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.

 

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.