Monday, January 25, 2016

Authentic Unity

Last night I got to be part of something pretty EPIC!  It was a Unity service at my church, involving tons of churches in our city.  It was amazing.  It was historic, and it was the beginning of something EPICALLY AUTHENTICALLY TERRIFIC!   

I have been wondering for the past few months how my heart could change to loving a city so much that I never, ever thought I would live in and love.  I mean....I seriously never thought I would call this place home again.  

Yet, here I am with tears in my eyes because I feel so much more alive in this place than I ever have anywhere in the world, (and we all know I've traveled to a lot of places).  Each time I have traveled I have thought...."yes, maybe this will be the place."  For the time I was there I tried to make the most of it.  I tried to fit in, I tried to understand the culture I was a part of...and I tried to understand why I was there.  It never fit.  I have not once truly felt completely home until now.  I have never truly understood those that have been able to settle down, and just know that such and such town is exactly where they are supposed to be.  I have just never felt it.  

Have you ever tried so hard to be a part of a place, that you convince yourself that it is where you are supposed to be, forever.  I think I had kind of convinced myself of that with Thailand.  I was going strong.  I had started going to a Thai church, I was living life as an ex-pat in a foreign country. I was surrounded by people of all kinds of different cultures.  I was living life.  

But something didn't feel right.  It doesn't mean that good things didn't happen.  I met some pretty amazing friends, I learned more of the Thai language then I would have if I had never been a part of that community, and I learned a culture that was not my own.  But I was lonely, and I didn't truly feel like I belonged.  

The last place I tried to fit into before I left Thailand was an international church.  It was pretty amazing.  People from almost every country you could imagine would meet together and praise God.  It was probably the closest to heaven I had ever gotten to until last night.  

I think as Americans we get kind of cocky in thinking that we are always going to be the ones to start a revolution.  I kind of think that the rest of the world has already beaten us in the unity department.  I guarantee that almost any city in the world where there are ex-pats living have churches of various denominations, various cultures, various races worshiping on any given Sunday together.  I guarantee that we could learn a lesson or two from them as American Christians, but more importantly as the body of Christ.  

I don't claim to be better than anyone else, but my experiences have taught me a lot.  Putting aside my culture and living completely in a culture not my own, stripped me at times of my identity first as an American, second as an American Christian.  I had to let go of all that I knew of God, church, and community.  I had to worship in ways that I was unfamiliar with, and I had to embrace all that Jesus is, with grace and love.  

When we look at differences as things that divide us, when we judge those brothers and sisters instead of loving them for those differences...then we are doing it wrong.  We have to allow our defenses, our preconceived notions about what worship is to vanish.  We have to see Jesus in a new way.  We have to let go of those things that want to divide us, and open the door to reconciliation and hope.  We are united by Jesus.  To be completely authentic in that unity is something that may take a lifetime to master...but I am so happy to be in the midst of it.  I am so happy to be able to experience, be stretched, changed, and understand a love that goes deeper than any I have ever known.  

More Than Just Living

The past couple of weeks I have found myself once again in awe of where I am.  From the outside looking in I have lived a pretty awesome life.  I have been able to meet so many awesome people, I have seen so many awesome things...and one might think that I have always just been happy.   That I have been able to just enjoy all of what life has brought me with elegance and grace.  Those that know me best though....they know that life has brought a few curve balls my way and I have truly struggled.  

I was talking to a friend the other day, someone who is struggling with a lot of tough feelings.  Feelings that I have felt at various points in my life.  As I was talking to this person I realized that I really, truly no longer felt those things.  That in the rawest part of who I am, I am content with where I am.  It was a weird thing to realize in the middle of this tough conversation.  Mostly because I hate seeing other people hurting, especially when I understand the hurt.  Especially when I know those raw emotions that sometimes want to swallow us whole.  I know what it is like to want to push the whole world away because it is easier then dealing with the fact that you don't feel connected to a single human being anywhere.  I know what it is like to cry yourself to sleep at night wishing you were anywhere but in the bed you are sleeping in.  I know what it is like to feel so alone that you don't even understand why God put you on this planet, in this place, for this time.  You just really don't get it.  I know what it is like to want to scream at all the people walking around pretending that you are invisible.  I know what that is like.  

I have lived it.  I have felt it, and in the deepest part of me I still am sometimes that person.  I still am that girl who found herself in another country, scared, alone, and wondering what she had done to deserve the feelings she had.  I am still that girl who sometimes forgets how beautiful she is and allows the lies and words that others have been shouted at her to plague her mind.  I am still that girl that has been crushed, lied to, and left behind by those that promised to always be there for her. I am still that girl that has been used and treated wrongly.   I am still that girl.  

The difference is that I have decided to embrace that girl.  I have decided that she deserves a voice.  In those moments when I feel that girl wanting to be a voice I let her.  I listen to the doubts, fears, and insecurities.  I allow them to come in, and then I replace them with the things I know to be true.  I replace them with the promises I know will always be kept.  I let that voice vanish into a voice of love.  I allow that girl to know that those feelings, and those thoughts...they are okay to have.  In fact the best we can do is be true to our authentic selves.  To understand what has happened in our past has made us into who we are today.  

Allowing that girl to have a voice, allows the woman I have turned into to have one too.  I don't want to just live life, walking through the motions.  I want to embrace it, joyfully, authentically, and in all its messiness.  The tears will still sometimes fall.  I will still get lost in the voices of the past, but truth and love will always prevail....always.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Authentic Prayers

I can't even begin to describe how awesome Timothy Keller's book on prayer is.  If you haven't read it, you should get it RIGHT NOW!  

Prayer has always been something that I do in phases of my life.  I like to think it is when I am trying to view myself as more spiritual.  I don't know that is accurate...but I kind of feel like it isn't necessarily something that I have felt the need to do a lot of the time.  It is kind of sad, but it is true.  

I mean I have believed that prayer works, but most of the time I have believed that prayer works for everyone else, but me.  I'm not really sure why because God has clearly answered a lot of my prayers.  Actually looking back now He has answered all of my prayers, just not in the way that I wish He would have necessarily.  A lot of times God has said no or wait...and unfortunately I don't really care for either of those answers most of the time.  

Obviously when you are spending alone time with God there is going to be prayer.  A lot of it.  I found myself praying in my usual ACTS way, but then I started reading the book...and realized that I have been allowing prayer to be something that is just checked off my list of things to do instead of enjoying it...and longing for it, and making it a part of my very being.  

One of the very first quotes that I wrote down was this....

"Prayer, therefore leads to self-knowledge that is impossible to achieve any other way."  (12)

I wrote this shortly after:

I am God's.  Prayer is my way to communicate with God.  Why am I not in constant communication with Him?  Why do I forfeit time to talk to Him?  He should be my top priority, 100%.  Why is my Creator not getting the best of my communication?  

That's it, right?  If knowing who I am is impossible without prayer, then shouldn't I want to be praying ALL OF THE TIME?  Instead I find myself lost in moments of texting, FB, IG, and other communicative tools that want to steal the knowledge of who I am.  

"In short, unless we put a priority on the inner life, we turn ourselves into hypocrites."  (22)

I will never be in communication with God enough.  I just won't.  To think that I have prayer down, is to see myself more highly than God.   Isn't it true about friendships/relationships too?  Isn't there always  more we can do in order to communicate in a clearer way?  Isn't it true that the more we communicate with others the more we know about them, but also about ourselves.  

"To fail to pray then, is not to merely break some religious rule, it is failure to treat God, as God."  (26)

Nature makes me so much more aware of God.  Overlooking the lake taking in all that He is.  Letting go of all that I was.  Letting go of the expectations that others put on me.  Realizing that I am a created being.  I deserve to be treated that way.  I don't need to be punished or humiliated in order to be right with God.  Today I let go of that.  Today I let go of the pain that it has caused.  Today I let go of that part of me.  

Recognizing that God  is greater than all my fears.  Recognizing that prayer brings me in tune with who I am.  Brings me in tune with the parts of God that I haven't even been able to acknowledge yet, because I don't know them.  

 "Prayer- Personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God."  -Keller

"Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him."  (48) 

There is no one right way to pray....

"God is majestic and tender, holy and forgiving, loving and inscrutable.  That is why prayer can never be primarily abject confessions or triumphant praise or plaintive appeals- it cannot be mainly any one type of expression."    (60)

I can't get it wrong.  That is real, raw, and authentic.  God hears me....

"Prayer is the way to experience a powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well, that our bad things will turn out for good, our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come."  (73)

As I continue to read and ponder all that Keller says about prayer....I am just in awe of the amazingness that God has shown Him about  communicating with our Creator.  I find myself looking forward to a prayer-filled life.  Not one that is asking God for things and that's it...but one that is communicating with an all-knowing, loving Creator.  To know Him know who He created me to be more.  To be thankful for the times He says no, or wait.  To understand that He wants to hear from me.  That He wants to know the deepest desires of my heart.  He already knows them, but He wants to hear them.  

"The very fact that we have access to God's attention and presence should concentrate the thoughts and elevate the heart."  (99)

I am still learning.  I am learning more about prayer every single day.  I want it to be my focus.  I want it to be the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night.  I want it to be my essence.  I want to know Him, and be so in tune with His voice that it is His prayers I am making.  

I want to live out the fact that 



Authentic Solitude

I think the actual act of being alone, is something so rare that we don't even really know how to do it anymore.  We are so caught up in the information that is constantly bombarding us that we forget to just quiet our hearts, our minds, and listen.  

I spent 24 hours completely alone.  I put my phone on airplane mode, I went to a place that is built for solitude and after getting checked in I did not have contact with another human being for 24 hours.  

You know what I found?  It took me till about 5 hours after I had arrived to actually feel alone.  It took that long to truly calm my heart, my thoughts, and allow myself to just be in the presence of God.  Why?  Shouldn't I be so in tune with being in His presence that it is automatic for me, when I come into a quiet place?  Shouldn't it be easy to be alone with my Creator?  

I found that authentic solitude is a journey.  It is a hard journey.  It means being completely raw, completely broken, completely focused....and completely not in control.  That is a hard place to be.  Yet, it is a necessary place to be.  

Sometimes I want to wear a mask, you know we have them for different groups of people.  In my journey this past year I have learned how to take my masks off.  I have learned that my value and worth are in Jesus, and that is honestly enough.  Sometimes though I try to wear my mask when I am in the presence of the all-knowing Creator.  Sometimes I think that He doesn't know me, that He doesn't see me, you know the real me.  The parts of me that I am still holding back from even those closest to me because I am so scared that they might in that moment of release, well they might reject me. 

Sometimes I am afraid of that with God too.  I get so caught up in forgetting what He has gotten me through that I try to hide behind everything I want to be, instead of just being who I actually am.  He knows.  He knows my mask.  He knows my struggles, and He meets me anyways.  

In the stillness walking around the pond yesterday, and this morning I let go of all that I was afraid of.  I became raw, I became abandoned to the truth of who I am and what I want.  I let go of the things that I am ashamed I have walked through.  I let go of the truths that aren't really truths that I have believed about myself.  I let go of the hold that other people have had on me by making me feel guilty for who I am.  I allowed God to complete those hurts, to fill them with love...and I allowed Him to take that control back.  

Authentic solitude isn't just about being alone.  Some of us, including me are alone quite often.  In my car on the way to work, in my classroom when my students are in other places, at night when I am getting ready to start another day.  In those moments I am alone, but most of the time I am not in the midst of authentic solitude.  Authentic solitude takes more then just a few moments here or there.  Authentic solitude takes every fear, heartache, bitterness, anger, resentment, expectation that didn't get filled, lack of value, and lays it down.  Authentic solitude means rawness, openness and tears.  Authentic solitude means admitting that there are things that need to be worked on.  There are no masks in authentic solitude...for when you are truly alone with God....and admitting exactly where you are...that's when He reaches down, wraps you up....and lets you know you are no longer alone. He accepts those moments of complete rawness, and He overflowing.  

The more we experience authentic solitude, the more we are able to understand God's love, and make it first in our hearts and on our minds.   

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

This book seriously is changing my life

I can't help but write how I am feeling right now.  I am about 25% into a book that is seriously changing my life.  

My goal this year was to embrace singleness.  

I love one of the first lines that Mandy Hale writes in her book The Single Woman:  Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

"Being Happily Single doesn't mean you've sworn off love."  

I absolutely love this to the depths of who I am.  I think that in the past I just assumed that I had to give in to the "whoa is me mindset,"  that so dictates our modern culture when it comes to singleness.  I am happy!  I am actually so happy that I don't even understand how I am allowed to be this happy!  But I don't feel guilty about it, because I know that it doesn't mean that I have given up on love.  In fact it doesn't mean that at all.  Actually since I proclaimed my embracing singleness for this year mindset I feel like I have had more opportunities to  question people put in my life.  And yet, I am able to still embrace being single.   

Another Mandy Hale quote:  

"The real fairy tale is designing a life that's so amazing that you don't want to be rescued from it."  

I am well on my way!  I can't believe how busy and full my life is right now.  It is pretty much perfect, but that scares me because then that usually means that something is going to go wrong, right?  When we feel so awesome because of where our life is, then in my limited experience that means I usually do something to mess it up!  Let's just all hope for the best this time! 

Yet I love when she says this,

"And ultimately, it means that someday when you do invite someone to join you on your journey, it will be because he complements your life, not because he completes it. "

How many times have I tried to get someone who completes my life?  I go around looking for that to happen, when in all reality I had a complete life right where I was.  

This book came into my life at just the right time.  I am not about wanting to be single forever,but I am about embracing who I am as a woman who loves Jesus and wants to serve Him with my whole Heart.  

On my best day all I can do is embrace His grace, love the way He loves, and ask forgiveness when I fall short.  

I can be bold, brave, and embrace who I am.  The good, the not so good, and realize that in my weaknesses He is strong.  In my weaknesses He is able to use me.  Realize that He already has this story written, and my part in it is to live it well, to live it authentically, and to let it play out how it is supposed to.  

I think this quote sums it up nicely....

"You make mistakes.  You follow your passion.  You take wrong turns.  You set goals and chase dreams.  You figure out what makes you laugh, and you do more of it.  You learn what makes you cry, and you do less of it.  You try out careers, friendships, hobbies, and you see which ones fit.  You move out of your comfort zone.  And you don't apologize for your imperfect journey because every step along the way is one step closer to figuring out who you are and why you were put on this earth.  "  - Mandy Hale  



Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year's Resolutions...Week 1 Recap

I want to be intentional about making a point to document how my New Year's Resolutions are going.  I do not want to just fizzle out at Week 3 or 4 like I have done in the past.  So, I am making it my goal to reflect each week on how I was Authentic, Grateful, and Intentional this week, and what I need to work on for next week.

First of all, I had some pretty amazing authentic conversations this week.  I started the week off talking to someone that I seriously hadn't seen since we both graduated from high school.  It was amazing to catch up with her, and hear her story.  I think God used both of us just to talk about struggles that we have as single females, especially since we both have lived overseas.  That connection isn't one that happens with everyone.  Sometimes you only truly know what a person is struggling with because you have struggled with it yourself.  I also was able to talk with a few more friends and just be real in where I struggles, my disappointments and kind of where I need to be moving forward.  It was good, it was authentic...and it was amazing.

Intentional...this week I took time to spend with people.  I put my phone away and I listened to them.  It was so good.  I made time for people.  I made intentional real time for people, but it did cause other parts of my life to suffer.  So this next week I need to focus on being intentional for me too.  I need to make sure I have time to get everything done on my list, and make time for others.  It is a crazy balance.  I don't know that I am very good at it, but I am going to try.

Grateful....I think I need to take more time to be grateful.  I find myself in the middle of the day lost in this world of deadlines, and lesson plans.  I need to take time to just breathe, and look around at all that has been given to me and praise him for it!

So next week.....more authentic conversations, intentional time with Jesus, and gratefulness throughout my days. 

Authentically letting Jesus in the Boat

I'm pretty sure that pretty soon people are going to get really tired of me just sticking the word authentic in front of everything.  I can't help it though, I feel like it is my word.  It is the word that God is like, I made this word for you.  It isn't true, I mean not really...but I am owning this word, because I think that in owning it I understand Him so much more.  

Today's sermon was about Jesus being in the boat with us.  I couldn't help but think...ofcourse I let Him in the boat with me.  Then I feel like there was this conversation going on between God and I.  It was more like "Do you really."  And I was like, "Ofcourse I do."  Then God was like...."I don't think you do."  And on and on...

So you can imagine how this conversation went...I'm sure we all can identify...

One of my biggest take-aways from today was that I have to recognize that Jesus is in the boat with me.  I have to understand that He does have every single storm under control.  That He understands the struggles I have inside of myself that no one else knows about.  The truth is that I need to be authentic with Jesus.  

One might think that is a pretty easy thing to do, because who knows us best?  Ofcourse God does!  Yet, I find myself trying to convince God that the problems I have well they aren't really problems at all, in fact I think I try to convince God that I don't even feel the things I do.  

This is pretty confusing to me, but it also has this weird way of making sense.  You see if I can convince God that I really do have everything under control, and that my problems really aren't that big of a deal, then it will seem like I have everything together...even to God, right?  

WRONG!  Big fat stinking...WRONG!  God knows!  I can hide nothing from him.  Whether they are feelings about someone that I am trying to convince myself I don't have, or that I really wasn't trying to get in touch with that person that is super toxic and not a person I need to be in touch with....or just the fact that I need to give others more love and grace.  

You see when I authentically acknowledge that Jesus is in my boat, that He is with me in EVERY SINGLE STRUGGLE I have...well that seems to be like letting HIM completely in to see all of me.  The parts that I hide so well from others, the inner thoughts that are sometimes not the nicest.  When I am authentic in Jesus' presence....then I have nothing left but to allow Jesus to take control of that storm.  

So, today I think being authentic with Jesus is worth far more than being comfortable with everyone around me.  I must first be transparent with Him, because if I'm not then having him inside the boat with me is pretty much pointless, isn't it?  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Authenticity Changes Things

I feel like I am learning something new everyday about being authentic.  I haven't done the best at being authentic, even though I really want to be perfect at it.  But we aren't perfect.  So, what does being authentic mean?  I think some days it means that you say exactly how you feel.  I think that some days  it means that you don't say exactly how you feel.  There are moments in time when you have to turn your eyes in, and close your mouth, and just listen.  I have had doubts over the past few months that things I said or didn't say in my authenticity journey were mistakes.  That at the core of trying to be authentic, I failed. 

I don't think this is true though, not really.  The main reason is because learning to be authentic is a journey, it is a huge journey.  We spend the first 30 years of our lives learning how to hide what we really feel, and not be authentic.  It is hard to undo a lifetime of habits.  You know the kind I'm talking about, right?  Where you try so hard to be anyone but yourself.  You criticize every single thing that you say or do, and you don't allow yourself to just be who you were meant to be. 

I find myself criticizing and comparing so often that I think I forget to just look at myself the way God does.  I forget that I was Created and Formed.  I forget that people are just people.  No one can determine my worth, for I was Created and Formed in His image.  Isn't that worth being authentic for?  Isn't the fact that my heart loves Him, cries out for Him, and worships Him, isn't that enough to radiate who He is, to radiate authenticity?  

I think that often I get lost in the expectations that I put on others.  The expectation that they are on the same authentic journey that I am.  The thing is that it just isn't true.  As people, as human beings we often times say one thing, and then do another.  I can't get caught up in that.  I can't let it surprise me.  For just because I choose the journey of authenticity, well it doesn't mean that anyone else has to, or it doesn't mean that they are going to be at the same place I am. 

So in this journey I take it one day at a time.  I learn to love myself for who I was Created to be.  I embrace all that I am, the mess that I am.  I understand that to God I am never too much to handle.  And I try my very best in every single interaction I have to be authentic, to love authentically, and to accept those around me exactly where they are. 

Authenticity could change this world if we let it!  One day at a time...authenticity changes things. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Authentically Filled Up...

There's this moment in time when you look around and just feel full.  It is maybe not a long moment, but in that moment you feel so blessed, so thankful, and tears just fall because you truly never thought it could be this way. 

When you almost give up, because it is just too hard.  Life is just too much, and the world seems to be crashing down around you. But you don't give up, you keep going....and then that moment happens. 

The moment when you look around and realize that you have been made for this moment, for these connections.  The tears don't stop because you are so grateful for how you feel.  You are so grateful that in the midst of the pain that almost overtook you, there is light...there is grace...there is love...there is forgiveness. 

You have been given the gift of community.  The kind of community that sees the imperfections, and doesn't care.  The kind of community that rejoices with you when you are happy and carries you when you are sad.  The kind of community that you are able to be the worst version of yourself and you know in the depth of your soul that they will never leave you because you are a part of something real, something that will change your life if you let it. 

So, you let the tears fall because they aren't tears of sadness...they are tears of joy.  They are the tears of healing.  They are tears that are restoring what was once lost.  They are tears that will bring so much more than just pain and sadness.  They are the tears of trust, hope, and love. 

That moment you feel filled up...that moment is worth holding onto.  That is a moment that is worth keeping and never letting go.  It is a forever kind of moment.