5 Lessons I’m Endeavoring to Learn

As most of you know, I am now in my last semester of undergrad, and as such, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reflecting on what God has taught me during these past four years. For those of you who spend extended periods of time with me, these five lessons won’t be anything new because I talk about them frequently, but I’m realizing that they’re good enough to bear repeating.

1. Growth is circular.

Whenever I learn something, I have this silly expectation that I will master it the first time around and then be able to move on. In reality, I often learn a lesson, and then a situation comes up in my life that tests whether I’ve actually learned the lesson I’m claiming to have mastered, at which point I quickly discover that I have so much more to learn. Take, for example, last Friday. In my Christian Discipling class we were discussing emotional authenticity, and I was patting myself on the back for having mastered the art of tapping into my true emotions. Three hours later I found myself upset and confused about a situation with a friend that drug up old wounds, but incredibly unwilling to allow myself to press into what I was truly feeling. It took my roommates asking if I was okay (and not taking yes for an answer) for me to acknowledge that I was hurting. At which point I had two choices – be frustrated with myself for failing to be true to my emotions, or recognize the circular nature of growth. Growth is like a moving bike. If you are a speck on the wheel of a bike, it feels like you’re making progress as the wheel moves forward, only to be drug backwards over and over again. But, if you look at the bike as a whole, it is consistently moving forward. (This analogy is much easier to describe with hand motions, but I’ll trust you to get the idea). In the same way as we grow, if we only focus on our current situation, we often feel like we’ve backslid and lost all we’ve learned. However, if we take a step back and look at how far we’ve come since we started, we can no longer deny our growth.

kelly-with-hannahPretend to be a speck on the wheel of my tricycle and then you’ll hopefully understand my analogy. 🙂 

2. God has room for your full range of emotions.

I am known for giving people this advice all the time, and until last summer, I thought I believed it. But last summer, for the first time in my life, I found myself feeling angry at God, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure He could actually handle ALL of my emotions. Being angry at God is scary, and it’s not a place I would recommend sitting for a long period of time, but unless you are willing to engage that emotion, you won’t be able to move beyond it. In her newest book called Present Over Perfect Shauna Niequist talks about oil and vinegar prayers. She says that we want to get to the oil in our prayers – the beautiful, rich, intimate times with God, but that in order to get there we must pray through the vinegar – our fears, frustrations, and really anything that is bitter in our lives. And you know what I’ve found in mining though the darkness within me? That God truly does have room for my full range of emotions. My questions and doubts don’t scare Him because He knows that no matter how hard I push back, He will come out true.

img_1957Sometimes my emotions feel as strong and reckless as the ocean, but God is faithful to never let me drown. 

3. Prayer is never powerless.

During my freshman year, one of my dear friends and hallmates used this phrase, and it has stuck with me ever since. This phrase usually comes to mind when I’m in a situation where I feel powerless and God is asking me to pray, which is endlessly frustrating to me! I want to fix, answer, do, but God says, “wait, trust, pray.” Over and over and over again I have seen the power of prayer at work in my life. In response to my prayers God has provided housing, mended relationships, drawn people to Himself, stirred hearts, and healed in miraculous ways. Sometimes I feel like I’m just flinging words at the sky, but lately God’s been reminding me that He hears me. It blows my mind that we serve a God who wants nothing more than to listen to us, and takes into consideration the things we have to say.

imgp0180Sweet Bree gets all the credit for the “prayer is never powerless” line. 

4. Should is a dangerous word.

If we are doing something because we feel we should, that is a warning sign that we are not being authentic to who we were created to be. As I look back over my time in college, I realize how many decisions I made out of a place of should. It is only in the past few months that I’ve been truly able to look at my life and say, “Yes, this is who I’m meant to be.” Not that I’m living in full authenticity by any stretch of the imagination (see #1) but lately I’ve been marveling in how much joy it brings me to do the work that I was made to do. When you find those things that make you come alive, everything else pales in comparison. Sometimes that means being quirky or different. So much of college is not only learning who you are, but coming to terms with what you’ve learned about yourself. My encouragement is this – if it brings you joy, don’t let it be stopped or silenced. In the words of Howard Thurman “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

img_1181Experiencing other cultures makes me come alive!

5. God is trustworthy.

This sounds simple, but truly believing this changes everything. If God is trustworthy, then my future is secure. This is probably the most important lesson I continue to learn – life-altering enough to get it tattooed on my arm. Sometimes my roommates ask me to name a time when God has failed me, and I can never do it. The ways of God are not my ways, and He loves to surprise me, but He has never failed me, not once. One of my current favorite songs is “Seasons Change by United Pursuit, and the chorus, though simple is profound. “Though the seasons change/Your love remains.”

imgp2410Father, since you are a God who loves me unconditionally, help me become a daughter who trusts you no matter what.

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Running Out

I know I frequently post music on this blog, and to be honest, sometimes I wonder if I overuse it. Because everyone has such different musical tastes, I often question if the songs I post mean anything to my readers.

But then I remember the intrinsic magical quality that music possesses. Music cuts through our defenses to deliver truths we wouldn’t otherwise accept. Music soothes, energizes, heals, emboldens, and teaches. In my life there’s a special joy that only music can produce. And when I remember all of that, I can’t help but believe that, even if the music I write about doesn’t mean something to every single one of you, it’s bound to speak to some of you, and is therefore, worth writing about.

So today I’m going to unapologetically share a song with you. It’s called Running Out by Andrea Marie.

I discovered this song three months ago, but the more I listen to it, the more profound it becomes.

Take the first verse.

I’ve tried to make it all work out 
But I’m running out, I’m running out of good ideas
I’ve tried my best but all I see is humanity
Running out of good ideas

Look at our nation. Look at our world. What do we see? Humanity, running out of good ideas. And in my own life, I feel the weight of trying to make it all work out while coming to terms with the reality that, I am flat out of good ideas. To be completely candid, there was a day last week when I came home cussing and crying because there are situations in my life where there’s no solution in sight. My ideas are no longer enough.

Then there’s verse two.

I’m letting go of all I’ve known
And I’m coming out, I’m coming out of bad ideas
You’re all that I want to believe
So I’m coming out, I’m coming out of bad ideas

Verse two is the next step. All too often it takes my good ideas drying up for me to realize that my ideas were never enough to begin with because the true solution will not come from solely me. When I reach the end of myself, I can let go enough to start running from my bad ideas, and more importantly, the sin that was born of my self-sufficiency.

Then there’s the chorus. This is the part that really cuts deep for me.

You are who you say you are
That’s different than I thought you’d be

Although I do not know the songwriter’s intent, to me this speaks of the character of God. God is exactly who He says He is, but oftentimes, who He is is not who I imagined Him to be. Recent life circumstances have been teaching me this firsthand. What I’m discovering is that suffering and pain burn up our misconceptions and incorrect assumptions about the character of God. The Bible describes it as a refining fire. Fire burns away impurities, leaving behind the good, true and beautiful. But the process hurts. It’s scary to have elements of God’s character you thought to be true called into question. But at the end of the day, I’d rather know God for who He is than who I’ve constructed Him to be.

Finally there’s the bridge.

Stand a little taller, little taller
Cause you know now this is who you are
Make your voice louder, make it louder
Make them hear you this is who you are
Step a little closer, little closer
To the edge now this is who you are

I see this part of the song as a call to keep your chin up. Yes, you’re out of good ideas, running to distance yourself from your sins, having your understanding of God shaken and refined, but in the process you’re discovering who you are. And that knowledge will forever empower you to stand a little taller, make your voice louder, and step a little closer to the edge. You know who you are.

Why I Pray

When I pray for you it’s like breathing –
equal parts commonplace and extraordinary in its rhythm and repetitive motion.

Each morning I climb the stairs,
check the first of many trash cans,
and begin to pray as I move counterclockwise around the perimeter of the library.

Some days I am eager to pray,
overflowing with hope in the promises of God,
but most days I feel frustrated and weary of
praying and praying and praying
without seeing growth or change.

And yet,
a little voice inside says,
“Kelly, God hears you,”
and so, I pray.

While walking the length of the library I look out on the quiet quad,
taking in the steadfast clock tower,
the blooming hanging baskets,
and the construction projects strewn across campus in various stages of completion.

I pray for your work,
your family,
your mind,
and most of all, our friendship.

Rounding the southwest corner of the building, I often begin to sing,
sometimes as a force of habit,
and sometimes because I feel as though my own words are failing me
leaving me no option but to lean on those that others have penned.

When I head to the other side of the library
my prayers often deepen in intensity
as I pray away the demons that threaten to devour
all who choose to walk in their identity as children of God.

I finish my circuit
and sometimes I feel relief that this particular morning ritual is finished,
but more often I feel a sense of longing for even just one more minute
in the presence of a God who already knows,
but still listens
who doesn’t need me,
but still chooses to use me in continuing the work of His Kingdom
as I pray for you.

So friend,
I want you to know that while my words may be raw,
and my feelings fickle
I am praying for you
because I trust that the growth that happens beneath the dirt
is every bit as important as the blossoming of the flower.

For Such A Time As This

For the past few months the six word phrase “for such a time as this” has been rattling around in my brain. It is a phrase that is originally found in the book of Esther. Esther 4:14 says,

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

In the story of Esther, an edict is issued in Persia stating that all the Jews are to be killed. Esther is a Jew who is married to the king of Persia. This particular verse refers to the fact that Esther has potentially been placed in a position of power for the purpose of saving her people, but she has to choose if she will step up and live into the reality of being the queen for such a time as this.


On April 25th, a meager six weeks before I was scheduled to fly to Nepal, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the nation.

nepal_mapFor an agonizing week and a half, I had no way of knowing if I my trip to Nepal would still happen. Leading up to the trip I felt incredibly confident that Nepal was where God was leading me to spend my summer, but finding out I would still be able to go in spite of the earthquake further heightened my awareness of God’s timing in sending me there. I was going to Nepal for such a time as this.

Within a few hours of meeting my teammates in the Chicago airport, we had discussed our suspicion that God was doing something extraordinary in and through our team, and a few of my teammates had already spoken the exact phrase “for such a time as this.”

IMG_0002

We all had a sense of God’s divine purpose in bringing us to Nepal, and for six beautiful weeks we got to live into that purpose. We had SO many moments, both individually and collectively when we could see exactly why God had us in Nepal. Eventually, however, as all things do, our time in Nepal ended.

Upon returning to the US, my sense of purpose changed dramatically. After six weeks on top of the world (literally) my regular life felt discouragingly aimless. I joked that after such a crazy summer I was ready for a few months of boring, but deep down I wasn’t so sure that was true.

Part of what helped me through the messy season of reentry was obsessively listening to music that had shaped me during our time in Nepal. One song I played on repeat was The Anthem by Jesus Culture. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIoZNqUQAGE) The chorus says “wake up child/it’s your time to shine/you were born for such a time as this.” The more I listened to the song, the more I got this nagging thought in the back of my mind – what if every day of my life is meant to be lived for such a time as this?

There are seasons of my life when I can clearly see why God has brought me to where I am. But there are other seasons of life where my purpose is far muddier. However, my inability to see the why of where I am does not change the fact that God has brought me here.

As I continue to reflect on what it would look like to continually live for such a time as this, I have found that seeing purpose in the ordinary changes everything. Suddenly I am motivated to be faithful in the small things, encouraged to look for places where God is already at work in my life, and inspired to be obedient to His promptings. I don’t know about you, but for me that sounds like a much better way to live!

Looking Up for Affirmation

It’s dusk when we walk into the garden of the Gethsemane House of Prayer in Kathmandu. We are greeted by several barking dogs and two rambunctious Nepali children. As we go inside the house, the children eagerly follow, running circles around our legs. We settle into the prayer room for the worship night, and one of the missionaries tells us that the young boy’s name is Arun and his sister’s name is Nisa.

The worship night begins, and Arun asks to color in Courtney’s journal. She obliges, handing him her blue highlighter, and watching as he proceeds to draw simple pictures on the lined pages. As those around me began to sing, I start to write in my own journal. I write in deliberate, looping cursive, not writing to get my thoughts on paper as I normally would, but taking time to truly listen to God.

Nisa

After running around the room for a while, Nisa comes over to me and crawls in my lap. She watches me write for a minute or two, and then she motions for my pen. With incredibly deliberate strokes, Nisa draws circles and squiggly lines on a page of my journal, and I sit and observe her attentiveness. As I watch her, I feel my heart swell with appreciation for this tiny human being, this beautiful daughter of God who has crossed my path. Every once and a while, Nisa looks up at me for affirmation, and I smile at her. And as I sit there, feeling her warmth on my lap, God reveals a piece of His heart to me.

Once Nisa finishes writing, I turn the page and write this reflection:

Dear God,
Thank you for revealing your heart to me. Those scribbles on the preceding page have helped me see your character. They’re from Nisa at the Prayer House, and as I watched her draw, I saw your heart for me. I am the little girl who takes the pen and meticulously draws on the pages of my life. But no matter how hard I focus, or try to imitate you, my scribbles will never be as beautiful as yours, And yet, as I scribble, you look on with love. When I look to you for affirmation, you smile. And then you gently take the pen from my hand, turn the page, and continue to write a beautiful story. Sometimes I say you laugh when I plan, but tonight I see that when I plan, you smile the most genuine and loving smile. You don’t condemn my plans, you just ask me to surrender them. In the image of the Creator, I create. And then I submit. So Father, take my scribbles and do what you will with them. I know I can trust you because you love me more than I can fathom. I love you!
Kelly 

To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain

These past few weeks I’ve found myself up against a new mental and emotional challenge: wrestling with the reality of my own mortality. I’ve always known that I am mortal, but I’ve never put much thought towards what would happen if I were to die in the near future.

Honestly, the thought of my own death is not overly frightening, because, when I die, I get to enter the realm of no suffering with Jesus forever! And while I definitely deeply value my life, and have no desire to die now, if I did, I would be ok. However, I worry about what would happen to those I love if something were to happen to me. At first glance that seems selfless, but the truth is that it is an incredibly selfish thought. If I die, I don’t have to deal with the consequences of my death here on earth, but my loved ones do.

I know these are things no one wants to think about, but lately they’ve been running circles in my mind. Here’s the thing: I know Nepal is dangerous. But when people remind me of the dangers, I want to remind them that nowhere is risk-free, and that humans are terrible evaluators of potential risk. For instance, driving is continually proven to be risky, and yet many of us continue to get behind the wheel on a daily basis.

I do, however, understand why people have been increasingly concerned for my safety in Nepal. In the wake of the recent earthquakes, the dangers in Nepal have become much more visible, both to me, and to those I love. The risks simply aren’t as abstract as they used to be, and I find myself wondering what would happen if something were to happen to me in Nepal and I didn’t return to the States.

But then I realize that that is the voice of Satan tempting me to be afraid. Satan knows just as well as I do that Nepal is exactly where I’m supposed to be this summer, and he’s doing everything he can to keep me away. Fears about my own death are just his latest ploy, but guess what Satan, it’s not going to work!

So for those of you who are worried about my security in Nepal, please don’t be. While I can’t guarantee my safety, I do promise to not be reckless, and I deeply trust both Tiny Hands (the organization planning my trip) and Jesus. I also don’t know the last time I’ve felt so at peace with any decision I’ve made. In the words of my friend Marybeth, “don’t let anyone put a question mark where God has put a period.” I can say with complete confidence that I belong in Nepal this summer!

I know it’s a lot to ask you to release me to go. I truly appreciate your concern for me, and don’t know how to express all the gratitude I feel for your support, but I do have one request: when you feel anxious about my upcoming trip, ask God to help you trust Him. Ultimately I know that I will continue to be safe and secure (in soul if not also in body) in the presence of God!

To Live Is Christ

Where is God?

I want to clarify something from the end of my last post. I did not say God loves the people of Nepal in an attempt to cover up or explain away the suffering they have endured. I did not experience what they experienced, and I do not for a minute pretend to have answers to all the why questions. Why did the earthquake happen? Why would a loving God allow such suffering? Why Nepal? Why now? I don’t know. But I do know that God loves every single person that walks the earth, including each person affected by this earthquake.

Let me get on my soapbox for a minute. Sometimes Christians get this funny idea that following God means they won’t have to suffer. That is completely unbiblical! In John 16:33 Jesus says, “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” And I could go on. Suffering is part of the human experience, and Christians are not exempt.

However, you may have noticed that while all of these verses promise suffering, the suffering is infused with hope. Jesus has overcome the world, His glory will be revealed, and the struggle is not the end of the story. Revelation 21:4 carries a beautiful picture of what will come at the end of the story. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Ok, now back to what I was saying before I got onto my soapbox. The reality of hope and better things to come does not negate the pain that the people of Nepal are currently feeling. When terrible things happen to the people I love, the question that always rises up within me is: where is God in this mess? The best peace I have been able to make with that question is that He is weeping. Sometimes He is comforting and mending and restoring, but ultimately, He is weeping with His children. In a book I recently read called The Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge, (side note – I would highly recommend it!) Sarah paints an image of God that I had never thought about before. She calls God the Great Physician, and explains that, in her suffering, “He was the infinitely loving, infinitely wise parent standing against the Procedure Room wall of life, watching me suffer as tears welled up in His eyes. He was waiting for the moment when the trial had finished its work in my life, ready to pick me up the second it was done and carry me home.”

So yet again, I’ll leave you with a song.