Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lessons learned, part 2.

(Here's part two of my list of lessons learned in 2011! If you missed the first half, check it out here.)

7. Hope: Even if He does not.
Hope is tricky. It's such a good thing, yet it is so easy to place it in the wrong things. For months, I've had to ask myself: is my hope in God Himself or in what He can do for me? It's a very fine line to walk. I've had to come to a place where I can say, "Yes, this is what I want to happen, and I believe that You can do it, but my hope is in You. Even if You don't, I'm still going to trust You and follow You as if nothing has changed." That's something I have to convince myself of every single day.

8. Certain joy found only in pain.
Every season of life has its good and bad sides. The happy times are wonderful, of course, but they bring certain challenges that aren't found at other times. In the same way, the hardest times bring certain joys that are found only there. I've had to learn to be thankful, not in spite of the bad times, but because of them. It's not always about pushing through to the other side; I've had to learn to see the beauty in the moment I'm in right now--even if it's painful.

9. Letting go.
This has probably been one of the most excruciating lessons I've ever learned, but one I am unbelievably relieved to have finally gotten through my head (well, still working on it, anyway. Like I said before, this is definitely all a process)! I never realized how much of a control freak I am, not to mention how much damage it can cause! Following God is all about surrender. He has to have control of every area of my life. I've found that I have to be very careful, because I have a tendency to try and regain control of things without even realizing it.

I want to always be able to say, "God, my hands are open. You are free to give and free to take away. And even when You do give--my hands will stay open." It's my natural tendency to cling to the things that I love, but I've discovered that it's a surefire way to get them taken away. Living with your hands open (so to speak) is a really vulnerable place to be, and it can be really hard sometimes, but at the same time, it has been the most freeing experience I've ever had.

10. Be present.
Waiting. It's something that I seem to constantly be doing, but something I'm really bad at! I have a tendency to see the big picture first, then fill in all the details later. That can be a really good quality, but it can also get me into trouble. Sometimes (most of the time), I am so focused on the end result that I forget that the detail work of right now is what it takes to get there. Once again, I've had to learn to make a conscious effort to just be present. Right now matters. (Being thankful really comes into play here!)

11. Faith.
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
- Hebrews 11:1
I've heard that verse so many times, but I have never had to come to terms with what it really means as much as I have over the past few months. All of these lessons come down to faith in one way or another. It has definitely always been a part of my life in some way, but not like this. I say I believe in God. I say that I trust Him. I say that I believe He's good, and that His plan is best. And I really thought that I did believe those things. But when it all came down to it, did I really? Enough to actually act on it? It took me a long time to finally let go enough to be able to honestly say yes. It's still hard sometimes.

12. Freedom.
"It's easy for our thoughts to be dominated by a craving.... It takes ahold of us. We are not free…. If I want something to the point that I can't conceive of being content without it, then it owns me.... What started out as freedom can quickly become slavery.... Freedom is going without whatever we crave and being fine with it."
- Rob Bell in Sex God
I honestly cannot explain how profound that one quote has been for me. I wish I didn't understand it as perfectly as I do, but it has been my life for so long. But after months and months of digging deep and letting God do some major work on my heart, for the first time in a long, long time…I'm finally free. And freedom is incredible.

That isn't to say that it's easily kept.
"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it."
- Genesis 4:7
Going back to the idea of perseverance: it definitely applies here. It's cliche to say, but freedom is not free. I've had to fight for it, and I'm still having to fight to keep it. Still, I'm not losing it this time.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
- Galatians 5:1

I just want to let you know, I love you all so much! (Even those of you I don't know personally--your comments and messages have been so encouraging, and I really, really do appreciate it more than you know!). Thanks for being awesome. I hope you all have an amazing new year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lessons learned.

Listening to: "Hymn" by Brooke Fraser
My theme song of the moment. So simple and beautiful and good. I love her music! Possible post about this one soon? Maybe? We'll see.

Oh, what a year. I don't even know how to begin to describe it. Joy. Hope. Pain. Despair. Trust. Anxiety. Loss. So, so much gained. I have never experienced anything quite like it*, and to be perfectly honest, I'd rather not have to ever again!

Still, I know this is going to be one of those years that I look back on with so much amazement, and probably even a little bit of wishing for certain aspects of it to come back. Sometimes, the most beautiful things can only be found in the most painful times. I've experienced so much growth this year, so much change that needed to happen--big time. I love the times when I'm constantly learning, when things are constantly clicking in my head, and I finally get it. And boy, did I learn a lot. (That being said, I am still so glad this year is over! I will never pray for anything close to that ever again. God can teach me on His own time. LESSON LEARNED.)

I've kept up with blogging about a lot of the lessons I've learned this year as they were happening, so I won't go into crazy detail here, but I did feel the need to be really cliche and make a retrospective year-in-review (or lessons-in-review, as it may be) kind of post. :) It's more for myself than for anyone, but I figured I'd share anyway. Also, since there have been so many different lessons, I'll post it in parts. Part one today, the rest to come soon!

Highlights (in no particular order):**

1. Be still and know.
Life is not predictable. Things are not going to go the way I expect them to, and God is not going to work the way I think He should. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10:
"Be still and know that I am God."
Apparently, an alternate translation of "be still" is "let go"--
"Let go and know that I am God."
Stop freaking out. Stop worrying. Stop trying to control everything. Just be still, let it go, and recognize that He is God and I am not. He's got it under control, so I need to let Him be in control.

2. Thankfulness.
Gratitude: it's something you hear a lot about, but generally don't make a conscious effort to include it in your daily life. At least, that's how it's been for me. This is a huge thing that God has been teaching me over the past several months. Thankfulness is not just a nice suggestion; it's vital to joy and contentment and keeping God first (which, consequently, are all tied very closely together!). Even when everything is going wrong, there is always something to be thankful for, even if you have to get down to the tiniest things. Sometimes, it's the little things that matter most.***

3. Seek Him first.
"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well."
- Matthew 6:33
God absolutely has to be first in my thoughts, in my heart, in my life. My whole life needs to be centered around Him. When it all comes down to it, He really is the only thing that matters. A relationship, a career, a life goal, whatever--if anything else is getting most of my attention and is what I'm striving for most, then something is wrong. He is the "prize," if you will. Nothing else.
"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ."
- Philippians 3:7-8
I've always kind of understood that in my head, but this is the first time it's really clicked, and the first time that I've made a conscious effort to make it my way of life.**** Because it does require effort, constant effort, which brings me to my next point...

4. Perseverance: Keep pushing.
Everything is a process. Keeping the main goal in sight is absolutely crucial, because otherwise, you will never make it anywhere. The rest of life is way too distracting, and when things get painful and doubt starts creeping in, perspective is nearly impossible to maintain. The only way I've been able to keep going is because I've been doing my best to keep Lesson #3 in the front of my mind as much as I possibly can. My mindset: Push through the pain now, because it's the only way through. It will hurt, but the end will be worth it. And then (like now), once the pain is past, the goal still has to be in sight because at that point, it's the only motivation you have. There are no breaks here; it's a daily choice to make for the rest of your life.
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
- Philippians 3:12-14
5. Blessings in disguise.
Sometimes, God's best does not come in the form we expect. Sometimes, His blessings come to us in really heartbreaking ways. Sometimes, pain is proof that God loves us.

God knows what's best for us. The thing is, it usually takes a good deal of pain to actually get there. Rarely can we get to where He wants us to be without giving up certain things we have now. Gaining His best often requires a lot of loss on our part. That isn't to say that we don't gain so much more--we do--but loss is always painful. And sometimes, there are things in our hearts that have to be removed, and a lot of times, it requires a great deal of pain to bring it to the surface. In the end, if we handle it correctly, pain will always bring us closer to God. Isn't that in itself worth it?
"You said, 'I know that this will hurt
But if I don't break your heart, then things will just get worse
If the burden seems too much to bear,
Remember, the end will justify the pain it took to get us there.'"
- "Let It All Out" by Relient K
6. Dig deep: Finding purpose in the pain.
When it comes to dealing with pain, we have two options: Face it head on or bury it with distractions. Option one actually gets us somewhere, while option two is only going to make things hurt even more in the end.

Finding purpose in the hardest times requires us to do some serious soul-searching. It means digging deep and making some changes that we may not have even realized we needed. I'm not saying that every painful situation is a result of something we've done wrong, because that's definitely not the case. Still, every painful situation can be used to grow, and growth almost always requires change. Hard? Very. Worth it? Most definitely.

(Click here for part 2!)

*I do have to say, though--it's had its fair share of similarities to 2009! Kind of scary in some ways. Both were definitely big years for learning and growing and maturing in major ways. Just different ones.
**It was kind of hard for me to divide these up into a nice little list because all of these lessons are so related and intertwined and often inseparable. But…I did my best.
***Keeping a list of "the little things" I'm thankful for has become one of my favorite things. It's amazing how much you miss when you aren't looking! God really is so good.
****This is such a basic concept, I know, and it's one I've heard all my life, but the meaning of it didn't click until this year. Maybe I'm a little slow, but the basic, foundational stuff has been big for me lately. It's like I'm finally getting it, not just in my mind, but in my heart, because I'm actually experiencing it and having to make the conscious decision to include it in my life.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Just keep swimming...

Listening to: "1000 Ships (Acoustic" by Rachel Platten
Just discovered her today (yes, another NoiseTrade find). I really like this song, and "Nothing Ever Happens" isn't too bad either. Pretty good stuff!
"Never, never, never give up."
- Winston Churchill

Out of all of the lessons that I've learned this year (and trust me, there have been a lot!), this has been one of the biggest, and it's one I'm still struggling to get. Pushing all the way through has never been my strong point. I'm great at starting things, and even figuring out what I need to do to get to the end goal, but when it comes to actually following through with it--completely? Not so much. It's a major weakness of mine that I didn't even recognize until this year.*

At the beginning of anything, I typically have one of two things to motivate me: pain or excitement. Either things are too painful not to move forward, or I'm really excited about what's happening, so moving forward isn't even a question--I want to! Unfortunately, neither one lasts. There always comes a point when all emotion wears off. That's when who I really am comes to the surface.

Do I really love Him enough to keep pursuing Him first?
Do I really trust Him enough to keep following Him, even if He doesn't?
Am I really finding my contentment in Him alone?
Am I really willing to wait patiently for Him, not jumping ahead, no matter how long it takes?

Or am I just fooling myself, lying not only to myself, but to Him as well?

They're all questions I've been grappling with lately, trying so hard to come to an honest answer…and to do whatever I possibly can to make sure my answer is, without question, YES. Lately, it's been coming down to sheer determination…and lots of prayer! I cannot afford to give up. Not now.

Goal: keep pushing, no matter how hard it gets. Because the end is worth it.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."
- Hebrews 12:1-2
*There have been a lot of those this year, actually--weaknesses I didn't know I had coming to the surface. It's beyond humbling (not to mention painful) when you have to come to terms with how messed up you really are. I was already plenty aware of the fact that I'm not perfect, but this year has taken it to a whole new level!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


"Writer" by AmythePirate
I have a really good memory.

If I'm known for anything, it's probably that. I remember dates, details of conversations, and half the time, I remember my friends' lives and schedules better than they do (I may or may not have once gotten a text saying, "This probably sounds stupid, but…what do I have to do today?"…and I may or may not have been able to give an actual answer). This has probably made me seem creepy on more than one occasion. Oops. (Unintentional, I promise. I'm not stalking people.) It's not that I try to remember all these things; I just do. I can't really help myself!


Remembering is something that has always been really important to me. Not so much the random details of other people's lives (though I'm happy to help you keep track of your class schedule), but remembering all the details of life that later add up to something really significant, things you can't see while they're happening.

Normally, at the end of every year, I read through my journals from January 1 through December 31, just to reminisce the entire year. This is the first year since I was 14 that I won't be doing that (I accidentally left my other journals at school. I can't say I really want to re-live everything that happened this year though, so I'm not too disappointed). Still, it isn't remembering random events and things that happened that I love so much; it's remembering the lessons and the growth that occurred because of them.

I don't want to forget.

It's not that I'm so caught up in the past that I stop living in the present. Rather, it's that I want to remember what I learned then so I can keep applying it now. Forgetting is so easy, much easier than it should be. Perspective can be lost before you even have a chance to realize it's slipping. I can spend months learning something, feel confident that I've finally got it down, and then something happens that makes me lose it all in a single day. When I take the time to remember, though, it helps keep me on track.*

I can't forget what He has already done, where He's brought me from, or I'll never be able to fully appreciate where He's taking me. Even more than that, I'll never be able to stay on track enough to actually get there. Not only that, but it's so amazing to be able to look back and see how God has used such seemingly minor things in incredible ways. That's one of my favorite things.
"Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…"
- Deuteronomy 5:15
*For me, that means going back and reading my journal from when my perspective was right. Seeing it written down has so much more impact than just trying to think about it. That's something I've been REALLY thankful for over the past few days. It has helped a lot.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Thou and thou only first in my heart..."

Currently thankful for: Christmas movies, candles, finally getting paid, and last but most definitely not least, BEING DONE WITH THIS SEMESTER. Enough said about that!

Keeping God first is the hardest thing.

It should be so easy. I mean, seriously--He's so, so good, and absolutely everything I could possibly need. I have more joy and am more content with Him than I am at any other time. So why is it that my heart jumps at the chance to replace Him at the slightest opportunity? I'll never understand that. It doesn't make sense.

The past couple of weeks have been a struggle to make sure He stays first in my heart, my thoughts, my life. I've already failed at it more than once. Falling back into old patterns is all too easy, but I'm learning to recognize them--and to recognize what I need to do to avoid them. As hard as it is to discipline myself like this, it has forced me to be in a near-constant state of prayer, just to keep my head above water.

Sometimes, I forget that surrender and putting God first is a process, not an event. It's not something that I do once and for all, never having to think about it again. Instead, it's something I have to do constantly and will have to continue until the day that I die. I will never come to a point when I can say, "Wow, I'm glad that's over with. I learned a lot and now God is first; I don't have to focus on keeping Him there anymore." Yet that's what has happened every single time I've come through a hard situation. And guess what? As soon as I stop focusing on Him so intently, everything slowly begins to fall apart again.

Will I ever learn?

Even if He chooses to move me to the next stage of the process, a happier time, that doesn't mean I'm supposed to stop clinging to Him, or even loosen my grip. And even if He doesn't fulfill what I'm hoping for, that doesn't mean I'm supposed to suddenly trust Him any less. Because even if He doesn't, I will still trust Him. I will still love Him. I will still follow Him, knowing that His plan is best.
"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.'"
- Daniel 3:16-18
That has become one of the most profound verses in the Bible to me, and one of my biggest lessons over the past several months. Those guys knew what God could do, even what they truly believed that He would do, and certainly they wanted to be rescued, but in the end, it really didn't matter. Their faith was in Him, not in what He could do. It's the same reason Abraham was able to obey when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham knew what God had promised him, but he had to be willing to let go of even that--even the promise--and trust that God is faithful. Even if He doesn't, He is faithful.

"Thou and Thou only first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my treasure, Thou art."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Things I Like: Music Edition!

Photo Credit: Unknown
Currently thankful for: Sun shining through the clouds on an otherwise cold, rainy day; being productive; inside jokes; listening to the random conversations that occur on third floor Humanities; unexpected opportunities

Finals week: time for more procrastination! Yay! I only have one more to go, but I am so unmotivated, like I can't even begin to say. Hence the reason I'm writing this. I'm pretty sure you all know by this point that I like music...a lot. It's pretty much impossible for me to pick all-time favorites, but I figured I'd share some stuff that I've been liking lately (I've may have mentioned some of them before, so sorry in advance for any repeats!). So, in no particular order...

1. Matthew Mayfield
"Sing 'til you mean it and love 'til you feel it
'Cause I still believe in your heart
Don't let the waves push and pull you away
Now you're free and it sets you apart."

- Matthew Mayfield, "Now You're Free"
 I love those lyrics! Ever since I got his Now You're Free album off of NoiseTrade (best site ever!), I've been a pretty big fan. I like his sound a lot, and the lyrics are pretty great, too!

2. The Walla Recovery
They're not very well-known, but I've really been liking their folksy, cello-driven sound lately (but really, when don't I like folk music? Especially when it includes an instrument like a cello? Yes, please!). Their songs have a lot of great spiritual themes without being cliche about it. Their song "Spoils of Warring Hearts" is excellent.

3. Andrew Belle
I love his music so much! It's a perfect balance between happy and least that's how I feel about it. He has so many good ones, but this song is one of my absolute favorites:

I'll admit, I don't completely get the video...but it's still kind of cool (and I still love the song).

4. Hymns in general
I know this is kind of odd, but I have been absolutely loving old hymns this semester. "Be Thou My Vision" has pretty much been my theme song since like, September, and I still sing it all the time. Others include (but are not limited to): "In Christ Alone"*, "How Firm a Foundation," "Solid Rock," and "Jesus Paid It All."

So. Freaking. Good.

5. Mat Kearney
This guy is just awesome. His Young Love album is amazing. It's so upbeat and happy and I just can't help but love it! I'm actually going to see him in concert with some friends next month, and I am super excited about it. A few of many favorite songs of his: "Ships in the Night," "Down," "Count on Me," and "All I Need" (from Nothing Left to Lose).

That's all I have for now. After tomorrow, I am free until January!(!!!!) Half of senior year: DONE. Scary thought!

*If I could choose one song to be my absolute all-time favorite, "In Christ Alone" would probably be it. For me, it says it all.