Finding Perspective and Refreshment for Our Souls During Unrest

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Well, it's June now! We have officially survived the Coronavirus shutdown and the civil unrest occurring in our nation. Even now that we are free to do more than simply grocery shop, there is still a sense of weariness and exhaustion that seems to settle over many of us in our day-to-day living. I was at work one day, caring for a patient, when the TV in their room suddenly reported tragic, forlorn news; story after story, the media was telling me how horrible the Coronavirus is out there. And certainly it has devastated many families, individuals, countries and economies. But the media has a way of taking the tragedies that happen all over and bring them all to you; creating a strong opportunity for information overload.

Suddenly, we feel the temptation to panic. What will we do about the virus being so communicable? Is there going to be a second wave? How about this civil unrest? How long will mobs and riots continue?

There is a great blessing about being able to access so much information at the tip of our fingers, but with it can come additional opportunities to cave to fear.

Have you been feeling that at all, in your own life? Do you feel more prone to panic? Have you felt chronically exhausted, not sure when you'll ever feel refreshed again?

Here are four questions to ask when you're endlessly weary:

1. Where I am I turning for refreshment?

The age-old saying: "You are what you eat" has some truth to it. What has your mental consumption looked like lately? What are you reading? What apps do you use repeatedly? What shows are you watching? What podcasts are you listening to? Are you setting things before your eyes that lift your heart to the Savior or that cause you to question where He is? Are you taking things to heart that are Biblical?

This culture is post-modern in a number of ways, one being that there is not a belief in hope amidst uncertainty unless we can make a scientific proof for that hope (such as social distancing and hand hygiene, for example, to give us hope of preventing the transmission of COVID). I'm all for taking safe measures to prevent pandemics. I'm not all for depending on the seen and the felt. I cannot see God, but He is the One I look to for hope. Rest for my soul is not found in hand sanitizer and keeping six feet away from those around me. This is a good practice for preventing the Coronavirus that we should continue for the time being, but it is not where I place my ultimate hope.

When my heart is weary, I do not look to the CDC, WHO and news channels to tell me if I should cling to a shred of hope or not. Even when the worst has come to worst--as we thought might occur at the beginning of the COVID outbreak--my heart does not have to be overwhelmed.

God knew altogether, before the foundation of the world, that we would face the challenges that have presented before us. 

So even while I continue to do my best to keep my hands washed to prevent COVID transmission, I will not look to this world to tell me if I have permission to hope or not. I have a hope that cannot die: Jesus Christ!

Just as it has been true in every other season, now, in the midst of so many challenges, our hope is in the Gospel. Our God is the One who transforms broken souls, brings redemption through the impossible, and revives people from spiritual deadness.

"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain [...] Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:21, 27a).

While we are beginning to return to normal life as much as possible, may our hearts first and foremost seek God. May we not get caught up in the hype, anger, and confusion around us, but may we set an example as the people of hope that we are. Because of the sacrifice of Christ's life, we no longer look to the events of this world to keep us optimistic or cause us to fall forlornly to the floor. No, our Savior is the One to whom we look.

While Paul was imprisioned, he wrote to Timothy:

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the Gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day" (2 Timothy 1:7-12, emphasis added).

My future hope lies not in this life. So when current events spiral out of control, by and through God's grace, I will be anchored to true hope. I am being cared for and watched over by the God who created the immune system, upholds the universe by His powerful hand, paints the backs of ladybugs and directs each person's life story. He is intricate, He is intentional, and He is incredibly present through the uncertainties before us.

We have this ever-living encouragement for our souls:

"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable truths, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20, emph. added).

2. Have I prayed about it?

When your heart is weighed down, where is the first place you go? To a friend? To post about it on Twitter? To the scientific studies, as an attempt to disprove your worries?

Scripture tells us where to go when this life feels like too much: "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7, NIV). 

We are not meant to be self-reliant, but to be utterly dependent upon our mighty God, so don't be terribly surprised when the events of this world remind you how much you're insufficient to handle it all alone. You weren't created to deal with it alone; we are in desperate need of our Savior. "Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belongs deliverances from death" (Psalm 68:19-20).

If something has bothered you enough to worry you, it's definitely time to pray about it. Are you concerned about catching COVID and going on a ventilator? Are you worried about the future of our nation? Are you uncertain about the economy? Then lift it up.

I'd recommend not just praying in passing as you drive or work (though it is great to pray as you perform your daily tasks); make an intentional effort to set your full attention on pouring out your heart before God. We know that as we cast our cares upon Him, He will sustain us; we will not be moved because God is our strength (Ps. 55:22).

Allow these troubled times to cast you more fully upon the Savior. "O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come" (Psalm 65:2).

3. Am I making an effort to serve others?

It's easy to stay in our own little world when risks of illness and unrest are all around us, but what does it look like, in this season, to serve others?

Focusing on your own needs, problems, and challenges is certain to multiply the sense of stress, fear and uncertainty within. Ask yourself a few questions: what are those around me facing? Who can I serve, and what would be an appropriate way to serve them while we attempt to prevent further sickness? Can I write someone a letter? Can I pick up the phone and call a loved one? Can I meet a financial need?

It's convicting how many times I evaluate my own life--especially when I'm feeling anxious--and quickly see how much time I've spent thinking about me, and how little care I tend to truly invest in others. This is a propensity many of us have, and it will not die without intentionality.

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:13-14). 

You will have to make a purposeful decision to look into the needs of others, even while you may feel that your needs have not yet been met. Jesus delights in this kind of faith: "Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And He said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them, for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on'" (Luke 21:1-4).

4. Have I been in the Word? 

In times of highest joy and lowest grief, we need the Word of God. Whether the world seems sweet or sorrowful, our hearts must be steeped in the truth of Scripture, for there we find the guidance, refreshment, perspective and conviction our hearts so deeply need.

If you were to compare the amount of time you spend on social media, news and TV with how much time you spend in the word, which is your greatest investment? We can easily say we love the Word, but what are our lives truly declaring? Have we prioritized pursuing Christ above our daily tasks? If not, don't be shocked when an entire day has come and gone and you haven't read even one verse. Our day-to-day tasks still exist and must be accomplished, and we make sure those get done, but how strongly do we prioritize being in God's Word? Do we hold out and keep reading even when it's challenging, seemingly dry or does not make sense? Or do we quickly give in to distraction and speed-read a favorite passage instead?

Slow down. Open your Bible, and ask God to use it to transform you. Even if you don't yet see any growth or change in your own life, or haven't experienced any specific moments of inspiration in your reading, God is still working. The Bible is not a book like any other:

"For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). "Forever, O Lord, your Word is firmly fixed in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89).

You cannot expect to deeply know the Savior to whom you belong if you are not in His Word. Don't first and foremost go to the Facebook page of Christian leaders, looking for an opportunity to refresh your soul and grow in Christ; run to Scripture. "The unfolding of your Word gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple" (Ps. 119:130). It's not the same to read a book about the Bible or a Christian devotional with a few Bible verses in it. You need the real thing, for yourself, with your own two eyes.

What has to change in your life and schedule so you end up in His Word every day?

There are still uncertainties in our world. There are still questions we have not yet answered, but we know where to run with our pains, anxieties, and concerns. By God's grace, may we be people with a faith that endures challenges and grows stronger when difficulties multiply. What if we looked back at 2020 thirty years from now and saw it as a time we turned to God, looked to His Word in all things, and brought every overwhelming situation before His throne? What a testimony that could be of God's endless faithfulness to sustain us! This painful season does not have to be wasted if we will utilize it intentionally for His glory. Pour out your heart before Him and trust His ways as higher than ours. He has not left us, but gives us so many opportunities to know Him more in these post-shutdown days.

One Life Well Lived: Reflections on My Grandma

Friday, June 12, 2020

I shared these words for my grandma's funeral. She was such an amazing person that I believe her example can be an inspiration not only to my close family members who will hear this shared today, but to anyone seeking to live their life for the Lamb that was slain. So I share these words with you.

There are so many wonderful things that could be said of my grandma. From the beginning, she was a loving, present, faithful and Christ-like influence in my life.

My very first memory of grandma is of a day she had come over to our house to babysit my siblings and I. I must have been around preschool age; at the time I was known for being strong-willed and a tad fiery. I could get away with being naughty around some babysitters, but not grandma. You see, I think grandma and I had that feisty nature in common, so she knew all the tricks I'd try to pull. 

That particular morning, I had earned myself a timeout, and grandma told me: "Cassidy, you stay put in that chair; every time you get up, you will have one minute added to your timeout." Of course, she couldn't be serious, I reasoned. So I got out of my chair about ten times, and by the time I had finally learned my lesson, I had enjoyed thirty minutes in the beloved timeout chair. This might have been overdoing it for some children, but for me, it was exactly what I needed to see that, yes, I actually did have to obey. Grandma was not afraid of her passionate grandchild, and I knew it. I was quite a difficult one to tame, but grandma never gave up on investing in my life and reminding me why it is important to do what is right.

Knowing exactly what to say about grandma is such a challenge, because there were seventy-seven beautiful years, each one with special memories. I had the privilege of knowing her for twenty of those years, and during that time, I saw grandma in moments of highest joy, and valleys of lowest pain. 

Grandma was never one to sulk; she was very determined, and utilized her loving and strong-willed nature to touch others' lives. Though she might have felt most comfortable in her own little bubble--wrapped up in a blanket, reading a book on the couch--she had a wonderful ability to reach out to others. Grandma had this unique gift about her; she could sense when someone was new or did not feel welcome, and she would make her way over to that person, seek them out, and intentionally get to know them. This was true to the very end. After grandma had passed away in the hospital, the physician assistant came in to pronounce her death, and told me, "Only hours before her stroke [after which she became unresponsive], she was joking with me and making me laugh." 

Even amid her own pain and suffering with chronic pain and other health conditions, she was extremely purposeful. She thanked her nurses. She made sure to talk with the medical staff and get to know them.

Another strength clearly seen in grandma was her extreme resilience and endurance. She would never have described herself in that way, but every time something seemed to push her down, it wasn't long until she had sprung back up, ready to face a new day with abundant hopes and plans. 

Grandma had several heartbreaking things occur in her life; the most notable being when grandpa passed away of a sudden heart attack. I never met grandpa, but whenever I asked her about him, she would always say, "He was the most wonderful husband in the world." She had truly lost the love of her life, and I don't think I'll ever fully grasp how hard that must have been for her. Terms like depression always seemed foreign to grandma, because, somehow, she always stayed afloat through the pain. She had a strong faith that did not hinge on life going well from her perspective. She was devoted to "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" (Revelation 14:4).

She was devoted to "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" (Revelation 14:4).

And she meant this commitment to Christ! At one time in her life, she prepared for missions in Africa, believing God might have been leading her there. Instead, God lead her to serve in Canada for a time. But her sheer willingness to cross the ocean and enter into the unknown resounded from the surrender that dwelt deep inside her soul. Her life was not her own; she had been bought with a price. And she sought to glorify God throughout all her life.

Grandma was especially purposeful about pouring into those around her. Sometimes, if my siblings or I were really in a lot of trouble, we would be dropped off to grandma's house for several days. This was a place of certain heart-resets. Grandma was not worried about pleasing us every moment, though she was extremely loving; she was willing to have hard conversations with us kids and ask heart wrenching questions that dove to the depths of why we found ourselves in trouble. She had strong insight and always knew how to create a convicting conversation with us on why change was necessary. Don't get yourself in trouble with grandma, but if you do, she'll be certain to love you into a place of life-change.

Grandma was a soul of kindness. Her resolute thoughtfulness could be seen regularly, but especially when a holiday would roll around, only to find that she had been stitching away at a lovely quilt or handmade ornament just for the recipient. She cared about gifting and creating in a way that made a legacy; I see now in many of these beautiful gifts that there was not only the intentionality of a visionary mind, but the touch of kindness that lives on. She loved her family so well, and wanted us to know it. She was always there for us, even allowing me to live with her for several months when my family divided. She was often deep in thought, and had a glorious laugh that I long to hear again.

Her thoughtful example will not be forgotten. Her devotion to Christ will continue to inspire me. Her example of loving others as Jesus has will always remind me why I should break out of my own little world and invest into the lives of others.

I believe this poem by C.T. Studd reflects well on the life she lived:

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life's busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in 'that day' my Lord to meet,
And stand before His judgement seat;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding  me selfish aims to leave,
And to God's holy will to cleave;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
Living for self or in His will;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore, 
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; 
Faithful and true what e'er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasures on Thy throne;
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yet only one,
Now let me say, "Thy will be done";
And when at last I'll hear the call
I know I'll say "twas worth it all";
Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.

Only one life, t'will soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last. 
And when I'm dying, how happy I'll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.

Grandma, you were always too humble to admit it, but your were truly a remarkable soul. I am so glad you are now in the presence of God eternally, face to face. There is no more pain where you are. And though we have tears here, deeply saddened over your departure, our faith in the same Savior gives us great hope of standing before the throne with you someday, singing together, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."

Revelation 4:11 says: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; by Your will they exist, and came to be." Grandma, God created you; by His will you existed and came to be. And how you lived your one life well for your Maker. 

May we be encouraged by your example to do the same.

Clinging to Gospel Hope through Exam Week Stress

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I took a seat and opened my laptop, feeling a sense of trepidation growing by the moment. Too much homework, not enough time. Two tests, two exams, an essay to write and two chapters to read, but I was stuck on one assignment that wasn't making sense. So much for my ideals of accomplishing it all quickly. Now I had to slow down, call the math tutor, and figure out what on earth I was missing.

During the moments things went as I hoped, it was easy to entrust my life, moment by moment, to the faithful God who created me. When the end of the semester rolled around, I found myself freshly faced with a temptation to cave to fear, anxiety and restlessness. God graciously allowed my sense of stress to reveal a need for further growth in my faith. Did I trust that God is good, in control , and knows exactly how to write my life story? Or was I quick to assume everything was going to utterly fall apart if I didn't take hold of the reins and hustle like mad?

Certainly, I must give my best if I expect good results in school, but there's a difference between a diligent heart that trusts God's hand over it all, and an attitude of fear that acts solely on an impending sense of doom.

I was living out the latter rather intensely that day.

My soul couldn't manage to find rest until I stopped and poured out my heart before God. "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken" (Psalm 55:22). God desires for my difficulties to draw me closer to Him; when we go through challenging seasons--in school or something else--He graciously presents the opportunity either for us to look inward or upward. Our situations of stress don't force us to become lacking in character, rather they reveal where our hope truly lies and who we actually are deep down.

I long for my moments of testing, stress, and challenge to reveal a heart that puts its utmost trust in God. That doesn't mean life always goes just beautifully and as planned, but that on both the bright and dreary days, I have placed my hope in the One who never changes.

"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20). are five ideas for cultivating a Christ-centered exam week!

1. Begin each day with God

Whether you find yourself easily accomplishing your to-dos, or struggling behind in the day, one of the best ways to keep your focus on God throughout it all is to begin each morning in the Word. Maybe you're like me and hate being overly rigid in your day-to-day scheduling. If that's the case, it may be hard to discipline yourself to start your day with a set aside time for pursuing Christ. But even those with a spontaneous sense about life need the vital refreshment of time with God. If He's worthy of our entire lives, He's certainly worthy of being pursued each day too.

Consider working through a Bible reading plan and reserving time for prayer as you awaken the morning. Though a thousand tasks await us as we prepare for finals, we can turn to the right place for strength, guidance and hope as we begin.

"Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).

2. Cast your cares upon Him through the uncertainties

God doesn't desire for us to wait until we have it together to come before Him; it's in our brokenness and challenges that we come to know Him more intimately. When you feel overwhelmed, cast that care upon God. When you failed that test you really needed to pass, cast that pain upon Him. When you feel unmotivated to do the next thing, weary from months of study, cast your exhaustion upon Him.

Scripture tells us Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6); not only does God listen to us when we lift up our hearts before Him, it's His nature. He is the most loving, caring, kind and wise advisor and counselor we could ask for. His love for us is steadfast (Ps. 52:1b), He hears our prayer (Ps. 65:2), and He will never abandon us (Deut. 31:6).

"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:12).

3. Pray through it

It's easy to go through the motions and just get assignments down, one after the next; but what if each bit of homework was the avenue of turning to God in prayer? We are used to searching out solutions to our problems: emailing the teacher, asking a classmate for input, having a friend proofread your paper, etc. and there's nothing wrong with any of those things, but what could it look like to turn to God in the moment of need? More than just asking God to help us with our own trials, though, are we praying for our professors, classmates, and those who attend our school to turn to Christ?

Charles Spurgeon brings some interesting perspective to why prayer is so vital in the moments it may feel impractical: "Not to pray because you do not feel fit to pray is like saying, 'I will not take medicine because I am too ill.'" When your exam has you too stressed? Pray. When you can't memorize one more medical term? Pray. Keep up this practice until it's your default response to bring your requests before God.

"The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16b).

4. Memorize passages of Scripture that help you resist anxiety

Do you feel more prone to panic during exams? Scripture isn't just for reading, but is also to be used for fighting back against temptation. You've probably heard it said that Scripture tells us not to fear over 365 times--we could use a different verse each day to guard our hearts against fear. Thankfully, exams don't occur 365 days a year, but when we prepare our hearts to resist anxiety in school, we can take this freedom, by God's grace, into other areas of life where we may also be tempted to fear.

Scripture tells us:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7). 

Choosing prayer over fear does not mean our problems in life aren't hard, they certainly are; but in our weakness, Christ is strong (2 Co. 12:9), and that is where our hope lies. From one question to the next, examining our knowledge from the semester, our tests provide the chance to cling to truth and reject fear.

"So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6).

5. Give thanks in the midst

When I'm head deep in algebraic graphing, the last thing I'd naturally want to do is give thanks! Perhaps if I could incinerate my math book and never have to take another course like it, I'd be compelled to rejoice. But when I'm in over my head in a subject I don't love? I tend to complain. Have you been there too, with mental lists of everything wrong with your class, what you don't like, and all the things you wish you could change? Such a class provides the perfect opportunity to praise God. The Lord doesn't want me to wait until I'm in my desired circumstances to give Him thanks, but right in the midst of everything that feels trying, I have so much to praise Him for! "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18).

Instead of vaguely mumbling a little "thank you" here and there, think of what you can specifically praise God for. What is the most challenging part of your exam prep? Give thanks to God for how He's growing you through that. What assignments have taught you something interesting this semester? Express your gratitude to Him for providing that chance to learn. Have you met new friends or faculty who blessed your life? Praise God for those He has placed around you.

"I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds" (Psalm 9:1).

Controversial Chatter, the Super Bowl Half Time Show, and the Relevance of Modesty

Thursday, February 6, 2020

I haven't penned a word into this blog in over a month! College is all consuming to the point that, though I surely love writing, I rarely have time to say anything here. But, of course, I always seem to find a way to create a catastrophic post or two on Facebook each year, without intending to do so, and thus I need more space than a Facebook comment to reply to a large-scale conversation I have initiated.

Once upon a time I had an exchange of comments that was birthed of one of my controversial blog posts. This lady and I had known each other for a number of years and I had grown up around her family. It was clear through our discussion that we thought nearly antithetically about the issue; we were opposite in perspective. Our online conversation did not end in either's mind changed, but it did reveal each person's position on the subject. One day, my mother was shopping for groceries when she ran into this lady. My mom--who had no part in our online conversation--gave a friendly, "Hi, how are you?" The individual at first turned to say hello when, suddenly, she must have remembered my mom is my mom. That Cassidy Shooltz she had come to so dislike is related to this woman! She took her shopping cart and abruptly exited my mom's presence.


I share this with you so I can clarify a few things.

Firstly, I love Christian thinkers who speak to culture; people like Allie Beth Stuckey, Rosaria Butterfield and CS Lewis inspire me to try current events and trends of culture in light of Scripture. I find this fascinating and always learn something when we do not avoid the secular world as though Scripture is unable to inform our perspective thereof and give us guidance on how we might most lift Christ high in our modern world.

Secondly, I know that I have many friends on Facebook with whom I do not see eye to eye. (Why else would these posts explode with argumentative comments? I welcome these; it's important to think and ask good questions before drawing a conclusion). I am hopeful that my interactions with you leave you assured that:

-I value you deeply
-I'm so grateful for our friendship
-Even if you do not agree with anything I ever say, I am still thankful God has placed you in my life and I believe there is some purpose for us to have crossed paths

If you think I'm totally loony with my perspective on modesty, I hope we can still remain friends. My goal is to always engage people with the truth in love. If I truly care about you, I'm not going to side with something or tell you something I believe to be untrue. So when we have tough conversations, please know I put a lot of thought into these long before I even hit "post." Truly, I don't love you very much if I'm not willing to speak truth to you. 

And as much as the peacemaker in me wants to remain friends with each person with whom I do not agree,  I also understand that sometimes truth presses and convicts us in such a way that we know we must either choose Truth or part ways with it. No middle path, but a fork in the road; a decision to be made. I do not blame myself when people (like the lady in the grocery store) cut me out of their lives. I am always open to hearing if you felt I was not kind to you or should have spoken to you in another context. But I know there are also times when it's Scriptural truth that people have a problem with. In such a case, can we chat before you hit block? I'd love to hear your story, and I would love to hear why this conversation is painful to you. God's Word is a double edged sword; it cuts the sin and weakness in us deeply, but oh how it brings true healing and freedom when we surrender to Christ. 

On to the conversation you're actually here for.

Why did you share the post about the Super Bowl Half Time Show?

As I shared above, I love analyzing culture from a Christian perspective. That will always be a part of what I share on social media and on this blog. I will note that there are a lot of things I have not commented on recently, but the half time show went to an extreme, knowing millions of families would be tuning in nationwide. I wasn't going to say anything until a Christian individual published their perspective stating it's culturally normative for JLo and Shakira to dance this way, so we cannot speak to this issue. As though it's above Scripture or the ability to discern simply because this may be a cultural practice to dance in this manner. I was concerned with this hermeneutic. More on that in the next question....

If it's culturally normative for JLo and Shakira to dance that way, who are we to say it's wrong?

I'm going to begin answering this question by asking you a question; have you made your relationship with Jesus Christ to be compartmental? Or do you recognize that your relationship with Christ not only pertains to going to church on Sunday, but ought to lead to real change in every sphere of your life, empowered by His grace? Scripture is not only for teaching you how to pray; it is also for teaching you how to think and discern. Knowing your God more fully through His Word should not lead you to a place where you separate your "religious thoughts" from your cultural thoughts, modesty thoughts, family thoughts, or any other kind of thoughts. 

"That in all things He [Christ] might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:8). "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). 

Allow God's Word to inform your perspective of absolutely everything. We don't find passages on every subject imaginable in the Bible, but our hearts should always be moldable and humble before God, seeing His Word as always True and Right! A great many Christians reveal who they've been spending more time with--culture or their God--when they comment on current events. May Jesus be brought all the glory with every word we speak as we discern current events.

God's Truth reigns. Whenever something is being done in a culture that God's Word defines as wrong, who is more credible? God's Word or that culture's practices? "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:15-17). Culture is not the author or definer of truth; Jesus is. Ultimately, every people group and every culture will answer to God for their lives, "For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:11-12). Begin discerning an issue with the Word of God. See the culture through the lens of the Word of God, not the Word of God through the lens of the culture.

"We cannot regard God's Word as moldable to human opinions and ideas. We must find out what God says and then build our lives upon that unshakable foundation" (Leslie Ludy).

Isn't it judgmental to call this out as wrong?

After the Super Bowl, a great many voices chimed in on social media to express what they found to be amusing or excellent about the half time show. I saw many of these posts in my newsfeed. These performers were being praised for a show that included a lot of sexualized content; for example, use of a stripper pole, JLo touching her crotch repeatedly, revealing outfits, raunchy dancing, and not to mention that many of the songs preformed had a common theme: sex. Is it judgmental to look at even just that list and conclude that there may have been something wrong?

Are we willing to shine light on something questionable even if that may be uncomfortable? 

We're so afraid of judging everyone that we become people who discern nothing. May I share something with you? This performance occurred publicly, so it is ok to respond publicly with respect. People are fine with "positive" things being shared about the event; they aren't too bothered if you share a meme or blip of a thought on it, as long as you "support" their performance. They do have an issue when we say something was wrong. I believe this is in large part because we live in a world that calls a great many things good, but does not have a moral framework for understanding when things are bad. We can't call anything wrong because we have to make sure we're being empathetic to every possible perspective in the history of the world (other than the Bible because that's prudish and judgmental). 

That's what I discovered in my little Facebook debate. When we dug deeper and deeper into why one person in the conversation found utterly nothing wrong with this performance, the individual admitted to not believing in moral absolutes. I'm not sure that's the case for every person who liked the performance, but Christians with a conscience cannot watch this performance and not be at least somewhat disturbed. 

Shouldn't women be free to dress however they wish?

As a Christian, I know that ultimately my life is not my own. 

"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body [...] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes on body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.' But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:13b,15-20, emphasis added). 

I belong to Jesus! This joyful reality frees me to live, act and dress selflessly 

We are taught culturally that everything about us--our looks, manner of dressing, sexuality, etc.--are forms of self-expression, but as a follower of Jesus, I know I do not primarily exist to express myself and my own individuality to this world, but I exist for Christ to be exalted in and through my life. That doesn't mean we cannot be unique and creative or that we're not individuals, but we don't bank our identity on these things. My looks, manner of dressing, sexuality and every other area of my life exist to bring God glory! How amazing is that?!

Is modesty even relevant today?

A great followup question to this one is what does Scripture have to say about modesty?

"Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with that is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works" (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

"Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on gold jewelry, or the clothing your wear--but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Scripture is relevant to our lives as Christians, and thus modesty is also relevant, even in a society that often does not value or appreciate modesty 

Dressing modestly does not have to be prudish or bland; it can be joyful, colorful and interesting. These passages of Scripture show us that ultimately, though, the emphasis is not on our outward dressing; it begins with a heart that loves and honors God. Don't dress modestly out of drudgery, but out of freedom, knowing this is one more way we can worship our worthy God today. 

Do we dress modestly to prevent men from lusting?

As women, we should be excited about the opportunity to dress modestly first and foremost to bring God glory! We should also care about our brothers in Christ as they fight for purity; they are responsible for their own thoughts, however this does not mean we have a justification for dressing in whatever way we feel like. I would recommend listening to this short message from C.J. Mahaney that has given me some really helpful perspective.

My purpose for dressing modestly--and for living at large--is not for men, but for Jesus Christ because He is worthy of my everything!

What if it's not immodest, I'm just confident?

Our culture promotes self-esteem; Scripture promotes it's antonym: self-denial. "Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). My confidence does not come from my looks, accomplishments, clothing, schooling, family, you name it. As a Christian, my ultimate hope is not meant to teeter on the things of earth. Christ-confidence is a hundred times stronger than the haughtiest self-confidence. When your security is found in a perfect Savior who has never failed, ever lives to intercede on your behalf, and tends to all your needs, we discover a selfless confidence that is not out to make self further known, but to exalt Christ more! You, my friend, were not created to look inward to find your worth, but to look up at your amazing God who has taken your place. Jesus laid His very life down for us when we were in the depths of sin; if He had not intervened, we would certainly spend an eternity separated from Him. But oh His grace! Now that we have become His children, we represent Christ every place we go. May we set an example of a Christ-exalting fortitude that finds not its boast in self, but in the One who is worthy of all the praise, all the adoration and all the glory.

In short, I'm disappointed that the Super Bowl half time show was so provocative, but I hope that through this conversation you've been encouraged afresh to live entirely and devotedly for the One who created you. Be bold in conviction and dare to discern the issues of culture against Scripture and bring them before God in prayer. Our Jesus is so able to bring change in our world for His glory. This culture is not beyond His power to rescue.

7 Books on my To-Be-Read List of 2020

Friday, December 27, 2019

In just five days, we will be entering a brand new year! Today, I've been spending some time day-dreaming and purposefully planning the upcoming year. I don't know about you, but I have lots of looming goals in 2020; some pertaining to large-scale travel, others dealing with the day-to-day nitty gritty. One thing remains true each trip around the sun: I need Jesus. I desire for the most-read book on my shelf to always be His Word. I need the Bible more than I will ever need any other work of human thought. It's easy to grab for a trendy devotional with a couple reflective thoughts, but my soul craves the food only found in the Living Word. Yes, we should read books written by other Christians (and non-Christians too, at times), but most importantly, in order to grow in my walk with Jesus, I must be in His Word. 

I reflect on the past year and regret not being in it enough; since I'm on a bit of a crazy schedule, trying to go back and forth from night shift, there have been times I've chosen sleep, relaxation, cleaning, and accomplishing other goals over being in His Word some days. That's a definite regret, looking back. But do you know the great thing about regrets, with their annoying ache? They cause us to consider how a wrong could be right. They lead us to ponder what was wasted and how to cultivate what is truly meaningful. If you're in a similar place, realizing that some days you dumped your time in the word for things that were second-rate at best, will you consider with me what your day-to-day could look like if it was about Christ, first and foremost?

For me, this means writing a daily schedule and choosing to discipline my natural wish to be spontaneous and free, accomplishing things at my own pace. Instead, I will have to wake up a bit earlier and read no matter how I feel. Maybe it's hard to make sense of the passage I'm reading for the day; if so, the Author of the Word is with me, even so; why should I be hesitant?

After basking in His Word each day, I also hope to explore these seven books this upcoming year! As I look forward to reading these and others, the themes of Christian living, nursing/healthcare, abortion, and goal setting are most notable. I desire to grow in my walk with Christ, better understand embryonic and fetal development, prepare to serve to the best of my ability as a nurse someday, argue effectively on behalf of the unborn, and set goals with open hands, in light of eternity! Without further ado, here are 7 books on my to-be-read list of 2020:

1. Love Unleashes Life by Stephanie Gray- I wrote two papers on abortion argumentation for English Comp (don't my professors love me), and it made me think how easy it is to be unintentional about learning more on effectively discussing this life and death issue. In sidewalk counseling thus far, I have never once had a debate with an abortion-bound woman. These ladies are often focused on the crisis at hand and need to hear how we can help; if they need us to be persuasive, we are ready, but many times it's actually the pro-choice protesters these conversations develop with. This book will help me better refine my argumentation on behalf of the unborn.

2. 7 Women and the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas- I already started this book and the chapters on Joan of Arc and Susanna Wesley are my favorites! The author's tone is so intriguing; it's not very often I stop and think about how amazing someone's sentence structure is, but that's just a fact of this writer's style. We all need someone to look up to, and that's really what this book is; the account of several women's lives and how they lived for God's glory in the mundane thereby soaring far above average in their existence.

3. Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? by Randy Alcorn- this book is written by a journalist and also contains lots of medical information. This is not a "sermon," but simply examines the medical (and ethical) question "can an embryo die as a result of the use of hormonal birth control?" I've read parts of this before, but it's time to read all the way through!

4. Make it Happen by Lara Casey- I'm rather Type-A, so I'm always trying to accomplish goals, but Lara has this idea of "cultivating what matters," a system she has created that isn't the typical burn-out style of goal setting. She shares: "Nowhere in the Bible did God say, 'Follow your dreams' or 'Follow your heart.' He simply said, 'Follow me." The bit I've read so far has been personal and very applicable.

5. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology- this textbook is one of the coolest ever. I have always been fascinated by embryonic and fetal development, and this is a very detailed work, expounding on every week of development!! Why are little humans so cool?!

6. You Can Trust God to Write Your Story by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Robert Wolgemuth - I don't know about you, but my life story has taken several "detours" from the ideal I painted in my mind to what I know to be God's higher and better fate for me. Even when we're aware that God's ways are higher than ours, as Scripture tells us, it's still immensely encouraging to pick up a book like this one and be freshly reminded about God's sovereign hand over each unfolding detail of our lives. I look forward to hearing testimonies, exhortations, and solid Biblical teaching from this book. (And I'll continually be trying the words of each book to Scripture, like a Berean). I have a half hour drive to work each day, and I hope to have this work playing on Audiobook on my way there!

7. Expectant by Heather Cofer - Thus far, I only have a little experience in the "birth world" through a short season as a midwife assistant, but I hope to work with expectant mothers in the future in healthcare, so the season of pregnancy is one I regularly think about. Sometimes the emphasis in pregnancy and birth care can teach the patient to have a self-focus: "Women are strong!" We want women to feel encouraged and uplifted as we care for them through the beautiful and challenging season of pregnancy, but in order to effectively support them, we must encourage them with truth. God's Word shows us we are not strong, in and of ourselves: "When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). But when we put our confidence in God's strength through the season of pregnancy and every other, we find true empowerment. I look forward to reading Heather's brand new book, in which she shares a refreshing, Christ-centered perspective on pregnancy.

Let me know in the comments, what books are on your list for the year?

20 Years of Existing // defying impossibility

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

This blog post already bothers me, mainly because the title is technically wrong. I've existed twenty years AND nine months. (And if you know me well enough, you know why I can't help but think of that). #unbornequalshuman

My goodness, this year has by far been the craziest yet, but with that came so many adventures, changes, challenges, incredible joys, surprising lows, hopeful plans, and ultimately a good and faithful God who saw me through each day.

I worked in the Emergency Department, for Grand Rapids Right to Life, did photography, wrote my heart out and started a new position at another hospital. And did I mention I started college? Where is the face palm emoji? I'm one of those ultra type-a people who feels like they never get anything done, meanwhile a lot of life is actually getting accomplished and lived (and, of course, there was a good dose of failing in there as well).

This time last year, there were a lot of unknowns in my life. I wasn't sure when I'd start college or where to go, I questioned what I'd study, and I didn't know for sure what hospital setting I could best serve in.

My days were filled with coordinating events and students when I worked for Grand Rapids Right to Life. I had lots of coffee dates with many amazing pro-life youth, had the coolest boss on the planet ;) (love ya Laura!), and did some public speaking on behalf of the unborn. Sadly, I had to decide between the hospital and GRRTL because of the time commitment, so I ended up finishing my time there in December. Soon my work duties went from office work and activism related, to only the medical side of things.

From assisting with traumas to sitting for psych patients, the ER taught me many things. Mainly, it instilled in me the absolute necessity to genuinely care for my patients no matter what they're facing. That's not a belief held by all in that field, but I had several inspiring coworkers who rose above the typical and talked with that difficult patient, cared for the one who was especially needy, and did not allow the many sights of trauma to deaden their will to serve. Those are the people I will remember, looking back.

After leaving the ER, I took a month-long break from healthcare, uncertain how much I really wanted to try that field again (for the third time, job wise). Maybe I had made a mistake? Maybe I wasn't "tough enough" for that line of work? Maybe I don't have the gift set to make a difference in the lives of patients? I wanted to serve, help, and assist, but I also wanted to change things. I desired for the cries of those in distress to be met with mercy and I honestly wasn't sure if I could find a job like that in healthcare. Certainly, we each make our own choices that contribute to a patient's experience, but we can't control our coworkers, and if we're not on the same page about patient care, it's not going to be good for anyone.

In the midst of this break, the Lord graciously convicted me over how much I worried, ached, and strived over the future. What to plan, where to apply and how could I accomplish things He's leading me to do? A few weeks after leaving the ER, I sat in my car with such a sense of weariness and laid my life afresh in His hands. So much anxiety went fleeing away as I surrendered to the God who is so much bigger than my earthly problems.

I was broken from that season of life, and needed time to heal. But this season of brokenness was different than past hardships. I would not take back the challenging life circumstances, painful job, or unplanned problems if I could, while previously, I had the tendency to wish with all my heart I could undo the rough things I had experienced. This time, I saw His hand and knew He was refining, teaching and disciplining me, and in that I sensed His love. (Of course, He was so present in the past circumstances where I could not see that, but He graciously changed my perspective so much this time around).

If I were honest, there was a time in the past year I did not sense much hope. I did my best to get through each day, but surviving would be a much better word to describe my mode of living than thriving. I was reading through the book of Genesis when I was struck with an important truth. In chapter 18, Sarah laughed at God when He told Abraham that she would bear a child in her old age. To which God replied, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is there anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:13b, emphasis added). Such conviction filled my heart. I was praying for what seemed possible to me, so if I was feeling pessimistic that day, my prayers sounded quite similar. But things started to change. Even while feeling uncertain about what was to come, by His grace, I began to pray bigger. I prayed for Him to overcome problems in my life, rescue the unborn (all of them everywhere), to bring healing in my family, and for many more things.

Soon after, I discovered a stirring quote,

"Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible." C.T. Studd

These weren't just nice sounding words, though. Jesus was challenging my view of Him; did I have a small and compartmental view of my God, or did I believe that He is bigger, stronger, and greater that anything I ever face? Maybe I don't see breakthrough yet. Maybe things in my life still feel heavy and difficult. On the darkest night, am I found with eyes on the storm, shaken at the thought of what is to come? Or do I stand with radical expectancy that He is yet in control, faithful, and entirely good through the worst of the worst? My circumstances are incapable of overwhelming my God! "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, 'My Refuge and my Fortress, my God in whom I trust" (Psalm 91:1-2).

God is not bound by what I see to be possible or impossible. He is sovereign and supreme and He reigns!

"When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood; when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay" (Edward Mote).

When I am tempted to dread trial upon trial, I can instead rejoice to taste the sufficiency of His grace upon grace! He is enough amid my lack; when life goes south, my Savior remains completely faithful. The fact that I have been rescued by Christ for all eternity defies impossibility. Apart from Him, I was destined to hell and an eternity of torment that I deserved because of my sin. Yet He laid His life down for fallen, broken, needy sinners who were unable to lift themselves from the miry clay. Experiencing the barbaric death I deserved, Christ broke the bond of sin and the hold of the enemy in my life and made me His own. Thus hope exists. Not merely theoretically or philosophically, but in a person who has been our ransom: Jesus Christ!

When I ponder these truths, I am all the more thankful for this year. I'm grateful I didn't know in advance what hard things were to come in year nineteen, but those very circumstances, friendships, and issues stripped me of my natural "feeling" of hope, and caused me to dive deeper into His Word. I had to set aside a "feeling dependance" in order to come to believe in His ability no matter what. Thus I began to experience a much deeper hope. One that refused to relent when environments felt toxic, relationships died, people seemed to attack, and circumstances failed me.

When Christ is my hope and stay, my circumstances are no longer capable of making or breaking me.

What do you hinge your hope on? Yourself, friendships, a line of work, finances, feelings? Maybe something else?

As Leslie Ludy has so eloquently put it: "Until Jesus is our all and all, we aren't truly living the Gospel life."

...On to twenty! Here's to a new year likely to be full of college, healthcare, challenges, joys, and certainly of Jesus, who is Himself the epitome of Hope.

now that "teen" is no longer the suffix of my age, I think I'm getting quite old.....

Surrendered Scars: Finding Unshakable Hope on the Darkest Night

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Do you have any of "those memories" in your life? Things you've been through that you certainly know God will use for good, yet you also still feel the pain. There's a scar in your heart; it doesn't take any convincing for you to believe this is a fallen world. You chronically see it, take it in and experience the ramifications of brokenness in your own life.

In my life, I've been wrestling with a question. What should I do with the scars...?

Those hard things you reflect on and cannot yet see redemption in, but expectantly await His glorious transformation. Right there. Healing in the full capacity. Getting to understand His eternal purpose in our sufferings; seeing how His name was lifted high in our darkest nights, even when hopes were dashed, hearts were broken, and life seemed to fall apart.

The Truth remains true in the bad things of life that we experience.

Though we walk through seasons that feel like a wilderness, He is alive.

One of the names of God is El Chay: the Living God (Joshua 3:10, Ps. 42:2). From Hebrew, Chay can be translated as: alive, fresh, strong, life, living, springing. Its meaning goes yet further: to sustain life, revive from sickness, revive from discouragement, revive from death, vigorous, fresh [water], running [water].

One commentary has this to say:

"The OT places a high value on life and views it as being good. It came from God [Gen. 2:7], but death ensued because of sin. Man was no longer allowed to partake of the tree of life [Gen. 3:22]. God is the source of life [Ps. 36:9] and the Lord of life and death [Job 12:10]...Chay is a set of experiences, not an abstract principle of vitality which is separate from the body. The Hebrews viewed man holistically, i.e. body, mind and spirit were a unified whole. Life was associated with health, prosperity, vitality, etc., while death was the very opposite" (In the Bible Commentary).

We live in a world affected by death.

God is so loving. He placed His creation--in the beginning--in a beautiful garden. This simply was a taste of heaven. We cannot fathom what this world was like in the beginning, exactly as God intended it; a place where there was no such thing as brokenness, pain, sorrow, trauma, or sin. Adam and Eve walked closely with God and enjoyed His creation.

But even in literal perfection, Eve chose to heed the words of the serpent rather than to obey the One who had given them life. For a moment's pleasure of tasting the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve traded closeness and intimacy with their Maker and a life with no scar or stain of sin for what the enemy promised would be better. He cunningly spoke: "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4b-5).

Perhaps as Eve examined the fruit, she pondered the words of the serpent. What would it be like to have this fruit? Maybe God was being cruel in telling them not to partake of it? How could her perspective of the world and of life at large be different if she was "like God" as the serpent proposed?

The serpent's idea did not lead to her liberation, power, and exaltation. Instead, for the very first time in their existence, Adam and Eve hid from God [Gen. 3:8]. God had given His prized creations the choice to obey or disobey, and when they had chosen the latter, there were consequence that would not only affect them, but every person to come.

God told the serpent that he was cursed above all livestock and beasts of the field, and that he would traverse the fallen earth on his belly, eating dust for all the days of his existence. In the next verse comes the first prophecy of a Savior who would bring redemption to fallen, broken human beings, and the ruin of the enemy.

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal" (Gen. 3:15). 

God here proclaims His supremacy and sovereignty, exalting that He is greater than the enemy's attempt to overpower Him. Satan's effort to ruin His creation would not be the end of the story. God would yet be exalted in all the earth and bring glory to His name and no other. "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols" (Isaiah 42:8).

Adam and Eve rebelled against God even when He had given them everything they could need. Yet, in His mercy, He would use the their line to eventually bring a Savior to lift His sinful creations from the miry clay into the redemption and wholeness that can only be found in Christ.

Here we are, several thousands of years later, and we know the story and name of this Savior.

In order to rescue His creations, Jesus willingly came and died. Isn't it amazing to think that the Creator of the universe would suffer for us and die an excruciating death, bearing our sin, experiencing the death we deserved, and ascending into hell where we were supposed to go, and rising again in triumph that any person who put their faith in Him could be set free?

If you walk in this reality, as His child, hallelujah. By His grace we proclaim to this fallen earth that the fall, suffering, death and sin are not stronger than our mighty God. Yes, we feel pain, experience suffering, and have anything but simple lives, but your relationship with God never promised you an easy existence.

When preaching to great crowds, Jesus spoke these words: "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? [...] So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14: 27-28, 33).

Following Jesus is not a program to make all your dreams come true, send all your problems fleeing away, deposit tons of money into your bank account, or to please you every second of your existence. To pursue Christ means death to self, refining sanctification, and the exaltation of our God. It is difficult, and He calls for a counting of the cost. Are you willing to lay everything down for His glory?

We'd like to think that surely God would be most glorified in our comfort, peaceful circumstances, perfect health at all times, and a sense of worldly security, but this is often not the lot of those who have chosen Christ.

Paul was so purposefully pursued by Jesus, as a shining light blinded him and he heard Jesus speak directly to him (Acts 9); after giving His life to Christ, Paul became a great leader in the early church. If it was the will of God to spoil His redeemed in every happiness of earth, surely the one whom God pursued in such a way would experience such ease. Rather, in one of his letters, Paul shares some of the many sufferings he endured for the name of Jesus:

"...far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:23b-28).

 Even having experienced each of these things, Paul had not lost heart. His hope did not hinge on outward circumstances, but on His eternal God.

"Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart [...] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:1, 5-11, emphasis added).

As a Christian, you will go through hard things, there is no doubt. Yet, even in our darkest night, we have a Defender and Savior who ever lives and intercedes for us (He. 7:25). You are never abandoned, forgotten, let go, unseen, or cast aside amid your suffering; He intends for the strongest storms to cast us upon Himself more fully. How would you know your need for a Savior if you felt self-sufficient? Praise the Lord for challenges that make beautiful displays of His nearness to broken souls.

If you're in a similar place to where I am--not yet seeing every way personal hardships work our for my good and His glory--rest your soul afresh in the truth that your all-knowing God is not silent in your heartbreak. When we walk through immense difficulties, it is then that we discover the sufficiency of His grace to sustain us amid our human weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-11).

"Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life" (Psalm 54:4).
If your heart is broken, your body is failing you, or your circumstances threaten to unravel entirely, I'm certain you've already sensed the emptiness of the solutions this world offers. A focus solely on the here and now seems nearly unbearable for those of us walking through deep waters. Praise the Lord for this reality; when we sense the fleetingness of this life, we are beginning to grasp that God intends much more for us than a comfortable worldly experience. As C.S. Lewis has said:

"If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world" [1]. 
Rest for weary souls is not ultimately found in what this world has to offer. We are in desperate need for our Savior who is Himself the epitome of Hope, Rest and Salvation. "The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all [...] The Lord redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned" (Psalm 34:15-19, 22).

Your circumstances may continue be difficult through the twists and turns of life, but no matter the ferocity of the storm, our God will be stronger and He will lead us in triumph, displaying His sufficiency in a broken world with hurts, tears, and pains. In Christ, you will not get everything you want, but you will have everything you need (2 Peter 1:3). He has gone before you and knows your frame; you do not serve a cruel God who wants to harm you, but a gracious Father who knows how to strip His children of self and more fully display the life of Christ in us. This may be painful, but it can also be immensely joyful, because we may always find hope in Jesus, our Rescuer and He is always with us through every tempest.

"Do not let yourself be thrown down or give in to despair. Stand evenly at the will of God....For after winter comes summer. After night comes the dawn. And after every storm, there comes clear, open skies" (Samuel Rutherford, as quoted by Amy Carmichael) [2].

1. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Collins, 1977.
2. Carmichael, Amy and David Hazard. I Come Quietly to Meet You: an Intimate Journey in God's Presence. Bethany House Publishers, 2005, p.146.