Monday, August 23, 2010

25 things God taught me this summer

This has been the most spiritually growing summer of my life. Almost daily, God revealed something new to me. Sometimes He just reminded me of something I already knew, but every single time He proved to me just how perfect and precise His timing is and that He is always listening to my heart and that He cares more than I can imagine. His love leaves me in awe. Now that school is starting and life is getting busy, I don’t want to forget all that I have learned…so I’m making a list.

1. Sometimes God uses unfortunate circumstances to remind you that you need Him. -This was definitely a theme of my summer, but it was also the first thing I learned. Travelling to Maputo was filled with obstacle after obstacle, and it was just what I needed to remind me to turn to God. “God does not always rescue us out of our painful season…He does not always give to us what we so desperately want when we want it. He is after something much more valuable than our happiness…He is restoring and growing in us an eternal weight of glory. And sometimes…it hurts.” -Captivating

2. God answers prayer. -This is a very simple concept that I should never forget, but God reminded me non-the-less. Even in the little things, God showed me that He cares and will do what I ask. Whether it be healing a sick stomach, or breaking me down to the point that He is all I had, or taking away something I love because it was taking away from my oneness with Him, God answers prayers. Even when I don’t remember what I prayed for, God does, and He ALWAYS comes through.

3. You have to let your life go, or you’ll screw it up. - If you think you can control your life better than God, you’re crazy. Unless God is in control, it will just be one dead end after another. You have to die to yourself in order to live in God. When you finally let go of your life, there is so much peace.

4. Focus on God. -This is honestly the most important thing I learned this summer. When my focus is truly on God and His purposes and what will bring Him glory, not only is there a peace that truly surpasses all understanding, but things fall into place exactly how God wants them to, which is really exactly how YOU want them to if you’re seeking after Him. There is no happier thing than to be doing what God created you to do. I wrote in my journal, “If I don’t make God the focus of my life, even the things that make me happy won’t anymore.” He must become greater, I must become less. [John 3:30]

5. I love God, and God loves me, even when I don’t feel it. -Emotions aren’t trustworthy. No one always feels happy or always feels content or always feels…anything. Relationships are about so much more than emotions.

6. Be patient and wait on the Lord. -This one speaks for itself, but is definitely not something I mastered, or even got a little bit good at. I’m still very very impatient, but God’s timing is not our timing. We don’t get what we want when we want. And His timing is PERFECT and precise.

7. My unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness. Where I am weak, He is strong. -There’s never a time when I will be good enough to approach God, and if I try to wait until I fix myself to go to God, then I’ll never be able to. God doesn’t want that at all, and honestly…I can’t fix myself even a smidgeon. You go to God and He fixes you. He restores your soul and renews your mind and transforms you to look like His beautiful Son, and in the end there is no mistaking that God did this. He receives all the glory, which is how it should be.

8. God is the healer of broken hearts. -This is a concept that every single human being can comprehend. We have ALL been heartbroken at one point or another over something. God is the only one who can truly free us of that pain and brokenness and make us new.

9. God is universal. -Everything about God is exactly the same no matter where you go. He is the same God in Africa as He is here. People feel Him and know Him the same in every corner of the world. He loves us all the same no matter where we’re at. In Maputo we sang “God of this City”-the Mozambicans in Portuguese and us in English, and it was the most beautiful sound. It was such a blessing to worship the God of our universe together in a way that is so beautiful to Him. His children were united.

10. There truly is a peace that transcends ALL understanding when you seek God. -One of the biggest things I learned this summer (which goes back to number 4) is the when my focus is on God, I have peace. It does transcend understanding. It’s not that anything makes any more sense or that any of the unfortunate circumstances are better, it’s just that I’m focusing on God and He’s giving me peace.

11. Every situation is an opportunity to bring God glory. -Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31]. I’ve really begun to understand that absolutely everything I do, every action, every word, even every thought, can and should be used to show people God. I want people to see God, and only God, when they look at me. I don’t want my humanity to taint they’re image of Him. Every person I meet, I can bring glory to God. Every conversation I have, I can bring glory to God. In EVERY situation, I can bring glory to God, and I should. But in the end, it’s not about what I do, it’s about surrendering and letting God shine through me despite what I do.

12. Notice God in the little things. -God does things for each and every one of us to make us smile. Once, this summer, he sent me a family of beautiful butterflies to flit around on a patch of daisies for me to take pictures of. It made my heart smile, and I knew it was a gift directly from God to me. These little things happen ALL the time, and we rarely acknowledge them. He loves me in a unique and special way. He loves me individually. He loves you individually too. He created you, and He knows what makes your heart smile. He loves to make you smile. He’s a passionate God and He is romancing me all the time, I just don’t always see it.

13. Christianity is about relationship. -Your relationship with God is the most important thing, followed by your relationships with people. We show God’s love by loving others. I’ve always been horrible at maintaining friendships, but I am really determined this year to reach out to new students and truly care for them. I want to follow up on them and to seek them out and to show them that they ARE cared for. I’m going to go to events and just talk to people. I can’t do any good for God’s kingdom if I won’t go out and live in it.

14. The journey with God is one day at a time. -As I stated in the previous blog entry, this is Jared and my motto. Things only make sense if you seek God daily and just focus on what He wants for you TODAY. As I read through my journal from Africa, this is the same advice Chief gave me when I talked to her.

15. When you pursue after God, everything else falls into place. -Nothing matters except God, and when you focus on Him, everything else will just fall into place. You will be happy and at peace, and He will take care of your every need. There is nothing in this world that you need to concern yourself with except God and glorifying Him and building His kingdom.

16. God punishes us because He is a good Father and He loves us. -God will punish me for forgetting Him, and take away the things that keep me and Him from being one, but then He will “allure me” and “speak tenderly” [Hosea 2:13-14] to me. He wouldn’t discipline me if He didn’t care, and He cares so very very much. Discipline sucks, but it produces righteousness and peace. [Hebrews 12:11]

17. Trouble is never wasted on believers. -It is used to make us stronger and more mature. God makes ALL THINGS work for the God of those who love Him.

18. Actions alone do nothing; you have to LOVE God and WANT to do things for Him. -I struggled with this so much. I read my Bible and prayed because I knew I needed to, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to be passionately in love with God, but I didn’t know how. And this is a toughy, because nothing I did, and nothing you do, will change that. But when you just surrender to God and just seek Him, when you take the first step, He will carry you the next few. He will change your heart to match His. “Follow me and I will turn you into what I need you to be.”

19. Sin is individualized. -Obviously, there are sins that are universal, but some sins are individualized. If it keeps me from being one with God, it’s a sin. If it distracts me from God, it’s a sin. The thing that distracts me may not distract you. TV is a sin for me, because it consumes my life. I feel convicted about wasting the time God gave me. He didn’t allow me to live another day so that I could sit on the couch and watch tv all day. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. [1 Cor. 6:12]

20. Jesus ADORES us. -The shortest verse in the Bible says Jesus wept…and what did he weep about? That Mary was deeply trouble. He cares that we’re sad. He’s not like, “Who cares if your brother is dead, you only need me so be happy.” He understands and he hurts when we hurt.

21. God is the only one who has any answers for me. -People are just people, and they’re struggling with things of their own. Every situation I am in is so unique, and God’s plan for me is unique, and His purpose for my struggle is unique, so my guidance must come from Him alone.

22. Love God. -The key to everything is to love God. How? Know Him. How? Read His word and spend time with Him.

23. Stop worrying. -It’s ungodly. To worry is to not trust God. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:6-7]

24. This life is bigger than me. -Me and my wants are really insignificant in the grand scheme. This point of my existence is to do God’s will and to bring Him glory. If I focus on anything more than I focus on God, I’m misguided.

25. God graciously gives all things. -He already gave us His Son, why would He hold anything else back?

Yes, that was long, but God is so good, and he taught me SO much this summer. :) Praise Him!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Worst and Best Summer of My Life

I could type a million pages and still not be able to explain this summer. But I'm going to try. We'll call this the cliffsnotes version, but still it's going to be a VERY long entry.

Month 1:
Africa. Oh Africa. It's still hard to believe that I spent a month in such a beautiful place. For the first two weeks I was in Maputo, Mozambique. It's the capital of Mozambique and one of the biggest cities. We were doing campus ministry. For me, that's a million miles outside of my comfort zone, which is exactly why God sent me there. I had to spend the majority of my day building relationships with college students. I could say, "It was so hard because of the language barrier." But in some ways, it was easier to talk to these students. I didn't have to worry if they were judging me, because they honestly just wanted to know me. They weren't critiquing my outfit or my personality, they were just excited to spend time talking to me about absolutely anything. And what did I learn? A lot. Mainly, they're just like me and you. For the most part they have the same troubles and the same worries as we do. Grades, boys, family. It's universal. They're just as jaded to religion as we are. The difference is, they aren't offended by God. They will listen to anything you have to say. As a team, with the leadership team already in place there, we were reaching out to the future leaders of the country, and telling them about Jesus. :) It was SUCH a blessing and an amazing opportunity and I'm humbled that God chose me to do such a thing in such a place. In the end, I cared about what is happening in Maputo (and still do), but my heart wasn't there.

For the next week we were in Roodewal, South Africa. I can't even describe the beauty, and desolation, that this place holds. My heart was definitely alive here. It was one of many things this summer that confirmed that I am called to work with children. I have no inkling of what that will look like, but there will be children. Roodewal is buzzing with childhood activity. From girls playing games that I played as a little girl, to boys climbing trees and wrestling each other to the ground, these children were joyous. Some were better off than others, but they all lived in rundown flats. They were also all deeply affected by the gang violence that consumes Roodewal. They've had to deal with a lot more in their short little lives than most of us ever will. I went into Roodewal having heard amazing stories about children who change your life. Children who, when you return next year, still remember your name and are very excited to see you. Children who are actually affected by my actions and words. Children who actually need ME to love them, just for a little while. So I set out to find some girls to pour into, but for the first few days I floated from one child to the next. I'm drawn to small children, but they don't speak English and couldn't benefit from anything I had to tell them about Jesus. About the middle of the week I walked out of the door of the dining hall and immediately this little girl grabbed my hand. I hadn't seen her before, and I was busy, so I let her hold my hand while I ran around doing what I needed to, not really thinking much about her. She was a sad looking girl, wearing a fleece jacket even though it was very warm because it was all she had to wear, never smiling, no shoes. She didn't ask for anything, she wasn't needy like some of the other children. She didn't climb up your arm or beg you to play with her...honestly she wouldn't play even when I asked her to. She was so sweet, and within hours I was in love with this girl. Her name is Semildine. She's maybe 6. After a few days, she opened up to show a truly beautiful child of God. Her smile captured my heart. Her playfulness made me want to do anything to make her smile. We giggled, we tickled, we made faces. We couldn't communicate at all, but we would sit for hours with each other. Her in my lap, or playing with my hair, or just laughing with me about absolutely nothing. When I think of Africa, I think of Semildine, and she's the one thing calling me back, even though there's no guarantee that she'll still be there.
The next week we were in Cape Town, South Africa, but the only significance Cape Town held for me leads directly into....

Month 2:
Oh month two. It was a good one. A great one. In month 2, I fell in love. It started in Africa, definitely. Or before even, but I didn't realize it. Jared was my friend, and even though I'd only known him since March, he was one of my closest friends. He helped my father move my stuff from my dorm to my car. That's just who Jared is, he helps whoever he can whenever he can. When my dad met him, he loved him, which is something that doesn't happen very often. Daddy does not like guys around his little girl, but he loved Jared. In the week leading up to Africa we talked nonstop about everything from packing to our hopes of being "plane buddies". Out of the 24 hours worth of flight time, we only spent 4 together, but they were hilarious and awesome. Here's the thing...what Jared and I have in common the most is our nerdiness. And it's a unique nerdiness. We did crosswords and played word games and just laughed nonstop. I had obviously noticed that things were different with us, but I hadn't considered that it would ever turn into anything. After that plane ride, I went to Maputo and he went to Lesotho, but the entire two weeks I was in Maputo...I thought about Jared. Long story short(er), I tried talking myself out of it and even considered the possibility that it was satan using him to distract me (which I believe is true, but satan most definitely didn't manufacture the feelings). When we reunited in Roodewal, it was obvious that I wasn't alone in this (even though he didn't realize it at the time). It was clear that Jared cared for me exactly like I cared for Jared, and that scared me. I was afraid of changing my mind and hurting him, I was afraid of being rejected and hurt, I was afraid of...everything. And all this time I can't say a word. Needless to say, it worked out. The month after Africa was spent getting to know each other (and falling in love more and more as we did). We spoke constantly and thought the summer would never end soon enough. In that month, we only saw each other twice, and the second time was to break up...which leads to...

Month 3:
Month three was the hardest, worst, best and most amazing month of my life in a very long time, maybe ever. For reasons that had nothing to do with us as a couple, and reasons we had no knowledge of at the time, God told Jared to break up with me. Put bluntly, it sucked. I went through all the stages of grief in about an hour (after 2 days of denial) and then just resolved myself to the fact that it wouldn't get any better until I turned to God. So being the brat that I am, I stomped to my Bible, yelling at God the whole time about how "I do NOT want to read my Bible and this all sucks and I don't understand why, but FINE God...I'm reading my Bible..happy?" And yes..he was. He quickly allowed me to know that He had a purpose in this, and it was bigger than me and Jared. He showed me that the point was Him. I needed to be closer to Him. He wasn't going to allow me to be happy without Him. I later was given a quote (curtesy of my favorite person, Hannah) that said:
"God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't...He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize that fact was to knock it down."
And that is exactly what God did this summer. He showed me just how weak my foundation was. He showed me how alone I am without Him. He took away the things I depended on for happiness and comfort, and all that was left was Him, and I realized He was all that mattered. Oh, how He loves me. And no, I didn't realize this overnight. And even after I realized it, I had no clue how to put it into practice. I was distraught. I knew that the answer to ALL life's problems was to love God, and I wanted to love God, and I did love God, but I wasn't IN LOVE with God, and I didn't know how to change that. I cried and I panicked and I beat myself up, over and over and over. But in the end, there was peace. A peace that absolutely transcends all understanding. Nothing made anymore sense and nothing was any better, but it didn't matter. My focus was God, and that made all the difference. I started seeing God in every little thing, and I started seeing every conversation I had, every word I spoke, every single thing I did, as an opportunity to serve God and to bring glory to Him. I started seeking Him daily, even hourly, and He blessed that. Daily, even hourly, He gave me reasons to praise Him and He left me in awe of His love and His careful, detailed, precise, and complex timing and planning. I found myself craving the Bible. It stopped being a big boring book and became the LIVING Word of God. I began praying on my knees because I realized that God deserved that honor and respect. My heart swelled with love and admiration for my loving, gracious Father God. I saw how insignificant I was, and that I truly am here to serve God's purposes. Whether I ended up with Jared or not began to seem trivial. (It never felt trivial, mind you, and I always hoped.) We had to truly accept the possibility that we may never be together. We had to surrender. And it was very very hard. Seemingly impossible, but I trusted God. I knew that my light and momentary troubles were of no consequence, even when they felt like the biggest thing in the world. I knew God had BIG plans for me and in the end all of this would be a memory. Of course, none of these feeling were EVERY day. I am human, through and through. Some days I still don't want to read my Bible, and far too often my priorities get skewed and God gets neglected. The main thing I've learned this summer is to live day by day, one day at a time, walking with God. Seeking Him CONSTANTLY and praising Him just as often. I realize that sounds like "Sunday School advice", but it's true and God will reveal that to you in His time. This is the motto Jared and I have taken to heart and try earnestly to live by: one day at a time. And one day at a time has led us back together, and because of all we've been through together, and because we were the only two people on the planet who could understand what we were going through, we are all the more close because of it. God is beautiful like that. He loves us. He blesses us. He wants to make us smile. He places (and removes) people from our lives to grow us. Take for instance, Hannah. She was such a blessing this summer. Not only was she consistently there with unwavering advice and words straight from God, she was dealing with something completely different but somehow exactly the same. God gave us each other, and because of that I grew closer to Him. Because God gave me Jared, I am closer to God. Because God took Jared away, I am closer to God. Everything God does draws me closer to Him. He has an infinite number of "tricks" up His sleeve, and all of them, every last one, is to draw me to Him, so that in turn I can hear Him and trust Him and fulfill His divine and eternal purposes. I am absolutely in awe at how precise God is. How carefully orchestrated every event (or series of events) is. From a year ago to today, God has carefully orchestrated the people in my life, the events in my life. He convicted me in February and I prayed for Him to break me for dependence, and I quickly forgot but He did not, and He was faithful to answer my prayer...6 months later. I prayed at the beginning of month two that if Jared every become a hindrance to my relationship with God, that God would show me and give me the strength to do something about it, and I forgot, but God did not. He didn't give me the strength, but He gave it to Jared. In every little way, God is SO SO SO good to me.

I told you this would be a long blog. And still, it's only the cliffsnotes. I could never accurately describe all that has happened to and in me this summer. I am so excited about what God has planned for this next year. At this moment, today, I feel very certain that Jared will be a huge part of my life this year (and, God willing, many more). I'm excited to serve God in my daily life, and in my time with Jared. I'm excited to be back in XA and to meet the freshman and to worship and to serve and to study and to speak and to eat and to breathe for God's glory. :)