in the morning. It should be simple, right? I’m not talking about difficulty with waking, but more so staying awake and physically moving my limbs towards activity.

I was almost successful this morning! I woke up and got out of bed when my alarm went off, stayed out of bed… grabbed a pillow and blanket and laid down on the floor. This is progress, people! Haha. You’ve got to laugh at yourself every once in a while.

There is this “5 Second Rule” authored by the brilliant Mel Robbins, that I have been attempting.

So here’s the one-liner definition of the 5 second rule:

If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.

She recommends, when your alarm goes off, count down – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – and act! Which is a great idea, and I am going to try it again. Clearly, I haven’t perfected the method, given the example from this morning. If only my self-sabotaging instincts weren’t so strong! My brain tries to talk me out of action while I am counting. I think the trick is to only think about counting and move – not to give space to the voice in your head talking you out of a good thing.

Becoming 

On a tangent (which is essentially related, but you’ll have to read on to find out how), I rented “Becoming Jane” from the library, and it’s a heartbreaking story of the life of Jane Austen – who, though she wrote extensively of love and marriage, never married. I knew there wasn’t going to be a happy ending – but it rattled me a bit anyway. As realistic as I tend to be, I do like a happy ending. (Though, of course, not marrying is not the worst thing that could happen, by a long shot.)

But it reminded me of a simple fact – no matter whether or not I ever marry, there is one person I will have to spend the rest of my life with… myself.

I share this to say that there is value in becoming someone you would like to be around. And I would like to become someone who can get out of bed in the morning… And someone who gets outside and talks to people. Someone who loves without fear.

So I’ll try the 5 Second Rule Again.

For the love of the God Man who first loved me; for the praise of Him in His glory.

1 John 49-10 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

 

Don’t Let Your Spirit Die Before Your Body Does

It was for my 26th birthday. We had been planning on getting tattoos together for years, and finally we scheduled an appointment and saved up the money.

I got this tattoo for many reasons. The most obvious one is that I am a Jon Foreman fan, and these are lyrics from his song Terminal.

(The lines before and after go like this:

“…Some folks die in offices one day at a time.
They could live a hundred years,
But their soul’s already dead.
Don’t let your spirit die before your body does.
We’re terminal…”

These lyrics could be unpacked and expounded upon. So here is what these words mean to me, especially now that they are a part of me. (Disclaimer: It has nothing to do with dying in an office.)

To begin with, let’s unpack what the spirit is. In certain instances, it could be appropriately used interchangeably with soul, or a separate but intricately connected compliment to the soul (whether the difference matters has been highly debated among theologians, but I shall leave it alone.) It could also be used in regards to consciousness, or zeal. I have heard it described as the part of the human being that is in communication with the Spirit of God and the supernatural. To which am I referring to? All of the above.

So that makes it a bit difficult to succinctly describe what this tattoo means to me, because it means many things. And within that meaning is a bit of a contradiction. You see, I do not believe that any of us are mere mortals.

The Human Spirit in Relationship with God

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” C.S. Lewis

Therefore, I would argue that the spirit does not die, but either resides in eternity with Jesus or separated from Him in hell. So, you might ask, “How do you reconcile that belief with this tattoo?” Touché, mon ami. That is a very good question.

A figurative death

The simplest explanation is that I am talking figuratively. Kind of. But then the question presents itself, “How does a person die figuratively?” Oh, so many ways, as I am sure you probably know. In our day-to-day lives we may have heard many people express a feeling like death. Here, I would like to touch on a few of my own personal examples – strong reasons for me to remember to stay alive in the spirit.

Let’s go back to the idea of our spirits communicating with the Spirit of God. If my spirit is deadened (numb), it cannot receive from the His Spirit. This could also be referred to as grieving the Holy Spirit.

 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:29-31

If I am not in constant communication with the Spirit of God, I am living by the flesh – doing whatever I feel like, giving in to harmful thought patterns and behaviors. In this state, I get very cynical and bitter. Quite literally, I hate everyone (myself included), when disconnected from and grieving the Spirit of God. Everything is awful in this frame of mind. Nothing is beautiful to me. Everything is irredeemable. Not even a majestic sunrise can touch this hardened heart. I am more likely to gossip, slander, and act out of irritation. I am simply mean and utterly depressed when living in the flesh. The author of Ephesians put it perfectly – “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander… along with all malice.”

 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

The fruit of the Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galations 5:22-23

Look at all that beautiful fruit. That is the kind of life I want to live; the kind of person I want to be. Joy. Love. Peace. With that, I can appreciate and enjoy life; the beauty in nature and mankind. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. With these, I can be a blessing instead of a curse, and receive blessing with a grateful heart. Self-control. Here’s the kicker, the hardest fruit to hold on to. To be self-controlled, not giving into the temptation to be mean or act on selfish impulse, is to save yourself and your loved ones needless heartache. Life in the Spirit is truly the recipe for abundant life. With Christ in me, I can forgive like I have been forgiven, and let go of hate.

Referring once again to Ephesians, this bounty of this fruit of the Spirit is available to us as Christians if we do not grieve the Holy Spirit, and we “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Being Present, Consciousness

I am very naturally excessively analytical and live much of my life within my own head. This life in communication with the Spirit of God is not one of mere introspection. “Don’t let your spirit die before your body does.” This reminder to me yells, “Hey, you’re alive in this body. Live like it! Get out of your head, and experience the present.”

I wrote in my journal on my 26th birthday, “Every birthday is a reminder that I haven’t died yet.” This is partly a reflection on my depression and hopeful expectation to die. I know, you must think that is pretty sad. It’s true, and more often than not, it is subtle background noise to my daily life. I’ve not actively sought death, but prayed for it.

God has not granted that request, so He must have a reason for me to be here. I am guessing that reason is not to be preoccupied with my own thoughts, avoiding the lush beauty of life in the present, and avoiding the love that I can give and receive. The spirit in this body engaged with the Spirit of God is to be active through this body, actively engaging in the lives around me, forgetting about self-consciousness to live for others in each precious moment in light of eternity.

In Other Words

Don’t let your spirit die before your body does,” means to me: Stay alive to the life Christ has given to you, treasuring every moment until the last. Be the person you are in the Savior. Dead to self, alive in Jesus. — All of this is not possible without a relationship with Jesus Christ, accepting the sacrifice He made to redeem us, save us from the death we were headed to for eternity and the death we were living in separated from Him. He is our source of life in the spirit as well as in the body. The source of all life.

“16 O Lord, by these things men live,
and in all these is the life of my spirit.
Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17 Behold, it was for my welfare
that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
behind your back.” –Isaiah 38:16-17

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” Ephesians 1:7

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10

Peace to you all. Hope this has blessed you to read as much as it has blessed me to write.

 

The Job You Were Never Given

Here is a sample of a conversation that happens periodically:
“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Honey, I’m a mom. It’s my job to worry.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard these words from my own mother (props to my mom). Other people’s moms like to figuratively adopt me as an object of their concern. I love their nurturing tendencies and care towards their children. Their attention and care for me is so incredibly cherished and valued. But I do not want their worry.

The fact is that it’s not your job. It is no one’s job, not even if you’re really that person’s mom. Please forgive me if this sounds harsh. Yet, I see no room in the scripture for excusing worry.

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”

Matthew 6:31 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”

Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Luke 12:25 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

I believe this applies to worrying about other people’s lives as well. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your child’s life? to anyone’s life? Correct me if I am missing something, but I don’t see any exceptions. Jesus does not say here, “Do not worry, unless you are a mom.” Or “…unless you are held responsible for people under your care.” 

Regardless of whether it is our own lives, or the lives of our loved ones, Jesus can handle it. Our worry exhibits a lack of faith and trust. The God of the universe has got this. You not only don’t have to worry, you are commanded not to. How kind is that command? It is the best for us and everyone around us.

Not an Explanation (but kind of)

A valued word of advice (I do not recall from whom) bids me not to try to explain or defend myself. So, I hope instead that this translates as a story of my thought process.

For My Groom

I was addicted. And now I am free. I longed for the affirmation of a like or comment. I was wasting precious time. Time that my Savior had coveted for us. My Groom wants more time with me. Do I love Him enough to throw aside every entanglement? Do I love Him enough to crush my idols? My love is so small. But I can start here, with this entanglement, this idol.

I’m not sharing this as a prescription for Christ-followers to copy. We all have our own idols. Our own snares. And we need to come humbly before our Heavenly Father and ask Him how we can honor Him with our lives. In seeking His face and basking in His loveliness, I knew this area was a dark cloud in my life. I felt great peace and joy in His presence when I decided to lay this down barrier to closeness with Him.

Not Only That But… thoughts on anxiety, time, and creativity

I feel so much less anxiety when I am disconnected. It is a gift to simply be. Take in a moment without thought of the next, the past or what is on a screen. This time is a gift. I feel so much more free to concentrate my creativity on positive outlets that reignite my excitement for life. Writing. Prose. Poetry. Reading. Painting. Drawing. Meditating. My mind is more free to receive from my Heavenly Father. I was filling it with so much other stuff. There was hardly any room in there.

 This is a start, a movement towards a more wholehearted love. As we seek His face in humility, He is faithful to bring to mind any hindrance. And I trust He will. I look forward to it, too! He is so kind in bringing us near through teaching us to let go.

Risking Failure

What am I afraid of when confronted with the opportunity to chase a dream? I could fall on my face, face rejection, or I could succeed – leading to far more unanswered questions. It would be so much easier to not take a step. My own pride asserts that I ought to get my life together before I go further. Others are certainly more qualified.

His Glory or Mine
But waiting to move until I am confident in my own awesome ability and credentials robs God of an incredible opportunity to be glorified in my weakness. Moreover, my reluctance reveals a sinful lust for my own glory over His.

Faith Is Never Failure and Obedience Doesn’t Always Look Like Success
I could try and fail, but a step of faith and obedience is never failure, not in the eyes of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Since Jesus’ obedience led to death, I believe I can say with confidence that God’s plan does not always look like success to the world.

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(Quote by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf)

I fear obtaining my goals and finding myself unable to rise to the challenges they present. But here lies another blessed opportunity for Christ’s power to be made known in my weaknesses. Dreams that scare you are more likely going to need more than you can offer. When God comes through, there will be no stealing His glory if it is something you couldn’t do.

Believe and Trust
If this door is presently closed to me, I will trust that He will use it to teach me what I could not have known and grow me in ways I could not have grown otherwise. If it is opened, trust that He will provide for all of the uncertainties and challenges that follow.

Father, I want to trust You beyond what my eyes can see or my mind imagine. You are worthy of all my trust and faith. Lead me. There is none more skilled in guiding me. I’m sorry for worrying and trying to work things out in my own strength.  You are good. I trust You.  Amen

 

 

 the face

OneThing Recap: Wholeness and Healing

After years of feeling so broken, my Heavenly Father spoke wholeness and healing over me. Restoration. Through a stranger and through a new friend.

A stranger wrote to me: “He knows where all the broken pieces are! He wants His child whole – His mission – His heart’s desire is to gather those pieces – to mend, to make whole His child! … His great desire is to lovingly take each broken piece and restore it – under His grace – as we sit in His presence and allow Him to speak. As we allow ourselves to receive, He will heal. So simple. So hard. To rest and receive. Receive, sweet sister. The world doesn’t understand coming to a conference and crying… They don’t understand our God, our Beloved Savior weeps with us; that the tears are healing! It’s communication with Him. It’s connection with Him. It’s His great desire for tender hearts to come before Him.”

I receive that, sweet sister. Thank you stranger. For all the strangers and friends that have prayed for me this week, thank you! God hears you, and God is healing me.

To the gentleman I did not know who told me that there is purpose in pain, thank you. To the young man called me his sister and prayed for deeper healing than merely physical and shared practical wisdom with me, thank you.

To the woman in the restroom who stood and persisted in prayer over me with my friends until the warmth of healing spread from the top of my head to my toes and peaceful rest filled my soul in sweet communion with the Father, thank you. I think we stood there for 10 minutes.

To my new and old friends who persisted with me this week, giving me a place to stay, transportation, and even going with me to the hospital, thank you. I am so blessed by you all, and I pray God blesses you abundantly beyond your wildest dreams.

To the speakers and singers at the OneThing Conference, thank you. Especially Francis Chan, Matt Maher, and Audrey Assad… I was drawn into worship like I haven’t been in a long time. I am blessed by the love of Christ and His church exhibited. I understand 1 Peter 4 like never before, and I am equipped to go into this new year with the joy to embrace suffering as Christ did for me.

Even though the pain of whiplash did not entirely subside, it is dramatically better now. Even though I will have learn how to get to work without a car, I am encouraged knowing that in Christ I have everything, and I shall not want. If he did not provide one more physical comfort to me, He would still be enough. His sacrifice on the cross is still enough to prove His love.

Thank you for my little brother, who is not so little anymore, who prayed for my  health and drove me home this morning. I don’t know if you know how much that means to me.

“In my darkest hour, in humiliation, I will wait for You. I am not forsaken. Though I lose my life, though my breath be taken, I will wait for You. I am not forsaken. One thing I desire, to see You in Your beauty. You are my delight. You are my glory. You, my sacrifice, oh Your love is all consuming. You are my delight. You are my glory. You’re the lover of my soul. Even unto death, with my every breath, I will love You. Jesus, the very thought of You…”Audrey Assad

After all the good and the bad, after feeling so full and so broken, so needy… It is easy to over-emphasize what I lack. It is easy to focus on how I have disappointed myself and frustrated others… I want to focus instead on the beauty of God’s people, thankfulness, what I have in Christ, wholeness, love…

” Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2-4

I am whole. I am loved. There is nothing that I lack. I am laying to rest the past on the bosom of Christ.

 

The Proximity of Love in the Unknown

I don’t have it all together. I’ve been having a real hard time lately. In the midst of all of the not-having-it-togetherness, God has been teaching me some pretty sweet things. For that, I am glad, and blessed. I want to share it with you, not because I am amazingly brilliant with lots to share, but just because these gifts are too sweet to keep to myself. I am sure someone else needs them too.

Jesus loves you.

A whole lot. I know, I don’t always believe it either. Even as I am typing this, I struggle to believe. Jesus loves me. Why don’t I believe? Did He not do enough to prove it to me? Was it not enough that He died to save my life, to have me near? Is it not enough that He makes the sunrise every morning? Could I imagine that my flaws and sins are stronger than the blood He shed to cover them? Could it be that my lack of loveliness is enough to ward off the strength of His immense love? No, this is not so. He is enough. His love is strong enough.

He is near.

Psalm 139:7-12

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

If it were not for His great love, His nearness would be a fearful thing, but in fact, it is wonderful. It is what gives me hope and strength. His loving nearness is the power in my bones when I feel weak.

He is near and loving in the unknown.

So I am basing this section off of Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, August 5th, The Baffling Call of God. It presents the idea that we can be unsuccessful in the eyes of the people around us, and be unaware of the way in which God wants to use our lives, and still fully embrace The Baffling Call of God.

I have felt like a failure many times in my life. So you can imagine my relief when I read from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, “Jesus Christ’s life was an absolute failure from every standpoint but God’s. But what seemed failure from man’s standpoint was tremendous triumph from God’s, because God’s purpose is never man’s purpose.”

So even if my life seems like a total failure from man’s perspective, I am in good company. Better yet, there is hope that God sees it differently.

If it isn’t obvious from the previous paragraph, I am living in the blessed land of “What Am I Doing With My Life?!” Again, I could discuss this further, but that is not my intention for this blog. Suffice it to say, I don’t know. And the unknown is scary. To quote my good ol’ friend Oswald again, “It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself for His own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what he is after.”

His purpose for me is to be in relationship with Him. He knows what He is after, and I just have to trust Him. 

“A Christian is one who trusts the wits and the wisdom of God, and not his own wits. If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the leisureliness which ought to characterize the children of God.” – Oswald Chambers

Jesus, help me to trust You. To believe in Your love. To believe You are near. And to trust that You know what You are doing with my life. I love You, my Savior. I want to love You more. You are deserving of all of me. Thank You Jesus for who You are. I praise You for You are worthy of all my trust. Your love is beyond what I can comprehend, and it is real. Thank you Jesus. May my life be marked by simplicity and leisure because I trust in You.
-Amen

Not Only

I watched a movie tonight, hoping to boost my spirits. My roommate’s dog joined me, lying oddly on her back staring up at my face, paws toward the sky. It turned out to be a very sad movie. Death, disease, broken promises.

Unfortunately, it seems like that’s the way life goes.  I see news article one after another concerning awful things happening around the world. How can we keep our heads up?

I looked down at this oddly lying dog as she tries to lick my face. Barely dodging her tongue, I asked her, as if she could respond, “Why is life so sad?” And she just looked up at me with her big brown eyes, as clueless as ever. I felt an answer in my spirit.

But it’s not only sad.

I know this may sound elementary, but it’s so hard to grasp. Sometimes in the darkness, we forget that light exists. It seems like it will be dark forever. For those who cannot see the light at the proverbial end of the tunnel, I have no answers, but knowing that the darkness will end is some comfort to me. It takes faith when we cannot see it, but it will end.

Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Esiteri and the Red Earth

A few updates:

We made it safely to Bamako!

We started language classes. I am amazed at how far God has taken me. Growing up, I could barely open my mouth because of fear to talk to a stranger in my own language. Now, I am going out on a limb speaking to people, risking failure, in a language completely foreign to me.

Our hosts have a small television, and the Africa Cup (soccer precursor to the World Cup) is a big deal. Let’s just say that when the Mali team scored, I swear that I heard the whole city erupt in cheering.

We have been given our new names to make pronunciation for the Malians easier. My new name is Esther, except when they say it, it sounds like “Estare,” and they spell it like “Esiteri.” I like it quite a bit. I think I may try to study the book of Esther while I am here.

Thank you so much for your prayers! We have been very blessed so far, and the team is bonding well.

I really enjoy this way of life. Though the simple things take more effort, I feel more at peace and happier.  My emotions go up and down like a roller coaster. I suppose this is normal. To ease my aching heart, I try to be glad in having memories of family and friends to hold on to when I cannot hold on to the people themselves.

I am sure we have made plenty of cultural mistakes even in these first few days, but they are gracious with us. In a way, they have adopted us into their family while we are here. They have even given us the honor of introducing ourselves with their last names.

We went to the post office today to mail letters. It took about two or three taxis and almost two hours to complete the task. Unfortunately, it looks as though we will not make that trip too often. I wish this were not so, but such difficulties come with the territory. I will still try to write, but so much rests in uncertainty. It also looks like Skype won’t happen until the end of February most likely.

The days pass by unannounced. There are no warnings, dramatic conclusions, or credits scrolling past on a screen accompanied by some fitting theme music (though, from time to time, Valerie does play soundtracks from various films.) We are here. And though I knew it would be true, it has not hit me until now that we are here to live. This is life for us now. This is the norm.

We wake up, or at least we try to wake up at 7 or 7:30 in the morning. By this time, the Malians have most likely been awake for about two hours. While I lay in bed, I am awoken by the sound of the morning call to prayer, a rooster’s crow, or the sound of the women doing their chores.

Breakfast is generally at 8 am. Before this, one of the women will usually ask if we want to take a shower. If we answer affirmatively, they go about the work of heating water and filling our buckets. We take the bucket into a shower room and splash ourselves to our heart’s content. This room has no roof and the drain goes out through the wall.

After breakfast, we usually have class to learn Bambara. Ton ton Sako is a wonderful teacher. He says that we are learning quickly. Class is about three hours long. Then we have lunch. All the food is so good.

In the afternoon, we rest and have tea. Depending on the day, we will do different things, like go to the market or play with the children.

Stress comes without warning. It can be a culmination of things – language is one of those things. I find comfort in knowing that God knows and understands my language. He also knows and understands the Malians. I pray that when we fail, He could bring understanding to both of us.

We are all missing our loved ones, but God is faithful still. Personalities sometimes clash, but we are not in the business of giving up on being at peace with each other.

Thank you for your prayers!