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A Life Well Lived

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“Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Psalm 103:1-5 (nkjv)

Ten years ago, a kind-hearted man with a deep Southern accent joined our family when he married my Grandmother. Since the first time I met ‘Papa Vern’ Whittaker, he loved talking about  the Lord and his love for Grandmom. He would most always have a smile on his face and his U.S. Army cap on his head. These few words can hardly do justice to the testimony of a man who loved God whole-heartedly.

Papa Vern went on to join Jesus in Paradise this past weekend, after a long week of being in the hospital and then hospice care. This week has been filled with a mixture of tears and laughter for me.

I am sad because we will miss him; that he won’t be around for our family get-togethers anymore. I am really sad that he will not be at my wedding in February. I’m sad that the time he spent in my life went by too fast.

In spite of all this, the happy memories and all the things I am thankful for outweigh the sorrows a million to one.

I’m thankful for the many, many times I saw him make my grandmother so happy. I’m thankful for the time I got to spend with them tagging along on a cruise to Alaska in 2012. I’m thankful for the way he loved each person in our family just as they were, and prayed faithfully for every one. I’m thankful for the laughter we all shared in the hospital at different times this week – with his singing and telling stories. I’m thankful that he is no longer in pain or suffering from the cancer.

He told me in the hospital last week how proud he was to call me his granddaughter. There are no other words that could have filled my heart as much as those did.

God is good. All the time. God is good.

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How Long?

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How long will you cling to your failures?
How long will you beat yourself up for the mistakes you’ve made?
How long will you hide yourself away from being loved?
How long will you hold on to the heartaches of the past, not allowing yourself to heal?

When will you finally let go of the control you don’t have over your life?
When will you surrender your heart to the One who created it?
When will you ask for forgiveness and allow yourself to be forgiven?
Is today the day?

You tell yourself, “I’m not good enough; not strong enough. I don’t have the faith; the courage; the ability to change; fill in the blank….”

“How could God still love me? Why would he, when I can’t even love myself?”

You push God away, thinking there could be no way, not for you at least. Not today. Maybe one day when you finally get it together. Maybe after you become a better person or when your life starts to head in the ‘right’ direction. Maybe for someone else, who isn’t as screwed up as you….

He could love the worst of the worst, yet you think you’re worse than that.

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 5:31-32

Beloved, if you find yourself in this place, don’t wait another day. Don’t fool yourself into believing that somehow things will get better, or that you can fix whatever mess you find yourself in. You don’t have to carry your burdens any longer (whether they be sin, guilt, shame, loneliness, worry, doubt, etc.).

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, he died for you – for your sins and for the sins of the world.

When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, it was for you – to give you life; to give you hope; so that you could be forgiven.
And so that you could really live, no longer for yourself, but rather for His joy and glory.

So how long? 

All you have to do is ask Him – for whatever it is you’re needing. But along with that, you have to be willing to surrender – whatever you’re holding on to (your dreams, your failures, your future, your relationships, your whole life) – to your Faithful Creator.

Is today the day? We aren’t promised tomorrow.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.
Isaiah 40:8

Don’t Pretend they’re Strawberries

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How many times have you ever asked someone how they are and you get the, “I’m fine” response, even when you can tell that something is wrong? Have you ever given someone that same answer, covering up so as not to expose your weaknesses to people?
I know I have.

Our first instinct always seems to be to hide ourselves away, to not let anyone see our pain or failures or insecurities. Nowadays there are lots of posts, articles and programs geared toward making one’s self ‘better’ by disguising real life and heart problems through changing looks, diet, schedule, motivations, or by covering it up with makeup or surgery to hide the fact that not everything in life is always peachy. And we as humans tend to buy into the lie that if we don’t have it all together or if our lives aren’t perfect that we’re somehow inferior to others who (appear as though they) do. Some hide behind their money or a smiling picture on Facebook; others behind a mask of self-confidence or the classic “I’m fine” to their friends; while others hide behind bottles that drown their sorrows or behind closed doors where nothing and no one can get through. Even in our churches, we hide our weaknesses, for fear of being thought of as “less Christian” or “unholy” by our fellow believers.

Why is this?

Maybe it’s for fear of rejection or being misunderstood that we put masks on to hide our imperfections. Maybe it’s because we see ourselves as not being good enough for someone to actually care. Maybe it’s because of a rejection or betrayal in the past. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid to change or don’t know how. Maybe it’s because we see others around us who look like they’ve got it all together and we don’t want to be compared. Maybe we don’t want to be a burden on someone else. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid of letting people in. Maybe it’s because we know if we start crying we may not be able to stop. Maybe it’s the fear that God couldn’t possibly love us anymore. Maybe it’s for a different reason.

While being real means opening up ourselves to more hurt or vulnerability, being open and honest gives us more ways to connect with other hurting souls. Pretending that life is all roses puts walls between us and others who are in the midst of the thorns. It prevents us from helping each other. It keeps us from being able to offer support or encouragement. It means carrying the weight of our owns burdens, rather than sharing (and lightening) the load.

So easily, we buy into the lie that tells us if we make ourselves vulnerable, people will lose respect for us. They will think things about us, or judge us unfairly, or reject us. We think that if we can control things that show on the exterior (our words, actions, appearance, etc.), then we will be able to control what’s going on in our minds, heart and thoughts. But no one can change themselves. Not for the better at least.

If you’re living your life for God – does it really matter what others think? So what if they see your tears? So what if they have their own opinions of you because you express a need for support? So what if you’re not perfect – and if people know it? Will the opinions of others change your decision to fully commit to trusting your Creator – even when you’re broken in the process?

And what if we go to church, or our jobs, or the mall and we pretend that we’re fine when people ask? What if we try to contain our tears behind the wall of a forced smile and don’t share the hard things we’re dealing with? Things like broken hearts, suicide, sickness and health issues, worries about our families, brokenness, loneliness, feelings of despair, worries about jobs or finances, the death of a loved one or even just having a bad day. What good does it do for us or the people around us to pretend that we’re “fine”?

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My life has changed drastically in the past month and a half. It started with the decision to surrender my life back to Jesus Christ. With that came a whole new outlook on my life and the way I was living it vs. the way I should be living. And so a chapter (one of my own selfish ruin) has closed, and a new chapter is being written in the story of my life.

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

But that doesn’t make life easy. Living for one’s own selfish ambitions only leads to heartache, brokenness and distance between you and God (and sometimes others).
One cannot go on doing the same things and expecting a different result.

So hard things have to be done. Changes have to be made. Repentance and forgiveness has to be sought after. And it can be really, really hard. Hard to give up the things which were once considered so important (by my own standards). Hard to die to self in order to become like Christ. Hard to forgive myself for wasted time.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of my life changes, as that matters so little in comparison to the hope for our lives that is made available to all through the Lord Almighty.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness though our knowledge of him
who called us by his own glory and goodness. 

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises,
so that through them you may participate in the divine nature,
having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness;
and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control;
and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 
and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective
and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,
forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
2 Peter 1:3-9

It is so reassuring to know that, through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for me, I have been forgiven, made new, and I am loved immensely by my Faithful Creator. And although it’s hard to even fathom sometimes, I can cling to the hope that my life is worth the living (every. single. day.) because He Lives, and He holds my future in his hands. He knows my hopes and my dreams, and He is working in my life today to prepare me for the future.

With all this being said, some days can still be plain ol’ hard.

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Sometimes it feels like we’re all alone in the fight to pursue holiness, or like we’re by ourselves in the middle of the trials of this life. One thing I realize the more I share the victories and struggles in my life – I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one who’s ever felt alone, or confused. Or had a broken heart or dreams that weren’t meant to be. I’m not the only one who’s ever struggled to find meaning in my life, or been broken by the hurtful actions of others. I’m not the only one who has said or done things that I regret. I’m not the only one who has gotten trapped in a web of lies and/or sin. I’m not alone in my daily walk with God. And we’re not meant to go it alone or close ourselves off from others.

In Acts chapter 2, the writer tells of how the “believers were together and had everything in common” (2:44). They sold their possessions, shared meals, praised God and worshiped together. They were the Church to each other. They didn’t keep to themselves and go on living their separate lives, hoping things would get better or that their problems would go away. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t always have meetings together that were happy and joyful every time. These were people who heard the Gospel message and had to repent for the forgiveness of their sins. They weren’t perfect people, and their lives didn’t automatically become perfect just because they decided to believe in Jesus. They still had to go through the process of changing their lives (just like the 12 disciples did when they followed Jesus). But they went through it together.

The letters that were written by Paul, Peter and John weren’t just written to individuals who were struggling on their own. They were written to the Church – the body of believers! In order that they could work through the things that kept them from being wholly devoted to following Jesus – together! That’s what the Church (all the believers) is for – for spurring each other on in our walks with God, for carrying each others burdens, for accountability and encouragement through the Word of God. No one is supposed to go through life pretending to be “ok”!

So my challenge for you (and for me) is to start being real. And not just when you’re by yourself, having alone time with God. Get involved in a small group (I did last week). Find an accountability or Bible study partner. Open up to someone you can trust who inquires about how you’re doing. You never know what opportunities will come up for you to share (or to be encouraged by another’s story). And you don’t know what you can do for someone else by being open. It might even save someone’s life.

If life has handed you lemons, don’t pretend that they’re strawberries
and try to convince everyone around you of that.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled 
so that you can pray.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others,
faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.
If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides,
so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.
Amen.

2 Peter 4:7-11

 

Are You Carrying Rocks Around?

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In Outdoor Ed, we teach a geology unit, where students learn to identify common rocks and minerals found in Missouri. We then take them up to an old tailings pile (from what used to be a mine) for the kids to dig and find/identify rocks, and they are allowed to keep some of the samples they find.

We encourage them to find galena (state mineral of Missouri), calcite, limonite (pipe iron), quartz and many others that generally have some sort of value associated with them. Some of the most common and most abundant rocks are sandstone and limestone, which (at times) can be pretty to look at, but are so commonplace and have zero inherent value. Yet the kids get so excited when they find it and they try to collect large samples (of heavy, plain rock) to carry back with them.

They carry worthless rocks, thinking it will benefit them!

Almost every time, after lugging around those rocks, they finally give up and toss them to the side. But at that point, they’ve wasted most of the activity time and don’t get the chance to find anything else successfully.

It makes me chuckle to myself when I see this, but how often do we do that with things in our lives that have no value or eternal worth? We get so stuck not only on searching for and hoarding things that make us temporarily happy or satisfied, but we also hold on to what we think is important or worthy of our time & energy, not realizing what we’re missing out on. Sometimes we do this even after we’re told that “it’s just sandstone.”

Instead of investing the time and effort to find small quantities of things that will give us learning experience, or the true satisfaction of having learned to collect something meaningful, we sell ourselves short by having a “gimme” attitude. We settle for big ‘ok’ finds rather than persevering to find the great ones.

Now, I can’t say what those ‘rocks’ in your life are, or more importantly what the things with value are in your life. But I know in mine, there is a clear difference, like black vs. white or right vs. wrong.

So it’s time to take heed of the teachings which we know and have been taught. It’s time to throw away the ‘rocks’ or burdens of sin in our lives and seek after the things which will truly bring life and happiness and peace. It’s time to empty our hands of the things we once held so tightly to and empty our pockets of the dirt, dust and pebbles that have accumulated over time. We certainly can’t assume or keep pretending that those rocks (however great or small) will not become stumbling blocks to us later on.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith,
let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.
And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 

Hebrews 12:1

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.

 

I’ve been Shaken

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Open my eyes and help me see
There’s a world outside of me
I’m no different, I want to make a difference tonight

The words don’t always come out right
And I don’t normally cry
But you didn’t see the look in her eyes

I’ve been shaken from my head on down to my toes
Lord, use me, take me where You want me to go
I can’t help it, my heart has been replaced with a face
I’m ready, these hands are dedicated to change

~ Hawk Nelson, Shaken (2009)

Listened to this song yesterday and it got me thinking back to my Manila trip last year. There was a great photo of me (taken by another volunteer) of me holding a sweet child on one of the feedings we went to. She was clinging to me when I was walking around carrying her, yet I don’t even know her name or age (she wouldn’t tell me it and neither would any of the other kids there). But she wasn’t the one who stole my heart.

There’s a child named Anarea (ah-nah-REH-ah), whose story and photo I can’t post online, but who captured my heart while I was staying at the KIM base. All she ever wanted was to be pushed on the swing set or sit next to me and watch videos of herself and the other kids on my camera. She would yell “Tita!” (aunt) to me across the yard until I came over to her. My favorite video of her got lost somehow when I was transferring photos to a drive to bring back.

Maybe I’ll never see her again, but this is the child I think of and pray for often, who shook my world and planted a seed of love in me for the children in the world who are often looked over or abandoned, or who may have stories similar to hers. She is a child of God and I will always love her.

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This post is about Jesus (and my tattoos)

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Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
1 John 5:5

I know the subject of tattoos can be a very controversial subject matter. I don’t mean to offend anyone by having them or discussing them, and I understand if you might not agree with them.
But bear with me, cause I am going to explain the thought process behind a few of mine.

I have always had a sort of fascination with ink (tattoos). The way they look, the ideas they can represent, the expression of the individual. They work as conversation starters, an easy way to find something in common with someone else, even if they don’t have tattoos. They give me a way to share my story without having to say it. And I just really enjoy having them. The tattoos I describe here are not the first tattoos I got, nor are they the only ones, but they are the most recent.

This past Monday, I went to St. Louis to get some more ink work done on my arm. Prior to this trip, I had already gotten a world map around my left upper arm, and then a person parachuting down over the map (on my shoulder).

I got the globe design in early 2016 shortly after I returned from my trip to Manila, Philippines, which was a very eye-opening experience.  The world map represents my love for travel and serves as a reminder for me that beyond my little bubble and my own self – there is a whole world that needs to know and love Jesus too.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

The parachute was done a couple of weeks after I went skydiving for the first time last summer. It was absolutely amazing(!!!), and if I could do it at least once a week, I would without hesitation. Being able to see the world (or at least part of it), floating around the clouds, the wind in your face and hair — there’s nothing like it. Being able to fly (even just for a couple of minutes) is exhilarating, breath-taking and 110% more than worth it.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Earlier this week, I was reading 1st John 4-5, and there’s a section in chapter 5 where John talks about loving God and following his commands. You can’t have one without the other, they go hand in hand. When we love God, we also must love others and none of this can happen without believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God – the only Saviour of the world. These thoughts and some thoughts that I had shared in a previous blog post were the basis for the ‘inspiration’ of the newest additions to my arm.

To fill the space between/around the parachute and the earth tattoos, there were added: 3 mountains, pine trees and a lamppost.

The three mountains are toward the inner part of my arm, and they represent several things to me. The largest of the three mountains is in the middle, and on the top of that mountain is a cross. The mountain represents Everest, the top of the world, or the Summit of my hopes and dreams. Jesus has already conquered them all. And by believing in him, I can conquer them too.

This is love for God: to obey his commands.
And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.
This is the victory
that has overcome the world, even our faith.
Who is is that overcomes the world?
Only the one that believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:3-5

The pine trees remind me of 2 things: Alaska and Isaiah 55. The pine forests on the Alaskan coast were my favorite thing about my brief trip there. They smell so good, the air is so clean & fresh, and they are just so beautiful. And as God promises in Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst
into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”

Isaiah 55:9-13

On one side of the parachute (on the outer part of my arm) there is a lit-up lamppost in the midst of the pines. This also represents 2 things: Narnia (my favorite book series) and the lamp that lights my path (God’s Word, the Bible).

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalm 119:105

 

Most people don’t ever want to sit and talk about (or listen to) the meanings or thoughts behind the ink, but I think that can be one of the easiest ways to get to know the person that has them. That doesn’t mean that every single tattoo has some deep meaningful purpose though, cause honestly some of mine are there just cause I like them. And if you’ve made it this far through my post and still disagree with my decision(s) to get tattoos, that’s ok by me; I just hope it gave you an idea of the whys behind the ink. I love them and I’m never going to regret them.

My Trek towards Holiness

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If I could write out the story of my life from the past 10 years or so onward, it would be a repeating trend of me trying to find or make my own path, my own decisions and then always, always eventually making my way back to the foot of the cross of Jesus.

So many times I tried – to chart my own course, to blaze my own trail that would lead me to my ‘Summit’ – my happiness, the things I really want in life, like peace (with myself and with God) and a meaningful existence.

And so many times I found myself broken, hurting, unsatisfied, crying out to the God who saves me time and time again.

My trek towards Holiness started around age 8 or 9, when I first decided to ask Jesus into my heart. Although I don’t doubt my childlike sincerity, I didn’t really start following Christ until I was in high school. At some point along the way, I decided life wasn’t worth living, that following God was pointless. I chose to turn my back on the Truth I grew up knowing and learning, like giving up the basic skills and trainings when you get to a tough spot in mountaineering. Why would you do that? But one summer God got a hold of my stubborn heart and told me, “I have a purpose and a plan for your life.” And I believed him.

Right up until the struggle got real again, this time a couple of years after college. I knowingly, and willfully said, “Adios” to the Creator of my soul and decided I knew what was best for my life, or at the very least could figure it out on my own. I made wrong decisions. I hurt myself and others on my downhill slide to nowhere. I kept on choosing what I knew wasn’t God’s best for my life and fooled myself into thinking I could still make my life worth it, that I could obtain my goal.

In the past few months, there have been some snow slide events that made the ice field I was already on even more unstable.Yet I still decided that I could meander what was left of the route I had been traveling. When the avalanche of last weekend happened, I was forced to stop and re-evaluate. My world was shaken – because what I thought could never overtake me – had manifested itself and hit me out of nowhere.

The realization of what hit me is that I can’t keep living this way – for myself. I can’t keep buying into the lie that my inadequacies and shortcomings are the only way to make it to the summit. I can’t get myself there and I can’t pretend that my decisions in the present will not affect my future.

I have to make a change somewhere.

So this isn’t me saying that I’m somehow good, or that life is great (cause it’s not). At this point I don’t even have a noteworthy view. I’m not spelling out the changes that will have to be made in my life in the immediate future (although I’m working on an ‘action plan’), and I’m not claiming to have had an “aha” moment where suddenly my life is drastically different.

But what I am doing is realizing that I cannot continue my life trek towards Holiness unless I look continually to my holy, perfect and loving Guide. I cannot understand the mountain, or the proper techniques for combating temptations, such as succumbing to the cold or the terrain that looks stable, without studying and consulting the Guidebook for direction. I cannot go another step without Prayer, which should be like breathing in bottled oxygen – it’s a necessity for a weak heart such as my own.

So that’s where I’m starting my Trek. On a new path. With a hurting heart that needs the Healer, and the courage of a novice who is learning once more to trust wholeheartedly in the One who directs my steps.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:5-9

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as he is pure.”
1 John 3:1-3

*as a side note, I’ve been reading a bunch in the past couple weeks about the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster, so if you notice references to mountain climbing, that’s kinda why*