Destiny

Jesus displayed perfect love, yet it wasn’t by focusing on those around him, but by focusing on the Father and doing only what he saw his Father doing.

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Not only am I a millennial myself, but I am currently researching young adults for my thesis, and I keep coming across something that I believe resonates with many people: a search for their destiny. Millennials tend to be more outspoken about this search than previous generations claim to have been (I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak to that 😉) but I think it’s something every heart desires. As a Christian, I have often wondered what a godly understanding of destiny is, or if God even cares about such things.

This morning I had to apologize to a friend because as I have been wrestling with this, I felt like what I told her several weeks ago was wrong. I had told her that I thought walking in our gifts and abilities was a response of worship to God’s love. I’m no longer sure that’s true. Hear me, I absolutely think that we should be living for other people, that when we are healthy our focus will be on others and not on ourselves, but that isn’t worship. Worship only happens when we focus on God and who God is. I realized that I was once again falling into the trap of striving, of a works based faith. I thought it was okay because it was joyfully done out of the joy and love I had received from God. The bottom line, though, is that I was taking what God had given me and then taking my eyes off of him in order to give it to others. Giving God’s love to others is a good thing, right? Yes, but only when we do so without taking our eyes off of God. Jesus displayed perfect love, yet it wasn’t by focusing on those around him, but by focusing on the Father and doing only what he saw his Father doing.

So what does this have to do with our destiny? First, I think that our understanding of destiny will always be diseased as long as it’s focus is on others, and even more so if the focus is on ourselves. Our destiny is found in God alone, and it is only out of the overflow of that that our mission comes—a person’s mission is the shape of how the overflow of our focus on God will impact those around us. The classic confession from the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” As I have been praying and reflecting over the past few months (and have been reading the Passion Translation of the Bible) I came to this, which is basically a rephrasing of the catechism above:

Our destiny is the extravagance that overflows from being the lovesick beloved of God.

Never Give Up: what I have learned about God’s goodness through my walk with depression

The goodness of God, the kingdom of God, is more expansive than anyone can possibly exhaust in a lifetime, and I believe we were created to continually live into greater measures of God’s goodness than we have yet experienced.

I fully believe that God wants every person saved, healed, and delivered. I also believe that the power of the one who raised Christ from the dead is in every child of God and is willing and able to to do just that. In recent weeks I have experienced the reality of that in ways beyond what I was capable to even dream of. There is so much I want to share, and I’m sure I’ll share more in the future, but today I want to focus on one piece: never ceasing to explore the goodness of God and what that looks like on a personal level.

I’m going to start at the end by first describing the breakthrough of God’s goodness that I have recently experienced before I talk about how my choice to never cease to explore God’s goodness helped me get to where I am now. I have lived my life with depression. Almost certainly caused at least in part by genetics, I do not remember a time before depression. Recently, my depression deepened again. Severely. After a bad experience in the past, I have always been nervous to try antidepressants again, but I knew that I needed to do something, so I gave it another try. And, wow, my life is forever changed! Judging by the impact even in these first few weeks (and they take about a month to fully have their effect) I am more sure than ever that I have never NOT been depressed before now. The severity has changed from season to season, but some level of shadow has always been there. Now I am in a continual state of awe and giving thanks to God for the change that I have experienced; and I believe this is just the beginning! God is truly so, so good!!

Bonus mini-post on medication and healing: Do I believe that God heals miraculously? Yes. I also believe that God who created everything that has been created is the source of of all breakthroughs, including medication. I do believe there will be a day that I am free from depression while not on antidepressants, and God still gets the glory for the miracle I am living in right now. One does not negate the other. There is so much more I could say on this, but this post is already long enough, so it will have to wait for another post!

My good friend Stephanie describes the relationship between depression and joy well in her blog post about her experience with depression. I had already started working on this post and had no idea she was also writing a post about depression, and her post is an amazing, hope-filled, practical engagement with how to walk through depression, so if you haven’t already, take a break from this post and go read what she has to say! Seriously. Here’s the link: http://www.pastorstephanie.com/blog/how-i-survived-seasonal-depression

Stephanie mentions in her post coming across a sign that says “choose joy” and the anger that rose up in her at it in the midst of her depression. Man, did that story hit me hard. Until this month, I could no more choose to feel joy than I could choose to grow wings and fly, as much as I would love to do both! That’s not to say that I never felt joy; I did. However, during the days, weeks, seasons, and years when I felt imursed in darkness, I did not have the ability that, with the help of antidepressants, I am now discovering of being able to turn my mood. So I could not choose to feel joy; but I could choose to practice joy. Stephanie talks about this beautifully in her post. Doing activities that have brought joy in the past. Celebrating with friends even when I may be feeling nothing. Acting out joy not as a mask to hide the truth, but as a prophetic statement that declared joy is more real than how I currently feel.

Yet for me, having never felt 100% free of the shadow of depression, there were times when I was at some level practicing something I had never fully experienced. That is not to say “woe is me,” because I believe that this is the very nature of the kingdom of God. This is what I mean when I say that we must never cease to explore the goodness of God. I was aware that more joy existed than I had experienced, so I continued to feed that awareness as I lived out of the conviction that that joy was possible for me even before I felt it. The goodness of God, the kingdom of God, is more expansive than anyone can possibly exhaust in a lifetime, and I believe we were created to continually live into greater measures of God’s goodness than we have yet experienced.

One of the main turning points in my journey was a miraculous encounter I had with God that first awakened in me the awareness that something more was available. It’s been almost 11 years now, and I don’t think I’m really any closer to being able to describe what happened that day, but one piece of it is that God planted in my heart and mind a seed – just enough of a revelation to know that more and better was available than the life I was experiencing. And oh, how my mind fell short of of imagining the full reality of what God had for me. Yet it was enough to create a hunger in me.

2 Corinthians 2:14-15 says “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (NASB). When God encountered me that day, I caught the sent of the fragrance of the goodness of God, and it has ruined me. The goodness of God is so sweet that every other thing on earth is a stench compared to it. That’s not to say that everything else is bad; but anything that is good (vocation, family, etc.) can exist either within or without of the fragrance of God. That may be confusing, but I will have to unpack it in a later post. For now, the point is that that encounter started me on a lifelong pursuit of the fragrance I got a hint of that day. It is the fragrance that we encounter when we are around those who are walking with Christ as they allow him to transform their lives.

I wish I could say that my efforts to continue to explore and step into greater levels of joy than I had experienced was a result of intention and wisdom, but that’s not the reality. The reality is actually better than that. The reality is that time after time, just as he did almost 11 years ago, by grace God gave me a taste of what was available. When I responded with hunger, I was able to step into new levels of joy that had previously been unavailable. When I was unwilling to risk my comfort in what was familiar, I stayed were I was or even retreated back farther into my comfort and away from the joy that was available to me. Yet God’s grace and goodness always is there, and always gives me another chance. One month ago, I did not know that the joy, peace, and freedom that I’m currently experiencing existed, yet out of faith that something better was possible, I risked the medication that scared me. I had talked with multiple counselors about antidepressants and the possibilities, I had witnessed the joy of friends around me that encouraged me that perhaps there is still more available than what I had yet found, but I still needed to take the leap of faith. There always comes a moment when all that remains is a leap of faith. Over and over again throughout the past 11 years I have been faced with the choice of whether or not to leap. Sometimes I retreated. Sometimes I leaped and failed. Not every effort has succeeded. But those times that I leaped and landed make all the rest worth it.

There is a song by Bethel Music called Getting There that starts with the lines “Further seems forever, Until you’ve seen, until you get there, Until you feel a promise land beneath your feet.” For so many years I felt stuck in the ‘further feels forever,’ wondering when the promise would land beneath my feet so I could finally stand. What I’m beginning to understand is that what I am made for, what my soul really desires, is not to find a past promise that I can can simply stand on, but rather to allow each promise to become a stepping stone that begins to form a path that leads me ever deeper into the goodness of God. The most extreme, most extravagant, most miraculous picture I was capable of imagining 11 years ago is black as night compared to where God has already brought me, and I believe the journey is even now just beginning. There are so many times that I could have stopped, that I could have said “this is more than I could have ever imagined; I will stop and live here.” And it would have been good. But oh, how much I would have missed out on. There are many ways that I took steps forward in my journey. Sometimes it was through learning. Sometimes it was through serving. Sometimes it was through receiving love from others. But the important thing is that I chose, time and time again, to believe that God’s goodness is still greater yet than what I have experienced, and to never stop reaching my foot out in faith until I can find that next stepping stone, that next promise fulfilled to bring me a little deeper.

I heard a worship song recently that unfortunately seems to be an original song from the church I was visiting and not publicly available. Even so, I want to end this post with (as close as I can remember them) a couple of lines from the chorus of the song:

Just when I think it doesn’t get better than this,
You sweep right in with a fresh new wind.
Just when I think your goodness is at an end,
Your love pours in, and you fill my heart again.

There is more available. There is more of God’s goodness than you have experienced. God’s promises are true. Miracles are available. The goodness you hope for, that thing you are praying for, is not a mirage that leads to disappointment, it is a taste that God longs to surpass if you allow it to feed your hunger for his goodness.

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/225045/

What’s in a name?

We fight to find significance in our names, to find heritage in our family name and purpose in our given name. What would happen if we let God speak to us about what he says our name is?

Who remembers the writing assignment in elementary school where you had to ask your parents why they named you what they did, and what your name means? Or how many of you have spent hours on ancestry.com trying to find that great-great-great-great-grandparent that isn’t connected yet?

I spent a semester researching a portion of my maternal grandpa’s extended family after finding out they had been ordained Church of God ministers–and discovering this only after I had begun the process to be ordained in the Church of God, which I didn’t think I had any ties to at the time! I dug through old Church of God yearbooks, tracking their moves, and I read hundreds of articles from the Gospel Trumpet reading prayer requests from them, as well as full articles written by them describing their lives, their ministries, and the ways they were seeing God move. While I got to count it as a paper for a class in my seminary education, it was fascinating in its own right just to understand a little bit more of my heritage.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

So the well-known quote goes. So why do we fight so hard to find significance in our names? To find heritage in our family name and purpose in our given name? I know I’m not the only one who has spent countless hours googling the root, history, and meaning of my given name! My name means “ewe” by the way–a female sheep. I’ve read the story of Rachel and Jacob dozens of times. Yet I keep going back.

And I am finding more. These past few weeks, God has been speaking to me about what my name means–not just my name in general, but my name as it specifically relates to me, how he sees me, and who he created me to be. And it matters. Knowing how God sees me changes how I live. It changes what I care about and what I pursue.

We long for significance. We have a deep need to be given a name that means something. We make memes that say

“How cool is it that the same God, who created mountains, & oceans, & galaxies, looked at you & thought the world needed one of you too?”

and we wonder and we hope that it is true. Too often we compromise and settle for a name that already exists. We take on the name of our occupation, of our social group, of our status. But here is the awe-inspiring truth: God named you. He named you with a purpose. He named you from a place of deep intimacy, of having carefully crafted every part of who you are. Though he knows the number of hairs on your head, he does not think of you as a number, as just one more human among all the other humans. He is the God of unending creativity, and he created you to bring something only you can bring to this world, if you will let him be the one to name you. And here is the best part: he is dancing, giddy, excitedly waiting for the chance to tell you, to take you deeper into who he created you to be, and it is the journey of a lifetime.

Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Embodied Living Hope

I sing of perfect love, who breathes dreams to the soul

This is a poem/song that I wrote primarily during vacation in North Carolina last summer. It was born out of a time of reflection, taking time to sit in silence, listening to what God was saying to me in that moment as well as attempting to summarize and articulate some of what God had been teaching in past months and years. These words continue to speak deeply to my heart of some of God’s truths and promises, and I hope you hear God’s passionate love as you read.

Embodied Living Hope

Oh hear, you weary ones
Come rest, you battle-worn
I sing of perfect love
Who breathes dreams to the soul

We bring our joys, our scars
They story His faithfulness
We long with yearning hope
To be made like our Lord

As I walk through the flame
Of God’s faithful acts I will sing

I play in the presence of almighty God
For I’m known by the scarred, exalted Son
Filled with Spirit of resurrection power,
I am embodied living hope

I gaze into his eyes
Eyes filled with passionate love
I feel joy rising up
As I’m named: Child of God

As I walk through the flame
Of God’s faithful acts I will sing

I play in the presence of almighty God
For I’m known by the scarred, exalted Son
Filled with Spirit of resurrection power,
I am embodied living hope

I’m clothed in his glory
In the power of his name
No darkness can hold me
No chain can remain

I’m clothed in his glory
In the power of his name
No darkness can hold me
No chain can remain

I play in the presence of almighty God
For I’m known by the scarred, exalted Son
Filled with Spirit of resurrection power,
I am embodied living hope

Clotheslined by Life

The weekend was more dramatic than I had expected or preferred. Saturday I was on a mountaintop; I could feel I was crossing that ever-so-difficult threshold of getting into a self-sustaining cycle of eating healthy and exercising regularly, and I spent most of the day relaxing, journalling, and praying, and God provided a major emotional/spiritual breakthrough. It was a mountaintop of mountaintops. Everything seemed to be on an upward trajectory.

Saturday night I had a stomach ache, so I took some meds and went to bed. Sunday morning I woke up early from worsening pain that was reaching the top of the pain scale, and it quickly became clear the pain was not about to go away on it’s own. I spent the next 28 hours in the hospital as they ran tests and pumped me full of morphine. Worried about my appendix, I was tentatively scheduled to have my appendix removed in the morning following a night of observation.

By morning, the pain was nearly gone and getting better by the hour, so surgery was canceled, I was allowed to eat again after about 36 hours of medical fasting, and by 10am I was headed home with no pain, but also no diagnosis and more questions than answers. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled I did not need surgery. I already have multiple systems of the body with chronic issues, some diagnosed, some not, that could potentially require surgery, and I don’t need to add an appendectomy to that list.

The main question I wrestle with as I sit on my porch, enjoying an unplanned day off, drinking Gatorade and eating soup and pudding as my body continues to heal from whatever happened, is “how do I make sense of these seemingly disparate parts of my life?” I believe God has given me a personal promise that I will not need surgery of any kind; that through whatever means my health will be maintained or healed such that surgery is not needed for my Endometriosis, my undiagnosed, chronic GI symptoms, nor anything else that may come up, such as an appendectomy.

It is tempting to give into fear, to give into the lie (and it is a bold-faced lie) that when anything good happens, something bad is just around the corner. This isn’t a new lie for me, and this weekend could easily be explained by that life perspective. So how do I hold onto both the promises of God, and the fact that this was my second trip to the ER in a month? What does faith look like when I get clotheslined by life, walking along fine one minute, then flat on my back the next?

Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” and again in Romans 8:24-25, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Faith says “I can believe in the truth and power of God’s promises, even in the midsts of circumstances that the world sees as contradictory.” Faith says that I will choose to write the story of my weekend in way that holds to the truth of the promises of God while still acknowledging the facts.

So I will begin again, and share the story of my weekend:

This past weekend was a testament of God’s faithfulness. Saturday I was on a mountaintop; I could feel I was crossing that ever-so-difficult threshold of getting into a self-sustaining cycle of eating healthy and exercising regularly, and I spent most of the day relaxing, journalling, and praying, and God provided a major emotional/spiritual breakthrough. It was a mountaintop of mountaintops. Everything seemed to be on an upward trajectory.

Sunday, my weekend took a sudden turn when I needed to go to the ED due to severe abdominal pain. Throughout the day, from the moment I left home for the hospital, I was loved, supported and prayed for, both in person and through texts. As I leaned into the breakthroughs from the day before and shared my need with more people and more clearly than I ever have in the past, I was wrapped in not just the Father’s love, but the tangible support of my friends and family.

By evening, there were still no answers and I was being admitted for observation overnight with a possible appendectomy in the morning. I don’t tend to share much on social media, however when it became clear this was potentially more serious than most of my visits to the ED in the past (which have typically resolved so that I could go home after 4-6 hours) I shared my need on facebook. A multitude of love, support, and prayers began pouring in, with many people offering to help in any and every way I could possibly need.

By faith, I don’t see it as an accident that it was around that time that my pain began to decrease. By the time I had been transferred upstairs to a room in the surgery unit, I was turning down the nurse’s offer for pain medication. I slept through the night, and by morning my pain was mostly gone and still improving by the hour. Surgery was canceled. God’s promise to me stood tall this morning–in the face of no answers and pain that had done nothing but increase for almost 24 hours, my pain was gone and, as God promised, I did not need surgery.

It’s hard to not have answers. My endometriosis is still there (that was confirmed yesterday amid the testing) and my doctor remains at a loss of how to proceed. I have no diagnosis for my chronic GI trouble, though the symptoms appear at least partly improved over the past few months. Medically, surgery in the coming year is still a likely option. However, I will choose to stand on God’s faithfulness; I will choose to believe that what this weekend shows is that God kept his promise and healed me so that I would not need surgery.

God is faithful. God is good and only good. This is the truth that I choose to live by. When I am clotheslined by life and suddenly find myself on the ground, wondering what hit me, I pray that I will have the courage to continue to retell my story until it agrees with who God is, to believe that God only moves us from glory to glory. To rest in the goodness of God that is more true than any circumstance.

Generosity and Grace

I’ve been learning a lot lately about allowing myself grace. I have, for a number of reasons, chosen to take this summer to slow down. I’m being more strict with myself about taking a full day off every week, and am trying to figure out, as a workaholic, how to do this “rest” thing. Similarly, as much as I hate the term “people-pleaser,” I draw way too much of my perceived self-worth from being helpful and useful. I’m learning how unhealthy these tendencies are, and I believe it all comes back to worship and love.

When asked about what the top commandment is, Jesus gave two: love God and love others. However, I think I at least have a tendency to separate them too much. The second is an outflowing of the first. When a couple is in love, they are always learning more about each other. Similarly, as we love God, we grow in our understanding of who God is; it is by knowing and trusting in who God is that we are able to act in love towards others. A part of that trusting God, though, is trusting what he says is true about us. That’s the part I struggle the most with.

God is love, and it is through learning more about Love that we know what it looks like to truly and purely love another.

I’ve heard it argued that in order to “love others as ourselves,” we must learn to love ourselves. While it is true that it is only through healthy self-respect and boundaries we can love others (BrenĂ© Brown has some great resources on this), healthy self-respect doesn’t come because I focus on myself. We are healthy when we believe what God says about us. Though I may decide that I want to work harder all the time, God says I am made to have a sabbath. I have to decide to trust what God says over my own voice. It comes down to worshiping God, not myself, and trusting that God is good.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (NIV, Matthew 7:11-12)

I don’t always know what is best for my life. Like a child, I have to trust that my Father knows what is best for me and will give me good gifts. I love these two verses; Jesus goes straight from saying to trust God’s goodness to the “golden rule,” the second of the two most important commandments. I’ve been struggling with trusting in the goodness of God regarding myself and my future; perhaps for others the struggle is in a different area of trust. However, I believe it is only by trusting that God is a perfect father who gives good gifts that I will ever really love those around me.

What do you think? Do you struggle to trust that God is good? How have you found your view of God to affect how you love others? I’d love to hear from you!

From Worry to Wonder

What if we worry because we are asking the wrong question?

Worry loves to drag us down, convince us that we are drowning. Many things can be said about worry and its varied causes and symptoms. I think we try to make worry more complicated than it really is, often sadly (at least for me) in an attempt to excuse and rationalize our worry. However, choosing faith and trust over worry is far from easy, and perhaps those topics that are simplest yet hardest require the most unpacking.

One area where I struggle with worry is planning for my future. I (like most) had a dream when I graduated college. For me, it was to get a steady, good paying job, to make a home, and to spend free time and vacations learning and traveling. For a few years, it seemed like I was doing a great job of making my dream come true. Then life took a sharp turn that caused me to change my plans and reevaluate my priorities.

I question what I’m doing with my life. I crave some assurance my life is making a difference, that it matters.

All around me, the world asks, “What are you doing to get ahead? What is your 5-year plan, and what is your 10-step plan to get there?” Now hear me, I fully believe in actively working towards goals; I just think life progresses more slowly, more gradually than our pristine 10-step plan allows for. Personally I think that’s God grace towards us. I also think the path is messy and indirect, and that’s what’s so scary. However maybe that’s also God’s grace to us. Jesus instructs us saying,

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

We are supposed to not worry about our needs, but rather seek God’s kingdom and righteousness trusting God’s goodness for meeting our needs. The problem is, I’m not sure we understand or too often forget what God’s kingdom is and what it means to seek it. See, I believe we each have a purpose; a unique way we impact the world in a way no one else can. But what if seeking God’s kingdom has less to do with what we do, even with impacting the world for God, than exploring who God is and who God created me to be?

Impact is the byproduct of seeking God’s kingdom, not the method.

Worry, then, asks the wrong question. I worry when I ask “Will I get to the place I picture myself being in 5 years?” When we seek God’s kingdom we ask “How do the hopes and dreams you are giving me reveal who you are, God, and who you have created me to be?” That is a question I am willing to spend the rest of my life wondering and dreaming about.

What do you think? Does this resonate with your life and areas where you worry? Do you agree or disagree with my definition of seeking God’s kingdom? I would love to hear from you!

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bossco/4419787203  used under Creative Commons.