Trials: Oh Joy!

Trials.

Something I hate.

Yet, kind of sort of love.

It’s an interesting dichotomy. I loathe feeling like my world is crashing down. The feeling that I can’t control what’s happening around me is scary.

I feel weak and discouraged. I feel that I’ve made a mistake. AGAIN. Often times it comes back on me. I’m up all night thinking about what I did wrong or how I could have said or done something differently. Other times, I did what I could do but still didn’t get the results I’d longed for.

Sometimes, I’m in a trial. It could be with relationships or with a job or with depression, for which I can’t give a root cause. Trials can sometimes be pointed back to a source. That’s where it started. That’s what I can change. That’s what’s going to make it all better. Other times, I don’t know why I’m feeling the way I do or why things aren’t getting better.

Trials show me that I am weak.

But, they also show me that God is strong.

Trials remind me that I am, in fact, not invincible. Who would have guessed, right? 

Even more than that, they remind me that God is all powerful, all knowing, and full of love.

Wow! What a contrast.

Trials show me that I need God. They point me back to the source of life.

We read in the Book of James to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

How often is our first instinct to be joyful when a trial is thrown our way?

I don’t know about you, but my initial reaction is to push back. I want to talk my way out of the problem (or about the problem to whomever will listen), solve it, prove myself to people, or just convince myself that I didn’t even want what I lost anyway.

I do not do well with pausing and considering my trials a joy. My natural instinct isn’t to pray; I don’t want to thank God for trials that are going to show me more of Him. I just want the trials to go away. I want to aggressively fight through them, so that I will win.

Here’s the thing, though, trials are not our battles to win. They are the Lord’s.

Living a life fully for God means letting Him get the glory and Him show Himself victorious. In the bigger picture, we are but a small piece of God’s mighty puzzle. His purpose is to make Himself known, in all His glory and love; and He does that by weaving through the threads of our lives.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

God gives us resources to fight through struggles with the enemy (satan), but we have to let God work! The whole point and purpose is to draw us back to Himself. God desires our hearts. He desires to change our hearts and make us more like Christ.

That’s why part of me loves trials. I love the way it feels to connect with God – to reach out for Him and have Him be right there for me. When I pray and open up to God, there’s a flood of peace that overtakes me. I know that no matter what happens, God is in control and He loves me. I have to admit that at first, God might seem far away… Sometimes I have trouble even opening my mouth to pray. But, I know and God promises that He will be there.

Trials don’t have to be seen as bad. They can actually be good and refining. At times it may be hard to recognize any sort of benefit of a trial, but God knows what He’s doing. He’s going to use everything for our good. That ultimate good is to draw us to Himself because He is the ultimate source of love and peace.

A Year of Extravagant Love

I want to write. I think about writing. I fill up pages in my journal and make notes in Evernote about the longings of my heart, but somehow putting it out here on the blog seems to be too much. In part, it’s because I am still processing. I also think I am afraid to be vulnerable.

So, I’m going to start telling you a little bit about my past year. 2014 was “The Year of Extravagant Love” - I knew from the start of the year that God was going to be doing something more in my heart. He is always working, but last year it was different. At the end of 2013, I prayed hard about the next year. I wanted direction from God, not just from my own ambitious self. In my quiet times, God kept showing me that 2014 was to be about love – about His love and they way it pours through our lives.

My year started out with my saying “no” to expectations of others and “yes” to God as I moved back to China to teach for what I thought would be a year. I struggled with the decision to go back to China because my heart was being drawn toward a man I would later find myself in love with.

I stood at a crossroads at the beginning of 2014.

To go to China where I knew God was calling me?

Or, stay in Iowa where Jonathan, the man I was beginning to fall for, remained?

The “Sunday School answer” was obviously to go to China. How could I not go where God was calling me?

What made things even trickier was that I didn’t think my feelings for Jonathan were just my own. I believe God put those feelings on me, truly giving me the desires of my heart. I had prayed about Jonathan for a few months (and I later found out he had been praying about me), receiving what I felt was confirmation that he was for me.

But, why would God send me halfway around the world if Jonathan and I were supposed to be together?

God, in His abounding love, has ways that we can never fully understand. Looking back I can see some of why He did what He did, but even so, parts of it remain a mystery.

Saying “yes” to God means trusting that He loves us and that He is working for our good (Romans 8:28).

In some ways it would have been easier to stay in Iowa to “see what happened” with the potential relationship, but I knew God wanted me to trust Him.

So, I obeyed.

In that act of obedience, I learned a lot about love – true, pure love that can only come from God. I learned that above all else, God desires our hearts. If I was going to love the way God purposed for my life, I had to give up control and let Him work it all out.

When the time came that Jonathan pursued me and we were able to be together sooner than we had expected (after another cool twist of events), I could only give God the glory because it was His timing and plan.

While the circumstances surrounding our relationship have pointed me back to God and His love, I also learned more about God’s love for humanity in 2014.

My heart keeps shifting to see people the way Jesus does. In the choices I make and in the things I do, I want to be better about letting Christ be shown through me. I’ve been challenged to love greater in all areas of life.

I could tell story after story of how God showed me His love in China, but for now, I’ll leave you with something I found to be pretty neat.

When I left China in July, I said goodbye to a fellowship of believers I truly loved. The simplicity in the way they talked of their faith inspired me. There was a language barrier to overcome, but in the end, at the heart of it, they loved Jesus and wanted to make Him known. I felt the same way.

On my last day in the city, we met for our last small group of the semester while tears streamed down our faces as we bid farewell. A little bit later, one of the group leaders came to my apartment with a gift. He and the group had come together to give me something to take back to America as a remembrance of them.

This friend – let’s call him Wang – opened a box holding a glass trophy, much like something a person would be given as an award. Etched on the glass was a verse in Chinese. I wasn’t familiar with the characters of the reference, so Wang quickly opened his Bible to show me the verse.

God is Love

As he turned to 1 Corinthians 13, my eyes began to water. The love chapter. In this year of “Extravagant Love.” Wow. God is good, I thought to myself as I rested in that sweet moment.

This is significant because when I had prayed about 2014, God specifically laid 1 Corinthians 13 on my heart.

On the trophy was 1 Corinthians 13:13, which reads, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

God, through my Chinese friends, reminded me of His faithfulness in a beautiful way.

My life was changed little by little in 2014, but it all started in the heart. It started by submitting and trusting that God is who He says He is and that His love never fails.

I’ll Be Changing

Over the past few years, I’ve experienced a lot of change. From graduating college to moving to China to moving home to Iowa to returning for another stint in China to now being back home and trying to “figure out my life,” I’ve  had a lot of change. Parts of it have been hard, while other parts refreshing.

I tend to like change.

I’ve never been one to dread moving on because the new always seems so fun and exciting.

I like to explore. I love to try all kinds of different things, so the whole change thing can be beautiful. However, with change comes uncertainty. It brings a whole new brand of anxiety with each challenge. Yet, there’s also the amazing feeling of tackling the roadblocks and being successful in whatever issues may arise in the new season.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on how all of the changes in where I am physically coincide with how I have been changed spiritually. Some days, I stop and realize that yes, this is my life. I am blown away every time. The grace that God’s shown me and the way he’s weaved the threads of my life in the most perfect ways to bring me closer to Him is incredible.

When I began to walk with the Lord almost 5 years ago, I had no idea of the crazy ride I’d be taking. It’s been awesome and difficult all at the same time. I’m grateful. I’ve truly been changed and continue to be each and every day. The coolest part of that change is that I cannot take credit. Sure, I have made choices, but the real work started in the heart. The work of Christ in my life changed me and made me new.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

A lot of us who grew up in the Church or found faith at some point in our lives have read this verse. We’ve heard it preached on and have been taught that when we come to Christ we are made new. But, what does this mean in a practical sense?

I’ve seen people who made the decision to follow the Lord do what appeared to be a 180 and turn their lives around. I’ve also seen people who became Christians continue to live the same way they always did, only with the badge of honor of being a “Christian” placed firmly on their chests. While we don’t know the hearts of others, it is safe to believe what Jesus says about the fruit that will be produced when one truly follows after Him.

Why is it that some people change more than others when they come to faith in Jesus?

Each person is different and God is working in their individual lives, but I firmly believe there’s also a mindset we, as believers, must have in order to enable change. We must believe that we will be changed. We must hold firmly to God’s promises.

We must allow God to change us.

We must also believe that God will change others.

I think we sometimes forget that becoming a “new creation” isn’t just a one time deal. It isn’t a magic trick that happens the moment you are born again. You won’t automatically be 100 percent different. It’s a continual renewing of your heart as you seek the Lord and allow Him to be God of your life.

God is continually working for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). He is working to change you. He is working to change me.

But are we letting ourselves be changed to become more like Jesus?

I want to live a life that is changed.

Are you with me?

 

For a fun visual representation of how I’ve changed over the years, here are some photos from high school through today.

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2007 – My high school self also loved to take photos with my mouth open

 

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2010 – These girls were an amazing group to do life with as we sought the Lord together during college

 

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2011 – Israel was a highlight of my college days

 

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2013 – China

 

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2014 – Home in Muscatine with one of my favorite people in the world

 

 

 

Lately…

…I’ve been reflecting on where I am in this sweet season.

…I’ve been blessed to be an aunt to the most adorable baby girl.

…I’ve been in love.

…I’ve been working as a barista and as an administrative assistant.

…I’ve been dreaming of traveling somewhere – anywhere.

…I’ve been trying to see the beauty in small moments.

…I’ve been living with a roommate who always makes me laugh.

…I’ve been thinking that I need to start blogging again.

There have been so many transitions that I have no idea where to even begin. What I do know is that I need to write. I long to write. I have a need to process, to think, to pour out my thoughts and feelings. God has been speaking to my spirit and I need to listen.

I suppose I’ll be back on here posting again one of these days. For now, this was my brief update. What I do know is that I’m excited – excited to change, to grow, to become who God has created me to be in this season.

Will You Choose to Listen?

Today, I’ve been reflecting on my life. I’ve been reading scripture and praying through God’s promises as I make the most of a “sick day” (Thank you, China and your toxic environment! ;) ). Earlier this morning I was also fortunate to have some conversations with friends that challenged me to think, to dream, and to get excited about living out my calling.

Some people realize early on what they “want to be when they grow up.” I didn’t. I always changed my mind. There were a million things I could see myself doing from being a firefighter (ha!), to being a doctor, to being President. When I went to college, I thought I finally had it figured out.

I was wrong.

God shook me up, and wow! As much as I’ve gone through some hard times of uncertainty, I wouldn’t trade any of it. God let things get messy as He showed me who I am as His daughter. And, that, my friends, is beautiful. The messy lives we live as humans redeemed in Christ show a picture of great love.

Part of living out a Christian walk involves intentionality. I’ve been challenged to be more intentional with my time and resources. It’s not enough to just go through the motions. I want my life to count. Don’t you?

So, in my pondering and seeking, I thought more about my current state of life in this sweet season. While I am still no closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up (at least not in the specific vocational way), I am at peace with the fact that I’m called to be a daughter of God. I want to live out that calling in a meaningful way.

I’ve only got 40 more days in this country that holds part of my heart (Did you know that? I’ve been bad about blogging and haven’t shared much. More on that in a later post!). I’ve thought about what I have been able to do here and how God has used me. Overall, I think I’ve been faithful, but there’s one area where I’m struggling.

Chinabridge

I recently realized that I need to be better about listening. I need to be prepared for my schedule to be altered and for interruptions to come up. Things in China don’t typically happen by the schedule I desire, but it annoys me more than it should. I have a pretty full schedule, so it makes sense that I quickly go from one thing to the next. However, I sometimes believe I can’t slow down when I actually can. I can listen to the needs around me. I can pay attention to people and offer more than a quick hello.

Something I’ve even resorted to has been pretending that I can’t speak Chinese. Honestly, my Chinese is not at a high level by any means, but I can speak enough to have simple conversations.

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a kindergarten job and a lady approached me on the sidewalk. She didn’t attempt to use English, so I figured she only spoke Chinese. Being tired, I completely tuned her out when she spoke and then told her I didn’t understand. I don’t even know what she asked. I didn’t listen because I didn’t want to.

Looking back, I realize I should have used my energy to at least try to hear her. I could have probably figured out what she was saying, but I was lazy. There are times when I should ignore people who try talking to me in China, like the construction workers who yell “helloooooo!” at me from their work site, or the creepy cars who drive past the campus, stopping and gawking. This lady, though, didn’t deserve to be ignored. I should have listened.

How often do we pretend we don’t hear people? How often do we listen only to pretend we didn’t actually hear? As I think about these questions, I keep going back to needs around the world. We hear there are people starving. We hear that millions of people are affected by AIDS every year. We hear that there are people in our cities and towns all across America (not to mention all over the world) who are victims of human trafficking.

We hear the statistics, but do we actually listen? Or, do we pretend that we don’t understand? On an even more local scale, think about people around you on a regular basis. Do people in your life have needs that you aren’t even bothering to notice because you’re too preoccupied by your own life? I’ve been there, but I want to change. God’s been teaching me what it means to really love.

Right now, I am making a commitment to listening. To stopping to both hear and listen to the needs around me. Will you join me?

When I think about the way we ignore needs around us, I am brought back to lyrics from “Keep Changing the World” by MIKESCHAIR.

Here are the lyrics to the beginning.

Something here is wrong
There are children without homes
But we just move along
To take care of our own

There’s so much suffering
Just outside our door
A cry so deafening
Oh, we just can’t ignore

 

The first few lines are convicting. How can we really just live our lives as if there aren’t huge needs all over the world? Children are without homes. That alone is heartbreaking enough to spur me on to act.

We, as individuals, cannot change the world ourselves, but God can. He can use us. It all starts with listening. Listen to the needs around you. Listen to the way God’s stirring your heart. Listen as He shows you His plans and purposes.