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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

I Wish I’d Known

Living in a college town sometimes makes me feel old because I am constantly faced with darling, well-put-together 18 year olds who don’t yet know what it is like to have zits in their wrinkles. But aside from that, I love living in Stillwater because it has given me the incredible privilege of getting to be a part of the lives of several amazing, beautiful college women. These awesome young women are truly spiritually mature as college seniors, but their struggles often take me right back there and remind me of what it felt like to be on the threshold of adulthood, yet so freshly out of adolescence. I remember it was an exciting time, but completely overwhelming as well. I have now been out of college for 15 years and have gained some hard-earned perspective and a bit of experience that I think would have been helpful to the 21-year-old me. Today, I decided to record it for posterity. Or to prove I earned my wrinkles. Or something.  This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it is a start.

What I wish I would have understood when I was 21:

1.  God knows best.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent being afraid of what God would allow in my life. Or begging Him to make something happen or not happen. I was so afraid of what suffering would do to me. When it finally came, I found that God was there. He took care of me. He was enough. And that suffering purified me like nothing else could and brought great good in my life as well. My fear was pointless and my attempts at directing my life were fruitless.  God has allowed me to choose poorly, but He has often given me a second chance to choose wisely. Those second chances, when I’ve taken them, have led to the better paths in my life.  I finally know that the safest way to do life is to “trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding.”

2.  All control is an illusion. But prayer is powerful.

You and I have no power to protect ourselves from pain. We just don’t. We can avoid risk as much as possible, but the stark reality is that the only reason we are not being flung off this swiftly rotating planet right now is because the hand of God is holding us here. He has numbered our days and counted our hairs and it is His hand that protects us when necessary. But the other side of this is that He has, for some unknown reason, deemed prayer to be powerful. He likes us to ask Him for help and to commune with Him through prayer–constant conversation with the One who loves us. I use to pray, but then I’d worry like a champ because prayer felt powerless. Now I know that worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere. Prayer, on the other hand, is where it’s at. When we ask, He listens, and in love, responds with the best answer, even if it’s not the one we asked for.

3.  There is plenty of time.

Who in the world thought it would be a good idea to make 18 year olds decide what they want to do as a career for the rest of their lives? That is almost criminal. Most 35 year olds still haven’t really figured it out! I wish I’d known long ago that there was still time to change my mind. That I can always go back a step and start over. That waiting for direction from God is a part of the plan. That waiting in all things makes me a better human being. That God is never late, but he’s rarely early. I also wish I’d been able to see the length of a marriage and understood that there was no hurry to become a wife and partake of marital things. I wish I’d seen that it is good to enjoy each stage for itself and be content instead of rushing on to the next stage. And for goodness sake, I wish I’d realized that trading in the reading and studying of college was NOT going to lead to less stress. Bills are always more stressful than books.

4.  Life is short.

At the same time, I wish I would have seen life from more of an eternal perspective and known that my time on this planet is shorter than I think. I’ve learned that today is a great time to do the risky thing and follow God wholeheartedly. As my dad always tells me, “Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing at all.” (Thank you, Helen Keller.) This is a great time to move to a new place, take a risk, love like Jesus did, or have a personal mission statement and set out to follow it. We need to count the cost, but not let the cost stop us from setting out on an adventure.

5.  No guy can fill me up.  But Jesus can.

At 21 I married my high school sweetheart. I couldn’t imagine who I was without him as my other half. I don’t regret marrying him even one bit, but the perspective of 15 years has taught me that he does not define me. My relationship with Jesus is the only thing that will bring fulfillment and true joy. As our marriage has grown more emotionally intimate and our “oneness” has deepened, we’ve both seen even more clearly that even the deepest marital joy pales in comparison to the joy found in Jesus. This lesson sounds like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Our culture idolizes love and romance to the extent that we cannot see the True Love relationship of which it is supposed to be a reflection. It is so easy for it to be a replacement instead of a reflection. I wish I’d learned that I was okay on my own much earlier so my decisions would always reflect a heart that was trusting God first and foremost.

Would you like to add anything to this list? I’d love to hear from you.

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Do Over

Sometimes when I am writing I get stuck. Sometimes the words just won’t come or I get halfway through a post or a letter and it just isn’t flowing. Sometimes I feel like I’ve dug myself a hole and I keep going deeper and deeper into the mud and I’m not finding what I’m looking for. When that happens I’ve found that there is only one way to recover:  Start fresh, baby.

My delete button and I are good friends. I love the freshness of a blank page. It just seems so hopeful, you know? Some of my best writing comes from a do-over.

In fact, I just did it with this post. I got stuck. Words wouldn’t come. So I threw it all out and started over. You’ll never know what you could have been reading right now. It might have changed your life. Oh well.

I guess I’m a do-over kind of girl. Not only do I need do-overs in my writing, but I OFTEN need a do-over when I am picking out what I’m going to wear in the morning and I certainly wish I could have had a do-over on my hair today. Sheesh. Can I get an amen?

On a less ridiculous and more spiritual note, I have to admit that sometimes I feel like I get stuck in my prayer life also.

I often (incorrectly) feel like I’ve neglected God too many times during the week, tried to do life on my own too often, to come to Him and expect Him to receive me with open arms.  Sometimes I feel that way because of unconfessed sin that has been festering in my heart. And sometimes I just feel like my prayer time has become rote and expected—it’s not flowing from my heart to connect with the heart of the One who loves me. I’m stuck—so I avoid Him.

When I read back over my prayer journals from college it sounds like I have a British accent when I talk to God. It’s the King James Version of Sarah. I didn’t use “thee” or “thou” but I certainly used a bunch of formal “prayer-ese” that makes me laugh when I read it now.  “Oh Sovereign Lord, Heavenly Father…”

Sometimes you just need a prayer do-over.

God has recently birthed in my heart a new way to start fresh in my relationship with Him. I feel like He’s given me permission to throw out the “rules” that I’ve attached to my prayer time and to take it back to its simplest form. He’s given me a path to walk to find my way back into His arms. This is what my prayer do-over looks like:

I thank Him for one thing.
I ask Him for one thing.
I yield one thing to Him.

That’s all. It’s nothing fancy, nor is it a magical formula for getting back into God’s good graces. It’s actually just a way to get over myself and enjoy God’s presence again. Prayer isn’t supposed to be about rules or sounding good. It’s just supposed to be about bringing my heart to a loving God who is always waiting with His arms open wide.

(They) come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Isaiah 29:13

Do-over needed.

The simplicity of this kind of prayer relieves the pressure that I put on myself to make my prayer “effective” and stirs up in me a new desire to be near to God. In other words, it gets me unstuck and brings the joy back into prayer.

If you feel like you are stuck and you’d like to try a do-over, here are some additional details on what this looks like for me:

  1. First, I thank Him for one thing. Anything. Even something super small if I am feeling less than grateful, but I do have to actually mean it or it is worthless. “Give thanks in all circumstances…” 1 Thess. 5:18
  2. Second, I ask Him for one thing. I know this is weird, but I use the words “I ask You to…” because I feel like I’m really leaving it up to Him that way. I’m not trying to make anything happen, I’m just a daughter asking her Daddy for something and trusting Him with whatever He decides. Again, there are no magic words, but phrasing it this way has helped my heart to trust Him more and to have the courage to ask Him for bigger things. “Present your requests to God…” Phil. 4:6
  3. Finally, I yield one thing to Him. I might be the only one out there who struggles with this, but I tend to have a few control issues—that stem from trust issues.  It is so good for my heart to give up that control and choose to trust God instead of managing or controlling my circumstances. This is how I tuck my heart into His and find His peace. I literally tell Him I am giving Him control over something that I’ve been trying to manage on my own. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” Matt. 6:10

Remember, the whole point is to take the pressure off and enjoy the Lord again. Don’t get stuck in these suggestions either. But if you need God’s help and can’t muster the strength to pray like you mean it or if your heart seems caked in mud and your motivation is weak, try a stripped down, simple fresh start. You just might like it.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

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This is going to sound a little weird, but I’ve noticed that my husband has been getting better and better at loving me. I mean, consistently, over time, he is becoming more unselfish in his love. At the same time that he is becoming more purposeful in sharing his true feelings with me he is also becoming more willing to hear mine. He is quicker to turn toward me than he used to be, he gets angry slowly, and he handles my ever-changing moods with humor and grace. Don’t get me wrong—he’s not perfect.  He still zones out in front of the TV sometimes instead of having meaningful conversation with me and he drinks his weight in Coke daily. But, in the ways that matter, I’ve noticed he is inexplicably getting better and better. I have honored him for it and thanked God for what He’s doing in him, but I have to admit that I haven’t really understood it. I’ve wondered how he was pressing on in love when I act like a big fat baby and how he continues to look after my needs before his own even when he is exhausted.

I’ve wondered…until last Sunday. Last Sunday I heard him say to some friends of ours: “I am motivated to treat my wife with love, not because she deserves it, but because Christ loves ME so much. He’s forgiven me so much, how can I withhold the same from her?”

I’m not even sure Brooke realized he was summarizing scripture when he said that. He was just speaking from his heart. But this is what the bible says:

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

So it turns out Brooke is loving me well because he has a very well-developed sense of how much God loves him and how unmerited it is. And as he grows in his knowledge of the depth of God’s love for him, God is giving him the ability to love me and all others in his life with the same kind of love.

Suddenly it seems so clear that this is exactly the way it is supposed to work and I gotta tell you—it sure works for a marriage. God’s love through Brooke is breathing life into our relationship  and stirring in my soul a deep desire to live in the same God-loving, self-denying way. I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I’m finding that true love is contagious.

May we all grow so deep in our understanding of God’s love for us that we can pass it on like a contagious disease. Well—you know what I mean.

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