Reflections from 10 years of Student Ministry

Reflections from 10 years of Student Ministry

In a few weeks, my time leading high-schoolers will come to an end. I’ve been serving with Watermark’s student ministries since 2008, when I was a freshman in college. Working with middle and high-schoolers has honestly been one of the highlights of my life and something I will truly miss. I am very passionate about this age group because I feel that they have been largely misunderstood and undervalued by our society. It’s such a precious time of coming of age and the time you really start learning what a personal relationship with the Lord looks like. I’ve learned a lot by watching my girls grow from gangly 6th graders to opinionated 18 year olds and now that I am a parent, there are some things that I want to make sure I remember about this stage of life:

Being a teen doesn’t make your feelings invalid.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of middle school? Hormones. It’s a crazy time of changing bodies, hormonal swings, and ridiculously short dating relationships. However, I think it’s really dangerous to disregard teenager’s emotions as just hormone swings. Teens are typically a lot more open with their feelings than adults. They just don’t know how to process them yet. So when a teen is hyper emotional about something, don’t dismiss it. This is a great opportunity to help them learn how to process their emotions by talking about them and teach them how to deal with their feelings in a healthy way.  You may think whatever they are going through is the stupidest thing in the world, but it is VERY real to them. Just because they are a teenager doesn’t mean they aren’t old enough to be taken seriously. Meet them where they are.

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Students deal with very real and tough situations. 

I’ve heard time and time again, “you’re only 16, how hard can your life really be?” Very hard actually. I have walked through situations with students that I wouldn’t wish on anyone: Sexual assault, death of a parent, abandonment, rejection, suicide… the list goes on and on. Tragedy and evil do not discriminate against young people. To qualify how hard someone’s life is by how old they are is naive and dangerous. We live in a sinful world and that sin has horrendous effects on the lives of children. When tragedy strikes, they need people in their lives who will treat them with dignity, jump in the trenches with them, and point them toward Christ.

Social media cannot be avoided.

It is no surprise that social media is having a negative affect on kids of all ages. In my community group, the top parenting topic we always discuss is how to protect our kids from technology and I’ve seen how dangerous Instagram and Snapchat have been in the teen girls’ lives. However, I don’t think we need to keep our kids away from social media. I think we need to equip them to use it properly. Tools are only dangerous when used in dangerous ways. The key is to have open conversations about what tech kids are using and being educated on what those platforms can be used for.

I think we get caught up on the fact that Social media provides access to porn, bullying, body image issues, comparison, jealousy, online predators, etc. Those are all things we obviously want teens to avoid but these things have existed much longer than Instagram and will continue to exist long after. At the end of the day, we live in a sinful world and until Jesus comes back, that isn’t going to change. If a teen wants to access something, they are going to find a way to do it. They are way smarter than us! We just have to equip teens to deal with sin in a biblical way and train them on how to avoid falling into sinful habits.

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If you lower the bar, they will go lower. 

It’s hard to motivate a teenager to do something they don’t want to do. Bribery and compromise as parenting tools start young (my 9 month old is well acquainted to them). But I found that when challenged, by and large, teens will rise to the occasion. They want you to challenge them. They want to be pushed beyond what they think they can achieve and if you set the bar low, they will under-deliver every time. Why would they want to give their best when you aren’t expecting the best from them? I think it can be so easy as a small group leader to dumb down the curriculum or decrease the amount of ‘homework’ in the hopes that it will guarantee that the students will do it. But you are ultimately cheating them of the opportunity and cheapening the activity. Ultimately, challenging them sets them up for success.

Care about what they care about.

When my girls were in middle school you know what I did? I made sure I knew the names of the members of One Direction and the top shows on Disney Channel. Now that they are in high school, I am up-to-date on who Logan Paul is and the current teenage slang (“Weird flex but ok.”).  Why? Because when you want to get teens talking, you talk to them about stuff they know and are interested in. If you belittle their hobbies and their fandoms, you are essentially calling them silly and unimportant. Educating yourself on what’s popular at the time is a great way to stay connected and to stay aware of what your teen is filling your brain with. A win-win!

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Don’t expect change overnight. 

It can be so frustrating to teach the same thing week after week for years and years and not see any change. But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Sometimes it takes years of teaching for things to click. Everyone learns and grows at their own pace. Don’t rush the process. I think it’s so easy to blame yourself for someone’s lack of growth, especially spiritual growth. But as a small group leader, you just have to be faithful to show up, teach, and trust that God will do the rest. It’s really up to the student on whether they want to take what they have been taught and apply it. Ultimately, a relationship with the Lord is a personal choice that each person has to make for themselves.

Time. 

They may be angsty, they may be moody, and they may not want to but spending quality time is so important. Actions speak louder than words so being physically present speaks volumes. That means going to games, going to plays, having late night phone calls, coffee meet ups, etc etc. Make them a priority. That way when they need to talk to someone, they know that they can call you and you’ll pick up the phone. Being physically there means you’ll be emotionally there.

Share your life.

A lot can happen in a decade and my girls have had a front seat at the major moments of my life. They watched me date my would-be husband. They watched me plan a wedding. They passed our programs at the wedding. They were some of the first people to know I was pregnant and are now watching me learn how to be a parent (not to mention the life that happened in between!). My goal was to live a life that I wouldn’t be ashamed to tell the girls about. This kept me out of trouble and (hopefully) allowed the girls to get an honest look at the highs and lows of adulthood. I pray that my son has someone in his life who he can watch pursue Christ and be honest at how hard it is to pursue Him well.

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HAVE FUN. 

My favorite memories of the last 10 years are the silly times. The bad jokes, the Disney jam sessions. The farkles and the really bad Halloween costumes. Life is hard so have fun doing it. Being silly and having fun brings people together and creates lifelong memories. The last 10 years have been challenging, rewarding, and SO FUN. I’m just so thankful that God gave me this opportunity. It’s been one of the greatest joys of my life to love on my girls. They have changed me in ways they could never know and for that I am forever grateful.

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Middle Schoolers and the Things I’ve Learned From Leading Them

Middle Schoolers and the Things I’ve Learned From Leading Them

For those of you who don’t know, I have had the honor of volunteering with Wake, Watermark’s junior high ministry for 6 years. For the last 2 years, I have been blessed to co-lead a group of seven 7th graders as they journey through life. Though middle school is often known as the worst years of your life, it has always been my favorite age of students to love on. Through the past 6 years, these ‘kiddos’ have taught me a ton about myself and about relating with others and I thought I’d share them with you.

  1. Treat teens and tweens with respect, but don’t treat them like adults.
    This is a crazy age for anyone. Your hormones are raging, you are on the cusp of puberty, and you have the strong desire to be independent. Unfortunately, you are not the brightest crayon in the box. You’ve still got a ton to learn about life and you need direction. I think culture misunderstands this age group by either treating them like babies or treating them like 30 year olds. They are neither. They crave respect, to be valued for their opinion, and are fighting to be seen as a person.  One thing I have learned is to treat junior highers with respect. Don’t baby them and encourage them to cultivate their own ideas. But I still treat my girls with caution, making sure the topics we discuss are appropriate for their age group and that they don’t go over their heads. You can talk with 7th graders about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll in a PG way. Don’t shelter them, throwing them into the lion’s den without any clue. But don’t overwhelm their minds with things we adults have issues processing. We have the responsibility to train up children in the way they should go, but we can do that without filling their minds with perverted images or by telling them it’s o.k. to experiment with what the world has to offer. Discretion is key.
  2. Encourage students to make their own decisions.
    I am a control freak, so the hardest thing for me to do as a leader (or in life) is hold my tongue. There are so many situations when one of my girls will ask me a question and the first thing I want to do is tell them, “no, you’re wrong”. I have had to train myself to go straight to scripture, using God’s authority and not my own to steer them down the right path. If I tell my girls the right answers and leave it at that, they will never feel confident in their own decisions. They also will never know WHY something is wrong or something is right. This is such a vital age where children are figuring out why they believe and what they believe and have the opportunity to really make their faith their own. It’s scary letting them use their own judgement and it’s scary to hear they made a bad decision. However, if a child learns to do this at a young age, they will be better equipped to face an array of challenges in high school, college, and life in general.
  3. There is power in listening.
    Sometimes, you just need to shut your trap and listen. Isn’t that true for all of us though, not just middle schoolers? We all have the innate desire to be known; to be known and to be loved for who we are. The best way to create that ‘safe place’, is listening. Middle schoolers are going through a lot more than we often give them credit for. This is the prime age for body image issues, eating disorders, bullying, depression, perfectionism.. the list goes on and on. And often times these things go unnoticed or unaddressed because students don’t talk about it. Often times it’s because there is no one there to listen or it’s because the person who is ‘listening’ just won’t stop talking. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most psychological programs and ‘cures’ are based on ‘talking therapy’. There is power is sharing and allowing someone else into the world inside your head.
  4. Be a friend but with authority.
    No matter how old you are, everyone wants to be liked. I can understand why some parents would rather be their child’s friend than their authority figure. When I started leading my girls, I had the same insecure thoughts. “I want them to like me”, “I want them to admire me”, etc. I found out quickly that the ‘cool leader’ in our eyes is the leader that can’t control the group. I found that when I was strict AND loving, I gained something better than being liked. I gained respect. Discipline is necessary, though it sucks giving it. But when given in the child’s best interest, it works out better for all involved in the long run.
  5. Your students shouldn’t think you’re perfect.If your students think you are perfect, then we have a problem. No one likes sharing their issues with someone who appears perfect and has their life together. It’s intimidating. You aren’t perfect and it won’t hurt your role as a leader by sharing that. It will only help. Now, obliviously use discretion with what you share based on the age group you’re sharing with, but all in all, sharing creates a safe and secure environment where students feel they can be themselves. Also, when you have wronged them, ask for forgiveness. Sometimes we can get too frustrated and let our anger slip away from us. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. You shouldn’t be pointing to yourself as an example of who and what to be, you should be pointing toward Christ for He is the strength in our weakness.
  6. Don’t fake it till you make it.
    If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make one up. I have caught myself multiple times wanting to make up some elaborate, slightly based on scripture, answer. But in the end, that only leads to confusion and loss of trust in you. It is o.k. to admit you don’t know. Heck, there are some questions my girls have asked me that a PhD in theology wouldn’t know (ask me sometime). There are two good ways to handle this situation: (1) Admit you don’t know and tell them you will research it and get back to them… and actually do it. or (2) Research it together. On many an occasion, I have pulled out my phone and looked up something on gotquestions.org in the middle of small group and read it right off the page. I think the biggest issue in this one is pride. I hate admitting I don’t know something, especially when my 7th graders asked the question. It is o.k. to not know. But it’s not o.k. to leave it at that.
The Danger of Being Happy

The Danger of Being Happy

I have come to realize that our culture is obsessed with the idea of happiness. We want to be happy at all cost. We base major life decisions on this desire for happiness: what friends to make, what college to go to, where to work, who to marry. Heck, it’s even in our Constitution. We pursue happiness in every aspect of our lives. This innocent desire is not wrong. To want what makes us happy is a natural part of being human. However, when it becomes our main priority, things can become skewed.

The desire for happiness can lead us astray and apart from God’s will for us. Instead of a means of joy and love, it is used as a means of escape. We escape marriage through divorce because it’s difficult and feelings fade. We escape troubled times through drugs and alcohol so we can forget our pain. We escape our loneliness by filling our beds with strangers, hoping to one day fill that hole in our hearts. All these things may produce happiness, but are they the best decision?

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
― C.S. Lewis 

Without pain, we don’t see growth. Without mistakes, we don’t gain wisdom. Without hard work, we don’t see reward. The best things in life are the things we bleed for, the things we sweat for, and the things we cry for. To quote St. Augustine, “Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering”. A mother goes through horrific pain to bring a child into the world and immediately experiences the greatest joy of her life. If we try to eliminate all other emotion from our lives, we ultimately lose out on the gloriously, complex world we live in.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he shows our world in a future where pain, death, and sorrow no longer exist. Humans live in a constant high from drugs and the government has eliminated all strong emotions, desires, and relationships from society. People are kept in a constant state of youth and monogamy doesn’t exist. When a ‘savage’ is brought to civilization he is appalled, and says some of the most haunting and truthful words in the book:

The Savage nodded, frowning. “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.”

…”What you need,” the Savage went on, “is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.

…..

“… I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”
There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.

We have chosen happiness over actually living. We’ve forgotten sacrifice. We’ve forgotten the importance of responsibility and self-control. We’ve forgotten what is means to stand up for what we believe in and be persecuted for it. We’ve confused tolerance for acceptance. Lust for love. Convenience for commitment. ‘Religion’ for faith. We’ve become lovers of self and have forgotten what truly matters. We’ve forgotten who we live for.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will belovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. – 2 Timothy 3:4-8

Sometimes the right thing to do will make you unhappy. Life is hard and filled with difficult decisions. It may not be in your best interest to act in your best interest. We live in a selfish culture where our main concern is always ourselves. Jesus teaches us differently. He teaches us to be a servant, putting others, even our enemies, ahead of ourselves. He teaches us to love and care for the poor and powerless and and to give ‘our’ hard-earned money to help others. He teaches us to stand for Truth even when the world is turned against you. He shows us the ultimate sacrifice and calls it the greatest act of love. Jesus never questioned what would make him happy. He did what was holy.

When we stop thinking about ourselves and our happiness, our entire perspective changes. And when we start living for others, you know what happens? Happiness is often not far behind: the happiness one can only gain from knowing the one, true God.

Embrace the struggle, allow sorrow, and accept the possibility of loss. Demand more than the empty ‘happiness’ this life offers. Keep your eyes on Christ and take heart, true happiness awaits.

A Day in Ezra: Chapter 5

A Day in Ezra: Chapter 5

EZRA CHAPTER 5

Key Verses:

2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

Central Truth:

When we are doing God’s work, He protects us and sends others to guide us.

Fifteen years have passed since the Jewish people were told to stop rebuilding the temple. The Lord provided prophets to help guide and encourage His people, reminding them that they are doing God’s work. There has been a phrase floating around the Christian world lately: “God will never give you something you can’t handle”. Many Christian leaders are pushing back, explaining that this statement isn’t true. God will often give you things you can’t handle but he will always provide help. Not only does he never leave you, but he sends others to encourage you and provide wise counsel. I don’t know how many times I have walked into church on Sunday and heard the exact message I needed to hear that day. Or been at my community group and been loved on and encouraged to fight the good fight. Things may seem dire or even impossible but God never gives us an impossible quest. We always win His battles, whether they look like wins in our eyes or not. Just as the rebuilding of the temple was hindered, we must remember that the setbacks in our lives are just platforms for God’s perfect plan.

Today’s Prayer:

Lord, thank you for never leaving my side and always providing a helping hand in my time of need. Please help me not to be discouraged by the seemingly impossible tasks that lay ahead. Please help me to keep my eyes and heart set on you and your promises. Amen.

Trials: God’s Teaching Tool

Trials: God’s Teaching Tool

We’ve all been through trials, though they look different to everyone. A trial could be a bad day at work, parent’s divorce, battling depression, or a a midlife crisis. One person’s trial is no different than another’s and all can be pretty tough to deal with. I’ve had a pretty rough time these past few months and through the pain, confusion, and despair, God has amazingly shown me the benefits of going through tough times:

  1. Compassion for Others
    I have always considered myself an empathetic person, but no matter how empathetic you are, it is still hard to relate to something someone is going through if you’ve never been there. For example, I have never lost someone super close to me so the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one is foreign to me. Suffering through a trial creates relatable experiences and opens our minds and hearts to others’ loss.
    “…That there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:25-26“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15
  2. The Realization that we need Christ
    Even if your trials are not brought about by a sin you committed or something you have personal done, they have a way of humbling us. I have never felt so unredeemingly broken as I do when going through a trial. I have felt lost, confused, a sinner, not enough and too much all at the same time. And Jesus lovingly reminds me that it’s ok. He doesn’t need me to be anything else than what I am. I don’t need to do anything. Just wait on Him as He moves.
    “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39
  3. Patience is a virtue
    I always think I am the most patient person ever until I have to wait on a trial or ‘season’ in my life to pass. WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG?  I always wants to be ‘fixed’ now. Learn whatever God is teaching me NOW. But alas, God has his own timing. And me being impatient often makes the trials even more agonizing. I’m still learning to trust God and his way of doing things. Because if I’ve learned one thing in my life, its that I have the worse timing.“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! “- Psalm 27:14

    “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”Habakkuk 2:3

    “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

     

  4. The Need for Others
    Growing up I always kept things to myself. I kept all my emotions, worries, and fears locked inside a tiny box deep inside and wouldn’t share them. I have come to find that my reasons for that were two things: The fear of being “too-much” for people and the desire to be completely self-sufficient. And unfortunately, I didn’t have the community I have now back when I was little (or at least I didn’t reach out to one). Over the past year, God has shown me the power that comes from biblical community. There is love, compassion, accountability  and strength in that power. And we need that. God did not create man to be alone. And through community I have learned that I am never “too much” and that God gave me community to share my burdens with me. And most importantly, I can’t depend on myself. I will undoubtedly lead myself down the wrong path if unchecked by loving and faithful community. I need to depend on Christ and on the people he put in my life.“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”Hebrews 10:24-25

    “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

  5. Hope
    Hope. It sounds easy but it’s actually quite hard. It requires faith. And though Faith is my middle name (true story.) , in the midst of a trial its pretty shaky. It’s hard to believe in something good when everything around you is anything but. But God promises good to us. To those who know and love him. And though we may not feel hopeful or cheery and the idea of considering the trial “as pure joy” is infuriating, it doesn’t matter. God’s truth remains true. Everything will work out for our best.“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

    “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

    Hebrews 12

So my ‘trial’ isn’t over and some days I feel like giving up, curling into the fetal position, and crying. But I am confident that God’s goodness will prevail over my circumstances. And that gives me the strength and stubbornness to reject Satan’s lies. And though James 2:3-4 can make me so mad sometimes, I am starting to see how you can truly consider your trials as pure joy. And I am excited to see the end result.

Call Me Eustace

Call Me Eustace

“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I was smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been in Re:Generation, Watermark’s recovery ministry, since September. Re:Gen is a ministry for anyone with hurts, habits, and hang-ups. When I introduce myself at group, I say the following: “Hi, my name is Ali and I have a new life in Christ and I am recovering from control which manifests as stress, anxiety, and people pleasing”.  I never really realized how bad my anxiety was until I started the inventory process, where we basically make an excel spreadsheet of our lives, things that have left scars, poor choices, and sinful patterns and behaviors. And ironically, my inventory has sent me into a massive anxiety attack. The worse I have ever known. It is scary to see your patterns of destruction. Through this attack (that I’m currently still in), I have realized (1) I have a serious issue trusting God with my life and (2) I try to fix myself, taking the safe, easy, and familiar road that has always led to pain and suffering (I have an excel spreadsheet to prove it!).  This realization has truly been a breakthrough. I now know that I cannot trust my sinful self and, as we say in Re:Gen, my life has become unmanageable. I need to let go and depend solely on Christ. I’ve admitted I’m powerless over my compulsive behaviors. (“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” – Romans 7:18 ). I have chosen to allow God to move in my life and to trust him, taking the path I’ve never traveled. And I had no idea how truly exhausting and scary that would be. Today, I feel like Eustace. God is cleansing me of my sinful behaviors and patterns and it hurts more than I could have imagined. It’s painful! He is tearing off my dragon scales and I feel so vulnerable and hopeless. BUT God is faithful. I find myself reminded daily by the tiniest moments of peace and smallest reminders of hope to trust in Him.

Hebrews 12:3-17

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no“root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

So today, I feel horrible. Tapes keep playing in my head that I’m not strong enough, I’m broken beyond repair, and redemption is impossible. And the temptation to quit and go back to my old ways are tempting. But these are lies. God never said that change would be easy or fun, but he did promise that we WILL be redeemed. Christ died in spite of ourselves and nothing I do in the past, present, or future can separate me from the love of Christ. I just have to let him cleanse me.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

True Love: A Manual

True Love: A Manual

God must have thought he was pretty funny when he chose to not include a single Bible verse on the subject of dating. If you’re like me, you are frantically looking for a biblical how-to manual on how to date well. As a woman who grew up in the church, I have listened to my fair share of dating sermons, read numerous Christian books on being content in your singleness, and had the Proverbs 31 woman as a role model since forever (That chick is cray! Am I right?). And now that I’m in a relationship, I feel like need more directions than ever. And then it hit me. There are a TON of verses in the Bible about dating! And they all say the same thing: be patient and wait on the Lord. He’s got a plan and it’s awesome (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 32:8, Psalm 118:8, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 2:6-9,Proverbs 16:9, Isaiah 48:17, Philippians 2:13, Psalm 37:23, Psalm 119:105, Matthew 6:33, Psalm 37:7, Proverbs 15:22, 1 Chronicles 16:11, Proverbs 3:7-8, Isaiah 30:21, Psalm 48:14, Jeremiah 10:23…).

God’s not going to shine a beam of light upon the head of your future spouse and He’s not going to give you someone who is perfect for you in every way. He will, however, teach you what love is. It is not a feeling, it’s a choice. And, ultimately, dating and marriage are just mediums through which God shows how unfailing and vast His love truly is.

“The world takes a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play, and as we watch, the world says, “This is love.” God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloody man hangs and says, “This is love”. – Joshua Harris

Not butterflies, not romance, not flowers or chocolates but the willingness to sacrifice yourself for another person when they have wronged you in every way and with every fiber of their being. That is true love.

Dating and marriage are really just journeys. And, if you’re doing it right, a journey that brings you closer to God. So in the end, if you’re dating, you should have one goal in mind: develop a relationship with someone that glorifies God and one that God can use for his Kingdom. With His glory in mind, no matter what the outcome, you can’t go wrong.

Working For The Weekend

Working For The Weekend

workWe’ve all had those seasons in life where we really could care less about our work or school. For my friends about to graduate, senioritis has kicked in and all you can see is the open road to freedom. For all us post-grads, we are working for the weekend or 5:00 pm. I know too well how easy it is to check out, to coast through responsibilities and projects. Eye on the prize. But we really do miss a lot by not giving our all to the moment at hand. God has given us each life stage, each season, for a reason. These times are opportunities for personal growth and God promises that they are for our ultimate good (Jeremiah 29:11; James 1:2-4). Whatever we do, we are called to work diligently with all our heart, as if working for the Lord and not for man so that our actions can be a testimony for Christ (Colossians 3:23). The world is desperate for Christian accountants, Christian copywriters, Christian grocery store clerks, and Christian college students. Be present where God have placed you.

But work and school aren’t everything.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)

It is when work and school start to consume our thoughts and define our worth that we’ve lost sight of their true purpose. God calls us to live in the world but to not be of the world.  So yes, the purpose of work and school in ‘the world’ is to provide income and stability. But in the eternal world, these are just mediums for spiritual growth, whether it is our own or the growth of others through our interaction with them:

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

When our work is hard, we are called to endure:

“We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it.” (1 Corinthians 4:12)

We are even called to work in general!:

“He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues vain things lacks sense.” (Proverbs 12:11)

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. ” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9)

And everything we do, be it filing, that research project, or your business trip, should be done for Christ:

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

so whether you are in a job you love, a job you hate, or your still waiting for graduation, think of your work as an opportunity. Who knows what God will make of it?

A Thrill of Hope

A Thrill of Hope

a-thrill-of-hope-vinyl-wall-design“A thrill of hope. A weary world rejoices.
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees. Oh hear the angel voices.
Oh night divine.”

Can you imagine?
A crisp, cool night softly broken by streaming rays of sun. As the light breaks the darkness, the sweet voices of angels fill the earth with song…

A thrill of hope.

How remarkably beautiful. Those are the lyrics to my favorite Christmas song. I love those words because, when I sing them, I feel like I’m there experiencing the moment when Christ was born. The best part is that that thrill of hope we’re singing about is REAL. It’s going to happen again. He is coming back and we will hear the angels sing once more. But this time, that holy night will be the end of all weeping, all hurt, and all pain. Evil will be destroyed and we will see ultimate redemption. All our waiting, praying, sharing, serving,  and striving will be worth it. The weary world will rejoice. He is real, He is coming, and He will make all things right. That’s a promise.

Missing Out

Missing Out

“I know that life is a doorway to eternity, and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties. It forgets the great way home that lies before it. Unprepared, given over to childish trivialities, it could be taken by surprise when the great hour comes and find that, for the sake of piffling pleasures, the one great joy has been missed. I am aware of this, but my heart is not. It seems unteachable; it continues its dreaming … always wavering between joy and depression.” – Sophie Scholl

We all get caught up in the ins and outs of everyday life. And I don’t know about you, but I am just WAY to busy. I barely have time to sit down and eat a meal! I always have somewhere I need to be or something I need to do. It can all get pretty overwhelming and exhausting. Recently, I’ve been asking myself “what am I doing?”, “Is this worth it?” etc. And then I realize that there is more to this life than work and the weekend. I am easily distracted by my To Do list and schedule and forget to appreciate the beauty around me and the ultimate prize that lies ahead: Jesus. When I think of all the tasks in front of me (that next project at work, that much needed oil change, texting that friend back…), I have to stop and remind myself that all I do is for the advancement of the Kingdom and not for my me and my selfish reasons. When I remember this, everything became a lot less stressful and a lot more fulfilling. When I have to work late and miss church? What a wonderful opportunity to represent God’s church at the office! Am I receiving a lot of criticism from my boss? Maybe the Lord is trying to teach me to not rely on myself and my abilities but to rely on Him while I show my boss God’s love. Stuck in traffic again? I just got more time to spend with Jesus. Ultimately, everything in life is trivial in comparison to the glory that lies ahead.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 says,

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Everything we do for ourselves is meaningless. It is what we do for Him that is truly important. And in realty, everything we is for Him (or should be). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if working for the Lord, not men” (Colossians 3:23).