Dare to Hope

If you know me, you know I love dogs.  I can spot a cute dog a mile away (or really any dog).  My favorite part of working the drive-thru is saying “hi” to all the furry co-pilots.  I also really love babies and kids, but I’m better with dogs (and I think people would be worried if I asked them to pet their kids).

One thing I love about kids and dogs is how uninhibited they are.  They are willing to unashamedly beg, cry, or do whatever they can to get a need met.  They don’t care how ridiculous they look.  Their focus is not on how other’s perceive them.

Uninhibited does not describe me.  In fact, I am exactly the opposite.  One of my friend’s in college loved the verse, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (2 Sam. 6:22a, NIV).  I, however, loved the verse, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28, ESV).

Now my friend didn’t run around campus naked (see 2 Sam. 6) and I certainly lack a lot of self-control (see my caloric intake for the week), but her willingness to expose any of her own imperfections for the sake of the gospel was a beautiful pairing with my desire to live a life according to His commands.  The key is: we need both.  I love the way 2 Timothy 1:7 pairs these two concepts, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.”  To God, sound judgment and fearfulness do not go together.  That’s just my skewed version.

People like my friend are rare.  I know very few people as daring as she is.  It’s no surprise that she’s living overseas doing amazing things for Jesus.  Something only someone living by the Spirit could do.  I, however, am pretty normal.  I see a lot of me around.  I see a lot fearfulness guised as self-control.

Knowing me, I’d probably be saying some sort of “but” right now if I were reading this post.

but self-control is biblical!

but the world is a scary place!

but my fearfulness is legit! Look what happened last time I was brave!

So, yes, self-control is biblical.  Please exercise self-control.  Please strive to live a life according to the Bible.  But if you’re like me, check your motives before playing the “self-control” card.  What would it look like to be brave? For most, that’ll include some form of self-control.  It might mean budgeting better so you can bravely donate more money.  It might mean ending a gossip session to bravely share your story.  It might mean skipping lunch to bravely fast and pray.  It could also mean bravely hoping or dreaming again.

(Here’s where I know the “but” would be causing me to want to exit out of this page…hang with me!)

It took my friend 8, hope-filled years to get overseas.  While living here, her heart was torn.  She desperately wanted to go and serve the people God called her to serve.  She kept hitting these road bumps though.  To anyone else, those bumps would have been mountains.  To me, they probably would’ve caused me to look for a different destination.  God used those bumps (or mountains) to create a beautiful step stool for her to get where He called her.  The journey wasn’t easy, it was grueling.  In fact, being there has continued difficulties because of those horrible bumps.  However, she never stopped looking to the goal.  She dared to hope.

When people used to say to me “I just don’t want to get my hopes up,” I used to say, “but that’s what hopes are made for!” I’m not sure that was the most empathic response and I haven’t said it in years, but I do think there is something to be said for that mentality.  Shouldn’t people of faith be the most hope-filled?

How can you dare to hope today? What is it you’re afraid to hope for? How does fear get in the way of living a life of uninhibited faith for the Lord?

Apps to Start 2017 Right

Recently I shared some of my top reads for 2016.  Books are some of my greatest resources, but recently God used some apps to really enhance different areas of my life.  I love the convenience of apps, especially for trying to develop/improve certain disciplines.  In grad school, we constantly shared good apps with each other and I hope these will help you in whatever your 2017 resolutions are! Haven’t thought of a resolution? Maybe this list will help.  Aren’t into resolutions? That’s okay too, maybe this will just help with wherever God’s leading you.

fullsizerenderScripture Typer – App to Help Memorize Scripture

…and it actually helps! Scripture memory is one of my worst spiritual disciplines, but this app has helped me so much.  You can choose any verse and version unlike some of the other Bible memory apps.  As the name suggests, you type the verses to memorize them–a huge help for visual learners–but there are also several other ways to learn the verses (including recording and listening to them).  The app also notifies you when it’s time to review the verses.  If you’re a classmate of mine from seminary, you’re already aware of this little gem.  My professor that had us memorize the book of Philippians encouraged us to use this app.  That was when I first discovered it and I’ve been hooked ever since! This app is one of those you pay for (which goes against everything I typically believe about apps), but it’s worth it.  I actually paid for the pro version (breaking another cardinal rule of mine), but I haven’t regretted it at all!

fullsizerender_2Rain Rain – App to Help Sleep

I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people that needs some sort of white noise while I sleep.  This started while I was trying to block out noisy roommates and has just gone downhill.  Usually I sleep with a fan (often pointed away from my cold-natured self), but this app helps when I’m sleeping away from home.  There are a lot of noise options that you can mix and match: rain, campfire, snow, laundry machines, and more.  If I have a lot on my mind, this app can also help me think about being in a cozy log cabin or at the beach for vacation.  This app is free and totally worth the download.

fullsizerender_3Stop, Breathe, Think – An App to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself

This app is not a Christian app and some of it is a little wordly (depending on what option you choose within the app–some are better than others).  It’s an app to encourage “mindfulness,” which basically means paying attention to what you’re feeling in your body and your emotions.  That practice may seem a little silly, but it’s been a big help for me.  I used to intentionally do this app three times/day.  When I did, I noticed sometimes I had knots in my stomach or tension in my shoulders.  Inevitably, this was caused by some sort of stress, but I didn’t even realize I was stressed until I stopped to check-in.  In the busy, stressful world we live in, I think this app encourages better health.  I also think it’s easy to incorporate prayer and thanksgiving into this practice, making it a time to set aside with God.  It’s free, so try it out!

fullsizerender_4iMood Journal – An App to Track Moods

This is an app I discovered a few years ago, but it is one that I would still recommend to anyone.  If you haven’t ever tracked your moods, please do! It’s amazing the patterns that emerge and how God can use that in such a transforming way.  I’ll admit that this is a very counselor-y thing to assign, but I’ve seen it change my life and the lives of others.  It’s been long enough that I don’t remember if I paid for this app, but I know there are numerous mood tracking apps and several are free.

Hope this helps give you some ideas for 2017! I’d love to hear about some of your favorite apps or your goals for the new year!

 

The Leap

job-34-1

Have you ever been so afraid of doing something that you can’t imagine actually doing it? I have, often.  As a kid, I remember staying awake all night before we went to the fair or a water park.  Of course, there was some excitement.  I did enjoy those activities.  But it was mostly out of fear that I stayed awake.  I remember running through endless possibilities of getting lost, riding a scary ride, or getting sunburn.  (I know I was a weird kid.  That’s another blog, another day.)

I’ve meant a few kiddos that have reminded me of my fears.  My childhood fears, but also my adult fears.  One in particular, who we’ll call Jon, personifies this emotion best.  At the end of a session of swim classes, he and his class were about to jump off the lifeguard stand.  Now, before you think I’m the worst Water Safety Instructor ever, know that this lifeguard stand was about five feet tall and was more like a platform than the lifeguard stands requiring lifeguards to balance and climb.  Parents were generally coaxing their kids to jump while I was stationed in the water ready to catch them.  This activity was designed to be a special treat for the kids.  Usually it was empowering and fun for them.  The first jump, half of the kids are always a little nervous and a few always choose to jump from the side.  They always have an option to jump.  Except Jon.

You see, Jon was very afraid of the water.  He was scared to use the kickboards, he was scared to swim to the deep end, he was scared to swim with a noodle.  The first day, he was scared to even enter the water from the steps.  Each activity brought new fears, but always ended in new triumphs.  The day we were jumping off the lifeguard stand, Jon was afraid to jump.  He got up there and immediately regretted his decision.  I told him it was okay not to jump and said he could just jump off the side like some of the other kids.  Jon’s dad had other plans.  After all the other kids jumped and had moved to their next activity, Jon was still paralyzed on the stand, his dad was still telling him he had to jump, and I was turning into a prune in the water waiting.  I’d love to tell you that Jon’s dad gave him an amazing pep talk, Jon courageously jumped in the water, I caught him, and we all celebrated.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it happened.  We spent an hour trying to get Jon to jump.  Jon’s dad coached, bribed, threatened, pleaded, and prayed.  Jon still wouldn’t jump.  I empathized, negotiated, and played.  Still nothing.  The coach in me felt out of control and unproductive.  The human in me was tired of treading water (with a buoy, thank God), sore from looking up for so long, and, frankly, annoyed at Jon for his hesitancy and his dad for his persistence.

But the Holy Spirit in me was broken for this little boy.  Jon was more scared than the average little boy his age, but not outrageously so.  He was still little, elementary-school aged.  I watched him try so hard to please his father.  I watched him want to please his daddy when he said “son, I’ll be disappointed in you if you don’t do this” or “son, you have to be a man and do this.”  I wanted to hug him when he cried to his dad and his dad responded mercilessly.  Finally, Jon’s dad had to go to work and he let him jump off the side rather than the stand.  When I caught him, he was covered in snot.  The poor little boy had cried so hard that he literally had snot dripping from his nose to his belly button.  Though my entire face was now slimed as he grasped onto me, my neck was stiff from looking at him, and my next swim class was half way over, I could not help but ache for this little boy that left the pool feeling like such a failure.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a parent.  Raising a godly man is a daunting task and I know Jon’s dad was working to train his child to trust God.

But oh how I hurt for the boy that tried to leap.

I can’t help but think that God celebrates all our leaps–even when we can only leap from the side, not the stand.  I also can’t help but think that God catches us when we leap and does not care if we are covered in snot.  After all, doesn’t every leap require some sort of shedding? Some sort of release and vulnerability? And doesn’t our worst self often come out during those tough moments?

Here are a few verses that convince me God does celebrate our leaps, our attempts, and always catches us with acceptance and joy:

In Luke 8:43-48, a woman was healed as a result of touching Jesus’ garment.  I’m sure there was greater faith required in that action than we realize, but regardless she didn’t jump off a mountain.  She merely touched his garment.  Yet, Jesus said, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (verse 48, emphasis mine).  Jesus commended the faith of her seemingly small action, her little leap, and Jesus called her “daughter.” To me, Him calling her daughter is a lot like being caught in the arms of the Savior after a leap, even a small one.  

This same faith healing encounter happens over and over again in the Gospels.  Zacchaeus, the Centurion, and so many others experienced these precious moments with the Messiah.

Jesus even said in Matthew 17:20, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (ESV).  God doesn’t require big faith to move mountains, He requires faith the size of a mustard seed.

Finally, Hebrews 11 celebrates great faith…that is surprisingly small.  Although the Bible celebrates this amazing group as people of great faith, what makes them people of great faith is what God did through them.  They did believe and they did take leaps, but they also often failed to jump off the stand, questioned God, and tried to go the easy way.  They fell short.  Instead of writing them off, God used them to do amazing things and even celebrated their faith.

Faith is not my strong point.  I will still always resort back to be the little girl worrying about what could go wrong before I take a little leap.  Though my flesh prevents me from catching or seeing like God (and my fatigue later in the day displayed that well), catching that little boy reminded me of how the Lord catches me.  Snot and all.  Without great faith.  I’m humbled God let me catch Jon that day and I’m humbled the Lord still uses me and my little leaps.

 

The Art of Humility Through Fasting

the art of humility through fasting

Fasting.  Undoubtedly my least favorite discipline.  Even in January when resolutions remain and rich food isn’t appealing, there is just nothing that draws me to fasting.

Every time I speak to a woman about fasting she seems to confess that numbers dropping on the scale easily becomes the focus of fasting.  That focus sounds a lot more like an eating disorder than a discipline.

But there has to be a point to it, right?

I dabbled in fasting a little before moving to New Orleans, but I still didn’t quite understand the point.  There seemed to be a lot of unknowns and blurred lines.  I didn’t hear anyone teach fasting, only allude to it.

When I moved to New Orleans, I learned that many of the professors are passionate about this topic.  Within my first year, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention came to speak about prayer and fasting.  He, along with many other SBC leaders, is also passionate about fasting.  He addressed aspects of fasting that are often avoided or unspoken.  As a result of things he said and conversations that followed, a renewed interest for the topic was sparked in me.

The aspect of fasting that plagues me the most is why we fast.  

Jesus fasted while He was in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4), but He didn’t say much about it.  The Pharisees even criticized Jesus’ followers for their lack of fasting (Luke 5:33).  Since I already don’t enjoy missing a meal, it would be pretty easy for me to use that as an excuse to just avoid this discipline.

But after Jesus’ disciples were criticized,  He responded, “You can’t make the wedding guests fast while the groom is with them, can you? But the time will come when the groom will be taken away from them—then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:34-35 HCSB).  

We are still waiting on the groom to return, so the excuse that Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast is out…Jesus clearly still saw a point to fasting, especially until He returns.

The instructions Jesus gave about fasting also show that He valued fasting.  Jesus said, “Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18 HCSB).

Jesus didn’t say, “if you fast,” He said, “whenever you fast.”  He expected it.  So why did He expect it? He gives us a clue here.  It was for private worship, not personal glory.

To me, that sounds a lot like humility.  Simply put, it seems that this discipline (like so many others) is part of making us humble.  Sanctifying us.  Making us more like Him.  I think Psalm 35:13 (HCSB) gives good insight to this mysterious discipline:

Yet when they were sick,
my clothing was sackcloth;
I humbled myself with fasting,
and my prayer was genuine.

Don’t miss the third line.  I humbled myself with fasting…and I love that genuine prayer follows.  Of course! Prayer is so much more genuine when said in humility, directed by the Spirit.  Not our proud flesh.

So how do we increase our humility through fasting? Practically, what does that look like? 

I think true fasting from the Bible requires abstaining from food.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there are times where God leads us on other types of “fasts” (i.e., social media, TV, chocolate, etc.).  I am just not convinced that’s the type of fasting that really brings biblical humility as mentioned in the Bible.  We can live without excess, but we can’t live without food.  The discipline itself requires trust, faith, and humility.

Taking that kind of stance on fasting inevitably stirs up all kinds of questions.  Who should fast? When should we fast? How often should we fast? How long should we fast?

Like so many things in the Bible, fasting doesn’t seem to be clear cut.  We aren’t bound by the Law.  We don’t have specific fasting requirements we have to maintain.  However, I do think believers should be in the habit of fasting, especially with prayer.  James 5 provides wisdom about the timing of certain types of prayer.  Like these types of prayer come at different times, so fasting appears to be synonymous with different seasons.  It is up to us to be open enough to follow God in this area, desiring His humility to run through us.

Disclaimer: Please seek the Lord’s guidance as you consider fasting.  If you do not have a relationship with Him, let that be your first priority.  After that, make sure you’re reading the Bible regularly and systematically, accompanied with prayer.  Make sure God’s telling you to fast before you do it, and use discernment.  He could tell you to fast for an extended period of time, and He can sustain you.  However, He could also be making you humble by asking someone else to pray and fast for you (this could be especially true if you’re facing health problems or you struggle with an eating disorder).

Iron Sharpens Iron

IRON SHARPENS

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.  

Quoted often, I fear that I sometimes allow Proverbs 27:17 to become a cliche in my own life.  Instead of clinging to the resounding truth of this Scripture, I let it fly through my head like any other useless thought.

But when I actually take time to meditate on it, isn’t this verse powerful?

Just think about it, iron sharpening iron? There’s a reason I’m not a metal worker.  I don’t even enjoy sharpening kitchen knives.  The process terrifies me.  It involves so much force as one object becomes more like the other.  The process takes a practically useless object and makes it an incredible tool.  Similarly, we are called to sharpen one another.  We spend time with people who challenge us, so we become more like them…so we become more like Jesus, the One who’s image they bear.

Recently, I’ve found that iron-sharpeners don’t just hold me accountable when they call me out.  Somehow their humanness sharpens me too.  It makes me aware of my own humanness.  Friends, even godly friends, say things that offend me sometimes.  It could be them acting sinfully, but I’m realizing that a lot of times it’s just me reacting sinfully.  When I find myself reacting strongly, I have to figure out a way to get past it.  These relationship annoyances force me to stop what I’m doing and examine myself.  If it weren’t for other people in my life, I wouldn’t have to stop and examine myself like that.  People are a huge part of God making me more like Him.

The Hebrew translation of this verse is actually “sharpens the face of another.”  Despite all the pain involved in sharpening, God uses it to change our countenance.  There is such rich beauty that comes from this kind of relationship.

As an introvert, I can spend quite awhile by myself and feel okay, refreshed even.  I can fool myself into thinking I don’t need people.  I’m fine on my own.  Right?

Wrong.  Time alone is good.  Needed.  Time alone with God is essential.  These times should be treasured, prioritized, and protected.  Jesus spent time alone with the Father often, but God designed us to be with other people too…with iron-sharpeners.  Isolation is a great time to let sin creep into our lives.  We’re vulnerable by ourselves.  Kind of like a dull kitchen knife or razor, we may not notice it’s that dull until after it’s sharpened.  We ease into using our second-best.

As a people-pleaser, I can spend time serving and feel like I’m fulfilling my people requirements.  I’ve been with people, so I’m good.  I’m not isolating or withdrawing, so I’m fine.  Right?

Wrong.  Serving is good.  God expects us to serve.  Why waste the gifts He’s given us? But serving isn’t a replacement for iron-sharpeners.  It may be a good place to find other iron-sharpeners.  It may be something God uses to bring growth, but chances are it’s not really where iron-sharpening happens.  It’s more like the place where the knife gets used, rather than sharpened.

Finding iron-sharpeners is difficult.  It usually means increasing vulnerability and admitting weakness, two things that go against our human pride.  I am quite possibly the slowest iron-finder around.  It’s taken me a year and a half to even really invite iron-sharpeners into my life since I moved to New Orleans.  Despite a lot of time surviving on a dull or only slightly sharpened blade, I am so grateful for the people the Lord’s placed in my life and how He sharpens me through them (whether I want to be sharpened or not).  Please do not stop actively seeking out others to do the same for you.

Word Spit-Up

word vomit

We’ve all heard the phrase “word vomit.”  I’m not sure who coined it, but I’ve definitely used it a lot.  It describes something I do often, basically not controlling my tongue until I realize I’ve said too much, made a mess, or said nothing of value.  It’s basically words that just come out.  Despite my use of this phrase, I was recently thinking that it doesn’t quite nail my most frequent “word vomit” experience.  I think “word spit-up” actually describes what I mean a little better.

You see, when someone vomits there seems to be a little more control.  We usually have a little advanced warning (though not always), and we can prepare for it to some degree.  Sometimes it’s even possible to prevent it.  It’s also not something that happens regularly in most seasons.  But spit-up really does just happen.  It’s out of the baby’s control.  And it happens a lot.

Similarly, word spit-up just kind of comes up.  It’s just part of my natural routine.  I might as well wear a bib wherever I go and carry a burp cloth in my purse.  Being in a counseling program, I am continuously critiqued for my words with clients.  Each day I am made more aware of just how often I spit-up.  My most common spit-ups right now are:

  • “I understand” – Even looking at this phrase, makes me want to stick a bar of soap in my mouth.  In a counseling situation, it just never helps to say “I understand.” Chances are I don’t anyway, but it’s better to show I understand than say it.  Asking or naming a person’s feeling is a whole lot more helpful and loving.
  • “At least” – If I could remove this phrase from my vocabulary altogether, I would be a much better intern, friend, and Christ follower.  Rather than running from hurt with optimism, I would truly listen and love.
  • “Why?” – My professors and supervisors tell me all the time to STOP using this word.  It always come off judgmentally, like an accusation.  Like spit-up, I often catch it coming out of my mouth before it’s too late.

Despite being baby incompetent,  even I have experienced spit-up.  Babies are the only ones that can do something that gross and look cute while they do it.  They often smile and coo as they have this gross goo dripping down their chins.  Moms wipe their baby’s chin with a smile and love (often cooing back), knowing it’s not their little one’s fault.  If I spit-up regularly, it would not be cute.  My mom is pretty loving, but I don’t think she would smile (or coo) at me if I did this.  She might wipe my chin and she would do it in love (my mom is exceptionally sweet), but she’d also be pretty disgusted.

I imagine God’s reaction to my uncontrolled tongue, my word spit-up, is similar.  While He loves me and is willing to clean up after me, the spit-up itself disgusts Him.  So, how can I, a follower of Christ trying to become more like my Savior, look at my my word spit-up with anything but disgust?

After all, the Bible is pretty clear that we are supposed to grow up, and stop acting like babies:

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.  1 Corinthians 14:20 (ESV)

for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  Hebrews 5:13 (ESV)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 1 Peter 2:2 (ESV)

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness indeceitful schemes.  Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)

My prayer for me and my prayer for you is that we’d seek the Lord proactively enough to prevent word spit-up before it starts, growing into maturity in our speech and love for one another.

Bad Soil

bad soil

I love fruit and vegetables.  Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza, cake, chips, and just about any kind of junk food imaginable.  (I’d be ashamed to share some of the creative junk food I’ve come up with while in seminary, but most involve an obscene amount of butter, sugar, or salt.) But I really do love fruit and vegetables too.

In fact, one of my favorite lunches recently has been vegetables, hummus, and fruit.

IMG_7105

While my classmates make fun of me when I eat this (much like my co-workers used to when I ate an entire zucchini for lunch), I just love the fresh taste of this meal.

Fruit has also become a routine gift I receive.   Pineapples are my absolute favorite fruit, and one of my neighbors regularly surprises me with one in front of my door.  My boss also has a satsuma tree in his backyard, and has taken to leaving fresh-picked satsumas on my desk each morning.

IMG_7107

I never get tired of these gifts because there’s just something about fruit that elates me.  As adults, my grandmother still prepares for my sister and me by stocking her fridge with fruit, knowing that nothing will go to waste while we’re there.

Unfortunately, fresh produce is kind of high maintenance.  Some items (like pineapple) requires quite a bit of prep.  Others (like bananas) go bad quickly.  All of it has specific season when it’s ripe.  It can also be expensive (or at least more expensive than a lot of the junk food I also enjoy).  Growing fruit and vegetables is also a pain.  I’m no gardener, but I know there’s a lot of work in this kind of endeavor.  Everything has to be just right to yield any sort of reward.

My grandparents used to grow different kinds of produce.  My dad often tells me about my grandfather trucking in piles of manure to help the soil for their garden.  At the time, they had a young black lab.  This dog loved the manure.  He regularly rolled in it and came back to the house covered in it.  Despite this tremendous hassle, my grandfather continued to truck in the manure.  He knew good soil was the key to good fruit and vegetables.

Jesus also talked a lot about soil.

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a familiar one.  In this nine-verse passage, Jesus presents a powerful representation of us hearing the word of the kingdom.  His explanation later in the chapter shows that the path (v. 4) represents a person that hears and doesn’t understand the word of the kingdom (v. 19).  The rocky ground (v. 5-6) represents the person that hears the word joyfully, but renounces it when persecution and trouble times come because of the word (v. 21).  The last type of bad soil Jesus explains is the thorny soil (v. 7), which represents “the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and proves unfruitful” (v. 22, ESV).

The thorny soil is the one that truly stabs me in the gut each time I read it.  I am so often unfruitful because the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches (which I think could also include success, selfish ambition, and just overall worldly desires) choke the word of the kingdom.  Somehow, I let these things squelch God’s truth in my heart.  In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan astutely cautioned his readers, “Do not assume you are good soil,” remarking that he thinks “most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns.”  This assertion is bold, but reeks of truth.  How can we possibly expect to be good soil when we are consumed by the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches? When we have to use the margins of our planners just to squeeze in another appointment, activity, or job…convinced that if we don’t do more, our worst fears may come true (whatever those may be).  Not only does this counter the gospel of grace, it robs us of the joy of the harvest.  Being in the context of salvation, this parable is a harsh awakening to any American reader professing Christ.

Of course, let’s not forget the good soil (v. 8).  Though grossly outnumbered, this soil represents “the one who hears the word and understands it.  He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (v. 23).  This good soil includes a sacrifice and endurance.  It has withstood the test of time.  It resembles the thorn in Paul’s side or the crown of thorns more than thorny soil of which I can too often relate.

More Confusing than Mystery Meat

Time at college, camps, mission trips, and with distant relatives typically includes at least one experience with mystery meat.  I could pretty easily live life without any meat, but mystery meat is particularly unappetizing to me.  I’d rather eat just about any other type of protein (tofu included).  Being unable to recognize a texture that used to belong to an unidentified animal just isn’t how I want to spend a meal.  Yet, living in the Deep South for over a year has caused me to discover a food more confusing than mystery meat (though there are plenty of new mystery meats here too).

That food is grits.

Until moving to the Deep South, I thought Oklahoma was pretty southern.  I was absolutely wrong.  I honestly don’t know where Oklahoma fits geographically, but it’s certainly not the Deep South.  In the Deep South grits are served with practically every meal.  People mix grits with foods I would have never considered: cheese, shrimp, bacon, sausage, ketchup, honey, berries, cream cheese, corn (which seems slightly redundant in my opinion)…you name it, it’s probably been added to grits at some point!  While I have instant oatmeal packets on hand at all times, many of my southern friends have grits.  (I had no idea instant grit packets even existed!)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike grits.  I just don’t really get the point.  They’ve always seemed kind of bland and unnecessary.  Until recently.

At the country club where I work employees get a free meal per shift.  While the country club members eat gourmet meals, we are given less exquisite dining options.  Regardless, I am grateful for these meals.  There is always something satisfying to eat.  (The few times there was a mystery meat I just couldn’t stomach, there has always been a salad bar with at least lettuce, tomatoes, eggs, and dressing.)  A couple weeks ago I was really hungry while I was heading to the break room.  As I was walking up there I kept repeating “just something good, just something good.” I arrived and saw something new served (which is unusual, it’s basically an unpredictable rotation of certain meals).  I was excited to see chicken and vegetables, but there was also some sort of grain that I couldn’t identify.  After getting the chicken and vegetables, I decided to give the grain a shot.  (After all, once I couldn’t identify an item and it turned out to be bread pudding.) The grain turned out to be grits, but these grits were seasoned like rice or potatoes.  They actually enhanced my meal!

Admittedly, my eating habits at the country club resemble those of a toddler.  I’m normally not a picky eater, but for some reason I often have to trick myself to finish each meal.  (Don’t worry, I’m not pretending my spoon is an airplane.  It’s more like mixing things together to hide the flavor of certain foods.)  I normally eat the food as a discipline, not a joy.  I only do that because I know the purpose of food, even when it’s as confusing as mystery meat or grits.

This confusing discipline reminds me of prayer (though I’ve experienced a lot more overall joy through prayer than I have any food, especially the country club’s food).

I don’t understand prayer.  It’s more confusing to me than mystery meat or grits.  There are so many questions with prayer.  God already has a plan, so does it really make a difference if I pray? When I pray for something and it doesn’t happen, is God just not answering? There are all sorts of Bible verses or theological books I could reference, but ultimately prayer is still confusing.

Yet, we still pray.  Maybe we pray out of desperation.  Maybe we pray out of thankfulness.  Maybe we pray out of adoration.  Maybe we pray out of brokenness.  But sometimes we just pray out of discipline.  Like eating or maintaining any relationship, sometimes we just pray to survive.  We may not understand what’s going on or even necessarily look forward to it, but we do it anyway.  Sometimes we feel about like we did before praying, but other times we feel better.  Like some foods don’t visibly enhance a meal, prayer may not always seem to visibly enhance our lives.

But prayer is a spiritual lifeline, just like food is a physical one.  We can’t survive without it.  I don’t understand every intricate detail involved in digestion (nor would I want to), but I’m not willing to risk physical starvation just to test instructions I’ve been given.  I may not have experienced starvation, but I’ve heard of people starting.  I also know how bad it feels when I miss even one meal.  Similarly, I don’t understand every intricate detail involved in prayer, but I’m not willing to risk spiritual starvation just to test those instructions either.  The Lord’s protected me from spiritual starvation as much as He has from physical starvation, but I’ve also seen numerous people starve spiritually.  I also know how bad it feels when I go even a short time without prayer.

The Dawn of 26

IMG_6496 (1)
Well twenty-five days of memorizing a chapter-a-day of the Bible is complete and age twenty-six is right around the corner! Within the first few days of this challenge, I could already tell the Lord was going to do amazing things to finish this year. The reason Scripture memory is such a challenge for me is because it requires so much focus. It’s difficult for me to sit and focus that hard on something for that long. Memorizing that much requires me to basically think about Scripture all the time. I caught myself reciting passages over and over all day, which was definitely the point. I wanted my mind to be ready for 26.

Through this journey, I learned a ton.  The Lord made me aware of how much time I waste thinking about things other than Him.  He also made me more aware of His presence.  Here are some pictures that represent things I learned while meditating on these passages:

FullSizeRender (4)

FullSizeRender (2)

FullSizeRender (5)

FullSizeRender (3)
Thank you guys so much for your support, prayers, and encouragement. I definitely had ups and downs of motivation, but I still memorized more Scripture at one time than I’ve ever memorized.  The Lord used you to help me memorize 15 Psalms in 25 days (which was significantly less than my goal, but still the best way I could’ve spent 25 days). I was constantly a day behind (sometimes more…hence, I feel great about 15 chapters) and I doubt I could fluidly recite all the Scripture on the spot.   Regardless, I’m still closer to Him than I was when I started. Twenty-five has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging years of my life, but finishing saturated in His word has been a bigger blessing than I can describe. I can’t wait to see what the Lord does with 26!

Also, if you’re wondering what chapters I memorized, here you go:

Psalm 128, 130, 126, 127, 121, 123, 124, 125, 6, 15, 16, 47, 17, 57, 19. (I also started to memorize 52, 43, and 13, but I definitely wouldn’t want to claim those are memorized.  19 is questionable enough.)

I memorized them all in the NIV84.

25 Days of 25

IMG_6495

If you search the web for things about age 25, you’ll come across a lot. People have written things about what they learned at 25, what they expect at 25, what to do before 25… I hear a lot about age 25 as I am surrounded by girls approaching this “landmark” year. It’s also a year talked about in Psychology classes since that’s the year the brain usually finishes developing.

Tomorrow I will have 25 days left of 25. I could easily list 25 things I’ve learned, 25 things I’ve done, 25 things I regret, etc. Instead, I would like to spend the last 25 days of 25 doing something meaningful.  Four days ago I started to memorize one chapter of the Bible each day. I knew this goal would be super hard for me (Scripture memory is not my best discipline), so I wanted to try to do 25 days of it before my week-long workshop started (the week of my birthday). So far I’ve started with those super short psalms….we’ll see how the next 21 days go!

Your word is a lamp for my feet
and a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105 HCSB

In the meantime, social media is what’s getting sacrificed to make this goal more attainable. So unless I remarkably finish a chapter early in the day: see you in August, social media! I’d love anyone who is reading this to ask me how it’s going or hold me accountable. Just please use a venue other than social media.