Friday, January 16, 2015

I Will Surrender My Dearest

A week and two days ago one of my best friends left for his 6-month journey to Thailand.

I remember dropping him off at the airport. Another friend of his and I walked into the drop-off entrance, and there, with a backdrop of airline check-in lines and baggage security check points, he said his last goodbye with a hug and a smile to each of us. Then he walked off, two suitcases in his hands and two friends in the distance.

It didn’t hit me at that moment that he would be gone for 6 months. Six months is a really long time. Six months ago I was in Thailand teaching English and writing about the center I was volunteering with. A month later I arrived back in Minnesota, and during the next five months I fulfilled another semester at North Central University.

But now everything’s changing. One of my best friends is gone. I have a new roommate. I might get a new job.

I’m losing control of my world and I don’t know how to cope. I’m sad. I’m upset. I’m confused. I’m frightened.

And here I am, crying on my couch because I’m messaging my best friend in Thailand. My phone buzzes and he sends me a message telling me about his first experience in a 7/11 convenience store. My mind flashes back 6 months ago, and there I am in a 7/11 purchasing an Oishi green tea with honey and lemon flavor because that’s what my friend and I used to do every day before we went to school to teach. It’s just a tiny detail in a summer full of memories, but it’s enough to ignite the messy emotions inside of me that I’ve bottled up for five months.

The tears start falling from my face, my eyes get puffy, and I start sniffling.

I miss my best friend already.

Yet it’s not just him I miss. It’s Thailand. He’s in the country I hold close in my heart, the country whose people I adore and whose stories I want to expose.

The Thai people are fascinating. They are amiable and kind, always willing to help a foreigner out. They are devout, strongly grounded in their Buddhist beliefs. But they are also mysterious. They sometimes cover the truth to “save face” and sometimes you never know the ugly feelings behind the smile painted on their round faces.

I think about the man at the market who helped me purchase ingredients for Pad Thai. I think about the woman at the gas station who used to fill my motorbike tank every three days for 100 Baht. I think about Mr. Yo, the taxi driver who used to drive me home from the city.

But most of all, I think about the kids at the center I taught English at. I see their beautiful smiles in my head, and I remember all the moments we spent laughing and enjoying our time together.

We used to play Chinese jump rope, badminton, and Domino’s every day after school. On weekends, we would play Capture the Flag and paint pictures with watercolors. It was a joy playing with those kids, because I learned what childlike faith is.

These are some of the girls that I taught English to in Thailand this summer. They are all so sweet, bursting with joy, energy and curiosity to learn. I love them and miss them dearly!

Childlike faith is simply living in the moment, taking one minute at a time, and extracting the fullness out of it.

Sometimes it’s running around with a beach ball in your hands chasing your friends, like little 6-year-old Fa did with her friends after school at the center. Sometimes it’s distributing meals to refugees who walked two hours to reach the building you are at. And sometimes it’s praying for a city of darkness in a one-room church two blocks away from a street full of bars where girls in tight clothing stand waiting to have sex so they can get money for their pimps.

Faith is finding joy, giving hope, crying out for mercy, mourning over brokenness, going on an adventure, and anything in-between. It’s not defined and it’s not planned. It’s just trusting in God and obeying him in every moment.

Even if it goes against what your heart most desires.

But why would you yield your heart to a God whose plans are different from your own? Why would you give up what’s most dear to you for the sake of obedience?

Because God gave up his dearest possession – His only Son – to save a world of sinners, including me. That’s the only reason I have to pursue God’s plans before my own, but it’s enough. And that's why I can surrender my dearest - Thailand - so God's plan's can be fulfilled.

As much as my heart yearns to go back to Thailand, I must accept God’s plan for me here in Minneapolis now.

Like Abraham sacrificing Isaac on the altar, I must sacrifice my desire to return to go back to Thailand. It’s a difficult sacrifice, and I don’t know if God will give it back to me just like He gave Isaac back to Abraham.

Either way, it is worth it. Because God is worthy. And knowing Him is the thing my heart yearns for the most, when all my other desires vanquish.

Mike Yaconelli said, “The issue of faith is seeking God’s presence, not God’s plan for my life, because there is no plan outside of my knowing Him.”

Faith tells me that it’s okay to be here. God has a purpose for me in Minneapolis during this season, even though I am not quite aware of it yet.

I can serve God in Minneapolis just as effectively as in Thailand, although the latter seems so much more extraordinary. Yet, Thailand really is no more extraordinary than Minneapolis. Every place on this earth is temporary.

I’m trying to learn that although Thailand arouses my heart more, I don’t need to be overseas to fulfill God’s call of missions on my life. He has called me here and now, to the mundane and ordinary lifestyle of an average American college student. I’m taking a class on community development, beginning my senior project, and working at a coffee shop. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s what God has called me to do.

And that’s what makes the ordinary more extraordinary than anything else. Our hearts can tempt us, but when we yield them to God, the best always comes because “to the faithful He shows Himself faithful” (Psalm 18:25).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Afraid Of Feeling Beautiful

The other day, one of my best friends tagged me in a post on Facebook. The post was one of those silly trending threads, and it asked you to post five pictures of yourself that made you feel beautiful.

Normally, I would ignore a post like this. I'm not a fan of pass-it-along Facebook posts. They either make you feel guilty for not posting, or they're just completely ridiculous.

But this one triggered something meaningful within me, a feeling I couldn't quite figure out. I was afraid and curious and without words all at once.

To put it simply, I didn't know what it meant to feel beautiful. In fact, I've always been intimidated of the topic of beauty and I never felt comfortable enough to navigate its waters.

I always knew beauty went beyond outer appearance -- what the media loves to advertise beauty as -- but I also didn't want the cliche Christian answer that "inner beauty is the only kind of beauty that matters." I'm not a middle schooler in youth group anymore.

I thirsted for a genuine answer to the definition of beauty, so, being the avid blog reader that I am, I started hunting for Christian articles that discussed the topic of beauty.

I came across a blog that struck me on one of my favorite Christian women websites, The Good Women Project. The last few sentences caught me off-guard.
"It's hard to accept the fact that our point of view is not the only one that matters: there are people who love us and find us beautiful even when we cannot see our own beauty. We are too afraid to acknowledge that we are worthy of being loved, and beautiful because of that."
Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on. Does the issue of beauty stem from a deeper issue? According to this blog, yes. It's saying that we won't feel beautiful if we don't feel worthy of love.

That brought me back to the beginning of this summer, when I was watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower on an airplane from Los Angeles to Taiwan.
"We only accept the love we think we deserve."
That quote stuck with me the entire summer, and blossomed when a friend and I started discussing value and worth one day over coffee.

The root issue that I was facing was that I did not feel worthy of love. To give you some background, let me share some of my history with you. My father and mother divorced when I was 10-years-old, and because I lived with mother during my teenage years, I didn't have a father figure in my life to show love to me consistently. Because of this, I sought out love from guys -- in fact, any guy who showed interest in me. I didn't want to admit it, but I was hungry for what I thought was love at the time.

It wasn't until this summer when I realized that all these years I had been looking to fill a void in my heart with love that was less than perfect. Yes, I loved Jesus, but his love never took the first place in my heart. It was never enough. I always needed to quench my thirst for love from something or someone else.

When my friend helped me recognize that I was settling for love that was less than I deserved, I was speechless. She told me that because Christ is worthy and because he lives within me, that means I am worthy. Nothing I do makes me worthy but him. I am made in his image, and therefore I am worthy of the greatest love in the world. Now that's what you call a love story.

Since then, I've been reminding myself daily that I am worthy of love. I am worthy of Christ's love and I am even worthy of love from a man who loves the Lord with his whole heart. I won't settle for any less anymore.

Yet, here I am, still fearful of feeling beautiful.

So, I decided to do something. I decided that for the next 30 days, I will take self-portraits of myself expressing myself in my beauty. I don't do this in vain or to gain anyone's approval. Instead, I hope to boost my confidence in my own beauty and see my beauty more clearly.

Because that's what I think beauty is: confidence of who one is -- in both appearance and character.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Shining Isn't So Beautiful After All

The Lord has been speaking to me a lot about SHINING lately.

Today I was reading in Romans 13 and came across this verse: "Put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light."

Whoa. Armor of light. That brought my mind racing all the way back to Ephesians 6:10-18, the passage that talks about the armor of God. These two pieces of equipment are one in the same. The armor of God includes the weapons God has given us to fight the enemy: the Word of God, prayer, faith, salvation, righteousness, and peace. Only by equipping ourselves with every piece of the armor -- without one piece missing -- can we fight the spiritual battle that we are in.

The passage in Romans 13 shed new light (Haha, see what I did there?) on my understanding of the armor of God. By using the prepositional phrase "of light," after "armor," Paul is tying back to what he proclaimed in one of his letters.

"...Become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..." (Philippians 2:15-16)

Basically, Paul is commending us to shine like stars as Christians. We are to stand out among the darkness in our world, and we do this by proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. As Christians, we are called into relationship with God and community with other Christians in order to go out and tell the world about Jesus' saving working on the cross.

But how does one go about this? How does one truly shine the light of Christ, and not of self?

Last week I was browsing Facebook when one of my mentors posted this quote. I don't know who it's from or where she got it, but it struck something within me.

"Shining is always costly. Light comes only at the cost of that which produces it. An unlit candle does no shining. Burning must come before shining. We cannot be of great use to others without cost to ourselves."

I don't know if this is a Christian quote or just a philanthropic quote, but either way, it provides an answer to my question.

Shining cannot occur without burning. And burning hurts.

What does burning entail? Paul gives the answer coincidentally -- or maybe not -- just before he talks about shining like stars. A few verse earlier, we read...

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing,
taking on the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death --
even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8)

That is death. That is burning. That is what Christ our Savior did on the cross for us, and we are called to do the same.

That brings me to another quote (Sorry, the Lord just speaks to me through quotes a lot! Haha.): "Jesus did not die on the cross just to save us from our sins; He died on the cross to teach us how to die on our own cross!"

WOW. That's powerful. No, we cannot forget that Jesus saved us from our sins on the cross. That itself is salvation -- the act of trust and surrendering to God that gives us eternal life. But there was more to Jesus' act than that!

Jesus taught you and me how to die on our own cross by his own act on the cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (above) perfectly correlates with this.

So the call to shining, the call to proclaiming the Gospel among all nations, first involves dying on our own cross. And what does dying on our cross entail?

Surrendering our rights.
Seeing ourself as "dirty, little objects" as C.S. Lewis puts it.
Wasting our life at the feet of Jesus all for His glory.

There is a difference between Christianity without a cross and Christianity with a cross. At an event called "Secret Church" put on by an external ministry organization called IMPACT at my school a little over a year ago, the speaker spoke about just this.

He said that Christianity WITHOUT a cross is comfortable with role-based Christianity. Christians who identify with this type of Christianity do not do anything; they stay put and just go through the motions of church and spiritual disciplines with no real growth.

On the other hand, Christianity WITH a cross consumes, hurts and costs. Christians who identify with this type of Christianity are ablaze for the Lord; they deny their desires and only have their eyes fixed on Jesus. They are not concerned with what the world thinks; they are only concerned about what God thinks. Although they may face persecution, they press onwards towards Christ -- the goal.

What sounds better to you? For me, it's the latter. No, I'm not there yet and every day I must die to myself over and over again. Yes, there are days where I fail. There are days where my flesh wins and my spirit loses. But in the long run, I'm on the road to dying on my cross, because I know that the reward of following God is greater than any temporary reward won by my own strength.

And that's what Thailand is all about. Yes, it may look pretty on the outside, but really, this opportunity is going to be challenging. I'm going to be in a totally foreign location with nothing familiar -- not even the language. But I know this is where the Lord has called me to, so I will not disobey Him.

I would rather die on the battlefield serving my Lord by wearing the armor of light than die in the comfort of my own culture.

"The only call is the cross."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Before You Walk Into The Desert

Last weekend I participated in missionary training for my 3-month trip to Thailand this summer. For those of you who don't know, I will be a journalism intern with Venture Expeditions working to share the story of their work with the impoverished children at their HOSEA Center and the Karen refugees on the border of Burma.

I have been learning about Thailand for the past six months, mostly due to observing the culture at a Thai Christian church that I started attending to fulfill a service learning project one of my classes required last semester. Besides learning about the language, nonverbals, rituals and other aspects of the culture, I have been exposed to the reality of Buddhism.

One day my group partner and I visited a Buddhist temple and were able to question three Thai monks for an hour-and-half. It was the most surreal experiences I've had, and I was still in America. What would it be like when I was actually in Thailand?

I was starting to get answers to that question at the missionary training weekend. As the youngest person at the training, a 21-year-old college student who had never ventured outside of North America, my worldview was the least tapered with. The eight other individuals had been to Thailand for at least three months. I began soaking in all of their knowledge -- specifically that to do with Buddhism. The following are little nuggets of wisdom I gained.

If you want to know the power Buddhism has over Thailand, ask any Thai person and they will tell you this: "To be Thai is to be Buddhist; to be Buddhist is to be Thai." Right now, almost 94% of Thailand is Buddhist, according to the CIA World Factbook. Only 1% of the country is Christian.

Because of the power Buddhism has over the nation, there are strong spiritual forces of evil that roam the land. One of the ladies training me was sharing a story of her experience growing up in Thailand as a missionary kid. Every night her dad would anoint the doors of their home with oil and pray over them, but there were still nights where her and her siblings experienced nightmares. The woman who had previously owned the home would come back and speak enchantments into the bushes at night, unleashing dark spiritual forces that would frighten the children.

She also shared the story of a Buddhist woman her dad and two other missionaries were trying to drive a demon out of. The demon had such a strong possession of the woman, that it could physical move the missionaries away from the woman's body by force.

I'm not sharing these stories to scare you; I'm telling you these stories to expose you to the reality of the spiritual realm. We live in a world of both good and evil powers, from God and satan accordingly.

In America we tend to purposely ignore the spiritual realm. We water down spirituality to the point that the spiritual world and the physical world are completely separate in our culture. It's even to the point where spirituality has become almost invisible to society. This is uncommon in many other cultures, like the Thai culture I described above. Most cultures integrate religion into their work, family, relationships and other hobbies. In America we have freedom of religion, yet children are not allowed to pray in schools and church is viewed as a building instead of a lifestyle.

What if we were to live as the body of Christ as the early church did? Acts 2:42-47 provides a beautiful model for meshing the spiritual realm with the physical realm.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
What I love about this is that the early Christians met every day together to worship the Lord, and they shared their belongings with one another. They lived life in true COMMUNITY.

So what does this have to do with facing the evil  powers of the spiritual realm? Because the early Christians were daily soaking in the Word, praying, and affirming each other in their identity in Christ, they were able to go out and make disciples of every nation. Abiding translates into fruit. As John 15:5 puts it, “I (Christ) am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

I'm learning how to abide. In fact, I have been for almost an entire year now. One year ago now, the Lord taught me what community is. He brought in five people who would become my second family. Through sharing our testimonies and weaknesses with other, we were able to pray for each other and build each other up in Christ. Each of us overcame something great during this season, and I know we each wouldn't have been able to overcome it if it weren't for the community that was in place.

But now is a different season. I still have my second family, but we aren't as tight-knit as we once were.  School, jobs and other commitments have inched us slowly away from each other.

Honestly, it's been a difficult thing for me to grasp. I love each one of my second family members dearly, and spending time with them all together is my favorite thing in the world. The Lord taught me so much through them, and He still is.

But this time He's teaching me to let go. He's teaching me that I can't always depend on others to build my faith. Yes, community is vital, but there are seasons that come when we walk through deserts and we will need to know how to stand alone. Just like Jesus' 40-day stay in the desert where he encountered temptation from satan.

That's what Thailand is for me this summer. A desert. I will be jumping on a plane and flying over the ocean to a place I've never been before. Alone. Yes, I will have social media and email to communicate with others, but I won't have my second family, my church family, my other friends or my biological family there with me. I will be working with people I've never met before in a spiritual dark country. That is why the importance of ABIDING is so crucial to establish in my life now.

I think Ephesians 6:10-18 is the backbone for our faith as Christians, and includes the discipline of abiding. The famous passage lists the armor of God, including: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and prayer in the Spirit. It is through these weapons that the evil spiritual forces are destroyed.

This summer I will be on the front lines of a battle. The enemy will be ready to attack whenever He gets the chance. If I am not rooted in the Word and prayer, and if I don't put on my spiritual armor every morning when I wake up, then I will stumble and fall.

Because the truth is that the enemy knows our weak points. He knows exactly where to hit us, which is why it's so important to put on EVERY piece of spiritual armor (not just a select few). If we aren't prepared, then the enemy will have his way.

Let us learn how to abide now, in the place of abundance. Because when the desert comes, then we will know how to stand.


"Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Donating Blood Wasn't About Me

I wasn't planning on donating blood. The clock struck 3:10pm signaling the end of class, and I burst out the door to walk back to my apartment. The homework piled high, and I knew I needed to start right away in order to accomplish it by the end of the night.

As I turned the corner of the hall, my friend Nathan, who was sitting at a Red Cross blood donation registration table, yelled, "Rebekah!"

"Oh, hey, Nathan."

"Do you want to donate blood today?"

My face probably turned pale and my eyes widened. "No..." I hesitated, and I light-heartedly chuckled in hopes of leaving the donation registration table. But he continued. Ugh.

"Why not?"

"I'm afraid of needles."

Assuming that he would nod his head and let me get on with my day, I was stunned by his response. He went on to tell me why I shouldn't be afraid of a little prick in my skin, and that I would be saving lives by donating blood. I hated feeling guilt-tripped, but I kept listening.

I know, I know... went through my mind. I had heard it all before. But he kept pushing it. I swayed back-and-forth waiting for him for him to stop talking. He told me that by donating blood I would overcome one of my fears. A girl earlier in the day had done it, so why couldn't I? What was holding me back?

I had always WANTED to donate blood because I wanted to help save lives, but I was always afraid of the needle. I was afraid of becoming lightheaded and possibly passing out.

Then I realized something. My fears were pathetic. Was my comfort and safety more important than someone getting a blood transfusion that could potentially save his or her life? I couldn't let a little jab into my skin prevent me from giving life to someone else.

Others have suffered much worse for people's lives. Most prominently, Christ was whipped, speared and nailed to a cross to save billions of lives who would chose to follow Him. Isaiah 53:5 says, "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed."

I know, I went from the pain of one little scar on your finger to the Son of God being tortured on the cross. A dramatic jump. But isn't it in the little things too, the little sufferings, that we relate to Christ and show our love for Him? It's not just the "big" sufferings.

By suffering for 6 minutes atop a black leather medical recliner I gave life to save someone's life (and really, I hardly felt any pain during this time). No, I wasn't stoned on the streets like Stephen. And no, I wasn't hung on a cross like Jesus. But it's not the location or severity of pain that matters. It's the raw act of giving of oneself, no matter what the discomfort or loss is, to give life to others that matters. That's what living selflessly looks like.

But I'm afraid to give of myself. That thought floats through my head on a daily basis, as I'm sure it does in your mind as well. Many times our fears can conquer our minds to tell us that we can't do this or that because it will risk our comfort. Yes, we may have the deepest desire to do something, but our fear overrules our desire.

I want to give blood, but I'm afraid that I'll experience too much physical pain.

I want to help the homeless, but I'm afraid that I won't know what to say around them and that I'll feel out of place.

I want to share the Gospel with my co-workers, but I'm afraid that I'll be mocked or challenged in my faith.

Our flesh hates discomfort, so it avoids it at all means possible. We live lives of comfort, waking up every morning to stay in our personal bubble we've created. We know our routine and we aren't willing to leave it, because something could go wrong that would threaten our well-being.

But Christ doesn't call us to live comfortably. He calls us to take risks and go outside of our boundaries into the unknown, trusting Him that He will pave the way through the darkness. He calls us to suffer on behalf of Him and our brothers and sisters so that He may be glorified.

2 Corinthians 4:8-12 says, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."

Our suffering is but a mere reflection of what Jesus suffered on the cross. We suffer for Him so that the message of the cross would be spread. Who else is more worth suffering for?

And we rejoice in our sufferings!

Romans 5:3-5 says, "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

I came to this conclusion. Suffering for Christ is the mark of humility and embodies Christ-like love to the fullest extent. It denies the self and says, "I'm enduring this for something greater than myself -- for the glory of God." And it doesn't have to be profound. You don't have to sell all of your belongings and give the money to an organization that fights poverty. But you can suffer in the everyday moments to bring glory to God. You can give your lunch to the woman who stands on the street everyday during the lunch hour. You can spend your afternoon assisting your roommate with a project instead of using the time for yourself.

I know, my minuscule experience donating blood hardly attests to suffering for Christ. One jab into my arm was hardly anything in the scheme of suffering.

But it is a starting point. And I learned so much through it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Stop Living For Accomplishments

The past two weeks have been odd. Winter Break started, and I found myself bored with no homework to do, my best friends away, and less shifts at work. I fell into a pattern of sleeping in way longer than I'm used to, watching TV (which I never do), and avoiding the tasks on my to-do list. I felt lazy and disengaged. Who was I becoming?

I hardly ever slept in past 8:00 a.m. on days I didn't have work or school, because I didn't want to waste precious time to do homework. I never watched "Adventure Time," or any other TV show for that matter, because I didn't think it added value to life. And I never, ever ignored my responsibilities.

But I'm learning that it's okay to take time for myself. I'm learning that it's okay to rest and have fun, even if it's not productive or makes my day start later. I'm learning to stop living under the rulebook I've created to ensure my life is successful and valuable.

Before this realization, I always assumed that every minute of my time needed to be useful. If I didn't allot it well, I would cower in guilt imagining what I could have done during those precious moments of time that amounted to nothing in the end. I remember several Tuesday and Thursday mornings towards the end of the semester where I slept in until 10:00 a.m. and didn't wake up two hours earlier to read. I would criticize myself and let shame overcome me.

Also, I couldn't just sit and watch a movie, play video games for hours, browse pictures on Pinterest or lay down on the couch and nap. What were these activities accomplishing? I wasn't making money. I wasn't obtaining a degree. I wasn't pursuing my dream. I wasn't becoming closer to Jesus in my relationship with Him.

But what if I wasn't supposed to live for accomplishments? What if I was just supposed to be obedient to what the Lord has called me, live by faith, and be happy? What if I didn't have to wear a mask of perfection anymore?

If I didn't live for accomplishments anymore, I would be able to learn the habit of self-care. I would be able to give my body the rest it needed, and I would be able to take breaks in my day just to do what I wanted to do in that moment -- even if it didn't accomplish anything.

In a note a friend sent me for Christmas, she included a Bible verse. It never struck me how timely it was until this very moment, because it goes along with everything I've been learning.
"So I concluded, there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can." (Ecclesiastes 3:12)
If I didn't live for accomplishments anymore, I would be able to learn the practice of patience. I would be able to focus on and invest fully in the moment, not on what's ahead. I would be able to be at peace, even in the presence of chaos.

When we slow down life and learn to press the pause button, we stop making accomplishments our goal. We take life as it comes, and see our life as one continuous stroke rather than a line made up of little dots.

I'm finding that living for accomplishments only breeds a fear of failure. 

Were my strict guidelines of only get eight hours of sleep to ensure that I be productive with the remainder of my time making my happy, or were they only stringing me along by fear of wasting time?

I'm not saying that waking up early is unhappy or done because of a fear of wasting time. There are many early birds out there who enjoy waking up early.

Also, I am not saying that disciplining yourself to do or not do certain things is wrong. Sometimes we need to discipline ourselves to break a habit, start a new habit, write a 10-page paper or apply for a job.

What I am saying is this: If you are doing something because of fear of failure, then stop doing it. If you are going to college just because your parents want you to, yet you want to work at your local diner the rest of your life, stop going to school and pursue your dream. If you are exercising just because your boyfriend wants you to be skinny, stop exercising (unless you do it for your own health). If you are avoiding media just because you think it will distract you, watch a TV show or a movie. If you are avoiding sleeping in just because it will steal your time away, then sleep in.

We must stop living for the approval of man, and we must also stop living for the approval of our own self. We live for God's approval alone, and God wants us to be happy and get rest. He doesn't want us to be controlled by achievements; he only wants us to be obedient to His Word.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Where Childlike Wonder and Wisdom Meet

Growing up, I always completed my homework exactly the way the teacher wanted it -- not in the slightest bit different, even if it added to the quality of the homework in my mind. I was afraid of not meeting the standards, and my report card needed that "A" scribbled next to each one of my classes.
Besides my striving to excel at everything in school, I've always been afraid of asking the hard questions. I tend to stick in my comfort bubble that shelters itself miles away from the world of government, politics, or anything else controversial for that matter. Even with matters of where I stand on homosexuality or cohabitation in the church, I've shoved them back on the shelf for fear of being hated because, "I was taking the wrong side." For me, grey areas have always posed more comfort for me, because if you're on middle ground, no one hates you, right?
This is the mentality that's been etched into my brain, and it's forced me to shut down any new wave of thought that's sparked in my head. I'm living on neutral ground, with no real tug towards one end or another.
And because of my fear to explore new ideas, I tend to avoid the topic of WISDOM. What is wisdom, anyway?

I think God was prying the lid open on this one a few weeks ago.
One of my friends brought it up initially by quoting Luke 10:27:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind."

Yes, you've probably heard that verse a million times. Or if not a million, 999,999 times. But what my friend emphasized was the part of loving the Lord with all your mind. I guess I had never ventured this route yet -- whenever I think of loving the Lord, I think of loving Him through my praise or through the work of my hands. I didn't realize that we could love the Lord by studying books or engaging in discussion that pulls on the strings of your knowledge. And God actually desires that from us? It scared me a bit.
If that wasn't enough for God to grab my attention about the significance of wisdom, the leadership theme as my school this year is none other than this: A Call To Wisdom.
God is calling us to wisdom. He wants us to grow in knowledge of who He is and how His Kingdom will be established on this earth, and wisdom is the capability of dispersing this knowledge well.

Along with this call to wisdom, however, God wants us to come before Him as little children. You might see that as contradictory -- children aren't wise, so how can we be wise before God while possessing the personality as children?
I think C.S. Lewis says it well:
"[God] wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim." --Mere Christianity

God delights in childlike wonder. He loves to see us laugh, go on adventures, and create new things with our hands. Just like school children playing on a playground during recess or little girls dancing around the house as ballerinas (as my sister and I did when we were young), we can approach God with a child's playful heart.
Yet this doesn't mean we are stupid, inexperienced or clueless. Having the heart of a child does not mean you are a fool.
And to be completely vulnerable, that last statement is something I've believed for many years now. Many times when I'm joking around with my friends, I beat myself up afterwards because I feel like I was such a ditz. I suppose it's an insecurity issue, and a pride issue at the core, but I've swallowed and learn to accept the lie that I am clumsy and awkward.
Yet when I consider the idea that maybe, just maybe, God delights in my loud, obnoxious laughter with a couple snorts every now and then; or that He delights when I play hand-clap games with my friends in public places; or that He delights when I skip across a bridge with a huge smile painted across my face... I am blown away. God really couldn't be that childish, could He?
But the fact is, God created us in His image, and therefore by creating children and instilling such joy and silliness in them, He is showing us a side of Himself. God is bubbly, adventurous and sweet like children, and this does not displace the fact that He is also righteous, just, and holy.
He encompasses all qualities in one. What beauty.

So this is what it boils down to: embracing the child within you, but also deciding to pursue wisdom. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus calls us to be "as wise as serpents AND as innocent as doves." As polar opposite as that may sound, it's where we will find true joy and our place in the Kingdom.
As C.S. Lewis puts it, God "wants [us to have] a child's heart, but a grown-up's head."