Prone to Wander

Today our team devoted the day to prayer. We met together briefly for a time of worship and instruction to guide our day, but then we each split off to find our own places of solitude. The sun was shining. I ached to spend this time with the Lord outside in His creation. However, not being as familiar with the asian side of the city, I asked a teammate if I could follow her to the park she was headed.

We pulled on our boots and stepped out into the sun.

With the command to not speak once we left the building, we placed a couple of feet between us and walked in paralleled silence. I had no idea where we were going. Staying in-step with her strides, I tried to gage where we were headed. I stopped when we arrived at a smaller, different park that I thought was the one, but she lead me forward. Ah. I groaned inwardly. Where are we going? Is this  park worth it?

Prior to meeting up with the team, my morning had been somewhat of a distracting and unsettling one; not the desired start when one is heading into a day of prayer. With these pre-existing anxious thoughts, my worry platter piled higher. Why is this stressing me out? Maybe I should just turn around. I’ll head to a park I already know.  But then I’m wasting time. But then I’ll miss what the unknown park might be like… I heard it was spacious and full of plants and that there was a “waterfall”… But will it really be where I want to be?

But, but, but. So many buts!

I wanted to envision what the park area would look like. Seriously though, why was I making it such a big deal? Not to mention, why did I feel like I had to make a plan or a layout as to the order or the agenda concerning my surroundings for prayer?

Prayer is simply being with my Father. It doesn’t matter where I am. I know this. But still (another but), I wanted to make sure I would have no distractions and freedom to worship how I wanted.

I kept walking. Each step distancing me from being able to choose other options.

My anxious heartbeat heightening as I fought my urge to turn back and resisted the temptation to ask questions of where we were going. It was cold. Really cold. My face started burning from the wind. The lighter jacket I put on that morning was useless.

I prayed for warmth.

I kept walking.

We came to a crosswalk. My guide was going to walk a little more before entering the park. I still couldn’t see it, but she pointed, gave me a rough direction and assured me I wouldn’t miss it. I asked once more for her to repeat, unsure and hesitant to go off on my own. Then I climbed up a hill.

The higher I went, the more warmth I felt.

I finally arrived at the park. Immediately, I spotted my prayer station, off to the side and into the woods, the city’s outline revealed in the patches between tree trunks. I made it.

The higher altitude inspired a higher perspective of my own self.

Super discontent about my attitude that day, I searched my heart, picking out the anxious thorns that had burrowed, digging to the root of the issues.

Life is scary. Much like not knowing where my teammate was leading me, it’s scary to not know where I’m being led in life and to not have anything spelled out. For nothing to make sense. To pass by places or people I thought were it. I would have stopped at the small park if my teammate hadn’t pulled me forward to the bigger and better. Throwing off my own agenda, there’s no choice but to blindly follow.

It’s not like I’m making any big decisions anytime soon– I’m committed to being here for these 2 years. Yet like most human beings, I prefer to dream up my own life’s timeline; intact with stable relationships and being near to the people I care about and doing what I’m passionate about. However, my plans always come with mountains of worry due to the fact that I can’t trust my imperfect self. I know who I am and that I’m more flesh than spirit. I put unrealistic expectations on myself. On others. Been there, done that. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I’m a selfish being, hands down.

My plans will only end up with me in a breathless, tangled mess.

It is when I am in His will- in His presence- where I am undone. Yes, I’m full of dirt and grunge and sin, but all He sees is a child, covered and washed pure by the blood of His Son. His judgement on me is one of forgiveness, grace, love, acceptance, and delight. This is the One whom I can trust. This is who I WANT to be tangled up in. When I dwell on who He is and what has done, there isn’t room nor time to worry about the future. Anxieties melt away in sight of His perfect, healing peace.

Even though I had doubts and nearly turned back on multiple occasions, I’m so thankful that I kept following my teammate to this park. My day with the Lord turned out to be a smothering of kisses; He wowed me with promise after promise. I could hardly breathe, not because of anxiety, but because of His love.

If I let Him, He’ll lead me into the most beautiful tangled mess of His goodness. I don’t know every detail and often will walk blindly, but I do know that His plan is perfect and that He knows my every need. Every thought before I think it- He knows!

I’m on the path of His way everlasting; there is no reason to worry. I know who I am in Him, and I know I can trust in the One who has never, and will never, lead me astray. My life is not going to look like I want it to; it’s going to be better. It’s going to be God’s agenda.

Advertisements

Sweet Surrender

It was one year ago of this month when I was deciding where to go in response to God’s call on my life. Strangely enough, the biggest barrier I had to overcome was not lack of support nor finances. It was nothing of physical nature, but of surrender. Specifically, to learn how to surrender my own definition of God’s calling on my life and to instead ask what He wanted my calling to look like. For a long time, I held unto my glorious picture of how and where I envisioned myself serving. Below is an excerpt from my application, testifying the calling I had for myself:

  

I feel called to serve in a Spanish-speaking country. Spanish has been a language that I have invested years of study; it’s what my college degree is in! Speaking Spanish brings me immense joy, and I attribute this passion for Spanish to my Lord who has been developing this language in me for a reason, so clearly I want to use it. Even more specifically, I feel called to serve students and would love to partner with a university outreach organization. From experience, I know that college years are some of the most transformative and growing years. It is a very vital and crucial time period in which decisions that are made are most likely to impact the direction of the rest of their lives. It is my desire to reach out to students…
My heart was set on working with college students in a Spanish speaking nation. I oozed passion for these areas and confidently felt that’s how God had gifted me and where He was steering me. I’m sure I prayed about it, asking the Lord to direct my steps, but at the beginning, I still held unto my own plan. Further along in my application however, I wrote:

I will go anywhere, and I will do anything– I’m simply applying in response to His call on my life and whole-heartedly want to be used by Him!!!

So, as the process continued, God began to close doors; it was the only way to get my attention since I was sure my own ideas were God’s ideas. Remember that the little sentence I wrote about being willing to go anywhere and do anything? Well, it was going to be tested.

The closed doors quickly started to resemble God’s hand changing my route. Little by little, I began to wake up to the realization that perhaps I had mapped out my own journey and had forgotten to invite the driver along for the ride. C’mon though, really? Why would He not use me where he had given me specific giftings??

Hesitant, but at the same time noting the absence of peace I was currently experiencing, I paused my planning. I asked God- okay, then, what’s YOUR plan? And much to my soul’s bewilderment and awe, He unfolded a giant map of His heart before me.

Everything clicked.

Through books I was reading, challenging and conflicting conversations, classes, chapel speakers, searching His Word, and even while writing my senior thesis paper, His love for ALL nations rang loud. Like a clanging bell, God declared to me His love for the oppressed. It was impossible to ignore. He convicted my small self of my small mind and the small box I had put Him in. How could I know the God who created every nation without knowing every nation? How could I claim obedience to His calling if I don’t go where His name has not yet been heard? If I’m not working to love not only by bringing spiritual wholeness, but physical and economic wholeness as well?

My mind was blown. I almost missed out on the best. His best.

Here I was, with my cute little plan, all wrapped up nicely with a bow on top, hugged close to my chest. I couldn’t see beyond it. I couldn’t imagine what I would do, who I would be if I set it down. What was wrong in doing what I assumed God had equipped me to do? It was wrong because it was idolatry. Instead of believing and putting faith in the Giver of gifts, I ran off without Him and worshiped the gift, tagging limits onto the mystery still waiting to be opened- that for which He yearns for me to seek Him.

I can’t even describe how scared I was to drop everything I had worked towards, the foundation of what had motivated me to learn Spanish, the ministry I know I’m good at, the environment I thrive and find fulfillment in. Yet as soon as I did, my Father seamlessly took full control. Doors opened. New directions were mapped out- pointing me east instead of south.

Once I surrendered my defined idea of God’s will and ultimately declared His ways infinitely better than mine, He, in all His greatness unleashed the beginning of a journey I know I won’t regret. New passions are taking root in my life- ones I never would have pursued if I hadn’t extended my hands to be lead where they are now serving: in the Middle East, among refugees of all ages and nationalities. Boy am I glad I did.

I look back on where I was a year ago… What the Lord did in my life allowed me to surrender, and by surrendering He lead me deeper into Himself. By letting go, He picked me up. By releasing, He moved me forward.

If I want to remain in His perfect plan, to experience more of Him and His power, I need to continually practice surrender.

To rid myself of myself. (Gal 2:20)

To search my motives. Are my plans self-seeking, self-gratifying? Jesus came not to boast in himself but to do the will of the Father (John 5:30)

To search the Word; it is a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105)!

To find hope in the promise that God will continue the work He has started in me- regardless of where I am (Phil 1:6).

To know He is always with me (Heb 13:5) and that He is all I need (Phil 3:7-10, Col 2:10, Psalm 73:25).

And to Trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. But in ALL your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).

Worries Benched

I’m sitting on a park bench, smack-dab in the middle of a patchy plot of land set aside for a friendly playground and picnic pastimes. Come summer, this place will be crawling with families and restless city children who are done being cooped up in their fifth floor flat– I know the feeling.

But for now, it’s just me and the Lord. And I breathe. It’s Friday.

I finished studying and was in desperate desire to escape the four wall confinement I’ve been subjected to all day. As I made my wild dash down the crowded streets to freedom, I tried to pull myself together but the tears still came regardless; it was a tough week for Turkish.  More so than last week. Right now, in my current state of emotional being, it appears to be getting harder instead of easier. Harder to stick to the books. Harder to swallow the fact that even after 3 months of strict language focus -studying day after day- I’m overwhelmed by how much I don’t know during real life conversation with my Turkish friends. Sick of having to constantly ask them “please, will you please speak slower?”

Pushing my brain to the limit, aching to find familiarity in this foreign clash of words. Wondering how on earth is this expectation of acquisition even possible?! Worried I’m not going to be fully engaged in ministry since I’m not at the level of language I need to be in order to be put to efficient use. Worried worried worried. What good am I if I’m not doing what I can here to do???

Something falls unto the top of my head, a crumb. I look around- who threw that? Another crumb lands on my shoulder- I look up. Perched on the branches above me, a couple crows happily chomp down on chunks of simit they stole from a nearby stand.

In that instant, precious words of Truth come to mind:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” …

and God whispers to my soul: Why worry? Who are you here for? Yourself? Your team? The refugees? You’re to worry not about accomplishments for man. All who you are and all that you do is for me. I alone see your heart. I see you slave away at language. I see your perseverance. I see your struggles. I know everything about you, therefore do not waste your time on worries. Focus on me. Have faith. I will help you succeed for my glory.

Here, now, in my Turkish studies, I can yet be living out a radical love for the Lord. Regardless the task, this is how I am to love: with resounding gratitude because He loved us first. My daily studying will no longer compose worry, but will be my act of worship. An overflow of my heart, naked to God’s eyes as He searches to and fro to find those faithful to His calling.
Before the sun fell below the horizon, I had the awakened opportunity to surrender my focus back to the One who gave me breath…. I captured this moment for all it was worth. This park bench. The message received. What’s left of the fading light streaming through bare branches. Sunset warming my face and my spirit. Because of His grace, the gift of today is sweeter than I can possibly know.

At the Piano

I remember sitting down at a piano competition, getting nervous, freaking out and forgetting the song. My teacher set the music down in front of me. But I stubbornly didn’t want to use the one thing that would make the music sound as it should, and instead tried to master it on my own- sweating bullets and making awfully horrendous mistakes. What a stupid thing to do.

I do it all the time; ignore God’s music for my life. Make a fool out of myself. When I could be trustingly playing His notes stanza by stanza. Following His tempo. Feeling His rhythm. Eyes unswerving to the page set before me, not wanting to lose my focus or flow. The intro is a sweet melody, slow, light, and serene. The next page He sets a string of sixteenth notes interwoven with off-beat quarter notes- a little intimidating. Deep breath of prayer. He leads me through it. No harm has come to me under His direction.

The few slips might cause others to cluck of disapproval- but, God & I? We’re stronger because of it, and then He proudly hands me more notes to conquer. I play- with His coaching to never lose sight of the music- until one day, as I sound the resolving chord, He ushers me off the piano bench and into bright light, beaming and applauding at my performance. Telling me how beautiful the song was. To which I step back, out of the spotlight, and say,

Oh my King, it was all You.

You gave me the music. Taught me to read it. How to play it. How to never let it out of sight or mind. How to trust and dive head-first when it seemed impossible, only to find out the glorious rewards of moving over the keys in rhythm of Your love, being lead forward in Your grace. It never got easier, but my fingertips soon became familiar with the consistent fact that when weight presses down the ivory, a praise rings out. If I stopped playing when it got hard, I missed out on You.

You, my King, are the music.
And Yours is the glory.

Reason to Celebrate

I was out sick Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday: I accidently ate something last Sunday with gluten in it and it sent my body into the worst reaction I’ve ever experienced. I won’t go into details…

However, Thursday morning when I finally had enough energy to open my bible for the 1st time in 3 days, I was immediately hit with what I should have seen and appreciated in those moments of hell. I should have seen how my sick days were God’s will. I should have accepted them and looked for ways to find God’s presence in my bedridden misery. He knows better than me what I need. Why did I wallow in my depression instead of turn and depend on Him? A missed opportunity. But then again, by God’s grace he took the blinders off my eyes as I reflected upon the purpose he had in me getting sick. He was trying to teach me how to receive, which even includes the bad as his will for the moment.

I pray all the time to receive his good, and if he works all things together for the good of those who love him, how can I claim sickness as evil instead of his goodness. I mean, who can know the mind of God, right? If my hands are open to receive, to trust in his plan, I need to stop categorizing the different life situations I experience to my own standards, because all this shows is my selfish desire to control and pick and choose, grasping only what I deem fitting to be God’s plan instead of really receiving his will in every situation.

Before this week I had recently been reading and learning about how my daily task is to simply trust. And I’ve been intentionally trying to practice Trust. John 6:29 says “This is the work that God asks of you: that you believe (acting in trust) in the One whom he has sent.” As I think about it, it shouldn’t be difficult to trust in retrospect of EVERYTHING God has done for me. His Son. His sacrifice. His forgiveness. His unconditional, perfect love. He is all I need. I am safe in His promises.

Though anytime a storm hits, I foolishly forget that every moment is His will. Nothing changes-God remains the same- yet I respond in an untrusting and childish manner. I think I know better. I pick and choose the moments by myself, missing the chance to receive the fullness of his Joy in the moments (good or “bad”) he gives me. On my own I am incapable of releasing my will to accept His. Incapable of trusting and being thankful for every moment of his will. But my God strengthens me and helps me, He upholds me with his righteous right hand. He is my helper. He helps me find joy in what he gives. What he takes.

This experience has reminded me again that I am nothing without Christ. I cannot attempt to live like Christ without Christ. It’s impossible. I literally need to depend on him for EVERYTHING. He ALONE is the reason it’s even possible to receive his grace to pray for faith that comes through trust and belief in who he is and what he has done and what he wills. For EVERY moment.

And then it’s amazing. Trusting. Living in his continual presence. Seeing him in every moment. I obviously have a loooooong ways to go.  But he’s teaching me. And as I learn and receive and trust, his JOY is my reward, therefore I cannot help but celebrate by giving praise and thanks and glory back to Him.

This morning there was a marathon in Istanbul, so all the main roads were closed, which meant none of the buses were running. I take the bus to church. I was so angry when I got to the bus stop and the roads were closed; all I wanted to do was celebrate and worship the LORD and who he is and the work he’s doing! God knew- and sent a friend my way who creatively led me a different route by walking and taxi and subway- and we made it to church. We were only 25 minutes late. And guess what? It was dubbed “Celebration Sunday,” which meant that we worshiped and sang praises for the entire service.

How fitting- after the week I had- to bring it in full circle with a morning of praise… Amen and AMEN!