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Monday, July 6, 2020

Faith to be strong


As I sit here drinking my London fog tea, I feel how the normalcy within my own life is encircled by a country and world that are shifting into something incredibly unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  I want to pretend that nothing has happened and that I am safely tucked away in my bubble of a life, but I can’t ignore reality anymore.  Whether or not America returns to some replication of the past normal that we knew, it seems safe to say that COVID and the following unrest has impacted us all in such a way as to leave a permanent impression.  


Life has changed in so many ways in a very short amount of time, shaking who we are as a community, state, country.  Suddenly I long to have the old America back—the one I grew up knowing.  The one I didn’t appreciate nearly enough.  For the first time, the imaginative picture of my life as an American has become unstable.  For the first time, I don’t know what to imagine America being like in months (much less years) from now.  

Although this situation is so different from any past experience I’ve had, it feels somewhat like déjà vu.  The oppressive darkness, seeming hopelessness, and chronic uncertainty are familiar antagonists that bring me back to one desperate heart cry: “Give us faith to be strong; give us strength to be faithful. This life is not long, but it's hard.”  Sometimes I feel so vividly that life is not long, but it is indeed hard…sometimes much harder than I feel prepared to undertake.  But when I remember to cry out for faith and strength that is not my own, God is there.  In the complex difficulty of life: God.  Capable of filling us with faith and strength even when all circumstances indicate otherwise: God.  
We may be fragile and weak, but our God is not.  Whatever happens is carefully held in His hands, everything occurring for a perfect purpose.   That is the truth I have to pour over myself when I begin to fear for America, my family, my future.  I do not cry out to an empty, helpless void, but to a God who can empower me to defy the impossible by finding peace amidst chaos.  

Give us faith to be strong
Father, we are so weak
Our bodies are fragile and weary
As we stagger and stumble to walk where you lead
Give us faith to be strong

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong

Give us peace when we're torn
Mend us up when we break
This flesh can be wounded and shaking
When there's much too much trouble for one heart to take
Give us peace when we're torn

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong

Give us hearts to find hope
Father, we cannot see
How the sorrow we feel can bring freedom
And as hard as we try, Lord, it's hard to believe
So, give us hearts to find hope

Give us faith to be strong
Give us strength to be faithful
This life is not long, but it's hard
Give us grace to go on
Make us willing and able
Lord, give us faith to be strong
Give us peace when we're torn
Give us faith, faith to be strong

-Andrew Peterson


Monday, April 13, 2020

Run toward peace

“One day the coronavirus will be in history books, and we’ll get to say we lived through it!”  This is what my friends and I talk about these days.  For one, there’s not much else to talk about at the moment; and two, I guess this is how we reassure ourselves about our chance at being famous when we aren’t really going to be famous.  

The coronavirus seems to be the topic of the year as it suddenly blasts apart everything we knew as “normal life.”  I’ve discovered that I had kind of expected my life and the world around me to maintain some sort of stability and predictability…then came the coronavirus, reminding me that life is totally not predictable and that I need to be constantly prepared to peacefully ride out whatever life throws at me.

Easier said than done, right?  A lot of people in the world today struggle with anxiety, and COVID-19 has seemed to compound that issue.  Understandably so because everything about life has drastically changed for the majority and every day is a wondering game of how life will shift next.  Sometimes it feels pretty scary.  To be honest, I have struggled with anxiety for several years, and I was tempted to let anxiety take the wheel when the world felt like it was turning upside down as a result of the coronavirus shutdowns.  Anxiety is hard to defeat and easy to succumb to because I don’t choose to become anxious.  It just imposes itself upon me as it sees fit.  

The good news is that, through the Bible, we know that God is not surprised or disappointed when we struggle with anxiety.  How do I know that?  Because there are many biblical instances in which God gives us the cure for anxiety, which tells me that He is fully aware of and present in this struggle.  So what is the cure?  Actively searching out peace for our lives.  Think about it: if you want to become fit but never make the effort to exercise or choose nutrition, you are not going to reach your goal.  In order to get the results that you want, you have to endure self-discipline and take action toward becoming fit before it actually happens.  I believe the same is true for replacing anxiety with peace.  We must actively pursue it rather than just hope that peace will come on its own.  Romans 14:19 tells us to “pursue the things which make for peace.”  Psalm 34:14 says to “seek peace and pursue it.”  Psalm 37:37 promises that “a future awaits those who seek peace.”  I could go on simply because God has hinted (not so subtly) many times over that He desires for us to seek peace in order to escape the damaging results of anxiety.

So by now you might be wondering how you’re supposed to suppress anxiety and “pursue peace” when life is spinning out of control?  It’s not exactly like getting fit because peace is not a tangible, measurable thing.  Well, I obviously haven’t mastered pursuing peace because I still experience anxiety, but I have created a strategy for when I sense it setting in.

1. Identify anxiety and call it what it is when I feel it coming.  Don’t passively let it crop up and hang around on its own terms.
2. Pray for God to fill the anxious places with Himself.  “Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28, 29) Be open and honest with God about the anxiety and ask for His support as I actively run the other way.
3. Soak in the Bible.  I have go-to verses that help me become grounded again, and I pray these verses into my life.
4. Reflect on things I'm thankful for.  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) I believe this verse says “with thanksgiving” because a thankful perspective can go a long way in shutting down an anxious heart.
5. Do something I enjoy or that makes some particular area of my life feel more peaceful (organizing something) in order to regain some perspective on life again.

I confidently believe that God wants you to experience peace in exchange for anxiety.  “He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:17).  Better yet, “He Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:14) You can decide that anxiety is not your name brand anymore because there is something so much better available to you: the peace of Christ.  Run after it, and you will find that anxiety can't keep up with you.


[What are your strategies for seeking peace when anxiety moves in?]

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

In all: His mercy

Wow.  A new year.  A new decade.  I know, it's been a couple weeks already, but I'm still letting the new year sink in.  New Year’s Eve is actually one of my favorite holidays and for several reasons, but mostly because there comes with it a mysterious mixture of reminiscence and hope. Reminiscence over what the past year has brought and what growing has taken place.  Hope over what a new year can bring and what new changes can be made to continue the uphill stride of personal growth.

At the close of 2019 I found myself not only reviewing the past year but also doing a very broad overview of the past 10 years to revisit where I’ve been and how that has resulted in the person I am today.  A lot of great things happened in the past ten years: making new friends, getting acquainted with national parks across the US, discovering the beginning pieces of my purpose, completing the first half of my bachelor's degree, and traveling overseas for the first and second times. 
Hand-in-hand with these great times, though, have been my worst physical and emotional pain: watching my dad deteriorate every day for 2 years, moving 4 times, intense loneliness, coping with physical pain, and the deaths of my dad and my brother.  These are the things that have cut like a sword and left me a different person than the person I was in 2010.

It’s probably not much different for you; you may look back on the past decade with an inner throb of pain over your defining moments.  Maybe you even feel—like I have at times—that God has turned His face from you.  That His goodness cannot be seen in the places you’ve been.  I have been there in the past decade.  That’s when I found out about the Psalm 136 exercise, which helped my thoughts begin to turn around.

If you are familiar with Psalm 136, you will remember that every other line declares “His mercy endures forever” as a conclusion from the preceding line.  So I took the structure of Psalm 136 and wrote the Sharon version, inserting experiences from my own life and following up with “His mercy endures forever.”  I especially included things in my life that, to me, had no hint of God's mercy.  I did this because I knew that my feelings did not change the reality: God's mercy was in everything, and I had to set it before my mind simply because it was truth whether or not I believed it.
The process of doing this exercise and then being able to go back to it was an immense help to me as I struggled to keep His love and mercy for me within view.  Below I share a piece of my personal Psalm 136, and I highly encourage you to create your own version if you haven’t already as you start fresh in this new year and new decade.  Whether your past decade (or more) has been messy or joyful, constructing a Psalm 136 of your own will help you remember that all the good and the bad comes from one source: God’s mercy poured out on you.

As you consider this exercise, keep in mind the definition of “mercy.”  The most relevant and comprehensible definition for mercy that I have found is stated as “an act of kindness, compassion, or favor; something that gives evidence of divine favor.”  That’s what every defining moment of your life springs from. 

To Him who gave me parents who serve the Lord,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who granted me salvation,
His mercy endures forever;

To Him who called my brother to Iraq,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who took us through our unknown future,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who took my brother Home,
His mercy endures forever;

To Him who caused my dad to have an incurable disease,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who provided a difficult workplace,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who led my dad through
the valley of the shadow of death,
His mercy endures forever;

To Him who loved me through my doubt,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who provided for our daily needs,
His mercy endures forever;

To Him who directed me to college,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who held me fast,
His mercy endures forever;
To Him who never lets me down,
His mercy endures forever.