#5&#6: Days of Grace

Yesterday through this morning I was a tyrant. I will admit my stress over projects for school had taken over. Especially regarding my Communist Ballet paper…. I felt I was so immersed in it I couldn’t clearly write my topic. Slowly sleep deprivation and resentment towards my inability to write clouded me even further.

God has continued to give me grace when I am stressed. I’m truly thankful to people who can love me at my worst. When I am stressed, and when I doubt myself, and when I make bad choices because of that.

Recently I have been feeling my brokenness and the brokenness of this world. Sometimes there’s not a perfect way to do something. My perfectionism says there must be. But I know my ways will always be less than perfect.

But if I am vulnerable about my shortcomings then I see grace. It’s not that grace extended is dependent on us. But it is as if we are crouched on the ground with our head facing down. A shadow appears over us. And we know that should we look into the eyes of another being we will lose face. All the pain inside may coming tumbling over in the form of tears… We can ignore the figure above us. We can turn to anger. Or we can let the tears roll and allow ourselves to be touched with Grace.

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#4: Praising God for the Semester

I stress a lot about my classwork, my major, finals… This has been a difficult week school wise and God is allowing me to do things I didn’t think I could do. Not only that, but things I don’t deserve to be able to do. I began applying to graduate school back in September. I’m a junior with senior status and it was a complicated of series of events that caused me to drop my Chinese major to a minor so I could begin applying for grad school.

This has not been an easy process. I’m applying for a specific program to begin Master’s work my senior year… but every time I lose understanding God pulls through. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.” Today I want to continue to acknowledge God for the grace he has given me this semester, in every aspect, but especially my academics. When I have had to recently back off my application process to work on things for this year things have been coming together without my knowing.

I’ve received far more positive response to my pursuits than I anticipated. I wouldn’t say that this journey has been easy or smooth. Before the GRE I was pretty much in tears. But I will say God has put very specific professors in my semester who have been gracious in helping me apply, answering my questions, and writing me recommendations and even recommending me for things outside of my application to UK’s Grad program.

Regardless of if everything turns out for me to complete my graduate degree I praise God for how he has constructed this semester allowing me to accomplish things I hadn’t ever thought of accomplishing.

Tomorrow I’m turning in my research project with my awesome partner Elizabeth (another blessing from God in so many ways). Even down to my project partner, God’s hand has been in our communication topic of studying international non-profits and adolescents and so much more.

I thank the Lord for all he has done and is doing with my academics, because I know he is preparing me to do what he is calling me to do in the future with my degree in Communications and my study of Chinese.

#3: The Glad Game.

It’s pretty easy to feel thankful for having an wonderful family, serving a wonderful God, living a wonderful life… but sometimes we need to remember WHY it’s wonderful. Particularly the things that are easy to complain about.

It rained all day.

Rain+nice clothes+presentations+long walks on campus… it was not beautiful. There were lots of frowny people today. So today I played the glad game.

The glad game is something I learned from the movie Pollyanna (made in the 60s… cute movie). Essentially you take what is perceived as bad and make it glad.

So today I am thankful for the rain. Thankful because I know that rain is a blessing from God that can be often forgot until famine strikes. I take my gratitude for rain and use it to pray for those with out. My heart goes out to Somalia which is still suffering from hunger after a severe drought which climaxed in 2011.

#2: Rest.

One thing I really struggle with is not resting. Yet, that is one of God’s commandments. He created rest on the 7th day “On the Seventh day He [God] rested”–Genesis 2:2.

I try to take Sundays from sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday as my day of rest. Sometimes, because of my shifts, it’s just Sunday worship in the morning til after youth group that evening. I’ve heard a lot of emphasis put recently on the Sabbath… that it should be out of our rest that we work, not the burn out of work that we rest.

This week is crazy busy regarding school. I am so thankful for the rest I had on Sunday. It was a wonderful morning of worship and church with Stephen, lunch with my family, games with them, and shopping with the Crossroads Student Ministry. This is how I celebrated the Sabbath yesterday. All of which I am incredibly thankful for. Those are the things that energize me.

I remember a number of months ago lying down in complete physical and emotional exhaustion and asking God to give me peace and rest. Instantly I saw him on the cross, looking down on me, saying “I already have.”

The story of the 7th day in Genesis continues on in verse three to say that “God blessed the Seventh day and made it holy.” Not only is rest holy, but it is blessed and we are blessed through it.

Yesterday I felt that blessing. And it continues on into the week, as we continue in the Spirit of the Sabbath, in the blessing, in the rest, in the hands of God. He’s given us rest and it is holy, we need only take it.

No doubt I have a long ways to go in learning to accept, use, and enact this blessing of God. But may I begin it with gratitude. And to initiate my original plan of saying how I will USE the gift to bless others–simply this: I acknowledge that I cannot bless others with the love and patience and grace of the Lord if I have not rested myself. I cannot give to Jesus nor to others my very best if I have not rested.

“Honor the Sabbath and keep it Holy”–Exodus 20:8

To Cultivate a Graceful Attitude

Graceful Attitude–Gratitude. While everyone was doing their 30 days of Thankfulness last month I am starting this month. I am challenging myself to find a new thing I am thankful for as long as possible. I find that I must spend time reflecting on God in writing–it is my exhortation of praise. This year I want to focus on how God has blessed me.

I have one fundamental belief about God’s blessings: they were not meant for us, but to be shared. When we are blessed, we are meant to be God’s stewards of this gift. How will we cultivate this blessing? How will we share it? Use it? We were never meant to hoard our gifts in the ground such as in the parable Jesus told.

Today I start on the Sabbath. A break from working. So I am incredible thankful for the joys that Sundays bring. This particular Sunday I’m fairly convinced is the day that one year ago I met my love, Stephen. (He will argue that it was a month ago… But I’m more right.) Regardless of if this is the actual day, today is the day I will celebrate that.

I am ridiculously thankful that some impulse inside me whispered to God that I did want to know what it felt like to fall in love–and at first sight at that. He waited until I’d forgotten that prayer to playfully toss me head over heels in love with Stephen the day he introduced himself to me. Deny it I would, but not for long.

And over the course of the year I’ve learned many things about love. My love for Stephen, my love for God, my love for everyone else. I’m thankfulf for that. And I can’t wait to keep loving on people.

I am truly blessed in that, and I am also incredibly thankful to be needing to meet him at Crossroads in just a moment (though, per usual, we will both be late…).

And in the spirit of the Sabbath, of not working, of praising God. This is my rough draft praise that will not be edited (writing is joy, editing is work) and thus what you see is what you get.

With great love for my first love JESUS and my second love Stephen, and lots and lots of overflowing love for the rest of everyone else! I am so thankful for the life I’ve been given. And having been blessed with love, I must share it! And I’m off to praise my Lord!!!!

Dealing With Dementors

If you’re a human, (and you no doubt are, since you’re reading and I don’t think otherworldly creatures read my blog), you probably often wonder “what if?” What if you hadn’t chosen this or that, what if you’d never decided to go out that day, what if you’d had a different family, or a different life entirely? I wonder that sometimes. Sometimes I just like to imagine things and sometimes, and other times, I look back and my regrets and I wish I could take them back. All those days, months, years, that didn’t go the way I would have written. I wouldn’t have written my story that way.

I really think life is much like a story, if you’re a writer (especially of fiction) you will understand what I mean. Writers pen things from their own imagination, the situation, the setting, all of these dynamic characteristics that make a story. When I write, I pick out the initial idea and the characters, but then everything just happens. My characters rarely do what I want them too. Maybe some writers control their characters, I’m sure Charles Dickens did (I really don’t like him or his writing, I doubt he was very artistic, I’m sure he was quite krumedgy). I often find my characters are writing their own stories. Not the ones I would have liked for them. They make all kinds of mistakes and they say things I really wished they hadn’t.

Characters are a lot like us. God has a story for us and sometimes we do things we shouldn’t, that aren’t part of the story. I think I’ll touch base with that some other time. But what a character does has a profound effect on a scene. We really have quite a lot to do with telling our story. There are a lot of things that we don’t control, and have no control over, things that happen to us. How we respond to them though, that’s a different thought entirely.

When I look back on my life, the grand struggles, those are things that I can pin point and say “that made me stronger.” It’s the daily parts that I regret the most. I wish I’d have handled things differently. I believe in times of grief, we have to express that emotion, but it’s when I held onto it past it’s time that I look back with regret. I really think there are a lot of things that are in our control. Like our attitude.

Emotions are not really things we can control, but we can control our attitude. We make the choice, whether we want to sit and think about all the what ifs, which will make us bitter, or if we want to change what we can change, and change our attitude. Regardless of how we got where we are, we have a specific set of circumstances, unique to us, and we can choose how we handle it. If I could change one thing about my past, I wouldn’t change what happened, but I would change my attitude.

Philippians 4:8 reads “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” If happiness is key to life, why do we spend so much time thinking about what we DON’T have, and what we CAN’T change, and what ISN’T how we would have it? We can choose to think about the good. We can choose to smile. We can choose these things. As Christians Joy is at our finger tips, and yes there are times that are so heart-breaking we cannot smile, or laugh, or do anything at all besides cry and grieve, but I know we hold onto grief much longer than intended. I also know that we make our lives unhappy during times in which they could be very happy. Part of being human is that grief process, that process that we just drag with us, but if we could change it… wouldn’t we be happy?

People constantly say, “IF… THEN I would be happy” “IF… THEN my life wouldn’t suck” and I really think we can decide to what degree we are happy and how much our life sucks. Think about what is good. My Great-Aunt repeated this verse in a Sunday School lesson about worry. “Think about what is good. Don’t think about what ifs.”

I recently read a book called “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio” a true story about a poor woman and her family of ten children in the 50s. Her husband had a drinking problem, and in some cases he was quite abusive. He didn’t make hardly any money. She raised her children winning writing contests for commercial products. She never said hardly one bad word about her husband. He told her “You’re too darned happy.” There was very little she could change about her life, with ten children and no real social protection at the time, she raised her kids with a smile on her face. Her attitude was inspiring. She never thought about a divorce. She loved her husband despite all the issues, she didn’t walk out on him or her 10 children. How many people would do that today?

Don’t think I’m saying we need to stay in abusive situations, that’s not true. But there are many times in our lives when we choose to bail, physically, mentally, spiritually, we go into this dark little corner of our souls and we think about everything that is wrong in our lives.

Of course things are wrong. This is the world. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It isn’t a happy place. But we have hope. Eternal hope. Hope that is more true than the world and we can grab onto that.

We let little annoyances become huge problems in our lives. Let me ask another what if: what if we decided to NOT let those bother us? What if we chose that? What if we decided we were not going to sulk over things we couldn’t change, especially the small things. It takes strength and courage. So let’s build up to being joyful. Let’s start with thinking about whatever is good. There is always a bright side.

I know I’m an optimist. I wish I would have held onto that through the hardest times, that I hadn’t thought the worst about things. There was a time in my life that lasted a span of a few years, where I let my circumstances control me and darkness took over. I was paranoid, I lied, and it just sunk me. Don’t let yourself be sucked into the black hole.

I realize a lot of Christians would never reference Harry Potter in devotional, but I will. The Harry Potter books contain these creatures called Dementors. The Dementors are these black ghostish things, and they attack by pulling out all of the happiness in the situation, they feel dark and cold. To protect yourself against them you have to think of the happiest moments in your life. The happy things protect you.

“Dementor” attacks can be those what ifs, they drop you to rock bottom, they fill you with bitterness because of what you don’t have, regret of all the what-ifs, fear of the future, and just darkness.

Do not let your soul be torn apart by dementors. Don’t let the holes in your life outweigh what you have. Do not let the darkness of bitterness, poverty (in any kind), worry, or great paralyze you. You have to fight to be happy. Do it with the same kind of effort you would to save yourself from the “Dementor’s Kiss” muster up what it takes, to say in the face of your dementor “Expecto Patronum!” and think about whatever is righteous and lovely and pure.

We’re so unwilling to take our circumstances and make the best of them, regardless of what they are. We are where we are, and maybe we can’t change that. But we can change how we act. If we smile. If we will slink back to our emo corner of what-ifs or if we will live vivaciously with what we actually have.

It’s about being grateful for what we have instead of dwelling on what we don’t have. A song by Nicole Nordeman (gratitude) asks God for circumstances to change and then says: “Maybe not, not today maybe you’ll provide in other ways, and if that’s the case we’ll give thanks to you with gratitude.”

With gratitude we remember everything we do have: God. Have we forgotten, all of the sudden, in the face of our daily trials, what we have been given? Have we forgotten God is in control? Have we forgotten that He loves us? Have we forgotten not to store our treasure on earth but store it in Heaven? We are rich because we are heirs of God and what we have is eternal. Don’t be swayed from what is pure because you’re tempted by what isn’t. Don’t let the small things ruin your attitude towards joy.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”-Philippians 4:8