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!

Advertisements

Farmers Market Juha

I’ve always had a hard time resting well. Until last year, I thought rest meant being a vegetable, relaxing on the couch and watching movies, hanging out with friends, or reading. And I really didn’t understand the concept of spiritual rest or resting in the Lord. At the beginning of last year, during my first year of full-time ministry, I spent the first few Saturdays doing movie marathons. But then, when it came to Sunday, I was still tired, stressed, and worried about the week to come. I didn’t feel mentally, physically, or spiritually rested; I just felt dread over my lack of preparedness for the next week. Thankfully, my good friend and ministry coach pointed that out to me right away. “I don’t think you’re resting well,” she said, concerned about my well-being. When I asked what that really meant, she replied with a question, “What brings you life?” She said that I can glorify God by doing activities that bring me joy and refreshment. So, I asked God to reveal the activities that give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him.

Flash forward to the present. Though I feel like I’ve adjusted to a new city and back into ministry pretty well, especially after a summer of ministry partner development, I’ve realized in the last few days that I haven’t exactly been resting well. And this made me think, What can I do that will give me rest and joy and bring glory to Him? I’ve decided that the things that currently bring rest are having “me” time, taking walks, exploring new places (at my own pace), shopping at outdoor markets (or just grocery shopping in general), budgeting (It’s like a game for me.), exercising, reading books that capture my affection for God, cooking and baking, writing, and spending time with friends in small group settings or one-on-one.

So today, I decided to do a good majority of these things. But rather than giving you a play-by-play of my day so far, I wanted to share a few snippets.

First, I explored a new part of the city, the Saturday Farmers Market. (It really made me miss the Athens farmers market, especially because I just love fall in Athens. And it’s such a happy place.) The Ljubljana Farmers Market is probably about 5x bigger, though. And although it’s a dreary, rainy October day here in Ljubljana, the market was alive with color, live traditional Slovene music (complete with accordions!), and the joyful chatter of fellow food-lovers. In fact, Melissa, one of my friends/teammates who met me there, said, “It’s just so happy here.”

IMG_3169

To get to the market, I had to walk through souvenir vendors with their Ljubljana snow globes, jewelry boxes, hand-painted pottery, clocks, and wooden toys. I was surprised by the number of tourists still in town at this time of year! I then emerged into another part of the market, the “Bio” section. Everything in this area is certified organic and fresh. There were rows of seasonal produce — apples, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, peppers, and zucchini — rows of cheeses, grains, dried meats and salamis. I even found a raw, organic, and vegan stall that sold pumpkin and sunflower seed crackers. (I splurged and bought some, of course!)

IMG_3167IMG_3168

On the other side of “Bio,” my nose led me through what I call the “Alley of Flowers.” The fresh scents, as well as the pinks, purples, and reds, brought a smile to my face. They illuminated the gray day. Not to mention, those who were selling the flowers constantly greeted me with a friendly “Dober dan” or “Dan,” which means “good day” or “hello” in Slovene.

IMG_3165

At the opposite end of the Alley of Flowers, I came upon the conventionally grown produce, the biggest part of the market. It takes up the entire square. There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls of apples, apple cider, pumpkins, peppers, lettuces, grapes, pears, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and much more. Best purchase of the day: a kilo of green beans for €1 from a sweet, elderly female farmer with a warm smile.

I finished my time by swinging through the grains and baked goods, and then through the fish and meat markets. (For you Pittsburghers, the fish market is a lot like Wholey’s in the Strip, especially the smell! Mmm mmm.)

After two hours of meandering through the markets, I lugged my multiple kilos of goodies back to my flat, in the rain. I was cold and my feet were soaked. I decided the best remedy was to make potato soup. But potato soup quickly turned into, “let’s throw all my veggies in and see what it tastes like” soup. (The recipe is below.) And let me tell you, that soup was good for my soul. So delicious!

I’m so thankful for a day to rest and be refreshed. (It’s not even over yet!) And I’m thankful that I serve a God who wants me to rest from my work and also provides rest in Him.

So let me ask you, what brings you rest, joy and refreshment? Have you taken time to do that lately?

Recipe: Farmers Market Juha (Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: About 1 hour and 30 minutes
Makes about 5 servings.

Ingredients:

7 small potatoes (peeled and cubed)
2 dozen cherry tomatoes (halved)
2 medium green peppers (diced)
1/2 small cabbage (chopped)
1 large carrot (peeled and shredded)
1 medium zucchini (shredded)
1 cup of fresh green beans (chopped)
1/2 cup millet (or rice)
Olive oil, salt, pepper, curry, garlic powder, coriander

1. In a large pot, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat on medium. Sauté the potatoes for a few minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Once the potatoes start browning, add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and stir.

2. Add the cabbage, beans, carrot, zucchini, green peppers, and tomatoes. Stir. Turn heat down to medium-low. (You want the veggies to cook down but not get too soft.)

IMG_3174IMG_3172

3. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. (Fresh cracked pepper tastes better, in my opinion.) Add 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder, and a pinch of coriander. Stir thoroughly. (For a very low-sulfur diet, omit the curry, garlic, and coriander. Rosemary is a great alternative.)

4. Allow mixture to cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. (Add salt and pepper to taste.)

5. Add 1/2 cup of millet or rice. (Brown rice will take longer to cook.) Adding millet or rice will thicken the soup because it absorbs a lot of moisture. If you like your soup thinner, you may need to add a little water.

photo (49)

Serve hot. And enjoy!