Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lessons for a Maturing Christian

I've been reading Ephesians, and especially Ephesians 1, a lot lately. God just keeps placing it on my heart. This morning, he used verses 13 - 19 to teach me about where He wants me--vision and direction for a maturing Christian.

Ephesians 1: 13-19:

13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. 15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power

Paul has already described the salvation experience in verses 13 - 14 (that they trusted (believed) the word of truth, the gospel, and received the Holy Spirit). What he is describing in verses 15 - 19 is his hope, his prayer for them post-salvation. First, he prays that they have the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. Since Paul has already described salvation knowledge--knowledge of the truth, the gospel of salvation (see vs. 14), he is obviously talking about a different revelation and knowledge here.

This knowledge is not just to know the truth, the gospel--but to know HIM; this is the beginning of a relationship with God.

Then Paul continues, now that your hearts have seen the truth of the gospel (your eyes being enlightened--vs. 18), I pray you'd know #1 the hope of your calling, #2 the riches of the glory of his inheritance, and #3 the exceeding greatness of power toward those who believe.

Paul's instructions for the mature (or maturing) Christian are that she would know God relationally, that she would know her purpose in life (the hope of her calling), that she would know her inheritance (in short, who she is in Christ), and that she would believe in His power that is able to work through her. I believe these four areas--first knowing, then believing--are the keys to living the fullness of life or what John Bevere calls the Extraordinary Life.

1. Know me
2. Know your calling
3. Know who you are
4. Believe in my power

This is essentially God's blue print for mature Christians. Unfortunately, most don't get past #1. Or, worse, some spirit-filled Christians just want to jump to #4 without working through one, two, or three. We cannot operate effectively with his power without first knowing him, knowing our calling, and knowing who we are in Him.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Calling Myself a Writer

Last year, I decided to surrender my fears and finally start writing fiction--my heart's desire and (I believe) my calling in life. (Read "Snow and Other Updates".) So, with some accountability, I started planning, writing, editing, etc. I wrote about 20,000 words over three or four months. And then... I just stopped.

I won't review 2010 again or bring up why I quit, but the bottom line is, I just quit. And in doing so, I walked away from my calling. Early this year (inspired by John Bevere's Extraordinary Life), Howell and I both spent some time in prayer--asking God to use us, to reveal to us our calling in marriage, and to help us be a blessing and an example to others. I feel like God has been so faithful in answering our hearts' desire and in placing encouraging people in our path. We don't exactly know what it means or looks like in the future--but we know and believe that He will give us an extraordinary marriage and that our marriage will be our ministry.

But in seeking vision for Howell and I as one, God showed me vision for myself too. Every time He spoke to me about my future or about vision, He kept repeating the same things:

"No dream has ever been too big for me. But you have to leap, you have to imagine, you have to trust.... Fear and insecurity immobilize your dreams" (February 10, 2011).

"...So dream big. Take risks. Ask for the impossible, and then sit in awe as I do it. I long to show you success. I long to amaze you with the things I would do for you. But you have to ask and not doubt. You have to leap and know that I will be waiting for you. You have to put your whole trust in me, unrestricted in any way" (February 24, 2011).

"...But to unlock the door to an extraordinary life, you have to tap into your passion, which is to write" (April 13, 2011).

I don't usually think of myself as a "slow" person, but it took nearly six months for me to start connecting the dots. Let's see, Lord, you want me to live an extraordinary life. You want me to leap, to risk, to dream, to trust. And you want me to tap into my passion. That seems pretty clear, huh?

So, this summer I've gotten serious about it again. My biggest excuse has always been time. But Lord, I just don't have time to write. Haven't you seen my schedule? I have to read, and study, and grade papers. When would I write? Then, I started listening to a podcast called Writing Excuses. It's fascinating (and usually funny)--but the biggest thing that jumped out to me was an episode about thinking of ourselves as writers, not as so-and-so who writes while also doing x, y, and z. They also made the comment that if time is an excuse, it just means you've given priority to something else, something that you've made more important than writing, something that's keeping you from being a writer instead of someone who writes.

It was like an "aha" moment for me. I believe (and have for some time) that God gifted me to write. But I don't call myself a writer. And because I've not made that a priority, I'm allowing other things to be more important that God's calling on my life. In short, it's disobedience.

So, after a long (but not-so-emotional) prayer time, I gave up those things that have become a priority over writing (namely, school, quals exam, etc.). I do trust in the Lord. I know that He holds my future and that it's a good future. Why, then, do I try to control my future instead of trusting in Him and trusting in what I know? And, in the end, I resolved to change my priorities, to be obedient to His calling, and to trust Him, whatever my future looks like.

That's where I am today. I started on my book again--and, in some ways, started over. I'm at 8,600 words. My goal is to write 75,000. This book may not be anything; it may not even be published. But I was struck by something John Bevere said in his Breaking Intimidation series. He said that he was not an over-night success, that he published four books before anyone wanted to read anything he had to say. But God had given him a charge--to write. And so he did. And when his writing didn't amount to much (at first), he just kept writing.

To me, that's where faith comes in. So, I'm writing this book. I think it's a pretty good story. I think it has some potential. But, whether it's successful or not, I will finish it. And I will write another.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Embracing Weakness

I love the new song by Matthew West, “Strong Enough.” In the chorus, he says:

I know I’m not strong enough to be

Everything that I’m supposed to be

I give up

I’m not strong enough

Hands of mercy, won’t you cover me?

Lord right now, I’m asking you to be

Strong enough

Strong enough

For the both of us.

That’s how I feel today. Embracing my weakness. Knowing in my weakness, He is strong enough.

In 10 short weeks, I’ll be taking my quals test—a test that “qualifies” me to complete my dissertation. But I’m only 2/3 through my reading list. I still have to read 26 articles and 32 books—33 if you count the one in my lap right now…the one I’m not reading because I’m writing this. Every day, I feel like getting myself to read is more and more of a struggle. I’m excited about my dissertation project. I’m excited about my future. But it feels so far away…and mustering the strength to finish this hurdle so I can complete that hurdle is more difficult than I imagined.

Some days – like today – I just want to quit. I ask myself, do I really need a PhD? There are plenty of jobs I can take with a MA, plenty of teaching opportunities for me (aren’t there??). Some days – like today – I just want a baby. I want to be a mom. And I never want to read about research ethics or writing invention heuristics again.

Do you ever wish your life away? I wish that I was already finished with my PhD, that I already had a job secured (and could be making more than the lousy graduate student pay I make right now). I wish I were a teacher, a researcher, and a mom—already. And that, as such, I would already know it all works out. That it is possible to have all my heart desires.

Someday, I will be a teacher because that’s what He’s called me to be. And someday, I’ll be a mom too. But today, I’m a student who needs to read. And so, on days like these, I trust God to carry me. I trust Him to strengthen me. I trust that He holds my future in His hands—whatever that looks like. And I know that He makes all things beautiful, in His time (Ecc 3:11).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lessons learned from our Biggest Loser competition

Our biggest loser competition ended today, and I took first place! The prize was $350! I truly believe that winning was only by the grace of God. About halfway through the competition, I really thought I was out of the race. I didn’t think I could win. Michalea had taken first place, Erika in second, and I was in third. I kept struggling with temptation. I wasn’t eating horribly bad, but every week or so, I’d find myself getting something that I really shouldn’t.

If you don’t know, the reason I started this whole process (and asked my family to get involved to support me) is because my doctor told me if I would lose about 20 pounds, my arthritis would not affect me as badly as I’d be taking weight off my hips and back. The problem, though, is that despite the fact that I have gained about 30 pounds since Hal and I got married (only 3 short years ago!!), I am not a very disciplined eater. In high school, believe it or not, I was a size 4. In college, a steady size 4 or 6. I’ve always eaten whatever I wanted. Anyone who knows me also knows I’ve always been a huge “junk” eater. In the past, it never mattered. I played sports in high school and was very active (working out, swimming, intramural, etc.) in college. But, when I got married, it all caught up to me!

Win or lose, I knew these last three weeks would be instrumental in changing my heart and really changing my lifestyle. I asked God to teach me self-control, which was, essentially, admitting that I desperately needed to be taught how to control myself and resist temptation to continue bad habits. I know it’s easy now (because I won) to say it wouldn’t have mattered if I won or lost because I truly learned something—but it’s the truth.

I learned that I can sit with a bowl of chips and queso in front of me—and not eat a single chip. I can sit choose something healthy (or healthier) on the menu instead of getting something with 1000 calories! I can withstand temptation to eat ice cream, chocolate, or whatever “it” is, even when I really want it. I can learn to eat ONE serving and truly be FULL. And if I got to bed a little hungry or satisfied—but not stuffed, that’s just fine.

I’ve come to realize how much of my life revolved around food. I think, in part, this is because of the way I was raised or because of our cultural values. We celebrate with food. And in our family, we celebrate food. We love to make big meals for our get togethers—with a main dish and many, many sides, plus dessert, breads, etc. I don’t want to change what we do, because it’s so much a part of our tradition and because it’s important that we get together. But I don’t have to eat every meal like that!

The other thing I’ve learned is that exercising really doesn’t have to be dreadful. I don’t have to lift weights or kill myself running or come home miserable and so sore, I can’t sit on the toilet! Hal and I started walking about 4 to 4 ½ miles around our neighborhood four or five nights a week. For us, it was a great way to spend quality time, especially in this season when our quality time was much-needed. But walking, I believe, is a form of exercise that’s largely undervalued! I can walk, briskly, for about an hour (which is how long it would take us), and not be miserable the next day. This week, because it was our final week, I got up earlier to jog in the mornings too. Turns out, having walked 4 ½ miles for the last two months, running a mile and a half was a breeze. :)

So, obviously, now that the competition is over, I’m excited about enjoying myself for the next week, which means Rosas, Taco Villa, pizza, etc. But, I’m encouraged to know that this is going to be a real change for me. I’m so thankful to know that I don’t have to eat everything that’s offered. I don’t have to eat a whole bowl of chips and salsa before my meal comes. And I don’t have to eat everything I want to eat.

I still have about 10-15 more pounds I want to lose, so stay tuned for our Biggest Loser 2: May 16 – August 10. :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

March updates

So, as usual, it's been a while since I've updated. I feel like this semester is flying by way too quickly! This was a good month, but I'll just touch on the highlights....

1) I lost 10 pounds this month! And not by doing any "fad diets!" Our family started doing the biggest loser on March 6 (mostly for me), so Hal and I have been eating better and taking walks every night (4 miles around the neighborhood!). This month, we walked 52 miles!! Since January, I've lost 15 pounds. It's still my goal to lose another 10 - 15 pounds over the next few months. I re-visit my doctor in May--the doctor who told me last fall that I needed to lose weight for my arthritis. I'm excited that I'll actually have some good news for him this time! lol! (P.S. I'm in first place for our competition! :))

2) This month I finally got my reading list approved for quals! Yippee!!! If you don't know, my next step for the PhD program is to take a qualifying exam. To take the exam, I have to read 100 books and articles (created by my committee and me), and then take the test. I started reading the first week of March. So far, I've read 12 books and 12 articles. I'm finding that I really need to balance reading and teaching. Sometimes I'm really good at doing one and really crappy at doing the other. I think this week was a little more balanced.....finally. The picture on the right is from last week.... I had to read 5 books to get caught up (from only reading 1 book over spring break). I told God, "Okay, your grace alone is going to empower me to do this!" I almost cried when I finished the last book by Saturday!! :)

3) This month has also been the month of baseball games. So far, we've been to a few games, but haven't seen Tech win... Somehow, we pick the wrong games to go to, or we're just bad luck! ha! But, we've had lots of fun hanging out with my sister and Shawny. Eating sunflower seeds. Watching the boys eat their nasty foot-long hot dogs with nacho cheese on it! And having a blast! :)

4) At the end of the month, we went to Fredericksburg. Mostly, we went to celebrate Hal's birthday, but I think we also both just wanted a break and some time alone. We had a great weekend. We stayed at a cute little cabin B&B. We had the whole place to ourselves, so it wasn't one of those awkward B&B things. It was so nice to spend a weekend just relaxing and enjoying some quality time! :) When we got back, Tomi made Hal a strawberry cake for his
birthday, so he got to celebrate again! ;)

Overall, I'd say it's been a good month! God is teaching me so much about self-control and restraint. I've never been a disciplined eater. I've never had to be. In high school and college, I was always thin. I ate whatever I wanted to, and it didn't matter. I could still fit into my size 4 jeans. But in the last few years, that privilege has disappeared--and I've gained almost 30 pounds since 2007. And so God is teaching me how to be smarter with my eating habits. I used to hate when people would say that-- I would always think, "Yeah right, you just want to be thin, and you're playing the God card." But I have actually come to realize how much lack of self-control I have when it comes to food and eating what I want. So, even though it's a physical lesson, it's a good practical lesson in terms of resisting temptation and trusting God in all things.

The other thing God is teaching me is the practical lessons of trusting Him. I've been reading Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust. One of the things I realized this month was that Hal and I are pretty good at trusting God with the huge things that happen--like when our finances are not what we expected (i.e. $3,000 ER bill last year) or when God doesn't answer prayers like we think He will. But (at least for me) when it comes to trusting God with the day to day stuff, I really depend more on myself than Him. I didn't see stuff like a reading list or losing weight as things He really concerned Himself with. But the more personal God becomes to me, the more I see how much He wants control of every aspect of my life. I know that sounds elementary. Believe me, I've heard it my whole life. But I feel like now it's really beginning to click. That day-to-day surrender is a challenge, but so worth it. I see how much God's grace covers me for every part of my day.

Well, this longer than I thought my "quick update" would be. Thanks for reading. :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Writings from the girl's retreat (Part 2)

This is what I wrote Sunday morning....

That's what I want my life to look like

I am looking outside at the pine trees blowing in the wind. The wind swirls all around, and their branches ruffle, but the statue of the tree is tall, and their roots are deep. They may be moved by the wind, but only momentarily. They bounce back, neither broken nor bent.

That's what I want my life to look like.

In Psalm 1, it says that the man who delights in God's word , the man who meditates on it day and night, will be like a tree planted by deep rivers of water--a tree whose leaves do not whither, whose fruit is ripe and lush.

That's what I want my life to look like.

A few weeks ago, Hal and I were watching Anderson Cooper's 360 on CNN. He was talking about how president Mubarack had declared Egypt to be in a state of emergency (before Mubarack officially stepped down). And Anderson made the comment that Mubarack's declaration was so insane because Egypt had spent the last 30 years in a state of emergency. That night, as I was lying in bed I thought -- God, I don't want to live my life in a state of emergency. I don't want to live life in crisis-mode, where everything is a panic and stress, where uncertainty rules and fear flourishes.

The truth is that I trust in a God who is good. The truth is that I need not worry about life because God cares for me. I am his daughter, and he takes watch over my life. He holds my world, my heart, in the palm of his hand. The truth is that my God is faithful and that he's promised not to leave me or forsake me. So I don't have to fear. He's promised a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind. He's promised rest in my weariness, strength in my weakness. He's promised that He in me is greater than anything in the world.

I close my eyes, and I still see the pine trees blowing in the wind, their resilience, their tenacity dancing against the black backdrop of my eyelids. And I imagine that I am that tree, that resistant, flexible, sturdy tree--that though the winds blow, my trunk is sturdy and my roots are deeply rooted in the soil of God's truth, of God's promises. And with each gust, I may move slightly to the left or slightly to the right, but only to return again to my center, my core.

That's what I want my life to look like.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Writings from the girl's retreat (Part 1)

This last weekend we had our Zoe girl's retreat in Ruidoso. And it could not have come at a better time for me. I needed a weekend to get away and be alone with God. And though I was surrounded by 19 girls, God spoke to my heart. Both mornings I woke up at 6:00 or 6:30, which never happens for me....But in the stillness of the morning, God was faithful to speak to me. I am excited about what He's doing in my life. And I'm excited about my future. I haven't written anything in months, and yet this weekend, God gave me so much to write about -- words that had been deep in my heart until now. I wanted to share a couple of them here on my blog. For now, I'll post the first one!

I Walk Ahead

The light breaks through the trees, touching softly on the rocks and bringing a glimmer, a sparkle to the dew on the grass. So, too, are you bringing light into dark places, into my heart. You reveal your truth to me in exchange for sweet surrender, in exchange for those parts of me tucked deep inside -- my biggest fears, my greatest hopes. With a flashlight, you shine light into my soul and gently slough off the cobwebs. And there, in secret, is my heart. Feeling the warmth of the light, the joy of sunshine, I surrender my heart to you. Slowly, gently, you take it in your hands. You stroke it softly before wrapping your fingers around it, enveloping it completely til there's only your hand, there's only you.

And like the rising dawn that breaks the darkness, that pierces the land, consuming every area in victory, your dawn of hope, of peace, fills me. Your dawn of rest and strength renews me. And I stand, refilled, Holy Spirit. I stand, reaffirmed. I stand, with purpose. You will move my feet, you will make the path. It's not about clarity, it's about risk. And I walk ahead, unafraid of the unknown path. Unafraid of the future. My heart has been surrendered, and with childlike faith in your unrestricted goodness and love, I walk ahead.

[Stay tuned for part two... :) ]