Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cause The Journey is Sometimes More Important than the Destination...

There is a famous saying out there about how life is about the journey and not just the destination...and I've honestly come to see the truth in that...even in the little journeys/destinations that make up life.  For example, in about five weeks... or 38 days to be exact...I leave to go on a missions trip to Ecuador.  And although it's crazy to think that in such a short amount of time I will have this amazing opportunity, I would be lying if I didn't say that I find myself more caught up in the journey of it all then the ultimate destination.
  It was almost a year ago now that I started thinking that God might be calling me to do something like this and at the time I was in such a dark place spiritually and emotionally, that I honestly didn't want to hear it.  In fact I did everything in my power...short of sticking my fingers in my ear and saying "I'm not listening..I'm not listening" (okay so there was a little of that)...to keep from having to acknowledge the little tugs God was making on my heart.  I was broken and ashamed.  I had just walked through a situation that forced to see my own self-centeredness and all the ways that I use the banner of service to "God" to make myself feel important and validated.....and honestly I just felt like I was a failure to everyone.. from God... to my church... to my family...even to myself.  So to think that God was calling me to "try again" just seemed crazy...and scary....REALLY SCARY!
  A month or two went by and I still couldn't shake the feeling that this was something God wanted me to do, so I decided to ask some friends to pray with me about it.  Honestly at this point my prayer life consisted mostly of me complaining and whining to God....I wasn't really looking for clarity...I just wanted to have the tugging on my heart stop.  In fact, when I asked people to pray with me I worded in such a way that I was actually asking that they would pray God would change His mind, close every door and basically pretend this "leading" never happened.  
  Not only was I terrified to take a step of faith like this again, but I trembled at the idea of having to acknowledge....even to friends...that there was a part of me that really thought this was God's plan.  I still felt like a screw up...and that something like this was only going to lead me to screw up even more....and I figured other people would see that and be annoyed or even laugh at my mention of need of prayer...but they weren't and they didn't!  
  In fact, all their praying seemed to only solidify God's calling and to be honest it seemed to be opening doors that I hadn't even believed were there. Before I knew it all these pieces of the puzzle started falling into place...without me even trying...and it all came down to me making a choice...I could step out and be obedient and apply for a trip...or to cower in my fear... Obviously I chose to obey, and what I've realised since then... as it seems I'm constantly having to walk out that obedience through my choices... is that the question really isn't "Will you obey" but rather "Who are you going to allow to be your master".  
  The bible teaches that when we become Christians, we become slaves to Christ...He is our master, but to be honest, for most of my life.....even in the time I've been a Christian...I've been more of a captive to fear.  Fear controls so much of what I do...and don't do....in life!  I can't tell you how many opportunities I've missed out on because I was too scared to do something!  Even simple things in life....like calling someone on the phone, going to a place to don't know all the well, or trying something I might not be good at, scare me.  I don't like to admit it, but so much of my life has been paralyzed by this fear, that it's honestly kept me from stepping out and being the person I always wished I could be.
  And maybe that's why God called me on this journey to Ecuador to begin with....because you see....this journey....it's been all about facing my fears.  From the moment I said "Yes" to God, I've been faced with one situation after another after another, where I've had to decide if my master would be God or my fear.  I've had to go to people I'm not comfortable around... who I'm not sure even like me, never mind support me... and ask them to vouch for me.  I've had to stand in front of large crowds... with my entire body shaking... and ask for financial support and then trust against everything in me that wanted to doubt, that people would give.  And I've had to open myself up to meeting new people and being willing to invest in new relationships when every fear inside of me screams of the danger!
  I can't tell you it's been easy.....and I can't say I've given up on all my fear....but what I can say is I've never grown so much in my life in such a short period of time....and even more than that I've never felt more close to God... even in the midst of all the ups and downs... than I do right now!  So yeah.....I'm excited about what this trip holds for me...and I'm even excited about the next 38 days...but  what I'm  most enjoying is the journey....cause after all life's not just about the destination!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cause Sometimes it's Easier to Write the Truth than to Speak it...

  So at church today, there was a time to give testimony’s…basically an opportunity to share what God has been teaching you through the sermon series we had just finished.  All week I prayed about it and promised God that although I hadn’t heard or read all the sermons, if He had something for me to share then despite my fear I would get in front of the group and do so.  Except…when push came to shove….I couldn’t…and I didn’t.  How do you stand in front of a group of people and try to explain something you don’t truly understand yourself?!?!….and how do you do it when it’s obvious you don’t understand or feel the same thing everyone else in the group seems to feel?!?!  So instead, I sat in my seat….let the tears roll….and began to write out what I would have shared….
  You see I grew up in church.  I’ve sat in Sunday school and services since I was able to walk.  I know the basics of faith…or at least I do in my head.  I know that I am saved by the grace of God, that it’s His work alone that makes me acceptable….or as my pastor has been saying, “Its Jesus plus Nothing”!  But the thing is….secretly…..I’ve always thought it was God who saved me and what I do that keeps me in the palm of His hand.  And while that puts a lot of pressure on me to always get it right and not disappoint God…I’ve always found comfort in this “Jesus plus something” mentality.
  So sitting in service today…as I began to write this all down… I started thinking….why?....Why do I find so much security in what I do?  It’s not like anything I do is really all that good…even my best efforts are tainted with pride and self centeredness….it’s basically like I’m standing before God holding up to Him the very dirt He made and hoping He’ll see my good in it!  But why?  Why?
  Well carrying the thought out even more, I began to do some soul searching and I wrote a truth that shocked me!  Because you see, I think what it really it comes down to is that if all of this is based on what I do, then I don’t have to rely on anyone else.  You see, If I truly believe that my faith is “Jesus plus Nothing” then I have to place all my trust and faith in God…and that’s scary…that takes RISK!  But if I think it’s “Jesus plus something”…something I do…then my trust and reliance is on me….therefore I NEVER have to risk putting my hope or trust in someone else….someone….who….could…Fail me…
    The bible tells me to cast all my cares upon God for He cares for me.  It says that He has plans to prosper me and not to harm me...Plans to give me a hope and a future.  From the moment I was conceived, even before I was a thought in my mother’s head, God loved me.  He formed me in her womb….He knows my thoughts, the hairs on my head, when I sit down and when I rise.  He knows everything I’ve ever done and everything I will ever do…and He loves me.  And His love….God’s love…its perfect…never ends….unfailing.  I can trust in it.  So why don’t I?
  Honestly…I don’t know.  I’m not really good at trusting anyone.  I grew up in a great family.  I have an amazing dad.  But…Yeah…even when I look to my own family structure I see the pattern of me knowing I am loved, but also me working hard to keep it that way by what I do.  Why do I do this?  Why can’t I just accept love and acceptance like everyone else?  Why do I always assume there are strings attached and that if I don’t hold up my end of the bargain everything will fall apart?  Why is it easier for me to trust that it’s “Jesus plus Something” then to trust that it’s “Jesus plus Nothing” that equals my everything?!?
  And I know I’m not suppose to say all this out loud….let alone think it.  I’m just suppose to know deep in my heart that I am fully and completely loved by God and nothing can or ever will change that…..not anything I do and not anything I don’t do.  And, I guess, in a way I do know that…I know it in my head…..I’m just hoping some day….someway….maybe through even being this honest....that this knowledge moves those six inches from my head to my heart!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cause the Reality is We're All Only Human...

 I talk a lot in my life about the fact that I know I am a sinner.  I honestly mention the fact that I sin so frequently that to be honest… sometimes...sadly... I forget the weight of sin….that it cost God everything.  However, that does not negate the fact that I AM in fact…a sinner.  In any given day I will have hurt someone with either my thoughts or words… or sometimes both… I will have lied, gossiped, gotten angry or jealous,  thought more about what I want and what makes me feel comfortable than what honors God, I will have been defensive, judgmental, hypocritical….and well the list could go on and on and on…but you get the point.  The thing is… I constantly try to calm the anguish inside of me that knows I shouldn’t be this way, by simply saying, “But I’m only human”.  And what makes matters worse, is that after knowing all this filth is inside of me and after seeing what I’m capable of… I not only cast it off as "being Human", but then I go on to expect  others to NOT act that way…as if they aren’t allowed to be human as well!
  My oldest sister use to tell me all the time that it’s usually the things we dislike most about ourselves  that annoy us the most in other people….I’m pretty sure it’s an Irish proverb or something.  The thing is ...it’s so true!  You see, I don’t like that I am so……Human…..that I constantly fall down into a pit of sin…..BUT  I hate it even more when other people do it….especially when their sin affects me!  How hypocritical am I!
  For example, I can think of two very specific relationships in my life right now where I do this.  In one relationship I struggle because I feel like this other person is always trying to put on a show and act so holy, and perfect and blameless…..and in the other relationship I struggle because I always feel like the other person thinks they can treat me however they want and  yet no matter what, I should just automatically forgive them.  The thing is….if I were honest….I do the exact same things!  I can’t count the amount of times I’ve tried to come off as so perfect and holy and above it all….putting on a show in order to be accepted.  And I hate to admit it, but there are so many more times I've wronged others and then got mad because they didn’t forgive me in my time table, than times I've handed out blanketed forgiveness!  It’s pathetic!  So what right do I have to condemn others?!  I don’t! 
  Now what, though?!  It’s not like confessing this….even to God…and asking for forgiveness is going to automatically make me less of a hypocrite.  I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and never again feel frustrated by the humanness of others while at the same time dismissing my own humanness.  I can try…I can keep working towards change….but I’ll never be perfect.  So where does that leave me?  I guess it leads me towards being a little more loving, a little more understanding, and a little more compassionate.  I guess it opens my eyes up a little bit more to the reality that we are all in this together and we need each other to make.  And I guess it makes me more grateful to God, for loving me and for never giving up on me! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cause Sometimes Fish Can Be Lost At Sea...

  So lately I’ve been feeling a bit like a fish lost at sea.  I know that sounds funny.  Fish they belong in water, so how can they be lost at sea?!  But….haven’t you ever seen the movie “Finding Nemo”?!?!  I remember when that movie first came out …..All my friends would tell me, “Jess, you’re so Dory”! And I get it, I’m forgetful, friendly, and at times a bit too hyperactive….but….I always related more to Marlin.  Marlin is Nemo’s dad and in the movie, out of his great love for his son, he casts off all fear to brave the big bad sea in order to find him!
  You see, in a lot of ways, my faith has always worked within the realm of this comfort zone where I follow all these rules and regulations and try to do all the right things so that I can go to heaven.  I know that sounds so restricting to some people, but I get this kind of religion….I get rules….I get the black and whiteness of “do this and don’t do this”….I find comfort in that.  Yet over the past few years God has continually been calling me out of that and into a RELATIONSHIP with him.
  And I know that sounds so cliché…people say all the time now that’s “it’s not religion, it’s a relationship”…. but for me it really is.  I want to know God, to really KNOW Him and not just ABOUT Him.  And I find that on this journey to do just that, I seem to be drifting, or maybe swimming, further and further away from the comforts of legalism and right into an ocean of grace.
   The thing is…….it’s kind of scary and definitely NOT comfortable for me.....this swimming against the current….facing questions and situations I’ve never dealt with before. I find myself wrestling with scripture… and church… and community… and life… and how they all overlap….and I cry out to God cause I just can’t seem to make sense of it all on my own…..and ….It almost seems easier sometimes to head back to the cove .  But I can’t!... because much like Marlin, it’s love that constrains me to “Just keep swimming” and in spite of my fear, seek to find God.
  So...as I said, at times, like now.... I find myself lost at sea…..trusting that this is where I’m supposed to be…that this is a journey I am suppose to take….and  that in the end I’ll find the desire of my heart.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cause Somebody has to be Willing to Open the Lines of Communication...

  The other day I posted a status along the lines of feeling comforted in my struggle with church.  This isn't a new struggle for me, it's actually something I've been wrestling with for almost a year, but that night I had hung out with a friend who made me feel like it was okay to wrestle with things....that it didn't make me a bad Christian or give me some moral flaw....it was just something I would eventually work through.  I found comfort in her words....comfort that I'd been waiting a long time to feel.  So I posted my status about it...and granted I worded my status as a question, but I was honestly quite surprised as to how many people responded to it...and even more surprised as to how most chose to do so in private, where no one else could see our conversations.
  In all honestly the responses I got weren't very varied, but they did all seem to fall into one of two camps.  It seemed that either people were all of a sudden concerned about my spiritual state and worried that I might be falling out of relationship with God....or people understood exactly where I was coming from and confided that they to had questions like mine.
  All of this led me to wonder, why are all these conversations taking place in private?  Why can't we just have an open conversation about this stuff?  I guess part of it is fear....fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of being judged, fear of a verbal fight breaking out....and I get that...I really do.  But how are we ever suppose to "build each other up and spur each other on" if we can't be open and honest with each other?!
  Sadly, I am the biggest hypocrite ever in saying this because I certainly am not a very open person.  I like to be liked, I am scared to be hurt, and honestly I hate correction....so I tend to shy away from situations that lead to those said things.  Yet.....I can't help but wonder....if I can't share my struggles with my brothers and sisters in Christ and be real with them....then who am I suppose to talk to?!?  I think I'm gonna work on being more open...and sharing in spite of my fear.  And maybe, just maybe, it might inspire others to do the same.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cause Sometimes it Feels Like There are Rules within Rules....

  Okay, so I'm not going to lie....99.9% of this post probably comes from the fact that I'm reading the book "Hear No Evil" by Matthew Turner, and it's got me thinking about all those religious "rules" we follow as Christians!  Rules that aren't even necessarily in the bible...unless of course you're living by the old testament law like the guy who wrote "A year of Biblical living" (A.J.  Jacobs)....but that, as Christians, we follow and then back up using quotes of scripture from the Good Book.
  For example, one of my "fondest" memories of feeling like an outsider in church..and believe me there are plenty....happened way back in high school when my "best friend" pulled me out of service into the hallway to tell me that I wasn't ALLOWED to wear my sweater ever again because it made my boobs look too big and would cause my "brothers in Christ" to stumble!  Mind you this was my favorite sweater....and my MOM had bought it for me....my MOM, who still buys all her clothes out of a catalog!  It wasn't distasteful in any way and covered me up way more than half the other girls in the service.....so why was I getting picked on for?!?!  I can't help it if God made me well endowed and pretty much anything I wear shows it off!  None the less, I never wore that sweater again...Anywhere....cause who wants to be the girl making the guys stumble?!?!
  Or there's the fact that, although I am not big on swearing, every once in a while a "holy sh**" will slip out of my mouth...which mind you, I grew up in a family where that wasn't considered a bad word, but rather something the dog use to do in the back yard!  If I'm with anyone other than my Christian friends, it's no big deal and honestly it doesn't seem to phase anyone if it comes out.....although every once in a while one of my "heathen" friends will let a smirk cross their face and nod just a little to acknowledge that their "straight-n-narrow" friend isn't perfect either!  Yet if I happen to let that slip out in a group of Christians, it's as if I murdered a puppy!  The looks I get, the awkward giggles that cover up the fact that "someone made a boo-boo" or the lectures I later get about how "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" and thus I must be dangling way too close to the worldly line.....make me feel like once again I've failed some Christian pop quiz of life!
  Now don't get me wrong.....I do believe in being pure and that we do need to honor God with our whole lives.... and I am blessed to have some pretty great Christian friends in my life who don't treat me like the awkward step-sister of the family.....but sometimes all these extra rules make me feel like the worst Christian in the world!  I mean does it really mean I love God any less because I like to sing along to "Payphone" in my car or because I'm sad they killed Lexi off in the season finale of Grey's Anatomy?!?!   Do I lose points in heaven because I never felt "led" to pray out loud during our small group or because I don't lift my hands in worship?!?  Do all these extra rules we come up with really matter.....or should I just stick to what Matthew 22 says and believe that "you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind...and love your neighbor as yourself... for the entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commands"?!?!  Why does everything have to be so complicated?!?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cause Sometimes You Just Have to Tell it as it is....

  So I had a team conference call tonight for the missions trip I am going on this summer, and once again about an hour before I was suppose to dial in I started getting all nervous.  It was as if I was getting ready to go on a date or something...I mean here I am sitting there thinking... I hope they like me, I hope I don't say anything stupid, I hope they don't discover some hidden trait of mine that will get me black-balled from the group!  I... am... ridiculous!  I mean...HELLO!....it's a conference CALL!  I could literally sit there on the phone in my birthday suit and in the bathroom on the toilet and nobody would know (in reality I sat at the kitchen table in my work clothes...just so you know).  Plus I usually spend about 90% of the phone call just listening to other people talk....so what am I so worried about?!?!
   Then it dawned on me.....this is pretty much how I think in ALL social circumstances.  I swear I have some form of social anxiety  cause I find myself worried about the strangest things when I'm in a group setting.  I mean, where some people might be thinking about the answer to a question, I'm thinking about whether or not I have an accent or if the fact that I talk to fast and quietly will mean that nobody will care what I have to say.  Or while people are worshiping at church, I'll be sitting there wondering if the shoes I am wearing make me look too tall and thus if I should take them off or just move to a different seat further in the back.  Or like tonite, when we are praying....most people were probably thinking about God, and here I am worried that I am breathing too hard into the receiver (Yep...I need to work on being a little more spiritual, but at least I have the honesty thing down).
  And I know I shouldn't worry about what people think of me.  Heck, I just got an email today with my churches weekly newsletter attached, through out which my pastor kept emphasizing that our identity is in Christ!  So I know that I should just relax and rest in the knowledge that I am fully and completely loved by God, not because of who I am or what I've done, but because of who He is and what He's done for me........But....somehow... it seems... all that head knowledge gets lost in translation on it's way to my heart and I never really find myself resting God's acceptance as an end all be all.
    I guess in a sense this is a little too honest of a post.....especially for some one who cares so much about what others think...and for someone whose suppose to be this great Christian.  But maybe honesty really is the first step to recovery....and in that case maybe this is the first step in the right direction....