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

FreehandTruth_Ps73.26

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.

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!”

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.

2Cor12:9_FreehandTruth

 

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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