Worship

In May I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Depression looks different for everyone. I had a friend one time who described his as “walking around with a lead x-ray vest on.” I can relate. One day the lead vest is Gorilla Glued to my body…and then the next day I will be cracking jokes and asking friends to grab lunch. On the whole, I am having many more “good” days than “bad” days (PRAISE HANDS) and I celebrate the healing. I also celebrate that I get to return to a culture that similarly wrestles and share with them the hope I have in Jesus!!

When I was diagnosed, I was relieved to have an explanation for my symptoms but I also knew there was a long road ahead. My doctors and I were all in agreement that although there were many components at play, the chemicals in my brain simply were not playing nice and needed some help in ways I couldn’t control on my own. So I started medication. My doctors and I came up with a treatment plan that has additionally included counseling, more rest, wisely reducing commitments, exercise, and healthy eating.

But I knew that would not be enough. The ache in my soul was even deeper than my exhausted and depleted body. My soul needed care.

I’ve closely monitored what media I am consuming: television, podcasts, social media, movies, and music. I’m aware of my need to have honest conversations about what is going on inside my head, speaking Truth to lies. I’ve been more purposeful about the Books I read, as well as setting aside time for prayer and cracking out my journal more often. I find the most comfort in the Word of God (especially Psalm 30) and have found that my heart needs a way to proclaim this Truth of who He is.

I know worship is so much more than just the songs we sing, but in this season I’ve needed the literal psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. (Eph. 5:19).

Pause for a sec: Let me be up front about this –– I do not only listen to Christian worship music. I will debate you all day long about how a good dance party to Yeah! by Usher or Perm by Bruno Mars can be highly therapeutic. (For the record, this is my favorite performance to date.) Plus there’s so much value in being part of culture through music. There’s a wise way and a wrong way to engage with secular music and everyone has different boundaries. So I am not saying that a certain approach is better than another, but rather this is just where I am right now.

The hardest part for me has been that I can’t be all for all. My capacity isn’t what I’m used to. I’ve dropped the ball with friends, forgetting birthdays and anniversaries and other special days. I’m used to being the one giving help, not asking for it. I have no problem admitting that I’m not perfect, but when it comes to asking for help that’s a different story. I love helping other people, but for some reason when I ask for other people to help me I immediately think that I am being a burden. It’s really sad how that’s transferred over into my relationship with God.

What I love about hymns specifically, or other Gospel-centered songs, is that they remind me how God saved me and chose me when I was broken. It gets better…He keeps choosing me and won’t ever stop. My counselor this week asked me if I ever think about how God is happy that He chose to create me. It’s hard for me to ignore the subconscious mantra of “my brokenness is too much” and instead walk in the freedom that God is infinitely bigger than my brokenness. He delights in me, whatever my state.

The beauty of brokenness is that there’s that much more room for Him to shine.

The following are some of my favorite lines from hymns. I need these sweet reminders to replace the nasty lies. These songs remind me of how God delights in me. I am not too much. He’s got this all under control.

“I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small; Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.””
Jesus Paid it All

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”
Great is Thy Faithfulness

“All to Jesus I surrender, Make me, Savior, wholly Thine; Let me feel Thy Holy Spirit, Truly know that Thou art mine. All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee; Fill me with Thy love and power, Let Thy blessing fall on me.”
I Surrender All

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch; like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed!
The Lord hath promised good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun.”
Amazing Grace

 

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Grace

As kids, my sister and I loved doing puzzles. Our lineage is almost exclusively engineers and teachers, so we were destined to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. Whether the puzzle involved numbers, words, or pictures, we were all over it. On more than one occasion we have been known to snatch the last piece out of the other’s hand (Rebecca’s favorite trick) or to hide the last piece until the other sister was haunted by the glaring gap (my specialty). When we would go to a restaurant, we would try to stump each other with math problems. (I know, we were cool kids.) Whatever the puzzle, we saw chaos and wanted to bring order.

I treat life much the same way.

I dump out the puzzle of life and begin searching for the edge pieces to help frame the lesson God is teaching me. I write out the problem, determine the variables, and balance the equation. I talk out the situation, filling in all the boxes to the matrix logic.

Always sorting.

Always searching.

Always striving to make sense of things.

There has always been one type of puzzle though that I do not indulge in: knots. Untangling Christmas lights? Nope. Matted balls of string? Get away. Cords that have been jumbled? Send help. I think one of man’s greatest inventions has been electronics with retractable cords.

I don’t like knots because there’s no clear starting point. You just tug and hope something gives. It is inevitable that you will get the string 99.9% untangled, only to discover a small pretzel-shaped knot in the dead center of the line. There is so much doubling back and gathering and scrunching and I’m convinced that half of the time I’m just tripling the number of knots. I am only adding to the chaos.

My life is currently a knot.

I have no picture on the box or number on the opposite side of the equal sign. When I tug and pull there is no movement; I am well aware that the knot is only tightening. I am left with a clump. It feels useless.

It’s not uncommon for someone to comment on how self-aware I am. I’m grateful each time He opens my eyes to see how different aspects, events, or characteristics relate and influence one another. I like to see the puzzle making sense. But right now the only thing I’m aware of is that there’s a lot I don’t know and can’t figure out. So what now?

GRACE.

I’ve written nothing short of seven alternative paragraphs to follow that one simple word. Each paragraph gets carefully typed out only to be deleted, always falling short of what my soul longs to convey. So rather than fumbling towards what my heart is trying to express, I will lean on Truth. The phrase that God keeps bringing to mind is the beginning of 2 Corinthians 12:8: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I am very much in the midst of the beginning stages of this whole grace thing. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve tried to recruit friends to help me untangle this knot, only for them to gently urge me to accept the grace that has been given to me.

So here I stand. With a knotted, jumbled, imperfect lump of what I think at one time resembled my life. What I am quick to deem as worthless, God embraces as precious. He doesn’t expect any different of me. Why should I?

 

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Homesick

In a few days I will hit eight months of living in Greece.

As I prepared to make the move, I had a few people mention the “honeymoon period.” Where you’re so excited and mesmerized by a place or event that there’s little that can taint the bliss. My honeymoon with Greece lasted about three weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this place. A lot. God has provided incredible friendships and numerous other blessings. There is no doubt in my mind that this is where I am supposed to be, and now where He has me for next year too (eek!).

But I am homesick. My heart aches for my homeland, to be near “my people.”

I have wrestled with this quite a bit, especially over the last few months. If this is where God has me, is it wrong to feel homesick? Is it wrong to desire to be near my church family, when there is a church here? If I long to be elsewhere, am I not being content with what God has put before me?

Short answer: no.

My team has been studying 1 and 2 Thessalonians this semester. Multiple times Paul pours out his heart and shares just how desperately he wants to be with the church in Thessalonica. And he never apologizes for this longing. In Romans 15 he shares too that he wants to be with the church in Rome so that he can be “refreshed in [their] company.” I can relate.

So if my homesickness is not sinful in nature, what should I do with it?

Friends and family, Tex-Mex and Chick-Fil-A, vibrant sunsets and driving with the windows down…these are all things Texas holds. I intend to fully embrace all of these things during my 81 days Stateside this summer and I am confident that I, like Paul, will be refreshed by the company of familiar faces. But I also know that no matter what, I will not be satisfied.

My longings for satisfaction and comfort run deeper than my Texas heritage.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Hebrews 13:14, NLT)

I long for Heaven home.

My Home is promised. Jesus reminds us of this perfect home in John 14:1-3 when he encourages the disciples: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This place I long for is a reality, not a figment.

I’ve also found great comfort in these verses in the midst of my homesickness.

“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.” Psalm 91:1-2

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13

CS Lewis wrote “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

So Jesus, let this yearning serve as a holy reminder. I know that I yearn for Heaven. I yearn to see you face to face and see with my own eyes, without hesitation or denial, just how in love you are with me. I yearn to be in your presence for all of eternity.

 

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A note about the art:
I knew I wanted to use watercolors because there is something soothing about how the colors mix and the end product often has a serene aspect. As I was painting, I just wasn’t working. The first attempt was cool, but it was at odds with how I was feeling. I needed more Princess Diaries and less Bob Ross. When I look at this one, it just fits.

Surrender

Every summer in college I worked at a summer camp. Each summer would begin with a few weeks of training where the year-round staff would prep us for the delightfully exhausting season ahead. During one of these staff trainings, my director put an interesting spin on a a common illustration. Whenever it comes time to make decisions or face something difficult, I feel like the phrases “open hands” or “offer it up” are uttered nothing short of eight billion times.

If you have said this to me, first of all, I want to thank you. Because as someone who is prone to want to control everything, I know that by you saying this you are trying to get me to remember that I need to let God take His rightful place in my life as Ruler and King. He controls my life; I need to be faithful with what He’s given me.

Back to my camp director’s challenge. All of the ladies on staff were outside enjoying the cool breeze of the afternoon. (Which, who knew there was a place where you could be outside in May and not be sweating buckets? Don’t get me wrong Texas, you’re still my favorite. But sometimes your summers are the worst.) My director bent down and picked up a rock. She told us to think of something in our lives that we are protective over (family, a relationship, grades, etc) that the rock could represent. We often think that by opening our hands, we’re submitting that to God. Which is true to some extent. But think about it, if the rock is still in your hand, you control how high, where the rock goes, and sometimes you close your fingers right tight around it again. What would happen if you took your rock in your palm with your hand open, and then flipped it over? The rock would fall out of your controlling grasp.

I think I’m fairly good at opening my hands to surrender my “rock,” but totally letting go is a different story. I profess with my mouth that I trust God with _____, but my heart and my mind are a lot slower to get on board. I’ve known God for most of my life and been walking consistently with Him for almost 15 years, so why is it so hard for me to let go? I’ve seen and experienced Him being there for me in the darkest of hours, experienced Him provide for me abundantly. But hesitancy still has roots deeper than I would like to admit.

I don’t have any profound revelation or earth shattering point. This isn’t a fully resolved lesson or something that is in the past. It’s not a ‘one and done’ approach.

Surrender is daily obedience.

With each day, let my soul cry “All to Thee, my precious Savior, I surrender all.”

Peace

God has frequently been bringing to mind the story of Mark 4:35-40. Jesus and the disciples had a long day of ministering to people so they loaded up a boat to go to the other side of the sea. A storm came upon them and the disciples were TERRIFIED. They were literally caught on a sinking ship. Meanwhile, Jesus was peacefully sleeping. The disciples were pretty frustrated and “woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?””

I can definitely relate to the disciples. I’ve felt like the storms are viscous and that my boat is flooding and going down. Fast. I’m trying to get the water out as quick as I can but I’m not making a dent in it. My panic seems justified. I have a hard time believing that anyone on a sinking ship would just sit there quietly. There has been more than one time this month where I wanted to walk right up to Jesus and say, “Hello. You might not be aware but my boat is about to sink and someone is going to have to pull my body from the bottom of the lake. AND YOU’RE DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT!!”

I’m sure Jesus would get a kick out of that. His response would probably be the same to me as it was to the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith in me?”

Peace and faith are closely intertwined. At church a few weeks ago we talked about Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Our pastor talked about how peace is founded in faith. From the moment we began believing in God we were given peace. He posed a simple question: what keeps us from living in peace?

No matter how big the storms seem or how unsettled I feel or how much anxiety seems like an appropriate response, that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is bigger.

Do I believe that the Creator of all can command all that He has created? Yes.

Do I believe that He cares about me and is alive and working for my good? Yes.

Do I believe that He will use suffering to produce endurance, character, and hope? Yes.

I believe that Jesus’ command to the wind and the sea is the same command He gives to me. “Peace! Be still!”

Solitude

If you had asked me two months ago to name the spiritual disciplines, my list would have included prayer, Scripture memory, reading/studying the Bible, and accountability. Turns out there are a good number of additional practices. One of those additions is something called “solitude.” And turns out that it’s not just for monks.

Y’all. Over the past 6 weeks, the longest I’ve gone without hearing some mention of solitude has been three days. NOT KIDDING. Books for fun, books for a seminary class, friends, podcasts, more friends, sermons, more books…everywhere I turn, there has been some nugget about the importance of solitude.

I’ve also had the exact same “it’s showing up everywhere” experience with a new-to-me author, Henri Nouwen. (And also with Chick-fil-A…but I still have five months left of my CFA fast so we don’t talk about that one.) Would you believe me if I said that it took me two weeks of these “solitude” and “Nouwen” bombardments before I realized Henri Nouwen has a lot to say about solitude? And here I was thinking they were two separate occurrences. Ha.

By that point, there was no denying that God had my attention. If everyone (including this Nouwen dude) is claiming solitude is so essential, why was this the first I was hearing of it?

Solitude is counter-cultural. In a world that demands go and do, solitude demands that we stop and sit. 

This nugget was from a seminary book:

“The practice of contemplative prayer––learning to quietly sit in God’s presence, gazing upon him, and allowing him, not our worded response, to fill our consciousness––is a transforming discipline for Christians more accustomed to prayer of the head than prayer of the heart.” (David Benner, Care of Souls)

Not only that, but I would venture to say that we also live in a world that demands we have a response to everything. We are trained to have a thoughtful opinion, witty rebuttal, or insightful analysis. If we don’t, well…you just failed 10th grade English, or you’re the laughingstock of the dinner party. Solitude can be super uncomfortable because it forces us to stand, unmasked, before God.

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.” -Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is adamant that even though solitude is hard work (I’ll affirm that claim), when we set aside time and space we will undoubtably be inundated by a thousand distracting thoughts as we are face-to-face with our inner chaos, but the result of perseverance is hope in the presence of God. We are reminded that God is bigger than we are.

But here’s what really got me: Did you know Jesus practiced solitude? Matthew 14:23 gives us a picture of Jesus practicing solitude in the middle of His ministry, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Did you catch that? Jesus left the crowd. Went by himself up the mountain. Where he prayed. By himself. For a long time. He also practiced solitude after hearing about John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:13), after healing many (Mark 1:35), before choosing the Twelve Disciples (Luke 6:12), and the night he was betrayed (Matthew 26:39). One last verse to drive home this point: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16 NIV)

Here are some questions that helped me begin to practice solitude:

  • Where am I trying to use outer distractions to shield the inner noises?
  • When was the last time I stopped to listen to the quiet whisper of God?
  • Am I persevering, pushing into solitude?
  • What is my attitude toward solitude?

“In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.” -Henri Nouwen

Sometimes we choose solitude and other times God plops us down in the middle of it. Regardless of how we got there, God will always, always, always use those times to teach us about who He is.

Solitude is not just for monks.

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Full

Choosing a word for the year is not a new practice. Maybe it’s safer to say it’s a new fad. Regardless, I’m a believer. Here’s why: when chosen with care, as a result of submission and asking God to reveal what He wants to teach my heart, it can function as a spiritual barometer. It forces me to be really focused on one area. It gives me a centering point for prayer. I can ask myself, “how are you doing practicing or believing [word of the year]?” Am I resisting God or pushing in to Him?

2017 was my second year to claim a word. In 2016, my word was “worthy” because I wanted to see God as worthy of my affections, what He called worthy in the world/people around me, and how I am worthy as God’s beloved.

My word for 2017: full. Because I have Christ, my life lacks nothing. I chose it because so much of my 2016 prayer life had involved phrases like, “Help me be content with…” or “Why am I not…?” or “Why is everyone else….?” I would read verses about God’s gifts and while knowing the Word of God is True, I would have a hard time feeling it.

  • “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11) 
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

If I’m being quite honest, I felt like God was withholding things from me. I watched as friends received things I wanted. I watched as friends got their dream jobs. Got married. Traveled to cool places with their friends. Had (what looked like) effortless relationships with their families. And the list goes on.

I love what Chad Ashby shared in his article “Is God Keeping Something From You?” over on Desiring God. We make it three chapters into the Bible before we see people confused by God and convinced that God is withholding good from them. God gave Adam and Eve an entire garden and they wanted the one tree they couldn’t have. I would definitely recommend reading Ashby’s entire article, but here are two of my favorite excerpts:

“Look at your life. Is it possible that you’ve fallen for Satan’s oldest strategy against us? Are you fixated on the one thing God is withholding? Has the Serpent convinced you that God is actually wrong to keep something good from you? Is it possible that your life is really a garden full of fruitful trees, but you’re stuck on the one tree God won’t let you have now?”

“God withholds good things from us to teach us to treasure him above every good thing. When he refuses to give us the good thing we plead for, he is actually giving us something even greater: himself and his grace to us in Christ.”

When I got to the root of it, the only thing that can bring me complete, lasting satisfaction is God himself. What if I stopped trying to figure out why my life didn’t look like I thought it should, and instead started thanking God for what He had given me?

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Now let me get in front of one thing: moving to Greece did not automatically make my life more full. In a lot of ways, my life became a lot simpler. A big life change, such as I don’t know maybe moving half way around the world, can make your life feel more chaotic but when the dust settles, is still only a distraction.

Here are some questions I had to face over the last year that helped me practice seeing my life as “full.”

  • Do I believe that God is works for my good? (Romans 8:28)
  • Do I trust God’s timing is better than my own? (Proverbs 16:9)
  • Can God use suffering for good? (Romans 5:3-5)
  • Can loneliness contribute to fullness? (Luke 5:16; Hint: yes, it’s called solitude)
  • Is God’s presence what truly fills me up? (Ephesians 3:14-19)

One other way I practiced thanking God for my life being full is by recording a short video every day. Some days produced clips of groups of people together celebrating. Others were of still small moments I experienced by myself. As I watch this video (posted below) from the last year, I cannot help but stop and thank God for all that He has done and is doing in my life.

He is teaching me and meeting me here. My life lacks nothing because I have Jesus.

How full is your life?

Oh, and my word for 2018? Gentle. TBH, not very excited about it. But I trust Him to be a gentle teacher.

Prayer

10…..9…..8…..

The mental countdown had begun.

7…..6…..

I could feel the grooves on the inside of my cheek from where I had been biting it for the last hour.

5…..4…..

I could hear the fast “thump thump thump” of my shoes echoing down the tiled hallway.

3…..

I swallowed hard. The lump was still there.

2…..

If I could just make it to the bathroom I could avoid the questions. But what if someone saw me before I left? Flushed. Wide-eyed. Panicked.

1…..

The click of the stall lock functioned like a marathon gun. The gates opened. My tears freely flowed down my face.

I would be lying if I said this was a one time occurrence.

 

 

I really wanted this month’s focus to be on prayer. I have been practicing praying in different ways (journaling, through song, praying Scripture, setting reminders, etc.) As we walk around campus, I’m praying for the people we pass and those we are about to meet. I’ve seen God answer very specific prayers as well as what it looks like to come before Him daily to lay it at the foot of the cross.

But I wasn’t expecting God to teach me about prayer through weakness. With every turn He has been reminding me that I am nothing without Him.

It’s really natural for me to pray for other people. I am so grateful for this! But it is hard for me to pray for myself. I don’t want to admit that anything is wrong.

There is nothing that will humble you faster than living in a foreign country.

I have learned that I have to prepare for battle. Or what feels like battle: Language class. Campus evangelism. The grocery store. Every time I step foot out my door the enemy is looking for opportunities to get a foothold.

Y’all. The enemy attacks hard. And if I’m being honest, he’s gotten the better of me a few times. BUT, he hasn’t won. I’ve started getting faster at acknowledging the lies I’m believing. I’ve started getting faster at remembering to pray against the enemy’s attacks.

Here are a few of the lies I’ve heard, what I’ve learned to pray, and truth that I choose to believe.

I am not enough.
God, remind me that you have a purpose for me.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

I am a failure.
God, remind me that I am not earning your approval.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I am a lost cause. 
God, remind me that you are making me more into your image.
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 not as loved or effective as my teammates.
God, remind me that I get to celebrate my teammates and not be in competition with them. You are using all of us for your glory.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…(Romans 12:4-6)

I am defeated.
God, remind me that you restore.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have let God down.
God, remind me that your power is made perfect in weakness.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Prayer isn’t just an emergency flare. Prayer aligns our hearts with His’. I’ve noticed that as I pray more – for my friends, for injustices, for my own heart – I am comforted by His presence. There’s a familiarity that brings immense comfort…and as I spend more time with Him, I’m more in step with the Spirit.

If I wasn’t constantly faced with my weakness, I wouldn’t turn to Him.

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Different

She put down her fork and leaned in across the table. She sure had my attention. “Don’t forget this. Repeat this to yourself over and over: ‘Different is not bad. Different is just different.'”

It was purely by chance (aka- the grace of God) that I ran into this friend on one of my final days in the States. She has spent the better portion of her time since college  traveling the world for humanitarian work or once-in-a-lifetime internship opportunities. You better believe I listened to every word she said…and especially what she deemed ‘unforgettable.’

Little did she know that God had practically written the word “different” in marquee letters in my journal the week before. August’s word and focus has been on not just tolerating, but celebrating different.

Living in a different culture has certainly challenged my mindset when I encounter the unfamiliar. I’m drawn to the similar. An American brand of shampoo, foods I can easily recognize, and my wardrobe for the year is essentially the same Old Navy shirt just in six colors. You get the idea.

I wish it stopped here. I wish my pattern of familiar things stopped with objects. But the (sorry for this, but there’s not a better word) sucky reality is that if I’m not careful, I treat people the same way.

Similar hobbies. Similar humor. Similar style. Similar beliefs.

It’s easier that way.

We’re not the same. No two humans are the exact same. I have said for years that I am thankful for this, and I still am, but I’m learning to practice it. I’m facing it head-on. Why is it hard for me to celebrate people with different giftings, interests, or backgrounds? Timothy Keller would say it is pride. And you know what, I’m going to have to agree with him on that.

I love (and also cringe…conviction) what Timothy Keller says in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness:

“True gospel-humily means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

And furthermore,

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

If my eyes are not on myself, I remember that we are the Body of Christ.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Cor 12:4-7

“There is one body and one Spirit––just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call––one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Suddenly, I’m not in competition against Different. I’m fighting for it. I need it. We need it.

Different doesn’t have to be scary. Different should exist. Different should be celebrated.

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Moving 6,000 miles away guaranteed some change to daily life. Knowing that I’ll be here for longer than a few weeks, I’ve tried to approach daily life with the mindset of “this is what I do now” by choosing to celebrate what’s different. Without further ado, here are a few of the differences I’ve encountered in my 2.5 weeks of Greece so far:

  • Cash is how you pay for everything. Bills, restaurant meals, shops. A good Greek memorizes ATM locations. The supermarket, IKEA, and H&M do accept cards though.
  • If you ask for a Coke, they think you’re asking for drugs.
  • Walking is the #1 form of transportation. I hit my 10,000 step goal every. single. day.
  • Meals:
    • Breakfast: a pastry, cereal, toast…but no meat. Pick up a treat from the bakery on your way to work or eat at your house. According to one Greek friend, it is “weird” to eat breakfast at a restaurant and certainly not brunch.
    • Lunch: anytime between 2-4pm. But not before 2. To eat earlier would again, be “weird.” Lunch is the family meal of the day so most schools release around 1 so that everyone can eat together. With the exception of restaurants and supermarkets, shops close down for “quiet hours” from 2-5:30.
    • Dinner: 8pm is pushing it…so 9-11 would be more culturally acceptable. Most Greeks use this time to go out for drinks and munch on the free appetizers that are brought out.
    • Coffee: consumed at all hours of the day. If you sit and drink it at a cafe (coffee shop), you’ll most likely get a complimentary treat.
  • When driving, do not turn right on red. Just don’t do it.
  • Motley’s is home to the greatest “cookies pasta” known to man. Here, pasta could describe one of three things: noodles, cakes, and something else that I can’t remember. All that’s worth remembering is that cookies pasta (cake) is the reason my jeans will need an expansion pack by the time I return to the States.
  • Motley’s is also home to a billion cats. I watched a cat straight up snatch an unattended sandwich quarter off a plate this afternoon. I have the video to prove it. The Greeks didn’t even flinch.
  • Pita gyros are manna in the modern form.
  • Greeks don’t know how to respond to the walking boot I wore at the beginning. They would literally stop in the middle of the street and stare. The Yayas (grandmas) were the most intrigued.
  • Toilet paper is not to be flushed.
  • Trash is taken to community bins located every couple of blocks.
  • I can walk to the lake any day that my heart desires. At the lake, there is a castle, incredible views of the mountains, and an abundance of waterfront cafes. Much to my hearts disgust, I discovered today that the lake is also home to a few snakes. Booooooo.
  • Greeks have cell phones, but they don’t use them like Americans do. Believe it or not, if they’re with other people, they’re not on their phones.
  • Your house is too warm? Open your windows. Our apartment has A/C units, but I have yet to turn it on. I love opening my windows every morning!
  • Everyone smokes. Ash trays are on pretty much every table. But surprisingly it’s only overwhelming in a few places.
  • Everyone might smoke, but only a few use deodorant.
  • What Americans call “Greek Salad” is just “Salad” here. Our Greek friends have gotten a good laugh out of us asking about the “Greek Salads.”
  • Marco Polo is the best app out there. Take that, 8 hour time difference.
  • Clothes dryers are totes not a thing here. Also, our washer is in Italian. 3 points to Sarah for navigating that one.
  • Hot showers can be taken approximately 30 min after turning on the hot water heater. Be sure to flip the breaker back though before showering to avoid electrocution.

 

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Friendship

The saying, “it takes a village” has never been truer. And let me just say that I have an incredible village.

I saw someone recommend a book called Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover. After glancing at the table of contents I immediately purchased it. I’m the kind of person who continually has a list of books to read, so it was interesting that this one didn’t sit on the list for a few months before I decided to dive in.

Let me admit right here that it is going to be hard for me to not just copy her entire book below. You can thank Copyright laws for that one 😉 But really and truly I was so encouraged by her words. Over and over I just kept being reminded of how great of friends I have.

Here are some of the main takeaways I had from her book:

We need to ask for help. I love how Christine points out that “relying on the help of friends is one of the greatest catalysts for deepening friendship.”

We need others to remind us of Truth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (go read it!!) says “the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

We need to be faithful. And here’s the big one (thanks Christine): “The goal, ultimately, is faithfulness rather than friendship, but our faithfulness to God is evidenced by how we love others, and this love of others inevitably attracts people. Friendship is a happy by-product of faithfulness.”

Support raising has provided lots of opportunities and experiences. I’ve had to trust God to provide in ways that simply seem too impossible. I’ve quickly learned that I cannot do much of anything on my own. I’ve packed up and moved 31 times in 19 weeks. But I’ve also gotten to catch-up, reconnect, or meet y’all. Thank you for sharing your time with me! You have encouraged me in countless ways.

Romans 12:10 says “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” When we are seeking the good for others, we bless them immeasurably.

Whether you’ve prayed with and for me, opened your home to me, or taken me to lunch: thank you. Whether you’ve sent me a random text, listened to my tearful phone call, or shared a funny YouTube video with me: thank you. Whether you’ve simply sat with me, written me thoughtful notes, or pushed me in a wheelchair: thank you. You love me well. I am blessed immeasurably. You have reflected Christ to me and have been examples of selfless friends. You have shown me honor.

But there was one line specifically from Messy Beautiful Friendship that just really rang true for me right now: “And if you truly don’t have people yet because you’ve just moved to town or you’re in a new situation, go be the people for someone else.”

 

It’s time to be the people for Greeks.

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