Stress or Peace? Which Do You Prefer?

I can answer that question easily. I prefer peace. But lately I have been asking myself if I choose peace.

The last week has been stressful. I wish stress could adequately describe the extent of turmoil I have felt, but it does not. Stress takes both a physical and mental toll on me, and in turn it takes an emotional and spiritual toll. It begins in my head when my brain processes a stressful situation and soon it manifests itself with either a raging headache right in the center of my forehead or a stomach ache that makes even sitting down uncomfortable. It then turns emotional because it frustrates me (I tend to cry when I am frustrated and at my wits end), and then it turns spiritual because I can focus on nothing else except the stress. I cannot pray, I cannot read, I cannot journal.

My morning quiet time in the last week has been severely hampered by stress. One morning as I drank my coffee and reclined on my couch with my dog in my lap, I silently cried out to God, begging for focus, but within seconds my thoughts were on my stress once again.

Left with no other choice, I laid my thoughts out before the Lord. “God, I give You my thoughts…” But wait. Giving Him my thoughts and saying a prayer means…what? It requires an action, it means I am going to completely lay all my burdens at His feet in exchange for a few moments of peace.

And the moments of peace began when I lowered my walls and let Him in. It felt like every muscle in my body finally began to relax. Slow, yes, but still making progress. Fighting against the enemy’s discouragement telling me I have to solve all these problems, I had to keep talking to Jesus. In that moment of unfolding peace I had a realization about myself and Christ, and our relationship.

Here it is: I think many people who do not know me very well would say I tend to be a slow person—slow to speak, slow to act, slow to evaluate, slow to process, slow to respond. This is true, I can have an argument with someone that lasts days. But the people who know me well also know that I am action oriented. When there is a problem, I act. I compile my information, I draw up my plan, I execute. Well, in the early morning hours on a weekday there is not much I can do in the way of solving my own problems. And right then is when Jesus wanted my attention the most. I had to choose peace.

God has had me reading the book of Nehemiah lately. In the season I am in it has offered endless encouragement that I have clung to throughout every single day. But it has also taught me more about the power of prayer, and how most of the time it is meant to be the only tool in my arsenal for this season. It is difficult to take such a backseat to solving problems as my flesh wants to choose stress, but this morning I was brought into sweet communion with my Savior because that is what was needed most. It always is.

“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 2:4

Let prayer be your first line of defense today, and choose peace over your stress. I cannot tell you it is easy because it is not. But it is worth it. Challenge yourself in your prayers. Choose to pray for the least of these, choose to pray for your enemies, choose to keep the conversation going with your Savior. You will not be disappointed.

Two Months Too Long

When you have a passion for something, you want to do it as often as you can. It can make you feel safe and secure, it can make you feel like what you are going through matters, it can make you feel like someone, anyone, is listening to your words and bearing your burdens with you. And in the midst of difficult seasons, comfort brought by spending time doing something you love can be paramount.

My something? Writing.

By no means am I a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist or a New York Times bestselling author, but I know God gave me a way with written words. Throughout the past five years, writing has been such an intricate part of my identity and going without it for long periods of time—as I have done recently—feels like not being able to walk for weeks at a time. So here is a new post for you. I am committing to writing more often since I have missed out on much.

Thinking about what I wanted to write for this update has had me thinking off and on for the past week. I have pondered deep thoughts and shallow topics, and I always came away with the desire to simply be honest. So here goes: I am struggling.

No one can get to young adulthood without realizing that in life there are peaks and valleys, high mountaintops and low desert floors. And here is something I have learned about peaks and valleys in general: they look different for everyone. My struggles, what I am fighting through right now, may not be on anyone else’s list of valleys they have experienced. Nonetheless, here I am. And their mountaintops may not ever be mine. Nonetheless, they are standing high. But down at the core is the truth that everyone, no matter who they are, will experience highs and lows.

While I was on vacation in Gulf Shores in September, there was much going on not only in the United States but all around the world. Hurricane Harvey had just left a huge disaster scene in Houston and the surrounding areas, and Hurricane Irma was on its way to Florida after devastating parts of the Caribbean. There was a small chance my family and I would be in Irma’s path, but by the grace of God it did not turn west. Earthquakes devastated parts of Mexico and London was being attacked and nuclear war with North Korea loomed ever larger (and still does). Yet for one brief moment in time, my family and I were safe, unaffected.

Usually when my entire family is together I struggle to find quiet time to read or write in my journal or spend time in prayer, but I think on this trip God knew I needed some alone time with Him. Every day I woke up at the exact same time—7 a.m., 5 a.m. in California—and I would quietly walk downstairs, make my coffee and sit out on the deck. It was the perfect spot for me. The wind gently blew, the sun was still rising, the view of the street below and the ocean across the street. It was peaceful. In those moments I would reflect on everything in my heart, giving everything I could to Jesus and not holding anything back. One morning I woke up feeling discouraged, like the enemy had literally hung a dark cloud over me while I slept and I woke up feeling frustrated and angry, and even though I did not want to, I opened my Bible app. The verse of the day happened to be from Isaiah 40. Just following my thoughts, I opened the entire chapter and began to read. What a surprise that the title of the chapter in NKJV is “God’s People Are Comforted.”

In my life seasons I have learned so many things about myself, and every single season—whether it be characterized by mountaintops or valley floors—reveals more and more. The season of life I am in right now has taught me that I value honesty more than almost anything else, and I desperately need the comfort of security. I did not realize how much I desired these things until suddenly they were more rare than abundant in my life.

As I read the 40th chapter, I was truly comforted. (Just an honest moment about having a relationship with Jesus. It is not always easy like the pages out of a Christian fiction book. Living a faithful life has thrown me so many curve balls, and every time I find myself on the floor I have to remind myself that it is OKAY to be there for a little bit. God sees me, He hears me. And more important than anything He is comforting me, lovingly catching every tear that falls, and holding me as I endure pain and heartache. He never leaves me. And in my moments of torture, all I want is peace. I want to sing worship music in the hope that it will lighten my heart. I want to read my Bible because maybe it will distract me. I want to pray because then I have someone to talk to. But I would be lying if I said doing all of those things ALWAYS make me feel better. It does not. But on this day, though I had to fight my way through, I was comforted.)

The first five verses of this chapter talk about how Jerusalem is comforted by her warfare ending because Jesus will come. And Jerusalem will eventually be saved along with anyone else who desires to be. That is comfort in the truth of who God is! He is my Savior, my friend, my Father. He is the one who never leaves me, and always comforts me when I feel impossible to be comforted!

The last five verses speak of how great His understanding is. He KNOWS everything about me, and somehow He still loves me. I was on His mind when He went to the Cross and breathed His last while He endured immeasurable pain. He is everlasting, His love is everlasting. There is not one single thing I can do to outrun Him. There is not one single fault or chink in my armor He sees that would cause His love to falter.

Always in my quest to have peace, to heal, to grow, to learn, I come back to this truth: Jesus is my everything. He is everything I desire, everything I need, everything I could ever want. He loves me so unconditionally, and all of the things I desire to receive from other people (unconditional love, security, compassion, honesty) are already offered by Him.

Jesus loves me. I do not need to concern myself with anything else. It is hard to not be bothered, it is hard to outrun heartache and pain, it is hard to surrender to the emotion of the moment when I know there is a hurdle I have to jump over. But there is freedom on the other side of that hurdle, and the opportunity to rest before I get to the next one. Because guess what? God is going to be faithful for the next hurdle, too. It is not going to be painless, ever. But He understands. And He offers all His love and comfort.

Take it.

Oh, Mom…

There is a song I like to listen to. It is called “Love Remains.”

If you listen to country music, you know who Lady Antebellum is. And if you know the names of the members, you know that Hilary Scott released a worship album with her family, and it is composed of old and new hymns and worship songs. And, you guessed it, “Love Remains” is on this album.

It makes me think of my family, the love my parents show me every day. But it also makes me think of my mom. The song begins by talking about how we are all born, and our parents react to seeing us for the first time: “Momma smiles, and Daddy cries.” The song goes on and talks about how a boy will grow up and take a bride: “She stands faithful, by his side.”

When I think about my 23 years on this earth and the constant presence of my mom, I can say I saw her do primarily two things: She smiled (at us and because of us) and she stood faithful (by my dad’s side and by our side).

Over the last couple of months, I thought of my dad a lot. He has so many characteristics and traits (hard working, loyal, sacrificial, consistent, loving, respectable, etc.) and he works hard to make sure his children possess those traits as well. But my mom…I cannot begin to tell you how many of her traits are amazing and precious, and how I desire to have those same traits.

If I could use only one adjective to describe both of my parents, I would say this:

Dad is consistent, but Mom is steady.

I can honestly say that she has been a steady and faithful foundation my entire life. While Dad had to go make sacrifices and take care of the family outside of the home, Mom was with us, providing everything we needed. She is the picture of steady love.

At this point, I just want to write something personal to my mom so I am going to change up this post a little bit, but keep reading.

Mom, I am thankful for our relationship. I remember being a teenager, and if there was ever something bothering me it was rare that I talked to you about it. I was Dad’s girl no matter what. I remember you asked me about it one Sunday on our way home from church. I remember where we were on the freeway (driving under the Nuevo Rd. overpass). I remember what car we were in (the truck). I remember where we were going (Sam’s Club). I had a bad day at church, and I was beyond frustrated, and instead of talking to you about it I chose to sit in the passenger seat and cry. I stared straight ahead and refused to be talked to. You got frustrated because I think I told you I only wanted to talk to Dad about what was bothering me. You were quiet after that. It occurred to me that it did not make much sense that I was not taking advantage of your listening ears or your heart of love, and it hurt you every time I preferred Dad over you. Somewhere in my heart that day I made a commitment to start talking to you more. Our relationship grew from that point forward, and now I am just as close to you as I am to Dad.

And now that I live on my own, the lessons you poured into me have taken root in whole new ways. Dad worked tirelessly (and still works tirelessly) to teach me and Matthew and Chelsea how to work hard and respect people and earn respect in return and defend ourselves and fight for what is right and prioritize others over ourselves and how to make sacrifices and be smart and be wise. He always taught with the right amount of love and strength so we would get it. But your lessons were so soft and subtle that I did not really put much thought to them until recently.

You taught me how to use my time wisely. If there is something that needs to be done and you have a few minutes to do it, get it done. You always told me, “The things you love, you will make time for them.”

You taught me how to plan and how to be wise with the gifts I have been given. Whether that gift is financial stability or time spent with people, it takes a certain amount of organization and wisdom to use them.

You taught me how to be faithful. You have never let me question how much you love me and how deep your love for me runs. And even in those moments when I think I might have reached the bottom of the deep love you possess, you always assure me that there is more to be found.

You taught me how to be quiet and let things play out. I bet if anyone who does not know you could use one word to describe you, it would be “quiet.” You are quiet by choice. You choose the right moment to speak and the right moment to keep your words to yourself, and so much of that wisdom comes from how well you know me.

You taught me how to fight (in all aspects where a fight is needed or required). I still think of how hard you had to fight for me against insurance companies and doctor’s offices, and if you had not fought who knows what my life would have turned out to be.

You taught me how to love in small and detailed ways. Everything you have ever done for me, it has stemmed from the detailed love you show me. You know me well and you taught me to show that same love to others.

You taught me how to cling to the Lord every day of my life, and you taught me that He will communicate with me in a personal way, a way He does not use with anyone else. I am special to Him, and that will show in every part of my relationship with Him.

Most of all, you taught me how to put my characteristics into action. You taught me how to get to know myself, and surrender my gifts to God so He could use them the best way He sees fit.

Mom, the song “Love Remains” makes me think of our family. If there is anything more difficult than being a parent to a toddler, I would think it is being a parent to an adult child. But I think you and Dad have done a good job always showing us that love remains. So for that and so much more, thank you.

What I Learned in a Year

May 2 is a significant day in my life. This year it marks two years since I graduated from California Baptist University, and it marks one year since I began working at Turning Point. Both of these events are so intertwined, and thinking about God’s providence in both events brings tears to my eyes. Why did God choose to look on me with favor? Why did He give me the gift of spending two years at CBU, where I would meet people and learn lessons, and even learn about myself and who God really is? Why did He give me the job I have? What makes me so special?

I think the basic, simple answer is nothing. Nothing makes me worthy to be so blessed. If anything, I deserve absolutely nothing from God. But rather than dwell on all the ways I am unworthy, I am going to cherish these blessings and learn as much as I can from both the happy times and the hard times.

Let me take this time to direct you to a simple question I have been asking myself over the last week: What can a person truly learn in just one year?

Here are a few things I have learned in the last 372 days (since it is May 8 as I write this).

1. Life, especially as an adult, is filled with decisions. There comes a point in every person’s life when they realize they must take responsibility for themselves and no longer rely on their parents or any other authority figure except God alone. Mine came just over a month ago.

I took a careful evaluation of my life—my time and how I spend it, what I do with my money, how I conduct myself in relationships, where I stand on ethical and moral issues, what my guide and my compass should be, and what my standards are for myself. After I evaluated, I have to admit I was more than a little disappointed in myself and also convicted for how I had been living. I felt weak. I felt ashamed. So I did the only thing I could: I confessed my lack of intentional living and asked God to redeem me. How could I turn from my bad habits of not caring about my time, not caring about my health, not caring about my money, not caring about my heart, in favor of forming better habits?

I ended up taking a couple of hours to write out what my standards and rules should be for myself. What I should do with my money, what efforts I should make to maintain a smart budget. What I should dedicate my time to. What I should maintain strong commitments to (example: I will not commit to something unless I am 100 percent sure about it). What decision I should make in these particular situations and what situations I need to steer completely clear of. What I should do about the apparent laziness in so many areas and choose to be more active. What I should do to be more proactive. I set a goal to become a woman of my word, a woman people can rely on, a woman people can respect and enjoy being around. A woman who loves those around her completely and unconditionally.

More than anything, I wanted to be able to look at my life years from now—five, 10, 20 years—and say that I did things God’s way, even if it took me a long time to figure out what God’s way really was.

2. Decisions can be difficult and can cause pain. But pain, just like everything else outside of eternity, is temporary. And God will meet me in those decisions and in that pain, and He will give grace, and grace more abundantly.

3. Jesus came so that I might have an abundant life. But the abundant life God desires for me is not going to come on its own. It will not be dropped in my lap, it will not be easy to attain, it will not be easy to maintain, it will not be easy to make the right decisions. But the end result—to be able to hear God tell me “Well done” when I come into His kingdom; to be able to say on my deathbed that I lived a life wholly devoted to my Savior and the furtherance of His Gospel; for my loved ones to be able to say that I lived in a way that brought people in and made them feel loved and showed them that God desires their hearts—is worth far more than the decision to lead a life less than.

Settling for less is never something God desires for me. He does not desire that choice for anyone. Because settling for less—a job I do not enjoy, an unhealthy relationship, a nonchalant attitude, a dream always relegated to the back of my mind never to be achieved—will not please God and will certainly not satisfy the desire He has for me to live abundantly.

4. A certain amount of being a responsible adult and a strong Christian relies heavily on how close I cling to my Savior, and how well I know His voice. Can I say that I know His voice? Can I say that I listen to Him? Can I say that I have good discernment when I cannot distinctly hear His voice? Is my faith growing strong? Living a responsible life is just as much of a decision as it is living a Spirit-filled life.

5. The Christian faith, the Christian life, is a constant balancing act. There is no lesson I can learn 100 percent and then never have to go back and take a refresher. When I learn to love someone, I have to keep learning; it is not a one-time lesson. When I learn to be the best copy editor I can be, I have to be willing to keep learning and keep growing. When I learn how to trust Christ with an area of my life and I surrender it to Him, I have to make sure I keep laying it down.

6. It is absolutely okay to be vulnerable. So often people run from being vulnerable because it is uncomfortable. They are exposed. Sometimes it can feel like they have set themselves on a small circular platform while people surround them on all sides sneering at them as they bear their hearts. It is scary to be vulnerable, but it is freeing. When vulnerability can be accomplished in any type of relationship, any type of setting, connections with people grow so much deeper.

And vulnerability does something else: it leads to love. Love is the one thing everyone in this world is viciously after. It is only four letters, yet it encompasses something so powerful that it is the very reason Jesus Christ went to the cross to die for the sins of the world. He gave His life not expecting anything in return, it was unconditional. And we as His followers, His children, are commanded to love as He has loved.

When it comes to love and vulnerability, I like to think of a quote from C. S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

On the surface this life is simple to live. It is only when I put my human hands in the mix that it begins to become grayer, more complicated, more difficult to understand. As much as I would love to say that the last year, even two years, has been super easy, I cannot say that. I can say I have learned quite a few valuable lessons, but I cannot say I am the same person I was a year ago. In many ways, I feel I went from being a child to being a woman. In the last year, I took more steps than I thought I ever would. I am working hard every single day to make sure I am pursuing the abundant life God has for me. Often I fail, yet God still loves me and picks me up, lovingly tells me to keep going. And I am trusting that I know His voice.

Regardless of how simultaneously difficult and joyful the last year has been, I can say with certainty that God was in control the entire time, and He remains in control. I never have a reason to doubt it. I never have a reason to doubt Him. So I will walk faithfully into the next year, and trust that He will forever remain in control of my life and my heart.

 

A Personal Miracle

Quick note about the picture: This was taken at my favorite beach in SD, Mission Beach. It was a beautiful sunset and sometimes I wish I could go back to that day. But there is a connection because last Good Friday, I was at the beach, and I wish I could have gone this year. But a gift is I can go and enjoy it no matter when.

Let’s get to it.

This week is passion week. Today is Good Friday. Sunday is Easter, resurrection Sunday. It is a time filled with miracles, not only the miracle of Jesus rising from the dead and all of the other numerous miracles He performed, but also the miracles that happen in present day.

Some of you may be wondering, “What miracles are you seeing that I am not? We still have disease, we still have abortion, we still have evil everywhere we look, we still have war, we still have chaos. What miracles are you talking about?”

There are personal miracles you can spot in your life if you look for them. In this post I am going to give you two examples of miracles in my own life and my hope is that on this day, Good Friday, you will pause for a few moments to reflect on the miracles you have in your life due simply to the biggest and most powerful display and act of love ever: Jesus dying on the cross for your sins.

Example No. 1:

The other day I woke up before my alarm went off. It rarely happens this way. I am unabashedly one of those people who has multiple alarms go off in the morning and I snooze every single one of them until I am good and ready to face the day.

The sun had still not come up completely, but there was just enough light outside my window to give me an idea of what time it was. My eyes were not open all the way, my eyelids felt like they weighed about 5 lbs. each. There was the smallest amount of light coming through my blinds. It was silent. The only sound I could faintly hear apart from my own breathing was my dog’s breathing.

God spoke to me. A Scripture came to my mind, flashing to the front of my thoughts, but instead of being like a flash of lightening (quick) it took its time and lingered for a little while. The verse was one I actually do not spend too much time thinking about, but nonetheless it is a verse I committed to memory years ago. It had a special place on my bedroom door during my teens. I would look at it every day. The verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

—Proverbs 3:5-6

Next, the emphasized words, “Trust in the Lord,” came out of the darkness. It almost felt as if the words were being spoken in a whisper right next to my ear. Peace rushed through me. Gratitude flooded my heart.

I have breath in my lungs, I have a roof over my head, I have food, I have a great job, I have a puppy, I have loving relationships, I have hope. None of these things would be present in my life—I would not be present in this life or in that moment a couple of days ago—if Jesus had not come and died on the cross for my sins.

That is a miracle.

Miracle No. 2:

If there is one verse I have been dwelling on for a few weeks now, and even more so during passion week, is John 10:10:

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (bold added)

On top of this verse, this morning I read Romans 6-8. Chapter 8 is mostly known for being the chapter that contain the verses about being conquerors and how God causes everything to work together for our good and how His love is greater than anything we can encounter in this life. I had never, until this morning, read chapters 6 and 7 right before reading 8. But I am glad I did.

Paul goes to great lengths to explain to the Gentiles and to the Jews that sin is the problem they are facing and the Law put in place in the Old Testament simply was not the ultimate answer. In fact, he says at one point that the Law is an impossible standard to live up to and it essentially defeats him. But chapter 8 brings everything into perspective when Paul goes into explaining how we are not in bondage to sin any longer because the one-time sacrifice of Jesus was more than enough to allow us to live in freedom. God’s love gave us freedom.

That sacrifice is the reason we are observing Good Friday today. More than 2,000 years ago Jesus hung on a rugged wooden cross that dug into His precious skin, He had nails driven through His hands and feet, His head was crowned in the harshest thorns they could find, His legs were broken and His heart was pierced. And His heart was broken when He witnessed His Father turn His back from the sin He was shrouded in. And He endured all of that so we would not have to.

He sacrificed Himself, and God the Father gave us His only true begotten Son—Himself in the flesh—out of the purest form of love so we could have abundant life.

That is a miracle.

So…what are you doing with the abundant life Jesus came to give to you? What dreams, what aspirations, what prayers, what calling did God place in your heart as a way to glorify Him? as a way to live an abundant life?

Today, my abundant life consists of reflecting on the miracles that are present in my life. I am going to be thankful and in awe of the gift of life God has bestowed upon me. I am going to pray boldly for someone special to me. I am going to love fearlessly and fiercely. I am going pursue my Savior every single moment of my life. I am going to bring glory to His name.

His sacrifice was meant for so much good. And I will spend my abundant life remembering that every single day, praying I never take it for granted, striving to live a spirit-filled life so as to give a testimony to all He is.

What can you do today to take advantage and truly appreciate the personal miracle Jesus gave to you on this day over 2,000 years ago? What is going to bring Him the most glory? What is going to make another feel loved and appreciated? Whatever it is, be fearless.