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2010 in review

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Do you ever have one of those days when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of it all, thinking about how fast it went, and you suddenly realize how much a person can do in a single day? Well, I’ve just had one of those years. On the one hand, it went remarkably fast and on the other hand, so much happened on both the interior and exterior of my life that it’s remarkable to think that only a year passed. One year — and a lifetime. Here are a few of the highlights.

Best movie of 2010

I recently read a movie critic’s list of 2010’s top ten movies and I must admit, several of his picks were films I haven’t even heard of. So, from my limited viewing experience, I bring you what I believe are two of the year’s best movies from two completely separate genres.

Inception

Undoubtedly the best—most original—film to come out of Hollywood in quite some time, Inception made the top of my 2010 movie list months before the year was over. I’m not typically a nail-bitter, but halfway through the film, I suddenly realized the tips of my fingers were in my mouth. I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling anything for those who may have not seen it yet. (Seriously, remedy that ASAP!) But I will say that it’s not an easy task to write a movie based entirely on a reality you will have to help your audience understand and believe. Inception does this seamlessly, all while weaving a multi-layered story and delivering a frustratingly brilliant ending.

Toy Story 3

I honestly didn’t expect much from this movie. Typically, when you get to the third of anything, you’ve basically compromised quality and storyline for a name that people feel some sort of allegiance to or affection for. But Toy Story was by far the exception to the rule. Based on the opening scene alone, I think this movie did a better job capturing a child’s imagination than the first two Toy Stories combined. It’s definitely my favorite of the trilogy.

Best books I read in 2010

I thought I knew what my favorite books of 2010 were, and then I started looking over my reading notes from the year and became more conflicted. So, at the risk of leaving some wonderful, well-deserving titles out, I’ve boiled it down to two books from vastly different categories.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s classic novel was one of those books that I’d always felt as if I should have read, but just hadn’t. When I finally picked it up along with my book club ladies, I literally didn’t want to put it down. It’s a well-written, fascinating story that quickly captures your attention and manages to deal with difficult themes and serious issues without compromising the free-spirited, lighthearted narration. And in the end, I think it poses several pertinent questions about human nature.

Forgotten God

This book completely challenged the way I think about the Holy Spirit and forced me to question the strength of my own faith. It’s a vivid—and apt—reminder of power we have in us a Christians, delivered by Francis Chan, a wonderful communicator.

Lessons from 2010

A year ago, when I reflected on 2009, I talked about uncertainty, my desire for control, and the need to trust God with the details of my life. Looking back on 2010, I’m so thankful to see that he didn’t leave me off the hook—he continued to prod me to give up control of my life and gently reminded me just how little I do have control over. I’m still a work in progress, but one thing God showed me this year is that allowing him to change our hearts is indeed a slow process.

This year, I started surrendering my battle for perfection. God is still teaching me how—and that it’s okay—to let go, but what I’m finding as I do is a great deal of freedom and joy. And it gives me hope and excitement for the future because it means that as I let go of my attempts at perfection I leave room for God to do more in and through me.

Over the past year, I also watched many of my friends go through unprecedented trials and learned first-hand how God uses suffering. Through it all, I’ve realized that God has a way of giving us exactly what we need for the moment. The year’s unexpected turns have shown me that, no matter what happens, God will make sure we have the patience, grace, and strength to deal with it. And that too, excites me for the future, because it means there’s potential for me to do things that are bigger than myself. I don’t have to stick with just dreams I know I can accomplish, because I have the power of the Holy Spirit—a power that can help me accomplish anything God calls me to. And, I don’t have to worry, because God knows what I’ll be facing, and even if it’s not easy, he’s going to prepare me to deal with it.

None of this is new to me intellectually. I could have told you this a year ago, but now I know it on a deeper level. My heart is more convinced of it, and I understand exactly what it means on a personal level. I’m grateful that God lets us learn, and I pray that my heart would continue to be receptive.

And just for fun, completely trivial things that changed my life in 2010

  • Pandora (I discovered this before 2010, but it continues to change my life, so it still counts)
  • Netflix
  • Frozen grapes (don’t comment until you’ve tried them)
  • Adidas Sequence running shoes
  • This American Life
  • Portland (this city will never stop changing my life)
  • Short hair

Written by liferenewed

December 31, 2010 at 6:07 am

Posted in Books, Life lessons, Movies

To the one who carried Christ

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Sometimes I wonder what you thought when he told you —

when he delivered the news that would alter your life.

 

“How can this happen?” is all that you asked.

A question of logistics, no hint of disbelief.

 

Sometimes I wonder if you silently protested,

questioning why you were part of God’s plan.

 

“May it happen just as you’ve said — ”

words of submission, no trace of dissent.

 

Sometimes I wonder if you cried that night,

mourning the loss of the girl you had been.

 

“I am the Lord’s servant.”

A statement given without hesitation.

 

Sometimes I wonder how it felt to be pregnant.

To carry the hope of the world inside.

 

“My spirit rejoices in God my savior — ”

Exclamations overflowing with joy.

 

Sometimes I wonder if you knew the weight—

the gravity of these events.

 

“And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Words you heard

and held

in your heart.

Written by liferenewed

December 26, 2010 at 2:11 am

Posted in Christianity, Jesus, Poetry

Living under a curse

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Finding freedom by embracing imperfection

Every morning begins with a stare down between me and my arch enemy. I look in the mirror, sizing up my body as if I expect that seven hours of sleep will have caused pounds to evaporate and muscles to emerge. It’s on, I think, an obvious giveaway that I haven’t left the dream world. We’re really not lookin’ so bad. I try to comfort myself with the reminder that it’s been worse. A lot worse. Oh yeah, retorts my body. Just hop on the scale. Its been better too—you’ve been better. My enemy doesn’t even have to deliver that final jab—the one that cuts the deepest. I do that all on my own.

It’s a clever enemy who can turn you against yourself. And my enemy has all sorts of tools for doing that. Scales and mirrors are some of the most effective. But when those aren’t handy, there’s a million other ways of engaging me in the fight. Comparison’s a classic, because it doesn’t take much. It’s subjective. And if I’m not paying attention, pretty soon I’m not just telling myself that I could be better, I’m also beginning to believe that I’m inferior to everyone around me.

Couple this with years of insecurity, and for perfectionist control freaks like myself, it’s a dangerous concoction. I can change this. I can prove myself. And until I do, what’s my worth? How can I even live with myself? It’s shameful to see such thoughts in writing, but these are the lies my enemy gets me to tell myself.

Trapped in this deception, I enter the fight. I count calories. I beat my body up at the gym. I listen to the voice and step on the scale every morning — knowing what it will say before I even get on. I do this for reassurance —reassurance that my enemy isn’t gaining ground, reassurance that even if I’m not winning, at least I haven’t given up on the battle. But the irony is that the more I engage in the fighting, the more I become a slave to the enemy, to my physical body, to perfection. As I begin to buy into this belief that I can conquer and control my body—that I can beat it into submission, I enter a battle I can never win. For as long as I live on earth, I will remain imperfect.

This is something the apostle Paul understood well. In Romans, he says that believers groan with the rest of creation because we “long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.” Though I doubt Paul was thinking about the mirror or scale when he wrote this, he is acknowledging a reality that I’d be wise to take to heart. This First Century male who knew nothing of American culture or female body image pressure understood my struggle because he recognized the fact that we are all trapped in imperfect, broken bodies. And these bodies serve as daily reminders of our sinful nature. Creation groans because it’s under a curse. Likewise, my body has been cursed — marked as fallen. Imperfect.

Paul’s perspective sheds a new light my daily battle with my body. No matter how hard I try to beat it into submission, it will always — until the return of Christ — be under the curse of sin. Furthermore, my attempts to reach perfection are only evidence that I am trying on my own, to obtain something that can only come from God. As Paul puts it: “We [believers] wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us … the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23).

This is a perfect reminder that the real battle is not the one waged in the gym and determined by the scale. The real battle is spiritual, and the battle with my body is simply a far too effective ploy the enemy of God uses to distract me from the fight against, “the spiritual forces of evil.”

As Paul points out, we will all be trapped in these sub-par bodies until the return of Christ. And I think some of the frustration Paul expresses comes from the fact that this means we will have to continue fighting evidence of the curse — sickness, death, physical deformities — until Christ does indeed deliver the new bodies he has promised.

But the good news in Paul’s message is that even while we wait for those new bodies, we are under no obligation to try and obtain perfection. The promise of Christ means that we have been set free from all attempts to prove our worth. We can surrender to the battles that are enslaving us — the battles that are distracting us from our true identity in Christ. Paul states this plainly when he tells us, “you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s spirit when he adopted you as his own children” (Romans 8:15). And that’s the key to surrendering the battle of perfection and finding freedom—recognizing that God has called us his children. When our identity lies in the fact that he has claimed us as his, we no longer feel the need to prove ourselves, because our worth lies in him.

So I’m challenging myself to surrender the battle for perfection. When I look in the mirror I will still see my fallen, broken, imperfect body. But I should also see something else — a child of God. No matter what mirrors or scales say, that’s my true identity, because it’s the one that matters most.  And I’m challenging myself let my imperfections remind me of my sinful nature. Remembering that we live under a curse is powerful, because it thrusts us into the perfect posture to accept God’s grace and it’s when we’re  in this place that he looks at us and calls us his children.

Written by liferenewed

October 13, 2010 at 5:03 am

Where boldness and courage meet humility

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Reminders about speaking and listening from Watership Down

Being the English geek that I am, one of my favorite things is getting together with the girls in my book club to discuss literature. The five of us each take turns choosing a novel to read and then meet to talk about what stood out to us and, of course, drink coffee. This month, we’ll be discussing the conclusion of Richard Adam’s 1970’s novel, Watership Down. One of my favorite things about taking part in this group is that it’s causing me to read books I would probably never pick up on my own. Watership Down—a 500 page story about rabbits—is one of those books. When I heard this was selected as our next read, I immediately remembered the cartoon depiction I’d seen as a child and, for whatever reason, strongly disliked. I then proceeded to wonder what the heck rabbits were going to do to keep my attention for 500 pages.

But when I finally started reading, I was thrust into an adventure full of conflict and suspense as a small group of rabbits band together to escape the destruction of their warren, find safety, and create a new life on Watership Down. What’s more, I found myself surprised by how well developed these fictional characters are and how their rabbit-sized problems occasionally spoke to deeper issues. Though I’m under no illusion that Adams intended for his story to be some kind of allegory, I do believe that in places, it can speak to our walk as Christians.

I see this particularly in the character of Fiver, a small, somewhat disregarded rabbit, whose keen sense for impending danger feels almost prophetic. Within the first 20 pages of the novel, Fiver senses that the warren where they live is in danger. Though he has no specific idea what that danger may be and knows it may be difficult to get others to listen, he unashamedly shares his fears. Nevertheless, the head rabbit refuses to believe him, dismissing him as misguided and crazy. But Fiver does not back down. With the help of his brother, he is able to convince a small group of rabbits that for their own safety, they must flee the warren immediately.

Like Noah in the Old Testament, Fiver has to warn his people of a danger they cannot understand. And like us, he has an important message that could save others from destruction. I love that this gift of prophesy is bestowed upon Fiver — an unknown rabbit who is the runt of his litter — because it reminds me of how God often chooses to use those who are seemingly small and insignificant — those that the world may cast aside — to do his work. As Christians, we join a long line of “Fivers” — underdogs who God has entrusted with a life-saving message.

Like Fiver, we are asking others to join us on a harrowing journey that is full of unknowns. Thankfully, unlike Fiver — who did not know where they would go or how they would stay safe — we have a strong sense of hope to offer; vital to our message is the promise of salvation and the presence of Christ. But despite these assurances, we are still bound to meet with similar responses as our furry friend. Authority figures might refuse to believe us. Some may laugh at us and say the idea of salvation is unnecessary. Others will dismiss us as crazy. The question is: will we keep the message to ourselves for fear of their response? Will we cave in, backpedal, and deny the truth when others refuse to believe?

I was challenged by the way Fiver never lets fear of what others think compromise his mission. As Christians, we are called to do this both as we interact with the world and as we live in community with other believers. Though we may not all have the gift of prophesy, when we walk in step with the Spirit, he will give us words of advice and guidance to share with those around us. Once Fiver and the others embark on their journey, he continues to sense when things are not right and remains unafraid to speak his mind, even when he knows his opinion will not be popular — and when what he has to say does not seem to make sense.

Fiver’s advice also comes with a spirit of humility, something that is vital for any of us carrying a message in the name of Christ. When Fiver gives advice, he never argues, justifies, or tries to rationalize. He simply shares what is on his heart and leaves the decision in the hands of the person he is talking to. Likewise, he never plays the “I told you so,” card, though there are multiple occasions where he has the opportunity. I think this tells us a lot about Fiver’s motivation. He is not in this to prove a point or make himself look good. He is concerned only for the well-being of his friends, and it is this attitude that enables him avoid getting tripped up by worries about what others may think of him. It may sound silly, but I admire the boldness, courage, and quiet humility that meet in the character of this small rabbit. And it left me wondering, what would our communities look like if we listened to God’s spirit and loved each other in this fashion more often?

Similarly, what would happen if we listened to the wisdom of others more openly, recognizing that God’s Spirit may speak to us through them? In Watership Down, it takes the rabbits awhile to catch on to the idea that they should probably pay attention to what Fiver has to say. His brother helps him convince a few rabbits to leave the warren, but even after they realize how right he was about that danger, they still question and sometimes refuse his advice, often due to selfishness and pride. I think that God has placed “Fivers” — people who are in tune with the His Spirit and can bring messages of instruction and warning — in each of our lives as well. Like the rabbits in Watership Down, we are faced with the question of whether or not we will be able to put aside our own ideas and desires and be open to the possibility that the one who has a word for us may be God’s mouthpiece.

My prayer is that I would cultivate a listening heart and humble spirit — that I would be open to hearing God speak through those around me and ready to let him use me however he sees fit, no matter what others may think.

Written by liferenewed

June 3, 2010 at 3:40 am

Discovering our role in God’s narrative

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Why Elizabeth Bennett shouldn’t write stories

Few weeks ago, a friend asked me to describe who God had made me to be using only one or two words at a time. I started to answer and then paused, realizing that the words about to come out of my mouth had more to do with what I did, who I thought I was, and who I wanted to be than they did with anything God has said about me. Who had God made me to be? I sat in silence for a moment, halfway hoping that I would have some sort of breakthrough — that the heavens would open and a jet would fly through the clouds, writing the answer in the sky. Okay, I didn’t exactly wish that, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to the idea. In fact, it would have been nice, because I knew this question was digging at the core of my identity, and I didn’t want the shovel to come up empty.

Identity is something that is hard to get at. Swayed by popular culture, many of us look to things like status, relationships, and material possessions to define who we are. Yet these identities eventually prove themselves to be false and temporary, like outfits we wear for a time but eventually outgrow or get bored of. The thrill that comes from applause or attention only lasts so long and before we know it, we are searching for a new wardrobe. My suspicion is that most of us have closets full of discarded outfits that we hold on to, telling ourselves that in a pinch they could still define us, even if they don’t actually fit anymore.

Most of us do this without recognizing that it is part of an identity search, because this behavior is ingrained in our nature. If I had to explain the concept of identity to someone who had never heard the word, I would say that it is how humans describe the need each of us has to be known and accepted as individuals. I would tell him that identity refers to the longing we have to distinguish ourselves from others in an attempt to say “I matter.” And I bet anything that even though he had never heard the word, he would quickly grasp the concept because the desire to have a unique identity is an innate part of being human.

That brings me back to the question posed by my friend. When she asked me who God made me to be, she tapped into this desire while also acknowledging why that desire exists in the first place. If you don’t believe that God created you or doubt that he has a purpose for your life, I would challenge you to take a look at the failed identity searches in your life and the lives of those around you. Ask yourself why it is that nothing provides a satisfactory answer to the question “who am I?” For me, this leads to no other conclusion than that I had to be created for something more. My search for identity and meaning is in part, a search for something greater than myself. When I read the Bible, I find it explains what I see going on around me and provides answers for how to deal with the void we all struggle to fill.

Because God created us, it’s impossible to truly answer to the question of identity without first understanding that we were created to be a part of God’s story. God’s narrative gives context to our character development. Trying to identify ourselves outside of this would be like plopping Elizabeth Bennet into the story of Robinson Crusoe and asking her to figure out her role. This impossible task would only leave a disoriented Liz frustrated and confused. No matter what she did to make herself comfortable or how hard she tried to fit in, she would always feel out of place. There is no role that Miss Bennet could assume in Crusoe’s story that would leave her completely satisfied, because she was made for something different.

The same is true in our lives. When we try to enter a story that is not God’s story, we are jumping into the pages of the wrong narrative. We can put on all the costumes and try out all the roles we want, but we will always feel a longing for something different — something more.

Recognizing that we are part of God’s story is freeing because it means that we don’t have to seek status, relationships, or material possessions to feel that we matter. We are unique and important because God created us. He wants us to be part of the narrative he is writing with all of creation.

This means that we must be willing to let him do the writing. Imagine if Elizabeth Bennett, correctly positioned within Pride and Prejudice, suddenly decided that she could write a better story that Jane Austin. I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but even if you dislike Austin’s novels, just humor me for a moment. If Liz wrote the story she may be unable to see anyone in her family marrying above their social class, and her assumptions and prejudices would likely prevent her from ending up with Mr. Darcy. But Austin was able to imagine better things for her characters than Liz could ever have dreamed for herself.

With that in mind, think about how big God’s point of view is. As the grand author of life, he sees what we cannot and his imagination for us is unlimited. Nevertheless, we still try to control the direction of the narrative. Doing so is simply another way we grasp at identities that will fail to satisfy.  This is what I was doing when I started to answer my friend’s question by thinking about who I wanted to be. I was telling my story, not God’s.

I think the most genuine and effective way to seek an identity is to let go of all the outfits and costumes — to empty the closet of who we think we are and make room for what God has to say about us. This is a beautiful thing because it means first off that we are acknowledging what story we are made to be a part of and then allowing the author to do the writing, rather than trying to take the pen.

This is the journey I’m on — learning what it means to let God tell me who he made me to be. And I’m thankful that God has the grace to let it be a journey. He knows that surrender is a process. While I continually struggle to let go of my false identities, he has already called me his child and is simply inviting me to walk in his story. It’s an invitation I choose to accept every day.

Written by liferenewed

May 19, 2010 at 4:53 am

Posted in Life lessons, Theology

Renewing the soil

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Why I see gardening as a reminder of my humanity

When I was a kid my family had a decent-sized backyard that included a fairly large vegetable garden, complete with carrots, corn, strawberries, raspberries, and several other varieties of fresh produce. In the spring, summer, and fall, I spent every moment that I could outside, digging in the dirt, splashing in the water, and waiting for the plants to grow and ripen. I’ll never forget the thrill of pulling bright orange carrots out of the soil and running them over to the hose, eager to bite into their sweet crunchiness. They had a flavor that I’ve yet to find anywhere else. Every once in awhile when I buy whole organic carrots I get a reminder of those moments — a brief glimmer of how food is supposed to taste — but usually I settle for marginal produce, allowing processing and packaging plants and grocery store workers to put yet another degree of separation between me and the soil my food was grown in.

And for a good number of years, this didn’t bother me. My family stopped gardening long before I entered jr high, and I never gave much thought to where my food came from. What’s more, I stopped spending so much time outside. I stopped trying to dig to China. I stopped watching worms wiggle around in freshly turned soil. I spent my time indoors, studying and trying to avoid getting dirty. Eventually, I lost touch with the earth. I’m not trying to sound like a tree-hugger or anything, but I think this matters. I think it matters because the earth sustains us. Grocery stores and fast food restaurants make this easy to forget, but really we are connected to the earth. We came from dirt and we need it to survive. We need it because it helps produce plants, and plants not only feed us but they affect the health of our atmosphere and influence our weather.

It amazes me when I read stories about families in Africa and other parts of the world who are literally dependant on the ground. Learning to garden is saving their lives, and changing climates are influencing their ability to do this effectively. I’m inspired by how hard the families in these countries work —literally just to have a little bit of food to give their children. Their stories force me to face my own humanity; to own up to the fact that I am also dependent; I’m dependent on the earth, and I’m dependent on those who work the soil. By giving me an opportunity to see where my food is grown and to experience the work involved in encouraging growth, gardening also reminds me of this.

Two years ago, I started gardening again. My mom and I have a little, rectangular plot of ground in her backyard where we plant a small variety of veggies each summer. Originally, I started helping her with the garden because I found it therapeutic. I was burnt out from studying in college and tired of feeling that most of my efforts had little lasting impact. All in all, I felt broken. But being outside close to nature helped to restore me, and it helped to renew my appreciation for creation.  I got dirty again, and found that there was something healing about removing the separation between myself and nature.

I was reminded of this just a few weeks ago as we prepared the soil for this year’s plants. Abandoning my gardening clogs I stepped into the garden with bare feet, allowing the dirt to squish between my toes and cake itself on to the bottom of my feet. As I hacked at the ground with a gardening hoe, I stopped to watch worms again. Ugly as they are, I was amazed at how their bodies work, and thankful that they were in my garden, because I knew they would help to keep the soil healthy. And I was amazed, because the intricate design of a worm is simply one example of the beauty of creation.

And that’s the other reason it think it matters that we somehow stay connected to the earth: it’s God’s creation. It is beautiful, and it is a reflection of him. It is vitally important to remember that the world is a gift from God, because when I remember this, I will treat the earth differently. When I hold this view, I recognize that to mistreat creation is to show disrespect to the creator. I am called to care for — not simply use and abuse — the earth. Gardening helps to remind me of this. And what’s more, I am called to follow in the footsteps of the creator — to enter into a broken world and find ways to create beauty out of chaos. Gardening is one way to do this. In a chaotic world where we typically don’t know who grew our food and sometimes forget that it came from the ground, gardening allows us to create a tangible reminder that we need God’s help, even with our daily sustenance. It serves as an opportunity to renew a piece of our fallen world and acknowledge the one who has the power to make plants grow.

Here are a few pictures of the start of this year’s garden. I’ll continue to provide updates–both on the progress of my plants and on what I’m learning in the process.

The soil, all prepped for planting.

Onions

Cucumber
Carrot and beet seeds hidden in the soil.

Cauliflower

Written by liferenewed

May 13, 2010 at 4:26 am

Posted in Gardening, Life lessons

How God uses suffering

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Or, the blog you’ll never read

The last time I had a blog post ready to publish was a month and a half ago. I’d written about suffering and how God’s view of our struggles is so much more complete than our own. I talked about how we see only a portion of what is really a grand landscape in which God is weaving a masterful story. The post used some great imagery and was rather poetic. But you will never get to read it.

I finished the writing late on a Wednesday night. I was tired, and the perfectionist in me wasn’t confident that the blog was quite ready to publish. Carefully saving the changes in a Word doc, as I do with all my blogs, I decided that I would wait until the following evening and give it one more read-through before sending it live.

On Thursday, I got off of work early. I went to the gym, ran a few errands, and then headed home to pay some bills and post my blog before a meeting that evening. But when I got home, I found my parents surveying the damage caused by burglars, who had broken in through the bedroom window, ransacked the place, and taken anything of value they could get their hands on—including my laptop. The blog that was all but ready to post was gone, along with a handful of other documents that I had yet to create backups for.

It seems ironic when you think about it, that the day after I write a blog on suffering, my house would be broken into. But I think it’s more than irony. I think that there is something bigger going on. Earlier in the year, I memorized James 1, which begins with a theme that is common throughout the epistles:

When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy, for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow. For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

The morning after the break-in I was reminded of this verse while blow drying my hair. Later, I asked my dad if he was rejoicing. “Rejoicing?” he asked, as if he wasn’t sure he’d heard me right. None of us had slept well and after five hours of restless tossing and turning, finding joy isn’t usually the first thing on the agenda. “Yes,” I replied. “God is growing us.”

In his sovereignty, God determined that rather than posting a blog about suffering, it was more important that I learn something about it. I’m not trying to suggest that God caused this to happen—that would go against his character—but I do believe that he is using it to make me more like himself. And if that’s the case, it’s ultimately an answer to prayer.

The blog on suffering was prompted by several weeks of watching close friends battle giants. Relationship issues, loneliness, family dysfunctions, and a host of other problems were threatening to steal the joy and even the faith of those I care for. I stated in that blog what I’ve told many of these friends: that though the enemy intends these things for evil, God will use them for good; that even though it may be hard to imagine things changing, countless examples in the Bible testify that we can have faith in a God who is ultimately creating a beautiful picture with our lives.

I also talked about one of my favorite places to walk—a trail around a golf course just a few miles from my home. The path loops down by the water, providing a close-up view of the ever-changing waterfront. Here, the winds seem to overtake the ocean, and the shadow of the Olympic Mountains makes everything seem small and insignificant. Occasionally, a train lumbers past, blurring the scenery with faded yellow boxcars. I talked about how—from this vantage point—it’s easy to focus on just one thing—the vastness of the mountain, the threat of the wind, or the whir of the train cars that block the view of the horizon. But when you loop back up to the top of the hill, you see the entire scene from a completely different perspective. From here, it becomes clear that in overall picture, the mountains aren’t really so large and overwhelming, the storm that pounds the shore will soon be followed by softer waves, and the distraction of the train will only last for a short while. I like to think of this as the view that God has of our lives. He knows that the suffering we are overwhelmed by and the struggles that block our view are only temporary. And what’s more, they are necessary to make the pictures of our lives beautiful and complete.

And this is why he tells us to rejoice. The struggles I’ve been facing in regards to the break-in pale in comparison to those many of my friends are up against. Nevertheless, God has used them to teach me some things about trusting him and about what it means to affirm his goodness.

The worst thing about the break-in was the feeling of violation. Shortly after it happened, I remember thinking that of all the things the burglars took, I missed my sense of security the most. I’d been living with this false idea that doors and windows and locks could keep me safe from outside evils. I’d believed that nothing like this would ever happen to me. When it did, my sense of security was revealed to be false. That in which I placed my trust had failed. As I thought of ways to make my home more secure and realized that nothing I could do would ever give me a 100-percent safety guarantee, I realized there was only one way to find peace. I could live in fear or I could choose to trust God—to find my security in him. The security that he offers is something that no one can take away.

Because I’d just been blogging about God using suffering in our lives for good, one of the questions I was faced with when this happened was whether or not I could trust that God had a plan. And so, almost immediately, I stopped and prayed. I prayed for the robbers, that God would do a work in their hearts, and I prayed that ultimately, God would take something birthed out of ill intent and use it for his purposes. And he has. The most visible evidence of this comes with the relationships we are beginning to build with our neighbors. For the most part, people in our neighborhood have kept to themselves. But this event forced us to reach out, if only to let them know what happened. And that served as a bridge that I hope to cross many more times, a bridge that I believe God can use to allow me to carry his love to those he has placed me in a neighborhood with.

Affirming God’s goodness means recognizing his hand in the midst of things that don’t make sense. Evil never makes sense. Pain never makes sense. And while God does not cause these things, for those who trust him, his hand is always present in the midst of them. Because God is good we can trust that our struggles are just one part of the overall picture he is creating with our lives. And these struggles will allow for a vibrant, more complete landscape. So, I rejoice. I rejoice because God is changing my heart. He’s drawing me into a closer relationship with him and ultimately, preparing me to better respond when even bigger challenges arise in the future.

Written by liferenewed

May 4, 2010 at 8:26 pm