Frustrations

“I’m not touching you,” says the mischievous little brother, pointing his finger as his older sister. “I’m not touching you,” he mocks. “I’m not touching you.”

I remember that commercial well. You empathize with the sister, wishing that the teasing would just stop already.

Well, recently, I’ve felt much like the older sister. In the last few weeks, I’ve dealt with quite a few minor annoyances — exhaustion and frustration over my health, confusion over not knowing what more I can do to get better, chaos over the month-long period it has taken to simply order supplements, figuring out how to get blood tests, lack of motivation, confusion over my future after this year, and a random assortment of things popping up on my never-ending to-do list. But one thing I’ve noticed in all of these oh-so-enjoyable occurrences is my immediate reaction. It’s like clockwork. First comes annoyance, then comes discouragement. Then come the tears and the pity party I throw for myself.

For example, one night a few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my doctor’s nurse about not feeling well. It felt like my physical health was reverting to its previous state before treatment, and that did not feel good at all. She asked about my diet and if I was eating too much sulfur. That question triggered discouragement and tears. I’ve been trying so hard, I’ve been doing everything I was told. I’ve been faithful, what more can I do? I thought. As I battled my cracking voice, I managed to tell her that I’ve been doing everything I’m supposed to do. Within the minute, she concluded it wasn’t my diet, but that I’ve been taking too much medicine. This turned out to be excellent news! I can now lower my dose of medication because I don’t need as much.

Not even 15 minutes later, I was on the phone with FedEx trying to arrange a pick-up for my supplements from the doctor to be shipped to Slovenia. And then FedEx broke the news that I need an import license from the Slovene government to be able to receive medication via FedEx. And what was my response? Discouragement and more tears.

This week, I called my mom crying because I thought the US Postal Service stole my Friends DVDs out of the package they shipped to me. (They actually didn’t steal anything, the outside box was just damaged.) In a fit of over-dramatization, I sobbed into the phone, “Why did I ever think STINT was a good idea? Everything just feels so difficult. I’m just so frustrated with the world.” Then I proceeded to laugh at my dramatic, woe-is-me attitude. “I take that back, I know STINT was a good idea.”

In this constant roller coaster of emotion, I’m thankful that God is constant. I’m thankful that He’s in control and that none of these occurrences is a surprise to Him. And I’m thankful that in the midst of this, He’s showed me my sinful heart that idolizes a comfortable and easy life. God has even revealed a truly ugly part of my heart that is bitter toward Him because I’ve felt like He constantly calls me to do difficult things.

Remember how 10 months ago I told you about my fight to find joy in Jesus despite my circumstances? Let’s just say I haven’t mastered that area yet. I think that’s obvious. I regularly have to fight resentment over not getting my way and the attitude of entitlement. My heart still needs the Gospel and God’s grace, and will until I die. But I’m thankful that His grace stretches farther than my sin.

And I’m thankful that God has used these frustrations to cause me to seek Him so He can encourage me again. And I’ve found peace in His words in the New Testament book of Philippians and also encouragement through music.

In Philippians, it is amazing to see Paul’s attitude and faith in the midst of imprisonment. He says that now counts any earthly gain as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. He says, “For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul rejoices in suffering because through it, He is sharing in the suffering of Christ. Paul longs to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection, and we share in this power when we die to ourselves for the sake Jesus.

(If I could, I would just type out the entire book of Philippians and give you that as a post. Since I’m not going to do that, I encourage you to do that for yourself. God’s words don’t disappoint.)

The Lord has been showing me that though things won’t always go my way (and they normally don’t), I can rejoice — rejoice in knowing that Jesus is shaping my heart to be like His, that He is removing idols from my heart, and that I get to share in the resurrection and power of Jesus because it is causing me to die to myself constantly. I can rejoice because although it feels like chaos and confusion are persistently surrounding me, Jesus is my rock and refuge. I’m not doing this alone. He is stable, and He is peace. When life pokes at me like the little brother, I know that Jesus leads my soul to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. His peace that transcends all understanding is guarding my heart and mind in Him. My future and eternity is secure in Him, because He alone is my living hope and He works all things for my good and His glory. And ultimately, He is sovereign, and He is good. This brings me joy.

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Because God has showed me all this about my heart and about who He is, I’ve been praying that instead of responding with discouragement when things come my way, that I would respond with joy in knowing that Jesus has it under control.

So, I’ll leave you with one final story from today, a story of how God has been transforming this area of my heart. This morning, I went to get bloodwork for my doctor’s appointment in a few weeks. My bloodwork is complicated for labs in the US, so I had no idea what to expect trying to figure out how to do all these tests in Slovenia. I went in for an appointment with a clinic here at 9. I was tired and hungry. (It was a fasting blood test.) After waiting, some discussion with the nurses, and more waiting, I was nearly in tears because I didn’t know if I would actually be able to do the tests. But in those moments, and this time before tears fell, the Lord prompted me to pray and to renew my mind with His words in Philippians. His peace calmed my heart, and my attitude shifted.

Eventually, they sent me to another clinic on the other side of town to get the blood tests. But all went smoothly from there. Praise God that everything worked out. Every little detail. Amazing.

How has God been working in your heart lately? Where have you found encouragement in Him and His words recently?

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Fighting for Joy: Discouragement

In order to give you a little more context into my previous post about fighting for joy, it’s necessary that I show you some of my journey to find healing for my body and how distorted my view of joy really was.

Since I studied abroad in France in the spring of 2010, my health had been on the decline. My body suffered through days of extreme exhaustion, followed by nights of restless sleep. This affected my moods, how I interacted with friends and family, and my relationship with God.

For two years, I saw doctor after doctor (I think I’ve counted 8 doctors), hoping they would give me some answers as to why I was so fatigued or why this girl in her early 20’s felt like an 80-year-old. I was tested over and over again for mono, diabetes, etc. by these doctors. And once my tests came back normal, the majority of the doctors passed me off like there was nothing wrong, and they made me think I was crazy. I just became more and more discouraged, disheartened, and frustrated. The breaking point came this September when a doctor told me, “There’s nothing anyone can do for you. No one treats fatigue.”

So often during the past few years, I prayed to God for healing. I knew God was sovereign over this and in control of my situation, but I really began to doubt His goodness for me. I believed He was good to everyone else, but for some reason, He was just not being good to me. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t find a doctor, or why He was letting this happen to me. I often cried out, “Lord, I know You can heal me by just saying the word. So why aren’t You? What are You doing?”

Through all of this, I was failing in my fight for joy. Failing to cling to the joy that is in being in a relationship with the God of the universe. Failing to see the joy of a Savior who died the death I deserved, so that I could have life. Failing to notice that it was my anger, my attitude, my bitterness, my doubt, my sin that strangled my joy. Failing to see God working in the midst.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (emphasis added)

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“Pure joy? Pure joy?” I thought. “How do You expect me to get joy out of this trial? Because I’m definitely not seeing it that way.”

But, like I said in the last post, God, in His kindness did not leave me there. Soon after the encounter with the discouraging doctor, I had a conversation with my friend (the conversation I mentioned in the last post). When I asked my friend how this could be for my good, she responded by saying, “In His kindness, He doesn’t leave you as you are. The Lord cares too much to leave you unchanged.”

And with that, God made something click in my heart. While I was in this state of anger and doubt, God graciously and gently reminded me that this was and is for my good. And only by His grace did He show me that He truly does work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He is working for the good of my heart.

Friends, God does care about your circumstances. He knows your heart, and He knows every need. But could it be that God cares even more about the state of your heart?

But you say, “Rachel, you have no idea what I’m going through. This is hard stuff. There is no joy in it.”

To that, I respond, He loves you too much to leave you as you are. By no means am I suggesting that fighting for joy is easy. But we do have a perfect model of joy through Jesus.

Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

There is a Savior who loves you so much that He willingly died to bring you life. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross for you. Will you receive the life and joy that comes only through Him?

Here’s a sneak peek at more posts in this series, coming soon:

We Can’t Do Anything on Our Own   |   Freedom Through Pain and Trial

Praising Him in All Circumstances  |  Sovereignty vs. Goodness  |  Uncomfortable Grace

Strength in Weakness   |   What We Can Learn From Joseph

The Fight for Joy: A Turning Point

On December 31 every year, I love looking back over the last year and reflecting on what God had done and major events that occurred. But this year was different. As midnight approached, I stood and watched a crowd of 2,000 college students at Cru’s annual Christmas Conference in Indianapolis worship in the New Year (pictured below). I realized at this point that I hadn’t done my normal reflection. And, to be honest, I didn’t want to.

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I didn’t want to think about all the changes that happened, the pain of major transitions and trials, walking through circumstances and situations that I never asked to walk through, the lack of joy I experienced throughout the year, or even just that a lot of what happened didn’t go the way I expected or wanted it to go. Throughout the past year, and probably longer than that, I’ve found myself on a roller coaster, most of the time being on the losing side of the fight for joy.

In a nutshell, in the last year, I finished a thesis, graduated (pictured below), went to Europe, visited countless doctors in order to seek healing for years of exhaustion and a barely functioning body, raised support to spend a year in fulltime ministry, watched most of my closest friends move from Athens and start new lives elsewhere, celebrated the marriages of three of my best friends, started an internship with Cru, and walked through a lot of confusion, disappointment, failure, and hurt from the past and the present.

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(For the sake of this blog, I forced myself to look back on the past year. I’m thankful God pushed me out of my stubbornness to do it, because I know it’s good for me. And through looking back, I’ve also been able to see how He’s worked.)

But I’m so thankful that the Lord, in His kindness and grace, didn’t leave me in that state. A turning point really came in October when my friend/roommate/coworker/boss/etc. asked me how my fight for joy was going. And then opened the floodgates of my tear ducts. The truth was I wasn’t fighting for joy. I was stuck in a wilderness of hopelessness, thinking that things would never change. That I would never change. I couldn’t see what God could possibly be doing with my heart or how any of what He was doing could be good for me.

As the tears streamed, my friend reminded me of simple truths. Truths that I knew but wasn’t believing. Along with Scripture, these words still ring in my head:

“The Lord shows His kindness and grace by refining your heart.”

“In His kindness, He doesn’t leave you as you are. The Lord cares too much to leave you unchanged.”

“We don’t get to choose how we glorify God, but we can choose whether we walk through it faithfully.”

“We need to praise and thank God in all circumstances.”

“My life is not my own.”

“God works all things for the good of those who love Him.”

“Sanctification is a privilege, not a punishment.”

“God wants to take you from slavery to sin and your own heart to the freedom that He’s already given you in Christ.”

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Seeing joy in Christ has been the theme of the last few months for me. I’ve noticed the theme in conferences I’ve attended, Scripture and articles I’ve read, songs I’ve listened to, and in the lives of the girls I disciple on campus. And God is putting these words constantly into practice.

Since October, the fight has become harder, but these truths and the promises of God are sinking deeper. It’s amazing how God uses circumstances and situations to show me my brokenness and need for a Savior. But God doesn’t stop there, He shows us that He has already overcome our brokenness and sin, and that we have freedom and victory only through His blood and the Gospel.

So, what’s my New Years resolution? To fight for the joy that God has already provided for me. To pray constantly that the Lord would open my eyes to see His kindness and grace in all circumstances, not just the ones that go the way I want them to go. To walk through my circumstances with thanksgiving and trust that God will not leave me unchanged. That I would see and experience the Gospel. That my heart and actions would glorify my Savior.

And I desire the same for you. In my next series of posts, I invite you to walk with me through my continuing fight for joy and the simple truths God has taught me in the last few months. I guarantee that the fight is not easy, but God wants us to experience the joy and the freedom that is in Him.

For today, I leave you with the words of Psalm 51:7-12.

“Cleanse me with hyssop,and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit,to sustain me.”

23 Things

In honor of launching this new blog, and because I just celebrated my *gasp* 23rd birthday, I decided it would be fitting to post the top 23 things I’ve learned about life, about Jesus, and about myself in the past year. (Of course, there are other things I could’ve added, but I had to stop somewhere!)

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(Photo courtesy of Alex Menrisky. Cannes, France 2010)

23. No matter how many times I watch them, The Big Bang Theory and Friends will always make me laugh audibly.

22. Rocking out to JBiebs, TSwift, and One Direction is a lot more fun when you’re with friends. (I also pride myself on knowing the token rap portions to pop songs.)

21. Choosing to thank God in the all circumstances is like saying, “Lord, I trust You despite my situation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) This contributes to our joy.

20. Friends in ministry always told me that the first year of fulltime ministry would be the hardest and that ministry is like a magnet that rockets brokenness to the surface. I don’t know about the first part because I can’t compare it to anything yet, I definitely agree with the latter. So, yes, it’s difficult, but it’s good for me. (James 1:2-5)

19. Sanctification is a privilege not a punishment. Yes, it can be painful, but God loves us too much to leave us unchanged. (Philippians 1:6)

18. I am in dire need of God’s grace every moment of every day. His grace is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) and His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12).

17. The Lord sustains me. (“I wake again because the Lord sustains me.” –Psalm 3:5) I don’t think this truth has ever been so clear to me as it was this year. In the midst of extreme fatigue, the Lord provided me with the strength, and continues to give me enough strength to get me through each day. And in the midst, the Lord also provides rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and restoration (Psalm 23).

16. Traveling is probably one of my absolute favorite things to do. So far, I’ve been to 14 countries. And I have no desire to stop there. I can’t seem to go a year without going out of the country.

15. I have a deep desire to help fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus says in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Call me crazy, but I want to see Jesus come back.

14. My time in Morocco was incredibly challenging. But I’ve realized recently that if I added ministry and discipleship to what I did when I was there, I would have my absolute dream job. Combining French, journalism, travel, missions, and Jesus — that would make for a killer career.

13. As much as I don’t like to admit this, I don’t have my life figured out. Or even the next year. This is highly unusual, because I’m a planner. But I’m convinced this is God’s way of saying to me, “Trust Me.”

12. God has created me to be me and to love Him. He knows my heart and because of Jesus, loves me anyway. My past, present, and future are all in under His control. (Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29)

11. I love France. But I think you already knew that. I’ve adored France and the French language since I was 6. Does visiting France five times make it an obsession??

10. I absolutely love people and being involved in others’ lives. But I still cherish my alone time.

9. I get really emotionally involved in good movies, TV shows, and books.

8. I prefer deep conversation to small talk.

7. Leading and shepherding women in their walks with Jesus is one of the most fulfilling jobs I could have. In my opinion, some of the best ways to invest time and money is in relationships with God, relationships with people, missions and sharing Jesus with the world.

6. The Lord has blessed me with an amazing family and wonderful friends who love me as I am and constantly point me back to Jesus.

5. Cooking and baking relax me. Trying new recipes is an exciting adventure for me, especially ethnic foods or vegan baked goods. (I like trying new restaurants, too!)

4. My ideal day would be spent at a café in Europe surrounded by cobblestone streets and old architecture, sitting outside, sipping café au lait, journaling, reading, watching people walk by, and having good conversation with anyone who is with me.

3. Taking steps of faith is hard, but God wants us to live and live abundantly. Cru’s definition of successful evangelism is “Taking steps of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” This doesn’t just apply to evangelism, but to your daily walk with Jesus. What an adventure God calls us to!

2. Living for Jesus does not make life easy, and when you become a believer, your life doesn’t become perfect. Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. (Mark 8:34-35). But following Jesus is worth it. And we aren’t left alone, we have incredible power in the Spirit that’s inside believers. We believers often forget that.

1. The reward for following Jesus is Jesus. It’s that simple. We don’t follow Jesus to receive blessings or crowns in Heaven or even to get to Heaven. While those are great, I’ll say again, the reward for following Jesus is Jesus.

As you look back at the past year, what have you learned about yourself? About life? About God?