365 Days

This year has been difficult in a lot of ways. If you remember, last year at this time, I wrote a post about the discouragement I was facing and the joy I was fighting so hard to experience.

I wrote, “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.”

Did I stick to my resolution? Well, honestly, no, not all the time. But I can tell you that God was faithful in those areas. And I can tell you that God did not leave me unchanged – physically and spiritually.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hostel in London, sipping a decaf soy latte with sugar-free hazelnut syrup and eating gluten-free, sugar-free cookies from Whole Foods. When I started treatment for lead and mercury toxicity on Jan. 3, 2013, the thought of Starbucks or cookies was out of the question. Traveling, even an hour away proved daunting. Going on weekends trips for Cru conferences in the states felt tedious – having to cook all my meals and transport all my food with me because of the strict rotational diet. I couldn’t have chicken for six months, let alone eat out. I remember rejoicing on Potato Day, every fourth day. I remember the first time I ate a meal out in six months. I remember when I could start traveling without having to bring all my own food. I remember how I was able to exercise well for the first time since high school, and I remember the progress of my blood work with each follow-up appointment. I remember the day when all the mercury was finally removed from my mouth through extensive dental work. I remember sitting at STINT briefing in Chicago, with 400 other Cru missionaries, and thinking, “It’s a miracle that I’m here.”

Why has this year been so difficult? So often during this past year, I’ve doubted or questioned God’s goodness and His provision. I’ve questioned His love for me and His willingness to heal. A lot of things did not go according to my plan or meet my expectations. When I get discouraged, I often can’t see beyond my circumstances. I overlook all the other ways God provides for me. I forget how good He’s been to me. I forget the Gospel, and it’s much harder to experience His presence. This especially characterizes my past few weeks. I’ve been so frustrated with my lack of progress in feeling better. I’ve been so tired of not feeling myself, emotionally and physically. I’ve been tired of having to always worry about food or medicine or insurance claims or getting blood tests. In the past few weeks, many times I’ve cried, Lord, I’m so tired of being refined. Can’t I just get a break?

But as I sit here writing this, I’m almost brought to tears, not only by the sadness over the attitude toward God, but also by the joy over the fact that God is faithful to me even when I question Him. Just looking at the list above of all the ways that God provided (and there are so many more), makes me sit in amazement. Because of the Gospel, my sin hasn’t kept Him from keeping His promises. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience through death on the cross, my failures no longer separate me from God. I’m overwhelmed thinking about the unfailing grace, unconditional love, unending joy, and everlasting peace that God gives to me through Jesus. Through this experience, though I’m not physically “there” yet, spiritually, God is constantly changing my heart and showing me Himself. He has been allowing me to see my need for Him and the Gospel in new ways. I’ve experienced more depth and understanding in my relationship with Him, that I don’t think I would’ve experienced without this 3.5-year trial. Even if nothing else happened, experiencing Jesus and Gospel makes this all worth it.

This year, my New Years resolution is two words – abide and rest.

Jesus says in John 15, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

A dear friend would always remind me, “Your only responsibility is to abide.” While I believed it then, I’m seeing my need to do this more and more. Jesus commands us to abide, because He wants us to experience His presence, and He wants to produce fruit in our lives. By fruit, I mean character like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and also spiritual influence in others’ lives. When we do things in our own power or when we resist Him, this doesn’t produce fruit, and I’ve definitely experienced that. (There’s so much more that I can say about this passage and this topic, but I’ll save that for other posts.)

So, resting and abiding. Though it sounds so simple, resting and abiding in Jesus are two of the hardest things for me to do. It’s hard for me to let go of control, and it’s hard for me to trust Jesus, even though He’s the only One worthy of my complete trust. If in His presence is fullness of joy, then that’s where I need to be.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I learn to abide and rest in Jesus this year. And I pray that we will all come to a greater understanding of what it means to rest in His presence.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with a song that’s been my prayer recently.

Happy 2014!

Food for Thought

After undergoing treatment for heavy metals these past 10.5 months, my way of thinking about food has drastically changed. I never realized how much diet plays into your overall health, especially foods with sugar, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and preservatives. After all, food was probably the major cause of my metal toxicity. As a result of nearly a year on a sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, low-sulfur, mostly organic and antibiotic/hormone-free diet, I can honestly say that I don’t want to go back to a “normal” diet, especially now that I’m feeling so much better! (You’re probably wondering what on earth I have been eating for the past year. You can view the original diet plan here. Some other foods have been added back in because my food allergies went away!!) And all those who were around me at any point in this process know that I still have a weakness of Kettle Brand potato chips. I don’t think that will ever go away.

But, despite all that God taught (and has been teaching) me spiritually, I’ve also learned how to make wiser decisions in food choices. I’ve learned that fruit and honey are naturally sweet as they are, and I’ve learned that food in the simplest of forms actually tastes best. Who would’ve thought that minimally processing foods would actually bring out more of the simple, natural flavors? And even more, who would’ve thought that this once sugar-and-chocolate-addict would actually prefer homemade desserts without added sugar? Amazing, isn’t it? And I bet some of you are cringing at the idea of not having sugar in desserts, but trust me, with the right ingredients, you can totally do it!

Though I could talk for days about food and what I’ve learned through this process, I decided to spare you all the scientific and technical jargon, get off my soapbox, and actually post my recipes. These recipes are pretty easy, and most of the ingredients can be found at a normal grocery store. (If I’m able to do these recipes in Slovenia, I’m sure you can do this elsewhere!)

Without further ado, here’s my version of Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo, inspired by one of my favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, Eden.

Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo Sauce
(Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)IMG_3233

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 medium red peppers
1 medium zucchini (sliced)
1/8 cup water
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon basil (I used dried, but fresh works, too.)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (fresh ground pepper works best)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.

2. Cut red peppers in half. Clean out seeds. Place face-down on baking sheet. (I put parchment paper on the baking sheet first.) Bake for 15 minutes, or until the peppers begin to turn dark brown on the outside.

IMG_3228

3. Purée cashews, coconut milk, and water in a good blender. (The blender worked better than a food processor for this dish.) Blend until smooth.

4. Add garlic powder, basil, red pepper flakes, pepper, and salt. Blend thoroughly.

5. Add roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth.

6. In medium skillet, pour olive oil and sauté zucchini until golden brown. Pour Alfredo over zucchini and simmer until hot.

Serve with grilled chicken over your favorite pasta! (My favorite is brown rice pasta.)

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Here’s to clean eating! Dober tek!

Fighting for Joy: It Continues (Update Part 2)

“It’s a miracle I’m here,” I thought as I stood worshipping to hymns amongst 400 fellow missionaries during STINT briefing in Chicago a few weeks ago. These 400 missionaries, or STINTers (Short-term International), are going to 40 countries on 6 continents.

It’s really a miracle that I’m going to Slovenia. These words rang through my mind repeatedly throughout briefing, a 6-day conference through Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) that prepares STINTers for a year overseas sharing the Gospel and building student lead movements (SLM) on college campuses. The conference was such a wonderful experience for me because I had the opportunity to hear from regional and national staff with Cru about what this next year overseas will look like. I met all of my teammates for the first time (pictured below), and I spent time with other STINTers going to Eastern Europe and Russia, learning about the history and spiritual background of our region, as well as ways to adapt to the culture. To end the conference, we had a night of Commissioning, where we listened to wisdom from Cru President Steve Douglass. That night, we were introduced by region, given encouragement from Scripture, and then prayed for “Korean style” (everyone prays out loud at the same time).

While our region stood in front of the crowd of fellow missionaries, our director Scott Matthews told us to look at our feet. He proceeded to read Romans 10:13-15, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” I can’t imagine a better way to be sent to Slovenia!

Outdoor STINT Photo

From left: Anna, Katie, Melissa, John, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, and myself

But why was it a miracle, you ask? Three years ago, I began to experience pretty significant health issues that spilled over into every area of my life. I suffered with chronic fatigue and infections, insomnia, depression, no energy, and multiple other symptoms. But last fall, the Lord provided a doctor who was finally able to give a proper diagnosis (lead and mercury toxicity), as well as a detailed treatment plan. In January, I started an intense detox process through medication, supplements, and a strict organic diet. When I began treatment, I had no idea if I’d be able to leave the U.S or even how long the healing process would be.

Knowing that God had given me the desire to share the good news of life and reconciliation through Jesus, I decided to step out in faith and apply to spend a year in Ljubljana, Slovenia, helping to raise up a movement on the college campus there. Though I was accepted to STINT, I began to have doubts. How will I continue on my diet in Slovenia? How will I get bloodwork done? What if I don’t get better? What if I’m a liability to my team?

The same day the doubts started, my Bible reading plan took me to Luke 12. In verses 22-26, Jesus says to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Through that, God showed me that I had an incorrect view of His goodness and His provision. And this summer, I’m so thankful that He has been correcting that in my heart. In these past few months, God has provided physical healing. Though I’m not completely healed yet, Slovenia is probably one of the best places for my health to be restored because I have access to organic and local high-quality food. (I know the Lord worked that one out for me!) And He has provided all of my financial support, including extra funds to cover costs for my diet, all to be able to share the Gospel in Slovenia! Praise Him for His abundant blessing!

This year, like I said in the previous post, I had an incorrect view of God’s goodness and favor toward me. But the Lord has showed me this summer that He enjoys giving good gifts to those who are His.

In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

And the thing is, I did nothing to deserve these gifts. Nothing. Often, I think if I work hard enough or do enough good things that God will give me what I want. But that’s a lie. God doesn’t bless me or give me good gifts because I do things for Him. He gives me good gifts because I am in Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on God’s just wrath (the wrath that I deserve for my sin), and in exchange, He gave me His righteousness (a right legal standing before God) and God’s infinite favor. This is propitiation according to Systematic Theology, “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in doing so changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”

Romans 3:21-25 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

What amazing words! I have God’s favor because of Jesus. And He wants to give me good gifts! I knew this truth before, but this summer, I really began to believe it true for myself.

I can’t wait to share this truth and the truth of life through Jesus with students in Slovenia! It’s hard to believe I’ll be there on Friday! I’m so thankful that the desire God planted in my heart my freshman year of college is finally coming to fruition — spending a year overseas sharing the Gospel.  I’m sure the Lord has so much to teach me this year, and I can’t wait to share that with you.

Thanks for continuing on this journey with me!

Fighting for Joy: His Goodness

It’s been a few weeks since I had the appointment with my doctor about how my body is reacting to the new diet and supplement regimen. The day of the appointment, I was scared, and to be honest, I was having a hard time trusting in God’s goodness. I was afraid that my body wasn’t responding. Over and over, my thoughts echoed lies. Sure, God is good, so why is He not being good to me? Why does my sanctification involve so much pain, exhaustion, trial, and sadness? The Lord could change my heart at His command, so why do I have to go through this? Things just don’t seem fair. My thoughts even went so far as, God doesn’t want to heal me because He wants me to stay in this spot. He wants to teach me; He wants to put me in the pressure cooker to see how I stand up.

After thinking on these thoughts for a while, God nudged me to pray. To pray that I would see His goodness despite the results of my blood work. To pray that my heart would be changed, that my attitude would change. That I would instead run to the Lord for comfort instead of running and hiding from Him in fear. Even to pray again for healing.

And what a distorted view of God I have! It’s something that I constantly have to fight for, to see His goodness. I so often trust in His sovereignty; however, seeing His sovereignty without His goodness is disastrous. (So is the other way around.) Seeing just His sovereignty causes us to think that He’s just an angry tyrant and we are His puppets. Seeing just His goodness causes us to think that He’s a senile grandfather who spoils His grandkids. But, He’s neither of those images. He is sovereign and He is good.

As always, the Lord didn’t allow my thoughts to continue down this dangerous path. He gently reminded me of what is true about Him. And as I think about it now, I’m brought to tears because I’m confident that He was fighting for me in those moments. If He didn’t care, my thoughts would’ve continued. The Lord reminded me that He is good despite my circumstances, that no matter what happens to me, I am alive because of Christ. And for that alone, I know He is good.

Ephesians 2:3-10 says, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

When I was disobedient and living for myself and the world, God made me alive in Christ through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m alive, not because of anything I did, but because the Lord was (and still is) gracious toward me. And because I’ve been made alive, I am a daughter of God. Because of this, God promises to give me good gifts, even when I can’t see it or when I don’t see them as gifts. This trial is a gift, and I constantly need to remember that.

In the end, the Lord answered multiple prayers that day, and He continues to answer these prayers. He showed me His goodness despite my circumstances. He allowed me to see joy because of Jesus. He changed my attitude and heart. And, as an added bonus, He started to heal me. Not only am I seeing changes in my energy level, but I also saw a change in the blood work. My body is responding, praise the Lord! I still have a long road ahead, but I know I’m getting better. Most importantly though, I’m seeing and experiencing the Gospel more than I ever would have without this process.

(And every time I hear this song, I am reminded of God’s goodness.)

My constant prayer is that God would be glorified in this and that others will see His Gospel through this. Though I often don’t know what God is doing, I’m thankful that He has revealed some of His glory to me through Jesus and what Jesus has accomplished for me. With that, I leave you with part of a Psalm I was reading today, Psalm 27. (I encourage you to read it all, because it’s so good.)

Psalm 27

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)

James 1:2-4

“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