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Shattering Self-Sufficiency

After a year of praying about transition, I made the decision four months ago to leave my life in Montana and be freshly rooted in Colorado. This decision was precipitated from a dissatisfaction in the way I had structured my life in Montana. Most of my close community had left. I was at a dead-end job. I was also excited for a “fresh start” and the freedom it gave me to reorder my life around things that were important to me. I began taking steps forward.

Right away, God provided me with a meaningful job, a place to live, and a Christian community that walks in purposeful living for Christ. For a couple months, things were smooth sailing. I felt confident that God had brought me to Colorado. At the same time, God was preparing me for what I couldn’t see. He began speaking to me about His faithfulness to me regardless of what my circumstances are.

… “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

I had never thought of contentment being something that is learned, but it seemed like God was preparing my heart to be confident in His commitment to me during seasons of lack. I think it’s easy to falsely equate material prosperity, quick-fixes, and easy circumstances with God’s favor. I do believe that God loves to bless His children with good things, but God knows that true contentment is found in Him and His will is to draw us closer to Him in every situation.

In mid-November, I tore my ACL while bouldering. Although ACL injuries are common, ACL surgeries are fairly complex and have a long recovery time. I was suddenly faced with three uncertainties:

  1. Will I lose the job I love because it requires me to be on my feet?
  2. How will I be able to pay for my medical expenses?
  3. Will my new community be willing to walk with me through my recovery?

Regardless of these uncertainties, I knew that God was still with me and for me. In an instant, I discovered how much I had been relying on myself and how deceptive of a security that was.

 

Independence, Dependence, and Interdependence 

It’s hard to see what the strengths and weaknesses of a culture are when you are immersed in it. As a young professional, I was excited for the opportunity to be self-sufficient, save, invest in my friends, pursue my dreams, and be “successful.” Not all of my intentions were bad, but I realized that a lot of my trust was in my independence and belief that I could build my own life. After my injury, I realized how shaky my foundation was. True success is in knowing Christ.

Although I do not believe that God caused me to sustain an injury, I see that He used it for His glory. I was never made to be independent. I can do nothing apart from Christ. God wants me to be fully dependent on Him.

Every morning before work, I began praying that God would give me the strength to walk. It’s easy to take the small things for granted, but there is so much of God’s grace and power evident in the little things.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only He will release my feet from the snare. (Psalm 25:15)

Then, something really beautiful happened. Two days after my accident, I arrived back to work on two crutches and knee brace. To my amazement, my coworkers surrounded me with love–empathizing with me and picking up the duties that I could not accomplish so that I would not fall behind. For two long months as I waited for surgery, my coworkers continued to take extra tasks upon themselves and I was able to do what I could and still be a part of the team.

I was also emboldened by the faith-filled prayers of my friends, who believe in God’s power and ability to heal. Throughout the journey, they expressed genuine concern about me and were always willing to encourage. A few generous friends felt led by God to give towards my medical expenses. In the end, two-thirds of my surgical cost were covered. God intends for each one of us to be interdependent on the community around us–freely giving and receiving. We won’t make it on our own. We get there together.

 

Faith and Healing

I had a roommate named Anna in college. During our time together, Anna injured her ACL. She fervently prayed and believed for God to miraculously heal her, up until the moment she was on the surgery table. She told the surgeon to perform the Lachman test one more time to make sure that she still needed surgery. Her faith has always inspired me.

I too believe and have seen God move in supernatural and inexplainable ways. The Bible tells us that “signs and wonders will follow those who believe” (Mark 16:17-18). But I began to feel conflicted between the peace that I felt from God to proceed to surgery and my desire to believe God for divine intervention. I began to wonder what faith looked like.

I think that in the past, I have tried to pigeon-hole God into intervening in the most miraculous display possible. Don’t get me wrong–I want to be a person who pushes the envelope in believing for God to move in powerful ways. I also think that it is possible to be so focused on a specific way that we desire God to move, that we can miss God’s intervention in another form. Maybe faith is believing that God will intervene on our behalf and that He will do it in the best possible way.

I do believe that God heals all the time. Miraculously. Instantaneously. Slowly. Through a community. With doctors. In this lifetime. In the next lifetime. I believe God is Healer and can move however He desires to.

On the Sunday before my surgery, I asked God to give me greater faith. Me and my roommate prayed for God to heal my ACL without surgery. As I was driving to work that morning, God gave me a realization. He opened my eyes to see all of the ways He has been faithful to meet me in my uncertainty and intervene on my behalf. I was filled with a new gratitude for my coworkers and was able to share with them that God had chosen them to be a direct answer to my prayer. God dismantled each of my three uncertainties about the future and brought me greater joy than I had at first.

And in the midst of healing, I feel whole.

 

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5 Ways to Value Others

1. Greet People

As a rule of thumb, I try to always say “Hi” and “Bye” to people as I enter or leave a space. It really doesn’t take much effort. This is important for people that we see often, like coworkers and housemates.

  • Acknowledge that there are other people around you.
  • Smile

Small things like this allow people to feel valued.

 

2. Encourage Often

My friend always says, “Eulogies are for the living.” Tell someone how much they mean to you, while you are both alive.

This is especially imperative for people in supervisory roles. Make sure that your encouragements outweigh your corrections. Don’t let your only interactions with someone be for correction. Encouragement has a way of naturally inspiring people to do things better.

When sharing an encouragement, a text is better than nothing. But why not make it more meaningful? Say it over a phone call. Or better yet, in person!

Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

 

3. Share Specific Compliments

Words can seem cheap or generic when we say phrases like, “I appreciate you,” “I love you,” or “You’re doing great.” Words stick when they are well thought through.

“I appreciate that you always notice those around you and take time to speak with them. You value people so well.”

“Thank you for getting back to me with that report so quickly. With all of the detail you put into it, I can tell that you really care about this job. You are doing great.”

When we think through the specific characteristics we like about people, we will grow in love for them and be less judgmental.

 

4. Ask People What Makes Them Feel Valued

There is no formula for loving people. People are complex. We are not mind readers. Ask people what makes a relationship meaningful to them. I’ve had friends ask me, “What are ways that you receive love?” Questions like this are very encouraging to me, because I recognize the intentionality behind it.

 

5. Be an Active Listener

Sharing and listening go hand-in-hand for building meaningful relationships. People tend to be better at one than the other, but relationships will lack depth if we camp in our natural strengths. People who are good at listening still desire to be heard. People who are good at sharing still desire to hear about others.

  • Be a patient listener. Don’t try to rush through a conversation.
  • Maintain eye contact and don’t multitask. (Stay off your phone).
  • Avoid one-word responses—instead, provide meaningful feedback.
    • Restate points that are being shared with you. It lets the person sharing know that you are tracking with them.
    • Ask clarifying questions to gain more details or allow for deeper processing. “I’m sorry you said that you were feeling anxious. Do you know what might have caused you to start feeling like that?”
  • Nod your head. Be expressive.
  • Be honest if you didn’t catch something. “Can you tell me again why your parents are moving to California?”
  • Practice shared meaning. Don’t assume what someone is trying to say. And don’t interrupt them in trying to guess what they mean. Let them fully share, and then you can clarify if you are both on the same page. “So what I’m understanding is, you are feeling dishonest because you are afraid to truly express your likes and dislikes. Is that correct?”

 

“Busy”

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It seems like “busy” is a catchword in our society.

“How was your day?”

“It was busy.”

“We should catch up sometime.”

“I don’t think I can, I’m just so busy.”

“I was planning to make it to the seminar, but my day just got so busy.”

 

But maybe being “busy” is our cover-up for poor time-management. I get it. I used to be addicted to stress. Sometimes it seems like you’re accomplishing more when you’re at the breaking point–filling up your schedule to the brim with things to do. It almost makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. My friend Natalie once gave a talk about burnout. She said:

“I used to wear burnout like a black feather boa…”

It’s easy to glamorize burnout. It’s easy to pride ourselves in how much stuff we do. But is that the correct attitude we should take? How does being busy affect ourselves and the people around us?

I believe that God has given us all of the time we need to accomplish what He has purposed for us, if we are relying in Him. Our responsibility is to manage our time correctly.

Our time IS precious. It’s good to set boundaries for ourselves. Some examples of areas where I like to guard my time are: my personal well-being, my pursuit of God, and my innermost circle of friends. These are areas of my life where I don’t want to compromise my investment. These are my “A” priorities. However, not all things in life are “A” priorities. The next question I ask myself is:

“Is it good or is it God?”

-John Bevere

It’s easy to fill up our lives with good things. The danger is not realizing our limitations and trying to meet every need—being a “yes man.” But if God hasn’t asked us to do it and we are doing it out of our own strength, our efforts will be to no avail. A Bible verse was shared with me last week at church.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
   the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
    guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
    from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
    for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Psalm 127:1-2

We are truly nothing without God. Anything done out of our own strength will not be of eternal value. It’s also important to note from this passage that God created us to both work and rest. God wants us to take care of ourselves. Or in other words, in the event of an emergency, put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. One of my favorite life principles. 🙂

Now, let’s talk about loving others. Most often, people need our love and availability at times that are inconvenient. But if we manage the constants well in our schedule, it becomes easier to make time for life’s unexpected moments. You can expect that unexpected things will happen on a regular basis. Don’t get too attached to the specifics of your schedule. Be willing to adjust for the sake of others. Managing our time efficiently gives us more time to love others well.

Time doesn’t have to be the master of us. With wisdom, we can use our time to glorify God. Here’s a quick recap:

1. Stay rooted in God. Can’t do anything without Him!

2. Be faithful to what God has called you to do and do it with excellence. (Don’t bite off more than you can chew).

3. Care for yourself well, so that you can care for others well.

4. Don’t just care about your own interests, but also the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

 

 

What is the goal?

The goal certainly isn’t building a spectacular ministry. Nor is it achieving all of our aspirations. The goal is not having our bad circumstances changed for good. The goal is not serving the community.

Perhaps I started with a bad question. Let’s try this one. Who is the goal?

Jesus is the goal–growing closer to Him. Jesus is not the means to an end, He is the end. With such a simple answer, it does seem like we are so easily distracted in keeping Jesus at the center.

The odd thing is ministries, aspirations, petitioning for changed circumstances, and serving others are neither good nor bad in themselves. They can be wonderful things born out of knowing God’s heart. But these things, in taking the place of Jesus at the center, can become the affair to our relationship with God. Anything has the potential of becoming an idol if put at the center of our lives. An idol hinders us from the full pursuit of God.

Bekky, one of my friends from this summer would always greet me with a warm embrace and ask the question, “How is your heart?” The first time she asked it, I briskly said “I’m doing well,” and put on a smile. It’s easy to be a Pharisee. It’s easy to look good on the outside and have your guard up on the inside. She kept looking at me in a way that really made me examine the weight of her question and the state of my own heart. Her question offended me because a response to it would require vulnerability. Bekky wasn’t asking what I learned at class or what happened during our village outreach, she was asking me how my relationship with Jesus was. I’m so grateful for her boldness in asking others about their ‘heart health.’ Her question has now grown to be my favorite. How wonderful it is to have a friend who cares about the state of our hearts and reminds us to keep God at the center.

This summer, God reminded me that I wasn’t created to “do things for Him,” I was created for relationship with Him. Part of me went to Africa with the mindset that God would fix my weaknesses so that He could use me more effectively for His purposes. This came from a mindset of being self-critical. God spoke to me on the plane ride back from Africa, “Christine, I didn’t bring you here to ‘fix you.’ I brought you here to be with Me, (but in my presence, of course you are changed!)” Jesus died because He desired relationship with me. I needed the reminder!

I came across this passage during my Bible reading this morning:

Matt 26:7-10 …A woman came to Him [Jesus] with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on His head as He was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

This woman had an uncompromised love for Jesus. Loving Jesus extravagantly was her goal. The disciples seemed to have been distracted by the possibilities of doing things and missed the importance of loving Jesus in the moment. Jesus saw the woman’s heart. She did a beautiful thing. May our lives be lived for the love of Jesus, Himself.

How is your heart? 🙂

 

Pain, Disappointment, and Faith

Where do pain, disappointment, and faith intersect? This is a lesson that God began to teach me a few years ago (and it’s not finished yet).

God created humans in His beautiful image. He composed us of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. I want to focus on the importance of the soul. My definition of the soul is our mind, will, and emotions.

I’m convinced that many people are taught to disregard their soul, namely their emotions. This is foolish, because it is undermining an important part of how God created us as men and women.

I’m going to walk you through part of my story–an area of my life where pain of a circumstance collided with a promise that God gave me. But first, I want to look at the character of Jesus from the story of Lazarus.

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid Him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, “See how He loved Him!”  (John 11:32-36)

Jesus embraced emotion. Melissa Helser states this beautifully, “Jesus felt emotion, but didn’t let it separate Himself from the Father.” Jesus, full of faith and aware of the outcome that Lazarus would be raised from the dead that same hour, was troubled in His soul and He wept.

Expressing grief does not equate to a lack of faith.

Being sad doesn’t negate that God is good.

Jesus perfectly expressed emotion, both occurring within Himself, and in sympathizing with others. Imagine how the story would go if Jesus was an emotion avoider…

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He repeated “stop it” in His mind to keep from crying and pretended to be unaffected by the situation. He stated, “it’s going to be OK, it’ll turn out in the end.” He then proceeded to change the subject to a happier one.

I’m glad that’s not how the story goes. Unfortunately, many people are afraid of situations like this and choose avoid the mess of emotions. But part of loving others is allowing them a safe place in our relationships to process emotion. True courage is facing pain.

This Bible passage was crucial for me in my own process of grieving. Six years ago, God spoke to me the clearest I had ever heard Him speak in my life. He told me that it was His desire to heal someone I loved deeply. I was amazed that God cared about all the details of my life. It was past my wildest dreams that He would restore this person to full health. I began weeping, and then the Holy Spirit poured a prayer of hope out of my mouth–proclaiming all of the incredible things that God had planned for this individual’s life. Things that were so far past what I could ask or imagine. I do not doubt what God spoke. It is still so clear.

As I was interacting with this individual a while back in their suffering state, I was troubled. It hurt me to see them this way. At first, I would not allow myself to feel upset because of the false presumption that expressing sorrow lessens my trust in God. Then, I stumbled upon the story of Lazarus and the Holy Spirit gave me permission to grieve. Yes, God is good. Yes, He will be glorified. But in this life we will experience pain, and God cares about how it impacts our souls. He is with us in the process.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

(Psalm 56:8)

 

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

(Psalm 51:17)