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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Perfect imperfection

 I remember arriving on campus as a freshman and being really intimidated by the seniors.  I felt like a simple new sprout at the base of towering trees that had all this growth and experience.  Now I am the senior, and I wonder how many seniors feel like I do right now.  While I am looking back at 3 years of growth and experience, I am also seeing a promise of much more to come. 

Before I even started college, I spent a lot of time agonizing over decisions toward declaring a major and making college a simplified, smooth experience.  I researched options that seemed realistic for my interests and self-perceived intelligence.  Most of all, I prayed a lot for God to give me clarity and direction.   My first goal was to make college a straightforward breeze from the start, and I hoped that God would have the same thing in mind.

My intentions and efforts were good.  Really good.  But still entirely in vain.

In the past 3 years I have moved across the country, moved back across the country again, transferred twice, and changed my field of study for every year of college (excluding senior year).  I have an associate degree, enough credits for two bachelor’s degrees (not really, but it feels like it), and more hours and dollars put toward my education than I ever dreamed I would be willing to expend.  My transcript is an absolute mess, and this looks nothing like what I had hoped for.

The experience of these past 3 years could easily be seen as discouraging, messy, unnecessary, imperfect, and constantly sabotaged.  But I see a laughable miracle that fills my heart with thankfulness.  My current field of study is one that I never had the courage to choose, but the slow progression of movement toward it has landed me here anyway.  The hand of God has so clearly directed my paths, showing me just one step at a time toward a future I never thought would be my own.  In the process of changes and delays, I have also been forced to work so very hard, which has in turn multiplied my determination and passion for the calling God has placed on my life.

In the end, the ideal image I had for college wasn’t actually ideal at all.  Instead, what appears to be imperfect and frustratingly flawed has been nothing short of perfect.  If I had waited for the perfect plan and the perfect moment from the beginning, I would probably still be waiting because perfect moments usually come disguised as imperfect.  The constant schedule adjustment that looks messy and disorganized?  THIS is God’s organized plan for my life.  I have discovered that it’s ok not to have a fully visualized, workable plan from the start because God always does, and that’s what really counts.  The key is to get started with what you’re given and see where it takes you.  And it’s gonna be somewhere good if you’re willing to listen and welcome the messy changes of perfect imperfection.

 

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?]