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.

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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.

 

When the Burden Becomes Too Much To Bear

EmilyandGraceWow – Lately, life has been hard, yet so sweet. I am thankful for the Lord’s provision because even though I don’t always understand what He’s doing at the time, I know he is working for my good. (The same thing goes for you… trust Him. It will change your life!) Things are coming together in such a beautiful way.

Have you ever had seasons like this? Seasons where you are blown away over and over again by what God is doing? This has been the past 8 months or so for me. It’s been a journey, to say the least. Maybe this is why my students constantly tell me I have a colorful life. Hearing, “You have such a colorful life, teacher!” never gets old.

I tend to get discouraged by the low points, yet these incredible high points I’ve had lately have made it all worth it. For me, the high points may not even be what the world would consider significant. Sometimes it’s scripture references that speak directly to the longings of my heart or the people I know God has placed in my life for a specific reason. I have been praying for a clearer picture of what God is doing around me and He keeps answering by showing me connections.

In my daily life, I teach. A lot. My main job in China is being a university English teacher. On top of that I work at several private training schools and kindergartens. Some days, I go from singing “Open, Shut Them” in the morning to moderating class debates about societal changes affecting marriage and whether it’s better to establish a career before marriage or vice-versa in the afternoon. The classes are all quite different in nature, but it keeps things interesting.

I enjoy teaching younger kids because it’s kind of fun to sing and dance with them, yet I appreciate the way teaching college allows me to have relevant conversations with my students. When I first began teaching in China, I didn’t realize how much class content could tie back to life truths I desperately hope my students realize.

From my experience (while not too vast, but still significant), I have noticed that education on issues relating to health is majorly lacking in China. I have come to recognize how privileged I am to have grown up in America where health class was required and I knew the basics at a young age. Some of that can be attributed to having great parents, but I still believe schooling played a role. I’m not saying Chinese schools don’t have health education, but what they have seems to be lacking when college students don’t know basic information.

It’s not uncommon to hear comments like, “You shouldn’t eat meat or you’ll get fat.” Or, “You shouldn’t keep pets because you can get AIDS from dogs.” There is sometimes validity to their health claims, but it’s often misconstrued. Sure, if you gorge on meat and processed junk without eating fruits and vegetables, you probably will get fat. However, you’re not going to get AIDS from dogs. Sorry, you just aren’t.

The way girls seem to have anxiety over the possibility of “getting fat” and wanting to “lose weight” breaks my heart. Being a proponent of a healthy lifestyle, I am always supportive when someone wants to get into better shape. I think it’s great to eat cleaner and exercise more to lose weight, but only when it positively affects your health. Many of the girls here are around 80 pounds and still attempt weight loss. On top of that, they aren’t doing it in a healthy way. Jason

I can’t begin to tell you have many times I’ve been with a Chinese girl who said she was skipping a meal because she wanted to lose weight. They seem to have no concept of a food pyramid or calories. There’s no discussion of BMIs and how we should aim for healthy bodies instead of thin ones. I do what I can to encourage them, but I think they brush my comments off because as I foreigner I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been struggling to teach listening class because the textbook brings up issue after issue that I feel compelled to address. From AIDS, to fasting, to weight loss, to eating disorders, I’ve done a lot of lecturing lately. And really, whose idea was it to teach fasting as having health benefits to impressionable young girls? I am all for fasting as a spiritual discipline, but putting it forth as a good option for weight loss and to improve your health in this setting just isn’t wise.

As much as I try to lecture the students and show my genuine love and concern for them, I realize that I am only one person. I cannot change the system alone. I cannot provide adequate health education to each of my 400+ college students when my job is to teach English. There’s just too much ground to cover and not enough time. That’s when I remember that while the burden is heavy, God is strong enough to bear it.

God is in control. I am not. I am faithfully teaching and doing my part. While I feel a deep brokenness for my students, I realize that I am called to be obedient in what God has given me and that is all I can do. God can and will take care of the rest.

It’s humbling to know that I can’t just fix the problems I see. Being somewhat of a go-getter, I like to see a need and then meet it. This time, though, I have to trust that God is working. What I can do, though, is pour out the love He has filled me with and show my students that they are valuable and they are loved.

Craving Community

Community.

Fellowship.

Friendship.

People to love.

Hearts to connect.

I love it. All of it. Even the hard parts of living in community bring us closer to understanding God’s abundant, beautiful grace.

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Community is not something I think I really appreciated until recently. I remember being in college doing all kinds of dreaming and scheming about how awesome the future was going to be. I figured I’d have some good friends and a good church, but I didn’t think too much about how I’d be affected by them. My mind was more concerned with the cool places I’d visit and the neat things I’d do while serving the Lord.

The problem with my tunnel vision mindset was that I thought about doing a lot of great things for the Lord while having a strong relationship with Him, but I missed the “loving your neighbor” factor. It’s one thing to “love your neighbor” by being friendly and doing nice things. It’s another to actually know them on a deep level. I’ve grown to recognize that when Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he means to know them. Jesus wants us to pour into their lives and to experience something real.

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It’s not enough to see all these great projects you’re going to accomplish. Projects can be good, but loving people instead of projects is even better. I know I haven’t always done well with this, but I hope to change. I think God’s already been working in my heart, which is why I’m writing the post.

Back in college, I spent some time living in a house off campus with 10 other Christian girls. We were each so different, with our own interests, majors, and ministries off campus, yet we were united under one thing: Christ. I remember prior to the start of the new semester when we were all finally in the house together, we had a meeting. We talked about the mission of the house and a few of us shared verses that we felt could be part of how we’d live missionally together.

I shared John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” It’s a good verse that I’m finally starting to grasp. Even more, I love what Jesus said right before that in verse 12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” 

CommunityWhen I think back to that meeting and my heart’s intent, I think I really did want to love and serve the girls in my house. Yet, I know that I didn’t truly understand what it meant to love them – what it meant to lay down my life. Laying down our lives the way Jesus did is an act of sacrifice. It means lacking comfort and losing the right to be selfish.

I think I just didn’t “get it” the way I do now.

Now, after experiencing about six months of real, authentic fellowship back home in Iowa, I miss it. I miss the people I call friends. I miss being able to be real – to laugh together – to cry – to know they’re really praying for me – and to just be. Just doing life together is what real community is all about.

Earlier today I was just talking with a good friend about this, and he agreed, having been feeling a similar craving for community.

I think I’ve come to a place in my Christian walk where I’m less concerned with having an adventurous life and more concerned with the souls around me. At one point I had all these dreams of traveling the world and seeing all kinds of amazing places. I even figured I could do the solo backpacking thing. While I still could, I am not necessarily convinced I should.

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I’m not saying I’ve given up on having a fun life, either. When I’m in community with people, we have a whole lot of fun! That could include traveling or doing adventurous things, but I don’t want to sacrifice community for the sake of fulfilling a “bucket list” of things I do alone.

For this season in China, I am trying to live in community, even with the knowledge that my time here is temporary. I have a handful of really good friends. I am so thankful for them. Yet, there is still something I long for about the community I have back home.

This is all to say that community is good. It’s necessary. Please, embrace it.