Accomplishing Nothing

Accomplishing Nothing

Up until last week, it had been 2 years since I had written a single blog/article. I’d have friends ask me why I wasn’t writing and my response was, “I don’t have anything good to say.” And I had decided, following that old golden rule, if you don’t have anything nice to say than you shouldn’t say anything at all.

So I didn’t.

I decided that maybe I was done with trying to encourage others with the written word. If I couldn’t encourage my own heart how in the world was I going to encourage someone (ANYONE) else?!

Then, recently, a week after I had preached at my church, I had someone call me a hypocrite. “How could you preach with such anointing and then act the way you do?” If I was what that person said I was — a hypocrite– than I certainly shouldn’t be speaking publicly.

It seemed like only more confirmation that I should continue to be muzzled. I didn’t want to risk saying something wrong or worse yet hurtful. In many ways, that philosophy ran over into my personal life, too.

My struggles had kept me silent and I thought that I couldn’t write until I was “better”. Whatever that means. But here I am, chest deep in struggle and I’m clawing myself to the keyboard to squeak out something that might bring us hope.

When we go through suffering one of the questions we like to ask is “Why is this happening to me?! The rest of the conversation, at least from my end, goes something like this: Haven’t I done enough?

Ah. There it is: the sting of Truth. I’ve been working at trying to be enough since I was a kid. I thought if I wasn’t so fat maybe then I would be enough. If I got better grades maybe then I would be enough. If I was athletic maybe then I would be enough.

Those thoughts easily moved into my relationship with Jesus. If I read the Bible more then I will be enough. If I pray and fast more then I will be enough. If I serve every week at church then I will be enough.

Sitting across the table from a dear friend and mentor last week I asked her, “What do I need to do to get out of this difficult season? Just tell me, what am I not doing?”

Rest.

::groan::

I do that so well. (Please read that in the font: sarcasm)

But I also knew what she was saying was right because God has been telling me the same thing. Actually, two days earlier I was at a Youth Conference and sang these words:

“I won’t rest until I find my rest in you. You are where my hope is!” (Find Rest)

The words landed heavy in my chest and I knew that simple phrase was what God was trying to get through to me. He wanted me to be just as devoted and determined to rest as I had been about striving.

To continue to drive the point home further, I was brought to this verse in John 6 twice this week:

John 6:63 (NLT) “It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Those words are from Jesus. At the time, He had just shared some difficult Truth with His disciples and they were complaining because it offended them and it was too hard for them to get. (Uh, relateable.) So, He reminds them it’s the Holy Spirit that does the work and all of our effort or striving gets us nothing. At which point, many of His disciples left.

Guess they didn’t like what they heard. Kinda like how I didn’t like what I was being told. But Jesus was/IS right and I know it.

All our “trying so hard” is getting us burnt out and discouraged. It’s not going to bring us the freedom and PEACE we’re searching for. Admittedly, working/doing/striving comes easier for me. It’s easier than quieting down and allowing the Holy Spirit to work– to give over control and trust that He will do a good work in me.

Maybe you find yourself in a similar season. You’ve tried it all and nothing has worked, but you keep spinning your wheels finding yourself in a deeper hole. Give rest a shot. Put as much energy and devotion into rest as you do in your work. Hold it as sacred time where God can do some repair on the areas of your heart that have been bruised and broken.

It may seem like you are accomplishing nothing. In fact, that’s exactly right. You aren’t so He can.

 

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Take Your Victory Lap

It was a perfect Autumn afternoon. The clouds had parted and there were pockets of blue skies and warm sunlight. The air was crisp, but enjoyable with a rhythmic gentle breeze that would softly place the brightly colored leaves before me as I walked. Like my very own red carpet rolled out for me.

I’ve been taking these walks as often as possible. My intention being that I can get some exercise in for my body and release some pent up feelings to relieve my mind. I’ve been frequenting the same park the past few weeks and have half expected someone to report me to the police for talking to myself, which I often do as I try and get myself out of the mental rut I’ve found myself in that day. Sometimes in the midst of the steps and complaints I hear the Lord speak to me.

That’s what happened to me yesterday.

As the leaves spread out before me I smiled. Admittedly, my first thought had not been a movie star’s red carpet, but rather Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As He rode into the city, the crowds began to throw down leaves (not my Autumn colored leaves, but Palm branches) and coats before Him with shouts of praise.

“Hosanna!” they shouted. This word– Hosanna– had been used in the Psalms as a plea. Please, save me! Yet, in this context it’s used differently. It’s used as a praise of thanksgiving for salvation. Jesus would bring them the help and salvation they needed, but it certainly wouldn’t look like what they had thought or hoped. The people longed for political salvation, but Jesus would bring a freedom much more life altering.

This triumphal entry, in fact, did mimic the type of parades that would accompany military victories. These celebrations would usher in the commander that led the troops in victory. It was their moment to soak in their success and show off the spoils of war.

In modern terms, it’s like a victory lap in NASCAR. I’ve been told by my own resident NASCAR expert (since I know absolutely nothing about the sport) that the winner gets to take a lap around the course as the fans cheer and general merriment ensues. It happens after all other 500 laps have been successful completed. Makes sense. You can’t celebrate a victory until you’ve won.

Jesus, though, took His victory lap before He went to the cross. Before the relentless scourging. Before the devastating betrayal. He took it before the battle had really even begun.

And so can you.

In all honesty, I don’t feel equipped to bring this type of encouragement to you. As someone feeling battle weary, broken and drained, most days I’m mustering every ounce of energy just to hold on. But maybe that’s you, too. Maybe you’re dealing with the loss of a parent or loved one and you wonder if the pain will ever stop. Maybe you’re walking through chemo treatments and the side effects don’t seem to be letting up. Maybe you’re grieving your life/marriage/ministry and how it doesn’t look like what you had imagined long ago.

Whatever you’re facing, you don’t see victory yet. It’s there where I want you to take your victory lap. I know it doesn’t make sense. I know it seems silly.

As Christians, we know that we’ve received victory through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:57). He’s already given it to us and yet we still face our battles. Not fighting for victory, but from it. It may not feel like you’re victorious, but you are and it’s the moments you don’t feel it that you’ve got to walk in the Truth of it.

If you don’t have a crowd of fans, know that I’m here cheering you on. Keep on going.

Mountainside Chats With God

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I met up with a friend tonight. Mostly because another minute home alone was going to do me in. Sometimes my thoughts are too loud and my bedroom walls amplify them, as if that’s possible. That’s what happens when you overthink and re-evaluate every decision you’ve made….well, since you started making your own decisions.

We walked along the aisles of a chain bookstore as she spoke of disappointments and frustrations. The questionings of the mid-thirties mind. I wonder if the world has us going through midlife crises sooner or if this is how it’s happened since the beginning of time. Either way, I remind her she isn’t alone.

And she isn’t. You aren’t, either. We’ve all experienced it. Regardless of age, marital status, job placement or ministry opportunity there comes a time where we wonder if we are doing anything of significance. Are we truly living out are calling? Are we making a difference? Are we just wasting time?

We decided to take a drive up to a place called Harris Hill. Depending on the time of day or night, there’s a variety of activity there. We pass the go-cart track, the old timey children’s rides, the park campgrounds, the museum and reach the lookout. From there you can see the valley wedged between the surrounding hills. It’s dusk which means almost all of the benches and swings are full. All but one, so we settle in to watch the last red sliver of sun go down. The air is cool, surprisingly cool, considering it’s been in the 90’s all day.

Everything is green. Fresh. Alive. Lush. The river weaves in and out of the forestry below. We sit perched taking it all in. It’s beautiful.

“So what do we do now?” She asks.

“Wait just a few more minutes.”

“I mean, about life.”

“I feel like the advice is the same.”

As we look out at His kingdom, we pray. For guidance and wisdom and strength to get through the next few minutes. And then, the next few after that.

After our whispered “Amens” we are reminded of Jesus and how He would often go to the mountainside to pray. He needed those moments to connect with the Father and hear His voice. Those moments recharged Him so He could do what He was called to do– heal the sick, love the unlovely, and disciple a ragtag band of misfits. I can only imagine how tiring it all must of been. Because, I mean, people.

I’m not sure what those mountainside chats between God and Jesus sounded like. Maybe they sounded like the prayers that my friend and I offered. “God, we just want to be faithful to what you’re calling us to do.” I imagine God smiling, both at Jesus and two silly girls on a mountainside, and saying, “I am so pleased with you.”

You see, I’m not sure it’s all about the doing. Sure, I believe we’ve all got a holy calling. Unique callings that ultimately all have the same goal: to bring glory to our Heavenly Father.

So, I guess, the most important thing we can do is continue meeting with God just like Jesus did. Keep asking Him what to do and when to do it and He’ll help us do the things we are supposed to do when we are supposed to do them.

Let’s commit to a few more minutes in His presence. May our mountainside chats with God, wherever they may take place, prepare us for whatever tasks or Heavenly assignments come our way: this week, this month and every day until the day we meet Him face to face.

To God be the glory!

 

Pressing Through To Jesus

Pressing Through To Jesus

Warning: this may be TMI (too much information) for some people. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve had “the issue of blood” (we all get what that means, right?) basically every day for the last 7 months. Just in case you are worrying, I’m aware of why it’s happening, but at this point it’s just something I have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s annoying, frustrating, sometimes scary and sometimes painful. This week, I was especially frustrated and let out a disgruntled sigh.

“Jesus, why is this happening to me?”

I hadn’t expected a response, but in the middle of my frustration God encouraged me. I was instantly reminded of the story of the woman with the issue of blood found in Mark 5:25-34, which I’ve read probably a hundred times. This morning though, it took on a deeper meaning– not just because I could relate to the woman on a very small scale.

The woman in Mark 5 lived with her sickness for 12 long years. She tried everything she could possibly try in order to get relief. I’m sure she even tried essential oils because a friend on Facebook told her to give it a try. I joke, but this woman was desperate. She visited doctors and tried a variety of procedures and literally spent all the money she had in order to get better. In the end, she only got worse.

Until Jesus.

A desperate woman who had tried everything else pressed through and found her way to Jesus. She knew He was her only hope. In reaching Him, in that very moment, she was healed. Instantly, I might add.

For me, singleness is my “issue”. At times, it can be frustrating, annoying, scary and painful as I try and walk through this journey with faith. I’ve tried everything and still find myself waiting for this season to be over. From dating apps to being set up by friends and waiting for that guy in small group to ask me out to coffee. There are moments I get to the end of myself and pray prayers similar to the one I shared at the beginning of this article.

“Jesus, why is this happening to me?”

His answer, “Press through these circumstances and get to me. I want you to come to me because that is where you will find wholeness.”

It is there, in the presence of Jesus, that we find healing. Healing from a break-up or healing from the heartache of not having been on a date in years. Maybe your healing isn’t connected to your relationship status– maybe it has to do with an attitude you have towards someone or that every day you wake up feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

All I know is whatever we need, can be found in the presence of Jesus. In that area where you need healing, press through to Jesus. He wants us to come to Him. He loves it when we do because it’s admitting our need for Him. And I don’t know if you need the reminder, but you do NEED Him.

My encouragement to you: Press through. Don’t let people, diagnoses, hurdles or difficulty get in your way. Get into Jesus’ presence and it’s there I know He’ll do a miracle for you!

 

 

When Holidays hurt.

when holidays hurt

Holidays don’t summon happy memories for some people.

No matter how many happy moments have tried to crowd the painful ones, the painful ones still remain. Sometimes these memories are hidden in the dark corners of our hearts where only a few have been allowed in.

As much as we don’t want our past to effect our present, we struggle to forget. Believe me, we wish we could. We long to forget. Instead, we do our very best to celebrate with those who are celebrating.

But what about grieving with those who grieve?

It’s a toss up, I’ll be honest. It’s not that I want people to be miserable. Hell, I don’t want to be miserable. I want to be celebrating with everyone else– wearing red and green flare, singing Christmas carols and giving off that Holly Jolly vibe. Ok, maybe not that much Christmas spirit.

Instead, I feel like I’m in a hole. I can see the colored lights, hear the singing and smell the homemade cookies, but all around me is dark and lonely.

Lonely.

I’m not lonely because I am alone. In fact, I am not alone at all. I have some of the most amazing family and friends around me. You can’t fix an internal problem externally, though. As much as those closest to me shower me with love, my heart still hurts.

On December 4th, I had given up. I texted my best friend and told her how badly I wished for this dumb holiday to be over already. All I wanted was to get through it in one piece. I was a broken, weepy mess.

As she tends to do (thankfully) my bestie brought it back to Jesus.

“I just want to enjoy Him,” she confessed.

::sigh:: Me too.

It would mean I’d have to turn my eyes from my grief to someone else. Someone much more beautiful than all the pain and hurt.

So, I decided to do something I had never done before. I decided to celebrate Advent.

christmas

Since then, I’ve been reading portions of Scripture that talk about the birth of Christ. The reading isn’t super in-depth, a verse or two in length making it easy to follow through on daily. I made a similar calendar for my best friend, too, so we could share the experience. Just the thought that at any minute she could ask me if I’ve done my reading is enough motivation (…guilt…) to keep me on task.

Confession time….I’m still sad. I’m still hurting. I still feel like I’m in a hole. Some days, it feels unbearable.

What gives, Jesus?! I thought if I did the Christian thing that I’d get my happy shot and be good to go until Christmas. That all of a sudden my frown would be turned upside down and I’d be walking around with a smile plastered across my face. Instead of choking back tears anytime someone asks me “How are you doing?”

Maybe you’re like me and you’re hurting, too. I don’t know your story or the reasons why you’re hurting. I won’t pretend to have any answers. All I can do is tell you what I’ve decided to focus on despite the pain.

His name is Immanuel, which means God WITH us. That simple, but profound truth is the hallmark of my days. The powerful reminder that He is:

With us in the pain.

With us in the tears.

With us in the brokenness. The anger. The grief.

The nights I have fallen asleep with tear stained cheeks, He’s been there.

The days where I can barely respond to a text message asking how I am, He’s been there.

The days when my little girl heart was crushed, He was there.

And He’s there with you too. In all of your loneliness, in all of your unpleasant memories, in all of the questioning He’s there. I know you may not feel Him. I know you may not hear Him. But I pray that you would. That in this holiday season, you would experience Jesus…IMMANUEL…in a deeper, more real way than you ever have before.

My Modern Day Miracles

mochaloca

One Sunday after church, I decided to stop by a store to check the Clearance racks for some items friends mentioned needing. Girls, you know how those conversations go: “Hey, next time you’re out, will you see if you can find such-and-such for cheap?” It’s like a fun scavenger hunt to find the best deal. My mom has taught me well. She’s perfected this game, knowing what days certain stores do their discounts and where they’re located in the store. She could teach classes. She’s a pro.

This particular Sunday, I was feeling down. Getting dressed for church that morning, nothing seemed to fit right. My bed held the clothing casualties from my rapid search for something to wear. It was awful. Knowing I’d never be pleased, I decided on the last outfit I had tried on and resigned myself to the fact that it would just have to do.

While I was at the store, I decided to quickly browse the new dresses that had come in for the new season. I love dresses. There’s something about a dress cut in at all the right places that makes you feel feminine and beautiful without trying too hard. That’s the beauty of dresses– one piece and “Voila!” you’re ready to go!

There’s one dress that I’ve been searching for that I hadn’t found yet. I’d been looking for a dress that had lacy half sleeves. I saw one on Pinterest and had the image stuck in my head. Every time I was at the store I’d look for one like it. I hadn’t found it. Until that day.

It immediately caught my attention. There it was– the perfect dress– hanging on the wall. Everything I had wanted. Everything except for the price. Also like my mother, I’m an immediate check-the-tag shopper and never buy anything full price. Buying something at full price is a luxury that I cannot afford. And this dress would safely be filed under the “could not afford” category. The only dresses that I had spent that kind of money on was bridesmaid dresses.

But it was so lovely. So, like a little girl, I decided to play dress up. I knew I couldn’t buy the dress, but I could at least try it on and enjoy it for a few minutes.

Part of me hoped it wouldn’t fit or that it would look horrible on me. Sometimes that happens. You see something that looks amazing on a hanger, but you try it on and you’re sure that a brown bag would look more flattering.

If there are guys still reading this–please, stay with me. There’s something here for you, I promise.

I tried it on and it was….perfect. I loved it. The green of the dress made the color of my eyes stand out. The lace sleeves were the exact length they should be, which is usually a problem for my 5′ tall frame. It cut in at the smallest part of my waist–win! I examined myself in the full length mirror and I didn’t feel disgusted. So, I snapped a few pictures because that’s what we do now, right?

dress

As I put the dress back on the hanger and then back on the rack I thought to myself again: “It’s just so lovely.”

At home, I was sharing with a few girlfriends about the dress and how beautiful I felt in it. I showed them my mirror selfie and they agreed that it was indeed the perfect color and cut and that I looked amazing in it. One friend in particular, saw the picture and immediately knew she needed to buy me that dress. I told her that I didn’t expect her to do that– to spend that type of money on me– for a dress! But she said, God laid it on her heart to do it and who am I to refuse such an offer!

This past year, I’ve seen some huge unexpected expenses come in– from my emergency 6-day hospital visit this time last year or the car maintenance that drained my savings account this month so I could get it to pass the New York State inspection. It seemed like the moment I got over one mountain, I’d take a giant sigh of relief and there’d be a new issue to deal with.

This past year, I’ve also seen the many ways God was taking care of me– from free laundry detergent, free pie, free dish soap, car bills paid, free flowers, a free laptop and now a dress. A dress I don’t NEED, but that I wanted.

God isn’t just concerned about your NEEDS, but He cares about your desires. Even the unspoken desires. Even the things you haven’t dared to tell anyone you wanted. I don’t know about you, but that’s a beautifully humbling thought.

Sometimes, we have this idea that we are lost in the multitudes, but then God does this amazing miracle and our eyes are open to the fact that He hasn’t been blind to our yearnings. Maybe that’s how the woman with the issue of blood felt (Luke 8:43-48). There was a multitude of people surrounding Jesus. It was loud and chaotic. And there she was an outcast of the Jewish society because of her ailment. She was hoping to stay unnoticed, not asking for prayer, but just simply touching His garment and then heading on her way.

But Jesus noticed.

The moment she touched Him, He knew it. The Bible says, He felt the power leave His body and she was immediately healed. He looked at the crowd and asked who it was that touched him. His disciples laughed– “Uhhhh, errybody, Jesus. Don’t you see them pushing and shoving and trying to be close to you?” He wouldn’t let it go.

I’m sure the woman didn’t want to be pointed out, but I can only imagine how hard her heart must have been beating. How intense the encounter had been for her. How real. I wonder if He looked her in the eyes with a knowing glance and if it was in that look that she felt the comfort to come forward and admit it was her who touched Him. No longer just another bystander in the crowd, but a receptor of a miracle.

I don’t know your needs and wants, friend. I haven’t heard the whispered longings of your heart, but He has. And those whispers, those prayers have not fallen on deaf ears. God notices you. Even more than that, He loves you. Deeply. Intimately. Knowingly.

He shows us His love in so many ways– as a reminder that He’s aware. That He is very much present.

As I shared this story with a friend over lunch this week she said, “It sounds like God is just bringing you closer to Himself.” And that’s what all of this boils down to. Every gift. Every blessing. Every encouragement. Every struggle. Yes, every pain, has been there to bring me close to His heart.

He’s there– I’ve just got to reach out and grab Him.

Lies We Believe About Singleness & Book GIVEAWAY

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Singleness is hard.

The struggle takes place in our mind with the same question on repeat, “Why am I single?” I have this list I’ve started with reasons that could try and explain why I’m 30 and still single. Most of them are just silly. For example, I’m still single because I don’t make my bed every morning or because frequently I’ll start a conversation with, “Ya know what I heard on the NPR today?”

There are some reasons floating around in this head of mine, though, that are a lot less funny. Like maybe I’m not beautiful enough for a man to love me or maybe I’m too much of a mess. I mean, there’s got to be a reason and I’m assuming that must mean there’s a problem with me.

When I think these thoughts– these lies– I text a friend for encouragement or open up my Bible and start inserting Truth into my mind to combat those lies.

And reading Allison Flexer’s book, Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman is the perfect mix of those two things. It’s like I’m sitting down with a close friend over a cup of coffee and she’s listening to me spout off the things I’ve been thinking about concerning my singleness. She hears the hurt, the loneliness, and the lies. The lies that tell me that I’m unlovable and unworthy of love. The lies that tell me that I need to settle because if I don’t I’ll die alone. The lies that tell me that life is in some kind of circling pattern until I get married.

Like any good friend, Allison reminds me where my value truly comes from– that it’s not wrapped up in a man (even a bearded, flannel-wearing man). In her book, she discusses 10 common lies that we can struggle with in singleness. Each chapter brings the Truth to the lie and backs it up with Scripture. We all need reminders of the Truth found in her book.

A WORD FROM ALLISON: I started writing Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman when I was 33 years old and very much single. Having just quit my corporate job, I was dealing with a lot of emotions regarding self-worth and my identity. As I wrote, God began to reveal lies I believed and the negative effect that deception had on my life. As I filled my life with God’s healing truth, I wanted to share it with other single women. I’m so passionate about single women believing they are valuable and loved and beautiful. For all of the single women reading this: There is nothing wrong with you. Your marital status doesn’t define your value nor does it make you second class. God delights in you, and He’s the one who can satisfy your deep longings to be fully known and loved.

GIVEWAY ALERT  And because I’ve been encouraged by this book and the truths found inside: I’d like to give you a copy. Well, not all of you, but ONE lucky person. In order to be entered into the random drawing, please share this blog post on FB (there’s that super easy share button at the bottom of the post) and then leave me a comment below. That part is important, because if you win I’ll need to know how to contact you! The drawing will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 15th, 2014!

If you’d like more information on Allison, please check out her bio below.

flexerAllison K. Flexer is an author, speaker, and blogger who is passionate about communicating the love of God to others. Her first book, Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman (Beacon Hill Press), tells the story of her single journey and gives practical steps for letting go of the lies that destroy the joy and confidence of unmarried women. Allison was also a contributing writer for Fulfilled: The NIV Devotional Bible for the Single Woman. You can connect with Allison on her website at www.allisonflexer.com or on Twitter: @allisonkflex.