Oh, Isaac…

All Glory Comes From Daring to Begin

This weekend I had the incredible blessing of attending my church’s women’s retreat in Estes Park. For the last two days, I have “lived” in a beautiful cabin in the mountains with some of the most Godly women I know.

Yesterday, after a full day of hiking, relaxing, cooking, worshiping, and talking, we ended our day in a group prayer session in the living room. And as I sat praying on the floor, surrounded by my spiritual sisters, it hit me.

I LOVE my life.

Had you asked me if I was really, truly happy this time last year, the answer likely would have been no. I was licking wounds left by a rough break up, I lacked a support system, and had built my faith on an incredibly shaky foundation. I didn’t have a community of believers around me (Heck, I didn’t really have a community around me at all) and I had just moved back to the city after a year of living in my personal hell on earth– AKA “the suburbs”.

But now, a year later, most everything is different.

God has restored my life in so many miraculous ways that I still can’t comprehend. I have a small, but beautiful studio in the exact neighborhood that I wanted to live. I am working in my “dream job” at the Denver Street School. I have a great group of friends that only God could have brought around me. I have been able to reconcile things with my ex, and while I wouldn’t consider us “friends”, I no longer shake and burst into tears when I run into him around town. I have a church body that has supported me as I walked back into the darkness of my past, celebrated with me when prayers have been answered, and gently corrected me when I began to make dumb decisions. My walk with God is stronger than it has ever been and He has begun to open new doors for me, revealing new parts of His plan for my life.

One of those doors came in the form of a letter this last week: A letter announcing my acceptance into the Linguistics and Cultural Studies Masters Program at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Dallas, Texas.

While I’m excited to see what God has in store for my future, it hit me last night that I don’t want to leave Denver. I don’t want to leave my family (biological or otherwise), my community, my friends, my students… my church.

I want to stay here.

I know that I’m being selfish, but honestly, it seems a bit unfair. The fact that I lived through hell for three years, and now that God has fixed everything that I screwed up, now that I’m happy… that I’m being called away? That doesn’t seem right to me.

The thought of leaving literally brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it.

But as I sat in worship this morning, crying pathetically, I felt God impress the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac into my heart.

Abraham and Sarah waited and prayed for over half a century for God to bless them with a child. And when He finally did, God said,

Take you son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

In comparison to my three years and my (mostly) self-induced trials, Abraham and Sarah’s plight seems unimaginable.

Having to wait between seventy and eighty years for a child, only to have God say, I want you to step out in faith and sacrifice your child whom you love… I don’t think that I could it.

I don’t know that I would have the strength or faith to say, “Yes, God. I trust what You are doing and because you first blessed me with this child, I will lay him down as a sacrifice, if that is what you want.” But somehow Abraham did trust God, and God honored that by calling out to Abraham at the last minute to say,

‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.’ And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’.” (Genesis 22:12-14)

In my head I know that my life is not my own. I know that I was put on this earth to live for God and glorify Him, but that doesn’t make those moments when God asks you to sacrifice what you love any less difficult or scary.

To be completely honest, I haven’t hit the place yet where I am actually excited to “lay down my Isaac” for the Glory of God… Yet I know that I am being asked to lay down my life here in Denver so that I can help spread His Word all around the world to the hurting and hopeless. Don’t get me wrong– I’m excited to be a part of His great plan, I’m just not thrilled that I have to give up the life that I love to go; At least I’m not thrilled yet… God’s clearly not done with me (thank goodness) and it will be interesting to see how He works all of this out in the long run.

Has God been calling you to lay down an “Isaac” in your life lately?

Whoever loves his life, must lose it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:25-26)

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I think…

I think too much.

Sometimes I think that my overthinking comes from living alone and having nearly twelve beautiful hours of silence to process my chaotic life between the times when I get home from work and the time that I walk out the door the next day.

Sometimes I think back to my childhood and realize that I’ve always been a deep thinker. While my social butterflies of sisters would be off gallivanting about the neighborhood, I would usually be doing something nerdy like looking at rocks in the backyard and thinking out loud about what minerals or fossils they might contain. (Let me tell you, talking to yourself out loud about rocks is not a great way to win friends at the age of 7…or 8…or 9.)

Then sometimes, I think about the way that I process arguments and conversations after they happen. I can’t help but think: What could have gone better? What would have happened if that one little thing had gone differently?

And at the end of all of my thinking about thinking, I realize that I am once again, indeed thinking.

My thinking is a problem, really. (Although, I would personally rather be an over-thinker than an under-thinker if I had to choose. But moving on before I make any more snarky remarks…)

My problem doesn’t necessarily come from the fact that I sometimes think out loud, leading me to talk to myself (or my dog), but from the fact that when I start rehashing my life, I’m usually not talking to God. In fact, I usually am taking my eyes completely off of God. I’m essentially saying,

God, I don’t like how that ended. If You could please put Your Sovereign Knowledge and the good that You’re trying to work here on hold for a minute so that we can tend to my selfish needs, that would be great.”

I will literally dissect and analyze a troubling conversation to death before I offer it up to God, and usually by that time, I have internalized the conversation on a deep level. I understand that sometimes internalizing conversations is beneficial to us as humans and as Christians, especially if the conversations were encouraging or full of wisdom that we need to hear.

However, mulling conversations over and over can easily become detrimental to our walks with God if we aren’t careful with what we are over thinking.

My most recent example of this?

My mother and I don’t have a great relationship, and unfortunately we haven’t for a rather long time. For the majority of the last three years, we haven’t spoken to each other, but just last month she got back in contact with me. For the first few days, I felt like I had a normal relationship with my mom. We caught up on what my siblings were up to, her recent divorce, the happenings of her sunflower farm and ranch, and the like, but unfortunately that quickly fell away and the patterns of verbal abuse that I had grown up with began to return.

Some days when she would call and drill into me, I would turn the other cheek, pretend that her stabbing words didn’t bother me, and give her an excuse as to why I had to hang up. Other days I would blow up at her, serving her insults right back. But no matter how the conversations ended, I always mentally replayed and analyzed them, yet very rarely did I pray for guidance or wisdom.

Last weekend, after absorbing several weeks of verbal assaults I finally blocked her number and tried to go back about my life.

But by then, the conversations and lies were already written on my heart.

Had I simply run to God after every conversation and confrontation and let Him heal my brokenness, I know that I wouldn’t have been so deeply wounded by my mother’s words or the words that came out of my own mouth. But instead, I had replayed them and let them take root in my heart. Slowly her words became my words:

“You’re never going to go anywhere.”

“You’re worthless.”

“You were a mistake.”

“You’re just like your father.”

And because I had started believing these lies, I couldn’t hear the truths that God was speaking into my life at that same time:

“You’ve been accepted into this graduate program because I’m taking you somewhere.”

“You are worth my Son’s life.”

“I created you for a reason.”

“You were created in My image to become more like your Father.”

I don’t think that over thinking is a disease that you can magically be cured of, and I’m honestly still not sure that I would want to be cured of it if this was a possibility. However, I do know that I need to remember where my healing and love comes from, and that is not from my own heart or mind, but from my God.

I am not doing anything productive by metaphorically beating my head against a wall, but God, the author of the Universe (and my own weird brain) would be able to do something with my situation, if only I would offer it up to Him instead.

What is God trying to tell you right now? Can you hear Him? Or are you thinking over your plans and actions instead of offering them up to Him?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

~Philippians 4:6-7

Fresh

Typically, I’m not a big “foodie”. Don’t get me wrong– I appreciate eating things that are delicious. But having survived off of my own (rather dismal) cooking for years, food has just become something that keeps me alive– not necessarily something that I go to for enjoyment.

Or at least that was the case until I had a vast array of fresh, California produce at my finger tips this month. Everywhere you turn around out there, there are gigantic, juicy fruits and vegetables and I must say, I was in heaven! (I mean, when our family had a huge block party for the 4th of July, I bar-be-qued corn, mangoes, and pineapples– not because I’m a super healthy person (although I wish I was), but because the produce there is fresh from the source and unlike any food that you can find in Colorado.) And knowing that I was about to return home, I crammed my backpack full of fresh produce and looked like a complete nutjob on the airplane.

But in a weird way, I’m glad I rebelled against TSA’s “suggested items not to pack in your carry-on” list, as I received more joy out of my smuggled treats than I had anticipated.

You see, last week while munching on a smuggled California kiwi and doing some work for my summer job, I had a sermon podcast from my home church, Scum of the Earth, running in my headphones.

The topic of the sermon? Living closer with God

The verses that Mike (Scum’s pastor) felt the Holy Spirit leading him to? John 15:4-5

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

At first, I just giggled at the coincidence between my snack and the fact that I was listening to my pastor speak about fruit before continuing on to plug information about some software company into its respective email. But as the sermon went on, I began making more and more connections between what Mike was saying and where I currently was in relationship to God.

The first connection: The relationship between fresh fruit and its source. The fruit in California tastes better because it is brought to me shortly after being removed from its vine/tree/root. The farmer harvests (is that the proper term for something that’s not chili? I don’t know… #Mexicanproblems) the crop right at its peak ripeness and because it has a shorter distance to travel before it lands in my hands, it is sweeter. My snack gets to remain attached to its source and be nourished longer, and therefore continues to grow and become better and better.

The second connection: The relationship between my life and my Source.

I don’t know about you, but I can feel a difference in myself when I spend time with God and when I don’t. If God and I aren’t in communication either overtly or subconsciously, suddenly, “old, ghetto me” peeks out of hiding. I get easily annoyed by the little things, short-tempered, overly snarky, and if enough time goes by, just down-right mean. And while I’m not proud to admit it, toward the end of my last stay in California, I was beginning to get revert-igo and was sliding right back into those old characteristics.

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the “fruit” that John 15 is referring to “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”…and as I grumpily sat working on a coffee shop patio, listening to Mike speak, I was lacking almost all of these.

Why? It’s simple: I wasn’t actively in communication with God.

As Mike says in the aforementioned sermon, “Not to advance is to retreat. When does a plant stop growing? When you stop watering it and it starts dying. There is no middle ground here.”

I was grumpy, impatient, and lacking in joy because I wasn’t watering my spiritual plant. I was allowing myself to die, day by day, choice by choice.

As someone who tried to plant a garden in her classroom and accidentally killed it by not watering it over spring break, you would think I would have this elementary principle of gardening down pat.

But, I guess I don’t…

My last few days in California, and even for my first few days back home, I wasn’t intentional about tending to my relationship with God. Sometimes I would wake up late and forget to have quiet time in the midst of a chaotic morning. Other times, I was too apathetic to pick up my Bible instead of my iPad on my break or late at night.

We’ve all been there.

But unlike my classroom garden that I didn’t exactly mourn after I killed it, my relationship with God is important to me. Who I am in Him and whether I am doing His work or not, is important to me.

Too important for me to simply stop watering it and allow myself to shrivel away.

So yes, I’m a sucky gardener, but I’m making an effort to, well… make an effort.

Where are you with God today? Are you picking up something that is going to draw you closer to Him? Or are you allowing yourself to shrivel up and die one decision at a time?

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Philippians 4: 6-7 (The Message)

(If you’re interested in hearing the wonderful sermon I’ve mentioned, the podcast can be found in the Scum archives here. It’s worth a listen, I promise.)

Leap

In August 2011, I was fed up. I was stuck in a job that I was no longer passionate about, in a neighborhood I knew I needed to leave, surrounded by things and people that reminded me of the mess I had recently made of my life…and I was begging God to move in me.

That’s when God dropped a job offer in my lap that changed everything. Out of virtually nowhere, I was offered a position as a Nursery Director at the Denver Street School. The possibility of getting away from the negativity in my life was so tempting, but there was one problem– I really disliked the idea of working with children.

They’re sticky, impatient, demanding, and cry all the time. (Ironically, a near mirror image of myself during this chapter of my life. Well, sans the stickiness…)

Even though I had specifically been praying all summer for a job to open up at the Denver Street School, I was beyond hesitant to accept what God had put right in front of me.

Seriously, God? Kids?! You couldn’t have opened an office position or something that I’m good at and would actually like?

And that’s when I heard it…

You’ve prayed and begged for a job at DSS. Just trust me, would you? This is going to be great, but I need you to take a leap of faith here…I’ve got you. You’re not going to fall.

I wavered for days. Was I really willing to walk out of my comfort zone to follow God somewhere new?

It wasn’t even that the Street School was scary; in fact it was more a home to me than any I had ever lived in. But I was (am) stubborn and it took many anxious talks with God before I finally “caved” and said yes.

Accepting the job at the Denver Street School has single-handedly been the best choice I’ve ever made. And I almost missed it because I wasn’t willing to let go of the rags I had gathered around myself and take that leap of faith.

Similar to where I found myself two years ago, I now have a choice to make.

The call to take another leap of faith has presented itself; I may have the opportunity to go to one of the best graduate schools for linguistics in this hemisphere. 

I say hemisphere, because it’s in Canada…

Taking this leap of faith would mean having to leave my comfortable life that I have watched God rebuild: new friendships, family, my adorable studio apartment in the city, my students, my teaching position… The list goes on and on.

So the question remains: What will I do? Where will I go?

Luckily, I have several friends that God has put in this same place in life to work through this with. (Shout out to these lovely people who know exactly who they are!)

All I can ask is that if you’re reading this, that you pray for me. I would pray for guidance, but I know I already have that; so instead I’m requesting prayer for courage.

Courage to accept the call: Courage to go on the adventure that I have so desperately been craving.

Is God calling you somewhere new today? What will your response be? 

~

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

~Matthew 16:24

[Eat,] Pray, Love

Roughly three years ago, a book came out and seemed to (at least temporarily) revolutionize our static American culture. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was a gutsy self-help-esque book centered around the idea of “doing what you need to do to be happy”. (You know, standard “Oprah’s Book Club” stuff…)

On her journey to “finding herself” Elizabeth exposes her darkest secrets to her audience, and after ripping her own heart out and allowing it to bleed all over the pages for a while, she eats a lot of Italian food, takes a trip to India, and is suddenly able to sew herself back up, and viola! After a divorce, a family feud, and a few bad relationships, she is magically fixed!

Now, if you’re thinking that I sound skeptical, you would be 1,000% correct.

During the time that this book was all the rage, my life had essentially caught on fire and everything (and everyone) that I valued had either disappeared or had been removed for one reason or another. Everyone except the gentleman (hardly…) that I was dating at the time.

I was desperately seeking happiness and figured that if Elizabeth Gilbert was able to find happiness in her journey, that I might be able to get some happiness by proxy if I read her book.

I bought it, kept it in my purse, and struggled to enjoy the first third of the book. But there was simply nothing about her journey that seemed to bring me any joy; In fact, I only seemed to be slipping further down the rabbit hole of “blah”.

In an effort to speed up the process of rediscovering my happiness and myself, I decided to buy the movie when it came out on DVD (I’m an American, what can I say? Instant gratification is what we’re all about, right?). But even the movie put me to sleep– literally. I’ve tried to watch it on several occasions and have never made it past the second section when she’s in India.

For months and months, I continued to struggle to find some source of happiness. It wasn’t until I was given no other choice than to give up my comfortable lifestyle with my then-boy-toy and try to stand alone that I completely shattered.

If I was unhappy before the split, I was barely human after it. When my life had crumbled around me for the previous year, I had poured myself into making my relationship work. His friends became my friends. His interests became my interests. Heck, I even began reading the same books as him, simply so we would have some common ground amid our dysfunction.

After the break-up, I did the logical thing: I looked where society said that I would find happiness and I went after that. To my dismay, Eat, Pray, Love was still what the world was telling me would “fix me”. So I gave it another shot.

Pathetic and broken, I sat on my back patio and forced myself to re-read the book when this nifty quote jumped out at me for the first time:

“Moreover, I have boundary issues with men. Or maybe that’s not fair to say. To have issues with boundaries, one must have boundaries in the first place, right? But I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time—everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else. I do not relay these facts about myself with pride, but this is how it’s always been.

Some time after I’d left my husband, I was at a party and a guy I barely knew said to me, “You know, you seem like a completely different person, now that you’re with this new boyfriend. You used to look like your husband, but now you look like David. You even dress like him and talk like him. You know how some people look like their dogs? I think maybe you always look like your men.”

It was like Elizabeth Gilbert was reading my mail!

I had become so much like all of the people around me that I literally lost “me”. Sitting in my backyard that day, I began to wonder who “I was” before I had gotten invested in all of the people in my life.

The first thought that came to my mind was “I was a follower of Christ” and the second thought almost made me sick to my stomach– “I was…”

I had been so busy following other people, tending to other people, trying to love other people (many against their will), that I had stopped following, loving, and pursuing Christ.

The years since that revelation have been rocky, but now as I sit here and think about my life, I can see that I have lost myself in someone once again… People think I’m crazy, but I am in love.

I am head over heels for my Creator and I am working everyday to give him everything that I have. My time, my devotion, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money [Sorry, Charlie], my dog’s time… I am working hard to ensure that all of it goes to furthering His Kingdom.

My previously non-existent boundaries still don’t really exist, but I care less about that now. I have a peace that passes all understanding. I have the joy that I was so desperately seeking in other people. I have a wonderful, flourishing relationship with Christ and through Him, I have found my worth and my joy again.

I’ve still never read, or seen Eat, Pray, Love all the way through (and I likely never will) but I’m grateful for the bizarre way that God used it to pull me back into my relationship with himself.

All of this to ask my question of the week:

When people look at you today, who do they see? Are you reflecting your spouse? Do you look like your dog? Or are you a mirror of your Father in Heaven?

Who have you lost yourself in? And are you happy with that decision?

~

 “I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.” (~Elizabeth Gilbert)

Maybe Elizabeth Gilbert was onto something there… It all sounds so familiar…

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:38

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.” ~Deuteronomy 31:8

Need I go on?