Thursday, March 26, 2015

Not My Will, But Yours, Be Done

I don't remember how old I was when I gave my life to Christ. I grew up going to church, in a Christian family. I remember as a child praying to God late at night when I was scared. I would pray that He would keep my home safe, and I had no doubt that He would, and so I would fall asleep easily knowing that I was safe.

In middle school, I know that I made the choice to go farther with my relationship with God. He became the King of my life. I wanted to follow Him wherever He might lead me. The summer after ninth grade, I surrendered myself entirely to Him, whatever and wherever that might mean. See, God doesn't tell us to just believe in Him. Of course, He does want us to do so. But He calls us to surrender our entire lives to Him, and I think anyone who has been to church enough will have heard that passage referenced.

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24

It becomes easy to pass over. God wants all of us. He doesn't want us to do things 90% His way, and then 10% our own. It's 100% His way. And that is hard. When I surrender what I, a very flawed human, want, that means that God leads me to what He wants. And it can be heart wrenching to sacrifice things that you love, things that are good things in and of themselves, for Him.

God has called me. It's in a direction that I want to go, and fulfills passions that He has placed in my heart. Only, I would prefer to do it my way. I would rather a way that has far more security, stability, notoriety, prestige, and comforts. I'll go there, God. I'm excited to go there for You. But I want to do it like this, okay?

That's not what God wants though. He wants me to follow Him only and entirely. I was reading about Saul recently, in 1 Samuel. God commands Saul to do something, and he does it. Except part of it, he does his own way. Saul's way wasn't of itself a bad thing, but when it goes against what God was telling Saul to do, God says that it was "evil" (1 Samuel 15:19). God removes Saul as king of Israel because he only followed God halfway. When I read that, I was convicted. I was leading a Bible study, explaining a passage, and my own words convicted me. I am imperfect, guys. I deserve to be rejected just as Saul was, because my heart, my flesh, want to take me on a path that I'm more comfortable with instead of God's path. But God is so good to me, guys.

I came to Him, upset and confused and irritated that I had to give up this thing, too. Really, God? How much will I have to give up? How many things?

All of them. He tells us to die to ourselves (Galatians 2:20). To hate our mother and father compared to how much we love Him (Luke 14:26). To take up our crosses, the instruments of our own torture, and follow Him (luke 9:23-24). He tells us that the road will be hard,  that it will be narrow, and few will find it (Matthew 7:14). But a life with God as King is the only way to truly live. God is the only One worth giving up my entire life for.

Some will call this foolishness. Others, delusion. Some, perhaps, brave or noble to do something for a good cause. But it is God in me. Though it may seem ridiculous to the world to go down a path that seems less safe, or less stable, with more unknowns, and far fewer comforts, it is really the only way.

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). He has saved me. He has loved me and redeemed me and held me and comforted me, despite my wicked heart. He has given me breath and joy and peace and hope and a future. So I will give Him my short time on earth. After all, could there be anything better than a life lived for something beyond my own pleasure? What is better than a life lived for the One who created me and saved me and loves me more than anyone else ever can? What is better than knowing that someday, I will sit at His feet, and someday, I will worship with the multitudes of believer from every tribe, nation, and tongue, all praising Him in one voice.

Worthy is the Lamb.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Mind Made New

I would like to be someone who doesn't worry.

After all, Matthew 6:25-27 tells us, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?"

I know that verse well. I know that being anxious will help me in no way, and actually will hurt me. Yet I do. I fret over things that I can do nothing about - things that are very valid things to be concerned about, but things that I cannot help. I even worry about things like food and clothing. Have I ever gone hungry? No. I have more than enough food. Have I ever truly needed clothes? No, those needs have always been provided for. I have no needs that God has not met, and yet I am still anxious.

I would like to be someone who acts selflessly.

I've heard Luke 6:29, which says, "To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either," many times. I know that I should be generous, not just in tithing, but in the day to day. I know that I should give because I honestly want to, and not out of obligation.

Yet I am still selfish and stingy. I hesitate on giving to others, of both time and money. Even when it comes to sharing my food (of which, again, I have more than enough) I'm hesitant. Because I am a selfish and broken person. I have, as I've heard it put, "soul sickness." We all do, guys. People did 2000 years ago, when Jesus walked the earth, and people did 2000 years before that, and 2000 years before that. If you think that you don't, then you might not know yourself as well as you think.

We need saving. I can't be the person I want to be on my own. I'm absolutely, completely hopeless. My heart, my messed up flesh heart, wants to seek the things of this world. On my own I would be greedy, gluttonous, bitter, cruel, vain, paranoid, and worse. The only way I have any hope of overcoming any of that is Jesus. He gave us a pathway out. He gave us hope to become more like him.

I am not perfect. I'm so insanely far from it. But because of what Jesus has done for me, and for you, I have hope to improve. I can become a better person. I have freedom from that "soul-sickness." It does not have to define me or entrap me. Instead, I can, as Paul puts it in Romans 12:2, "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Jesus gives me hope. Day by day I can become more like the person I want to be, someone a lot more like Jesus and a lot less like the natural me. In Christ, I am made new. He has restored me to what I could never be on my own.

Hopeless? Not anymore, because it's no longer about me. It's about God. He is enough. He restores. He makes new. He gives life. He has taken the wreck of a person I would be without Him and given me a new life in Him.

Monday, August 4, 2014

This Glowing Summer

This summer was that present that you aren't expecting, and ends up being your favorite. A Christmas gift that comes in the mail on the 27th, and makes you squeal in surprise and delight. (Or maybe just break a slight smile if you're the stoic type.) This summer was dancing in the rain, running through the dark, catching the setting light as it dazzled through the bright summer leaves. It was long talks with friends, homecooked meals, and spinning across the living room when no one else was around. It was unexpected friendships, community that I didn't think I would find, and overwhelmingly - and I think most importantly - a sense of comfort with myself.

I've been blessed this summer through a worship service at a local church for college aged young adults - with hang outs before and after, laughter, and conversations about the things that matter. I don't want to forget those late nights at Taco Bell or Starbucks or loitering in the church parking lot way after service ended. There is nothing else quite like friends who eagerly want to talk about God and how incredible He is and all of the marvels He has done in our lives. Oh, He has been too good to me. I really do not deserve the ways that He has blessed me this summer.

Through His grace, love, and mercy, He has healed so many things that have been broken in my life. Things that I have done, things that others have done, and things that are just part of being human. He's helped me to grow into someone a little bit closer to who I hope and strive to be, someone a little more like Jesus. And I need all the help I can get in that area. Oh my goodness. Just thinking about how absolutely hopeless I am without Him...I couldn't do it.

Being back home for the summer, a number of people told me that I'm different. I know I am. I've grown in the past year. The best way I can put it, as I told a friend, is that I'm a little bit more of all the best parts of me, the things that most make me Savannah. Some of that is exposing the problems within myself - the things that need some work. It's never exactly fun to realize, "Drat. I've been acting so cold to this person" or short-tempered or petty or self-absorbed. But isn't that what growing is?

When we realize those issues about ourselves (which hopefully we all do at some point), we've got a choice. I could easily have said, "Well that person isn't exactly friendly to me," or "Wow. I suck. I can't belief how awful of a person I am." Neither of those responses is good - but I have done both in the past (and probably will sometime again).

This summer, though, I think I made some progress. Instead of making excuses or just moping about my issues, I decided to work on them. I've chosen to let the circumstances that expose my rough bits to refine me instead of beating me down. Just like those rocks that look so dirty, boring, ordinary - and then you throw them into that plastic tumbling contraption from the museum gift shop, and they come out as beautiful gems.

Am I saying that I'm suddenly now a beautiful gem? Ha! Hardly. My tumbling process is still in the warming up phases. But my hope is that as life tumbles along, more and more of all my grittiness gets worn away, and this summer has left me feeling a little bit more shiny.

I really was not expecting much from this summer. I whined about it a ridiculous amount. Crazy as it sounds, I didn't want it to happen. But God. He took pity on my lame, whiny self and gave me a fantastic few months anyway. To all of you friends and coworkers and even customers that I got to spend time with and get to know a bit better, thank you. This summer has been a blessing. I love people. Really. For all the drama we humans cause and the petty things we get hung up on and the flighty feelings that we let decide for us all too often - there is still a lot of good, and so much potential in us. And Heaven knows we need every bit of that potential we can get, and a whole lot of grace.

So as this summer rolls towards fall, and the days begin to shorten, and new seasons of life unfold, how about we remember all the good times we've had? We remember the happy moments and the accomplishments and the tiny little things that make us smile. And then we use those memories and work to make the world a better place. Help people who need it, in your own neighborhood and across the globe. Pray for those situations that seem impossible (because God doesn't see the "im" in impossible). Keep on striving for what you know is right, what you know needs to happen. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Let's take our summer glow, and keep it shining through the winter.

Friday, July 4, 2014

When the Clouds Parted

This week I am deviating from the norm on here. Not only I am posting more frequently than every 6 weeks, but I am also posting a photograph-based post, instead of writing. I had a photoshoot with a couple of my friends last week and decided that I might as well go "professional" looking all the way. I really enjoyed this shoot and I'm pretty proud of how it turned out. That morning, it was raining - pouring down hard - and we were standing around at my workplace and hoping that things would clear up by the afternoon. And oh goodness, it did. We got some amazing lighting that made this shoot so fun. If it were possible to hug photos or light, I would. But since I can't, I'm just putting them online. Let me know which ones are your favorite!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Once Upon a Time: Thoughts about a Father

Once upon a time.
How many stories begin that way? It is the most classic beginning to a tale. One time, long ago, or perhaps not so long ago, there was an event. That is, I suppose, what it means.

And once upon a time there was an event. There were many. In my life, in yours. Life is an adventure, and a collection of many little adventures strung together into a symphony. There are deep chords of pain in the composition, and trilling tones of joy. Sometimes they run right together until they are almost one and the same.
That is life. It moves, and flows, and swells, and crescendos, and then it just keeps moving on.
When I was young, I ran through the yard, that field-sized yard with flowering weeds up to my knees that snagged at my socks. I remember the hot sun and brilliant green everywhere around me with lowlights of deep grayish brown. In that yard, I could be a fairy or an elf or a Pokemon trainer or a pioneer girl – like the ones from my dad’s stories that he told us night after night. Oh, those stories. Some had dinosaurs. Others melon-eating-bears, or butt-wagging-dogs, or vultures that nursed humans back to health. They were quirky stories, and I probably still carry some (or a lot) of that quirkiness in the way I tell my own stories to friends (or at least they seem to think I tell stories in an inherently amusing way).
These are all some my fondest memories as a kid. My dad would play with my younger brother and me outside, and the large magnolia leaves were fish that we would spear onto sticks and roast over a fire that only we could see. And then we would take off down our long and winding driveway to hunt a deer that was as hard to spot (to the untrained eye) as the fire.
Once, my dad got me a guinea pig for my birthday. I turned nine that day. I show up to my third grade classroom, after spending the night at my mom’s the day before, and found something on my desk. A little box, complete with a squealing orange and white guinea pig, delivered to me in my classroom. When you’re nine, things like that feel like the coolest thing in the world. I had my own pet in my own classroom at school of all places. Most likely, the poor guinea pig was frightened as all get out, with at least a dozen grubby kids wanting to play with him, but he went on to live what was probably a pretty happy life for a guinea pig. Food, adventure (of both the travelling-to-a-different-state variety and the wooden block mazes we constructed for him and his mate), and (see mate) plenty of procreation. Which for a little critter, is pretty much where life is at.

Sometimes my dad would look at the weather report and decide that the next morning would be perfect for fishing on the gulf and some early morning crabbing. So we would load our kayaks or boat into the back of his 2003 Toyota Tundra, and wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning, and head to the beach (stopping for snacks, of course). After a long day, that felt longer than it was, we would load back up a little bit crispy from the sun and crunchy from the sand. The carpet of the truck would be sandy for weeks.
Living with my dad has always been an adventure. It has provided me with countless stories to amuse my friends with, and occasional awkward moments. But ultimately, my dad has made more of an amazing positive impact on my life than I can even put into words. He’s there for me when I’m being irrational (it happens a lot). He makes me laugh, and lets me cry when I need to. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of such fond memories of my dad and with my dad. I remember him carrying both my brother and I – one in each arm – from the YMCA (after he had worked out, mind you) – to the nearest Starbucks. One of those times, my dad got coffee. Well, he got coffee every time, but one time in particular he told me that this coffee was special. It was ant coffee, made from real ants. Of course the little me sitting on the light wood chair wanted to try some. I was disappointed. It tasted just like regular coffee, which I wasn’t exactly fond of at that age. I later realized that (surprise!) it was regular coffee made from regular coffee beans, and that if any ants were involved in the process – which honestly is pretty likely – it wasn’t on purpose. On another Starbucks-related note: There was a rat named Migor that had escaped from a research lab and lived under the bench seats at Starbucks biting people’s toes for revenge (not really – don’t call the health inspection folks).
But that was (and is) life with my dad. It was stories and weird food and stories about the weird food. It was jars of canned jellyfish that looked like snot that we kept around for far too long. It was pine needle or goldenrod tea as a snack. It was grasshoppers, rattle snake, raccoon, or deer heart served up with the rest of (the normal parts of) Thanksgiving dinner.
Life with my dad is a little disorganized and a little crazy, but ultimately it is simply beautiful. Either way, the point I’m trying to make is that my dad has made my life so much more amazing, so much more colorful, and so much more exciting. Through all the imperfection, my dad has been there. He’s taught me and helped me grow into a better person. I tell people so often that I don’t know what I would do without my dad in my life. And it’s true. I have no idea what my life would look like without him in it. Sure, life would go on, I would have survived and possibly even thrived – but my life wouldn’t be as great as it is, and I would be nowhere near who I am today without this amazing man in my life.
So, Dad. I love you. Thank you.