Faith, justice, Lessons Learned, Social Issues

Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly


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As I sat across from my friend in the coffee shop, telling her about the work I was doing at a refugee resettlement organization, I couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. The whole conversation started because she had been looking for ways to get involved with refugees in the city and wanted to talk to me about my organization and any volunteer opportunities that I knew of.

As I heard her explain what type of opportunity she was hoping for, I felt my jaw clench and my heart sink, knowing exactly how the rest of the conversation would probably go. She wanted to evangelize the refugees, teaching them English with the Bible and taking them to church. I explained that my organization—and all of the other refugee resettlement organizations—were government funded and mostly religiously unaffiliated, so we couldn’t have volunteer opportunities for people who only wanted to do those specific things.

I explained that the volunteer opportunities offered through those organizations would still give her a chance to invest in the lives of refugees throughout the city and teach meaningful and necessary life and language skills. I told her that she can be open about her faith but just needs to let the families lead the conversations. I tried to explain how investing in their lives with true relationships would build a strong foundation that a relationship with evangelistic strings attached couldn’t build.

And then the words came tumbling out of her mouth: “What’s the point, though, if I can’t talk to them about salvation? Who cares if they have jobs if they don’t have Jesus?”

I felt somewhat speechless, but I did manage say the words, “I care and you should, too.” This wasn’t the first conversation I’d had with a fellow Christian about working at non-religious organizations, but it certainly was the most blunt and the most discouraging. She didn’t mean for the words to sound so harsh, and I don’t even think she realized just how harsh they were. But she spoke from a place of misunderstanding about our call as Christians and even a misunderstanding of who the vulnerable populations are and what their lives look like.

Somewhere along the way, Christians have missed the mark. Telling others about the gospel is obviously important—crucial, in fact. But we can’t neglect the physical needs of people or the chance to build true, lasting relationships with them. Richard Stearns, founder of World Vision and author of The Hole in Our Gospel, writes, “A church that’s lost its voice for justice is a church that’s lost its relevance to the world.”

If we aren’t willing to engage in justice, meeting people’s physical needs, they will not be open to us engaging with them spiritually. For refugees and immigrants, widows, orphans, trafficking victims, the poor, and more, justice is having access to food, education, jobs, safe homes, to name a few things. The gaps in our gospel become especially evident when we interact with international communities. It’s not practical for refugees to learn English vocabulary from the Bible. They need to learn English to survive, especially in a society that isn’t always willing to accept them as they are. They need English to work, to navigate our social systems, to get driver’s licenses, and, then maybe, hopefully, to eventually read the Bible.

When we focus only on the eternal and miss out on what’s happening here and now, we portray a Jesus that cares only for a person’s soul and not for the physical person he created for this earth. But that isn’t who Jesus is at all. Jesus healed people, and he spent time building relationships over multiple meals and deep conversations. With his disciples, his conversation about faith was not one-and-done. Jesus continued to invest in their lives both spiritually and physically, even when they still didn’t get it. He was patient and spent time listening and learning about the people around him. Jesus offered hope to people because they saw that his words matched his actions—that the grace and love he talked about in his parables and sermons matched what he was living out in his life every day.

Christians have multiple opportunities to show this gospel to refugees, immigrants, the poor, the addicted, and more—but we refuse to take opportunities that don’t fit in with our own agendas, with our own need to be the spiritual heroes. How many chances to serve and love others have we missed because it wasn’t what we wanted? But if we put our own agendas aside to see who these people really are and what they really need, God will work through us to enact justice in our world and to show others hope in Christ.

What would happen if we went into the home of a refugee family and the only words we spoke about our faith were, “I am a Christian.” Would our actions and attitude show them who Christ is? Would they be able to see the hope and life change offered to them through the gospel?

Salvation is the crux of the gospel, but Christ’s life reflects that our lives should be about both justice and grace. Without both, we miss the fullness of the life God is offering to us and to others. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

dreams, Faith, Identity, Lessons Learned

27 for 27


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I didn’t make any resolutions at the start of 2018, but as my 27th birthday moved closer, I realized that I had a lot of things in my life that could change. The past year brought lots of challenging lessons, both inspiring and painful. But to move into my next year of life without acting on the things I’ve learned would mean another year of missing out on God’s goodness and grace for my life. So, as my 26th year comes to a close, here are 27 resolutions for year 27 of my life.

  1. Take more risks. I’ve played it safe for most of my life, but I’ve also realized that I’ve missed out on a lot by not being willing to take a chance. I need to put my full trust in God and take that step towards the impossible.
  2. Read more. Netflix & Hulu are great, but they’ve led to a lot less reading and a lot more mindless watching. This year, I want to turn the TV off more and get back into books.
  3. Write more. If you look at the date on my last post, I’ve obviously slacked off on writing. But writing helps me process the world around me in a healthy, productive way. This year, I’m going to beat writer’s block.
  4. Make my own music. Anyone who knew me in high school and the first few years of college knows that I used to write songs all the time. I’m finally going to break the 8-year hiatus and get myself back into making music.
  5. Learn basic code. Even in my volunteer roles or my “extracurricular” work, I want to make sure I’m doing my best work. So if learning basic code is what it takes to produce quality content, I’m going to do it.
  6. Make more margin in my life. A lesson I’ve learned time and time again is that when I’m too busy, I can’t make time for the people I care about. By creating margins in my life, I leave time for the people I care about and don’t get burnt out in the process.
  7. Exercise more. What can I say? It’s hard to keep up. But I’m going to stay on the path I’m on and find ways to motivate myself to keep going.
  8. Eat less junk. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good meal of burger and fries. But I’ve hit a point where the effects of junk food on my body are disproportionately worse than my love of these foods.
  9. Paint more. Creativity has proven to be helpful for me to feel useful and to process my emotions.
  10. Get my finances in order. The hardest part about fulfilling your dreams is having the money to do it. By getting my money in order, I can be that much closer to being able to travel and do the things I want to do.
  11. Stop being afraid to express my feelings to people. I used to think it wasn’t worth it to express my feelings for people, out of fear that they would reject me or not feel the same way. But recently I learned that not telling people how you really feel leads to more regret than being honest with them. I want to make sure the people in my life know how much I care about them.
  12. Network more. When you get your first job, it’s easy to get complacent. But networking never stops being important, even if you’re planning to stay in your job for a while. I need to put myself out there and get connected to other professionals who can help me learn and grow.
  13. Really, actually work on learning/practicing another language. Keeping up with my Russian has been hard because I rarely use it, but I love the language and want to relearn it. I’d also love to learn some of a language that our refugee families speak.
  14. Invest in the community I already have. It’s really easy for me to get caught up in the fact that so many of my friends live outside of Pittsburgh. But the reality is that I have a great community here, but I need to invest in it more–and invest in the friendships I have outside of the city that are meaningful to me.
  15. Be better at self-care. I’ve been sick 4 times in 5 months–so it’s pretty obvious that I need to find ways to take better care of myself, starting with taking more vitamins and finding healthy ways to deal with stress.
  16. De-clutter. No matter how many times I get rid of stuff, I always seem to have too much. But the clutter is stressful, and I end up with a lot of unused things taking up a lot of useful space. Time to clean out.
  17. Explore new parts of the city. After 4 years of driving all over Pittsburgh, it’s hard for me to feel like anything is new. But there is still so much I haven’t seen, and I need to get out there!
  18. Travel more. Travel takes money, which is in short supply. But with friends’ apartments, a car, and grocery stores, I can find ways to get out of the city, even if it’s not too far away.
  19. Learn about the countries where my clients come from. Here’s a secret–I have little to no knowledge about many of the countries where our refugee families come from. I want to learn more about their culture and history and find ways to connect with them on a more personal level.
  20. Take better care of my diabetes. This one seems like a no-brainer, right? But pile on testing your blood 4-6 times a day, giving yourself insulin with every meal, making adjustments as the month goes on, and trying to do all of the other non-diabetes things in your life and it gets tough. But it needs my focus, and it’s worth my health to do it.
  21. Read my Bible more regularly. With small groups and church, it’s easy to coast along during the week without opening your Bible very often. But the best way to get to know God is by spending time with Him, praying and reading His word.
  22. Pray specifically. At 27, I have some pretty strong opinions about what I want in life and in my future. While I know that not all of those things may happen, I do believe that we are called to pray for things specifically, showing our full trust in God.
  23. Keep my spaces more organized. Confession time. While anyone who has lived with me or known me for a long time has seen the tragedy that is my room wouldn’t be surprised, most people probably don’t know that I often live life in the middle of piles of clothes. As I move into my 27th year, I want to work hard to ensure that my spaces are clean, organized, and stress-free.
  24. Complain less. One time a coworker told me she was counting how many times I said the word “hate” that day. While she was joking about the amount of times, I really had to stop and consider how much I was complaining about things that really weren’t that bad. Less complaining, more action towards change.
  25. Text less, talk more. Texting is great for a lot of things, but it’s not great for having meaningful conversations. While I’d love to get less people at work calling me, I really need to move into actual phone and in-person conversations with my friends.
  26. Avoid toxic relationships. This has been a joke going around the internet about 2018, but it’s legit. While I never love to cut anyone out of my life completely, I can certainly scale way back on the amount of time I spend with people who only drag me down.
  27. Show more grace to others. It’s really easy to get impatient with people, especially when they aren’t doing the things you want them to do or when they aren’t treating you well. But we all have our moments and we all have our struggles, and I want to strive to show the same grace to others that Christ shows to me.

 

Culture, dreams, Faith, Identity, Social Issues

America, Who Are You?


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My heart hurts for America. And not just for the America that we’ve become, but also for the America that we always thought we were. The America of the past is romanticized, but even in its brightest moments, there has always been darkness.

But the America we’ve become, that’s a new story. A repeat of parts of the past but with more division, more violence, more publicity, and more places for people to brush over half-information and form an opinion. The ever-unattainable American dream is now a faded memory, but maybe that’s because it was never truly what we should have been chasing after.

Let’s get one thing straight–America is not a Christian nation. America started out as a nation of some Christians, but mostly it started out as a nation of people who were tired of oppression and discrimination and leaders who pushed people around and manipulated citizens. But a nation run by broken people will always run into the same problems that humanity has struggled with throughout time: oppression, discrimination, corrupt and manipulative leaders, hatred, violence, etc.

But now, more than ever, America is not a Christian nation. The church is losing its ground, but more than that, the message of Christ is being lost amidst the yelling and screaming Christians are doing in the public sector–at protests, on pulpits, on social media, in conversations with both friends and strangers. Christians are poised with closed fits and angry mouths instead of open arms and words that give life.

Worst of all, churches and Christians have been chasing all the wrong things–the American dream, the perfect job, family, car, wardrobe, home. We’re fighting for our own rights, our entitlement. We’re fighting for our voices to be heard, but those voices aren’t speaking life-giving, love-showing words. They’re dividing and tearing down and making fun.

Once upon a time, Christians used to be some of the most spiteful, hateful people at public shamings. (Don’t believe me? Read this.) And now, with social media, not much has changed. And even more tragic than what’s coming out of our mouths is what’s happening in our hearts. Christ is no longer King. He has taken second place to citizenship, to nationality, to political party, to denomination, to personal priorities.

It takes two seconds to type out a thoughtless response that spews hate, but it takes patience and discipline and wisdom to chose to reply with respect and graciousness, or not reply at all. “Out of the mouth flows the heart,” said one candidate. And that’s true for more than just presidential candidates.

Proverbs 4:23 – “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Luke 6:45 – “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” 

Matthew 12:34-35 – “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”

Matthew 15:18 – “ But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”

The leader we should be looking to isn’t on any election ballot. Christians should be Christ-followers first, above all else. We’re on the same team. We’re fighting the same fight. We have the same goal, the same grace, the same hope. We have a truth that is deeper and more absolute than anything a fact checker can find. We have a sovereign God who has never lost sight of His plan for His people. His victory is not over America; it’s over our wretched, sinful human hearts. He has won, and we can no longer continue to live in fear, hatred, and spite and still claim Christ as King.

America,–Christians,–“we are broken; we are bitter; we’re the problem; we’re the politicians, watching for our sky to get torn apart.” We’re chasing the wrong dream; we’re fighting for the wrong things. What we forget is that this fight isn’t just about an election. It’s not for the presidency; it’s not for Congressional seats. It’s not for right wing or left wing. It’s not for the economy or national security. It’s not for human or civil rights. It’s not for any sort of freedom.

The fight is for our souls.

So, America, who are you? Who are you really? Are we a nation of hate and violence? Are we divided and ruled by fear? What do we find our hope in? America will never be a “Christian nation,” but it can be a nation filled with Christ-followers who give generously, seek both justice AND mercy, and who truly love their neighbors, literal and figurative, no matter who they are or where they are from, citizens and non-citizens alike. A nation of people who overflow with love for others that comes from the outpouring of love God showed to us by sacrificing Himself for the sake of our souls and asking for nothing in return. And the real question–Christians in America, who are we really? Who is the ruler of our hearts?

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 ESV).

Switchfoot (feat. Lecrae) – Looking for America

Faith, Identity, Lessons Learned, Relationships

The Walls I’ve Built and How I’m Tearing Them Down


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Taking risks on people is not easy.

Let me just start by saying that what you usually read here is an after-the-fact, tailored, perfect snapshot moment of some struggle that actually took me several months to work through. It’s not as easy to write when you’re in the midst of it all. But if I use this blog for its real, true purpose–helping myself process and grow–then writing in the midst of a struggle is necessary. So maybe this won’t be my most eloquent blog, but I’m still in the midst of the journey.

What also wasn’t easy for me was coming to the realization that I have real, deep trust issues when it comes to people. I’m great at being open, vulnerable, and honest with people–but only with things that I feel just far enough removed from that I know I can control my emotions, keep my head held high, and give a nicely packaged “lesson learned” in the end. The things that are closest to my heart, those stay wrapped up inside, hardly ever making their way out.

Opening up about those things takes trust–and don’t worry, I’m not going to do it in a blog post. But what I’ve found is that I’ve stopped being willing to take risks on building those deep, trusting relationships with people. I’ve built up walls and created a system where no one person knows the real me.

Moving to Pittsburgh was hard in terms of friends. I went from an environment of always having like-minded friends readily available to struggling to connect with my classmates and finding that my other friends just didn’t have the time, since they were getting married and working full-time jobs. I struggled in grad school, both academically and socially. I had a few friends, but we didn’t have a lot of similar interests and that left me on the outskirts of a lot of friendships.

Even when I joined a small group, it became clear that by the end of the semester, I would be going in a separate direction from most of the others, many of whom were graduating and getting jobs and moving elsewhere. Maybe it was feeling like everyone was leaving, maybe it was just feeling like I was personally failing, but I pulled away from the people closest to me and pretty much just stopped investing into people’s lives. My dad passed away, friends left or just moved on, and I felt like I had very few supports.

Whether that was actually true or not is hard for me to say, but I know that that’s how I felt. And that made all the difference when I started to look for ways to fill the gaps. Out of boredom, loneliness, and who knows what else, I started online dating. It’s a whole year of my life that I really do wish I could just black out from the face of history.  I was definitely not building any meaningful relationships there, and I was falling farther away from the friends and family who were actually trying to support me, not to mention my faith was drastically dragging.

Even when I finally got out of that phase, I still struggled to connect. In fact, I still struggle to connect–present tense. Without healthy, meaningful, deep relationships, it’s easy to idolize other things–comfort, fashion, careers, dating, food, you name it. Lysa TerKeurst, in her book Uninvited, says a lot of really good things about rejection, relationships, and learning how to trust.

In the midst of my struggles with relationships and my struggles with getting healthy (a topic for another day), one thing Lysa writes really stuck out to me: “If I fill my stomach with healthy foods before being tempted with the pasta, I can say no. It’s so much easier to turn away a dish of pasta if you’re completely full already. But if you are desperately hungry, a dish of just about anything is hard to turn away. Our souls and our stomachs are alike in this way.” Proverbs 27:7 puts it like this: “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet” (ESV).

If I’m not filling my life with Christ, I’ll try filling it with other, unhealthy relationships that will never satisfy. I’m nowhere near through figuring out this taking risks on relationships thing, but I have definitely learned that in order to ensure that my relationships are healthy and that I’m protecting my heart, trusting wisely, and investing in others well, I need to make sure that I’m full with the grace and love that Christ has for me, first.

Without knowing who I am to God and how he loves me, I will always be tempted to fill my life up with the quickest, easiest relationships–usually ones that leave me hurt and broken. Those are the friends that flake, the romances that fizzle quickly, the people who take what they can and leave. Those are the girls who talk behind your back. Those are the guys that string you along without telling you they’re not actually interested. Those are the leaders who take advantage of your time and don’t respect your skills. And I’ve let them do it because I just needed something to fill the hole. They aren’t the people I should be filling my life with. And they’ve left me unwilling to take the leap into any relationships, even good ones.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to take risks on building those deep, vulnerable relationships yet, but maybe I’m starting to be. I’m learning more and more about how to make sure that I’m getting my fill from Christ alone and not from the things of this world. I’m appreciating the friends I have who already provide me with healthy relationships, and I’m figuring out how to make more of those friends in Pittsburgh. I’m starting to understand what a good, Godly dating relationship looks like and learn more about how that fits into my future. I know that God has placed some amazing people in my life, and I am working to invest into their lives. But most of all, I’m taking this journey one step at a time to tear down these walls that I’ve built and let Christ work in me to fill me with His love first and foremost and then to be able to let that love and grace overflow to others.

dreams, Faith, Lessons Learned

Moving Past Broken Dreams and Unmet Expectations


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I’ve always had a plan. I’ve always had a dream for how my life would look, goals to meet, and a path I thought I should follow. And because I’m such a planner, I’ve always had a “Plan B” in case the first plan didn’t work out. You know what I’m talking about: “I’ll hopefully be married before I’m 30, but I guess if I’m not, I’ll just buy a bunch of dogs and travel the world.” Or “If for some reason I can’t get a job in my field, I’ll open a kennel or go back to school.” Or “If I’m still single by 35, I’ll just adopt a child so I can have a family.”

We pad our dreams with backup plans–sometimes as a joke, but even these jokes are often lined with seriousness. We know that life doesn’t always turn out like it should, but we hold on to the expectation that someday, if we keep pushing through, trusting God, moving forward, we’ll see our dreams come to life. And so, we wait.

If you would have asked me 7 years ago what my life would look like at 25, the picture I would have painted wouldn’t look much like the one I’m living now. I would have said married, living in a city like DC or New York, working on anti-trafficking policies and research, traveling to various countries–you get the point. These are the dreams I held onto for years; and these are the dreams that have left broken remnants hanging over my head, wiggling their way into my thoughts, telling me that the life I’m living now is not the life I wanted at all, that I’m still waiting for those dreams to come true.

The life I have now isn’t bad; in fact, it’s pretty good. I’m working with a great organization that helps refugees in Pittsburgh; I’m doing work that I’m passionate about. I’m living with my sister, have made many really good friends through the years, and am involved in my community. I’m single, and I’m making the most of the time I have now to just work on myself and figure out my priorities. Pittsburgh is a pretty great city to live in, and I’ve even started to grow roots here; I’ve got a great church, and I’m learning more and more about how to get involved with the place I now call home.

Even so, the lingering pieces of unfulfilled dreams and unmet expectations crowd out the joy that I should be feeling with the life I’m living. It feels like I’ve settled for second best or gone with “Plan B” since the first plan didn’t come through. The dreams I’m still holding onto make my life seem less than. That emptiness I feel in the quiet of night, just before I go to bed, is the space where these dreams that should have been, are not. More than the weight of those broken dreams is this feeling that God didn’t come through. Or that He’s holding out. And instead of living, I’m left waiting.

Maybe this is you. Maybe your plans for marriage didn’t work out the way you thought, or your plans for children. Maybe you moved to a place you never wanted to be. Maybe you lost your job or just couldn’t break into your field. It’s easy to believe that your life hasn’t lived up to all it should have been. We wait and wait and pray and hope for God to come through with the dreams we have. Sometimes our dreams don’t come through because of our choices, but often, even when we’re following God faithfully, we still don’t see our expectations being met. But maybe that’s because God’s expectations are far above ours; maybe our “Plan B” was His “Plan A” all along.

In my last post, I talked about the idea of chasing God, rather than chasing after His will. By striving to know God more, to learn about who He is, to grow in a relationship with Him, we begin to trust Him and give Him control. When we know God’s character and have experienced His goodness, we trust that He is leading us into a place that is better than our own dreams and expectations. It’s not that we shouldn’t have dreams, but maybe we need to hold a little less tightly to those dreams, let go of them a little easier when things work out differently than we expected. My life isn’t less because I’m single or not living in a big city or not working for a huge organization or not traveling the world or not making tons of money. My life isn’t less because it didn’t work out the way I expected. When we know God, instead of trying to figure out where every little thread of life goes, how it connects, or why it’s there, we just go, do, and be because we love Him and we trust that He is good. We don’t wait anymore.

You’ve probably heard the metaphor before that our lives are like tapestries. When you see the back of a tapestry, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Everything looks messy; the colors are muddled; the threads are everywhere. Some of them seem to go nowhere; others travel on forever. It certainly doesn’t look like a masterpiece. But turn it over, and you can see how the threads led to the design, how the colors fit together, how the pattern was woven to create a beautiful piece of art.

That’s how our lives often look. Things don’t often make sense. We meet people, do things, go through seasons that don’t seem to connect to anything else. We go through trials, have unmet expectations, and have journeys that we never thought we would have. But by pursuing God, we will follow those threads regardless, and we don’t let the burden of broken dreams and expectations stop us from living a life fulfilled by Christ alone. And in the end, we will see the other side of the tapestry, the beautiful story of God’s redemption that we chose to be a part of by following Him.

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Faith, Identity, Lessons Learned

Chasing God’s Will for Your Life is Still Chasing the Wrong Thing


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Altitude sickness. The illness I dreaded leading up to my trip to Denver hadn’t affected me until, of course, the moment when I needed it to stay away the most–trekking up the 14,000-foot mountain, by car then by foot. The first time we got out of the car at Summit Lake, I could feel myself struggling to breathe; thin air, so I figured it was just a normal amount of labored breathing. We could have stopped there, but our destination was the very top of the mountain. But when I started to hike the what-should-have-gone-smoothly 1/4 of a mile to the summit, I could feel myself wobbling, the edges of my eyesight starting to blur. C’mon, keep going, I tried to push myself. I had to sit, drink, eat something.

Even more frustrating than the possibility of not making it up the mountain was the thought of dragging everyone down with me. I had to make it; I knew that if I didn’t, I would regret it probably for the rest of my life. How many more chances would I get to stand at the top of a 14er? Against the dizziness, the sleet, and the freezing cold, and with some support of friends (physical and emotional) and a few pauses to sit and breathe, I finally made it to the top.

It wasn’t anything like I expected: what I thought would be a deep, soulful time overlooking the surrounding mountains and valleys was a cloud-filled, freezing-cold mess. The fog covered everything, making it impossible to see past the edge. The winds made the cold temps even colder and pelted freezing rain at our faces. It was the hardest .25 miles I’ve ever walked in my life–something that should have been simple. But I made it, and I knew that I would have that memory and accomplishment with my friends forever. It was worth it.

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Standing on the summit of Mt. Evans!

Fast forward 30 hours, and I’m sitting on a plane reading from a chapter of Grace Thornton’s I Don’t Wait Anymore where she talks about her climb to the top of a 10,000-foot mountain in the Rockies. She points out that they stopped part of the way to a spot with beautiful views and she sat, thinking that was the end of her journey and not realizing how difficult the rest of it would be. But her friend pointed out that if they would have settled for that spot and never made it to the top, they would have settled for something much less amazing than what they experienced at the top, both externally and internally.

If I would have held onto my expectations, I would have been content to stay at Summit Lake. Getting there was easy. The scenery was colorful. It was cold but bearable, and the fog was still above us at that point. I didn’t have to worry about altitude sickness or getting dizzy. Staying there would have been easy and I would have been close enough to the top, but I would have missed out on what was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand on top of a mountain with my friends. I would have been seeking and chasing after the wrong goal, missing out on the best because of my own limited perspective.

My whole life, I’ve been striving to seek out God’s will for my life. What plans does he have for me? What should my next steps be? What is his purpose for me here on earth? But I’ve slowly learned that chasing God’s will is still chasing the wrong thing. In seeking God’s will, I place my own expectations and milestones into the mix. No matter how much I try to let God be in control, I’m still acting as if he’s the contractor instead of the architect. I expect God’s will to fit into my boundaries of what I think life should include–a steady job, marriage, a family, etc. I’m waiting at the parking lot, instead of making my way up to the summit.

Instead of chasing God’s will, I should be chasing God–period.

This book, Grace Thorton’s I Don’t Wait Anymore, explains this idea so well. Basically, by placing my focus on God and pursuing who he is, I can be free to let my life glorify him, no matter the circumstances. Instead of being frustrated at job rejections, singleness, not enough money to travel, etc., I can be looking to the next opportunity to seek out God’s character, love, and grace in my life. Of course, I will never be perfect at this; none of us can be, but by surrendering our dreams and expectations, God delights in making his dreams for us our own.

Think about it–the entire world we live in was created to point to God’s character and to give us pictures of who he is and who we are to him, whether that’s through marriage, parenthood, friendship, discipleship, nature, and even our imperfect social systems. Even in their broken, fragile states, they point us to Christ, his character, and his love for us. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7 ESV). Even the Bible, while it shows us how we are to live, is ultimately to help us know God more–not just know about him, but know who he is and grow in that relationship with him. Instead of going to God with our own expectations, we go to him out of joy and love, ready for whatever he has for our lives. When we pursue God alone, we know true freedom and grace.

Moses’s story is a perfect example of this. He spends so much of his life waiting for directions from God, seeking after the next step, figuring out the plan for his life and God’s people. But the moment that he goes beyond that and pursues God alone, he has a life-changing encounter. He asks God to show him his glory; he wants to know who God is, not just know about him and wait to hear another list of commands or directions. He chases after who God is, wanting to have a real-life encounter, which is exactly what he gets. God leads him to a mountain top, where he passes by Moses, and even though Moses doesn’t see God directly, his face shines with literal light, radiating the love and grace of the one true God. Moses’s life is never the same, and suddenly the golden calf that the Israelites have settled for seems pale, weak, and insignificant in comparison to God’s glory and character.

In order to have the mountain-top moment, I have to be seeking something different, chasing after more than just a plan for my life. When I focus on my life plans, the focus is still on me. When I strive to know God more, to know who he is and learn about his character and his love for me, then I begin to make my way to the top of the mountain. By letting go of my expectations and putting my dreams fully in the hands of Christ, no matter how beautiful or ideal the scenery may be, I no longer settle for anything below the summit.

What have you been pursuing or chasing after? God’s will or God, himself? What does it look like to chase after God and to focus our lives on knowing him more, rather than focusing on what his plans for our lives are? What steps do you need to take to reach that summit and move past your own expectations and dreams?

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At Summit Lake, one of the highest lakes in the US.
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Finally made it to the summit!
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With my friends at the top of Mt. Evans.
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At the parking lot below the summit, with 1/4 of a mile hike left!
dreams, Identity, Lessons Learned

What I’m Learning about Being Present as a Future-Minded Dreamer


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The other day I cried because a friend posted a picture of her trip to Central Asia on Instagram. I didn’t cry because it was a beautiful picture or even an amazing background story. I cried because I was sitting in Pittsburgh instead of adventuring through Eurasia. I wanted more; I wanted to be living a different story than the one I’m in now.

Wait…some of you might think. Aren’t these the kinds of things she was saying when she was working a part time retail job and feeling really unfulfilled in her work? Yes. Yes, they are. And coming to that realization led me to understand that I’ve been living in a cycle of the “next thing” for my entire life, and I have no idea how to get out of it.

So much of life is waiting for the next thing, the next step. Waiting to start school for the first time, waiting to get out of elementary and move to junior high, waiting to be a high-schooler, waiting to go to college, waiting to get into grad school or get the first job. You get the picture. All of those things come to an end with a promise that something better is next.

Now, however, I’ve come to a stage in life that doesn’t have such a planned ending. There is no logical next step, no definite ladder to climb. I don’t have a timeline for how long I’ll be in my current job, how long it will be until I get married and start a family, what year I will finally get to go abroad again. It’s all a gray, undecided, undefined blur.

As someone who obviously looks forward to the future, this is a hard place for me to be in. Even now, in a job that I love, I can’t help but wonder what’s next for me. The crazy thing is that I’m only three months in! I’m three months into a job I love, and I’m so stuck in a cycle of waiting for what’s next that I can’t even live in the moment I’m in now.

Have you ever found yourself in this cycle of discontentment? With every new phase of life, you constantly look towards the next. It makes it hard to be truly happy, even when life is going really well, and it gets easy to second guess where you’re “supposed to be.” When we’re stuck jumping ahead to the next thing, we’re left dissatisfied, discontent, and feeling empty.

So how do we get out of this cycle?

Find a balance between living in the moment and looking toward the future.

We don’t need to stop thinking about the future. The Bible is all about looking ahead–to Christ, first as a man and then as a King to redeem his kingdom. But that doesn’t mean we should get stuck there. We each have a role to play in God’s grand story, but we can’t do that if we miss out on what’s going on around us. If we’re not being present, we aren’t giving our all to the role God has called us to play, which brings me to point two…

Remember that our lives should glorify God, not ourselves.

Sometimes we get upset with our circumstances because they don’t fit in with what we think our lives should look like. So instead of trying to seek God’s purpose in those moments, we pray and hope and wait for whatever is next. It’s not bad to dream, but wishing our lives away doesn’t help anyone. Not only does this lead to misery and frustration, it also leads to a lot of missed opportunities–to be a light, to share God’s word, to live in a way that shows others who God is. When we’re so focused on our calling and our purpose here on earth, we lose sight of the reason we were created–to glorify, delight, and serve God.

Find the little things in the moment that give you joy and meaningful purpose.

If you aren’t doing what you love with your job, volunteer to do it somewhere else. Non-profits come in all shapes and sizes, and most of them need volunteers to do everything from balance accounts to writing grants to teaching English. You can use your skills and pursue your passions in so many ways besides your actual job. Maybe God’s plan is for you to help a small non-profit with their social media pages while your job is something less glamorous but it’s enough money to live on and great benefits. Find ways to do what you love and what you’re passionate about. It makes such a difference in learning to be present in your life.

Life doesn’t always go the way we plan, and sometimes it’s just easy to let your future-mindedness get the best of you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can find meaning in the moment and learn to hope and plan for the future without letting it overtake the lives we’re living out now. God calls us to be present and faithful our lives, not in 10+ years. If we are truly seeking Him out, every stage of our life has a purpose in our journey and in God’s greater plan.

Faith, Holidays

On Anticipation


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I love Christmas. Almost anyone who knows me can tell you that it’s true. I love the lights, the ornaments, the trees, the songs, the stories. When Christmas is approaching, the whole atmosphere is different–everyone has just a little bit more excitement, a little bit more boredom with everyday life. Even people who hate Christmas can’t deny the beauty that the season brings. This year, though, I’ve noticed something about this holiday that I hadn’t before.

I know where you’re thinking that this is going. Christmas isn’t about the presents, the lights, the carols, etc.–it’s about Jesus. And while that’s true, I’ve realized something else this year. Christmas is about anticipation. In the days leading up to Christmas, everyone is anticipating. I always feel this tingling in my chest, like hope welling up and overflowing because I know what is coming.

Stick with me here.

See, what’s left out of the typical Christmas story is the prelude. The waiting. The anticipation felt for thousands of years for this one night to come, for this one baby to be born. Generation after generation of Israelites waited, hoped, prophesied, prayed for this Messiah to come and save them. Many thought he would come as a warrior to overthrow the government and free the Jews of oppressive political systems. Few knew that he came as a baby of a teenage girl in the calm of night, in the middle of a small town in a stable, not to overthrow the government but to set us free from the sins that bound our hearts. Their hope was a blind hope–they had no idea how the Messiah would come, who he would be, even what he would do, really.

Every year at Christmas, we relive this story again and again, on just a small scale. Sure, Jesus almost definitely wasn’t born on December 25 or even in winter, but the point is what leads up to that day of celebration that the Messiah did come. And we are living in the anticipation that he will come again–not as a baby, but as a King who will bring his work to completion.

This is what Christmas should be about–not the presents or decorations or religious freedoms or red cups or date accuracy or any of that. Christmas is about the promise God gave to his people thousands of years ago that he fulfilled through the birth of his Son here, on Earth, with us. And it is about the promise that Christ gave us while he was here–that he would return again to finish the work that started with his birth and will end with his Kingdom reigning over all.

Our hope is not blind. We know what God has done, that he fulfilled his promise and that he will do so again. The story that started in Eden did not end in Bethlehem, or even on the cross. It continues each day and will continue throughout eternity. And this is what we need to remember each Christmas, waiting and hoping and praying again: O come, O come, Emmanuel. 

O Come O Come Emmanuel – Future of Forestry

Faith, Identity, Lessons Learned

Where My Heart Becomes Free and My Shame is Undone


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Lately, I haven’t been hearing much from God about my future or the big decisions I have to make, but I have been hearing a lot from Him about the role shame has played in my life, and I think that He has been trying to emphasize to me that this is a lot more important than my own agenda right now.

I’ve realized that I live my life with the burden of shame hanging around my shoulders. Some of this shame is caused by others, but a lot of it is brought on by myself. Instead of forgiving myself or letting things go, I just keep packing it all away. I’m living with shame for things that I didn’t even do, but I’m such a perfectionist for myself that I take on the blame for things that were totally out of my control. I’m also living with the shame of things I HAVE done, which can be a lot more burdensome, especially if you’ve been holding onto some of those things for 20+ years. Believing that you’re worth love and joy and forgiveness becomes impossible when you’re carrying the weight of shame and guilt. This isn’t to say that I should not repent or ask for forgiveness, from God or others, but I can’t continue to live my life in a state of constant defeat.

I love reading, and I love stories. So sometimes, I imagine my life as though it were being written in a book or made into a film. The person that I am in those scenes and chapters is not the person that I am in real life, and that is because the person in those stories does not live with shame. She lives with dignity and integrity and grace; she knows she is loved, forgiven, and made with a purpose. She lives such a better story than the one that I am living out under this cloud of shame and guilt.

By living my life like this, I limit God’s work and grace in my life. A life of shame is a life of defeat, one that reflects a god who is still inside the grave. When Christ defeated death, he defeated my sin, my shame, my guilt. If Christ’s death was enough for the world, then it was certainly enough for me.

Maybe the reason that I don’t have any direction for my future or any answers to my big, looming questions is because I’m too busy trying to punish myself for all of the things I feel guilty about–24 years worth of shame. I speak of redemption and salvation to others, but I haven’t learned how to live that out in my own life. I’ve been living the life of defeat and retribution.

What does this life speak of an all-powerful, merciful, gracious, loving God? Not much. My life will never be a movie or a book. I may never stop struggling with letting go and forgiving myself, but if I learn to let go of the shame and strip away the lies and pretenses that I’ve built up, then I can be on my way to living a life of dignity and integrity as a child of the one true God.

I definitely don’t have all the answers for how to start removing the shame, but I think the first step is reminding myself daily about what God has done for me by reading His word and surrounding myself with those truths. I think that the second step goes back to my previous post, about staying vulnerable and humble with those around me. I need to relinquish control of the things that I can’t change, rather than blaming myself and holding onto unnecessary guilt. And I need to learn to live a life of victory and redemption, not ruled by punishment, guilt, shame, and sin but as the new creation that I became through Christ’s love and blood so long ago. The more time I spend in God’s presence and the more I breathe in His love and grace, the more that those begin to shape who I am, instead of sin and shame.

And in the midst of letting go of my own shame, I need to remember to treat others with grace and dignity, as well. Christ’s blood covered the sins of the world, so adding to others’ shame and guilt only speaks of a merciless, defeated god, which is definitely not the God I serve. I serve the God of freedom, grace, victory, and love, who sent His only Son to redeem the world so we no longer have to live in shame.

How has shame shaped your life, and how will you begin to remove that covering and step out into the light of God’s grace?

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36