Saturday, May 28, 2011

We're all a mess, let's face it.

I have good intentions of blogging regularly (as in at least weekly, not monthly), yet I don't make it a priority. Which is funny, because writing energizes me, awakens my soul, my eyes, my mind to what's really within me. I let life pass me by and I do things and I talk and I sleep while often not fully aware, engaged, inspired, or tapped into the fact that life is this grand thing and goes well beyond my own checklist and daily activities.

So I graduated from college a week ago. It really doesn't make any sense to me that I'm done. The whole thing seemed kind of anti-climatic. And my past seems all a blur right now. I was just facebook stalking some friends from high school and thinking about how long ago that was and how much I've changed...and how facebook doesn't allow me to really know what's going on with them and what they've been through and experienced these past four years...most of it is a facade. My facebook included.

I have tons of pictures of me smiling. Lots of me smiling on graduation day when I was holding back tears all day. There are no pictures of me crying in my car on the way to Indy just hours later. People don't pull out cameras when they're sad, angry, hurting, bitter, lonely, confused, or disheartened. You only see those pictures in art galleries. That good, rich, deep, beautiful photography that I love BECAUSE it displays true human emotion.

I am learning the value of allowing myself to experience and express what's truly going on deep within me. Mourning my losses and change, and from doing that, feeling extreme joy and gratitude and hope which allows me to keep moving, resting in God's faithfulness and provision for my future.

I often forget that God takes an active role in my life. It's only when I allow myself to really deeply feel and recognize the state of my heart while crying out to Him that I recognize He's near and listening and real and PRESENT.

When I was in the car on my way to Indy last Saturday I had Mumford and Sons playing. I felt almost as if I had gone through a break up when I left Taylor, and the music collided with the emotions of the day and I began sobbing. Through my sobbing and over the music, I began to pray. Audibly praying, over the music and lyrics, crying out to God to nurture the relationships that had been built in my years at Taylor. In my prayer, as my tears began to turn from sadness to gratitude, I spoke the words "Thank you that this is not the end." RIGHT as I spoke those words into existence through my tears, desperately wanting to believe the truth of them, my ears turned back to the lyrics as the lead singer echoed back to me "This is not the end." ("Serve God, love me and men. This is not the end." It had just turned back to track 1 as I was praying). I simultaneously smiled and cried more as I realized God was right there, listening to me and wanted me to hear the truth of the words I had just spoken. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, not some high in the sky God. He lives in us and among us and He wants to speak to us if we'll only reach beyond the surface of what we see and do and think we know.

I'm a mess inside. We're all a mess inside. Life can't be seen in facebook pictures and statuses.

God begins to reveal Himself when we realize and expose our mess. There's no way we'd realize we need Him without recognizing that deep within us there's something that needs cleaning up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"I don't know what to pray, but here I am again..."

It's been awhile.

If you remember my last blog post, I wrote that what I'm really lacking in life is prayer. Therefore, I decided that I would take half an hour every morning to pray.

And now, I must say, I apologize for failing you blog followers who I foolishly thought "could keep me accountable" just because I was telling you I was committing to this. Yeah right. If I wanted accountability, I should have told my roommate I needed her to pull me out of bed in the morning, or asked a close friend if they would ask me if I spent time with God that day. Writing it so my whopping 18 blog followers would simply know what I decided to do is not giving me any sort of accountability.

And frankly, I did not think it through very well. While it sounds like a great thing to do, I am NOT a morning person. So even saying I would spend 30 minutes in prayer before my I had to get up for my 9 am class or a 7:45 subbing job was SO unrealisitc.

All that being said, I did "adapt" what I primarily intended to do. I realized there was kind of an awkward gap from 1 to 2 in my Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays that was perfect for me to dedicate to prayer. (I don't enjoy doing homework in the middle of the day between classes anyway.) So, just about every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for the past several weeks I've gone to the prayer chapel and I have poured out and cried out my worries/frustrations/concerns/prayers/thoughts/joys/requests/etc etc. to God. (Thank goodness they have a box of tissues in all of the prayer rooms.) And I have pored over Scripture passages, recited prayers in a prayer book out loud, journaled, and just sat thinking, often getting distracted and watching people walk from the middle of campus to the DC for lunch, or from the DC to classes.

Often it's a really great, refreshing time for me. Sometimes I'd rather not go, but I do and then I'm thankful afterwards that I did. Sometimes I'd rather not go, and I just don't. I allow lies to get into my head making me think I'm "spiritually OK" and I don't need it. Other times I go and I feel like I'm just wasting time and my prayers are in vain. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and don't know what to pray--especially when I think outside of the people and things and events of my own life. ("God, be with the people in Japan and Haiti and Afghanistan and Libya and Egypt and God, just be with people everywhere. Help them. Comfort them. God, I don't understand all the hurt in this world and how my prayers even matter. Do they matter?")

I still feel like I suck at prayer. And taking the time to pray. But I'm also not beating myself up. Prayer is a great discipline to have, but God doesn't love me any less because I don't pray every morning for half an hour, or because I get distracted by so many random thoughts and forget I'm in the middle of prayer. I know he appreciates I talk to him when I do. And that I really want to hear him. And that I trust him. I imagine he's like my mom in the sense that she loves when I call her on the phone from school. She loves hearing about my life and concerns and is there for me when I cry to her when I'm hurting. She would love to talk to me all the time, but she doesn't get upset if I only call once a week--she gets MORE excited to talk to me. I think God's the same--loving me when I call on him anytime, anywhere, and not at all disappointed that I haven't talked to him in forever--no, more excited that I finally am. My God is not a God of do's and don't and rules and religion, He is a God of love and relationship and everything we see as "good" in this world! He created us in his image. We don't have stipulations on love--or we shouldn't anyway--so why would he? I'm so glad I don't follow a legalistic God and I don't have to endure some type of punishment for not praying or fasting or going to church or reading my Bible. If that was the case, I would have tossed Christianity out the window years ago.

Prayer is not legalistic. But it is a discipline which should flow out of a desire to have an intimate relationship with my Creator and Savior. And reciprocally, that desire also has increased as I have begun regular intentional prayer. It's also led me to be in a mindset more of continual prayer--shout-outs and cries and praises to God randomly during the day. And it's all just awesome. God is so much more real to me. I feel more grounded, more loved, less frazzled, less burdened, and more free.

More to come. Real soon. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 4, 2011

prayer and love and bricks hitting me...

Do you ever have those days where you rethink every decision you've ever made and wonder how you ended up where you are?

I just had one of those days.

I realized those times where my mind takes me every which way and I start to second-guess every decision I've made from coming to Taylor to my major to my friendships to my dating decisions to my faith (thank you, Contemporary Christian Belief. But for real, I love Contemp and I've thought "I would've liked being a philosophy major"--which goes along with my second-guessing why I decided on El Ed) this still one sentence?...I've realized that in those times, my mind is taking over. Satan starts feeding me lies. I realized that what I see and experience in this world is becoming my ultimate reality. That my foundation is crumbling.

Do you know what's really great? What I've finally realized I've been seriously lacking in my life is the very thing that this week's chapter is about in the Henri Nouwen book I'm reading for my small group at The Mercy House. How perfect is that.

And that "thing" I'm lacking is prayer.

Seems pretty basic. "Like, duh, Julie" is pretty much what I think God is saying to me right now. (I am not at all alluding to the fact that God would talk like a Californian surfer dude...but maybe Jesus would)

I have been feeling a desperate need for closeness, for intimacy, to be known and loved deeply, to feel like I matter, that I'm heard, that people desire my presence and take time out of their day to just spend time with me. I have a lot of good friends and a lot of what I have just said I've expressed a need for, I do get from friends, and often daily. Yet, I still desire more. And I've felt selfish wanting that. And I've felt like there's something seriously wrong with me if I am not satisfied by the love people are giving me.

And then lo and behold, I get hit with a ton of bricks (those bricks being different speakers/the Holy Spirit/Nouwen) and I realize oh yeah, I am in need of serious intimacy with God. I need more solitude. I need serious meditation on Scripture. I need to learn that human love cannot fill, and no matter if I'm upset that a friend isn't paying much attention to me or I don't have a man in my life to feel close to or whatever the case may be, God's love can fill if I choose to receive it. It's hard to grasp when we often define our own human love as being God's love shown through then it's easy to say, when human love is lacking, there is no evidence that God is loving me fully. Yet, this isn't true. Yes, we are vessels of God's love, but God's love is shown through nature, through events in our lives, through his provision and faithfulness...through so many things if we just stop and meditate on it. His promises are proof of his love--that He is always with us and will never forsake us, that we can trust in Him, that He is good and just. And ultimately, we cannot experience God's love to the extent he wants us to experience and receive it if we are not in communion with him through prayer.

So, in an effort to get grounded, stop letting my mind get away from me, stop feeling like I'm not loved enough, and stop feeling this desperate need for intimacy, I am committing, starting tomorrow, to pray for at least half an hour every morning before I start my day. And then continuously through the day as I go about my daily activities. This seems especially appropriate since we are nearing the Lenten season as well.

So, since I am making this public proclamation, I have some accountability now...And I will update all you that read my blog with the results of my very intentional prayerfulness.


"Without the discipline of prayer, the world retains its illusions." -Henri Nouwen

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I am Undeserving

I am undeserving.

I have been feeling that sentiment a lot lately--the full weight of it. I've always known I've been greatly blessed to have wonderful family and friends, a very comfortable life, and a private college education that is so graciously paid for by my parents. I have wrestled with having guilt over these things, but know that I need to just accept them as gifts from God. And of course do my best at being a good steward of what he has given me.

But there have been events in my life lately that I just don't understand. And that I can say "Thank you" to God or to people for, but it's not enough. Not only is it not enough, I don't feel worthy to accept the gift, so a "Thank you" is accompanied with a bit of hesitancy or shame or guilt or nervousness. When I say this all, 2 events come to mind, but since I've become even more closely aware of my undeservedness, I have been soaking in even more of the blessings I have and have been even more keenly aware of God's grace.

The feeling of undeserving started with this major event:

I got a 1st grade teaching job at Highlands International School in BOLIVIA for the next 2 years. How? By the love and grace of God, that's how. It is all a very long story, and I had to go through some pretty significant spiritual warfare (ask me about it sometime) but God definitely wanted me there. The door was wide open for me. And I walked through with faith and trust, turning away from the fear that was holding me captive. And now I feel totally undeserving of this position. Shouldn't they have picked someone that speaks Spanish?? Or that has had some more teaching experience? Or that has won some teacher award or something? Why ME? How did this fall into my lap so effortlessly? How did I get a teaching job in South America where I can also be a part of an amazing Christian school and staff...where ministry opportunities abound?! How did I receive the humongous blessing of not having to job search--at ALL?! I feel I am the target of jealousy of some people, and it is just so weird. I do not deserve this. My "Thank you" to the director sounded enough. And then he was saying thank you to ME. What?!

Undeserved Event Number 2

2. I got pulled over for speeding on my way to church this morning. No, I was not undeserving at all of this...bear with me. So I was running late, there was an open road ahead, I was on the lookout for cops in my rearview mirror.....feeling guilty the whole time. Feeling that pit in my stomach like I should really slow down but I'm late and there's no one near me. My dad had even given me a lecture before I left for school telling me I could absolutely NOT get in another accident or get another speeding ticket. It was not an option. Our insurance would go up dramatically. And guess what? I guess I was too busy looking for cops coming behind me that I didn't see the one that was just up ahead in the medium....oh, and now I'm passing the cop going 84...oh no. God, no....gotta slow down to 70. Lights go on. I pull over. I'm going crazy on the inside. How can I be so STUPID?! I was praying the whole time he came to the car. He asked me some questions..we made conversation..he asked what I was at Taylor for, I said elementary education and I'm graduating in May...he asked where I was going to teach..I said Bolivia. He took my driver's license and registration and went back to his car...he hadn't said anything before that about letting me off. I expected him to come back with a ticket. I was praying the whole time he was back at his car that he would let me go. Praying SO hard. And then I saw him coming back...there was nothing in his hands. He had decided to let me off. I said "Thank you so much" ....let me just tell you, that did not even BEGIN to cover my feelings of gratitude. I was stupid and that was undeserved.


So, what to do with all of this? I recongize that a lot of things that happen to me I don't deserve. And while it's good that I'm being greatly humbled, I need to actually learn what humility looks like. It obviously does not mean glorifying myself or my abilities or the good things that happen to me, but it also does not mean I should be shameful, guilty, fearful, nervous, or hesistant to accept the things that come my way. We don't do that with the greatest undeserved event that's ever happened--Jesus's death on the cross to cover all of our sin! We worship Him and praise Him for who He is, giving all the glory to Him, and at the same time we accept this gift of grace. And I need to do the same, even if I feel completely inadequate, undeserving, fearful, or hesitant to do so.

Praise God! He is so GOOD!

Friday, January 28, 2011

"The Walk"

I just fell in love with this poem I discovered...

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces. (Another translation I found says "But what we sense is the falling winds")

Translated by Robert Bly

Rainer Maria Rilke

This poem is a beautiful metaphor for the way I seem to view life... "So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp"...I am grasped by all these dreams of what I hope to experience in the future (in my mind), yet I cannot grasp them (tangibly) yet. There is an inner light within these dreams and visions, even though I know they are a ways away, and they make me press on and keep living with excitement and hope and promise, even if not all of my dreams come to fruition. Yet, as I press on in life, the light ahead leads me to change; my dreams may change and my life may take unexpected twists and turns, but through this I will become a more complete picture of who I am... But I should never stop or freak out because this was not my original plan...this was not who I thought I'll call out to God and he'll answer with a, "Keep moving, Julie. This is who I'm molding you into." Yet in my humanity, I will undoubtedly sense feelings of failure that I didn't achieve this or that, or go there, or whatever I had originally envisioned my life to look like.

What an accurate portral of the human predicament. I wonder how old Rilke was when he wrote this and what made him write this. I feel like he and I were kindred spirits...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Let's See What's Behind Door Number Two

I picked up A.W. Tozer's "The Pursuit of God" again tonight. It's been a few years since I've read it and I found it while I was looking for another book on a shelf in the basement of my home. It was a book I remember really loving and one in which I was able to be encouraged and moved to a greater spiritual depth.

Right now, I really don't have any complaints in my life. I have one more semester at Taylor that I'm about to begin, and while I am beginning to get a little anxious about the future, I know God will provide and lead and bless me. He's always been faithful, so why worry? (Glad I can say that with much more confidence than I could have in past years). Yet, I haven't PURSUED God in awhile. I've been pretty happy-go-lucky and feeling in control and steady.

I have 2 doors I could walk through:

Door 1: Continue living life how I am, trusting God, not moving the waters any...not shaking the boat. Smooth sailing...keeping it safe, keeping it cool. Doing the sensible things that people around me will understand. I think I'll be content with what's behind door 1. It's safe, and while I crave adventure, I am somewhat fearful of making stupid, rash decisions, of leaving where I'm comfortable and familiar. And what in the world does it mean to hear God's calling? I don't hear anything. So I think I'll just stay in my content little world I've created until I hear a voice or feel the ground shake beneath me.

Door 2: Actively choose to dig deeper into my soul, into the character of God, to pray for God to shake the boat, ask God to take me out of my comfort zone...away from any selfish desires or dreams...away from what Julie wants. That's scary. I don't like that option. I want to want that option. But that takes guts and discipline and solitude and intentionality. It means other people asking "Wait...why are you going there? Why are you doing that?" It means ME being strong enough to withstand others' criticisms/questions/opinions, and believe firmly enough in the Spirit's prompting and follow that solely. And ultimately, it means me LEARNING how to discern the Spirit's prompting and really trust in it. To strip down my own thoughts, emotions, goals, theology, desires, etc, to the point where I know whole-heartedly that whatever I set forth to do comes from the Lord and not from me.

Behind both doors lie good things. Whatever path I choose, God will guide my steps. He will always be faithful and He keeps His promises. But if I go through door 2, that door that sticks and is hard to push open, I know I'll find a greater prize awaiting me.

So I'll push. I'll pray, seek, listen, meditate, cultivate the life of the Spirit, and obey.


Excerpts from Tozer's book that struck a chord with me:

"We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him...The experiential heart-theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certianly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford or a Brainerd.

In the midst of this great chill there are some, I rejoice to acknowledge, who will not be content with shallow logic. They will admit the force of the argument, and then turn away with tears to hunt some lonely place and pray 'O God, show me thy glory.' They want to taste, to touch with their hearts, to see with their inner eyes the wonder that is God.

...The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.

...he recommends that in prayer we practice a further stripping down of everything, even of our theology.

...We need not fear that in seeking God only we may narrow our lives or restrict the motions of our expanding hearts. The opposite is true.

...there is little that we need other than God Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing."


Amen, Tozer. Amen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Sorrow and Joy Collide

It's been awhile.

Several books/movies/facebook notes (Sarah Albinson!)/my own life and experiences have got me thinking...

Life is more meaningful through trials--whether that be pain, sacrifice, risk, danger, illness...anything that you have to OVERCOME. Anything that we have to fight for, or fight through. Think about it. Evidence of this is everywhere. Guys want to be able to fight, in some way, for a girl. The joy of life is found to a greater degree when battling a life-threatening illness. My own gratefulness for my life and realization that God is truly my protector resulted from my recent car accident. And I have found that in my darkest times, through heartbreak and grief and pain and feeling overwhelmed, that I am able to worship God at a whole new level. My tears of anguish mix with tears of praise and hope and this immense joy that can only come from the Spirit. And for me, when I feel emotion, I often find meaning. I find a connection to my soul, that has the imprint of my Creator. He knows me intimately and can see and hear every tear I cry and every smile and laugh and pitter patter of my heart. How could someone, something, create me to do those things, to feel those things? And then for us to have the capacity to have those emotions intertwine just amazes me. We can experience sadness mixed with joy, pain and hurt with hope, anger with love...isn't it beautiful? Doesn't the sadness make the joy seem to overflow? Don't hurt and pain make hope brighter? Don't feelings of anger make the power of love stronger?

I think that's why Jesus's life, His story, is so beautiful. He had to overcome trials throughout his life, and then the ultimate trial--His sacrifice. And through this, he gave meaning to our lives! We sing about His death on the cross in both sorrow and joy. It is a mix of emotions that makes our heart stir and yearn and cry out. He DIED for our sake. For humanity in its entirety! And now we have freedom and joy and hope and peace in knowing that the Lord is with us and we do not have to fear for Jesus has OVERCOME the world. Whoa, what do you know, there's that word again. : )

This is all so counter-cultural.

Our society has a tendency to run away from any sort of calamity. We take pain killers; we run to the doctor to give us a quick fix for whatever is ailing us; we think we are messed up if it takes us longer than a couple weeks or months to get over an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend so we run to a therapist to see what's wrong with us and if they can give us some magic words that will heal us; guys sleep with the girls that are easy and then leave and the girls are left wondering what's wrong with them; we run to stores to buy things to cure our depression or feeling of emptiness...I could go on!

What if we embraced the fact that we are NOT abnormal for feeling these so-called "bad" feelings? What if they really aren't "bad" feelings at all? "Good" and "bad" are relative terms... What I think is, all these emotions that we have are emotions that God Himself has, and they are good. They are necessary. We must face these emotions that we deem negative and wrestle with them, pray through them, surround ourselves with friends and family that will speak truth and love into our lives. And we must seek out love, faith, hope, peace, joy, kindness, goodness...(I have almost completed the fruits of the Spirit so I might as well finish right? :) ) faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, patience...THROUGH these emotions that leave us down-trodden. There, we can find real healing. We can begin to find meaning to this crazy existence. We can be more like Christ, and therefore have a better understanding of His life and the meaning of His story in our own stories that we are creating.

So, what if we were more courageous?
We didn't run away from trouble?
We didn't hide?
We didn't take the easy way out?
We didn't make light of our hurting?
We allowed our heart to truly open up to the great Healer?
We allowed our heart to truly open up to the people around us?

What if....