Sunday, October 30, 2011

Good Things

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:11)

One of the many things God is teaching me right now as I embark on my life in Wilmington, NC- for however long he wills it- is that God really does mean for me to delight in him. And he hears the littlest of my prayers and even answers them "yes" far more often than I expect or think he should. Sometimes my requests seem silly to me- or maybe superfluous would be the better word- but then God will answer them somehow as I had only dared to hope he would, and I think he does it just to make me smile. He wants to remind me that He is all powerful, that He does not "reward" me based on my good behavior, but gives to me to increase my faith and to increase my reasons to praise him in everything I say and do so that he will be glorified all the more. He gives to me so that I will take delight in him just as he tells me he takes delight in me.

Even typing this last paragraph shows me how little I understand God's nature, and in that lack of understanding, I'm helped to see the enormity of God's love as Paul describes in Ephesians- "high, wide, long deep, immeasurable, beyond understanding..." and to desire to better know the gift so eagerly and lavishly given to me.

So, here's the fun part- the little things (and a few big ones) that God's done recently to make me smile- at least some of them. I hope they make you smile, too.

1. The Girls
Olivia, Erika and Lindsey have developed something so special during their time in Wilmington- love for each other that really stands out. I am so impressed with these girls and grateful for how God is moving and has been moving in their lives. They are all a part of separate households- but their love for one another is profoundly effecting their roomies and friends. We are currently planning a study with two of those friends for this coming Tuesday. Please pray for these girls!
Some of the UNCW Bible Talk (from left to right) Katie, Genevieve, Erika, Lindsey, Olivia, Me, and Alexis- who we are praying will join us in the fall as a freshman!

2. The Job that Brought me to Wilmington-
God has given me a great part time job that is in my field and is stretching my character! I'm teaching musical theatre two blocks a day at the Cape Fear Center for Inquiry and I'm learning classroom management- among other things. The clip is of some choreography the kids made up.

2. A BED-
After spending a few nights on Lindsey's very comfy couch I was feeling the need for a space of my own to start lesson planning not in the main room of a college girls' house where late night movies are watched and good times had. I had not been sleeping much at all for the all the thoughts racing in my head, and I was already in a sleep deficit from my unusual all-nighter that I pulled to complete my job application and the 8 hour road trip. Add to that an urgent need to stay elsewhere because of roomies' friends coming in from out of town and Olivia and Erika being unable to house me for my first Wilmington weekend- and you get a girl so tired she can barely think, but who is still really happy and grateful and eager to see God pull through with some solution for weekend living.
God provided yet again extravagantly. Olivia suggested I call Jeff Reynolds, the preacher at Jacksonville, to see if I could stay with someone from that congregation for the weekend. He immediately thinks of one of the single sisters, Michelle, whom his wife, Isabel, gets on the phone to call. When Michelle answers, Isabel is shocked to find out that Michelle is currently on her way to Wilmington already to do some once-a-month errands!

She passes on the number to me and a few hours later, Michelle picks me up from Lindsey's and takes me to stay with her at her place- where I have a room- and a BED all to myself and a full Saturday to pray and plan my first lessons. WOW. It was great- and the conversation and prayer with Michelle was even better. What a joy new relationships are. And, I did sleep, by the way!

2. The Sound of Music-
The girl in the middle of the video, Lily, asked me if I would be auditioning for the role of Maria in the Thalian Association's upcoming production of Sound of Music. I hadn't heard about the auditions at that point, and I was doubtful that I'd be cast if I auditioned because Maria is a strong mezzo role, and I consider myself a low alto. But, I went to auditions eager to meet people in the community and hoping to at least be cast as a nun so I could start reaching out in the community. The audition was not great- and I'm not just being self-critical here. The song was OK but my focus shifted, I wasn't sure what I was doing with my hands, and I had to repeat some lyrics because I sang the wrong phrase the first time around. But they called me back.

While at auditions I met a new friend- Alyssa- who is recently married to a marine and located in Jacksonville, where the girls and I commute to church for now. We hit it off pretty well and she came over for dinner the night of callbacks and afterward we got ice cream together. I'm looking forward to continuing to build a friendship.

 Callbacks went really well until we got to the singing portion...Let me just say..."The Lonely Goatherd" aka "The really high yodeling song that Julie Andrews makes sound so easy..." Yeah. My throat was really dry at this point and some of those notes didn't come close to coming out- and this is in the lower key of the Mary Martin version. Lonely Goatherd- Move Version  Alyssa and I left not sure what the director, sm, and producer were thinking.

Deborah, the director, called me the next day to offer me the part. I was surprised- but very excited! And here's the big smile...Maria and I are very similar- at least in this stage of my life. She was in a major transition,figuring out God's direction for her life, finding herself teaching music to some fun and slightly crazy kids, and retreating to nature to have time with God and to find clarity. Like Maria, I'm a mountain girl, but here I am at the beach. Happy to be for now- but it's a very different sort of charm. Today in rehearsal we blocked the famous title song and Deborah instructed me to envision the hills all around me, and I just thought, "huh...God's giving me mountains. Even though they aren't real, I am now required to think about and envision the mountains several days a week until mid December." Why wouldn't God provide what helps me so much to draw near to him?

3. My apartment-
After applying for, getting and starting my job and looking for an apartment in the space of one week, I was able- thanks to my parents- to take over a lease that someone was breaking. They needed an immediate move in, so move in I did- while the power was still off and all I had was my suitcase and a couple boxes of teaching supplies. I was so happy to be in my own place where I could work on lesson plans and not be a burden to the college girls. The day I moved in, I prayed that God would provide something for me to sleep on- and he did. The guy who was moving out of the apartment just happened to have an air mattress in the back of his car. Now, ironically, he didn't have a cap for it, so I tried unsuccessfully to concoct a plug and then went out to buy silly puddy to do the trick. It did for a bit, but stretched out eventually, letting the air out with a high pitched squeak. It was not the most peaceful first night in my place that I had anticipated, but God did provide me with something to sleep on, even though it was completely flat after a couple hours.

4. The Ladder-
There's a great nook in my loft that I saw upon move in and really wanted to utilize but needed a ladder in order to do so. I was not going to buy one, so I half-prayed, "God, it would be so cool to have a ladder so I could use that space for quiet times." Lo and behold what I found a week later in the dumpster!

5. A Local Art Show-
I've been starting to peruse the local arts magazine regularly for updates on theatre, music, art, etc... and ran across a call for artwork for a local show at the health food store, Carolina Farmin'. The themes for the show were farming, baking, and anything to do with the Cape Fear area. I just happened to have some photography that fit the bill, so I ordered some prints from Walmart and put together the following and three other pieces (which I forgot to take pictures of...sorry).
I sent in my application with the fee on the day it was due, but was informed the next day that the slots had been filled. I had only created the above and one other at this point. But a couple days later, I get an email from the coordinator saying that she really liked my work, an artist had dropped out, and she could squeeze me in. Wohoo! Now I had to finish those other two pieces...

But, as I was doing all this in a bit of a rush, I forgot to read the fine print that said all the works had to be framed. As you can see, the above...well... isn't quite. I was going for rustic and rough...and economical. :) My other pieces were framed to a passable extent- one is a picture of a rustic cabin mounted on a fabric covered canvas, one a bit of a shadow box with old-looking pictures of the beach and the pier set into 1/2 of a resume box covered with muslin, and the last is duo of pumpkin pictures in the only legitimate frame I had.

So, I assumed this piece, the one that was the most related to farming and the one with the images that had caused the show coordinator to take me last minute- wasn't going to make the wall. When we were pulling them out of my trunk, her first thought was- "Yes, let's leave that one because it's not framed" but then..."But I just love those pictures, so let's bring it in anyway..." Yay! And then she put it on the table while figuring out where to hang it an the marketing lady came over and said, "Ooh, I love the way that's one's matted." Yay again! Such a small thing...but a nice thing to smile about.

And that doesn't even begin to cover everything exciting that's been happening...meeting strangers who suddenly want to hang out, drive with you to a neighboring town and have lunch- and pay for you because it was recently your birthday and then follow your blog and meet your church family in Fayetteville where they're from..

..getting to know the community and finding out about the needs of the area...running into someone who used to be a part of our immediate fellowship in the 80's and knows a bunch of people you know but thought we'd died out- and getting to fill her in a little...oh! and getting to look forward to living with the amazing and talented Liz Carter (below)
 and her German Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog Mix in one of the two apt. complexes in Wilmington that will take that breed- that just so happens to be 2 minutes from work, have a fitness center and provide laundry facilities in each apt- all for much less. Can you say, "sweet! and why on earth do I deserve this??" Oh yeah...that's right! I don't! God just loves me, and for some reason beyond my grasp, he's choosing to lay things out before me very smoothly at the moment. I'm sure that won't always be the case, so I will do my best to remember all these things now for whatever more complicated and tough times will surely come in the future, but wow is it exciting for the time being!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who prayed for me to get here, for my job interview, for housing to work out, etc...etc..., to all of you who are praying for Wilmington and for God's Word to do its powerful work here. Please continue to pray. We desperately need your prayers. I NEED YOUR PRAYERS. And I am growing daily more convinced of God working through prayer- so please, continue faithfully extending your requests to God for us. Thank you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grace and Different Relationships

I have a dear friend (you know who you are) who often hesitates to divulge her life issues with others, feeling they would burden those who hear. I have felt the same way before with people I knew little or with whom I was not entirely comfortable. But as she and I talked, I had such a desire for her not to feel this way- for her to feel at ease and safe, for her to see that I want to know about her life because I care about her.
Then, a comparison came into mind courtesy of my mother that, in turn, taught both my friend and I a lesson about God. 

I related to my friend how my mom and I will have these great late-night talks that begin with a "goodnight" and then go on for over an hour. Most often, these conversations consist of me rambling, jumping from subject to subject, asking for advice and help to figure out my thinking, etc..., etc... I imagine sometimes these talks are a lot to bear for her, especially as they usually contain material for many lengthy conversations bound up into one tangled package. However, I never feel as if I am burdening my mother during these talks because I know she wants to hear and help. She wants to be close to me and to know the goings on of my life. In short- I have no reason to doubt her love for me. Then the realization hit me that I want my friend to feel the same about my love for her. To trust in it and have no reason to doubt it.

Because of my trust in my mom's love, I can approach her with confidence instead of in fear that she would reject me, chastise me, or worse- laugh at me (in a negative way). Is it not in the same way that God desires that I "draw near" him "with true heart and full assurance of faith" (Heb. 10:22)? As John reminds us, "There is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 Jn. 4:18). Since "punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds" (Is. 53:5), those who are in Christ are truly perfected before God, and their fears eradicated. So, I need never feel like I am burdening God because there is no greater burden I can put on him than that which he has already born upon the cross. Grace...confidence in justification. The absence of fear. Praise God.

Truly, my love for my friend, though great in my eyes, is very dim in comparison to God's. It will fail her because it is spotted with sin. Yet, because we both are accountable to God to love each other, we still have no reason to doubt each others' love, since God will continually call us back to the standard our LORD has set down for us. "Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Rom. 13:8). Another grace! The ability to love and trust other humans because our greater trust and love is first in God. (Isn't it because of fear that the world teaches we can't trust anyone??? HA! God provides a way out! Amen.)

So to my brothers and sisters- you have my love forever because God will forever be teaching me how to love. ("About brotherly love: you don't need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" 1 Thes. 4:9). And since I know He is doing the same for you, our "love will cover over a MULTITUDE of sins" (1 Peter 4:8) and we will be able to bear one another's burdens while Jesus provides the strength. What a joy and triumph over the world!

Friday, July 1, 2011

An Exercise in Futility

It is now the beginning of July and, boy, did May and June pass quickly! I am now running headlong into the most truly transitional time in my life I've ever experienced: closing the chapter of my life in Athens with the International Campus Ministry Conference next week, planning trips to the big cities of NYC, LA, Chicago, and maybe a couple others, and making the necessary arrangements to move forward with the marketing of my one-woman show and myself. (I hate the way that sounds, but so is the case in acting.)

I have not posted in a couple months because I haven't felt very aware of grace- or perhaps I just wasn't quite able to sit down and reflect on it. Whatever the case, nothing struck me I felt was insightful enough to blog until last night during a long conversation with a close friend. (It's those spontaneous heart to hearts that are the most special times- is it not?) I'm amazed by how much one can learn about oneself through listening to the questions, insights, fears, and hopes of another. Sometimes his or her present state resonates with your own, sometimes it reminds you of where you have been and how far you have come; sometimes it presents a challenge for where you'd like to be- or rather who. And maybe sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll experience a bit of all these, and for a brief few moments mental clouds give way to a perspective as clear as bright, expansive skies, and suddenly its rays of light show all of life's issues for the little things they really are. But before I divulge the nature of that glorious little moment I had, however, let me explain my state leading up to it.

About a week back I was overwhelmed again. The play (As You Like It) had finished, but now there remained to me no excuse for putting off the inevitable and varied life decisions and responsibilities I've been needing to make. My thinking was somewhat as follows: "Now I've got all these people to keep reaching out to and friendships to maintain. How do I not spread myself too thin? And then there's everything I need to do with Last Nights of the King and the ICMC and planning trips and a move and my parents are moving and I need to spend time with so and so and oh! I forgot about so and so over here and don't forget about those bigger subjects I'm wanting to study out and I need to get myself on a good track health-wise because I'm feeling irregular with my habits which makes me feel insecure and. then there's this stuff to journal about and confess.. and...and..." So then I stumbled across a brilliant idea that I was certain would help me find my way through the Spaghetti Junction of thought streams in my mind: I would draw out a large spider chart of all the subjects and sub-subjects and I would use old calendar pages and construction paper to at least make it pretty. I'd write out ministry thoughts in one color, professional stuff in another, random things to do in another, health in another, and so on and so forth. Sounds great, doesn't it! Thanks all you high school administrators who harped on and on about graphic organizers for preparing me to take on this exercise in knowing and understanding myself, an exercise in learning how to move forward in my life when my mind is full, and- as I'm sure you may have guessed by now- an exercise in futility! HA! If ever you desire to feel overwhelmed by all the goings on in your own life- by all means- try to write down every detail and separate them into nice, neat little categories, color-coded and taped to a pretty picture you intended to sooth you. I worked steadily at it for about 45 minutes before bed one night, then when my eyes tired, tossed it to the side and told myself I'd finish it the following day. I toted it around with that intention for two or three days until finally throwing the thing away convinced the effort had done nothing to help me. My mom laughed when I told her about it and gave her advice- which is always simpler and better than the intricately grandiose schemes I concoct- "Take one day at a time and focus on one thing. Why make life harder for yourself than it needs to be?" *Sigh* Thank you, Mommy. Thinking I can make headway in every area of my life at one time is foolish- impractical at best, whereas applying focused effort in one area usually produces better results that then tend to spill over into other areas- seeing as- in one way or another- they are all connected anyhow.

Ah  my. Grace teaches us to laugh at ourselves.

So...onto the heart to heart revelation. My dear friend was explaining her own feelings of being overwhelmed- the pressure of feeling like she needed to simultaneously tackle every facet of her life she is learning needs to change or expand. Unconsciously the truth of my mother's words (which are really the words of Mat. 6:36- Do not worry about tomorrow for each day has enough trouble of its own) began to come out in my counsel. As we talked, the following thoughts became evermore clear: The more we grow and learn, the more we see how broken we are, how guilty we are, how little we deserve, how little we actually understand. In general, my understanding of myself now is much more sober than it was even a year ago. Yet, if I were to focus on the vastness of my ineptitude or my insufficiency- my weakness- and take the burden of making up for it upon myself, the burden would become greater and greater every year. I would be striving for the impossible goal of making myself perfect to earn the praise of my God- or of myself and others as the case may be. But if instead, I am able to embrace the grace that makes up for my growing weakness, then I will see that the grace- and therefore the humility- will also grow greater and greater each year. So- to say it again- if my knowledge of my weakness is growing constantly then so can too, either my guilt or my freedom. Maybe now I have finally begun to glimpse what it means to "grow in the grace" (2 Peter 3:18). Paul, for example, became less and less in his own mind over time (from "the least of the apostles" to "the least of the saints" to "the worst of sinners") yet was increasingly empowered to do God's work.
So, I'm left with no other conclusion but that these times in which I get overwhelmed are the greatest of opportunities to learn about God's grace!  In them I get to glimpse- just a little bit- of how great is God's patience with me, his power to fix things, his mercy to forgive me and still use me for his purposes. What a relief. What a treasure worth sharing.
Praise God life goes on, and the life he gives is to the full.

Parting thought: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you... (1 Thes. 5:16-18).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Grace and the Sabbath

I reached a point last week where I felt legitimately OVERWHELMED for the first time during this ministry internship. Even though the tasks and thoughts on my plate were good and beneficial, spiritual work for me, it was finally TOO MUCH! So, a prompt discussion with my mom about delegation followed, and the next day and several phone calls later, my heart is much lightened. Boiling down the extensive talk we had and all the thoughts that ensued, I am left with this token to share: Delegation is necessary and benefits everyone.(Not to mention the fact that it appears throughout Scripture.) It keeps the delegator aware of his or her own limitations and helps him or her see the potential in others to take on responsibilities. It lifts up those who need to be put to work by providing them the opportunity to meet needs, and it distributes the load so that those who have needs can get them met by people who have the energy to devote to meeting them. More energy and more love to go around. YAY.

Delegation is only one aspect of the personal discovery for the week, though. I read one morning about the principle of the Sabbath in a chapter of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald J. Sider, which argues that applying the principle in our lives will go a long way in helping Christians stand against the draws of materialism, therefore allowing us to better serve the needs of those who are poor and needy. It cites Deuteronomy 5:12-15, which reads as follows:
Be careful to dedicate the Sabbath day, as the LORD your God has commanded you. You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey, any of your livestock, or the foreigner who lives within your gates, so that your male and female slaves may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Not till reading this chapter and thinking about what I'd just learned regarding my own limitations and delegation did the connection in the passage between slavery and the Sabbath become clear. God commands the Israelites to stop their work in order to remember that it was not by their work that they were brought out of slavery.  The Sabbath was to remind them weekly of God's grace to them and of his power in their lives, of their dependence upon him. Who am I to think my story is any different? I have been freed from my slavery to my sin by the mighty hand of God alone- not by my own work. So, if my best work, my hardest work, cannot save myself, why am I so easily deceived into thinking that by running myself ragged I can save others? I have put too much dependence on my own abilities. 
Out of the chapter, this sentence challenges my thinking the most: "IT DOES NOT MATTER that for a whole day we fail to produce good things or even do good kingdom work." I had to read this a couple times because my first reaction is to think, "Yes it does matter! We are always to be working for the Lord. What about, "Never grow weary in doing good but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord?"  But after pausing for a minute (and there's the key-- PAUSING) the truth that work and rest are not at all mutually exclusive sunk in. He continues: "We are finite. Arrogantly thinking we must do it all is blasphemy. Just resting our bodies, enjoying our families, and praising our God is enough for one day out of seven."

One other personal insight to add before closing this entry: I have seen this past week how, in my exhaustion, I am SO much more likely to think and act selfishly. Yuck. For the sake of my own spirituality and for that of all the people I influence, it is wisest that I practice the principle of the Sabbath and, in addition, increase my discipline pertaining to bed times and scheduling. Ah, the joys of learning oneself...But, on a happy note, the joys of learning God are truly wonderful. Though this week revealed so much of my pride and selfishness, it has been one of the most spiritually refreshing I've had in quite a while. :)

So there it is-- grace and the Sabbath-- and my best intent to see them more and more as one- as they are. And I ask you all to please hold me to this intention as we help one another.

In parting,

"Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matt. 11:28

Friday, February 11, 2011


Fasting and prayer reveals things hidden deeply away in our hearts. Tiredness, also, can do the same, as it tests our self-control. Add all three together and you get my three weeks of fasting concluded with our congregational all-night prayer. It has been a period of tears- both the happy and the sad, a period of dreaming for the future, a time of learning about grace, peace, power, and prayer; a time of seeing prayers answered in unexpected ways, and a special time to see attitudes within my own heart change before my eyes.  It has truly been an exciting time, a precious time. I don't want to forget what I have learned over these few weeks or grow weary of assembling the pieces of the lessons I haven't quite figured out yet-- like I might of a 1000+ piece monochromatic puzzle, the overwhelming feeling I can tend to adopt when attempting self examination. So, while there remains still much to contemplate and process, I believe one particular discovery merits sharing in this post, and that is the discovery of the frailty of my own life.

Moses prays, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90). I believe there is now presented me the opportunity for growth in wisdom. Not that by the recent discovery have I gained any wisdom, but I have gained a greater knowledge of God (though only marginally so), and hopefully wisdom will come through the digestion and application of that new knowledge.

Review with me the last two weeks, in which events and thoughts began to come to a head:

A couple weeks into the internship and things are going well, but the schedule is a mess and Katie is spending exponentially more time on the phone calling (and texting now because no one picks up the phone anymore!)- and sitting, planning Bible studies- and sitting, having Bible studies- and sitting, reading and studying for myself- and sitting, and driving all over Athens while- you guessed it- sitting. Aside from the occasional prayer walk with her mom, which she had enjoyed on a daily basis throughout Christmas break, she is inside either a structure or a vehicle most all day and has not "been able to" devote any time at all to her creative writing, piano playing, singing, dancing, etc... Side note- I suppose this blog sort of counts as creative writing, but I still really want to return to my novel, play ideas, and short stories that are dogging the back of my mind. Katie, however, is loving the growth she's witnessing in her relationships with people and the opportunities to grow and serve, so she sets the right side of her brain at ease, assuring it that she'll get to it soon when she figures out her schedule. After all, she has been told many times and knows herself that it, being half of her mind and probably most of her heart, is very important and that it has needs that must be met as well. Fast forward to a conversation with Mommy that begins with Katie seeking advice about boundaries in friendship with her ex, jumps forward into a deluge of unexpected tears lamenting the absence of the intellectual and spiritual peer-ship the ex provided, and ends with cuddling on the bed and prayer. Mothers are wonderful. Wednesday night Katie and the rest of the campus ministry listen to adaptations of psalms for the purpose of setting their minds to study the poetry, and during one rendition she hears the Piedmont Chamber Singers through the voices of the men's group attempting to imitate the temple worshipers of ancient Jerusalem. Her eyes get teary. She spends the night with Jessica Fridley to be close to campus for her plans there the following day but fails to sleep much. Thursday proves to be a fun day on campus meeting people and having good talks with other disciples- and all partakers are amazed, challenged, and encouraged by the Scriptures. She finds a time to walk through Harris Shoals Park and compose a tune to Psalm 25: "Unto you, O LORD, I lift my soul..." and before she drives home she gets the opportunity to share with a new girl in town, finding she genuinely wants to do so. The next day or so Katie suggests to Daddy that they change their date plans from the usual visit to Barnes and Noble and take a welcome long walk through the Botanical Gardens instead. It is a beautiful day, the exercise is refreshing, and the conversation and company both intriguing and comforting. Fathers are wonderful, too. Sunday morning a still sleepy Katie sits next to her dad, blowing the contents of her runny nose into his hanky because she doesn't have any tissues left in her purse, and the beauty of the North Georgia mountains dominates her thoughts as Sam Laing says the phrase, "Just take a drive up 441" in his point about listening to God through nature. She recounts her many drives to Piedmont and back, drives full of song, prayer, conversations with friends, tears, and shouts of joy...four years of many trips with the perspective of the mountains either straight ahead or in the rearview mirror. She hugs Jessica after service and the tears flow freely with the confession, "I miss Piedmont! I miss the mountains!" But somewhere amidst all of this emotion she remembers she had prayed for God to reveal her heart and thinks back on the week, wondering. There was a reason- though she can't put her finger on it- that she was never drawn to attend to UGA and that she ultimately decided against Oglethorpe- Perhaps it was the noise or the proximity to home. Whatever the turn-off, the calls of 90,000+ barking and yelling "sic 'em!" were not quite "sic'ing" her, nor did the pulse of that tiny refuge of medieval architecture, encased in the arteries and veins of Atlanta traffic, pump in accordance with her own heartbeat. There was a reason she felt the need to retreat to the hills.  The truth dawns on her: She NEEDS nature, perhaps more acutely than some. How would she have survived without those hours sitting by the lake (before and after it was drained), the prayers on the dam (before it was torn down) and the prayers on the bank (after the dam was no more)? How could she have coped with the distressing moments without the wooded walk to the water treatment plant or the wandering through the cemetery down the road? Without the hikes up Mt. Yonah, drives through Sautee, meanderings through Demorest park, and time spent gazing at the stars without too much of a haze from obtrusive street lights? For the first time she regrets borrowing the Norton Anthology of Romantic literature because she knows exactly the poems she would like to read right now.
She NEEDS music and singing- the voice lessons from Mr. Jameson and Mr. Pilkington, piano lessons with Dr. Hayner, and most of all the group experience of Chamber that allowed her to participate in an outpouring of emotion composed for God and others. Music chronicling the hearts of man over centuries, connecting with her own heart through the harmonizing of her peers' voices. Music very much worth sharing through their tours up and down the east coast. She now understands Dr. Hinson's deep craving for "that sound," and the expression of peaceful revelry that would overtake him when "it" would meet his ears. And now that she has known that sound, there is a place reserved in her soul for it- and for its longing. She pauses in gratitude that the more her congregation grows in its worship, the more this connection is achieved, even without the "perfect" intonation or the acoustic glory of the Chapel.
And she could go on. She needs the small class discussion atmosphere in which she can muse on literature and what it reveals about the state of the society in herself and herself in society. The open arms with which her professors would receive her questions and discoveries, however minor. Their desire to know her life, their eager support, and often- their friendship. She needs the safe haven of the bare stage with its ghost light and the sea of empty red seats to gaze upon, the rehearsal room full of yoga mats and temporary set outlines put down in masking tape, the direction of the visionary and the teamwork of the ensemble, the closeness built through experiencing life situations in an alternate reality, yet realizing their effects very much in their own reality. She needs the movement, the discipline, the training, the practice. She needs the artistic medium through which she learns repeatedly to forgive herself and step through comfort zones, knowing she can fail without the fear of humiliation. She smiles: whether or not he knows it, Bill (Mr. G) has taught her this through eight years of instruction: Grace in theatre.
And the list continues. She needed the opportunity to lead Bible Talk for four years and study the Bible with her friends. She needed all the friendships and conversations with the cleaning staff and caf servers, registrars, deans, staff workers, etc... She needed the weekend trips home. She needed the safety net the companionship with Jeremy provided, protecting her from the impure pursuits of other men and encouraging her to deepen her study and convictions. She needed to participate in the church planting at Clemson, to live with Jarrod and Stacey for a summer and give her heart fully to the small body of believers. She needed the early Sunday morning drives over the lake between GA and SC and the time they provided for conversation with the friends who joined her. She needed Java Joes and the way it served as Bible study and catch-up spot. She needed so many things. And so she learns this: that at every turn God provided what she needed, though she could not count the needs. The sheer number of them overwhelms her and she feels intensely weak for a few moments, helpless, yet grateful that she should be so cared for when she's done nothing to merit such care. She dares to think back on the rest of the life, even back to the elementary school years and discovers similar patterns. Why has God seen fit to love her so much? The trying times pale in comparison to the blessings, and she prays along with David, "Protect me, God, for I take refuge in You. You are my Lord, I have no good besides You. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance" (Ps. 16:1-2, 6).

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. 
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, 
The Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip; 
your Protector will not slumber, 
Indeed, the Protector of Israel 
Does not slumber or sleep.

The LORD protects you;
the LORD is a shelter right by your side.
The sun will not strike you by day
or the moon by night.

The LORD will protect you from all harm;
He will protect your life.
The LORD will protect your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Ps. 121

So to all I know and love at Piedmont, in Clemson, those in Athens who maintained friendships with me as I was away, and even those in Kentucky (sorry I left you guys out): "I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you...because I have you in my heart...For God is my witness, how I deeply miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:3-11).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

As the Deer

As a deer pants for flowing water so pants my soul for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 
When shall I come and appear before God?
-Ps. 42 Of the Sons of Korah

On my walk today I gained a new insight into this psalm that I've loved for many years. The desperation expressed in it has always spoken to me- a longing for a connection with the divine, for eternity, a longing for a closeness with God that seems unattainable because of my worthlessness in comparison to God's greatness. Maybe it is the human longing for what is out of reach- for the impossible. Yet, the glory of this psalm is in it's humble confidence that God will pardon, sustain, and provide salvation.

There is a big difference between humility and insecurity. In this case, both qualities would acknowledge how great the psalmist's need is for God, but only one results in the satisfaction of that need. Whereas the humble can approach God asking for grace to be sufficient in their weakness, the insecure get stuck in their fear, convincing themselves that they are too unworthy to ask anything of God and / or allowing their minds to fill with doubts about God's graciousness to them. The humble exalt God, acknowledging and praising him as the provider of their needs, but the insecure doubt God, and therefore, unwittingly limit his power in their lives because of their lack of faith. Insecurity stunts our growth. This is scary! God works through the faith of the humble on this earth, and Satan works through the cowardice of the insecure.  For a long time, I've been under the impression that my insecurities were in myself- doubts of my own abilities and conviction of my weaknesses, but I now see that when I am insecure, I am insecure in God. And if I doubt God's love for me, then I have cause to doubt everything else about my life. God, please increase our knowledge of who you are and how great is your love for us so that we can escape this downward cycle of fear and no longer give ourselves as instruments for wickedness during our time on earth!

If the psalmist were insecure, he could not and would not say with such desire, "When shall I come and appear before God?" because appearing before God involves judgment. If he were insecure, he would despair- as if God had left him in addition to his conflict with his enemies. Yet, he longs to appear before God, confident not in his own righteousness but in God's grace to him. I have not been able to say in my heart yet, "I long to appear before God." I have said that I long to see his glory and gaze on his beauty, to feel close to him, but to say that I long to appear before God would be to say that I am ready for judgment and confident of the verdict for my soul. I know in my head because of the Scriptures that I can be assured of my salvation, and yet, I again see how much easier it is for me to doubt my salvation than trust God's grace to me. My first thoughts when I ask myself why I would not feel ready to stand are, "Have I done enough? Have I repented enough? Did I share enough? etc..." I asked some of these questions the night before my baptism, and I have grown much since then, but that way of doubtful thinking, self-reliant thinking, is still ingrained in me. I am growing more and more grateful for scriptures such as this psalm to help me overcome what I know I cannot myself. The more I understand grace, the more that understanding will result in action- the more I will repent, do, and share- but my actions themselves will never result in my salvation.

 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my salvation and my God.

I love the final stanza of this psalm, and I pray that I can fully embrace it. To be able to ask myself as the psalmist does, "Why are you down, my soul? Why are you scared and insecure?" To be able to command my soul to hope in God and praise him because he IS my salvation.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Firm Foundation

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” (2 Tim. 2:19)

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock 
and gave me a firm place to stand. 
(Ps. 40:2)

When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever. (Pr. 10:25)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1)

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. (1 Peter 5:12) 

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. 
(Is. 7:9)

"The peace produced by grace is a spiritual stability too deep for violence -- it is unshakable, unless we ourselves admit the power of passion into our own sanctuary. Emotion can trouble the surface of our being, but it will not stir the depths if these are held and possessed by grace." 
-Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

I had to read the above paragraph a few times before I was able to visualize in my mind's eye a deep pool of water, or perhaps a well, that lasts through many ages without ever running dry or becoming overgrown with algae and grime.  It's source is unsearchable because of its depth, and because of that depth, the body as a whole stands firm and still. Though passing winds, the chance pebble, or an earthquake may agitate the surface, they cannot move the whole because its depths are too deep to affect. Such is the life and peace of someone who grasps grace. Such is the life of the one who lives by faith in God's grace instead of by a rollercoaster of emotion. In Luke 6:46, it is the man who has dug deep to lay his foundation on rock who is able to stand firm in obedience to Jesus' words.

I love Merton's choice of verbs that describe the force grace enacts upon us- holding and possessing us.  They remind me of Jesus' promise that no one will be able to snatch his followers from his hand (John 10:28-29) and the assurance Paul gives the Romans that nothing, "neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39). This grace is our new bondage and slavery, the light and easy yoke our Lord has given us to replace the heavy one of sin and death we used to bear (Matt. 28:11). Why have I so often chosen to ignore it and "ground" my spirituality upon the shaky foundation of how spiritual I feel? As Sam Laing says in The Guilty Soul's Guide to Grace, and as others have said elsewhere, how much easier it is to doubt our conversions than to trust in God's grace to us!

However, the hold of God's grace is not a stiff one, but is gentle, and, Merton suggests- delicate. He suggests that two main forms of what he calls "violence" can damage this hold, and both of these get their destructive power from our "passion." "Passion" in this context is negative, reflecting the state of mind and heart in which emotion overwhelms our Spirit-led self control: "The delicate action of grace in the soul is profoundly disturbed by all human violence. Passion, when it is inordinate, does violence to the spirit, and its most dangerous violence is that in which we seem to find peace. Violence is not completely fatal until it ceases to disturb us." So here Merton provides Biblical principles that disprove the "once saved, always saved" doctrine.

Type 1: Deliberate and Unresisted Sin-
"Acts in the depths of the will;" "carrying the whole being into captivity with no apparent struggle." When we choose to blatantly ignore grace (or abuse it), we are in essence disconnecting our well from its unsearchable source. In its new state it will dry up.
Type 2: Consented Inordinate Desire-
Involves us too deeply in the decisions of passion, perhaps under the pretext of serving God. "The most dangerous spiritual violence is that which carries our will away with a false enthusiasm which seems to come from God but which is in reality inspired by passion." This makes me think of Pr. 19:2: It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.

So we alone choose whether or not we allow ourselves to be held and possessed by grace, and praise God for the gift of repentance, revival, renewal, and re-commitment, that our wells need not be permanently damaged by our sinful nature and lack of faith.

Merton closes this chapter with a positive note on the power of God's peace to calm our "passion," and scriptures which it brings to my mind tie that peace to our pursuit of righteousness.

"There is only one kind of violence which captures the Kingdom of heaven -- the violence which imposes peace on the depths of the soul in the midst of passion.  This violence is order itself and is produced in us by the authority and the voice of the God of peace, speaking from His holy place."

...Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your minds and your hearts in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Col. 3:15).

The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever (Is. 32:17).

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, 'In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor. 5:21).

A sure foundation brings peace, security, trust, and a true discovery of self-identity. What a gift that I do not have to run wild with the rest of the world to find myself! On the contrary, I know myself because God knows me, and who I am is NOT how I FEEL. If only I can cling to this truth, then worry, doubt, and unholy fear will NEVER gain power over the peace, assurance, and confidence that are mine in my Lord. Is this truth too magnificent to believe? O, Lord, increase my faith!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Galatians 5:1 "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

Since the first get-to-know-you D-group night when Alexandra, Victoria, and I purposed to study the topic of grace together in order to battle our shared yoke of negative and guilty thinking, reminders of God's grace have FILLED every day- quite literally. During every morning study (regardless of the initial topic), in every sermon I've listened to, every song I've sung, every meaningful conversation with fellow disciple or non-believer, and even in every meditation I consider worthy enough to remember, grace has emerged as the true topic of inquiry- the explanation and motivation of everything I do, desire to do, and am called to do as a disciple, both the beginning foundation and the furthermost extent of who I am called to BE as God's daughter. I'm amazed. Though I've essentially learned nothing new- Jesus sacrificed his life for mine, cancelling the debt that I could never repay - I feel like I have discovered an expanse, a treasure trove of evidence for God's work in my life personally, in the lives of those around me, and in the world at large. Now, after eight years of committing my life to Jesus as best as I know how, I am beginning to grasp more deeply the excitement and the gratitude of the man and the merchant who discovered the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price and sold all they had to keep them (Matt 13:44-45). Never before has God's love appeared to me in such vivid color, and I hope that as time passes and we leave this period of fasting, my vision does not get cloudy and return to its former perspective, to which I have been a slave for most of my life.

I admire Paul's unabashed boldness in correcting the Galatians, and I am grateful for his example, because I believe that without this particular book, we might tend to forget how seriously our dependence upon works offends God.  In previous reads I have thought, "Why are you so hung up on circumcision, Galatians? You don't have to do that anymore because the regulations of the Law were nailed to the cross. Why keep putting yourselves through the pain?" Yet, I now realize I quite often deserve the same rebuke. I have had, and the race of men has a love affair with work. (One of our favorite TV shows is The Office, for crying out loud!) No wonder God established the Sabbath. Stop working, people! Take a break to remember who gave you all you have. Remind yourselves that your blessings have not come from your own hands and that they never will. Christianity is so UNnatural. Everything I can think of promotes the system of work and merit except for Christ's covenant of grace. America is built on the tenet of allowing all the opportunity to rise from rags to riches; "If you work hard, you can achieve anything you want."  Thus our value to society increases the more we able to DO. The more we multi-task, the more efficient we are; the more things we accomplish in a day, the more things we check off our daily grind list the better, more successful people we are in the world. What dangerous thinking that bleeds its poison into our spirituality! The more people we reach out to, the more people we study the Bible with, the more religious activities we attend, the more services we provide the more spiritually successful we are. More valuable to the church.  More loved by God. More effective. But not more joyful. Not more grateful. Not more intimately connected to God. In truth, the more we do when not acting through the compelling force of love (2 Cor. 5:14), the more frantic and self-reliant and prideful and frustrated and mentally, physically, emotionally EXHAUSTED we become. Especially us women. "Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset by many things but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her."  I refuse to one day be an older woman- habitual in devotion to religious activity, methodical, committed, lacking the inner life of the Spirit's power and the joy of deep gratitude, tired. Useless. How ironic that in seeking to satisfy ourselves our deep-rooted desire of being effective we achieve the opposite effect and destroy ourselves! Praise be to God, that if the Galatians could learn their lesson and reconnect with the freedom Christ died to give them, we can, too.

The three of us read Gal. 5:1 as a theme verse and began brainstorming names to call ourselves. We still haven't found one, but we did enjoy looking up the word for "freedom" in various languages. "Freiheit!" (German) delivered the biggest thrill, judging by how many times we repeated it with different vocal fluctuations and accents. Amidst the ensuing hilarity however, I began to realize we were participating in a cry embedded in man since the fall that has rung in the ears of our God through every era and situation. It is a cry to which he has not turned and never will turn a deaf ear. Therefore I will pray along with all those of the past, "Free us from guilt. Free us from Satan's lies that we must earn for ourselves what can only be given by You. Free us from the perspective that fails to acknowledge the far reaches of your love in the darkest places of our hearts. Free us from sin. Free us from the powers of death."