hope

I love the start of a New Year. It feels nice and fresh and clean and full of potential. For some people, the start of the new year means setting new resolutions. (More power to you, you skinny, rested, and buff people!) For me it means reflecting and dreaming. Looking back on 2020 was more painful than I had anticipated. Maybe it was for you too.

As much as 2020 has been a year of loss, I have gained so much.

One of my favorite habits is choosing a word for the year. Each year I ask God to give a word that He wants to teach me about in the coming year. It almost becomes a game to see where the word is going to pop up…in a song, Scripture, or even on an actual billboard.

We were into the first few days of January when I was sitting at a stoplight and God made the 2020 word blatantly clear. I thought I already had the word so it caught me completely off guard when I was brought back to the drawing board. I was singing along to Spotify when I realized the words that were coming out of my mouth held truth my heart needed to hear.

“My soul will rest, my confidence, in You alone. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. My Savior’s cross has set the sinner free. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. Oh, Christ be praised, I have victory.”

Hope.

Hope has a name, His name is Jesus.

I felt like in that moment God was telling me, “Listen up kid. Right now you are excited about this year. That’s great! I don’t want you to loose your eagerness. But that’s not the word I have for you. The world is about to shift and I want you to remember that I am your hope. Don’t put it in other things…people, trips, work, relationships, the future, the past. I am the sure and steady anchor for your soul and you should put your hope in me and only me. Look to me. I am your hope!

To which I responded, “Cool. Hope. I liked “eager” but I’ll go with hope.” Little did I know.

By the time May rolled around I was flat out of options to place hope in. Seeing friends? Quarantined. Starting a new job? Postponed. Being able to stop taking depression medication? Not smart. The list goes on.

Through the wildly eventful (yet uneventful?) months of 2020, God revealed the many places I had stored up hope that were not in Him. I had no idea the number of, and absurdity of, places I had tried to bestow hope. He was opening my eyes to my faulty hope.

I realized just how deeply I had wrongly woven misplaced hope with circumstantial joy.

I realized just how fragile my world was.

I said my hope was in Christ, but my life did not reflect it.

Biblical hope is the complete assurance that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

To understand hope we have to understand the character of God.

Expanding on that statement is daunting. I can spend 10,000 words and still not scratch the surface on the richness of who God is. If you want to know more about the character of God, I encourage you to read the Bible. And when you read it, fight the urge to be only looking for the personal application and instead start with “what does this tell me about God?” I promise your view of God will be revolutionized.

When we are actively seeking to know and love God more, it’s almost impossible to keep placing hope anywhere that isn’t Him.

To have hope in God means to trust that even in the midst of a global pandemic God is still doing good things. To know that He aches with us as we experience the brokenness of the human condition. To remember that Jesus has already won the war. To celebrate that eternity has already begun and we get to know God deeply and intimately now. We have hope because God is unfailing. We have hope because we know that there is so much more to life than what the world has to offer.

God has brought me back to Psalm 33:18 over and over throughout the year: “Behold the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” God’s steadfast love, his hesed, is what makes him unlike any other contrived god.

In 2020 I learned to put my hope in the steadfast love of Christ.

I like how one of my friends started the year by sharing how when it comes to goals her approach is to “keep it simple. For example, this year (and forever) I simply want to know and love God more. It’s not really specific or measurable, like the experts recommend, but I want this “goal” to be more of a lens through which I view my days. Though I haven’t broken it down into actionable steps, I will tell you that regular Bible reading and prayer are like the frames holding up the lenses of these God-oriented glasses.”

About the art:
I went back to my graphic design roots for this piece and had a blast. I hand-wrote the text on a scrap of paper and scanned in the text to use as a rough template. I thought it would be a smooth transition and I would be able to “outline” the letters, but in true 2020 fashion that did not happen. I spent about eight hours adjusting the outline of each letter so I still got the imperfect hand-written feel. The background is full of individual lines I placed on a grid.

Strong

We barely finished our introductions before my new friend rattled off her first question. Have you ever been in love? Our little group of four all shared our ideas on love, sex, and relationships. The next question: what would your ideal life look like? Again, we went around and answered. Then the next: why believe in God?

When it was my turn, I shared with them about how my life looked like before I surrendered my life to my Creator: trying and not-surprisingly failing to attain perfection. I told them about how because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection I can be brought back into the presence of Almighty God and all my shortcomings be redeemed through Christ.

This same new friend from above sat and listened, but I could tell there was something fiery on the tip of her tongue. Sure enough, she didn’t let even a second of silence pass after I had finished speaking.

“I think you’re weak because you believe in God.”

I almost laughed. Her words didn’t cut, didn’t hurt…the thought just seemed outrageous to me.

To her, the source of strength comes from within ourselves. When we feel that we are lacking, she believes we should dig deeper and cultivate it from within ourselves. So in her mind I’m not strong enough to gain that strength from within, and therefore I need to believe a “higher power” can intervene on my behalf.

And guess what, she’s right!!! I’m not strong enough on my own. But it took me a looooooong time to admit that.

I want to say that it is just the fact that I am a firstborn that makes me independent, but it’s not. According to my mom, I was always a “free-spirited and strong-willed child.” I operated under the mindset that whatever it is, I can do it. On my own. By myself. Without help. And I’m going to prove something to someone in the process. While this has softened as I entered into adulthood, this manifests in me wanting to be the person who can help everyone else but never wants to be on the receiving end of said help. When asked, “what do you need” I love being able to answer, “nothing, I’m fine.”

Because if I’m fine, I’m not lacking anything.

Turns out I am never really fine.

Turns out I am human.

Being human means being in a constant state of brokenness. Being in a constant state of brokenness without God is like living in a wooden house infested with termites and no exterminator left on earth. The house is going down, it’s only a matter of time.

When God created the world, He deemed it perfect in His sight. As the epitome of holy and perfect, God’s standard for His creation was to bear the same image. We make it two chapters into the Bible before things go south. Real fast. When humans decide to do things on their own, imperfection (sin) enters and overtakes God’s perfect world. On its own the world is still as broken now as it was 3,000+ years ago. Try as we might, solving the brokenness of humanity is not up to us; we will always fall short of God’s perfection.

Enter: Jesus.

Jesus has been, and will be, the only man to ever walk the earth and live a perfect, blameless, and sinless life. When Jesus, God’s one and only son, died on the cross He took on the imperfections of the world making total forgiveness possible. Now, when God looks at me, a Believer of Him, He sees the Perfect Son and not my sin. (And no, I don’t think I will ever fully grasp that!)

I love how the Gospel of Mark jumps right into why Jesus came, sharing how Jesus Himself said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

This means God doesn’t need me to be fine. In fact, He wants me to admit my dire need for Him. He wants me to admit how I can’t fix myself, how I am weak left on my own. I can slap some bandaids on a mortal wound but I’m still dying. He is the Great Physician.

It seems counterintuitive, but the only way we receive healing is by laying our lives down and in total humility declaring our need for God’s saving grace. We admit where we have fallen short, that we are too weak to fix ourselves, and ask God to forgive us.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I don’t know about you, but I have seen PLENTY of times when I cannot do even life in general on my own. My pride doesn’t want to admit it, yet it is so true. But if I wasn’t broken and in need of help, would I actually see my need for a Savior? Probably not.

I will never forget the first time someone shared with me Psalm 73:26. I was at summer camp with my family and one of the super cool college counselors wrote out part of Psalm 73 for me. After some digging, I found that the New King James Version is the closest translation here: “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The Hebrew verb used here for “fail” is definitive, meaning it will happen. I can vouch for that, because there are, again, PLENTY of times when my flesh and my heart have failed me. I am not strong on my own. I am not fine.

But Psalm 73 is not the only place we see a need for greater strength. In the book of Psalms alone, there are 45 times* where the Psalmist sings of God’s strength, asks Him for strength, and admits that human strength is not enough. Paul prays that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit” (3:16) and continues to attribute strength to God in many of his other letters. Peter reminds us that as Believers, “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) Strength cannot come from ourselves because we are not the source.

When the girl told me she thought I was weak for believing in Jesus, the rest of the table squirmed for a few moments due to the directness of her comment. Then her friend across the table jumped in. “I disagree. I think she’s strong for believing in God. I wish I could.”

I simultaneously wanted to high-five this girl as well as weep for her that she thought she couldn’t believe in God. I’ll tell you what I told her: “you can.”

If you’re tired of trying but always failing, never feeling like you’ll measure up, or ready to give up the “I’m fine” act, I encourage you to know the Source of all good things. God is a whole bunch of incredible things like unconditional love, hope, and joy, but do you know Him as your Strength?

“O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.” (Psalm 59:9)
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)
“God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1a)

*Psalm 8:2; 10:17; 18:1; 18:32; 18:39; 21:1; 21:13; 22:15; 28:1; 28:7; 28:8; 29:1; 29:11; 31:10; 32:4; 38:10; 46:1; 59:9; 59:16; 59:17; 65:6; 68:35; 71:1; 71:9; 73:1; 73:26; 81:1; 84:5; 86:16; 88:4; 89:17; 89:21; 93:1; 96:6; 96:7; 105:4; 118:14; 119:28; 138:3; 140:7

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Reclaim

Normally I wait until the end of the year to explain more of why I chose that particular word for the year and what God has taught me about that word. But this year is different. (It’s actually different for a lot of reasons but more on that in the months to come.) My word for 2019 is “reclaim” and here’s why…

I have been reading Genesis and Exodus in my personal Bible study time and it is no coincidence that we are covering those exact books in one of my seminary classes. I am sooo thankful that the Word of God is alive and active because even though I’ve read these passages before, this time God taught me something else: I have already admitted defeat.

Before we go any further, here’s a brief overview of the beginning of the Israelites who are identified as God’s chosen people. Back in Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that He will give him land (the Promised Land), seed (descendants), and blessing (provision). God blesses Abraham and before long he is incredibly wealthy (Gen 13) and has a son with his wife Sarah (Gen 21). One of Abraham’s grandsons is Jacob (Gen 25), who God later renames as Israel (Gen 32). Israel has twelve sons (Gen 29,30, 35), who were then fruitful and multiplied (Ex 1), thus forming the Twelve Tribes of Israel, aka- the Israelites (Ex 1). While the descendants and provision parts were going well, the Israelites did not have possession of the land. In fact, they are enslaved to the Egyptians (Ex 1). God anoints Moses to petition the Egyptian ruler to let God’s people go (Ex 3), and after the tenth disastrous plague, the Israelites are set free (Ex 12). A year-ish of trekking towards the Promised Land God’s people finally arrive at the border (Num 13). Twelve spies are sent to scout out the land that has already been promised to the Israelites (Num 13); ten return and say “no can do, the current inhabitants are giants” and two say “God has given us this land so let’s do it!” (Num 13). The people side with the majority and accept the defeat, rebelling and complaining against God for not giving them what He had promised. God’s response: I said I was giving it to you but you chose not to believe me; therefore, you will wander in the wilderness for forty years and you’ll know that I am displeased (Num 14).

Yikes.

Thankfully, I believe that God deals differently with us now than He did with His people in the Old Testament. So when I don’t please God He won’t set me in the Sahara and say “good luck, see you in four decades.” But even without the desert wanderings, I can’t help but see the similarities between the Israelites and myself. Just like them, I doubt God.

Both the Israelites and myself were/are not believing Truth about God; that He is good and loving and wants good for me. Instead, we are believing the lies of the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan. Since the very beginning of time, Satan has been trying to deceive us into believing lies about God (Gen 3). The problem is, just like the Israelites, I sometimes think the promise of God is too good to be true.

We have the complete written Word of God and the redemption of Jesus which means we are not on the pursuit for land, seed, and blessing, but rather for the Kingdom. Jesus says that we should pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). And for me that means I have to uproot the lies that I believe about Him. I need to reclaim the Truth of who God is in my life. He has already given me the promises of who He is, His perfect character, and now it’s up to me to live believing those.

Here are a few of the things I am reclaiming:

  • God is good. (Psalm 145:9)
  • God is for me. (Matthew 7:11)
  • God is love. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • God is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

I am super not perfect which, for the record, does not mesh with a holy and perfect God. Thankfully, Jesus’ death was payment for my imperfections and brought me into the family of God. Because I am a child of God, I have been given access to know the Father. (Seriously, I have been given that!) When I use my circumstances to determine how I feel about God, I get a really misconstrued view of the Father.

I like the word “reclaim” because it implies action. I have to be active in identifying what lies I am believing to have an accurate view of God. I have to be active in fighting off Satan to remember that God is the good ruler of my life. I can’t just look at what has been promised to me and instead turn around and throw the world’s most pathetic pity-party because it doesn’t look probable that God will come through. No, God is who He says He is.

Below are some verses and passages that God has been using to re-orient my heart towards Him. I’ve found more significance in what these verses say about who God is, rather than what pertains to me. As I study God’s character, I reclaim the “broken” areas of my life because my perspective is realigned.

This year, I’m asking myself what has God promised to me that I have given up on? What parts of His character am I struggling to not only see, but also to trust in? Which circumstances am I allowing to cause doubt about God? And I’m also remembering that even when I fail or give up, God’s character is not dependent on me.


“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-17)

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him ehe name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should boy, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

“For this we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

Fear Not

I would not typically classify myself as an anxious person. I’m pretty leveled with my emotions overall as well as in high tense situations. In fact, it’s a joke amongst my friends that if they need to go to the hospital emergency room, they’re taking me with them. I work well under pressure and tend to be able to make wise decisions in the moment. I think that’s why I like events; I know some sort of surprise is inevitable, something will go wrong and it’ll take creative thinking to improvise. I just expect it and know it’ll all work out. But lately I’ve been more anxious.

As I shared last month, I’ve been walking through an unexpected season of depression. I can tell with each passing week that God is extensively healing my soul, exposing and excavating deep seeded doubts and fears in the process. Looking back I can see the gradual shift in my thinking, going from facing situations head-on to frantically preparing for the worst. I began dreading the unexpected and in a sense, started dooms-day prepping my emotions.

It’s true that I need to be prepared for the battle. We are living in a world where evil has a strong foothold and we are called to fight against the enemy. But I have abandoned daily putting on my Armor and instead have retreated to the corner. I feel stuck, doubting the battle will ever end and fearful that I won’t be ______ enough. That blank can be filled in with things such as: prepared, strong, wise, friendly, selfless, and Godly.

So I sit in the corner. Overwhelmed.

But God, being gracious, does not let me stay there.

I’ve been taught that doubt and fear (not the holy fear variety) are not honoring to God. So in my mind, if doubt and fear are bad but God is good, then they can’t all mix together. So I’ve stopped sharing them…and especially not with God.

A new song popped up on a “recommended for you” playlist (lookin at you, Spotify. You rock.) this summer that had a line I initially questioned but have grown to love. “All my doubts and fears, they can all come too, because they can’t stay long when I’m here with You.” (The Way (New Horizons) – Housefires).

God wants to hear what I am struggling with so He can meet me in my need. I need to let Him in my head so that I can get out. When I started talking with God about my doubts and fears, His message was clear: fear not. I experienced what David shares in Psalm 34. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Moving towards God brings freedom.

He brought to mind many verses that reiterated this simple Truth home. I mean, how much clearer can you get than Isaiah 41:10? “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I love the picture of God holding us with his righteous right hand. If the Creator of the Universe is holding me, I can be fully secure.

And John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” There is safety in His presence.

I also love the picture of Psalm 139:5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

God goes before us, paving the way.

God comes behind us, righting the wrongs.

God is with us, comforting the fearful.

This means NOTHING is a surprise to God.

 

 

FreehandTruth_FearNot

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

 

FreehandTruth_ItIsWell

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.

 

Psalm91_FreehandTruth

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.

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.

Presence

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone. I love that it helps me keep in contact with family and friends, but I hate that I can so quickly feel pulled away from a conversation because I can feel it ringing in my bag.

This past month I was on a trip where I had a few days with very limited cell phone coverage. I knew this going into the trip, and (not surprisingly) had mixed feelings about it. I don’t know if you’ve had time away from your phone before, but it’s both simultaneously exhilarating and alarming.

In one of the brief moments where I had a single ray of the glorious Wi-Fi, I expressed this tension to a friend. I was so used to the rhythm of going nonstop. My soul was also EXHAUSTED from this pace of life. There were still things I could (and should) be working on during the trip, but I also could not ignore the timing of it…the hope of being able to catch my breath.

My friend’s encouragement was simple: practice the presence.

As I read her words, something triggered in the back of my brain. Just three days before I  had listed to a song five times over (not a joke), praying Psalm 16 to the chords of Shane and Shane:

My heart is glad and my soul rejoice
my flesh it dwells secure
because You put on flesh
lived a blameless life
my curse on the cross You bore
then You ripped the doors off the City of Death
and the chains fell to the floor
Now the serpent’s crushed
It has been finished
and You reign forever more

You are my portion my cup and you make my lot secure
the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places
a beautiful inheritance

in Your presence there is fullness of joy, of joy
at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore

Shane & Shane, Psalm 16 (Fullness of Joy)

My phone reminds me that there are always things that need to be done…people to talk to, bills that need to be paid, information to be gathered. Someone, something needs me.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of places I look for significance, but this past month I’ve tried to put it in productivity. What I’m really searching for is found elsewhere.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

I have to fight to be in His presence. And to be quite honest: that’s hard. I wish I could grasp this entirely and practice it effortlessly.

For me to be reminded of His presence, I most often need to stop what I’m doing and thinking and sit with him. And that feels very counter productive to my productivity mindset.

I’ve “practiced the presence” in a few different ways this month, making a conscious effort to step away from my phone and endless to-do list every time. I have a few I like to rotate through:

  • Going for a walk
  • Reading outside
  • Working out to worship music
  • Driving without the radio
  • Painting
  • Enjoying the quiet of the early morning or evening

When I sit with the Lord, I’m reminded of the first 10 verses of Psalm 16. Those verses proclaim who God is and what He has done for me and how I relate to Him. In Jesus is the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

 

 

Psalm 16:11_FreehandTruth