Sunday, January 31, 2010

Woe Is Not Me

Wow. The Holy Spirit has been doing some remarkable, ridiculous, frightening, marvelous things as of late.

How can we know, for starters, that this is the case? Because the Holy Spirit reveals to us the plans and thoughts of the Lord. He gives us the words to say in dire circumstances when we cannot be trusted to speak of our own volition. He is a good and perfect gift from God as his presence in our hearts, that we might be sealed for the day of salvation -- protected, guarded, comforted, and counseled. The way he moves into our hearts and delivers to us convictions as to how we should direct our steps is so intimate and amazing.

I just kind of forget how cool the Holy Spirit is sometimes is all.

Anyway, the way he is moving in my life cannot be questioned. Period. I could be wrestling with God and grappling with deep questions about his character -- because, uh, I actually have been -- and still I am in awe at how he moves in this world, in my world. The way things fall into place when I look at him and expectantly observe the way he is faithful to me and my prayers. Overcoming that struggle of knowing that he is good, and is actively doing good work around us, is painful. We all have memories and obstacles that we can point at and declare, "There it is, God! You said you loved me, get this out of my way! Why would you let this happen to me?"

One of the neat things that the Holy Spirit has done recently, as a matter of fact, is bring me to attending a church where this very topic is being preached, and the message is packing a real punch in my proud little gut. (Or big gut... but I just like nitpicking. Slap me if I do it again.) The pastor is going through the book of James, the first chapter being the focus for the past two Sundays. Can I just tell you that that little book is so chock full of wisdom and power that it'll blow your mind? I've read it more than a couple of times and it still breathes truth into my life with every fresh reading. We never truly embrace everything completely, and it takes that daily reminder of what is true to understand, and believe me, James will do it for you.

This is not a commercial endorsement for James, but I have to give him props for helping us out so much as the church two thousand years later.

Back on topic. The very beginning of this book deals with trials and tribulations. This is the preeminent fact of life, I imagine: we will face trials. We will suffer. If the reason you don't believe in God is because we suffer, I wonder how you can look at the thousands of years of people who follow this Yahweh and think that maybe it fits into the nature of God and his plan better than you preliminarily thought. It's a great equalizer; the rich and the poor suffer, in different and similar ways, and experience a want for something that is out of reach at the time. What James says about trials, though, is a bit contrary to the human perspective on how to deal with them:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." James 1:3-4

What the crap?

Not only joy, but pure joy about trials? This is where I think we can stand to differentiate between joy and happiness. Happy is now. I'm happy when I'm eating a chicken chimichanga with salsa verde. I'm happy when the weather is breezy and cool. I'm happy when I get an A on a test, or when I am having coffee with a friend. It passes. We either become just sort of emotionally neutral as we continue through our day, or something unpleasant comes along and just throws us 180 degrees away from where we were only moments before. Happiness comes and goes. Joy, on the other hand, is that deep and abiding satisfaction and hope that despite how we feel from day to day -- and if you're a girl, you understand exactly how much that fluctuates -- despite the fickleness of the chemicals in our brain, some things never change. We have a warm bed. We can put bread on the table. We have family. We have faith that this world is not home forever. Joy is found in these things.

With such a wide perspective on the unfolding of life, it may still be difficult to cling to joy in difficult circumstances rather than fall into despair, but rejoicing has its purpose:

"Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:5

It leads me to ask this: how could wanting us to be complete and lacking nothing make God at all bad? It's a question I direct more toward myself when I find myself bemoaning the woes of my life (hint: sarcastic) and demanding that God tell me why it's okay for anything unpleasant to befall me. It just takes a bit of faith on my part, the belief that God is completing me and that what he offers is worthy of exultant, daring hope. He is a God who does not disappoint when we hang onto his robes even when the storms are ravaging the world around us.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." James 1:6

This is a logical claim on James' part. Think about it: let's go with the baseline that God is perfect and the ultimate source of wisdom. We must seek him to become wise ourselves. If he promises to give us wisdom if we ask, he is good, and goodness is in his character. If we believe he will give us this wisdom, we know his character and will therefore have access to his wisdom. If we do not believe he will give us wisdom, we do not know his character, and therefore that access will be closed off. Not knowing who he is makes us incapable of understanding how he thinks.

You see what I'm getting at? Where is our faith? I mean, where's mine? I believe that God is good; the proof lies in millenia of history, in the story playing out between God and the people he created. It is also abundantly clear that his thoughts are so, so far above mine, and that I will never wrap my little pea brain around the tiniest tip of his proverbial pinky finger. I so deeply desire to navigate the pitfalls of life through his eyes, because it is very difficult to argue that any kind of god, let alone the Creator and Almighty God, doesn't know better than a person how to deal with the petty little issues of this world.

It naturally takes a leap of faith to chase this source of understanding, including periods of time where we feel we are wandering in the desert to no good end and are crying out to God to show us the way to get out, this very instant, instead of trusting that he will use that sucky period of time to strengthen us and make us mature, complete, and lacking nothing. After all, just because he isn't magically yanking us out of the middle of all our problems doesn't mean he just isn't there. In fact:

"By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." Exodus 13:21-22

The Israelites screwed up even with freaking pillars of various forms of matter guiding them around, and food falling from the sky. We're bound to screw up, too. But I urge you: would you prefer to wander around in all directions, or follow a pillar of fire?

We are guaranteed the promised land in turn for our faith that the Lord will bring us through trying times, and that we will become more complete people for the journey.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Right Now, I Can Barely Stand

Life isn't always easy.

I get so tired of hearing that "health and wealth," Joel O'Steen, namby-pamby crap about how life with Jesus is a cake walk as long as you believe he'll mow down all the trials standing in the way before you even see them in the distance. Sometimes I wish it were that way. Actually, I always do! How nice would it be never to experience pain or frustration or loneliness or melancholy ever again?

Note: this is possible. But you have to die first.

Let's face it; we will never be satisfied this side of heaven. Not completely. There will always be things we have to do that will test us and make things trickier. This week is not letting me float freely as I please, without a care in the world. I've dealt with the grip of anxiety before and it's beginning to creep back up on me. There are so many books I have to read, so many people I want to talk to, so many expectations I want to fill and jobs I want to do, so that I'll be superwoman like I always am -- or at least, feel like I'm supposed to be.

These titles that I want to wear are tearing my soul. I keep thinking if I take one more step upward on the stairs of my life (stick with the corny metaphor please), I'll have made it to the top, and have nowhere else to go. Thus I would finally be satisfied in having conquered it all. But it's never the last step. There's always another. Y'all, I have climbed some stairs in this lifetime -- St. Paul's Cathedral is not a comfy trip -- and you get tired. Your hamstrings start to burn. You start to pant. You begin to wobble in your steps, and if you've ever been up really old stone spiral staircases before or those wire ones where you can see down, this is not good.

I'm basically trying to say that it will kill you, or at least wear you the heck out.

I am well-acquainted with the feeling. I took 9 AP classes in high school so that I would look really smart. I took the SAT twice so that maybe I could get into an ivy league school. I interviewed to be a leader in the Volunteer Office so that people would look up to me as some kind of philanthropist -- and "in charge" too. A lot of the time when I go to Cru things, I just want to spend time with everyone so I look popular and like a good friend. When someone asks me to do something, I say yes, even when I don't have the time or energy, because I want to appear to be someone who has a lot to do and gets it done right. I've gone down these little lanes of my personality before, really. But it's like each of these is a medal being placed around my neck. I like the awards and recognition, and probably feel like I look so legit, but they get heavier and heavier and eventually become too much to bear.

Bearing such burdens makes the little things so hard to face. I about collapsed from anxiety earlier just thinking about the three or four promises I made to people today about spending time with them. This, in and of itself, is scarcely an issue, and I know I'm blessed to have friends to hang out with. Why on earth would I feel crippled by such little obligations that I made? It has to be because I put all my value and worth into meeting those things, and when it's hard to do or if I mess up, it sends me tumbling backwards down the stairs having slipped up a little bit.

It's all boiling down to how much I think of myself. What people think of me. Me, me, me. It really disgusts me just how much hope the world revolves around me. You'd think this whole self-centeredness thing would really make life better and improve how I feel, right? But it just keeps disappointing, because it's been established for us since the beginning of time: we'll never be 100% content with the way things are, or ourselves. There must be a way to throw off the chains of these expectations to be perfect in one way or another and be free for once.

Note: this is possible. But you have to die first.

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man exchange for his soul?" -- Matthew 16:25-27

Mark 8:35-37 say the exact same thing. If half the gospel writers chose to discuss this part of Jesus' teaching, it must be noteworthy. And Paul only continues to lay this out for us in his letters. The point of everything -- gaining all the abundance of life in full -- is to die to self. I have to wake up every morning and realize that my life is not mine.

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." -- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I was created for a purpose, and living for any other is not only an offense and tragedy in the eyes of the Almighty, but is also a tacit agreement to let life bog me down. I'd be allowing the glittering things of this world, even things that are not innately bad, draw me away from the plan of the Lord God, who sees beginning from end and knows how many hairs are on my head. Any other life is a waste other than the one he hopes and desires for me to take.

I'd throw my lot in with the Omniscient One.

If that means I have to tattoo the words "die to self" on my arms or the inside of my eyelids, then so be it -- I don't want to let anything else tear me away from the mission there is in knowing Christ, what he's done for us, and what it all means: eternal life and meaning.

Life doesn't get easier. But it is so much more blessed, and ensures a great reward beyond it. The lyrics of Tenth Avenue North sum it up better than I can:

"So many questions without answers
Your promises remain
I can't see but I'll take my chances
To hear You call my name
To hear You call my name."

May your death to self give birth to a life not possible when the self is on the throne.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dumb and Dumber

I am hitting one of my great realizations these days. I know that epiphanies seem like a lightbulb kind of deal, but this one seems to be growing and growing and I think that my brain will explode at the very end, transpiring in a huge understanding that took me this long to come to.

That would be 20 years, people. (Maybe more like 16 if we want to go with memorable years, but that's still a pretty long time.)

I take great pride in my brain. It's one of the few things about me that I unequivocally point to and have confidence in. People have known me as the "brainy" one since early elementary school -- I was the turd that asked my teacher how to spell wildebeest and ignoramus in 1st grade, and that's a true story -- and once I got over feeling like that was a curse word, I finally found comfort in my intellect. I didn't have to worry about passing a class, or even getting a mediocre grade. I just got A's. I've always been a little academic machine.

Because I put so much of my identity into how smart I am, threats at my intellectual integrity hit me a lot harder than they might for someone who was never very sure of his/her own intelligence. When people disagree with me, I tend to assume that they're insulting my smarts, and that just doesn't fly. I'm not stupid. Don't you dare insinuate otherwise. I try to brush off those kinds of moments and choose to hide from anything that might poke holes in the little genius bubble that I created around myself.

That's a lingering issue for me. The newsflash that my identity is found in Christ alone, and nothing else, made it to my doorstep, but I turn to the security blanket of being perceived as this enigmatic mind at the first sign of trouble so often. This isn't just some little problem; it's a huge issue. Now that I truly get excited about my relationship with Jesus and want to live it out, the attacks on how stupid I probably look and sound are only bound to multiply. That might've been easy to hide from before emotionally because I would keep telling myself, "They don't know what you're talking about. You're brilliant. You've got the creds to prove it. Just ignore them."

Except that's a lie. I'm no genius! I don't know a darned thing!

I mean, I am getting into some really good conversations these days, with believers who have been walking with the Lord for a long time, and who have acquired a great deal of maturity in my eyes. And hearing what they have to say often stuns me. I thought I knew plenty, and I can certainly spout off a lot of those "Sunday School" kinds of stock answers to things without a second thought. But this is totally different. They aren't just smart, but wise. Their perceptions of the things I'm doing in my own life are so different from mine. They see things I struggle with that I haven't even thought about yet. So much for knowing my own mind, right?

Furthermore, some people close to me have the nuts to point out these flaws to me outright. My points of pride, especially. And you remember just a few paragraphs ago where I mentioned that I like to get defensive about knowing stuff? That little monster wants to rear its ugly head at these kinds of things. I have never gotten into friendships that are quite this open before and my selfish, flesh-obsessed person wants to defend that I'm not an idiot, I know what I'm doing, and how could they say such a thing about me?

Yet behind all those little angry remarks floating around my head is a serene thought that pierces through: you can become a better person through this. It's not easy hearing criticism or differing points of view about what's on my mind, because I'm so used to depending on my own assessment of myself -- my awareness, my knowledge, my braininess, my wisdom -- to make me valuable. When that's called into question, what do I even have left?

Just Christ. That's the way it should be. And, frankly, that's the way I want it to be, despite how hard it is getting there.

If I finally gave up on caring what people thought of me anymore and taking any comfort in any of the little things that I thought were great about me, the possibilities of who I could become would dwarf whatever image of greatness I had of my sinful self. I could be a person who rejoices to hear someone point out a sin in my life because it means that I can be that much more prepared to fight it, banish it, and become just a little more like my Savior. I could be a person who faces blows at my pride, be it about my looks, my brains, my talents, and not let it cripple me, but stand up another day to do what I am called to do. I could be a person who could stick with what she believes in in the face of anything hurled at me, and not flip-flop or cave in and let the world win in changing my mind.

Frankly, I shouldn't care how dumb I sound at all anymore.

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Corinthians 2:14

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Give Me Your Eyes So I Can See

Wow. The past few days have been phenomenal. I don't know that I've ever gone through a period like this, where I've heard whispers of the Lord's will caught in the wind of my everyday life. I am more convinced than ever that He is actively shaping this world and pursuing our hearts through other people and circumstances we experience, and that if we don't see it, it's because our eyes are glued shut.

Mine usually are. I had a pretty cool conversation the other day with a friend that provided some really crucial feedback about how I deal with other people, especially people I don't know very well. I know my tendencies to a T. I don't look at strangers as people that I can talk to and should get to know, but as parts of the setting in which I'm living my life, taking care of my business. I'm usually surprised or taken aback when people around me just start talking to me, because I certainly hadn't been considering talking to them. I don't always put much effort or interest into these encounters because I'm afraid of saying something dumb or coming off as a weirdo. (Ironically, I probably seem even weirder when I kind of back out of getting to know someone better when standing in line or sitting in class, haha.) I don't know why, but that's the way my little cogs are aligned; I'm pretty goal-oriented when I'm not in a place where I have the intention of being a little chatterbox.

This, however, has poisoned chances that I've had to make friends in various places. I can think of several times that I'd kind of talked to someone in my class and never bothered asking them what kinds of things they like to do and if they wanted to hang out sometime. I can picture faces, for crying out loud. I just don't approach classmates, neighbors, and other people like that, mentally.

Why on earth don't I try to be friendly?!

If there's one thing that has been confirmed for me over and over again, from Atlanta to today at school, it's that God uses little moments like those to plant seeds in other people -- and he uses us to do it. I am thinking about my friend with whom I am co-leading a bible study. She got connected into Cru through my other friend, and they met in an American History classroom just sitting next to one another. They couldn't have known off the bat that the other was a believer, that one needed community and the other could offer it. It had to have taken the initiative to befriend a person who just happened to be right there, and invest time and love into them. And that's what I really want to learn to do. I want to see people around me as fellow human beings, who all want to be accepted and loved despite their quirks and flaws, and that very few in this world genuinely don't want to hear someone they don't know say hi and smile.

So this morning I prayed that God would give me his eyes. (Yeah, Brandon Heath, I stole your lyrics. Sorry, dude.) I prayed that I'd see this world the way he does, with a purpose in mind for people, and with the belief that they're searching for him, often in all the wrong places. I was afraid that this prayer would force me out of my comfort zone almost immediately, but you know, a little dose of healthy fear is a good thing, right?

Sitting in my Microeconomics class, I was between two girls. One looked at the syllabus and panicked a little, saying she was a freshman and that she didn't know if she'd do well in this class, and that she might need some help. The other, before class started, turned to me and introduced herself, saying she was a Cuban-American and a transfer student and didn't know anyone, and asked if she could have my number.


All I did was pray that the Lord open my eyes to what's going on around me, and this is what I see already. Prayer. That thing that I once did right before going to bed, to ask for more money or for God to fix my problems lickity-split. That prayer. It's insane when I think about how often the Lord does answer prayer, and I just look in the wrong direction or on the wrong channel to find what he's saying to me. I read an article this morning on Boundless that I really liked (and you should read it too!), and this is the scripture that accompanied:

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." 1 Kings 19:11-12

So many of us ask for grandiose signs from God when we ask for an answer to a prayer, so that we may not miss it. However, I'm willing to bet that the lesson is not in asking for signs, but asking to have the discernment and wisdom not to need them, but merely understand the Lord's heart. Every day, I am embarking again on the journey to growing nearer to the Lord, and perhaps with every new experience and every year, I am that much more aware of how his Kingdom is here and now. Things are going on. It's up to me to keep my eyes open and continue asking him to help me remain awake.

Only then will I remember to praise him when I see his hand in seating me in the second row of that one room in that one building for that one class, and thank him for sustaining me no matter where he takes me next.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

From the Heart

A lot of people think I'm this huge activist or something. I guess compared to some people, you could say that. I tend to nag people when they throw out plastic water bottles and I have that toiletries case made of recycled rice bags. By nature of my field of study, I also happen to know a little about the problems in different countries -- poverty, trafficking, genocide, corruption -- and can spout some statistics, because that's what International Studies majors do. I like to think I'm somewhat aware, and I probably try to project this persona of a girl who knows what's up.

But let's look at the facts. I have a closet full of clothes and I don't wear but seventy-five percent of them on a normal basis. I spend absurd amounts of time buying overpriced coffee and listening to overpriced music. I stand in the shower way too long because I like the feeling of the hot water. I complain when my scholarship check comes in with less leftover than I had hoped because of the tuition hike or extra expensive books.

My point is that I am not the great person I am told I am, and am even less the great person than I like to think I am. It's a good thing that the bigger the cracks are in my heart, the more that Christ shines through.

He is actively shaping me into a new, compassionate, generous, merciful, justice-loving woman after His heart. But do I even know the heart of the Almighty? I mean, what labels can our human minds even try to pin on His character? It's ridiculous to think that words like love and grace are both vague and magnificent in their own right, and those are just words. The infinite wonder of God is only just barely touched by anything we can use to describe Him. Those words are plenty for our ability to understand as it is.

What really blows my mind is how much scripture describes God as one who thirsts for justice for the oppressed and the poor.

"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless." Psalm 10:14

"For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them." Isaiah 61:8

"'...but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord." Jeremiah 9:24

"'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the Lord." Jeremiah 22:16

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

"Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:10

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19

"Then Jesus said to his host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'" Luke 14:12-14

These are just a sampling of my favorite verses that show just how concerned God is over the case of those who lack earthly possessions and liberties. How beautiful is the passion that God has for all the people He has created, despite what other cruel people hand them. The truth is that this is a broken world. God would love nothing more than to see us work and sacrifice to see others receive the help they need. Let us not forget, though, what Paul says:

"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." I corinthians 13:3

I gain nothing. I gain no peace. I gain no understanding. I gain no satisfaction. I gain no wisdom. I gain nothing. At first it may sound selfish to be worried about what I would gain from acting without love as my motive, but this insinuates in a way that I will not gain anything that will enable me to give even more, or gain qualities that the Lord prizes and adores Himself. This really hurts everyone else as much as myself.

It all really boils down to love. And who would know love better than the Lord God who is love, embodies love, creates love, inspires love?

Read I John 4. That sums it all up.

For how much He loves us, how hard should it really be for us to truly love one another?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Unveiling the Face of God

Wow. It's tough being away from a computer for four days, if you're an internet addict like me. It's even tougher when each of those days is filled with messages, worship, prayer, fellowship, learning, everything, and I have to wait to write any of it down. I'm a champ and left my notebook at USF of all places.

Guess I'll have to do this the old-fashioned way and just get it all out. (Is that old-fashioned? Probably not. I don't care.)

There are so many things that I truly began to grasp this past week that it's hard to know where to begin. I'd might as well start off with what I think impacted me the most, something that took forever to drill into my head: God has great plans for me. It's Christianity 101, I know. But as we all are too aware, there are things that we know in our heads and profess to be true, and things that we take to heart and believe with a passion, and live our lives following such truths. This idea finally dug itself a place in my brain and my heart to stay, I hope. I know I will doubt it at times but this past week is my ebenezer, a reminder that the Lord uses His people to do good work around the world, meeting all kinds of needs. He passionately wants to use me as His hands on this earth for the duration of my life. He loves me enough to want to involve me in His wonderful plans, and loves me enough to let me choose whether or not I want to take part.

Now that I've truly learned what this means, I'd be an absolute fool to push that cup away from me.

Can I just recommend the sermons of Dr. David Platt to you? Look him up if you can. He was the main speaker at the Unveiled Conference for Campus Crusade for Christ that I attended last week, and God used him to put me in my place about who this life belongs to. He talked about how scripture presents a different Jesus than the one some American churches seem to embrace today. So many people call themselves Christians, only to mold faith in Christ into their vision of the American dream. They are certain that the God of the Universe desires for them to move into a large house in the suburbs, marry a beautiful spouse and have 2.4 kids, have two cars, and hold down a successful job that brings in the dough. Warming a bench on Sunday morning is enough.

But this Jesus doesn't make sense when you look at the more reliable Jesus of the bible. He calls people to drop what they are doing and follow Him. Matthew 8:20 says the Son of Man has no place to rest His head. Jesus repeatedly tells people to store not earthly treasure, but heavenly, because nothing in this world will last. He preaches against the pursuit of money, stating in three of the gospels that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. James 1:27 commands us to care for widows and orphans, just as we avoid sin.

What kind of good news are some of us trusting?!

You'd think that people would be turned off by a Savior who commands that we not cling to riches but give them away. Some probably are. But it absolutely ignited my soul. My heart breaks for the people of this world who are not being taken care of. Millions are starved, impoverished, ill, and oppressed. Millions need to know Jesus Christ. Why would they want to believe in a Messiah who has yet to help them in their hour of need? Hearing the lessons that I heard really showed me just how much God wants to use us in radical, unexpected, daring ways to reach His people, showing His love practically as well as revealing the scandalous grace He offers.

I used to want that American dream in some form or another. The idea of having a secure life with a handsome husband and a comfy job was so alluring before. But now, it seems like a dead pursuit unless God Himself points to that calling and says, "Yes. This is my will for you." The very idea of going against His plan for me is chilling and grotesque. I want Him to push me further than I thought I could go, force me to break and depend on Him for my strength, reveal His love and magnificent mercy through my imperfections so that I might magnify Him that much more in my failure. A verse stood out to me that epitomized just how I feel:

"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." -- 1 Corinthians 15:19

Imagine having faith like that. If someone looked at how devotedly you chased the cross, to the ends of the earth, proclaiming the gospel and sharing everything you have with people who need it, thirsting for His word and praying at every moment, and that person felt sorry for you. They see your pursuit as a loss if Jesus was not who He said He was. It would be a waste of a life.

But I can't imagine wasting my life on anything else.

This revelation opened up such an exciting world for me. If God calls me to live in another country as a missionary when I graduate, then I will do it. If He wants me to go into the workplace, I'll do it. If He wants me to keep going to school, that's what I want to do, too. I am not used to listening for His voice in my life, but I think that now that I've recognized how much I want to and how willing I want to be in accepting His call, I am faithful that He will do it.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the ocean." -- James 1:5-6

Beginning to understand how sovereign and loving God is in paving a way for me has also lightened my heart about relationships. If you know me, you know that this is hard. I've never held down a relationship in my life. No one's ever asked. From my little doubtful place, it's hard for me to understand how this could happen in the future if it hasn't before. I will surely struggle again with such thoughts, but God is still a God who works miracles. I went to a seminar at Unveiled about preparing for marriage one day, and the speaker encouraged us not to linger in neutral safety (aka settle for someone in college early on if it isn't right) out of fear that the Lord can't work in mysterious ways. His own sister was working at an orphanage in B.F.E., Honduras, which is probably the opposite of a logical approach to seeking a spouse. She couldn't have planned that a businessman in California might donate to that orphanage eventually, go back and forth to see it himself, and fall in love with her. How on earth does crap like this happen for believers in Christ if God does not orchestrate things for our own good? My heart is so much healthier and I can breathe so much more freely handing that area of my life over to God, trusting Him to take care of me while I am able to follow the awesome opportunities He has handed me at the present time.

One of those opportunities is very clear. There are myriad places I can go this summer on missions. I really feel like God is calling me to do this. The question I had was, where? My friends who went to Asia were telling me about it, and I began to apply, but for some reason chose to wait until after Unveiled to send it in. I also decided to wait to tell my pastor that I was planning on summer missions. I don't know why, but I did.

When I got to Unveiled, I went to a meeting at one point just for fun, about summer project in Sarajevo, Bosnia. It just sounded weird and interesting to me. Once the leader described what this mission trip would be like, I was blown away and had to reconsider everything I'd been planning. Almost 4 million people live in Bosnia, and only 700 are known to be followers of Jesus Christ. They are a people hurting from civil war and atrocities, in a country that is Muslim in name but secular in reality. The call to prayer will sound and no one will stop smoking a cigarette to do it. It's a challenge. They almost stopped sending college student missionaries there because they had been going for 9 years, and no one had believed the gospel in that entire time. Until the last year, when 7 students gave their lives over to the Lord.

I don't know what it was exactly that made me feel this way, but the challenge presented is almost so intimidating and nerve-wracking that I feel like it is what I was supposed to do.

Jumping into a totally different place is a hard thing for me to accept in my mind, and I definitely want to pray it through before it's a sure thing. But my willingness to be sent overseas to share the beautiful news that I have is not the question. Today, I went before my church and told my pastor that I thought I was going overseas on mission, and the church promised to support me financially and through prayer. One thing that terrified me on top of just talking to people about Christ was paying for the opportunity to do so, and here is an entire body of people excited for me and willing to help.

God is good, yes?

Gosh, I haven't even touched how close I grew to other people, and the things I learned about truly making my life an example of how Christ uses people like me to change the world in little or big ways. Lazy, selfish, mean, thoughtless, jealous, proud people like me. It will have to wait until tomorrow when I have slept adequately.

I hope you come to know all these things yourself, if you don't already. And if you do, I hope it's fresh in your heart and that you live like it's true.

Talk to me if neither is the case. Much love!