Unfiltered: because the world needs more vulnerability.

IMG_9978.JPG

i.

 

It has been much too long since I have sat myself down to write. In the past months, exhausting and chaotic as they have been, I have lived.

 

I have mourned things that would never come to be. I have both sat on the floor of my room sobbing for hours, as well as driven myself to the beach in the middle of winter to dance with joy, alone on the shore, letting my feet be tickled by the ocean waves.

 

I have spent countless hours with friends, working through relationship issues and talking through breakups. I have attended Bible studies, and I have made too many commitments. I have scrubbed floors and washed thousands of dishes and cooked too many complicated dinners.

 

I have stayed up late to get work done, and gotten up with the sun some mornings. I have slept through too many of my alarms, eaten too much ice cream, spent too many hours on social media, and then realized how empty I really felt.

 

I have gotten on planes and braved hours of traffic to hug precious friends from all over, and have gone to coffee shops by myself and pored over my laptop with an overpriced cappuccino trying to force myself to absorb information. I have passed exams, and I have failed them. I have lived up to my own expectations, and I have failed myself too.

 

I have lived with a free and contented heart, rejoicing in both the goodness of God and the sweetness of my circumstances, and I have laid in bed late at night and realized the depression I thought I had beat and the loneliness that came along with it never truly went away.

 

I have prayed apathetically and worshiped sporadically. I have studied the Bible intensely, and I have pleaded with God wildly.

 

I have read books. I have gone exploring. I have lost people I was holding too tightly onto, and have grieved over the people I have disappointed.

 

And in all of that, through the joys and the sorrows, I have become exhausted – too tired to let myself think, but in not letting myself contemplate, become even more drained with the seemingly meaningless chaos my life has consisted of. Continue reading “Unfiltered: because the world needs more vulnerability.”

Advertisements

Disappointed: for when life hurts, and you’re wondering how God fits in.

jonatan-becerra-176647-unsplash

Sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way we always thought it would.

 

Sometimes we feel like we’re left with more questions than answers – more waiting than action – more hours of crying than smiling. Sometimes, something that seemed like it would be so perfect just wasn’t.

 

That dream school – that relationship – that job – that friendship – that trip – that opportunity. When everything felt so right, so God-led, so hopeful, and nothing comes, it’s easy to become discouraged. The question is not, “God, if You’re good, why did this happen to me?” as much as, “God, when I felt like You were leading me to this place, did I hear Your voice wrong? Was I wrong to trust You for this? Are You still as faithful as I though You promised me that You were?”

 

And as I’ve been walking through this, I’ve realized a few things.

 

I’ve realized that if I make the object of my joy, my satisfaction, and my hope anything other than pursuing Jesus Christ, I’ll never find the peace in my heart that I crave, even if my circumstances seem to be exactly what I thought I wanted.

 

I want to be faithful right where I am, trusting the God that’s directing me to right where He has for me to be. Not because those circumstances are the ones I’m dreaming of – but because I will only find true joy when I’m pursuing the Person of Jesus, not because I think He’s a shortcut to achieving my own desires.

 

For where else can we find hope in our brokenness? Where else can we find grace for our weakness? Joy in heartache? Peace in the midst of missed opportunities, rejection, and despair?

Continue reading “Disappointed: for when life hurts, and you’re wondering how God fits in.”

When God Chooses to Work in the Ordinary & Call Us to Where We Already Are

When God Chooses to Work in the Ordinary & Call Us to Where We Already Are.png

I’ve been writing this post in my head and heart for too long.

 

It’s the byproduct of so many late night wrestlings, so many journal entries and tweets and long-winded conversations with the people closest to me.

 

It’s those texts we send our friends about waiting for the next thing to happen – about anticipating the answers to our big questions, about finally finding that thing after waiting so long, hoping so desperately.

 

It’s the prayer we pray of God, just show me where to go and I’ll go, what to do and I’ll do it, who to be and I’ll be that person.

 

I’ve been there so many times, and honestly, I’m often still in that boat. Most of my daily prayers close with something along the lines of, “Lead me, Lord, to where you want me to be, who You want me to meet, to the future You have planned for me.”

 

And over the years, as I’ve grown as both a young adult and a Christian, I’ve often been so focused on that next thing, that I haven’t embraced the space where God has put me.

 

See, something that I’m ever-realizing is this: God doesn’t need us to be anything extraordinary in order to be used by Him; He uses us right where we are to fulfill His purposes that are so much bigger and more beautiful than just ourselves.

 

That’s not to say He doesn’t lead us ahead – simply that sometimes, the place He has for us is directly in front of us.

Continue reading “When God Chooses to Work in the Ordinary & Call Us to Where We Already Are”

Why I’m No Longer Trying to Figure Out What to Do With My Life

Why I’m No Longer Trying to Figure Out What to Do With My Life.jpg

For the past few months, I’ve been thinking and praying, seeking to know, grasping to discover what to do with my life. I have somewhat of an idea; somewhat.

 

I have my passions. I have my friends and family that encourage me. I have my hobbies, my loves, those things in my life I can’t imagine doing without.

 

And so lately, I’ve been on this journey. It’s been somewhat subconscious, in the back of my head, and on those days where I’m home alone with my notebooks, my Bible, my phone, and computer, I can choose to either think, or be distracted.

 

Sometimes, I choose to think.

Continue reading “Why I’m No Longer Trying to Figure Out What to Do With My Life”

For When We Just Don’t Feel Like It

for when we just don't feel like it

 

“I don’t feel like it today.”

 

The whisper leaves my lips as I struggle to understand what I’m really saying.

 

“I don’t want to pray right now.”

 

It’s shameful to admit. When feelings drive me toward to a place of deception and poor judgment.

 

“I don’t want to read my Bible today.”

 

I’ve felt that feeling all too often. Now, let me get things straight before I say something I don’t mean.

Continue reading “For When We Just Don’t Feel Like It”

3 Things We Should Expect God to Do

3 Things We Should Expect God to Do

As Christians, we hear this command a lot: “Pray.” When bad things happen, what do we do? We pray. When we don’t know what to do, we pray. When we need something done fast, we pray as hard as we can and get others to do the same.

 

We treat prayer as though the more we do it, the more God will hear us and do what we want.

 

But have we perhaps considered that it’s not always about what we want?

 

All the time, I hear people say, “Expect God to work.” I absolutely agree. He is all-powerful, He is sovereign, He loves us unconditionally, and desires the best for us.

 

But that doesn’t mean that we expect Him to accomplish everything we want.

 

In my life, I’ve found this. While I could pray this:

 

 “God, I want _____ thing, and because I know you can do all things, please give _____ to me.”

 

I’ve started praying like this:

 

“God, you know that I want _____ thing. If that’s Your will for me, I pray that You would allow it, but if not, I pray that Your will would prevail.”

 

So do I expect God to work? Absolutely. But I don’t expect Him to only work in the ways that I might expect.

 

So what should we expect when we pray?

 

  1. Expect God to hear us when we pray, no matter what.

 

We don’t need to use high and mighty words; we need to tell Him what is on our minds. He desires for us to know Him as He knows us. He has created us and wants us to have a relationship with us; not because we are great, but because He is.

 

1 John 5:14

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”

 

  1. Expect God to accomplish His will.

 

When we pray for only what we want, we can miss out on finding joy in God’s bigger, greater plan. And in looking at the big picture, do we want what will benefit us temporarily, or what will benefit God’s Kingdom eternally?

 

That seems like a vague rhetorical question, and I know that we all want to say, “I want what will benefit God’s Kingdom!” but it’s not an easy thing to say. It’s hard to desire God’s will when what we want just seems so good. Really. I have a hard time letting go of what I want and grabbing hold of what He wants at times.

 

However, I have discovered that the more I read the Bible, get to know God, and love Him more and more, the more my desires seem petty. Oh yes, there is still some appeal. But when I see how God led the Israelites through the Red Sea, I am awed at how great His power is.

 

When I see how He worked out Joseph’s imprisonment for the good of Egypt, and when I see how Jesus was crucified for us, enduring the pain of Hell, I see that even in our excruciating circumstances, God still works. Maybe not always in the ways that feel comfortable to us, but in the ways that He knows are best.

 

Proverbs 19:21

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

 

  1. Expect God to act out of His love for us.

 

God is not a tyrant, nor is He unjust. When we pray for His will to be done, we’re not asking for some Great Cosmic Mystery to unfold, but a wise plan from our loving Father. He doesn’t “send” anyone to Hell; their sin does. His desire is to save all who would come to Him.

 

2 Peter 3:9

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

 

When we prioritize His will over our wants, we’re surrendering our desires to God in favor of something infinitely greater than us. We’re not happy-sapping ourselves; we’re allowing ourselves to be filled with joy because God truly is at work and He truly does have a plan.

 

So what should we expect from God? We should expect Him to answer our prayers with His infinite wisdom, whether we agree with the answer or not. We should expect Him to work in His own way in situations that seem impossible. We should expect Him to work in ways that are genuinely best for us.

 

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

 

*aj

Dealing With Stress: It’s Not As Hard As You Think

Dealing With Stress

 

Good morning, friends.

 

I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a few weeks now. As a side note, tomorrow (February 17th) is my blogiversary! I’ve been writing here for 364 days so far, and what a journey it’s been.

 

I’m going to try to have a nice post up celebrating that tomorrow, with a survey and such…but we’ll see how it goes.

 

This year, blogging has made my life busier. I’m more consumed with writing, responding to comments, practicing with graphic design, meeting new people and staying in touch with them…all that crazy fun stuff.

 

And this is on top of schoolwork (which can drive me up the wall with discouragement at times), editing (which can hassle me with my perfectionism and procrastination), working, practicing music, and trying to take time for me.

 

Needless to say, my life can get stressful, and mostly for the pressure I put on myself. And my stress can lead to depression and discouragement. The more stressed I get, the less I want to work hard, and the less hard I work, the more stressed I get because nothing’s getting done.

 

Exasperating system, right?

 

I’m not going to keep boring you all with my woes, though. I just want to address a flaw that I’ve seen in my own life.

 

Distraction.

 

When I’m stressed, I do one of a few things.

I mope or hide.

I listen to music.

I find some book to lose myself in.

I watch YouTube videos (all good ones, mind you) or TV.

 

Basically, I turn my distractions up to drown out my life.

 

But when it comes to the end of the TV show, or the song, or the end of the book, and I’m woken back up to reality, I realize that nothing has changed. I haven’t improved my condition; I’ve enhanced it by drawing it out longer. And that is the worst feeling in the world.

 

When I use distractions – like adding more busyness to my already-hectic life – I’m essentially saying to God, You’re not enough for me. You can’t handle this, I can. My distractions can fix me, and You can’t.

 

Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not the right attitude.

 

And I know this is wrong. I totally know. I totally know I’m doing myself so much more harm than good. I know, I know, I know. But at some point in my life, that whole “Jesus is enough for me” thing seemed to be just talk, because I didn’t understand how to apply it.

 

We as Christians can waltz around, saying things like, “All you need is Jesus, and your life will be good.” Or “If you only pray, your situation will improve.” And “God will turn your life from messy to perfect.”

 

Cliché, right? And yet we say them. I mean, I suppose those first two statements could be stretched to be kind of right, but when we speak them literally, we completely deceive ourselves.

 

It’s 100% true that Jesus fills that hole in our hearts for meaning.

It’s 100% true that God has everything under control.

It’s 100% true that prayer works.

It’s 100% true that God takes us as we are, messy and sinful, and transforms our lives.

It’s 100% true that He never abandons us.

 

But He doesn’t give us easy lives.

Prayer isn’t like writing a wish list to Santa Claus or pressing a button on a vending machine.

He doesn’t (normally) speak to us in an audible voice.

He isn’t “magical” or like some genie.

 

But He does long for us to know Him.

He does speak to us in our hearts.

He does provide for our needs.

He does love us with an everlasting love.

And He can (and does!) heal our souls.

 

When we have problems, we shouldn’t hide from the God who knows what they’re like.

We shouldn’t try to handle things on our own, because quite frankly, we can’t.

 

Now, you know I can say all these things, and you can nod your little head, but just talking about something doesn’t help when it comes to practical life.

 

What should we do when we’re stressed out, depressed, discouraged, lonely, feeling hopeless, anxious, or downcast? What?

 

Pray. Cry out to God. Accept His strength.

This is our chance to say, “God, I cannot do this on my own, and I need your strength to sustain me.”

 

 

Psalm 34:17-18

“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

 

Philippians 4:6-7

“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.”

 

Listen to the truths in the Word of God (aka the Bible). Find refuge in Him, rather than yourself.

 

Psalm 30:5

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

 

Psalm 119:105

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

 

Psalm 119:114

“You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.”

 

Psalm 91:1-2

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

 

Okay, prayer and Bible is great…but we know that already. What else can we practically do to take control of our feelings?

 

Prioritize.

 

While this isn’t necessarily spiritual advice, it’s definitely helped me. For me, prioritizing means making a list (yes, a real list on paper with a pencil) of things I need to get done overall. And then, setting manageable daily goals to accomplish those goals.

If it’s still too overwhelming, I rethink my priorities.

 

Is there anything I can cut out or take a break from? Is there anything I can change my mind about and say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do ___ right now?” Is there anything that I can put less time or effort into?

 

God doesn’t want us to be stressed. He wants us to rest in Him, and not freak out over our messy lives. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to rest.

 

And lastly…

 

Build time in for rest.

 

Rest can take all types of different forms. This may be watching TV, pursuing a hobby, hanging out with friends, or taking time just to chill out and do nothing. This isn’t wrong. It’s good to take time to breathe, and good to take time to do what you love. There is no shame in that.

 

Take time to rest, take mental breaks, but of course, don’t use those things to disguise real pressure. Deal with the pressure, and additionally, take time to unwind and relax.

 

Live refreshed. Pressures come, absolutely. But when we can control some of our stress, we should. When we are stressed, we need to turn to God and find the peace that we need. Trust me, it’s there.

 

Never forget that God is always in control, and stress doesn’t have to be.

 

*aj

How to Read the Bible {effectively spending time with our Heavenly Father}

How to Read the Bible

I’m back! It’s good to be back. On Saturday, I promised to teach us how to implement reading the Bible into our daily lives. I wrote a post about why it’s important (read it here), but I didn’t tell you where to start. And that, my friends, is the objective of this post.

 

On January 1st, 2013, I started reading 4 chapters of the Bible every day, in order, and finished in October. I’d write a sentence or two about what the theme was, and then I was done. I won’t undermine what I did, because it definitely helped me get into the habit of reading my Bible, but I know I could have gone deeper.

 

Once October hit, I switched gears. I had a pretty little journal lying around and begging to be written in. This is what I did, and it worked for me for a while.

 

Instead of continuing on with four chapters a day (which became overwhelming as the chapters got longer!), I studied one a day instead. I skipped to Romans instead of starting over from Genesis, because as much as the entire Bible is important, we aren’t to take the Old Testament as our life manual – it’s different now, in light of Jesus. We aren’t restricted by the same laws and we have a different focus.

 

I took each chapter one by one, reading through it once, then going back and reading through it once more. I took a few verses and wrote my own commentary on them. Of course, my parents (the Bible experts, haha, love you Mom and Dad) are usually around to ask if I don’t understand something, but there are some good commentaries out there for reference. Check out the Bible Gateway app (which has the Bible in many different translations, audio versions, dramatized Bible, commentaries, dictionaries, reminder notifications for your phone to read the Bible, reading plans, everything), which I love and use all the time.

 

Continuing on with my method.

 

I read each chapter thoroughly, and took a lot of notes. The point here isn’t to read a lot, but to comprehend and take to heart what you’re reading. That, friends, is what it’s about.

 

I’ve used an array of different methods. Please note that there is no right or wrong. All that’s important is growth in your faith and getting to know God better. Whatever works for you is fantastic.

 

This year, I’m reading two chapters out of the New Testament and writing a page-long prayer (something I’ve never done before) every day. Not sure why exactly I haven’t “prayed on paper” before, but this year I thought it’d be interesting to see what I prayed and how God answered those prayers. And I’m glad I decided to go through with it! I’m enjoying writing to God every day and seeing the thoughts on paper that I haven’t gotten outside of my head until now.

 

Something I’ve discovered as I’ve walked this Bible-studying journey is that having time is important. I don’t mean that we should all be monks and nuns and read the Bible for twenty-three hours a day and sleep on cold stone floors for one hour. But setting aside 15-30ish minutes a day to read or even listen to the Bible while eating, (or cleaning, or doing those other things that nobody really wants to do but they have to do anyway) will make a huge difference. There’s 1,440 minutes in a day. If you’re okay with staying up until 2am late watching TV, reading a novel, or browsing the internet, then you really do have 15 minutes at some point in the day to cultivate your faith. Trust me, it is so worth it.

 

So, here. Here’s what you can do.

 

You can read. Read like your life depends on it. Read like the Bible is your food. Read it and take it in, take it apart, and find something to take away.

 

And write. Write verses that are significant to you. Write words that stick out. Write letters to God, being honest, and asking Him to reveal Himself to you. And I promise, He will.

 

Pray. Pray because God knows your heart and delights for you to want to know Him too. Thank Him for what He’s done in your life and what He is continuing to do. Pray continually, because God is our Father, and He wants to have an open relationship with us.

 

I said this already, and I mean it, so I’ll repeat myself. There is no wrong way to spend time with God, the whole thing is about spending time with Him in the first place. When you’re with friends, it’s just good to be together, regardless of what you’re doing. Same with our Heavenly Father. And the more you read, the more you’ll desire to. Really.

 

Resources:

A Project Inspired article about cool ways to study the Bible: http://www.projectinspired.com/bible-study-hacks-you-wish-youd-thought-of/

 

Tips for studying the Bible effectively:

http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/tips/3-simple-steps-for-studying-the-bible.html

 

Topical search through the Bible:

http://www.openbible.info/topics/

 

The Bible in countless translations and languages:

https://www.biblegateway.com

 

Have a great week, and I’ll be back Saturday!

 

*aj