unchanging in the change

Serbz

I remember that first sharp kick of culture shock to the stomach.

~ * eveRytHing is diFferENt ! ~

(where is solid ground! what have I done! *panic*)

and I remember the first time I REALLY knew GOD IS CONSTANT. That same day.
A sharper blow than the first.

(He really IS the same.
Where I’ve been for two decades.
Where ever the heck I am right now [I was in Serbia].
Where EVER I go!
My location doesn’t change Him <how small He actually was in my own head>)

The truth I’d read and read –
“surely I am with you always”
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”
– piercing joint, marrow, blood-pumping heart.

I remember the tiny box room with no windows and three other humans that was called “home” while I lived in Manhattan. All those stairs just to get breakfast and a shower and opening the heavy building door to the MOVEMENT of millions of lives lived in a rush, and the miles of fast paced steps and hot streets and being absolutely squished between smelling humans on Subways in the noise and motion and AH.

~ HOW was I liVinG hEre?? * ~

But the same God with me.
Listening to me in the quiet of the noise, me and Him.
Hearing my whines when I was tired and only wanted some pErsOnaL sPaCE pLEase(!).
The same God singing over me in my worries of where I was going next.
The same God loving the way I was learning about love being a choice to SUFFER WITH.

And His constancy is an arrow in both directions.

Yesterday. Today. Forever.

Knowing now how He’s been with me even before I knew Him.
“I knit you in your mother’s womb.” His hands cradled tiny me even then.

“You were there. All this time. You carried me all this time.”
(How did I not know? Of course You were.)

What a joy. It’s been a clumsy joy to fail and know Him place to place to place.
To truly know “You were always there, tracing all my steps.”

And on days like today. When the next step is within view (most days EAGER and SO giddy to jump right in) but today a bit apprehensive: “what if……..[enter worry here].”

But days like today in the struggle of trusting the ever-unchanging near One… they are days I learn that same sweet piercing truth to the deeper parts of me. Good Shepherd holding my hand all the way. My soul’s satisfaction. My Reason.

here & now: J O Y. 

My heart is more-than-full of thanks, overflowing in gratitude. And I am learning that this is joy. 

Joy.

Actual tears of joy right now. What?

JOY. 

What I’ve prayed and prayed for, with fists and tears. What I imagined as a pretty-future picture in my head, too far away. What I’ve been surprised to truly know… now.

This is not a frilly, magical thing. My current status is not one that the world – nor I, usually – boast in. I am a single 23-year-old graduate from a great university, living in my old childhood bedroom in my hometown, nannying my cousins’ children to make a little living, and I’m still figuring out what my goals even are. This is my reality, and one might crumble in shame or scramble to get your ish together. (I’ve done both). 

I recently wrote a blog on my 2016 prayer, steadfastness, as well as a blog about gratitude

I am learning

God gives us seeds

little grace-seeds

tiny little gifts. 

{Dainty, plain, just-seeds.}

Gifts. 

Grace-seeds grow with nurturing

thank you thank you thank you

in all circumstances

truly, thank you, for here and now. 

Steady stem grows

deep

strong

tall

growing pains but growing

stretching to notice and embrace here and now

Firmly rooted. Here and now. 

Day by day by day

thank you for here and now

until truly thank you!!!

Bud. 

thank you. 

Blossom. 

thank you. 

Bloom. 

Thank you. 

Joy. 

I have joy in my here and now. 

Genuine joy as I hold the tiny warm hand of a mischievous, smiley boy. Genuine joy as I rock the teething, droopy-eyed babe with his head rested heavy in my palm. Boys that aren’t mine but that I genuinely enjoy spending now with. A home that I could either choose to hate or love, with a heart of ingratitude or gratitude. I want to physically embrace here and now – this gift! – with all its pros and cons. A time when I’m directionless, unsure, and don’t have social-media-bio-worthy titles to share. All of it. It is good. It really is! This is where I am now, and it is so good. Purposed. 

I’m a fighting-to-be-joyful single 23-year-old, choosing daily to embrace the good gift of here and now, this season of unknowing and not-sure. Not longing for the past, not looking to the future. Looking here and now and seeing the beauty of God where I am. True joy is knowing him in the present. No resentment. No hoping-in other future what-if’s. God and me, present tense.

God and me, here & now. The God who came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life: life abounding in the fullness of joy. Life redeemed: past- mercy on me, judgement on Christ; future- promised eternity with my Creator; here and now: being saved from a heart of ingratitude, to a heart that worships God and knows his real goodness. 

Grace gives root to gratitude and brings joy to life. God gives joy. And the truth to nourish it to life.

Thank you, God, for a beautiful process of an answered prayer for steadfastness.

ungrateful/grateful

thank you.

giving thanks. Offering a heart that is thankful. Thank-full. Full of thanks. Offering a heart that contains thanks and is full to the brim with gratitude, bursting with thank you’s.

it is an action. To give thanks. An action chosen. An action chosen with furrowed brow relaxing, fists opening. An action chosen when stomach jumps, knees bend to jump, grimace turns wide grin, focus lifts from below to above. 

it is an action that leads to joy. It is an action that is chosen that leads to joy. A chosen action leading to joy.

Furrowed brow relaxing

Fists opening

Bent knees jumping

Grimace upward turning

Focus lifting

relaxing. opening. jumping. turning. lifting. 

The chosen action of giving thanks leads to joy. 

Furrowed brow

Fists

Bent knees

Grimace

Lowered focus

To choose to give thanks in all things is to choose to see the grace in all things. To believe there is grace in all things. The gift of grace. To voice a thank you. Whisper it in all circumstances til your voice hoarse and dry can voice it, shout it, sing it. Rejoice

Rejoice

Rejoice

Joy. 

the fruit of  s t e a d i n e s s

This year – 2016 – my prayer has been that God would grow me in steadiness. It was a prayer that I decided to continually ask of God after experiencing the first few months or so of post-grad life. What I knew of post-grad life to that point was that everything was ever-changing. I had moved to Asheville, a new city. I was no longer a student; I was somehow an adult. And that transition of identity, in a sense, was an unexpected one. Circumstances changed frequently. Jobs changed. I was part of a new church plant, so even my church family was ever-changing from week to week as we grew and became established. Nothing was constant. Only change was constant. And I was a mess.

I was up – anxious – and I was down – depressed – and I longed for my circumstances to be predictable, in my control, and easy. Even my awareness of my unsteady responses upset me. I was a true mess.

Winter 2016 came, and I was somehow a messier mess. As soon as I thought circumstances were predictable, something else would change. As I realized more how out-of-my-control everything was, I would sit in despair and pity. I continued praying that God would please grow me to be steady. He being my only Constant, I wanted to be like Him in a new way: steady. I believed He was making me steady. I couldn’t see the fruit of it yet. Others certainly couldn’t either. I was self-conscious, knowing that those closest to me knew how much of a mess I was. How could I be growing steady? But I noticed how trees in the winter are bare, but still alive. They’re rooted deep enough that come Spring, they will blossom. Leaves and flowers will be seen and enjoyed again.

And I felt bare like a tree. I felt vulnerable. People could see my bare-tree, vulnerable self. Depressed and anxious and unpredictable. People saw me. Trees in the winter are ugly and naked. I felt that way. But I started to believe there was beauty in that. Like, pruning. The bare mountain trees were actually beautiful. They stood strong, firmly rooted.

God was pruning me. Breaking me down. Allowing me – and others – to see my sin and selfishness. I wasn’t trusting Him. I wasn’t trusting that He is in control, and that is good. I wanted control. I needed control to be steady. I needed to have steady circumstances and be able to know what lies ahead of me, so that I could be steady. But this was a lie. Rooted in unpredictable circumstances, I was not bearing steady fruit.

When summer came, I went to New York City to partner with a church there for the summer. What hit me in the face while I was there – what God revealed to my growing spiritual sight and I could not avoid – was that SUFFERING IS GOOD. Day after day, I came to circumstances where I wanted to choose myself. I wanted to do what was preferable and easier. I didn’t want to do the difficult tasks, and I wanted to quit. Over and over, I would see this, but now with the awareness that SUFFERING IS GOOD. This is a chance to partake in the sufferings of Christ – which will grow me into His likeness! Day after day, I was faced with choices – will I choose to love myself, or will I choose to love my neighbor.

Loving your neighbor. I learned that this is HARD. And it’s GOOD! Suffering is good!!! Hard AND good. 

I read The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes this summer, and if I could quote the whole book right now, I would. Go read it! WELL worth the two bucks.

Sibbes smacked me in the face this summer. But dang. It was a good slap. I painfully read more and more on suffering in the New Testament and from Elisabeth Elliot (who officially disciples me these days), and Spurgeon and Oswald and others, and I begged God to help me CHOOSE to love, CHOOSE to suffer, and to suffer GLADLY.

“I now REJOICE in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church”

This bit from Paul in Colossians… It’s just a tiny bit of the ABUNDANCE of examples of the people of God who have learned the value of suffering. Pruning. Breaking down. Suffering brings opportunity to grow! Opportunity to rid of self and root deeper and grow more fruitful in Christ. 

Trusting God is against our nature. Hard. Not easy. It makes for an unpredictable, constantly changing life when I choose to trust Him instead of me. But I’ve seen that life is also unpredictable and constantly changing and hard when I choose me instead of trusting Him. Trusting Him – the Almighty one whose embrace is everlasting and brings this crazy sense of true security – is GOOD. He is the firm foundation to grow deeper roots in.

So it’s fall now. And leaves are starting to change color and fall down. In the past, I’ve seen this as dying trees, and I always dread the coming winter and never enjoy fall or winter. This fall, though, I am enjoying the weather, trees, and dying leaves like never before!!! THERE IS BEAUTY IN DYING. I’m learning this.

Die to yourself. CHOOSE to trust the Trustworthy One. Loosen your grip. Trust. 

My circumstances have continued to change. I’m in a city that I didn’t expect to be living in: my hometown. And I still don’t know what my next step is. I have moments when I worry or freak out because I don’t have a solid plan or my plan falls through. I have moments when I have a pity party because my circumstances differ from others’. And daily, I’m having to choose to trust Him. And when I trust Him, I am freed from worry and selfishness; I am freed to love outside of me. I’m freed to love people which inherently means suffering. To love other people is to suffer. And it’s good!

God has been answering my prayer for steadiness by breaking me down so that I’ll loosen my own selfish grip and choose to trust Him who is better, constant, and true. Trusting Him means being rooted deeper and deeper into Him. The fruit that the Vinedresser and Vine bring forth in me – for it is truly a work of GOD – is steadiness. And thankfulness. Thankfulness for Christ who is my Life. Thankfulness for knowing Him more because He has granted me suffering.

Father to the fatherless

I’m often asked here what my favorite thing about New York is. I still haven’t found an answer, or at least an answer that they may be asking for. The truth is, I don’t love New York. It’s overwhelming, it’s busy, it’s fast, it’s loud, it’s dirty, it smells bad, it’s different. I would choose to be in the mountains of Asheville in a heartbeat. I miss the mountains and hiking and everything green.

To be honest, I’m surprised that I don’t love New York. In past experiences, I’ve loved cities. I love culture and interacting with people from different cultures than mine, and that is in abundance here! Many had predicted that I would love New York. But again, I don’t really love it. In a sense, the people and city of New York has failed by expectations.

Being in a busy, unfamiliar setting that often (often!) overwhelms me has thankfully driven me into the everlasting arms of my Abba Father who patiently loves me when I want my own way.

And He’s giving me vision. Vision for people.

People like Pellé, an angry neighbor who shouts against Jesus to all of 72nd Street that will listen. An angry neighbor who longs to be heard, known, loved, but isn’t heard, known, and loved by people. People have failed him.

People like Jason, a homeless deaf man whose Social Security has fallen through and who SSI quickly dismisses because he doesn’t have a verbal voice to plead his case, so he waits. A friendly man who signs “Good Morning!” to the thousands of people who pass him and don’t hear his story. People have failed him.

People whose names I don’t know. The neighbor we can’t see, because they’re on the second floor of buildings, behind shut doors, surrounded with cameras. The neighbor we can’t see who was promised something they longed for – be it attention or money or love – but was failed and beat down, powerless, her body exploited for one man’s pleasure and another man’s profit. People have failed her.

When I look at this city in its overwhelming, busy, fast, loud, dirty, smelly, different – and might I add dark – ways, God is showing me people. People seeking Him who don’t know they are seeking Him. For He is the one who hears, loves, and knows us. He is the One who fights for us and brings justice, who provides perfectly for us. He is the one who rescues us from trouble. He never fails us. 

I’m seeing lost children made in the image of God, looking for the things their Father perfectly provides. I’m seeing lost children made in His image who have been failed because they look for these things outside of God Himself. I’m seeing lost children made in God’s image who have been deceived into thinking God is someone who He isn’t, because their vision has been tainted by the people who have failed them…leading their hearts to say, “How could God be a Father who is good?”

I’m seeing lost children walking around fatherless, away from their Father.

So pray with me.

Pray for the lost children in New York, in the ways they’ve truly been failed and in their rebellious run from He who never fails. Pray that God would be lifted up high, seen, known, and glorified as the Abba Father He is. Pray that the people of New York would know that Jesus has, in love, stepped down from His throne of glory, lived a perfect life for them, died the death they themselves earned and deserved, and was resurrected to life eternal in glory beside of our Father, that they would raise to life eternal in glory with the Father! Pray that the Holy Spirit of God would give them vision to see that through Jesus they have a restored relationship with their forever Father who never fails! 

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 1 John 3: 1-3

Resting in a restless city

Week three in the city, and I am finally starting to get adjusted to living here. (They say it takes three weeks to create a habit). I had a blog post that I was working on for week 2 but – being in the midst of getting adjusted to how fast-paced everything is, how to get from place to place, and how to do everything in cramped spaces and with constant noise – I was pretty overwhelmed as I experienced hardcore culture shock, and my attempt at “week 2 blog” was mostly an overflow of how different everything is and how overwhelmed I felt. Thankfully, I decided to take a step back from writing and rest a little extra instead. 

It has, indeed, been an overwhelming couple of weeks. Lots and lots to take in, and little time (and space) to process it all, learn, and rest. And so, God is teaching me a lot lately about….. (wait for it)……. Rest!

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that God’s command for us to rest is an actual command. (Like, it sits between “you shall have no other gods before me” and “you shall not murder”). So this is a great realization for me. I’m realizing that God commands me to rest and that it is good to obey this command. While we find our salvation and the fulfillment of the law in Jesus, these commands are from God and they are good. Rather than being a list of “important rules,” God has our best interest in mind in commanding His people to do and not do certain things. It is good not to steal, it is in our best interest not to commit adultery, it is loving of Him to tell us not to covet. He has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, is sanctifying us for Himself through Jesus, and He’s given us His Spirit that we may be able to (and want to) obey His good commands. 

God gives the command of rest – of keeping the Sabbath day – that we may remember and enjoy Him. If I don’t set aside the time to rest each day and each week, I will not be taking the time to remember that I am not God, to remember that the world is not in my hands but in His, and to enjoy my relationship with God (which is what is restored through Jesus!).

Right now, I am learning how to even do this. I’m identifying what “work” is in my life, and I’m learning to prioritize ceasing from these things in the midst of a world that keeps working (namely, in “the city that never sleeps”). It’s in these times of rest, that I’ll be able to remember that this mission that I’ve been sent on is God’s mission rather than mine (what a humbling truth!). It’s in these times of rest that I’ll realize that the world does indeed keep moving, and that I’m not the all-powerful One in control. I can rest and depend anew on the One who’s sovereign and who sent Jesus on my behalf that I may depend again upon Him alone. It’s in these times that I will enjoy my relationship with my Abba Father, and that I will be refreshed by the truth of His word, praising Jesus for who He is. This is a much better state to be in while living out the mission of God every day. Not just here in New York, but everywhere and for all of God’s people.

If you would like to listen or read more on this, I’ve found these especially helpful:

I would love to talk more about this with anyone who would like to! I’m learning more about this a day at a time, as well as how to actually do it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you are learning.

I trust that the One who gives His beloved sleep will continue to teach each of us the way in which to work and how to rest and just enjoy/remember Him.

welcome to New York!

After a day full of traffic, travel, running to catch the next flight, learning how to taxi and zooming through buildings upon buildings upon buildings, Mallory and I made it to our new home in New York on Friday night around 11:00pm. Lots of new and lots of exhaustion hit us real hard and all at once. But. I was truly thankful (and blown away!) that night by the incredible supply of steadiness and bravery by the Spirit in us. Eleven at night, sweaty, exhausted, and beyond sensory overload, we find that our new home is a 10×10 room with 2 other roommates. So our task that night was to unpack our clothes which were puzzle pieces that we strategically found places for. (PTL that Mallory and I are real close after a year of life together, because we be sharin’ all of our space together).
So, yes. Culture shock + insane exhaustion. But met with incredible endurance not of our own shower- and sleep-craving selves. (We did finally get to do both of those things, and we were very, very grateful).

Saturday was orientation day! We met the other 20 MNYBA interns who will be partnering with various church plants and ministries throughout the city this summer. These are the people we will be sharing a building and resting with after long days. Like a family, we will be going out to different places each day but coming back together and sharing a common space and being known together. It’s been incredible to see how we’ve all bonded very quickly and meshed together like a family because of the common Spirit in each of us. Orientation included a scavenger hunt through the 5 boroughs of New York, so that brought lots of bonding time, learning the public transportation system, as well as gratefulness for our beds again that night. 

Sunday I met the Church I will be serving with this summer: New City Church! They planted in Queens in the Spring of 2014. I loved worshipping together with them and the warmth of getting to know one another. 

Yesterday – Monday – I had the day off, and I decided to join my college ministry in Queens as they spend the week here, prayer-walking and sharing the Gospel. Wow. What an encouraging day! This was a great unexpected gift. Not only did I get to see familiar faces and hug people I know while I’m in a new, unfamiliar city; I also got to meet so many new students who are a new generation of disciples who have heard the Gospel through my friends who I was in ministry with during college, and who are being transformed by the power of the Gospel! I asked one student how he got connected to Summit College this year (his freshman year). He mentioned a friend of mine from college and said, “he is the first person who ever told me that I am intimately loved by God.” Gosh. What’s incredible is that I watched my friend realize this same truth! How beautiful it is to see God’s love & truth touch people’s hearts and change them, and to see it continue to transform others through them. 

I’m learning again how worthy God is. I’m learning again that sharing God with the world is our mission, yes, but it is a delight! When we know that we have a Father who truly delights in us and loves when we run to Him, it becomes our joy to share who Jesus is with our lost brothers and sisters, and to plead on their behalf for God to rescue them from darkness and the lies of this world. 

Be encouraged, sister or brother. You are greatly delighted in by our Father who promised to save us through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection despite our rebellion or anything of us. You are so deeply and intimately loved. I pray that this gives you great joy and satisfaction in Him!