thankful in all.
This tweet stopped me dead in my tracks:
I’ve been thinking a lot about that difference, feeling thankful and expressing gratitude. A few years ago Gregory shared with me this idea of “letting the hand lead the heart.” That is, being diligent about actions that change you from the inside. I use that phrase and mentality more often than I could even notice.
Expressing gratitude to God is letting the hand lead the heart.
When we make gratitude and prayers of thanksgiving a discipline, we are cultivating within ourselves a spirit of thankfulness. Even when we do not feel thankful, or we feel burdened with sorrow or exhaustion – by taking a moment to tell the Lord of all the good things he is doing for you, we realign our priorities and see with new eyes the gifts that God has scattered all around our life.
Our eyes are not used to relying on the vision of faith which says that we are given so much more than we see through prices too high for us to comprehend, but if we focus on being grateful, the gifts of God that blur into the background will slowly start to come into focus.
advent reflections // week 1: LONGING.
One of my closest friends suffers from depression and in my confiding in them about my own struggles with it, they gave me an encouraging piece of advice. They told me to not feel bad to take a sick day, to remember that depression is an illness and some days I am more sick than others.
After attempting to follow through with plans I had (I showed up and had to leave because I was too stormy inside), I went home and curled up with a hot beverage and some Advent readings.
In my wonderful Mosaic Bible (purchased for 50% off from the Borders on Lake Ave. in Pasadena as it was closing) I read about LONGING. In recent conversations the idea of consumerism has come up many times, the thought that we tend to devalue that which we do not wait for. In one of his books, Donald Miller writes about how God saw it was not good for man to be alone and yet even after that he gave him the task of naming all of the animals. He allowed a yearning to be born within Adam before he created a solution.
We live in a culture that looks for quick fixes.Quick internet, microwaves, snap chats, drive thru, Keurigs…. all about the speed to appease our impatient nature.
And then in the midst of all that begins the Spiritual Year with ADVENT: waiting: hoping: longing: yearning: expecting. God did not meet Adam’s need immediately, nor did he meet the need of sinful man immediately (WHY so many generations between the fall of man and the redemption of man? and let’s be honest – could he not return at any moment should he feel the desire? There is something about waiting – anticipating – yearning – that makes the fulfillment fill us even deeper. Our longing grows, and our expectancy is stretched.
This is an idea to ponder. Could not God himself have made everything in one moment, in one BIG BANG if you will? Nothing into immediate something. But instead he slowly builds it all until he finally, with what I’d imagine was great joy, breathes into the dust and creates his beloved mankind. God himself seems to have exercised that same sort of Advent in the creation of the world, saving the best for last and holding off. Did he create the oceans and imagine us standing in them, or think of the conversations that would happen laying under the night sky? Surely he had to have, yet he continued to create this and that and then that other thing.
In a world that is picking up speed like an avalanche I am grateful for a faith that calls me to slow down, to crouch in an empty stinky stable and watch as each week the hour of Christ’s birth (or our celebration of it) draws nearer. It is a gift far too valuable to rush or reduce to an e-card.
And so we wait.
I hate change. Call it ocd, call it a need for security, call it whatever. I just hate change.
Lately I’ve been trying to enjoy the changing of seasons. I tried getting into the whole pumpkin spice thing. I carved a pumpkin and went to a pumpkin patch, even took a hay ride. I noticed the leaves as they would catch fire, and started greedily cherishing every moment of the fleeting daylight.
The other day I mentioned how I have only gone to Camp Arnold once since I got my new car. Once. I cried as I pulled in, feeling like I was arriving back home after a long trip away. But I have yet to return. A few hours after realizing that, I found myself at my new, unfamiliar camp, walking down a path I’d never been on and taking in the overwhelming feeling of change. Perhaps there will be a moment, years down the road, when I know the steps of this path like I learned the roots of the Wander Weg Trail at Camp Arnold. Maybe I’ll know the shortcuts and hideouts and perhaps I will even discover my white bench by the lake – a place where God is always waiting for me to sit next to him and be still.
I am thankful for my God who gives me peace in moments I do not have the strength to remain calm through. When I take a plunge into the depths of faith, he is there to catch me and slowly lower me into the unfamiliar waters.
I will probably never be good at change, at least not on the inside. But I am realizing that there is too much beauty and too many wonderful moments waiting to be embraced for me to pout my way through life, wanting to go back through doors which have been closed.
Madeleine L’Engle says that the thing about birthdays is you never lose the ages you’ve been. I am 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28 today. I have collected all of those numbers and do not turn in the old one for new but add something more brilliant to all I have already been through. Change, it appears, is the same way. I do not lose the white bench by Trout Lake, the memories of laying underneath the stars with my best friends do not lose their value, I just move into a whole new chapter where I have the opportunity to create new colors on a new canvas which I can one day display next to something God has completed.
Change is worth it if we are brave enough to embrace it.
do you want to be well?
At the beginning of the summer I began a journey through the gospel of John with our junior church. We have a big poster on the wall that says “Book of John Scavenger Hunt,” where we are on the lookout for the 7 miracles of Jesus and the seven “I AM” statements he made.
This past Sunday we finally made it to Miracle #3, the healing of the lame man.
The brilliant thing about teaching Scripture to kids is that you start to see it in new ways, you know? Kids don’t care about what theologians you’ve read or some great speaker you’ve heard talk about the subject. They just want to know the story and why it matters.
So I told them the basics. This guy couldn’t walk for like 38 years and could never get into the pool to be healed, and then Jesus walks up to him, asks him if he wants to be well and then tells the guy to take his mat and go. Then later Jesus comes to him and tells him to stop sinning.
After we went over the story I brought out a pair of white sweat pants, to represent legs. and how Jesus healed the man’s legs. Then we started talking about all of the different things we might need to be healed from, not just body things but spirit things. Like punching people, being angry, greed… and the kids had the opportunity to write those things on the pants so we could pray over all of those things we need to be healed from, like the man and his legs.
But the thing is, Jesus asked the man if he actually wanted to be well.
Lately I’ve been struggling a lot with my cynicism and pessimism and God keeps drawing me close and saying “I can conquer this for you, if you let me.”
IF I LET HIM.
Because let’s be real. Sometimes it’s fun to be the victim, to have the eyes to focus on the unfair and frustrating. and sometimes I think, “what will I have to talk about if it is not complaining?”
And in those moments God leans in close and says “Stephanie, do you want to be well?” and all I can do is respond in desperation and exhaustion, “Yes Lord, I want to be well.”
The Bride of Christ.
Look, I love weddings. I love going to them and looking at pictures of them, Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezillas, Four Weddings, and… okay I have a stupid large bridal magazine collection for an ultra single girl.
I just LOVE WEDDINGS. Because I play the piano, I have been able to be in a few weddings in that respect but the greatest joy of my life is to stand in a wedding. A few years ago, while I was watching Emily graduate from high school, one of my best friends called a few times. Left a few voicemails. Her aunt called. and texted. and the sum of it was this: don’t get too excited, but what is your dress size at the Gap?
The moment we were released from the gym, I called her. She wanted me to be a bridesmaid.. because she and Ruairi were getting married.
The Ward wedding happened overlooking the lake by the gazebo at Camp Arnold. As I stood there, watching Sarah slowly make her way to the orchard, the romance of their love story hit me. Ru is from Northern Ireland. Sarah is from Spokane, Washington. To be standing in that moment as their love triumphed over so many obstacles, doubts and uncertainties was one of the most humbling experiences of my entire life.
I’m not one for romance and love stories and blah blah, but my heart started blooming roses in that moment.
As Sarah came down the aisle, Ru’s back was to her until the very last moment. We saw her, beautifully done up for her groom, as she slowly walked down the aisle, waiting for him to turn around and behold his bride for the first time. Every single person saw the bride while the groom stood there full of anticipation and expectation.
So when Susannah presented the topic of being the bride of Christ, my brain immediately went to that moment. We – all of us who are moving in hopeful anticipation down the aisle – are Christ’s Bride. He himself has paid every cost of the wedding, he himself has sacrificed it all for that moment, so that when the time comes for the “speak now” part, nobody – not our Father, not Taylor Stupid Swift – can say a single word because he has silenced all opposition to the joining of us to him.
The thing about weddings is that they’re just the kickoff of a marriage. So why aren’t we considered the WIFE of Christ? Why are we the eternal bride, he the eternal groom?
Let’s pretend that Sarah and Ru had planned to relocate to Northern Ireland after their wedding. I would have killed them both if that was the case, but let’s just pretend. Pretend that Ru flew to Washington and proposed. Before he left he said “We have a house ready for us. My provision will care for you. The wedding is planned and paid for. Buy whatever dress you want. You are taken care of for our wedding and in our marriage. The only thing you have to do…. is get ready.”
That’s what Christ did for us. He came down, he courted us, and then said “I’m going back to prepare our marriage. We will be reunited, all you must do is get ready.” Once we say YES, often with tears and relief, he says to get ready for the wedding.
One of my favorite songs says,”We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring / your bride will come together and we’ll sing You’re Beautiful.”
and I just imagine us, all of us, standing together and saying “oh, let’s iron out that wrinkle… you have a smudge of lipstick on your teeth. your nails look beautiful! Did they just start the prelude? Let’s tuck that piece of hair behind your ear.”
Not because the groom is superficial. Not because he will call the whole thing off if we have lipstick on our teeth.
Because all he said we needed to do is be ready. He paid for it all, the wedding and the marriage and has been anxiously awaiting the moment when he turns around and sees us standing there, having spent all of our energy preparing ourselves since that is all he asked of us. He will take us in denim or dress, but our love for him and our gratitude is the heart behind wanting for his waiting to pay off.
We need not worry about the marriage, about eternal dwelling places. He has taken care of that. We were given a Counselor to help us with our emotional baggage. We were given grace so that we could wear white. It’s all up to us if we spend our engagement worrying or readying.
All we have to do is get ready, because he’s taken care of every detail and he’s waiting to turn around.
Forgiving takes as much humility as apologizing. Who knew.
C. S. Lewis said,
Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.
So a few weeks ago I wrote about how my friendships were undergoing spiritual warfare.
In the midst of the lies Satan was telling me, was an element of truth. I give a lot more than I’m given.
This isn’t talking about donations, like spiritually or anything. This is within friendships.
And not just any friendships.
With my best friends.
When I stop driving to them, they never come. When I send letters, they never respond. When I invite, they never accept.
Holy crap – what do you do with that? I kind of expected for it all to blow over once I prayed about it and stuff. But once I calmed down, I was left with this awful, nasty, ugly piece of truth.
I sent messages expressing my hurt. I forced myself to conjure up kind words about them when they came up in conversation. I kept the pictures up in my room.
and then I received the apologies. Today in the mail I received the last of them, and as I sat wondering if it was insensitive of me to burn the letter and then instagram the whole thing, I realized something.
Forgiveness takes humility.
I’d always thought it took humility to SEEK forgiveness, but man. The lump of pride in my throat I’m preparing to swallow… it’s huge. I think it takes humility to forgive because, if we are going to offer forgiveness like God offers to us, we do not forgive after the wrong has been righted. Forgiveness begins the moment it’s requested, because forgiveness has to have an element of grace to it.
According to the definition offered by C.S. Lewis (which I agree with), forgiveness means
#1. acknowledging that what the other person did was not right
#2. we will make it right on their behalf.
We will, like God through Christ, take the dirty rags of friendship and – with our own hard earned money and our precious time – we will clean them, fold them and hand deliver them. It has to be this way, or else we are not truly offering forgiveness. I must put aside my expectations of what I deserve or don’t deserve, and say “I love you because I love,” words Rhoda once wrote on the inside of a Dove wrapper and snuck into my Bible.
I am tired of carrying around the excess weight of hurt. But look, I watch Extreme Weight Loss and I know that extra pounds don’t always just shed themselves. I have to climb the mountain of forgiveness in order to shed everything that is holding me down. But thankfully, I am being encouraged and motivated, soothed and challenged by someone who is even better than Chris Powell – by the Lord Jesus himself, who climbed a mountain of forgiveness with a cross on his back and then hung on it. I just have to get to the shadow of what he’s already done and he’ll take care of the rest.
God give me the strength. sigh.
Satan, also known as the Father of Lies, is great at consistent, quiet whispers in our ear until we believe what he’s told us. He likes to target things that cause us to lash out on God, so we usually question God’s goodness or sovereignty or wisdom. Once in Bible Study, Jim Sparks had us identify what enemy of love we struggle with. Mine was “score-keeping,” and this is where Satan likes to get me.
He gets me feeling like crap about myself and then asks me questions like these: Did they ever write back to those letters you sent? Hey, remember that time they were in town and didn’t think to mention it to you? Do you LOVE spending all that gas money on people who you can’t even pay to visit you? Just wondering, why do you think it’s so easy for them to hang out with everybody except you?
and so on. Then I get lured in and start counting backwards. there was that time, and that time, and that time… oh yes, those four times… and then it overlaps with other people and suddenly I am faced with this huge list of the people I love the most and ways that they have CRAPPED ALL OVER OUR FRIENDSHIP. and I fume and ask God if he could make me die in some tragic, horrible accident so THEY COULD FEEL LIKE CRAP FOR NEVER CARING ABOUT ME, and I exhaust myself with comparisons and anger and worthlessness.
IF ONLY YOU KNEW how often this happened to me. Bi-monthly at the least. Then, last September something clicked. This is what happened.
September 27, 2012
I guess it is good to know what lies Satan will and has consistently thrown at me when I’m already hurting or when I am emotionally vulnerable. First I will just get angry. After that, I will lash out on anyone who seems relevant to my current suffering, tearing them up in my thoughts. BUT THAT IS NOT SUFFICIENT. After these murders, I will dig up any other similar or relevant past offenses.
All the while my only role is that of the innocent victim-turned-slayer, crying not out of guilt but frustration that these people make me do this stuff. How selfish of them, right?
So Satan tells me – if only you had better friends, and you know why you have bad friends? Well, look at you!
Let’s be clear. I am definitely not in the running for any “best friend of the year” awards, but I’m not the kind of friend Satan says I am. Humility is having a proper perception of oneself, and that means knowing the truth of the strengths I bring to relationships but also being aware of my weaknesses and flaws.
Every time, Satan dangles the same lies in front of me. And I always greedily lunge for them, forgetting the consequences I always vow to never endure again.
Jesus said “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’.” Be self-controlled, consistent and reliable. I aim for that in my outward dealings with people but – as ALWAYS – lack that discipline internally.
SO WHAT IS MY BATTLE PLAN?
If I know the enemies’ tactics, then I can be prepared.
STEPHANIE’S BATTLE PLAN AGAINST THE FATHER OF LIES
- PRAY FOR MY FRIENDS
-Ask God to bless them. pray for the things they’re facing.
- FORGIVE MY FRIENDS
-for everything Satan is dragging up.
- REMEMBER MY FRIENDS
-try to recall my first memory of them or my most recent fave.
- RECITE SCRIPTURE
-cuz Jesus did it
- SEEK FORGIVENESS
-from God, but also identify areas I must seek forgiveness from my friends.
I am writing this today because I have been experiencing Satan’s lies for the past two days, and as I sat at Starbucks, head bowed and praying for the strength to stamp and send a letter asking someone for forgiveness, I realized that this battle plan is no joke. It’s helping, and I am bearing the battle scars of standing firm.
Satan lies to all of us. If you think he doesn’t lie to you…. then there you have it. Develop a battle plan so that the minute you recognize that his lies have sneaked in, you can be on high alert and run him out before he does any more damage. But be prepared for serious warfare, because he will come at you harder and harder and the battle plan you’ve prepared in your own strength suddenly needs supernatural assistance in order to be effective.
28th July 2013 | 101, faith. | 1 comment
This past week I crossed off “eat only fruits and veggies for a week” from my 101 list. In my mind, I was going to be eating a lot of really great, colorful salads and tons of bowls of fruit. LOL, no. I ate a lot of apples, carrots, pears and drank stupid amounts of coffee.
After a few days of trying to justify that BANANA bread counted as a fruit I realized that I WAS FASTING. Not on or with purpose, but fasting nonetheless. Once I realized that, I held my hands out to God and asked him to honor and teach me for the rest of the week.
Let me share what he taught me.
One of the reasons I decided it was time to do this at the very moment I did was because I have a rash on my leg. It’s really itchy and pretty ugly, and back in like April, Sarah Nottle told me that I should probably take gluten out of my diet. There are few people who I trust as much as Sarah, so I cold-turkeyed gluten. That lasted for three whole weeks, because then I went to Disneyland. When I returned, I had every intention of going back to a gluten-free diet, because in addition to my rash starting to clear up I felt better all around.
The problem was that sometimes it really sucks to take things away. I have been kind of hoping that I would stumble back into the discipline I had for almost a month. Weird, but living a discipline and restricted life doesn’t happen on its own.
This past week has wiped my slate clean, and suddenly all of the foods I once thought restrictive and limiting now sound like indulgences. Because yeah, maybe I won’t eat gluten… but I’ll eat more than bananas and green peppers.
A great way to appreciate the things that I don’t think are enough is to scale back to where those unenough things are a luxury. We are surrounded by so many options that we’re quick to be displeased and feel unsatisfied by any sort of restriction. Limiting our options shows us what we really need as opposed to what our gluttonous selves reaches out for with sticky fingers, wanting more more more.
I am so grateful for a God who gave up everything for me. Especially after this week.
in His image
“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Donald Miller once said, “I can no more understand the totality of God than the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me.” I like that. I like thinking that I am a pancake trying to understand Donald Miller. When I read Donald Miller’s twitter, I FEEL like a pancake trying to understand him… but that’s a different discussion.
I don’t know how Donald Miller likes his pancakes, but he makes a pancake as he sees fit. Maybe with blueberries or chocolate chips or plain or gluten free or this or that. All that matters is that he’s making the pancake exactly how he wants it.
Wouldn’t it be weird if this happened…
Pancake: WHY DID YOU MAKE ME WITH BLUEBERRIES?
Donald: Because I wanted you with blueberries.
Pancake: WHY DIDN’T YOU MAKE ME WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS?
Donald: I didn’t want you to have chocolate chips.
Pancake: CAN YOU WRAP A SAUSAGE IN ME AND DIP ME IN SYRUP?
Donald: Nah, I want you just like this.
Pancake: PEANUT BUTTER?
Donald: You are what I want.
Pancake: I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU RIGHT NOW.
I mean, really. But that’s what I do to God all the time. Why am I so loud? How come I struggle with casual conversation? Why couldn’t I be more gentle? The whole time God is lovingly me putting me on a plate and looking at me with so much love because he dreamed up a plain pancake and then went ahead and made me.
The wonderful thing is that even as a pancake, God invites me to know him. He puts up with my requests for syrup dunking and prettier hair. God allows me to know him, and the more I know him the more I make sense in the grand scheme of the world, because I realize over and over again that I was created by someOne who dreamed me up. God dreamed me up, and he made me, and instead of complaining about the whole thing, I get to ask my Creator to show me how to be used for His purpose, to bring him joy.
There’s a lot about me that’s messed up and that doesn’t reflect my creator. I try to pass off my blueberries for chocolate chips and will scream “I HAVE GLUTEN!” while I taste like a sponge, but God who knows and created me patiently waits for me to tire of the pretending and say “okay, why blueberries?”
It’s important for me to know who I am, because when I can stand confidently on that knowledge, I am able to declare loudly what I am not. I am no longer what I was before I met my Creator. Seeing myself in His eyes makes it harder to carry on living in ways that don’t reflect Him, because I want for people to see Him in my eyes. That is hard to do when I am being who I was before I met God, full of lies and unkind words, impatient and impulsive and angry. None of those words describe God.
an my only prayer is that the more and more I know God, the less and less those words even make sense in relation to me, because they don’t even make sense in relation to the One who created me.
the desert may suck….
First of all. I wrote this all out once before and then I lost it.
The other day I was sitting on my bathroom counter listening to music when the Holy Spirit spoke loudly into my soul. My heart started fluttering and I couldn’t sit down anymore. I’ve been washing the rags of thought in the water of these words over the past few days and my heart is so convicted to share this. Here is what the Spirit said:
The desert may suck… but Egypt was worse.
The book of Exodus is one of my favorite books in the Bible because we see brought to life a small-scale version of our liberation from sin and death. Moses acting as Christ the Mediator, the Israelites acting as ALL OF HUMANITY, and Egypt representing us being enslaved to sin.
Quick recap so we’re all on the same page about where the words of the Spirit were referencing. God’s people were slaves in Egypt. The Egyptians made them build stuff and basically were life ruiners, making them kill their babies and stuff. In the middle of the infant genocide comes the baby Moses, miraculously discovered by Pharoah’s daughter, spared, given to his sister to be raised by his mother, and returned to Pharaoah when he was old enough. He got a great education, had a lot of power and influence and (if you ask me) was in the perfect place to politically liberate God’s people.
But then Moses impulsively killed an Egyptian who was mistreating an Israelite. He fled to Midian where he spent FORTY YEARS (!!!!!) as a shepherd. Then God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and was basically like “You’re still my guy, Moses.” Moses goes to Pharoah, equipped with the power of God, and finally Pharoah lets them go. Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, and then Pharoah changes his mind again and sends armies to get the Israelietes back.
God’s people find themselves with the Red Sea in front of them and the approaching Egyptian army behind them. You know what they do?
They start telling Moses about how he should have let them stay in Egypt. How they had never asked to be delivered. That it was better to have died in Egypt.
And then with God’s power, Moses parts the Red Sea. The Israelites walk across on dry land, and then the waters drown the Egyptian army. The Israelites, according to the Bible, put their trust in God.
We then read about God giving them sweet water to drink. They complain about being hungry, and say “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.”
Exodus 1 describes the Israelites oppression in Egypt like this:
- oppressed with forced labor (v11)
- worked ruthlessly (v13)
- lives were made bitter with hard labor in brick an mortar an all kins of work in the fiels (v14)
- infant genocide (v16)
None of that sounds like sitting around eating to me. But when we leave a bad situation and are faced immediately with another challenge, for some reason that comfortable old place sounds good, even if it was a terrible place to be. History gets rewritten and the mountain in front of us will more often than not seem way bigger than the one behind us.
The problem isn’t the mountain behind or before us. The problem is the mountain within us, the lack of faith (God refers to the Israelites as “stiff-necked people” a lot..) despite overwhelming proof that God’s promise to never leave nor forsake still stands.
Or, as Captain Hilary put it while we were texting about it,
The problem is we take ourselves everywhere we go.
Until we learn to trust in an unchanging God in the midst of uncertain circumstances, every battle we face will seem harder and more overwhelming than the one before it. Once we have stepped into a place of alignment to God’s purpose, plan and path we are able to see the difference between the mountain behind us and the hill before us.
The desert may suck
but Egypt was worse.