This I know.

Source: This I know.

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This I know.

I’ve been hung up on the reality of God’s goodness for quite some time now. Which, if you read my last post, you already know. I’m going to repeat myself a little. I’ve been all hung up because I just can’t grasp it, and that has been terrifying, frustrating, and humbling. In the past few weeks of still struggling through this theme, as I’ve asked God to teach me what His goodness looks like, I’ve realized that the whole process has laid the perfect foundation to learn about a whole other side to it; one that evokes an even clearer image of the ever-compassionate face that Jesus shines on me daily. He has introduced me to a part of His goodness that I can’t believe hasn’t hit me before the way it is now. Maybe I just never believed it until now. Maybe I never understood it at all and now it’s starting to feel more real because my freaking life is taking on a fuller shape these days and because I’m realizing how God perfectly times and orchestrates the events of our lives and truly does fulfill the desires of our hearts– even above and beyond what we ever could want for ourselves- and how He calls us to things and works through our obedience and especially through our weaknesses. (Wow, out of breath. Also, more on all of that later. Sorry for that run-on, but words just came out and they’re staying that way.)

So I reached an understanding (or rather an acceptance of the fact) that I’ll never fully be able to grasp God’s goodness this side of heaven, as I’ve already mentioned. And this, I believe, is one of the reasons why He’s so good… because He surpasses my own comprehension. If I could fully understand His goodness, it wouldn’t be that good.  So I’ve been okay with this. I know I’m not limitless. Yes, God, you are good. I get it. I accept it. I’ll spend the rest of my life reminding myself of this truth, even and especially in the inevitable dark moments. K, next? <<— That was me thinking this was the end of the lesson that I’ve implored Him about and wrestled with for months. (I am literally the most impatient person on earth in every way.) But just when I thought we had wrapped up this whole “God’s goodness” topic, He said He wasn’t finished yet; that this is just the beginning, and that as true as the statement “He is good” is on its own, there’s a crucial part of it missing that I didn’t have eyes to see until He reminded me of the part of Him that is incredibly personal. He reminded me of the fact that we have an actual relationship, and that He wants me, loves me, and works on my behalf, not just in the big picture of things. I think that is just part of what makes God so insanely big – that He can orchestrate, control, and be sovereign over literally everything and everyone at the same time, yet He knows me personally and cares about my heart: my hopes, dreams, desires, strengths, weaknesses, insecurities, and He does not ignore them, but lovingly addresses each one in His timing. He is personal. He is good. And once upon a time I thought there should be a period right there, but He gave me two more words that don’t just add to but perfectly complete my simple three-word statement. What I once thought was a well-rounded-enough sentence about God, I soon came to realize was only the first part of one He wanted to finish…

He is good…  to me.

I’ve prayed, God, teach me that You are good. Teach me what that means. And I can’t describe what I expected to find the answer in… but for some reason I didn’t expect it to come in the form of anything personal, like a gentle realization of how good my God is to me – always has been and always will be.

The other day He took me back to Jerusalem, 2014, to a memory that I have of a very pivotal moment from that summer and in my life. I was sitting at the Western Wall praying, asking Him what He wanted for me and from me, and trying my best to listen. And He spoke clearly the words, “As much as I am the God of this city and this country and this whole world, I want to be the God of your heart.” I feel like everything I’ve learned since then has just been an add on of what He told me that day about His purpose for me. (He is SO faithful to complete the work He starts in us.) So this past week He brought me back to that and He added this part, saying, yes, I am teaching you and have taught you that I am good. But I want you to understand another aspect of my goodness. I am not just good, Ana. I am good to you. Always.

God is good because He is literally goodness itself, in its fullest form.

He is nothing but good.

Goodness originates from Him.

The very nature of God is good.

His heart is good toward you.

His heart is good toward me.

How many more ways can I say it?

And if this is all as true as every fiber of my being believes it is, then that means that everything, e v e r y t h i n g  He does is good, no matter how our little eyes perceive our circumstances; no matter how little or much we understand about why things happen when they do and the way they do. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” He works all things together for our ultimate good – to make us more beautiful, to transform us further into the image of His Son – and all of that for His ultimate glory. There is always a greater purpose. And for this reason, there is nothing to fear. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to rest so confidently in something in my life. I don’t know that Romans 8:28 has never resonated so deeply before because for real, I’ve honestly probably read or heard that verse upwards of about a thousand times in my life.

So I don’t know, guys. I don’t know a lot of things. It’s hard following Jesus. I want what I want and a lot of times I don’t want things the way He wants things, even though I know that He sees and knows better; that His ways are higher than mine; that His thoughts are not my thoughts. This life is just constant practice to have and maintain a posture where my hands are open and in front of me, ready to receive what God gives, or to release what He takes away. But there’s rest to be found in the fact that whatever He chooses to do or allow, it’s because He is good and He is working for my good, for your good – to conform us into the image of His Son so that our lives can fulfill their purpose: to bring Him the glory He deserves. Whatever is happening is somehow making us more beautiful.

This I know.

Sierra Leone, 2017

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

I think not having enough words or the right words is one of the worst feelings. For someone like me who values verbal and/or written communication in so many contexts, it’s frustrating when I’m the one who doesn’t know how to do that well. Regardless, I am going to make my very best attempt to recount an incredibly formative summer.

When people approach me with a glimmer in their eyes and say, “how was Africa?! I want to hear all about it!!” I get excited all over again in the first second because of the memories that immediately flood my mind, but in the next I feel overwhelmed, wondering how in the heck I’m supposed to describe it all. I’m afraid that what I say won’t be enough because in reality, that fear is valid; it just won’t, no matter what. And being the people pleaser that I am, I want to say enough; I want to say everything people want to hear. But unless you experience it, my words won’t do it justice. I do want to fully acknowledge people’s kind intentions in asking to hear about it. I appreciate so much the interest taken in where God brought me and what it was all like. I do love having opportunities to share that, and even more, having people in my life that care enough to want me to. That really means a lot. That said, it’s obviously a personal issue of mine that I don’t quite know how to talk about it in a way that does the experience justice, not annoyance over the fact that when people ask it means I have to try to. Bare with me as I do just that. ❤

When asked about Africa, I have to separate my experience as a first-time staff member on a mission trip from my experience of the people of Sierra Leone and the country itself.

Everyone on staff (so everyone with financial, medical or food responsibilities for each team this summer) knew going into this that it would be taxing in a lot of ways. We were all told before and at training camp that this would be a summer of self-sacrifice on a completely different level than that which is required as a student. Our team was our mission, and this summer was their mission trip. We were there to serve Jesus by serving them and meeting their needs, primarily. That meant doing our designated job (in my case, finances) to the best of our ability, as well as anything else necessary to ensure that the students had the fullest experience possible. I believed that, but eventually realized that it’s one of those things you really don’t grasp the truth of until you’re in it; until you and a bunch of scraps of paper are sprawled out on your bed in a moldy hotel room at 11pm, trying to furiously (but not carelessly) document all of the receipts from the day so that you can go to bed like the rest of the team; until you’re doing more math than you’ve done in like four years, trying to designate spending money to each student when the rate is 7,228.75 Leons to 1 USD; until you’re becoming very acquainted with the sweat of the people you’re crammed next to, nearly sitting on top of, for 40 minutes on a bus to a slum to do evangelism, while simultaneously rifling through your backpack to find the right currency to pay the driver with; until you’re planning the rest of the afternoon while the team is having their quiet time and you wish you were too; until you’re waking up from an unintentional but entirely welcomed nap when you should’ve been doing laundry and now dinner is in five minutes; until you’re delirious with laughter and tears at the end of one of the most exhausting, sweaty, germ-infested yet rewarding ministry days of your life. You don’t realize how much this summer is not about me until those moments when you feel like you have nothing left to give, but you would give anything for a glass of sangria and maybe a time machine to reverse your commitment to do this three months prior. Just kidding. 😉 I seriously would not have chosen any alternative over this. Period. No matter what it was. (I just like to be dramatic sometimes.) These are in fact some of the fondest memories to me, honestly. And that’s part of why I can be humorous with all of it now. I love looking back at every part of this summer because I so clearly see God’s faithfulness literally everywhere. I saw it then, I felt it then, and I can still see it all now. Especially now. Remembering has me seeing it all in a different light and feeling appreciative all over again.

These summers with Royal Servants are never meant to be easy. Quite the contrary, in fact, and that’s actually much of the draw for me. I love the challenges that come, especially because I know that God has things to say through it all and that’s what is exciting. If you read my previous post, “step-in,” you know how clear God made it that this was what He wanted me to step into, and that’s what I held onto all summer long. That’s how I knew there were things I would learn, and I did. That’s what kept me leaning into instead of backing away from every aspect of this summer that had me feeling like a newborn baby calf trying to walk. I may have had a variation of doubtful thoughts along the lines of “wait, why am I here.. how is this my life…” quite often throughout the course of those six weeks, but even more frequently I thought to myself, “LITERALLY (in the most valley girl way), the only way I am okay right now is because of Jesus. And it’s only by His grace that I’m actually better than okay; I’m really good.” Somehow I felt like I was thriving, and I know that’s because of how many people were praying for myself and my team. Thank you!! I was (all of us were, let’s be real) probably the most out of my element that I’ve ever been, but I grew accustomed to my role and our temporary lifestyle in Sierra Leone fairly quickly. As tired as I was, I felt equipped every single day to do what needed to be done. I got to know Christ as my ultimate Sustainer on a whole new level that I will always remember. And that is only a fraction of what I learned. Yeah, it was different and fun and difficult in various ways to be the finance person for the Sierra Leone team, but (to a certain degree) I knew it would be. And on top of that, it was different, fun, difficult, heartbreaking and eye-opening to spend time in this country and do the ministry that we did; to hangout with some of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen; to watch our students organize and facilitate their own vacation Bible school; to encourage them as they developed their own leadership seminar to share at youth groups; to walk alongside them and join with them in the evangelism that we did every day. There were new challenges all the time, but what a sweet six weeks it was. Such is life. Not easy, but you suck it up, buckle down, and do what you have to do, knowing God has called and equipped you. And you have fun in the process. Our team grew close and had each other laughing so hard so often this summer, and that is one of my favorite parts about it all. There is so much joy to be found and that makes everything else more than worth it.

As for Sierra Leone itself, I have much to say. I think it is an incredible gift to be able to designate space in my heart where I get to keep that separate from the logistics that took up much of the space in my mind.

Being a third-world country, Sierra Leone is insanely different from what I’ve been surrounded by my entire life. It contradicts almost everything I’ve grown accustomed to, and that is refreshing because it obviously brings a whole new perspective. If you let it. I’m choosing my words carefully and restraining from sharing detailed descriptions for various reasons, but feel free to use your imagination. I’ll say what is important. Sierra Leone became beautiful to me because God was there in the midst of the discomfort, the chaos, and the unfamiliar, telling me repeatedly to just “be still.” I remember walking down the street near our hotel one day, and I looked down at the bracelet my mom made and had given to me right before leaving. The charm on it says “be still” because in general I have issues with that, and I was struggling with it especially before this trip. Immediately, in the midst of recognizing this tinge of anxiety that I constantly felt when we were outside, surrounded by crowds of people talking, yelling and selling things, and avoiding cars that were honking incessantly, I prayed, “God, how in the world am I supposed to be still right now.. how do you expect me to do that when I am completely submerged in the exact opposite in every way?” There wasn’t really an answer. I just knew it was something I needed to be thinking about; a theme He had for me. Be still. The irony.

Sierra Leone was beautiful because it was different; because it’s not where I expected to be; because it is the very place where God became so much bigger than I have ever known Him to be. It was beautiful because the people there that love Jesus understand Him on a level that I envy. And they don’t even have to say that to you, you can just tell. Their worship brought me to tears. Their demeanor, the way they welcomed us, made eye contact with us, smiled at us; the way no one is ever in a frantic frenzy like we so often seem to be in America; the way they embrace simplicity and it’s more than enough brought me to my knees as it reshaped and refined my understanding of God and that He. Is. Good.

Rewind to those first three weeks in Wisconsin, preparing for my role overseas, anticipating spending the rest of the summer in a place I never guessed I’d be. I was one of several alumni interviewed for a social media promo video. The question was “why did you return on Royal Servants this summer?” (I don’t actually know where it is or if it ended up in a video anywhere). My answer was “I came back because God called me here, and because I believe that He wants to expose me to a greater understanding of His goodness this summer.” I was happy to verbalize that because it was something I’d been thinking about for weeks. I wanted a solid “reason” for doing this this summer. I wondered so often why God presented me with this opportunity the way He did, why He gave me peace about committing to it, and why this was really happening. As much as I know it’s important to be obedient no matter how much we may or may not know about a given situation, I wanted something specific to look forward to learning; something to seek out and be able to see through the lens of Sierra Leone. Understanding what it means that “God is good” is something I’ve been thinking so much about in general, even before any of this happened. What does it mean that “God is good”? My definition of “good” is so not enough to hold Him. I like a good movie. A hot shower on a cold day feels good. “How are you?” “I’m good.” It’s such an overused boring word, yet we use it when we talk about God, and when we sing to Him and proclaim His goodness. What about when “good” to me is nothing more than a description of the piece of pizza I just ate? Or the past week I just had? What does good even mean? It doesn’t seem right to fit God into that same category, and I already put Him in a box as it is. I already too often base my understanding of Him on my circumstances and emotions, when I know He is so much greater. So my prayer became, “God, I know that You’re good, but please show me what that really means.”

And He did.

And still is.

He’s good because He is outside of our circumstances, whatever they may be. He’s good because He is still there when we are running around looking for everything but Him to satisfy us. He is good because He is more than enough when the world tells us we need more. He is good because His goodness surpasses our ability to comprehend it. I’m learning how to be accepting of that and let it draw me to a deeper place of worship rather than a place of feeling frustrated at the limits of my humanity. [“For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:14.] He knows we’ll never be able to fully grasp all of who He is this side of heaven. He is gentle with us because of that, and He also very willingly and graciously exposes us to parts of His character that we want to know more about when we ask Him.

I learned so much this summer on every level. I learned how to love people better. I learned about my own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to leadership. I learned how easily I compare myself to others and the importance of not doing that. I learned how much I value integrity and want to be better at making sure that’s apparent in me. I learned about sacrifice, discipline and time management. I learned to have eyes that see beyond my little world, and that it’s okay that I can only understand so much. I learned to extend grace, to pray more often than I complain, and felt the conviction to harness my words better, in general. I learned more about who God is, but also became very aware of the fact that no matter how much I feel like I know about Him, He is endless; there will always be more to learn. This is just the beginning.

>> step in >>

Outside of any of my own efforts, contrary to all of my expectations, and as if to bring all of my fears to the surface and prompt me to overcome them, God has invited me to Africa this summer and subsequently given me His perfect peace to accept the invitation with excitement.

Post-graduating in May, I’ve had this tentative plan that I will immediately look for a full-time job and then work toward one of my goals of moving out. That’s generally what people do when they get a degree, right? Get a job, “start” life. Makes sense.

As the reality of being done with school (for now) has continued to set in these past couple of months, I’ve been praying a lot about the future, asking God to make clear to me what is next. I’ve been telling Him about my tentative plan, assuming it’s lined up with His since nothing else has come up to change it yet. I’ve felt pretty directionless for awhile and as the weeks keep coming to an end, each one faster than the previous, I’ve felt more anxious; more frustrated. God, why do I not know what I’m going to do after this? I started telling Him that I expect Him to bring something along. Any day now. What I didn’t know was that that thing would be something so unexpected.

On March 24th I went to my usual Friday afternoon Bible study with some friends. We spent the first ten minutes in reflection and prayer, thinking of a word to describe how we felt about life at the moment, and then talking to God about it. My word was “expectant” because, as I mentioned, I expect a lot from Him right now. As in, answers to the question of “what the heck will I be doing in two months??” I’ve been trying to be okay with not knowing because I’ve learned that God really loves keeping me in that state. So I’ve been growing in trust and I’ve become expectant. But honestly, that has come more from a place of frustration rather than patient waiting. I don’t want to be idle and just wait around for God to drop something in my lap, but I don’t know what to pursue/how many things to pursue in hopes of landing something..?? I don’t even know what I want, HALP. I started writing this prayer… God, I expect You to bring the right thing to me. But I’m afraid I’m expecting too much from You and not taking enough responsibility in actually trying to find that thing myself. I don’t want to miss it, but I also don’t even know where or when to start or what to do. And also, I’m frustrated that I don’t know yet. I’m about to have a degree… generally people know what they plan to do with that, so why don’t I? Why are you making me wait? I want to have the right expectations from You… just tell me/show me at what point I should step in-”  and before I could even finish my sentence, I was literally interrupted by the most spontaneous and simple thought about Royal Servants. Sometimes I have random thoughts, yeah, but there are certain ones that are clearly not my own. This was one of those, and I know because it was so out of the ordinary and yet seemed so poigniantly placed right on the words “step in” that it was worthy of me actually drawing an arrow and making a note: “RS flashed through my mind right here.” I didn’t know what I was going to do about it or why I wrote it down, I just found it curious. Maybe I would revisit it and pray about it later. So I kept writing. Pretty soon Bible study ended. And I didn’t really think about what happened until about three hours later when I got a text. One of my 2014 Israel trip leaders, who I haven’t talked to in months, invited me to prayerfully consider returning as an assistant on his team this summer. I assumed Israel again because he’s gone there every summer for the past ten years, but I was wrong. Sierra Leone, Africa, actually. How perfect… ly not the trip that would be my first choice. But that’s the thing. The past couple summers that I’ve considered and even tried returning with Royal Servants it’s been on my terms. I’ve always prayed something along the lines of Okay, God, I think this would be a really great summer to travel with RS again. And also I’d really like to go to *insert any location besides Africa or China.* So just say the word and I will go.

He didn’t say the word in 2015 or ’16.

The thing is, this (life) isn’t my story to write. Ever. And I am realizing how much better it is when I don’t try to.

Anyway, an answer was needed asap, so I spent the next seven days in fervent prayer… occasionally in tears… pacing my room… repeatedly telling God I have never felt so stuck in the middle of a decision in my life; telling Him much of me doesn’t really want to do this, but I don’t want to say no just out of fear; asking Him to please give me His heart for it if I’m supposed to go, and to once again turn my fear into excitement, the way He always has; telling Him I will go wherever He wants me to or stay wherever He wants me to, but I just need to know where the actual heck that is. The decision felt a lot heavier this time around. Am I just afraid of going? Or would I be going because I’m afraid to face the otherwise unknown that awaits after graduation? Is the timing of this completely ridiculous? Again, why can’t I just know?? 

In a fit of frustration, fear & uncertainty I started reading in Deuteronomy and let me just say, that book brings me to tears no matter what emotional state I am in. So you can just imagine the wreckage that ensued when I came across these gems:

Deuteronomy 7:9 – “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”

7:17-19 : “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’-you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out. So shall the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.”

7:21 – “You shall not be terrified of them; for the Lord your God, the great and awesome God, is among you.”

8:2-3 – “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”

9:3a – “Therefore understand today that the Lord your God is He who goes over before you as a consuming fire.”

12:5 – “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.”

13:4 – “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.”

Need I say more? I think I knew in those moments what to do, it just took my a couple days to be brave about it.

It threw me off (in a thrilling kind of way) to have this opportunity presented to me suddenly, unexpectedly and yet in such a timely fashion. Looking back I feel kind of ridiculous for how difficult it was for me to figure this out, but I do believe that keeping me so unsure for a solid week was God’s way of reminding me how to seek Him wholeheartedly; how to take everything in me – every fear, desire, expectation, doubt – and truly lay it all down at His feet; how to pray for His will and want it above my own. I knew He would bring clarity and by Thursday afternoon I knew for sure that I’m doing this. Friday morning I felt no different, so I made a phone call and sealed the deal. (!!!)

In the span of one week He has answered prayer after repeated prayer and proven His faithfulness yet again. Pretty soon I started to see not going as no longer an option, and going as the only option that makes sense. Pretty soon my fear, just as I asked, was transformed into excitement. I was scared at the beginning because I didn’t come up with this myself, which is why I know there’s a reason for all of it, I can feel it. And that potential scares me as much as it excites me. Ultimately, God has given me a desire to be part of equipping and empowering students to do ministry overseas that has become greater than any of my fears. I know what it’s like to be a student doing this for the first time, and I am stoked for the opportunity to be on the other side of it now; to turn around and take what I have learned and use it to encourage a new team of Jesus lovers who have no idea what the heck they’re getting themselves into (ha!), nor how pivotal of an experience it will be.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying with me and for me in this decision, and for continuing to do so as I prepare for another adventurous six weeks!

k n o w n {Psalm 139}

“Write.” I like that little button on the top right corner of the website. It’s so inviting. Why, yes, thank you, I would love nothing more. I click it and the words in my head get so excited.

Disclaimer: The following post does not do Psalm 139 justice. But I have thoughts, regardless.

I was reading through it today and I’m pretty floored. I’ve been reading it pretty much every day for awhile now, actually. Just because I can’t get over it. Then again, how can you get over something you can’t even fathom in the first place?  Until recently, I’ve never been so aware of how much I want to be known. If I could sum up what I want in life, I think it all comes down to this one thing. At least right now. Not even sure what that means, entirely. Or what I think it should look like, for that matter, but I think there are a few different levels… I think I want to know and understand myself, what I’m passionate about, what I’m good at, what I’d like to spend my life doing. And I’m getting there. I also know I love people; I like when people know me and they let me know them, too. But in light of all that, I am already known. Perfectly. By my Savior. He knows me to an incomprehensible degree that surpasses anyone’s knowledge of me, ever. And that’s pretty incredible.

Have I become numb to the things I’ve literally been raised to just accept? It’s been engrained in my mind and heart for as long as I can remember, praise God, but as a result, I too often lack the exuberance that this kind of truth deserves. It just “is what it is.” It’s the truth and I accept it the way I accept a free cookie: with a “thank you,” and then pretty soon it’s gone…

I have been searched, known, understood, comprehended by a God who is acquainted with all of my ways, who knows me altogether, inside and out, who has hedged me, behind and before, and laid His hand upon me. I am and have been led, held, formed, covered, skillfully wrought, made, seen, and tried by the God whose thoughts about you and I are numerous and oh so precious. Heart and flesh, God, You know it all and none of it surprises you. Still you love. When I was only a substance, I was seen. There was a plan. All of the days of my life were written down before I even had a beating heart, or resembled anything remotely human, for that matter. My purpose was established, my every decision, right or wrong, already laid bare before the eyes of God. I was and am understood completely and accepted entirely. Regardless of how well people know me, or think they do, He knows me infinitely better and more deeply, which is both terrifying and humbling. What more could a person ask for than to be both fully known and still fully accepted by the God of the universe? I need to chew on all of that a lot more. I just decided that one of my favorite parts of Psalm 139 is when David says, “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me,” right after recounting alllllll the ways God knows us… every thought, every intention, every action and every word, before one of them even makes its way out; every part of me, which is innately wretched, imperfect, tainted, sinful, He knows, yet He watches over me, cares for me and lays His hand upon me. What a God.

And how often I fail to live by the part proclaiming that because of these truths, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I don’t do that enough.

I have more reasons to praise Him than I could ever even comprehend, reasons that go beyond being fearfully and wonderfully made… that’s just the beginning, the one fact that should both dictate and highlight the whole rest of my life. And I don’t do that enough. So there’s my call to action. Praise. He deserves it ceaselessly. (Recommended reading: Praise Habit by David Crowder)

I am known… Infinitely. Perfectly. Completely. Fully. Entirely. *Insert all other existing synonyms.*

So are you.

restless & wrestling

I generally have at least an idea of the kind of structure I want a blog post to have, but this time I feel like I have no boundaries, no structure, no expectations, and no ideas other than this one: word vomit. Sorry to use that phrase, I actually hate it, but it also pretty accurately describes what I’m about to do and why. The answer is because my heart and mind don’t currently want to cooperate; my thoughts don’t want to be expressed in the form of completion, the way I feel like they usually are the majority of the times I’ve transcribed them into another post. Oh well.

Welcome to my life at present. It is Friday, November 25, 2016, and nothing in me is organized right now. Everything is in restless disarray, but it’s totally fine. For once I really would like my words to seem a little chaotic, too. A little restless. I think a new approach to this whole blogging thing could be refreshing. I said from the beginning that I wanted to commit to full-disclosure, complete honesty and vulnerability anytime I choose to write, but as a writer, I forget how much I like to go back and fix or improve things. Yeah, I may be honest in what I say, but sometimes I worry too much that it doesn’t always make sense. This time I don’t want to be afraid of that. I don’t even want to care if it makes sense or not. Unfiltered is the goal right now. I usually like to write when I’ve just learned something, just come through something, that way I have what feels like a much more well-rounded perspective that’s so much easier to describe. I like to write when I feel like I’ve at least come to some kind of conclusion about how I should be living… thinking… breathing. This time I’m kind of in the throes of it all, as I write. I don’t know. Anyway, by the time my thoughts are somewhere other than my head, they feel more complete, regardless of how well-thought out they are or not to begin with. Enough rambling. Here goes. Okay, Jesus, what do you want me to say right now…

“for in Him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28

What? Does that even mean… This is honestly just the first thing that came to my mind right this moment, so I’m gonna take off with it. I came across this verse the other day. I don’t remember when or how or if it was even from my Bible or someone’s Instagram post or what (and I actually had to google the reference just now, don’t judge me), but I remember it struck a chord in me that I totally ignored. Until right now… God clearly wants me to revisit these words, and for you, the reader, to join me in whatever that looks like. I’m as curious as you, to be honest. The blank space that expands beneath this paragraph will soon be filled with words, and it’s kind of thrilling not having any idea what they will be at this point. It’s hard letting my thoughts come out raw right now, and to process them as they are being written down, as opposed to organizing them beforehand. I get my love for organization and hatred for clutter and filth from my mother, and she from her father. Thanks, Grandpa! Seriously though, I actually enjoy being an organized person. But I think I like it to a fault because when it comes to what’s happening inside me, that kind of disorder makes me even more uncomfortable. I just want everything to feel perfect and put together all the time, and I start to think there’s something wrong with me when it doesn’t. I have to remind myself that there actually is a lot wrong with me because I’m a human being. But along with that reminder comes the fact that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness; He does more than just complete me, filling in the gaps where I fall short. He covers me completely, to the point where I can’t even see where my effort ends and He begins. It’s just all Him. That’s something I can’t really wrap my brain around, to be honest. “My goodness is nothing apart from You.” (Psalm 16:2).

I think it’s okay and even good to feel that way sometimes, like there’s nothing but chaos and restlessness and sadness and anxiety going on inside. Not necessarily for it to stay there, but what I mean is I’m learning how to properly handle it. There’s a sweet parallel I just discovered. I think that in the same way I feel an urge to be completely raw in what I say about how I feel right now, God wants us to approach Him that way with our whole selves. The disaster that may be my mind, my heart, God wants that, just the way it is. I think I haven’t been thinking like that. I think I haven’t realized the freedom of that truth until right now, sitting here, thinking out loud. I feel bad when I feel bad. Like, I feel guilty for not feeling completely joyful and put together and content and freaking perfect all the time. And then I try and do some soul-searching, trying, in and of myself, to fix whatever is broken inside me before I come to God, because I should offer him good things, right?? I can’t come to Him in a less-than-perfect state, ashamed by all of these doubts and fears and curiosities that I idolize… Wrong. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17). No pre-organization necessary in approaching the throne of the Living God. He does it all for us when we choose to come to Him just as we are. Praise You, Jesus. We deserve no such grace. Romans 8:1 says, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” I guess the real question then becomes, in those moments when disarray and restlessness seem to have consumed me, according to what am I walking? The flesh or the Spirit? I concluded today that I need to memorize more verses. Well, I didn’t just randomly come to that conclusion, I was convicted to memorize more verses after praying and being frustrated over how much my thoughts have wandered as of late. Can this not happen?? “Yeah, actually. Fill your mind with the Word of God.” Of course.

So, Acts 17:28, “for in Him we live and move and have our being.”

Alright Lord, I don’t know what to say about that other than I don’t really know what it means. And I don’t know if I believe it. I hate admitting things like that. Even though God already knows. I literally can hide nothing, so why even try? “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Reading that through once or twice, it just sounds like some super poetic, whimsical metaphor for the Christian life; a reflection of the fact that as a follower of Christ, I live for Jesus, obviously. But how often do I actually consider the weight of those words, on every level? Literally, He breathed us into life. And because of that, my whole self and lifestyle should reflect His glory. This heart that is beating, these lungs that are breathing, these fingers typing, head spinning, it’s all happening both because of and for Him. So there’s that. Because of Jesus, “[I] have [my] being;” I have life, purpose, opportunities…

What am I doing with that? (Aside from not even fully comprehending what it means)

Maybe I’m just afraid to admit I haven’t lived up to the calling behind it, so claiming I don’t understand it is my cop-out.

Still trying to gain a better grasp here… I am literally alive because of Him. Physically able to move and breathe, and spiritually able to grow and transform and look forward to eternity with Him because I’m saved by grace and grace alone.

Now is probably a good time to address the restlessness and wrestling implied in the title of this. Audrey Assad sings a song called “Restless.” Some of the lyrics are “You dwell in songs that we are singing, rising to the heavens, rising to your heart… our praises filling up the spaces in between our frailty and everything you are. You are the keeper of my heart, and I’m restless, I’m restless ’til I rest in You…” Such a sweet song. I recommend looking it up. But anyway, that song came to mind when I wrote that title. I am restless until I rest in Jesus, but the truth is I don’t always know how to do that. I don’t know how to fully embrace his perfect peace that is freely offered to me. There’s too much to worry about and be anxious about, I don’t have time to rest!!! I don’t know how to give things up and really rest the way I am allowed to, called to because of His sacrifice. I get frustrated when I have to pray the same prayers over and over again, asking for Him to take from me the things I’m holding onto, asking for Him to grant me my requests, and trying, in the midst of that, to remember to always ask for His will above my own. God, this is what I want and I don’t know what your plan is in all of this, I don’t know what this is going to look like, and I don’t know what to do. Except I feel like every time I say I don’t know what to do, I actually do. Almost immediately He reminds me to rest. Okay, God, whatever, I get that part, but honestly that’s not enough for me right now. I need answers; I need promises that fulfill me the way I want to be fulfilled. Selfish. Who the heck am I to limit Him, to question His sovereignty like that, telling the God of the universe what I need, as if He doesn’t know infinitely more than me?  Who am I to place my security in things I expect Him to give me, rather than He Himself, the best gift I could ever receive? I live and move and have my being because of Him and His grace. In light of that, how is it that I can let myself be restless?

I put God in a box a lot more than I ever realized. He’s so much bigger than I make Him out to be. I am restless because I’m an impatient person who has dreams and hopes and desires, yet battles with the reality that God may have completely different ones for me, or at least different plans for how He will fulfill/meet those. It’s hard to submit to His will when it keeps me so very much in the present, waiting, resting, and not able to see very far in front of me because where would my faith be then? It’s so much easier to dwell on my plans that I can “see” in my future, in my head. I tell myself I can trust that God will always be faithful, no matter what that looks like, but what’s with all of this waiting and unknown nonsense, God? In the midst of questioning if God really is a good, good Father, who loves to give good gifts to His children, I have to remind myself that these moments of restlessness, chaos, whatever, are opportunities to practice and learn how to overcome one of my greatest weaknesses: patience. And to do that not in my own strength, but by drawing from His. They are also good reality checks. If I never get any of the things I hope to in this life on earth, will I be okay with that? If you’re asking me this right this second as a non-rhetorical question, my answer is no. I’m not okay with that thought. But I want to be. I’ve been there before, where God alone was all I ever wanted and needed, but currently I’m struggling all over again with understanding whether or not I’m even allowed to want other things in this life that aren’t God Himself, but gifts He may or may not choose to give in this life. God, I don’t freaking know how to deal. I don’t know what to do with what’s in my heart, on my mind. I was praying the other day that He would take it all away, basically so that I could instead just feel nothing. If what I’m feeling is angst and discontentment and restlessness, I would rather just not feel at all, so TAKE ME NOW, LORD. I was praying for an easy way out. But then I realized I was in the wrong to pray that, so my prayer instead became “No, actually, just change my desires to match yours; satisfy them however you see best fit.” I didn’t even want that; I want what I want, and I don’t want that to change (I’m kind of a brat.) But sometimes I have to pray things I know I should want, even when I don’t want them in the moment. That’s okay, right? To pray for things against my own will? It’s either considered super honest, or somehow wrong, not sure which.

Acts 17:28…. Anything else, God? I feel like I keep finding new rabbit trails every time I come back to “for in Him we live and move and have our being.” Not sure if I’ve really hit the nail on the head yet… if I’ve said all that I needed to say about those eleven words. I think I’m just supposed to meditate on them, honestly. Still trying to wrap my head around it, what it means, how it convicts me and calls me to action. I guess I can conclude with this: if all that we are and have is by Him and for Him, everything we experience and every action we take is and should be ultimately for His glory. I have found myself coming back to this conclusion during several different circumstances in the past. I have to relearn this all the time. It’s humbling. God, if everything is for you, if in You I live and move and have my being, then you deserve every piece of my life and who I am. Whatever that looks like, it belongs to You. I don’t willingly want to give You that right now, but I know You deserve all of me. My life is not my own; don’t let me forget that, no matter how much I want to deny it. The moments of joy and rejoicing, when I am content and happy, and the moments of anger or sorrow or fear, when I am discontent, restless and wrestling within myself, take those moments and magnify Yourself. God, when it’s hard to approach you for whatever reason, when I feel like I deserve so much less than what You give me, and You deserve so much more than what I have to offer, when what hinders me from being completely vulnerable before you is my fear of being a wreck and the misconception that I have to have my crap together first, be my help. Take everything. Remind me that, in any circumstance, You are more than enough for me and I am enough because of Your Son. Help me to understand the weight of that truth, and to really believe it. Because I’m having a hard time with that; with all of the above, let’s be real.

I’m caught in between so many different feelings. Unworthy of His grace; unwilling to submit to Him, to relinquish my life and my ideas; restless because I don’t know how to rest with so many things swirling around inside of me, occupying my thoughts and attention; frustrated that I would rather hold onto them and meditate on them instead of surrender them; confused because God deserves all of me, but all of me is not good and He deserves the best; tripping out because He still wants every part of me despite that, and what does that even mean and what do I have to do and why is it so hard to let go of myself? It’s a constant struggle, this life. & we’ll never “arrive” until we arrive at the gates of heaven. That will be a glorious moment. And that’s a whole other topic that I also can’t fathom.

I’ll say it one more time. “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” For whatever reason that needed to be the focal point of this post. Like I prefaced this, I don’t know how much it all actually ties together/makes sense, but I wanted to run with it. And honestly, at this point, I feel like I always write the same things anyway; the same lessons and the same reminders about dealing with the unknown and entrusting my whole self to a God who knows me perfectly, but clearly I need to relearn this in different ways, and re-articulate the same things over and over for whatever reasons. In any case, I’m glad it’s all out on the table. I’ll admit I did a little editing here and there, but for the most part, I think I like word-vomiting. If you’ve reached this point, I’m glad you stuck around to see what became of the blank space after words took over.

3 words

Sovereign

Worthy

&

Unchanging.

These are my new three favorite words to use to describe God, mostly because they are hard to swallow. Oddly, that’s what I love about them. I love that the unwavering truth behind them battles with “[me] of little faith” and always wins. My heart knows that in every season He is still God, He is still sovereign, He is unchanging when my circumstances are not, and therefore He is worthy of my praise every moment of everyday, regardless of how I feel. My heart knows this, but my flesh doesn’t want to accept it. This has been my problem: I have learned that I often let my feelings and circumstances dictate my perspective of who God is, and thus how much I glorify Him. I struggle to not question Him and get angry when things don’t happen the way I want them to, or when I don’t have the answers I want to have. My circumstances are constantly changing, and God has been teaching me so much about what worship means in all of that. One of my prayers for awhile now has been that He would teach me to love Him above all else; above every other desire in my heart for certain things this side of heaven. I am learning to trust Him, to honor Him, to worship Him, to love Him because He has shown Himself to be sovereign, worthy, and unchanging. Honestly, how many more reasons do I need? I don’t want my love to be contingent upon what He does for me or gives to me. He loves me at all points; when I am angry, faithless, selfish, dishonoring, and having the worst attitude. He loves me unconditionally, and I want to do the same. I want to love Him for who He IS, not just what He does.

I’ve been asking Him to teach me more of His character, circumstances aside. I want to believe that “You’re a good, good Father” not because I finally get what I want; I want to believe it because it is the truth, whether I get what I want or not. Whether my prayers are answered my way or not, You are still a good, good Father, and I am loved by You. And for some reason this is so hard to believe when I can’t see the full picture. I am one to want answers and to want then now. But it is high time I quit relying on my own knowledge and understanding of my circumstances, and start relying solely on the person of God and who He promises to always be. I know God to be sovereign, worthy and unchanging because He is there in my rejoicing and in my weeping; He is the same when I am back and forth with my feelings and struggling to be obedient. He is challenging my heart to be steadfast, and to trust Him at all times. His desire is for me, and when He is silent, I know it’s because He wants me to seek Him. Not just to seek Him as a source, asking Him for answers, but to set that aside and purely seek His face, first and foremost. I know God to be sovereign, worthy and unchanging because I am completely helpless and hopeless if I equate my circumstances to His character… He is infinitely greater than all of them, favorable or unfavorable.

God has shown me time and time and TIME again in the most gentle of ways just how small I am. And in light of that, how often I limit Him, question Him, complain, withhold praise, & don’t spend enough time listening to Him because I’m too busy talking, telling, pleading, instead of surrendering, resting, and waiting on Him. I learned a lot about prayer when I realized how much talking I actually do when I’m being challenged. I thought I was totally doing the right thing by praying so fervently for certain things in my life, but then I realized how and what I was praying, and that it was not lining up with the “more of You, less of me” mentality that we are called to have as followers of Christ. I was telling God repeatedly what I want in life and asking Him for those things, but that’s where it would end. Even in my asking I was still holding on and not letting Him answer the way He wants to. I left the “not my will, but Yours be done” part out of the prayer. I had to switch from constantly asking for the fulfillment of my desires, my way, to instead giving it all to Him, recognizing that He already knows my heart, but also recognizing that because of His sovereignty, He has the freedom to do whatever He desires, regardless of what I ask. Because of His sovereignty, He deserves full access to my heart, and full freedom to move in whatever ways He sees fit. Because of His sovereignty, I have no right to hold onto any of it. I have to be careful that I actually mean it when I say “And if not, still I will praise You.” So I will continue to say it over and over again until I do.

My life is not my own, and the truth of that statement has hit me so hard recently. Not that I have this down… I fight on a daily basis to believe all of the things that I’ve said, all over again. I have to remind myself and ask God to remind me of the truth of who He is because it is so easy to waver and start letting the voice of my circumstances dictate my joy and tell me who God is. Please note the “I am learning” and “I want to…” phrases included in this post. I hope it’s pretty obvious that I don’t have it all figured out. I never want it to just seem like I’ve “arrived.” Yes, I want to be clear at times about specific lessons God has taught me in the past, or already brought me through, but I also firmly believe the struggle involved in those processes is the most important part of the story, and I hope that is always evident. I share the things that are currently on my heart for different reasons. One, it helps me process everything for myself and to refocus my attention on what is most important, and two, I want it to encourage whoever reads it in one way or another, whether you love Jesus, want nothing to do with Him, or find yourself somewhere in the middle. I trust that God guides and uses my words in some way every time they wind up in another post. On that note, I’d like to not end with my words…

“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed by Your name. your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” -Matthew 6:9-13