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!

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.”