Choosing Joy

PEACE. Lately I don’t think I have been at peace as often because of not living out of thankfulness. My mind jumped to the service learning trip I participated in on spring break in Nicaragua. The people I interacted with in the community of Los Fierros were some of the most joyful people I have ever met. Their priorities were God, their family, and friends. These people could be considered poor by monetary worldly standards but were rich in so many important ways. They were thankful for the little things; time spent with people they cared about, going to visit the river, sharing meals with one another, playing soccer in a field, the list could go on. When I was in Nicaragua I felt a sense of peace coming from these people that I had never before experienced. Their faith was strong, and they were confident that God would provide for them. They were taking life day by day and finding joy despite the circumstances they faced.

I am continually reminded that joy is a choice. We can choose to live in despair, dwelling on the past, with fear of the future, in a constant state of worry. Or we can choose joy, being thankful for what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future. I must wait with expectant hope, knowing that God will provide and be faithful to the plan He has for my life. Part of choosing to be joyful each day involves being thankful for the small blessings throughout the day. Whether it is getting to spend time outside with God sitting under a tree by the lake, waiting on customers who are super kind, enjoying the times of watching old TV shows with my mom, or going to apple orchards with friends there is always something to be thankful for.

“I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life”

Psalm 56: 12-13

During this period of waiting it is easy to worry and fret about what the schools will say, easy to be anxious until December when I hear a decision. However, I can also look at the blessings that this period of waiting is resulting in. It is allowing me to work to save some money to provide costs for expenses I will soon face. It is allowing me to spend extra time with my family, as I haven’t seen them much the past three years while in college. It is allowing more time to spend with God and read some good books. It is allowing me to focus on my health more again, to go the gym and go for runs in God’s beautiful creation. It is allowing me time to experiment with trying new healthy recipes. It is allowing me time to just be, to not have to worry about so many obligations like I had during college. It is allowing me to recharge, to be mentally prepared for what is in store next.

Rather than let circumstances define me, I can give all of those circumstances to God and trust Him with them. Releasing the things that are not in my control will allow me to find peace in the present moment.  Joy and peace are not dependent on what will happen in the future. I can find those based on what Jesus has done on the cross for me, allowing me to have a relationship with God. I can be joyful because of the opportunity to live in the light rather than the darkness. Joyful because I am the daughter of a God who loves, a God who protects, a God who is faithful, a God where I can find rest, a God who hears my voice even if the world doesn’t, a God who cares, a God who is all-knowing, a God who is creative, a God who woos me with sunsets, a God who I can call a Father. He is with me, giving me all the reason to rejoice.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

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The Revolving Door

Doors are constantly revolving- they open and close all depending on what God has in store. He will close the doors we aren’t meant to open and open the ones that are meant for us. Sometimes he lets us go through the wrong doors to teach us, so we rely on Him to lead us to the right doors.

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Right now I feel as if the doors are all closed and I don’t know which one I meant to enter. I have no way of knowing which door will open, so I am forced to trust God. The not knowing part stresses me out, and I have been constantly concerned, worried, and impatient. God partially closed a door in the process, and then opened one with granting me an interview in Missouri. I know that in the upcoming months He will open more doors with more interviews and close some others with denial. I’m praying that if there is a choice to go through several different doors that He will lead me to the one where I can glorify Him the most.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

I thrive when I am kept busy and have lots of things to look forward to. It is during the times of waiting and feeling like I am at a stand-still where impatience sets in. I hate the unknown as I like to feel like I have some kind of control over what is next. I’m good at partial surrender, but not as much with total surrender. Lately I have had to remind myself that God’s will takes precedence over my wishes. I could have the best application in the world and not get in if it isn’t in God’s will. I could also have a not-so-great application and still get in if that is what God desires. All of it does not happen on my own, He has a hand in everything.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

I think control can separate us from God. It tells us we don’t need Him, that we can manage by ourselves.  It is the easy way out not requiring dependence, trust, and patience. It’s closing the door on God and attempting to shut Him out of our lives. It’s giving God 90% but not everything, keeping those parts you really care about away from Him. I’m learning that I need to let go and let God. I need to stop all the striving and my perfectionist ways, and just trust in His power and strength. I need to trust that whatever God has planned it’s going to be better than anything I could come up with on my own. In this moment God knows exactly what I need and has already provided. In this time of waiting God has already given me all that I need to rely and depend on: Him. God already has planned which doors will open two months from now, which is exciting. I need to stop worrying and rejoice in the present moment. I can find peace now and not just in the future when I put my hope in God. He already has total control over my life, which is reason to rejoice.

Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken

Psalm 62:6

Some words by Morgan Harper Nichols that have been of encouragement to me during this season:

“Perhaps there is no perfect or simple way to tread through this valley, but perhaps there is a way to tread through it as you are, knowing grace is never far and you are not alone”

“Even while you wait for certain things to fall into place, may you never forget that you are still free to thrive in this space; making the most of little things, making room for brand new things, fully living with all you have, even in your in betweens”

“While you are waiting for those certain things to happen, I hope you know there are still books to read. There are still people worth getting to know and there are still really good songs to sing. And these little things might not “fix” everything, but they will surely remind the soul, though the journey is long and winding, there is a life to be lived on the road”

“A restful approach to restless uncertainty provides strength and endurance for the rest of the journey”

“She may not know what tomorrow will bring but she will still be a reflection of hope and peace”

Battling Worry

While spending the summer in the beautiful Rocky Mountains I tried to be present in the everyday YMCA experience, but was also preoccupied with taking next steps for the future. I was often overwhelmed with balancing the tasks of serving as a project leader, trying to make myself available to meet with people, and taking necessary time to apply for graduate school and have enough alone time with God. By the end of the summer I had done what I needed to in regards to my graduate school application, and had to focus on applying for jobs for once I got back home. I applied for three jobs and had an interview set up for once I returned home, so I left the summer feeling like everything was falling into place.

Once I got back to Ohio reality hit super quickly. I instantly felt stressed about finding a job since it can be difficult finding something that pays well enough where I live without having to drive a decent distance. God provided me a job, as I was rehired at one of my old jobs from a few summers ago, and I started work the very next day which was definitely a relief, a burden lifted off of my shoulders. In regards to my physical therapy application I can’t do anything until I hear back from the school I applied to via early decision. I have been filled with worry because if I don’t get in there then I will have around 1 week to get my application into other schools which will be stressful. I have been hoping for an answer soon, so that I will have a little bit more time if I need to apply to more places.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

-Lamentations 3:22-26

Among grad school serving as a source of worry I have been worried about finding a good community for the next 8 months before I start school again. At Kent and in the past two summers I have been surrounded by so many people who love the Lord and have helped me grow, that it scares me to not immediately have that.

This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it- the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know’

-Jeremiah 33:2-3

Normally home is a place where I can feel rested and at peace. While I have been able to rest and catch up from sleep from Colorado, I haven’t been very at peace. I have constantly been on edge and missing my Kent community and friends.

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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

  -Hebrews 12: 1-3

Whenever worry consumes me, I know that I am not trusting enough. The song New Wine by Hillsong says “When I trust in you I don’t need to understand”.  I keep having to remind myself of this truth. Only God knows what will happen in my life, and He is in control. Before God came into my life I was very self-reliant, and have found this aspect of my personality hard to let go. I think He has been forcing me to let this go by placing me in situations where I can’t do anything on my own, I need Him.  In areas before I came to know Him He has shown me how it wasn’t just me, it was Him. He was with me during some tough times academically in high school and showed me his presence on one of my worst days. He showed His faithfulness to me in providing for me financially for college, because I didn’t know how I would pay for college otherwise. He got me through times in college where I was completely overwhelmed and gave me strength to persevere. This past year of college was crazy taking 18 and 19 credits and being in more leadership roles than my previous two years, but God somehow helped me manage my time well, and I somehow still had more time for fun than my previous two years of college which was necessary for my mental health. By taking this gap year I was able to spend two summers in the Rocky Mountains, filled with so many memories and learning experiences, that I think God wanted me to have.

What God wants to do in these next 8 months I have no idea, but that’s okay because I don’t need to understand. He was faithful before, and will be faithful again. He loves me, is for me, and knows what is best for me.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

   -Hebrews 10: 19-25

Total Dependence

Going into my second summer at Estes Park Leadership Training I didn’t really know what to expect. Last summer God taught me about His love and character, and showed me this love in ways I had never previously experienced. He also taught me about how He is the perfect father. Right away this summer, I knew it would be way different.

To start the summer off I was having a lot of trouble sleeping and had no appetite. It was really weird and I didn’t know why it was happening. It felt somewhat like a spiritual attack. That first week we had an LT Retreat where we had a lot of quiet time with the Lord, and I remember praying to God that the devil not prevent what God wanted to do out here this summer.  The next day I went on a walk with a friend from my school to Moraine Park where we were going to have some quiet time with the Lord. As soon as we started reading it started to rain, but then we saw the most beautiful rainbow over the mountains and in this moment I had hope and was reminded of God’s goodness. It was special because as we were walking back we saw another rainbow, and nobody else saw either of these back at the Y. It was an intimate moment that I was able to share with the Lord. That night I finally felt hungry for the first time in several days and was able to sleep, an answer to prayer and reminder of God’s faithfulness.

God has also been teaching me about authenticity. As a project leader I volunteered to share my testimony with our group first and as I was preparing, God brought to light some things that I had not previously shared when telling my testimony to people. During my second year of college I had a really rough season where I was not at all happy and was just very down. I questioned God’s purpose for my life, and didn’t understand what my purpose was at Kent. It got pretty bad to the point where my mom thought that maybe I should seek help. I ended up going to a psychologist in Kent, where I did not have a positive experience. The psychologist did not believe me when I told her that I never drank, and because she didn’t genuinely believe that I was telling the truth I felt like I couldn’t trust her and open up to this random stranger. I ended up not going back because I felt like it wasn’t going to help me. During this season I knew that I needed to continue to pursue the Lord and remain faithful. I knew that eventually He would get me out of this rut. I know that it is because of Him that I was able to get out of this season and feel renewed again.  I did not tell anyone around me what I was going through other than my mom because at the time I felt ashamed and embarrassed, because people thought that my life was all put together. I had completely voided this out of my memory and hadn’t thought about it at all during the past school year. When God brought it to light I realized I hadn’t properly processed it and dealt with it. I also realized that I hurt the friends around me during that time by not letting them in on what I was going through. I realized the importance of sharing about this season because it is when I was at one of the lowest places I have experienced and is an example of God’s love, grace, and redemption. I have been led to reconciliation, to explain what happened to those friends and to be more authentic with both my friendships and God.

Another strange experience I have had is through sickness. I had been getting sick to where I would get dizzy and throw up, feel better again, go a few days, and then the cycle would continue. During this period I was forced to literally stop and rest. At the time I was super confused and bitter with God. I felt like I was missing out on things, wasn’t able to hike for almost two weeks, and the doctors didn’t know why I kept getting sick. I didn’t understand what God was doing and just felt really frustrated. Because of not being able to go on a really long hike on one of my off days I had a full day of extended time with God where I was able to process what He had been teaching me so far this summer. I was able to spend more time with God during these two weeks of sickness then what I probably would have spent if I was healthy. In some ways I think God was forcing me to rest and remind me that I need to communicate with Him.

With regards to my future I am in a spot right now where I am forced to depend and trust in the Lord. I don’t know where I will be working when I go back home, where I will go to church when I go back, where I will be going to grad school, where I will go to church during grad school, I basically know nothing and have no way of knowing. When one of my pastors asked me if I was excited about this season of not really knowing what was in store I didn’t really know. I think I was feeling a lot of fear because of my lack in trust. With being sick combined with all this stress with the unknowns I was struggling with finding joy and good in the situation. My pastor told me that I could either choose to stay bitter and confused at God or I could choose to have hope and excitement. He encouraged me that this season of waiting and resting in God’s timing is a beautiful place to be. My workshop through LT talked about surrendering to joy and letting that anger in the flesh die. There is nothing I can do to know about what the future has in store, and I had no control of when I would stop getting sick. I realized that I needed to change perspectives and start looking for joy in each circumstance that was occurring. Through Job 42 I was reminded that the things God has in store are too wonderful for me to know right now, I just have to trust in Him. If I trust in Him I don’t need to understand, something He has been reminding me of a lot lately.

For right now I’m trying to cling to joy, especially the joy I get to experience through having a relationship with God, a joy that is so hard to explain to others. He heals me when I’m throwing up, gives me strength on hikes when I don’t know if I can finish, woos me with crazy views in His creation, comforts me in times of distress, lets me find my rest in Him, and reminds me that He is in control of my life, forcing me to depend, rely, and trust in Him alone. This summer has been full of tears: tears of joy, tears of confusion, tears of anger, tears of hope, all reminding me of how much I need God, how He is the one where my dependence rests.

 

Job 22: 21-23

Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored.

 

Hebrews 10:23

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, because He who promised is faithful

Little Did I Know

As I reflect back on my college experience I laugh, because when I was a freshman I really had no idea where the Lord would take me. When I was a freshman I intentionally pursued my faith and had a basic knowledge of God, but didn’t really know much about Him. As I became connected with some awesome spiritual mentors I started to learn about what being a Christian actually looks like, and the truth is I am still learning. I started to regularly invest in the word, where God began to teach me about Him and his strength, grace, protection, and his ability to care and love. The place where I started and the place where God has me now is so much different, it’s crazy looking back in time.

Little did I know at the time that service would become such a big part of my life and that through it I would have so many experiences and memories. Little did I know that he would allow me to be a leader in an office at Kent State where I would get to connect other people to service, and this year even get to coordinate service days with the service sites. Little did I know that God would allow for me to see him move and allow me to see the power of sharing the gospel through alternative spring break trips in Youngstown and New York City. Little did I know that he would send me on a service trip to Nicaragua over spring break trip this year, not just as a participant, but also as a leader. In truth I have no idea how exactly he will use me, but I just have to make myself available and present to allow him to work.

Going into college I had no idea that God would send me to Colorado, in the beautiful Rocky Mountains to experience Him more. I also had no idea that I would have a desire to return, and attend Colorado Leadership Training for a second time. I applied for several jobs, but I feel like going back to Colorado and spending another summer with him while being in community is where God wants me to be. Little did I know that he would send me on so many adventures while in college, establishing this feeling of wanting to see his beauty in more places, especially in the outdoors and through other people.

Little did I know that God would have so many surprises for me during college. During college God has changed so many of my thought processes about the world and my attitudes. The more I get to know Him the less I care about material wealth, possessions, and money. The more I get to know Him the more I appreciate other people, their strengths, and just spending time with them. The more I get to know God, the more I realize how temporary life on earth is. Recently I have had this feeling on the back of my mind. I think of being somewhere else in the summer and transitioning. Then coming back home for 9 months and transitioning again. Then going to grad school and transitioning. Then getting a big girl job, moving, and once again transitioning. I think of all the things that will change during the next few years: my home church, the people I am around, the area where I live, pretty much everything. Everything in this place is so temporary, yet the main constant in my life will always remain the same. God is the true constant. He will never leave me or forsake me. He will always be present and show his love to me. As I live in this temporary world He is the one who will prove to be the forever constant in my life, which is a comforting feeling.

I pray that we don’t put limits or restrictions on what God can do, and just make ourselves available for him to work. I pray that we let his power rule our lives, and that we find comfort and joy in his daily surprises. I pray that we give our futures up to him, for him to establish his plan for us rather than us trying to establish our own. I pray that when God leads us that we follow, and allow him to send us, because His plans always turn out to be the best. I pray for surrender, to the one true King.

Relentless Love

 

I have officially been back in Ohio for two weeks now, and much of that time has been spent in reflection of what God taught me during the three months devoted to my relationship with Him in Colorado.  He challenged me and grew me, and allowed me to get to know Him in a more intimate way.

The summer was filled with many firsts; first time practicing evangelism, first time leading a lifegroup, first time hiking a mountain, first time seeing elk and moose, first time being with intentional with sharing the gospel, first time answering very challenging questions to non-believers about Christianity, and so many others.  The big takeaway from the summer though was learning about the extent of God’s love.  On one of the first days of LT I was sitting by the river and it just hit me how God’s love is perfect.  The love by those around me is not perfect as humans will always fail, but God’s love never fails and is flawless. Throughout the summer, I continued to experience His love in so many ways.  I would experience God’s love through seeing my favorite flowers on hikes or through absolutely breathtaking scenery, through crazy sunrises and sunsets, through relationships that I know God placed in my life for a certain purpose, through affirmation from friends, through seeing God do big things in others’ lives, to consistently learning to put my trust in Him.  Through experiencing God’s love constantly, I learned about how God is intentional.  Every action and relationship is purposeful and is no mistake.

 

One of the ways I experience God the most is through reading scripture.  When reading 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel God’s love hit me in the reality of how much he loves us to sacrifice His own son.  I think of parents today who would do anything to protect their children even if it meant risking their own lives, which really hits home into how big of a sacrifice Jesus dying on the cross really was.   Through 1 Kings and 2 Kings God taught me a lot about how he seeks justice and is faithful through His power.

Another aspect in my life God exposed is how my expectations of Him are often limited.  I learned that it is okay to ask God for anything even if it might not actually be in His will.  I can’t let fear get in the way of my relationship with Him. I also can’t expect God to deliver something that I haven’t prayed about or asked for.  I also felt reassured in my future realizing that my spiritual gifts match the qualities that I would expect a physical therapist to have.

 

God has been showing me consistently that he will provide.  Recently I have been beyond blessed with acts of kindness that people have shown me.  I was nervous to support raise for Colorado, but God proved faithful and I was able to raise enough support.  Coming back to Ohio some family members paid to have some things fixed on my car to make sure it was safe to take back to college and helped me with gas expenses, another person gave me some very nice clothes for free, and one of my friends paid for my $160 textbook.  My reaction was that I didn’t deserve any of it, and I was completely blown away by the kindness I experienced.  I was worried about some of those things, but God provided for my needs just as He always does.

God’s love is unconditional, no matter what I do. His love never fails and is constant. He always pursues me and demonstrates His love just like a lover. His love is in fact relentless….

 

Less Is Often More

If you ask many what their goals are in life it is to have a good job that pays well, a nice house, kids, and to not have major struggle.  America is thought to be the land of opportunity, with so many people seeking to obtain the “American Dream”. In this “American Dream” society there are many societal expectations or standards of success. Success is often focused on money and power. If a person has the intellectual capability to be a doctor but chooses to be a grocery store clerk they may receive negativity from many and be looked down upon.  We define people by what job they have and often even assume things about their personality or motivation. Stereotypes often involve surface level thinking, they are easy because if we assume things then we don’t have to get to know someone.

Currently I am reading a book called Falling Free: Rescued From The Life I Always Wanted by Shannon Martin.  Both Shannon and her husband thought they were living the American Dream and the life they were meant for until God called them for something radically different. This involved moving from the country to the city, getting rid of their well-paid jobs for different careers, inviting past-incarcerated people into their family, along with many other changes.  In this radical switch that at first was scary God gave them more than they ever could have dreamed of. No doubt people thought they were crazy and judged them for their actions. What can be viewed as less in the eyes of society can often be more in the plans that God has, more than we could have ever dreamed of. One of the points of the book is that our identity does not need to hinge on what the world values.  For many people this might mean redefining success and bringing God back in the center of their lives.  This connects with the past sermon series focusing on Amos about trying not to serve our own happiness. So often we are self-centered and selfish, even when we do good things it somehow still relates back to ourselves.

We must realize that God’s plans are greater and that we must trust him. This could involve getting rid of expectations for the future, and being okay with being called for a radically different purpose. Less in the eyes of the world often results in more. Therefore we must ask ourselves whether we are trying to live in God’s plans or our own and check our intentions.  Are we trying to serve God or ourselves? Are we making friends who are similar to us because it is the easy thing to do? Do we want to expand our community and create more depth by becoming friends with people who don’t share the same interests as us? Are we judging the cashier at McDonalds when his job might serve a greater purpose? Are we judging people for the house they live in when maybe it is their dream house? Are we judging our neighbor and blaming them for the language barrier that exists? Are we trying to be self-sufficient or are we actually depending fully on God?

I pray that we question our intentions and re-evaluate our purpose.  I pray that we do not form our identity based on what the world values but that we focus on God’s desires for us. I pray that we realize that God offers us so much more than the world that we live in, and I pray that each day we strive to become more and more like Jesus.