“Looking back to move forward”

 

This morning with my church family we talked about the closing of this year and the beginning of next year! We wrote down some things that we were grateful for, what we mourned over, how we saw God moving, and what we’d like to leave behind in 2017. After writing these things down, we celebrated communion, being humbled before Christ, remembering His sacrifice for our sins and the redemption of life that He gives through His death. We then placed our notes on 2017 in a suitcase (which was then closed) as a symbol of closing the door on the past year. Not taking for granted the ways those things changed us, but as a closing of a passage and entering a new chapter.

Looking back at this time last year until now, SO much has changed. This time last year, I thought I knew where I was “headed” or what would be happening in the new year. But little did I know how much things would change….how much I would learn about my identity in Christ…how I would be awakened to the persecuted church…how I would mourn for things and people being stripped away…how I would be blessed with new opportunities….how God would confirm answers to prayer…It’s been quite an amazing year.

“But now, this is what the Lord, your Creator says, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you [from captivity];
I have called you by name; you are Mine!

‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.'”

Isaiah 43:1-2

Honestly, even though the year began with some very deep valleys, as I look over the whole year, the blessings and surprises that God brought far outweigh whatever depths I thought were going to define 2017. It wasn’t even possible for me to dream of the ways in which God surprised me this past year and I am so thankful for what & how He brought me out from those valleys.

“Listen carefully, I am about to do a new thing,
Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it?
I will even put a road in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert….”

Isaiah 43:19

So as I look towards 2018, I hope to have more confidence and courage to follow where God leads, to live out my faith and share about Christ in a way that draws others to Him, to learn more about the people around me and about Christ and to trust Him in this crazy journey because who knows what kind of adventures He may be taking me on this year. I may not know what is up ahead, but with all my heart I intend to seek after Christ and ask Him to open my eyes to see how He sees and to love like He does.

Coming & Going

Here were the questions we looked at this morning & some of my reflections on the past year and the upcoming year!

2017

  • When did you feel close to God this year?
  • When in this year did you feel like God was absent?
  • What were some moments of joy and some moments of sorrow?
  • What disappointed you or frustrated you this year?
  • What surprised you this year?
  • Is there anything in this year you want to leave behind and not take with you into next year?

Feeling close to God in doubt and pain. Forgiveness between myself and ministry partners. Reconnecting with kids I love. Making new ministry friends in Egypt. Sorrow for leaving family. Sorrow for “ideas” changing. Surprised by a settled peace in where Christ has taken me. Many new relationships & community. Positive visible answers to prayer. Vikings kicking butt. These are a few of my favorite things.

 

2018

  • What do you think God is inviting you into in this next year?
  • What areas of growth might you pursue in your life next year?
  • What experiments might you try in 2018?
  • Are there questions or topics you’d like to explore in the new year?
  • What are you apprehensive about as you look towards next year?
  • What are you excited about?

New ministry beginnings. Greater depth of relationships with others & with God. “How does God love the orphan?” Growth in and experiments in rhythms of reading, evangelism, study & journaling. Courage to follow God where He directs. Pursuit.

 

Aged Cheese

A week ago, my dad brought home some sharp cheddar cheese, one of his favorites…this particular cheese though was a bit more special than normal because it was 12 year-old aged cheddar….that’s pretty old cheese I thought.  And cool too, just because I think stuff like that is cool, for no reason.

Okay, now I’m 26 years old, and that cheese is 12 years old, that means that when I was 14, someone decided to put this cheese away & wait 12 years to serve it.  For 12 years that cheese sat there, wherever that may be, waiting for just the right moment to come out & be served.  Had it only sat for a few years, it probably still would have been good, but have you ever eaten 12 year-old aged cheddar? It’s amazing…it’s good, it has a unique taste, etc. etc. Ha. I’m not really THAT crazy about cheese, but you gotta think about this in this other way…think about us as cheese.  Laughing yet? Just hold on….

Psalm 139:13 & 16 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb….Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  This is amazing if you think about it, because God knew us, knew our every step & all about us before we even existed.  Wow. That tells me that over 26 years ago, God knew that I would be typing this blog, where I’d be & that there must be a purpose to my life…to each of our lives!

Like a fine wine or a fine cheese, as we enter into the family of God, even before we entered the family of God, we were set aside for a purpose, we have been given a story, we have reason to live.  Isn’t that interesting though? To think of ourselves as in this waiting position, waiting to be taken off the shelf for God to use us?  I don’t think He is completely passive though, at some point this analogy breaks down because I think we’re used here & there throughout our lives, but as it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  I wonder if that means that we won’t die until God has fulfilled in us the purpose He has created us for.  It is not until that point that we will finally see the Glory of God fulfilled & complete.

Just thoughts.  It makes me appreciate the cheese a lot more though…:) Hope you can see it differently too.  You are special, you’re made with a purpose, you are loved, you are meant for something and no one can take away that meaning from you. You are God’s child, designed intentionally to be who God purposed, to bring Glory to Him & reconcile you to Him in due time. Amen!!

A quiet Joy

In the past two years, there have been multiple things that have upset the flow of my life.  Some would say this just IS life….the constant upsetting, twisting, lurching, occasional lull and then surprises once again.  I agree with this, but I think you know what I mean when you feel like your “nice little life” is turned upside down!  Even though crazy things are what make up our life, somewhere we feel like…..it’s the “normal” days that should comprise the most of it? I don’t know if this makes sense….but stick with me.

I’ve been challenged to look at joy in my life, and here is what I can say….for those of you reading who don’t know me well, in 2008 my dear friend gave her life trying to save another camper, and both died tragically over a large waterfall…a few months later, my grandma passed away after a 5 year fight against cancer…a few months after that, my dad had triple by-pass surgery following a motorcycle accident…and a few months after that, my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia…leading to this March, when she met Jesus at home in heaven.  That’s part of my backstory…I’m not telling you this so that you pity me, or on the flip say…she has no idea what kind of pain I’ve been through, I just want you to know that I can to some extent say with assurance that I can empathize with pain…and we can be connected through that. These trials are not the things that make me unique, nor does it for anyone else….but it is the way we respond to these situations that really define who we are, and what we are made of. ….so back to Joy….

“Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.” (Psalm 30:10-12)

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12)

Joy to me, is the confidence I have in knowing that God, the eternal and all knowing, all powerful God will sustain me throughout whatever trials must be faced on this earth.  Having this trust in his unfailing mercy, brings me joy….understanding that though times can be tough, He is still faithful, He is still strong, He will sustain me and hold me up when I feel like falling.  This joy is freedom in Christ, knowing that when I cannot make it, He will continue the work that he began in me.  It is not something that I can do, or stir up, or make grow inside of me….it is something that God reminds me of at the right moment of need…He reminds me that I am not alone, and that there is hope for a future in Him and in that hope I can find joy because my present moment is not the end…it’s not final and God will be with me in every situation, at every moment….forever.

This to me, is how joy is seen.  It is in the reassurance of God’s unfailing love that I am able to relax in His arms and revel in joy despite the raging seas pounding against my soul.  His joy will give me strength.

“Praise be to the Lord, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song. The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of his salvation for his Anointed one.” (Psalm 28:6-8)

Walking into the Dark

This weekend, I received a new book in the mail.  If you’re like me, you’ll know that a delivery like this is like Christmas!  I love getting packages in the mail, even when they’re expected.  You might remember me writing about another book called “The Adventure” by Jerry Sittser….well, this book is also by him, but it is titled “A Grace Disguised–How the Soul Grows Through Loss“.   Because I’ve enjoyed reading “The Adventure” three times through, I figured this new book would also be a good read. Well so far….I’m hooked.  Here are some of my thoughts from the weekend….

Something that he says early on, is that the darkness of grief is inescapable & is something we must face alone.  We know as Christians that we do not have to do this completely alone, but the journey inside is personal and one that cannot be walked by any another human.  One struggle for many (as well as myself) is that we tend to walk away from the darkness and chase the fading light of our hope.  The joy we see disappearing beyond the horizon.  To that struggle, this quote struck me–“…the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.”

Wow.  I think most of us “know” that we are supposed to face pain head on, to walk towards it despite the hurt that continues & sometimes grows worse over time….but too often I fill it with other things, or turn away, or put off until I’m “more ready” to face it, all the while staying in the dark, holding onto the last glimmer of light that has so recently seemed to vanish. Staying here though, holds the light at bay, and refuses to see that only through the darkness can you see light again.  

Sittser says, “The decision to face the darkness, even if it led to overwhelming pain, showed me that the experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining moment of our lives. Instead, the defining moment can be our response to the loss. It is not what happens to us that matters as much as what happens in us.” This really spoke to me….once again I am reminded that we ALL have trials, we ALL have situations that are overwhelming…that doesn’t make us unique, it doesn’t separate us from everyone else because it’s something we all go through.  But the choices we make in response to these difficult situations, are what define us & make us who we are….they define who we will become.  “We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we must play in life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given.”

Isaiah 41: 9-10, 18 says, “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…..I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” This gives me hope…knowing that when I was in darkness, hidden in the furthest corners of the earth, Christ came to find me. He brought me out of that depth & into the light. If Christ has done this once, we can hold fast that He WILL do it again.  
I’ll leave off today with this last quote from Sittser, “In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.”

Let’s journey together through the darkness, alone & yet together, to run towards the light that we yet are waiting to see.  May we trust that God is with us to protect us & hold us though our hearts ache with pain & our limbs shutter with fear. He will give us wings as eagles and feet like deer, able to stand on rocky ground.

Training Camp of Character

This past week I photographed, watched and learned about the MN Vikings from a whole new perspective.  A friend met me there mid-week, and admitted that this was never something she would have chosen to attend herself.  I was glad to have her around though.  During the practices, she sat on the bleachers & I ran around taking photos.  One day as we walked away from the field, she mentioned something that has stuck with me the last few days.  She told me about sitting in the bleachers, watching the team practice, and listening to the crowds cheer & root for them.  They would praise the players who made a great catch, comment on the muscles someone had, cheer for a nice kick, etc…all encouraging the performance, abilities & physicality of a player.  My friend noted that it’s our society that praises these things, and that it’s pretty common to do, but wondered what it would be like to live in a society that praised not the accomplishments necessarily but the character of the person before us.

Wow. Praise someone’s character? That thought goes beyond winning or losing, but to the internal soul of what makes that person who they are, and the fruit that they are expressing.  “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)  …encourage one another, there’s no group here, it seems pretty broad, it’s to be for everyone…and what are the things we should encourage each other about?  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….” (Galatians 5:22-23) These are the things that we should be praising….”Way to be gentle in that hard place”, “You have such joy about this”, “Your patience astounds me”, etc.  I’m getting excited just in writing this, to encourage someone today.

So what would it look like if we became a society that praised someone based on their character and not on their physical strength, skill or speed?  How would that change people, and how would it effect each of us?  Wouldn’t you be strengthened inside to continue doing good & making decisions that would please our Heavenly Father?  Let’s be encouraged now, and freely give encouragement to those in whom we see Christ working through their character. Let’s build each other up not only on our accomplishments but on who we are becoming through every situation & circumstance despite those accomplishments or failures. Let’s let this life we live be a training camp of character, with the goal of heaven to drive us, so when we break camp, we can stand before the Father in bold confidence that he who began a good work in us continued through the end.