Sunday, July 31, 2016

Confessions of an Un-a-sha-med

Picture the scene if you will. Bakersfield, hot July afternoon. A young girl sits calmly in a call center lunchroom. She doesn't bother competing with the 500 other employees for the one microwave in the building on her thirty minute lunch break, so as she sits relaxing, she appears to be reading something. A stranger walks up. And with a boyish grin he says, "Hey. What are you reading?" The girl, shocked that someone has taken the nerve to enter into her most quiet and sacred place of solace looks up. She slowly flutters her lashes up towards the chiseled face. She gazes into those slightly warm chocolate eyes and says "Oh, its a self help book. I need a lot of help."
*CUE forehead slap*
The stranger says "Oh. Cool," and walks away. The girl groans, "Ugh, great job," she thinks to herself. This was not the sexy and mysterious answer she was going for. But then, even worse than the embarrassment comes the shame. What is the reason for this shame? Well, I'm glad you asked.
See, the girl had actually just gotten back not two days before from an amazing week at camp. A week where the theme was "Unashamed." For an entire week her and her students had studied what it means to live unashamedly for Christ. They'd studied the gospel. They'd done the quiet times. They'd even sung the jazzed up "Go tell the world" songs. They'd come down from the mountain refreshed, renewed, and spirits restored. And this girl was at peace. This girl was ready to take on the world. This girl had purposefully packed her devotional in her purse, just so she could do it on her lunch break.
So why is it when the stranger asked "What are you reading?" had she replied a self help book instead of "Actually, its a bible study on the Armor of God. I'm currently studying about what it means to put faith in action."?
This girl couldn't give an answer. She was shocked that those words had even popped out! They were so easy to her. She didn't have to think about it. And just like that, an opportune moment had passed her by.
But I guess thats how sin works. Its not hard to sin. Its very easy to actually. But continually renewing our minds, continually choosing to put on the full armor of God in defense of the enemy and his attacks, continually choosing love and peace over circumstances and emotions, and continually deciding to live unashamedly-that takes the effort.
"according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death."- Philippians 1:20. Wow. What challenging and powerful words to live by. Lord help me to make this true in every aspect of my life.
But lest I leave you without a conclusion to this tale let me follow up and end the scene for you. Lets focus back on our two characters shall we? For every good storyteller knows you cannot leave your audience hanging. Or they get really mad and write you nasty letters. What of the boy? He stole a candy bar from the snack cart and was fired two days later. As for the girl? She continues to do her bible studies in the lunchroom and is praying and preparing for another opportunity. She also continually prays for courage to invite a few of her coworkers to church with her. Choosing daily to live unashamedly and asking for repentance when she fails. And so the war wages on.....

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Confessions of a Forlorn Blog...

Hello, friends! I'm back for at least this time. For those of you just tuning in for the past couple of years I've kind of been doing this blog thing. However, I got busy, lazy, going through stuff, ect, and my blog has kind of been, well, abandoned. So as I'm sitting here thinking about the blogger I used to be and wondering what on earth happened I began to be discouraged. Am I blogging less because my relationship with God is less than it was before? Maybe. Am I just growing lazy and tired? Possible good chance. Or, am I just changing as a person and a blog is no longer my outlet? That could be entirely true too. Whatever the case though I realize I've been too stuck on the past. And because of that it is hindering me from going forward.

And lest y'all think I'm really choked up and emotional about the blog, let me clarify. The blog has nothing to do with it. I'm having the hardest time getting over the person I was and the things I used to do. I miss being in shape. I cry every single night about not being in Long Beach. I miss being a college student. I miss having the hope of being a pediatric nurse. I miss some of the relationships with my friends I had down there. I miss my life. And because I've spent so much time missing my old life, its hindered me and discouraged me as I live this new one that to be perfectly honest, I'm rapidly having to learn to be content with.

It has not been easy. I struggle with the depression and hopelessness of my future on a daily basis, but its time to move on. Time to face that future. Because I cant hide in the past anymore. And I'm missing a good past. But, there are many people who are hung up and can't move past their bad past. Its not so much they cant forget and they miss how good they had it, they can't bring themselves to see past the kinds of people they were and the things they did. 

But we have to understand no matter what way you swing it, these thoughts are completely unbiblical. There's a reason Matthew 6 tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but rather focus on today. Its because one day's stress is sufficient and its all we were meant to handle. Your past is your past. You cannot change it any more than you can really completely control your future. Its time to stop this idleness and just hand the reigns over. As I was lamenting this morning as I always do Isaiah 43:18 came to mind "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

The first part of this is easy for me to handle. Okay yeah, don't focus on the past or you will miss all the things God is currently doing. Fine. Got it. Heard that one before! But the second part of this verse is actually the challenge. And its weird because the second half actually gives no direction as to what I'm supposed to do. Its all what God is doing. "I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?" Well, no. I perceive nothing. I'm stuck in the past remember, but please God, go on. "I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." God, I'm stuck in Bakersfield. That hardly counts as making a way in the desert. I'm not going through the desert. I'm living in it. And thanks to my apparent lack of being able to attract a man and the laws of the state of California that is a barrier to my future as a nurse, I honestly don't see how any way out of this dessert is going to come about. "I am making a way in the dessert and streams in a wasteland." God, now you're just being ridiculous. We're in a drought. And again I repeat. If you're making a way, where is it? 

There's an old saying, "When God closes a door he opens a window." I officially hate that saying. Because its not true. Sometimes you just have to sit in the hallway for a little bit. Sometimes you're stuck in the hallway for a lot a bit. I'm not looking for open doors anymore. We're WAY past that. Not even windows at this point. Nope! I'd settle for just a peephole. Where on earth is my peephole?

Its these conversations in my head that I realize have led me to the real issue. See, the problem is not whether or not there is a way. The problem is not even whether or not I am looking for or perceive it. The problem is that I subconsciously doubt that God has made a good one. The problem is, is that I really don't want God to make the path at all. I want to make my own and follow it and then say, God bless it. 

The problem is that I'm trying to be involved in this "Making-a-way" process. But I'm really just making things harder. I'm over here standing with my yellow pad of inputs and God's like. "The scripture doesn't say we will make a path together. My word says I am making a way. Shut up Rachel. Go get some Taco Bell. This is one meeting you don't need to be in on. Sit back and watch me work. I'll call you when I'm ready for you to act."

I've never been good at just sitting. Maybe its time to learn. But this also leads to doubt. Fine God, I will learn to sit here and wait, but, You will act, right? I mean eventually? I'm not just going to be the one you don't know what to do with so you just put me on hold forever? "You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you." (Isaiah 43:4)

This then leads into the big question. And I begin to understand the significance of what Paul says when he says "I have learned to be content in all circumstances." (Phil 4:11) What if God's plan for my life is nothing even remotely close to what I planned? Would I be content in that? 

Hmmm, thats a hard cookie to chew on. Time for a little more self- examination.....

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way." -Psalm 139: 23-24

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Confessions of a Puppy Owner...

If you've seen any part of my Facebook in the past two weeks you should not be surprised that I am the new owner of a little puppy named Charlotte. So, it also should not surprise you that dear Miss Charlotte has taught me a few things. First, I thought I had totally caught the baby bug, but I can now officially say it has passed. Second, they aren't joking when they say having a puppy is like having a baby. You get woken up by crying in the middle of the night, you turn your back for 30 seconds and they're gone, you have to avoid putting things on the bottom shelf because they get into everything, you can't go into the bathroom by yourself without someone being at your heals, if you don't give them enough attention they cry until you pick them up, and don't even get me started on the potty house training! All of this to say, I can wait on motherhood a while., I like my alone time, clean carpet, and, well, privacy.

But aside from this, Charlotte has also taught me one pretty significant spiritual lesson. She has developed a little attitude (wait, when did my puppy go from toddler to teenager?) Well, miss Charlotte was being.... how do I put this nicely?.... a little butt. So the solution? When she gets like this stick her collar on her for a little while. Then after an allotted time, take it off. Mellows her out every time and gets her used to wearing one since she had a fit the first time we put it on her.  Well, Charlotte had her collar on and it was time to take it off. She was starting to whine a little about it. So I called her over, but much to my dismay, she wouldn't come. I said, "Come here. I will take it off, but you have to come here." Nope, she wouldn't. Ran to mom, ran to dad, ran to the slipper she'd been chewing on, threw a crying fit, but would not come to me. I found myself growing dismayed, "If she would only come to me, I would take it off and she would be free and wouldn't have to cry anymore."

Finally, fifteen minutes later she finally gave up fighting to get it off on her own, and her little prideful and disdainful attitude she had towards me for putting it on, and walked over to me (with some guiding from mom). Immediately I took it off and cuddled her in my arms. She was so relieved she immediately started giving me kisses. I put her back down and sat down on the couch. She then propped her little body and legs up on the sofa and started crying again. Apparently, she wasn't ready to leave my arms. I picked her up and she cuddled back down and fell asleep. 

So, what is the spiritual lesson you may ask? Sometimes God disciplines us. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that the "LORD disciplines those He loves and chastens everyone He accepts as His son." But how many times have I been disciplined and gotten the same attitude as Charlotte? How many times have I been so ticked off at God during those times, that He would discipline me, or even allow me to go through a hardship, that no matter what, I wanted nothing to do with Him. And all the while God was standing there looking at me trying to do it on my own and failing, shaking His head and saying, "Rachel Rachel Rachel. You do not have to fight anymore. Come to me. I will relieve you of your burden. All you have to do is come to me. You can curl up safe in my loving arms. But you have to do it of your own free will. I will not make you." Because thats just it. Once I do curl up with the Father, I never want to leave. But somehow, I always do. But just like all of us children that get off the beaten path, somehow, He always brings me back to Him. And in His infinite and unconditional grace, He always takes me back. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Confessions of a Wilderness...

     Ya know, I've realized something lately. Don't worry this is not going to be a "Woe is me" blog. Been there. Done that. Spare you the snot-nosed, salty tear stories. But, here's the thing that I've realized: I'm very much in a Wilderness point in my life. Some of you are sitting there reading this and chuckling to yourself while thinking, "No duh, Sherlock. It took you that long to figure that out?" But please be patient with me. Trust me, I've known all along I was lost and confused with no sense of direction. And you might even make a Bakersfield joke out of it saying I'm literally in the middle of a hot, nowhere. That is not the point. The point is, I'm searching. Searching for where to go because I'm wandering, but also searching for answers as to why I was led to the wilderness to begin with. 

      My initial response to the question of how did I end up here was as follows: "Because God's absent. Because He doesn't care. Because I've totally made a mess of my life and am nothing but a screw up. Because I'm being punished." And when I get in those pity party modes these are still the lies I revert back to. But that's just it. They're lies. So then, recognizing this, I turn to the churchy sunday school answers: "Because God is refining me. Because God is making me a new creation. Because God is working behind the scenes. Because God has called me for such a time as this." Granted, these may be true, but these mere shallow statements still leave something to be desired. I cannot accept these as answers until I delve further into Him and His word. 

     But that's besides the point. Having been discontented with my pity parties and honestly lacking much motivation to do anything (including in depth Bible study) lately, I've began to realize there may be a third answer. Call it one of those Godly epiphanies if you will. Perhaps I am being led into the wilderness for my protection. Perhaps I am there to be strengthened. Perhaps, in God's infinite wisdom and knowledge, He realized that if I had gotten everything I've wanted, it would lead me further down a path of idolatry. Which would then further my depression when that idolatry no longer satisfied. Perhaps He knew that I would foolishly completely give my heart to something (or someone) that would only take advantage of it. That didn't treasure it, or really care about it at all. Perhaps He knew that if He didn't pull me into the wilderness, I would destroy myself. This is not to say Long Beach is evil and I became a heathen when I lived there. This is not to say, I may still need to be pulled a little more into the wilderness because even while there I'm still struggling with these same issues.  This is not to say that if I ever returned to Long Beach it would ruin my life and send me down the wrong path. But its merely just a thought. Long Beach gave me independence (much missed). It gave me the freedom to make my own schedule, pursue my own interests, and dictate how I spent my time. I liked that. Ask my mom. I've always been a very hard headed and independent individual. Can you say baby who refused to be put on a schedule? Don't even get her started on the potty training fiasco. But I've digressed. Back to Long Beach and my independence. Sure there was school schedule and work schedule, but that was different. I don't mind that so much. But having the choice of how I spent my freedom also gave me the option to pursue my passions and things I really just enjoyed doing. Again, not necessarily bad things- until they became obsessions. All of them quickly somehow tweaking to be self-detrimental and all of them placed over God. I was spiraling down into a soon to be big mess. 

     I could see it start to happen. I could see where those hikes I enjoyed doing soon became a desperate need to exercise because I was obsessed with the way I looked. I could see that guy friend I really enjoyed randomly running into in the most awkward places soon became the one I would wish to run into every time I went to the gym or the beach or even to church (places I know he frequently visited). I could see how wanting to hang out and have fun with friends was starting to become a go out and be afraid to be yourself so you'll conform thing. I was fully aware how my desire to have a job, be an independent adult, and be employed became the sole consuming thing I lived for. And honestly, it was depressing. And hopeless. There seemed no way to end it and no way to make it better. I know what you're thinking. "He gives hope to the hopeless." Its funny though how as humans that is not our first thought.  

     So, is all of this to say that maybe me being pulled into the wilderness was not for my initial unbiblical thought of punishment (note: I said punishment, not discipline- big difference), or simply a testing of my faith (although it certainly is that too). Is it possible that God knew beyond my circumstances where I was headed and that Him pulling me into the wilderness for however brief (or length) of time was indeed not merely a disciplinary action, but an act of mercy? Is it possible that all these trials, pain, and difficulties have not made me need mercy, but instead have exposed that I have been sustained by mercy all along? Woah, I know. There's a thought to chew on. And hey, I'm in the wilderness. I've got nothing else going for me. There's plenty of time to chew. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Confessions of a Never Ending Battle...

Hi there, me again. Yeah, remember me? The one you are all worried about because she seemed clinically depressed and hopeless in her last post. Well, fear not, I'm okay. Anyway, I don't really know how to start this post. Usually I have some cute little anecdote or some super emotional wallowing tale. But not today. Today I'm in more of a direct and to the point kind of mood. Why? Because God has been direct and to the point.

He has just been pouring and pouring and pouring. I've been constantly learning this past week. Its like never ending. But I can't really think of how else to describe everything I've been learning except to put it in a dialogue format. It's probably because I've been watching a lot of t.v. lately. You'll have to excuse me. But sometimes I seriously wish epic soundtrack music played in the background of my life. But I'm digressing. So here we go. I feel like if I had a face to face, or at least a phone call with God this past week it would have looked something like this. So without further ado, here's a tidbit into my life. Enjoy.

Me: "Why God? I just want a job! Is that too much to ask?" 

God:"Rachel, I want you to want ME more." 

Me: "God I do want you, but sometimes its hard."

God: "Because your love is conditional only when things are good?"

Me: "Because I'm human?"

God: "I have unconditional love for you. And I command you to love me with your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

Me: "God I try, but its hard with all these distractions. Is it so bad to want to live in Long Beach? Want to be a nurse? Want a husband? Thats really it. Give me those and I'll be good. Not nearly as much as other people want. I want a simple life. Never been the Cinderella fairytale kind. Don't care for a big house, or huge wedding. Give me a $100.00 dress, a groom, and a beach I can walk barefoot on. Thats it. No mansion, no BMW or Mercedes. A job, a love, a beach. Thats it God!"

God: "Rachel, I want you to want ME more."

Me: "But is it wrong to want other things?"

God: "Do you want them more than me?"

Me: "But is it so wrong?!"

God: "You're not answering my question, Rachel."

Me: "I want not to want them more than You. But does that mean I can't want them?"

God: "Are they idols?"

Me: "Yeah, kind of."

God: "I don't tolerate idols."

Me: "I know."

God: "I love you. Why would I put a stumbling block in your path?"

Me: "Because I want them."

God: "Rachel I want you to want ME more."

Me: "But why can't I want You AND them?"

God: "Rachel, you're very stubborn sometimes."

Me: "God, that wouldn't be the first time I've heard that."

God: "That stubbornness will have its place, but not now. Want me, Rachel. Love me."

Me: "I do!"

God: "Above all else?"

Me: "Well....."

God: "I see. Don't worry, we'll work on that."

Me: "But God, don't you care?"

God: "Of course I do!"

Me: "But then God why did you let this happen?"

God: "Why did I not prevent the storm when the disciples got in the boat with Jesus?"

Me: "To prove your power?"

God: "To prove my Authority. I had the power to calm the storm all along. If thats what I wanted to do I needn't not gotten in the boat at all. I could have demonstrated that from the shoreline. I wanted the disciples to see my authority over the waters. You can have the power to tackle a bad guy, but unless you have the authority to arrest him and put him away, it does you no good. He'll still go free."

Me: "So?"

God: "My authority is greater than my power and neither are dependent on your feelings or what you think. I am not 'I Feel' or 'I Think'. I am the 'I AM.' And you thoroughly recognize and call upon my power. But do you recognize my Authority as LORD of your life?"

Me: "Got me there."

God: "I thought so. And another thing...."

Me: "Uhoh."

God: "You wholly praise my restraint, endurance, and patience when it comes to judgement on your sin, right?"

Me: "Yeah. Thanks for that by the way."

God: "Then part of accepting me for who I AM and my character is accepting that I am patient, compassionate, and enduring always, right?"

Me: "Yes?"

God: "So in my love?"

Me: "Yes."

God: "In my punishment for sin?"

Me: "Yes."

God: "In dealing with your suffering?"

Me: "What?!"

God: "Why is it I'm allowed to take my time in dealing with your sin, but not in resolving your suffering? Do I not do everything for a purpose? Has it not occurred to you this time of waiting is bringing about something good?"

Me: "Is this more of that 'God is developing my character' blah blah?"

God: "No, It's not. I'm not developing your character, Rachel."

Me: "Whew what a relief."

God: "Because you won't let me."

Me: "What? Why do you say that?"

God: "You're angry with me aren't you?"

Me: "Well, a little to be honest."

God: "You think I've been unfair?"

Me: "No, I'm just tired of waiting. How long do I have to wait for what I want."

God: "Rachel, I want you to want ME more."

Me: "And we're back to square one..."

God: "No we're not. I'm already changing you. You never go backwards with me. And don't be so hasty. You never know what I am working in the background."

Me: "God, I hate secrets."

God: "Rachel, I hate distrust. Where's your faith?"

Me: "Thats what I've been asking myself."

God: "First honest thing you've said all night. Don't worry, I am making a new creation."

Me: "God, I'm a mess."

God: "No. You are my child. And it's going to be okay. Now get some rest, you'll need it."

Me: "Why?"

God: "Because you're going to ask me the same questions tomorrow. And I will keep revealing more and more of myself to you."

Me: "But God, whats the point of this?"

God: "I am refining you."

Me: "That seems like a lot of work."

God: "It is. But its worth it."

Me: "Will I never get the other things I desire then?"

God: "Do I not bless abundantly? You may not get exactly what you want now, but trust me, follow me and your life will be better than you ever imagined."

Me: "But God, why bother refining me at all?"

God: "Because Rachel, I want you to want ME most..."


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Confessions of an Out of Practice Blogger...

     Well, here we are folks. Over one year since my last blog, but non-the-less trying it again. It's been so long I barely remembered my password to my blogger account. I half expected them to have deleted the site or something. Anyway, I figured it'd been a while since I typed out all the thoughts in my head, so I figured it was time to get back to it.

     A lot has happened in one year. I've graduated college, started working, moved back home, made friends, lost friends, gained weight, lost weight, been happy, been sad. My life certainly is not stable. And to be honest, right now is certainly a trying period. I've really been struggling with my faith. I've just become so discouraged in life in general. I can't get a job. I'm living back with my parents (who I love, but its definitely an adjustment). I'm surrounded by a constant display of friends who are either getting married or having babies and I'm wondering if I'm ever going to be on that path. My much-desired independence seems like it is slowly slipping from my grasp one step at a time. Even my hopes for the future like being a nurse are slowly starting to seem impossible to attain. This has not only taken a toll on me emotionally, but also spiritually. I begin to question if I am being punished for something. I lack the hunger and a desire that I see growing in my youth kids to pursue God. The love of quiet times that I once had in the morning isn't really there. My kids come to me and they have questions and I feel like I don't have answers anymore. Even my daily Bible reading has slipped into a, well, lets just call it a coma. 

     As you can well imagine, its really hard to blog about God working in your life when you're daily questioning where He is in it. But my mom once told me, "I know you're struggling. And even if you don't feel like reading your Bible or listening to christian music, do it. Keep doing it." My momma is a pretty smart lady sometimes. 

     So, it was tonight as I was sitting here alone, bored out of my mind. Wishing I could go to the gym but knowing my body needed a day of rest, that I was just staring at that Bible sitting on my coffee table. I had just opened it this morning. I forgot how much I loved the story of Esther. Every time I read it its like I'm hearing a whole new version and something I hadn't heard before. Anyway, back to the present moment.There I was, staring at my Bible and I thought, "Okay. I'll open it." So I picked it up and turned to Proverbs. I was in a proverbial wisdom kind of mood. Made it threw a couple chapters when I stumbled upon Chapter 3 verses 11 and 12, "My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in."

     Thats when it kind of hit me. I've really been getting disciplined by God lately. I've kind of already known this. It hasn't been all that subtle. But what also hit me was what I read after that. I've really been resenting God for his rebuke. In fact, lately, eighty five percent of my feelings towards God lately have honestly been resentment. Ask my family, I have not been a happy camper. I willingly admit it. And it goes much more beyond, "Times are hard. So much is uncertain. It's frustrating." No, I've been really angry at God. I've shut Him out completely and said, "I don't like You very much right now. Until my life starts getting good again, no offense, but I really don't want to chat."

     But this is where I stand convicted in two areas. First, this is not the kind of christianity we are called to live. Nowhere in the Bible does it preach a "follow God when things are good" gospel. Nope. Heart, mind, soul, strength all the time. End of discussion. Second, It says immediately following in Proverbs 3, "the LORD disciplines those He loves." It sure doesn't feel like God loves me sometimes. But this is the sole purpose of faith. For "faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) I cannot yet see God bringing this for my good. I cannot see how He loves me. I cannot understand His purpose for this. I cannot see what will come of it. But I know. I know He loves me. I know I will learn something good, even if it was a lesson I didn't really want to learn. I know that somehow this time I'm in now fits into the the perfect plan He has for my life. And that brings hope. 

     Life isn't exactly easy right now. The future is uncertain. I'm literally walking around confused and wondering where to go like a lost puppy. But who knows? Maybe it is all working for my good and even more importantly, God's good. Maybe I am learning valuable lessons and growing in ways I couldn't any other way. Maybe I have been called "For such a time as this." (Esther 4:14).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Confessions of a Neil Diamond Fan...

Let me start off this post by dedicating it to my momma, who from a young age has been teaching me to be three important things: A godly wife and mother, a chocoholic, and a lover of all things Neil Diamond. I must also here give props to God. Usually these blogging moments of inspiration seem to come while interrupting me in my sleep at 4:45ish in the morning. However, seeing as I haven’t been doing much of that these days, God’s gotten creative and has decided to inspire me while sitting in traffic. Something, sadly, that I do much more of.

Anyway, now back to Neil Diamond. I should probably be ashamed that I’ve seen him more times in concert than any other band, but I’m really not. From the time I could walk I’ve been stealing walk-mans and hogging “My Diamond” cassettes, cd’s, ect. It’s true, we have photographic evidence. But one of my favorite songs is his rendition of “He Ain’t Heavy; He’s My Brother.”

“The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
 Who knows when
But I'm strong
 Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bearWe'll get there
For I knowHe would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother”

I’ve always loved these lyrics and stories behind them. There have been numerous accounts as to their origins, each story a little different. Anywhere from a young girl carrying her baby brother to my favorite story, men in the line of battle. Rumor has it that young man’s leg was blown off while serving in active duty. One of his comrades found him on the brink of death, picked him up, and started carrying him towards safety. His savior was shot numerous times due to his slow pace of bearing the man’s heavy load. Finally, after miles, medics arrived for relief rushing to the man. There the doctor looked at him and exclaimed he was lucky to even be alive, how could he have carried such a heavy burden so far. The soldier then looked at the medic and replied, “He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.”

What a beautiful picture this is of bearing one another’s burdens. But alas, that is not what seems to have brought me to tears. It is also a beautiful picture of giving our burdens to Christ. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us. It’s funny how many times I really neglect to do this. Sometimes I feel as if my problems are too messy, too crazy, too much for me to even organize them in a prayer for help. Why would God want to hear about my problems when I can’t even seem to figure out exactly what they are? “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)

Sometimes, I neglect taking them to God for the simple reason that I’d much rather not think about them at all. It hurts too much. I’d rather ignore them instead of trying to work through them. Or I look at them and think, “There’s worse things going on in this world. I don’t want to waste God’s time on this stupid little thing.” But these are unholy thoughts. God wants to hear from us, no matter where we stand. Just like the song says, our welfare is his concern. If God cares about providing for the birds of the air or the grass of the field, how much more will He provide for us? How much more does He care? We are worth far more to Him than birds. (Matthew 6:25-34).
We stand with the ability to directly communicate with the Holy Creator of the Universe and we think He can’t handle our problems? That our burdens are too great? That we are too ashamed of them? Newsflash, He knows them anyway! You’re not hiding anything! We worry so much about our futures and plans and finances and families. Psh! Like we have any control of them anyway! We say things like, “I think I just need to do this.” Or, “I think I need that.” We think too much! As an almost 23 year old I can honestly say I have no freaking clue what I need. So thank God because He does and He’s providing it. The only thing I NEED to do, is do what He says! But its embarrassing how often “listen to God” gets erased from my “To Do” list. In fact, it takes a Neil Diamond song to come on before I finally listen. Before I realize I’ve been harboring these burdens to myself far too long and God says, “Let me have these. I want them. I want all of you. I will take care of them. I already took care of them. I bought them along with you when I went to that cross. You don’t need to worry anymore about them. Just listen to my version of the song, Rachel”:
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to you know not where, but I do.
And I'm strong.Strong enough to carry you…
…And the load doesn’t weigh me down
You ain't heavy, You’re my daughter.
So we go on…”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Confessions of a Late Night Beach Goer...

If you've talked to me for more than five minutes you probably already know I'm a lover of the beach. And I've developed this new love of the beach at night. Hopeless romanticness aside, I also find it to be a place of calm and peace. Even more so at night than in the daytime. It's usually the place I go to escape the chaos that is my school life. And when I leave that soft cool sand, I return to the busy LA world feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. But alas, last night this was not the case.

As I sat there staring at the waves last night I began to cry. It was at this point that I started mentally kicking myself. "Really Rachel? Second week of school is a little early for a meltdown don't you think?" But then again, I'm taking Phycology. A whole semester studying algae is enough to make anyone weep. But what surprised me is what I was crying about. In 8 months I will be graduating and leaving Long Beach. Where I'll end up is a whole other blog entirely, but its like it suddenly dawned on me. I won't be able to just run out to Seal Beach at night. Those California waves will no longer be only five minutes away. I won't have the consistency that is school. My friends here will all be elsewhere. I might even be back under my parent's roof. And don't get me wrong, I love my parents, but I also love my independence. All of a sudden I found myself wishing to be a freshman again. School has been my pattern of life for the past 17 years! What on earth am I going to do?!

I realized time is precious. And these five years that have seemed to go on forever have been nothing but a short blip. That's a terrifying concept to me! I also realized (although I already knew this one) that I loathe, detest, and abominate change. And as the ending time gets closer, I find myself getting more frustrated. Where doors should start to be closing, I'm finding they're still open. Where I should be reaffirming and gaining confidence in my calling, I'm now questioning. And I find myself honestly getting frustrated with God. When it seems like its coming down to the wire and He should start giving me answers I find He has never been more silent. 

It was this same frustration that I left the beach with and propelled me to escape again. So I went to my secret spot. It's this little place right off the northern end of Crystal Cove State park. I first discovered it a few years ago and it has been the perfect place to just think, journal, pray, and listen. Every time I've been there the place has been deserted. I've had at least forty-five minutes to myself before someone else has discovered the road less traveled. I've always thought of it as a sanctuary. But today my sanctuary was breached. Within five minutes, Rocko the miniature poodle was making his way down those dirt steps pulling his pampering owner behind. Being the animal lover, I petted Rocko and secretly resented his owner for disturbing my "God time." 

But as I watched them hike away a new thought hit me. This was not the only sanctuary where unwelcome guests had been. Inside all of our hearts there is this place. It is the place only God can fill. 1 Cor. 3:16 tells us that we are the temple of God and that His spirit dwells in us. It is a Holy, intimate, and sacred place. It is the safest place to be. And we are entirely in control of who enters it. Even Christ Himself stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20) If you ask me, we have too much power. Because the thing is this. I've been letting too many crashers into the party. There's been too many things that I've been using to fill this place. And not all of them bad. Good relationships with people are awesome, but they don't belong in this place. The beach is beautiful, but no amount of ocean water can fill this place. Working out, being adventurous, being studious, having fun may help give you a longer and happier life, but when put inside this sanctuary, it merely becomes a storage shed. 

And I began to realize a few things. First, God has always been a God of last minutes with me. It seems that at the end when I finally give up He steps in and just BAM opens a door. And it's always way better than I could ever imagine. I need to remember this more. Secondly, it may be that God is staying silent right now and just asking me to trust Him, but it could also be He is speaking and is being crowded out. Because this intimate place that He and I have is being filled with a whole lot of junk. And I'm a neat freak! How did I let this happen?! Have you seen my apartment? It's spotless! SPOTLESS! 

So, I reflect again and I realize that places you live may come and go. Circumstances may change. But this sanctuary I will have as long as I breathe. And it's time for a little spring cleaning.

"One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock." -Psalm 27:4-5

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Confessions of a Veteran Blogger...

Well folks, here we are. One hundred blogs. To be honest, I never thought we'd reach this point when I was starting out four years ago. Just another testament to God's faithfulness over the years I guess.  And so, it only therefore seems fitting that after 99 other confessions I present one more. Summer is ending and I really really don't want it to. Shocking I know. Neither do the other 3 millions kids going back to school.

It's funny to me. After years of wishing to get out of Bakersfield and 3 summer's home from college not being able to wait until I could return to the beach, I find myself not wanting to leave. I love my youth kids! If I could just stay and hang with them all day I would take that opportunity in a heartbeat. I've no doubt that the minute that car door closes and I start heading down the grapevine there will be some tears. But I'm also encouraged and reminded of  Philippians 1:6, "...that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." And I have plenty of reasons to smile. I've seen growth this summer in my youth. I've seen new kids come to know the Lord and develop a passion for Jesus. I see God working in the lives of those in our youth group. I see unity developing. God's not done with my kids yet! He's still actively working in their lives and will continue to do so! They are in His perfectly capable hands. Vessels of the fleet may come and go, but the course stays true. "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14) Of course, in the spirit of complete honesty, I do have to also confess that this vessel who has been temporarily dry docked is hoping to return to the fleet in the very near future. 

But in some ways I think its good being dry docked every now and then. And it doesn't mean that your ministry ends entirely, not by a long shot! But sometimes, taking a quick step away  gives you the chance to fix and tune the things that still need to be fixed and tuned. It's just you and God, the Master Craftsman.  And I realized, I still need a lot of work! I'm a pretty crummy vessel sometimes. 

One of the things that really struck my heart recently was when our Pastor asked during his sermon, "When was the last time you prayed for something to be taken away from you?" And he wasn't making mention to something like an illness or a test or project (I pray for that all the time), but an idol. BOOM conviction like no other brother! Because I have idols in my life. The biggest one? Probably my love life. I wonder about who I will marry way more than I should. I get discouraged when I see fourteen of my friends getting married this summer and I'm still a terminal bachelorette, never having dated. I start questioning God, "Any time now! If you wanted to have him walk through my door now I wouldn't be opposed!" If I start developing a little crush on somebody its only a matter of time before I start thinking about him way more than I should. And dreaming with the "Well maybe's" and "What ifs?" And I've struggled with it for years. And over and over I have prayed, "God, help me put you first. Help me not to make him my idol. Help me not to read too much into things. Help me just to enjoy having a godly brother in Christ in my life." But have I ever prayed "God, take him away from me?" Ummm, no! That's crazy talk! That's way too hard! I plan ways I can spend time with him. Asking God to end all that and remove him entirely because of my lack of emotional self-control? 

The truth is, we're really stupid to wander away in the first place. Are we that ignorant that for a moment we believe our life could get any better than it is with God? Why is it that we only return to Him when the others fail to satisfy after we know all along they won't? I seriously want to slap myself sometimes and be like, "DUH!!!"

 The other, and more sad truth, is, it's funny how the things that we so often say, "God I can't do that" are actually doable. Like letting those idols go. Like praying for temptation to be taken away from us. Like fleeing from it. If we were really honest with ourselves the truth is we really mean, "God, I WON'T do that." 

Lord, forgive me. I don't want to say no anymore.....

"She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, 'I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.'" -Hosea 2:7

Monday, August 12, 2013

Confessions of an In-line Skater...

All right people, get your round of applause ready. Why? Because the other day this extremely clumsy, accident prone girl went in-line skating with all my youth kids and I DIDN'T FALL ONCE. I know right?! It was a miracle in and of itself. Actually, none of our kids ate it too bad. There was one casualty, however. We shall call her Susie. Now, Susie is one of my soon to be freshman girls. And she had never been skating before. Leaving her to be entirely vulnerable to the Claw Machine. You know exactly the one I'm talking about don't you? The one that sucks your dollars into its evil machine and you never get that stuffed animal. Or, if you do, you find you've paid twenty bucks for a purple puppy you could have gotten at Dollar Tree. Kiddy slot machines is what they are.

Well, that is where this story begins. Towards the end of the general session my ankle was rapidly reaching that "Hey you idiot, remember me? Yeah I'm injured and permanently weak and now I'm going to remind you of that" stage so I stopped to take a break. And that is when I spotted Susie. A look of desperation crossed her face as she inserted dollar after dollar just hoping that the claw would rotate enough to snag the elephant. I was torn. Part of me wanted to encourage her to see it through and didn't want to tell her to just cut her losses and give up, but the broke college student side was going "That's almost half my weekly grocery bill." Finally Susie did overcome the machine and ended up with a lime green cow, which she preceded to show around for about ten more minutes, and then got bored with it saying she would give it to her sister.

Two thoughts come to my mind when I think about all this. 1) That scene from Disney's Toy Story where the little green aliens say "Claw's our master. Claw chooses who goes and who stays." and 2) How many times do we do that with sin in our lives? We know the end result. We know its never going to satisfy any sort of long term, but yet how many of us find ourselves making it the masters of our own lives? How many of us keep pouring in tons of time, energy, and money into something thats essentially cheap junk? We stand there futilely and say, "It will be worth it. It will get better. It will make me happy." Because sometimes the prizes do look good. But they never are. And we realize it all too late. And once we do, we say we'll never do it again, but ten minutes later, we end up right back at the machine, thumb on red button, ready to go again. It reminds me of Hosea 2:7, "She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, 'I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.'" Oh how much would our faith grow if we were as desperate for God as we were to sin. 
Susie had this same experience. And I think it speaks wonders to accountability partners because just as Susie was starting to insert yet another dollar, a friend came up and stopped her. This friend told Susie her dollar would be better spent getting a gatorade from the snackbar. Something that would nourish and replenish her. 

How awesome is it that we can have these friends in our lives who help get us back on the right track and make sure we stay there? And how awesome is it that we have the Holy Spirit living inside us which is constantly reminding us to spend our time getting replenished and seeking nourishment?

I knew Susie would learn her lesson about her rookie mistake of falling prey to those machines, but what I never could have guessed was the lesson her leader would obtain from watching her.

"For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” -2 Peter 2: 20-22