Saturday, October 1, 2016

to those of us still trying to justify our {ski pants}

This summer we had an already-hilarious-camper who bought ski pants online intending to use them for our 8-day backpacking trip into the woods of Alabama. Mind you it was on average 95 degrees fahrenheit and humid, with no chance of grace pouring down from the blazing hot sun. As soon as she came to camp, she pulled out her bright pink ski pants, laughing as she showed her mistaken purchase to each member of our tribe. "But they had a mountain on them!", she insisted, pleading her case. We all laughed and immediately claimed it as a new inside-joke. Anyone she told her story to would laugh heartily, immediately recognising how ridiculous it was to bring hot pink, heavy ski pants (from China) on a summer hiking trip in the South.

Unfortunately, all too often, I think this is how we approach our walk with the Lord. We either flippantly skip through the Scriptures in a rush or we ignore them. We treat the Word of God the same way a sixteen-year-old treats a packing list. We dissect it, justifying why we really don't need that one thing. We find substitutes, assuming our cheapened version will suffice and supposing we won't actually need every item on the list. We doubt it, check it off, and yet we wonder why we often feel so unprepared for every trial that comes our way.

So put away your ski pants - all those good-intentioned-yet-equally-flawed things you've been supplementing that just don't match what the Lord has instructed. And put on the whole armour of God. Tie truth around your frail body. Let righteousness guard your heart. Let your feet be adorned with readiness. When the evil one sends temptations and trials your way, let faith be your shield. Guard your mind with salvation. Let the Word of God fight that which you cannot. And be faithful in prayer (Ephesians 6:10-20).

The Lord is guiding us on a journey much more frightening and dangerous and altogether wonderful than the trails of Pisgah, Alabama. He has given us all we need, so why not trust Him? The day will come when you face the flaming arrows of Satan - in temptation, in trial, in affliction, in depression, in doubt, in a hardened heart. The evil one knows the distractions of the human soul. But the Good Shepherd knows His flock, and He knew that in the hour of temptation and oppression, we would need Him. And so He has given us "everything we need for a godly life through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:30).

So leave your ski pants behind and take heart. The Lord has overcome the world and He has not left you to battle on your own. You don't have to go out and buy the most expensive gear, you don't even have to borrow any gear for this journey. He has given you everything - you need only to follow.

Life on the Trails - Lesson One
Session 3

Saturday, May 14, 2016

n{ever} ready

I don't think I'll ever be at a place of "readiness". As a child, I was never ready for a new assignment, never ready for another move, never ready for change. But we did it anyway. We didn't wait for our hearts to catch up to what our minds and bodies knew we had to do. We just did it - we took steps in obedience, hardly ever feeling ready. We did it with expectancy, but we weren't ready.

But maybe that's what this life is about - taking steps in obedience to God without the assurance of feeling ready, qualified, well-suited, and prepared. Because if we were to wait for those feelings of security (which are often misleading anyway), we'd end up missing out on the beauty of God - those moments of realisation that make us surrender our abilities, plans, pride, and dance in the storm of His grace that works within us, creating better work than we could ever do on our own.

So I may not be ready to leave Australia, and I may not be ready to leave my dear friends here, and I may not be ready to leave my family again, and I may not be ready to work at camp for ten weeks, but I'm learning that's okay. You just do it. You trust God and you recount His {GREAT} faithfulness in the past (& in your past), and you walk forward in expectancy. You don't bottle up your emotions and pretend they don't exist, constantly conflicting with one another inside you, but you surrender them. You follow Him when it hurts and when it doesn't because He's worth it. And He tends to provide beautifully regardless of whether or not you choose to be faithful, but oh my soul (& yours), why not be faithful when He's given you the chance to be a part of His glorious story?

And so I am committed to following Him, and I ask for your prayers. Please pray that I would be faithful to Him and that I would rest in His grace for the times when I'm not.

Just a couple of pictures from this autumn in Australia:

 St. Kilda
 Yarra Valley Dairy
 Phillip Island - my favourite place down under.

Monday, May 9, 2016

plot {twist}

Czech Republic
China (x3 airports)

This has been my itinerary for the past several months, with the last location being decided just this past week. For those of you that are just catching up, I spent three months studying abroad in Israel with Moody Bible Institute, three weeks backpacking/road-tripping with dear friends of mine from Moody all over Europe, a couple of days in Turkey with some new friends, and the past month in Australia with my friend, Pippa, and her sweet family. 

I'm a planner - the desire for control is engrained within my fibrous being. But following God means yielding that fleshy instinct of self-reliance and submitting to a God whose much better at planning than myself. It means trusting Him even when everything within me wants to give up and rely on my own poor abilities. 

Isn't it funny how silly we humans look usurping power that isn't ours to begin with?

Although I don't fully understand it, there is a balance, isn't there? To trusting God to work it all out while also taking steps forward? There are certain times in my life where I ask God for wisdom when making hard decisions, and it seems like both options are good, God-glorifying options, and they usually are. But then, when I don't have that sure-fire feeling of direction from Him, or no clear direction is given, at some point, I just have to choose. The decision I made last fall to spend these eight months abroad was one of those decisions. 

I felt the Lord leading me to study abroad in Israel from January until March, but I wasn't sure what to do after that. After Israel, I would have April - August free, as I would plan to return to Moody in Chicago in the fall for my next semester. So, I tried to find a way to spend that time working so that I would be able to afford going back to Chicago for the following semester. And every option given to me was good.

Five of us from our Israel group decided to travel together throughout Europe because it would only add about $300 USD to our trip to Israel, so why not? Also, this turned out to be a HUGE blessing because it meant that we got to spend three weeks in 10 countries visiting other believers and making new friends along the way. 

Therefore, the undecided bit was left trying to decide what to do between late April and August. These were the following options:

1. Return to live in DC with my family at the end of April until August where I would hopefully find a summer job as a nanny.
2. Spend April - August in Australia with Pippa's family and find a winter job as a nanny. 
3. Return to the States after Europe and spend a month with my family in DC and then go back to camp (Winshape) in GA until August. 

All seemed like viable options, and I spent several hours praying and praying and chatting with people I look up to. Tears from the stress of choosing, and that feeling in the pit of your stomach that says, "your life is crazy" seemed to consume me in those days. Pippa and I even spent a couple of days apart because we wanted to decide what to do separately instead of influencing each others' decisions. So after lots of prayer and countless conversations, I decided, and felt amazing peace, in spending the summer in Australia. 

Pippa and I even wrote our decisions on pieces of paper and exchanged them (because basically I'm into theatrics). And we both chose Australia. So the fall was spent preparing for Israel, applying for a Work & Holiday Visa for Australia, and planning our itineraries for the Europe trip. 

Although I felt peace in making this decision, I also had to go through a season of grieving not going back to camp. I spent days encouraging others to go to Winshape, and I spent nights in tears pleading with God to help me get over not going back. The grief led to increased trust. 

Rely on Me, not your plans.

With this new (and maybe not-so-new) lesson learned (or so I thought), I withdrew my application from Winshape and went all-in preparing for Israel/Europe/Australia. 

Then I went, and lived, and learned, and grew, and explored, and did, and saw, and found in the countries listed above. 

Then Australia hit me like a thunderstorm in a desert - unexpected and overwhelming. 

After 40+ hours of traveling from Istanbul (via three stops in China), misplacing (/getting stolen) two passports and having them returned, and lots of hilarious stories, we finally made it to Melbourne. That first week I had a mix of culture shock, lots of paperwork, proving my Australian residency, etc. Then came job applications - and lots of them. Combined, Pippa and I applied for over 100 nanny jobs within the city and each one came up short. In a strange fashion, each hopeful interview and response came back negatively - poor timing, need of a longer commitment, too long of a commute, too few hours, etc. 

For me, this became a process of unraveling. I had four months of different cultures and experiences to process and the layers of sinful self-reliance to be stripped of. 

So after about four weeks of applying and seeking, and being frustrated and anxious, I gave up. I spent time with the Lord and I yielded it to Him. And He was so gracious with me. 

After a couple of conversations with my parents and Pippa's family, I started praying about other options for the summer, including applying for nanny/summer jobs in DC and Chicago. And then, in an almost last-ditch, "it doesn't really matter what happens; no is the worst they can say" fashion, I emailed my camp director from last summer and asked if there was any need of a back-up position. 

I'm hesitant to even write the rest of this story, because I feel like it lacks the authenticity of how graciously and perfectly the Lord laid all of this out, but after several days of prayer, a dream, and the confirmation of a stranger (all which happened before my director's response), the Lord prepared my heart to go back to camp for the summer.

Then came an email from my director saying that she wanted to chat with me about some summer options, and a Skype call at 5 am that offered me the opportunity to go back and be a Cheyenne counsellor (year 7&8) with WinShape. 

So, that's what seems to be next. 

And it's a major mix of emotions - grief of leaving this new adopted family & Australia, excitement of returning to camp, sadness of missing my family this summer, nervousness of joining a new, huge tribe, joy of reuniting with campers and meetings new ones, etc. 

But I will hold onto truth in this season. He is in control. He is the God of details. Even when I can't see it or feel it, He is faithful. 

And that's what I'm learning. With every plot twist, every unexpected moment of life, I am learning to trust Him - now, in the midst of the crazy. 

That's what is to follow Him, to trust Him instead of our feeble plans. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thanks, God

As I sat in Flagstaff Gardens on a little stony place with the sun shining this morning, God spoke through one of His daughters to me. It doesn’t happen often – that we get a sign, a wonder, a miracle. Often times this faith journey is one of just that, faith. It’s taking steps forward, following a God that sometimes sounds silent and feels distant. But we press on, holding to the truth of His Word and to the goodness of His presence, even when we can’t feel Him there. But this morning was an unexpected blessing, a gift from my Father.

As I was sitting in that stony place, I prayed, and I cried alligator tears as I contemplated what this summer just might hold. I’ve given up on my plans and I’m now at a crossroad, unsure of where the Lord is leading me, but praying for the strength and courage to trust Him. And at this endeavor I’ve often failed. I’ve put my hope in my own abilities or plans for so long (blindly) that it’s been such a process of tearing down the walls of my heart in order to be raw enough to trust Him.

So I read Psalm 62 and Amos 4, which have been my comfort passages for a while now. And I cried a little more. And then this girl walked by, and although I can’t exactly explain this, I knew she was a Christian the moment she walked by. So I prayed that Jesus would bless her mightily. She paused behind me for what felt like five minutes, and then came back, smiling. She asked if I was a Christian, and when I answered “yes”, she gained confidence and said, “God told me to come and tell you that He is with you”. I smiled, and then cried, and we exchanged our stories of what God has been doing in our hearts over the past year.

Trust. Andrea and I are learning trust. And although that carries clich├ęs and Christianeze, it’s tangible, and it’s hard. And it’s one of those concepts that’s a lot easier said than done. But I’m learning, and I’m thankful for the God of the universe that isn’t done with me yet. And He’s with me.

He is also with you. 

Psalm 62
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.
He alone is my Rock and my Salvation, my Fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.
He only is my Rock and my Salvation, my Fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty Rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.
Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to You, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For You will render to a man according to his work.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

in the season of {unknowingness}

What does this next year hold?
That I do not know.
Teach me, oh Lord, to hold my plans lightly,
To let go of them and be humbled rightly,
Because You are God, and I am not,
You know each day, and every lot,
My thoughts, my dreams, my desires for You,
You know me, God, and I can trust You.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

recounting HIS faithfulness in {Israel}

Three months in this land has taught me much...

Recount His faithfulness. This isn't about you. It's all about Him - and these are just a couple of the things He's done:

 He protected us from lion fish and let us explore the underwater depths of the Red Sea. 

 He gave us friendships and opportunities to face our fears together (even if they are as little as jumping off a dock into the Red Sea). 

He gave us ample opportunities to explore the Old City and it's rich mix of religion, culture, and history. He deepened our appreciation of knowing Him. Oh, the mercy involved with Him revealing Himself to us and showering us in His grace.

He gave us a familiar face to enjoy time with in a city quite unfamiliar to us at the time. Green Door Pizza in the Muslim Quarter with our Chicago home church pastor & wife = blessing upon blessing. 

He gave us a place to call home in a guest house in Jerusalem. Beit Ben Yehuda was a place of hard yet rewarding study of the Bible, deepened friendships, mentorship from godly professors, and lots & lots of laughs (#livinginasubmarine).

He gave us ample opportunities to praise Him, even in the most cursed of places {Valley of Hinnim // Gehenna}.

He gave me refreshment through friends like this girl, Lindsey, who consistently encouraged me, made me laugh, and pointed me to the Father.

{Valley of Hinnim}

He gave me compassion for those that weep at the Western Wall and place prayers to a God they don't know in the crevices of stone. Oh, that they would know YHWH. Oh, that they would know Yeshua. Oh, that they would know the Holy Spirit. 

He gave me understanding at the Mount of Olives when the survey of the land finally clicked and suddenly the Word of God seemed to come to life in my mind.

He gave us adventure & excitement as we rode through the desert to the most southern tip of Israel. {Eilat}

He gave us a morning of labor in Timnah and richer understanding as we helped rebuild the reenactment of the Tabernacle.

 He also gave us a bit of fun in Timnah.
 (this one's for you, Mom!)
 {The Red Sea - where you can be swimming in Israel and view Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all at the same time}
 He taught us about the sin of idolatry and how easy it is to fall into it.
{Bethlehem, birth place of my Saviour}
 He reminded us of the richness of knowing Him and the urgency to share the gospel in a world that is devoted to false gods, whether that be Allah or money, religion or immorality.
 He taught me about rest, joy, and satisfaction in Him in Nahsholim, at the beginning of our tour of the country.
 He convicted me of pride as I looked over the place where Herod died in his vanity for not giving the LORD glory. {Acts 12:23}
 He reminded us of His beauty at Caesarea by the Sea.

 And He did it again and again and again.

 He made us stir with anticipation about His Second Coming at Megiddo. {Armageddon}
 He reminded us of the joy of our salvation as three from our group were baptised in the Jordan.
 He reminded us of the sting of sin and idolatry at Tel Dan.

 He took us out of the comfort of our tour at Ben Tal, where UN soldiers overlook Syria and the stirring raucous of bombs made us pause & pray.
 He gave us a day of beauty, fun, and time well spent together in Engedi, Masada, and the Dead Sea.

 He taught me much about life, grace, and transparency from this whole group, but pictured here are two amazing friends He chose to teach me through - Luke and Pippa.


 He gave us a night of laughter, worship, and heart talks as we recounted what the Lord had taught us thus far under a starry night in a Bedouin community. We rode camels, ate a hearty meal, and cried as we worshipped the Living God of the universe. (Pictured is the Bedouin tent)
 He provided me with three amazing roommates (two are pictured here). Pip, Lindsey, and Madison (and Savvy-Jo for a couple of weeks), y'all were an immense blessing to me. Thanks for the laughs, the honesty, the hugs, and the deep friendships each of you offered me. I'm looking forward to the reunion in the fall!
 He blessed us with the leadership of Tal, our tour guide, who was willing to teach us not only his immense knowledge of the land, but also facets of Israeli culture. 

He also gave me an amazing gift in a visit from my parents during my last week in Israel. Mom and Dad, thanks for teaching me much about the Lord throughout the years, for forgiving me of all the ways I've wronged you, and for teaching me to celebrate life and live for the Lord. Also, thanks for coming across the world to visit me and for being willing to get messy in the mud of the Dead Sea.

There's much more He's taught me, many more places He led us to, and many more stories I could share. But if you understand one thing about this season in Israel, understand that the Lord was faithful. It was proven in every minuscule thing that occurred, but more importantly, it is His character. He is faithful. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

Your steadfast love, oh Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 
Psalm 36:5