Another Year Gone, Another Year Coming

At this time last year I wrote a similar post. May is a significant month for me as it marks two anniversaries: graduating from college and starting my dream job. Though they both occurred on the same day (May 2) there was an entire year that lapsed between the two.

I’m a sentimental person at heart, and I intentionally take note of important dates in my life; it helps me keep track of what’s transpired in the year prior. So every year on May 2, just like I would on a holiday or my birthday, I take stock of what the previous year taught me, and how it has changed me and deepened my walk with Christ.

A couple weeks ago, I closed another year with this conclusion: my job saved my life. Or more accurately, God used this job, this place, the people here to reach in and save me. It was my stability, the very stability I needed, when life was chaotic.

That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. To look at my life and who I was on May 2, 2015, then 2016, then 2017, and finally 2018…the growth, the ups, the downs, the hills, the valleys, the brokenness, the redemption…none of it could have happened without God orchestrating the entire timeline.

On May 2, 2015, I sat in a cushioned chair at Citizen’s Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California, waiting for my row to be led to the stage. Walking across that stage, getting my diploma and shaking my school’s president’s hand was an odd feeling of stillness. I can’t even remember hearing my name announced. It felt as if my brain was on autopilot.

My educational career spanning 16 years had just concluded. I had been in a mode of formal learning for almost as long as I’d been breathing and suddenly that comfort zone was gone. I was sad to be leaving the environment I knew so well. And I knew the steps before me wouldn’t be easy to take. Finding a job, paying off student loans, harboring a desire and a passion to go to the mission field…all of it joyfully swelled in my heart and confused me at the same time. I was anxious to simply see where God would lead me, and how He would somehow reconcile all these passions He put in my heart.

On May 2, 2016, I walked through the doors of Turning Point, ready to begin my new journey. I had formally accepted a position as a copy editor for this ministry. I saw it as my dream job because here was this opportunity to combine my love for writing and copy editing with my love for and desire to share the Gospel. For the first time in a year, I felt this sector of my life get a solid footing, as if the previous 365 days had felt like floating adrift on a raft before finally stepping onto solid ground again. But all the while, other parts of my life were in chaos, roiling with turmoil on a minute-by-minute basis.

Even on my first day at this new job, this opportunity to start my career, gain a new community, find new footing, I knew the coming year would be difficult.

On May 2, 2017, I celebrated by going on a hike with friends. Then I stopped. I took stock. I looked back, and I could clearly see God’s handprint on every part of my life. My predominant feeling for the year had been that of being stuck, misunderstood, mistreated, unappreciated, unworthy of equal effort, yet I was still somehow growing. But I wouldn’t see the full bloom of that growth for quite a few more months. I had to hold on, hoping and praying God was holding me, keeping His promises as He said He would in Hebrews 10:23.

My 2017 anniversary was a pivotal moment for me. I wanted the next year to be about setting myself up for whatever the future held. Because you can pray and hope for opportunities or blessings all you want, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to handle them when they come. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to handle everything life brought me with faith, confidence, steadfast trust. I didn’t want to let my Savior down anymore; I didn’t want to grieve Him. I wanted Him to look at me and have joy on His face.

So changes needed to be made. And He saw me through each change when the pain nearly consumed me.

May 2, 2018. It was a day that passed with little fanfare (I was swamped at work). But it was a moment in time that marked another year (obviously). One of those holy-crap-it’s-been-a-long-four-years-of-growth moments. So I’ve been looking behind me for the last few weeks, replaying memories in my head, letting long-ago-learned lessons come to the surface in my heart. The conclusion I’ve reached is: wow, I’m different.

When I was 20, I honestly thought I had stuff figured out. How could I not? I had an awesome and active family, I had a growing relationship with Jesus, I was at school which was my comfort zone (anywhere I can learn is comfortable for me), I had a few close friends, my future was totally figured out (lol), and I felt blessed to have that life. But God was stretching me. And now, I look back and almost cringe…no, I do cringe…at how naïve and young and idealistic I was. Deep on the inside I’m just as idealistic now as I’ve always been, but boy have I gained, and lost, and grown, and shriveled away. Boy, have I been confused and felt dumb, then felt redeemed and back on my feet again. Boy, have I felt so far away from Christ and alone, then felt His arms come around me right when I needed it.

But here’s the main takeaway for me from this past year. Redemption is painful at times but it’s a beautiful process. Relationships are difficult and sometimes you find yourself making too many sacrifices, and you have to make a tough decision for distance. Community is invaluable because that’s where Jesus will meet you when the silence of loneliness is too much to bear. Self-care can only come in handy when you know yourself well enough; knowing yourself can also be the difference between a wise decision and a not-so-wise decision.

The world has touched me in ways I never anticipated. It gave me experiences I now wouldn’t trade because it led to many amazing things. Going forward, all I want is for more and more people to join me here and experience redemption of their own. Because God is capable.

With each passing year He reminds anew that He is my steady ground and my solid foundation. When everything else is chaotic, He is not. And though I only have a feeling that big things are coming this year, I will continue to hold fast to Him and the confession of my hope without wavering, because I know He is faithful no matter what.

A Response to GQ

I think there’s something to say about being curious. Curiosity, I believe, is a gift from God. After all, for many of His children curiosity is what started them on their own faith journey. Perhaps they intuitively knew there was some need in their hearts and they decided to curiously follow it. Or they had a laundry list of questions about a God they kept hearing about and they embarked to acquire answers, even if the answers didn’t immediately satisfy.

Either way, curiosity started it.

When you’re a professional, especially one with a literary background, you know the inherent value of reading the works of people who have gone before you. Examining their sentences, paragraphs, story structures, word choices, character creations, teaches you so much more than a simple textbook can. But it also challenges you, especially if something written in one of these works is hard for you to agree with. Maybe you even disagree with it outright and find it difficult to read it again. But in your heart—at the deepest core of who you are—and in your craft, you know you are a stronger literary artist for that challenge.

Let me try to explain this in concrete concepts rather than the abstract for just a moment.

History ill remembered is history that repeats itself. I remember being a teenager watching Israel get attacked for the umpteenth time and political commentators and Christians alike began advocating for all parents to take their children to Holocaust museums. Their fear was that if we didn’t intentionally remember the horrific near-extermination of the Jewish people by Adolf Hitler, then our world would increasingly become okay with the idea of a world without Israel.

The Holocaust is not a shining moment for the human race. But the principle of this story is this: when we intentionally remember the things we don’t want to remember, and pass those stories down and teach them to others, history tends not to repeat itself—at least not to the same severe degree.

A similar principle can be applied when learning about your craft. When you’re a writer, you learn about the best writers of times past (it’s likely you learned about them even before you became a writer or the career as such entered your heart and took hold). You take inspiration from stories like “Pride and Prejudice,” you learn good storytelling from journalists like Gay Talese, you attempt your own renditions of “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Chronicles of Narnia.” All these examples are works that have stood the test of time and inspired millions—some may have even angered a few readers here and there.

I am a writer. An aspiring professional writer (working toward that goal) and my nine-to-five job is as a copy editor. All day every day I am immersed in the literary world. Not everything I read I agree with, but I allow it to teach me. After all, I read for the purpose of learning, not to pick and choose what I agree with and then throw the rest away. Any good writer knows that being challenged is going to bear sweeter fruit in the future.

The same can be said of a Christian.

So why am I writing this? Last week, “GQ” (“Gentlemen’s Quarterly”) magazine published an article called “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.” The byline simply said “The Editors of GQ.” Editors, contributors and published authors each gave a book they wished they had never read, claiming it to be too hostile, too narrow, too rough, too cheesy, too pointless and a waste of time. They then gave a suggestion of what book you should read instead.

One of the books I mentioned above—”The Lord of the Rings”—is on this list. Accompanying this book are other classics such as “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” and “The Alchemist.”

The Bible made the list.

I could easily pick this one paragraph about the Bible apart, but in the end God will always defend Himself. His Word is truth (John 17:17) and gives life (Psalm 119:50) and changes people (Isaiah 40:8). Those facts are indisputable because I and many millions—today and throughout history—are living proof. So instead I will be examining this entire list and giving a more contemporary Christian perspective on what is written there.

Here’s how they prefaced this list—

“We’ve been told all our lives that we can only call ourselves well-read once we’ve read the Great Books. We tried. We got halfway through Infinite Jest and halfway through the SparkNotes on Finnegans Wake. But a few pages into Bleak House, we realized that not all the Great Books have aged well. Some are racist and some are sexist, but most are just really, really boring. So we—and a group of un-boring writers—give you permission to strike these books from the canon. Here’s what you should read instead.”

These editors, while having good intentions to give their subscribers something entertaining and something that wouldn’t waste their time because it’s “really, really boring,” have neglected a rather large principle of what it means to truly be well-read.

It’s not about how many classic books you’ve read (I’ve only read one or two in my entire life, but people have told me I’m well-read); it’s about what you took away from those books. If the only thing you took away from it was not liking one scene or thinking the author was a racist (granted, some were even one century ago) or a bleeding resentment toward the storyteller for not creating a more creative and colorful world, then you missed what that author, what that book was trying to teach you.

The best authors don’t sit down with the mindset that every person who reads their book is going to like it. The best authors who have honed their skills and learned from the best and been open to any and every idea…they want you to be challenged. They want you to walk away from the book they placed in your hands with the desire to keep growing, keep inquiring, keep striving to satisfy your curiosity.

I think there’s a good chance the writers of the 66 books found in the Bible had this mindset too. They had to have thought at some point while the Holy Spirit guided their pens that those words would upset people. But God knew, and knows, that when we read and inquire, we grow.

Don’t be like these editors. And if you do choose to read the books on their proposed list (link here), don’t read it as this-instead-of-this. Rather, read it as this-and-this. Every book, especially if you are a writer and even more so if you are simply a curious mind, and especially if you are a Christian or simply curious about the Bible, can teach you something. Even if what is taught makes you uncomfortable and angers you for a time (as their list angered me by what they said about the Bible) it still teaches you to be smart and use your words correctly. More so, it teaches you wisdom.

It is unwise to reject the words of another simply because you don’t like or agree with them. Give their words a chance. If you don’t, you’ll live your life wondering why no one enjoys talking to you—it’s because you don’t offer understanding.

Be wise. Don’t reject the opportunity to be curious and find answers. There’s a reason why Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, admonished his son:

“Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.”—Proverbs 4:5, NKJV.

Understanding and wisdom is a gateway through which to walk and if you do, God will bring countless opportunities for you to have conversations for His glory with people you never would’ve crossed paths with otherwise.

Peace & Rest, Faith & Works

I have a standing appointment every single day. During the week, it happens right after work. I come home, I feed my dog, I do any dishes that need to be done, then my standing appointment comes.

It’s 30 minutes of uninterrupted time as I take my dog Lottie for a walk. Some days I spend the 25-30 minutes just listening to music and walking to whatever beat is coming through my earphones. Other days, I spend time thinking and praying. The last couple of weeks have been filled with a need for peace. And something that has brought me comfort is I know a lot of people who are in the same boat.

Yesterday evening as I walked around my apartment complex, I enjoyed the gray and somewhat puffy clouds in the sky. The way the sun was coming through the atmosphere and the light was hitting the clouds was created a warm glow. Rend Collective was being piped into my ears. At one point I looked up and noticed the sunset. I can’t say I notice many sunsets these days (sad) so when this one caught my eye I spent the rest of my walk gazing up at it every few seconds. Creation sings praises to the Creator–that was the only thought in my head for a while. My God made that sunset, and He made me. And knowing me, He used that sunset to bring peace in my heart for just a few minutes. Peace–because it’s high in demand and far too many feel it’s in short supply.

I think something every person is after at one point or another is peace. The gift of peace when your circumstances are out of control is so valuable. When I receive it in a time of need I treat it like fine gold, it is precious. Sometimes it comes in a moment of darkness and I have to hold onto it for dear life, and enjoy it, because soon life’s struggles will come rushing in once again, pushing every ounce of peace back out. And still other times, I think we long for rest, a somewhat deeper peace where we don’t have to worry about anything. But biblically speaking, peace and rest are different. In Hebrews 4 we are told that rest is coming in eternity; it is not attainable on earth. However, peace is. Just this week alone I have found and relied on multiple verses to cling to when my peace is in such agonizingly short supply.

Here are just a few of them:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” —John 14:27

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:6-7

“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” —1 Corinthians 14:33

“Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” —James 3:17

“The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” —Isaiah 32:17

If Jesus Himself told the disciples in the gospel of John that He would leave His peace for them, obviously peace is something we can attain here on earth as we wait for eternal rest. God Himself is peace, and He freely gives it to us when we need it. And peace is a characteristic of a believer as we know from Galatians 5:22-23 and Ephesians 6:14-15. It is meant to mark us as His children.

So what does that mean? What should our lives look like in any situation we encounter? Do we have to work for peace? Or have works to have peace?

Here is the answer: You do not need works to have peace. Period. Simple as that.

Peace—like His grace, like His salvation, like His love—is a gift. It cannot be worked for, it cannot be earned. If it could be found apart from the gift God offers, people would be running around like crazy trying to find it. And the fact that it is offered by God, a perfect God and a loving God, means there is absolutely nothing that can be done to dole out the worthiness that would compel Him to give it. A perfect gift offered by a perfect God can never be earned. And the more it is worked for, the farther away it gets, and the more you will ultimately need it. It is going to be an exhausting life trying to earn what has already been given.

Now the application. If I, a child of the King, have been given the peace of God and I trust in Him, how am I supposed to set myself apart? mark myself with peace? make my works reflect the peace I have? Because something important to remember is that peace is not because of my works, rather it fits with my works. And James tells all believers that faith without works is dead, which simply means that the outward expression of our faith should be a result of what’s always being transformed inwardly. So what am I to do?

Seeing as I get the most fulfillment from the people in my life, this means I must maintain peace in my relationships. I want my life to be reflective of peace. When my people are around me, I do not want them to feel any ill will, any hostility, any harm. No turmoil. I want them to feel like they have been listened to, and like they may have problems but they are not the problem. And I want them to understand when I pray for them I only pray for the most abundant blessings for them. I want them to have an amazing life as they pursue Jesus with everything they have.

That means offering prayers for the people in my life regardless of what they have done or how they have lived their lives. It means loving them with my words and actions, working my hardest to give them a safe place where they can be themselves, giving them a listening ear, offering a hug, praying diligently for them. And when the occasion calls for it, being a silent friend in the midst of their turmoil, simply being a presence to remind them they are not alone.

I’m sure I fail every single day at maintaining peace. But part of the peace God has given me includes the strength to get back up off the floor and keep trying. Do not underestimate how much God loves you and how He so desires to bless you with an abundance of peace, and eventually your eternal rest will come. And please remember that although your life should be marked by peace (part of the outward works you do to show your inward faith) the peace that is offered is not because of your works. It is a gift. Accept it.

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.

Love in Action

Quick note about the picture above: I found a place of peace. A Japanese friendship garden. You could say it helped inspire me to write today.

Let’s get to it.

This one is going to be raw and vulnerable, pretty much a #honestyhour for me.

One thing I always notice about my writing—it is present in my personality and comes across in my relationships too—I can be quick to offer advice or wisdom or an opinion about something, but when it comes to living it out I fall short. I lack the application of my own two cents to my life and situations. Since this topic has been on my heart for about a week now I plan on writing a more in-depth post about it, but right now I want to simply share about myself.

Three separate times this week I was told that I intimidate people. I am generally a quiet person around people I do not know well. This does not necessarily mean I have nothing to say or I have nothing going on in my head; likely, the opposite is true. I take my time with everything, especially people and relationships. My natural desire is to know a person well by observing their actions. What are they doing? What do they believe? How does that faith come across in their relationships and interactions with others? with me? How do they spend their time when they do not have a schedule? Are they more laid back or are they more structured? Do they like to be in control or are they more suited to take the backseat and yield control to everyone else? And how do I better relate to each of those characteristics?

These are only a few of the questions I ask myself when I am around people, whether it be for the first time or the 100th time. They are important questions for me to have answers to because they determine how much I will be able to give of myself.

I give 100 percent, and most times I give even more than that, to the people who matter most to me. I pursue connection—deep, uninhibited, vulnerable, real connection—with people. It is who I am. But I find myself in a season of growth and reflection, a season where all I have is time to lay my heart bear at Jesus’s feet to ask Him examine it. I yearn to hear His voice, I yearn to know His reasons, I yearn to know how to please Him as an individual first and as someone special to another person second. This season is hard, and it is lonely. But it is in my loneliness where God meets me and wraps His arms around me and tells me everything is going to work out exactly how He wants it.

In this season, there is an opportunity to respond, to improve, to be better, to be stronger, to have an even softer heart. This is where the application comes in. The application is an opportunity to commit myself to a set of standards that are pleasing to the Lord. The application is an opportunity to take action and make improvements.

Where do I begin, where do I set my “Start” line? I think the apostle Paul had the right idea:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men (bold added), that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

I want to focus in on verse 22. Paul says he became “all things to all men.” In context, he is speaking about how he had to get down on the levels of all the people he talked to and formed friendships with in order that they would be saved, they would be won for Christ. What an example of love and selflessness!

(Normally I write my posts—an extension of my thoughts and content of my heart—in direct-address form, using the word “you.” This post is an even bigger part of my thoughts and heart right now, so I am writing in the form of a journal entry, simply writing about my life. It is part of the application step of life.)

When was the last time I could truly say I even tried to be all things to all people? The people I rely on most in this world, the small circle it is, do they feel I am all things to them? When they need a listener, not an advisor, is that what I give? When they need a hug, not a smack in the head, is that what I give? Do their hearts trust me? Do they feel closer to Christ when they are around me? Or do I pull them away from our precious Savior? Do I intimidate them into giving me what I want or need? Am I too selfish toward them?

If I asked myself these questions a year ago, two years ago, I would have said with probably a bit too much confidence (maybe a little sass) that even if I failed at doing this, I know I tried my hardest every single day. At the present moment, I do not have that same confidence. I can easily allow myself to spend a good amount of time on my high horse without evaluating my own actions, and there were a few good reasons why I stopped trying so fiercely to love those closest to me. It seemed like every day was an uphill battle and at the end of every day I was happy to simply lay in my bed and close my eyes. But the pain and the frustration turned my heart away from people. I ceased being all things to all people, or at least doing it to the best of my abilities and with the strength I know God lends.

The ultimate question: How can I get better? How can I commit to unconditionally loving all people in my life regardless of if it is given back to me?

First, I commit to relearning how to be a prayer warrior. Instead of being the first to have an opinion or a sassy remark, I will pray. If God tells me it is my place to speak, then I will speak.

Second, I commit to finding what someone truly needs and do my best to fulfill that need the way they deserve to have it fulfilled…not the way I see fit. For the ones in my life who are a bit more vocal, I will be their listener. For the ones in my life who are seeking counsel or wisdom or encouragement, I will do my best to offer those things. For the ones who want partnership, need someone to walk beside them through a storm, I will walk faithfully with them. For those who wish to reciprocate my efforts and be all things for me, I will graciously receive them.

Third, I vow to love as selflessly as I can. For love without action is not much in the grand scheme of things. People hold onto actions. When someone looks back on their life, they likely remember the actions done to them, not the words spoken. I hold onto actions. I will ask myself at the end of every day if my love for others was shown, not simply spoken. When they reflect back, will my actions be something they hold onto, will they state how much they appreciated it?

Fourth, I will give God control of all things, knowing He is sovereign and with Him there are absolutely no coincidences. Everything is for a reason.

I challenge you, my reader, to love selflessly. Evaluate and reflect. Are there areas in your life that need change, improvement, better effort? What small effort can you make for someone else today? Even if it seems impossible, and you think the action might go completely unnoticed, do it anyway. God sees it, sees you, sees your effort. He will honor your choice to love people and to be “all things to all men.” God has your back. Those small acts will pay off. And remember: There is something precious and amazing about someone who reaches across personality quirks and differences to better love another.

Calling out the media

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”—First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Freedom of the press. It is not the first thing we all think of when thinking about the first amendment. Usually freedom of religion or freedom of speech are the more prevalent rights that come to mind. But I assure you freedom of the press is just as important, if not more important in some ways. Now before anyone tries to assume I think freedom of the press is more important than freedom of religion, let me explain my reasoning.

Continue reading “Calling out the media”

America. Unrecognizable.

America. It is one place where I feel comfortable at all times because it is the place I know. I know the culture, the history, the uniqueness. I know the names of all 50 states and each of the capital cities. I know its system of government. I know the first ten amendments to the Constitution. I know the laws. I know the rights I possess as a citizen.

It is my home. Continue reading “America. Unrecognizable.”