Darkness, the Unknown, and Surprises

During worship at church a couple months ago, our worship team introduced this song to the congregation. My best friend Shelby was leading worship that morning and reminded us of being little kids who were afraid of the dark until we turned on our night lights and could see enough that things weren’t so scary anymore. Then, she compared the night light to Jesus. Just like the night light, but even better, we don’t have to fear anything, because Jesus is the Light that shines through our darkest nights.

In Harry Potter, Harry and Remus Lupin are having a conversation. Lupin looks at Harry and in the same way he often does, he gives him fatherly advice. He tells him, “It is the unknown we fear in death and darkness, nothing more.” I found this simple statement to be very profound.

In my favorite show, Heartland, the main girl, Amy, freaks out when she finds out her sister, Lou, and their grandpa Jack know her boyfriend, Ty, is going to propose and don’t tell her. The whole thing is completely irrational. She knows that, I know that, and everyone else in the show and who has seen it knows it too. And yet, she still freaks out. She still demands to know why they didn’t tell her he was going to propose. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but not an uncommon reaction.

I grew up with twelve younger brothers and sisters and we only had three bedrooms in our home. One for our parents and the baby, another for the boys, and the last for the girls. With so many little kids in our room, we always slept with a nightlight. Now, as an adult, I still can’t sleep without a light on. Part of the reason is due to habit, but another part is due to my irrational fear of the unknown parts of darkness. When Shelby made the comparison of night lights and Jesus, it really hit home for me. I still sleep with a nightlight, so it was easy for me to see the analogy. Jesus is the much more powerful night light of my life. And thank God for that, because I also totally relate to Lupin’s quote about darkness and the unknown. I can’t stand the unknown.

Honestly, I’m fine with not being in control. I don’t like leading and I’d probably mess everything up if I tried leading my own life anyway. What I’m not always so fine with is not knowing what’s going to happen next or how it’s going to happen. I know God will provide for me. He always has and He always will. I just wish He would also show me the blueprints every now and then. That’s not how God works though and today I realized maybe that’s because He wants to give us a happy surprise. Like Ty, Lou, and Jack, for Amy, God wants me to be happy—not always in the way I think is best, but always in the way He knows is best. Sometimes, me being happy means waiting for Him to surprise me with a gift even better than a diamond ring—though I sure do hope that’s in my future too someday.

A few months ago, the AC went out in my car. It wasn’t that big of a deal, because it was winter, but I live in Texas. More days than not, it’s in the 90’s and feels like the 100’s and my primary job is for Uber Eats so I’m in the car for several hours a day. The problem is, I’ve only just had enough money to pay my regular bills the past several months. I couldn’t possibly see how I would be able to pay to fix my air conditioner. While I was stressing and fussing about how I had no idea how it could be fixed before the worst days of summer, I nearly ruined a beautiful surprise God had for me.

Sunday afternoon, my pastor noticed I had a box fan in my car. Naturally, he put two and two together to realize I didn’t have a working AC. He quickly told me he would talk with the guy who is basically our church mechanic—nearly everyone goes to Him when we’ve got car problems—and said they would take care of it for me. Then, he offered to let me use his mostly unused extra car until it was fixed. At first, I rejected the offer to use his car and kind of wanted to say no to him fixing my car. Part of it was a pride issue—but that’s a post for another time—and part of it was just me being irrational. I was so consumed with wanting to know why God wouldn’t tell me how He would provide for me, that I nearly ruined His surprise fix.

Barely over 48 hours later, I was pulling away from my pastor’s house and these three concepts I’ve been dwelling on suddenly came together. Because Jesus is the Light in darkness, I should embrace the surprises He has in store for me instead of freaking out and fearing the unknown.

*Bonus* Remember, the passions and people in your life are gifts from God. He’s totally okay with you having passions and loving people, in fact, He made you that way. Just be careful to acknowledge Him as the Giver and them as the gift when He speaks through your passions and people. I know He wants to use our passions and people to speak to us because that’s almost always how He speaks to me, but we have to be careful when He does. We have to remember, they are simply the burning bushes God uses to share His presence and power with us.

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Serve & Be Served–The Truth about Volunteering at Church

There seems to be a weird stigma around volunteering at church. For some reason, few people seem to want to do it. Every church I’ve ever been to–all two of them–are constantly short-handed when it comes to volunteers. Why is that? We all have spiritual gifts, Paul tells us that very clearly in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and a few miscellaneous verses throughout the New Testament. It’s also taught indirectly through several other passages as God uses people and their natural abilities to serve Him and grow the Kingdom So, why is there such a stigma around serving in the church? We could point fingers and say people are selfish with their time. For some that may be true, but I don’t think that’s the root cause. It could be that it’s not clear to everyone what is or isn’t volunteer work, but that’s not it. Churchs are constantly asking members to serve here or there or wherever help is needed. So, what’s the problem then? I think it’s a few things: a) People don’t know their spiritual or personal gifts. b) People don’t see how their talents could possibly be useful in the church. c) People don’t understand how exhausting it is for the ministry leaders and servers when no one else volunteers. d) People don’t understand how much of a gift serving can be to both those who are served and those who do serve. e) Some other reason I haven’t thought of.

a) People don’t know their spiritual or personal gifts. It’s easy to understand why a lot of people don’t know what their spiritual gifts are. I grew up in the church and went to a Christian school. Even I didn’t know anything about spiritual gifts until I was senior in high school. There are over a dozen spiritual gifts. Mine are mercy, discernment, and encouragement. Basically, that means I’m really good with people. I feel with them, I’m a good judge of character, and I’m good at encouraging them. If you’d like to find out your spiritual gift(s) then I highly recommend you google “spiritual gifts test” and take a couple assessments. It’s always helpful to get a “second or third opinion” because they are man-made tests so they could be wrong. I like to take several personality and type tests, so I always take at least a few to get a more accurate understanding of where I fit. And keep in mind, we can grow our spiritual gifts. It’s not like your born with one it’s the only one you’re stuck with for the rest of your life. God wants us to become as gifted as we can be.

b) People don’t see how their talents could possibly be useful in the church. Even before I knew anything about my spiritual gifts, I knew I loved kids. I’ve always wanted to be a mommy and I have a bunch of younger siblings. Where better could there be for a girl like me to serve than in Children’s Ministry and or Youth? What about you? What are your passions? What are you good at? Are you good at singing or playing instruments? Join the worship team! Do you love kids? Join children’s ministry! Are you a talker? Do you like people? Join the welcoming team/guest services! Are you interested in computers and other gadgets? Join the tech team! Can you build things? Organize? Work behind the scenes by helping set up and take down for various events. Have other talents or interests? Talk to your pastor, the elders, your mentor, or people you’re close to. I’m sure anyone who knows you could help you find somewhere to serve. A lot of spiritual gifts quizzes also give suggestions on where you can serve.

c) People don’t understand how exhausting it is for the ministry leaders and servers when no one else volunteers. It’s possible some (or a lot) of people don’t serve because they think the leaders and regular servers have everything under control. Some may even think it’s not their job, because “I don’t have kids” or “I’m too young” or something else. Maybe they’re insecure for one reason or another. Here’s the thing though, serving on a regular basis can be exhausting, especially if it prevents you from hearing the weekly sermons. I served every two to three weeks in children’s ministry from twelve to fifteen years old. Then, I started serving every week as one of the children’s ministry leaders until I was eighteen. Then, I changed it to every other week for a few months. Took a short break when I started going to a new church and quickly started serving every week again at this new church. I did that for three or so more years until I eventually burnt myself out from serving almost every week for a decade. I wasn’t even the leader of children’s ministry. Can you imagine how exhausted Pastors, Worship Leaders, Children’s Ministry Leaders, Youth Leaders, other ministry leaders and all their family must feel? Leading and serving can be thankless jobs, but they continue to do it, especially when they’re short on volunteers. Maybe you can help relieve some of the stress and exhaustion your leaders and regular volunteers may be feeling by joining one or more of the ministry teams! Whether you do or don’t, try to remember to encourage and thank those who do serve, especially the leaders; they probably need to hear it!

d) People don’t understand how much of a gift serving can be to both those who are served and those who do serve. I don’t have any regrets about taking time off from serving for a while. If I hadn’t, then I would have ended up serving with a bitter heart and that’s worse than not serving at all. God is very clear about how He cares far more about our heart than our sacrifices and service. If we aren’t doing it out of love, then He doesn’t want it. He wants us to want to serve Him and others. That said, a couple weeks ago, my best friend let me know our Children’s Ministry had been looking for more volunteers. She didn’t know this until I told her afterward, but God had been nudging my heart for a couple months at that point that it was almost time to get back into serving with children’s ministry. So, I took that as my cue. I offered to help once a month as a means of dipping my toes in the water before jumping all in. As my life would have it though–because I’m an all or nothing kind of girl–I was asked at the same time to serve, at least for a few weeks, with the youth. Little did anyone know, God had also been urging me to see about serving in Youth with the same kids I had served in children’s ministry two years prior.

Last week, I served in Youth for the first time in years. Today, I served in the nursery with the babies and toddlers also for the first time in years. I knew I had missed it, but I didn’t know how much! I was nervous about getting burnt out again. But both last week and this week, God quickly assured me that He is calling me to serve again. He wants me to help the kids and babies and He’ll be with me at every step. The second I walked through the doors of the youth room and then through the door to the nursery, my heart immediately filled with joy and contentment. I belong with kids and youth. I belong somewhere where I can serve and encourage others. Where people in need and young Church kid hearts are, that is where I belong! I grew up as a church kid, so I know what it’s like and what is needed in these areas. God seems to agree (aka, it’s His plan and He just nudged my heart with it) because that’s where He has me serving.

I can assure you that if you serve and you do it with a heart that wants to serve God and others, then you won’t regret it! Even after I got burnt out on serving for a decade, I never regretted it. I just needed a break. If you can’t serve with the right heart, then I urge you to pray for God to humble and encourage you to have a servant’s spirit. Afterall, Matthew 20:28 says, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” If that’s not encouragement enough for you, then surely, praying for God to guide you will be! 🙂

(also, I totally recommend you go read that whole passage! It’s a good one!)

*Helpful Tip* If you want to serve where you can be a big help, but want to take on a little “less responsibility” at first, then here are two suggestions. If you’re an extrovert, then try the welcoming team/guest services! 🙂 You can chat with people as they come in and be the first smiling face newcomers see! If you’re an introvert, then try the tech team! I’ve filled in a few times when needed and as intimidating as it seems, it’s not too difficult, at least not if you’re just clicking arrows for the slides. Maybe you can volunteer for that and then learn the more complicated stuff?

e) Some other reason I haven’t thought of. Can you think of other reasons people might not serve in the church? Feel free to share them with me! 🙂

The Prayer Contract: Failure and Abandonment

Is this promise enough? Do I believe that Jesus will never fail me? Do I believe He will never abandon me? If I do believe this, then is it enough for me? If each of my friends and family members were to fail and abandon me, then would Jesus be enough?
Today, I was driving to church and this sudden conviction overwhelmed me. I have grown up in the church. I have faced what feels like more than my fair share of hardships. I have had family fail me. I have had friends abandon me. Through it all, God has never failed me; He has never abandoned me. I know and believe with my whole heart that He will never fail nor abandon me. Is that knowledge and belief enough though? A little over a year ago, God convicted me in a similar way about His presence versus my best friend’s presence. Today, it’s time to compare a different pair feelings about my best friend to the same feelings about God.
I have an often unspoken fear that my friends and family will fail me, then abandon me. I have this fear even for my best friend. She has never said or done anything to make me believe she would ever abandon me and I have yet to see her fail me. Yet, I have this irrational fear that she and everyone else will fail and abandon me. Why? I’m starting to realize that this fear comes from my parents and two childhood friends.
When I was growing up, my parents had a beyond toxic marriage that ended in divorce when I was twenty. During my school-aged years, I had two close friends. The younger was my best friend and the older, her big sister, was my honorary big sister. During and after high school, one thing led to another and my best friendship failed and we went separate ways. Her big sister, for whatever reason, completely abandoned me. She had always promised to always be there for me. Then, she unfriended me on Facebook. Now, she acts nice enough, but is closed off on the rare occasion when we’re together.
In the past few weeks, I’ve realized that I have an unhealthy desire for marriage. I desire all the right things, but for all the wrong reasons. I want a loving and godly marriage that represents 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5 as God wants it to. That is right and healthy. I desire it because my parents’ marriage was the exact opposite of a 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5 marriage. That is wrong and unhealthy.
I’ve also recently realized that my fears and expectations for my friends, especially my best friend, are unfair. Because my longest and oldest friendship failed, I fear that all my friendships will fail. Because my honorary big sister and role model of over ten years abandoned me, I expect all those I admire to abandon me. This fear is especially true for my current best friend, as she took the role of my best friend and honorary big sister. My fears and expectations for her are incredibly unfair.
My fear is that she will fail me and then abandon me. My expectation is that she will never fail me nor abandon me. She isn’t my former best friend or big sister. It’s not fair to fear that her friendship will fail me the way my first friendship did. It’s not fair to fear that she will abandon me the way my first big sister did. It’s also not fair to expect her never to fail. She isn’t God. While it’s possible she will never abandon me, God is the only One who will never fail me.
So, what now? What do I do now that I’ve realized the reason I desire to get married is unhealthy? What do I do now that I’ve realized my fears and expectations for my best friend, and all friends really, are unfair?
First, my relationship with God must be enough to redeem the broken image of love and marriage my parents showed me.
When I turned eighteen, I wrote a letter to God, and myself, that I call a Prayer Contract. It was a commitment to grow in my self-confidence and, more importantly, in my God-fidence. It was a commitment to find contentment and joy in my singleness. When I turned 23, I followed up on that Prayer Contract, reevaluated where I was then, and wrote a new Prayer Contract. Today, I’ve written a new Prayer Contract. This time, it isn’t just a pen to paper. This time, it is a worship song pouring my heart out to Him and letting Him know that He is enough.

Second, I have to remember that the Giver is always more important than the gift.
Almost ten years ago, my family gave me the best material gift I’ve ever received. I was somewhere between the ages of fourteen and sixteen and had wanted a guitar for years. That Christmas, I finally got one. It was the best moment of my life and I can still feel the smile on my face. Even in the five or so years that I kept it hidden away and never played it, it was my most prized possession.
Now, that I’m older, I know it was a cheap guitar with little monetary value that I can buy on the Target website for only $50. I knew it couldn’t have been worth much. I didn’t even know how to play guitar, it made no sense to spend a lot of money on a beginner’s guitar. Even still, it was the most valuable material item in my life. I now play a guitar worth more than $200 and no longer have my first guitar, but that first guitar still holds more value in my heart than the one I play now. Why? Because I loved, and still love, the givers more than the gift.

What is the best gift you’ve ever received? (My salvation received from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the obvious answer. So, below that.) For years, I would have said my first guitar. Five years ago, my answer changed. I started going to Compass Church SA and God gave me the three greatest friends I’ve ever had. Now, though not a material gift, they are the greatest gift I’ve ever received, because God gave them to me when I was in desperate need of someone to love and accept me.
If a cheap gift like my first guitar could mean so much to me and the givers could mean so much more, then the same must be true now. If the greatest gift I’ve ever received is my best friends, then the Giver must be even more important to me. Surely, three women of God are far more important and valuable than a cheap guitar. Therefore, the Giver of those girls must be more important and valuable than the givers of that guitar.
Finally, I must apologize to my friends for unfair fears and expectations and set them free. For, if they love me, then they will never abandon me.

It’s a cliche quote that we all use, because it’s true and dogs are a man’s best friend, because friends and dogs are very similar. My unfair fears and expectations for my friends, most unfair for my best friend, are like chaining a dog to a tree. If I chain them too tight, then they’ll suffocate. Then, the second I let them loose, they’ll take off. If I let them free, and they’re my true friends, then they’ll never abandon me. They may leave me alone sometimes, which is fine, but they will never abandon me.
So, here’s my new prayer contract. If my relationship with God is not enough to redeem my hope for true love, then may I always be single. If God does not mean more to me than my friends, then may He allow them to abandon me. If I do not release my friends from unfair fears and expectations, then may our friendship fail. These must be my heart’s greatest desires–for God and His love to be enough and for me to trust Him and my friends.

Your Presence is Missed

I’m the kind of person who likes just enough structure in her life that she knows, “Okay, so I’m supposed to be here at this time and there and that time, but I have all this time to do whatever I want or need to do.” I work at a call center where I work a very consistent schedule. I work 4:45 pm to 1:15 am Tuesday through Saturday and I’m off on Sundays and Mondays. Every Sunday I wake up early to go to church and usually come home to take a nap before going to visit my family for the evening. On Monday nights, I go to a horseback riding lesson. It’s a very good schedule for me, because I have at least one thing that is consistently the same every day while the rest of the day is set aside for decompressing and relaxing. If those parts of my schedule are not exactly the same every week, then it makes me feel kind of strange and disorientated. Even if those things are the same, but someone who is normally around me is gone, it’s just as disorienting. I can literally feel their absence, especially if they’re someone I spend a lot of time with.

At work, I have a close friend named Stephanie whose presence, or lack thereof, I can always feel. For a long time, I didn’t even realize it, because for my first year and a half of working there, we shared most of the same work days, so I never really had to miss her presence. Half-way through this year though, we did what’s called a “global shift bid” where everyone has to give up their schedule and reclaim it if they can/want to or pick something new. Stephanie and I both picked something new so now we only work two of the same days. This change happened five months ago and it’s still a bit disorienting to work on her off days. It’s especially disorienting if she’s not at work for part or all of one of the days she and I normally work together.

On Sundays at church, I always see my best friend, Shelby. She’s the worship leader and she’s up on stage 99.9% of all Sundays, so it’s incredibly rare that she’s not at church. I’m not the worship leader, but it’s just as rare that I’m not at church. For the most part, I’ve seen Shelby every Sunday for four years now. When she’s not at church I definitely feel her absence. Today was one of those days. Things were a little different this time though. After I recognized the disorienting feeling, I felt a tugging at my heart asking, “Do you feel this disoriented or strange when you feel the absence of God in your life?” Yikes! Imagine how convicted you would feel to be asked that at home or at work, but to be asked that at church. Yeah, that’s definitely convicting!

I’m not a perfect Christian. Who is? I’m not even a good Christian. Again, who is? I do have a few good practices though. In every day life, when something abnormal happens I acknowledge God. If it’s good, I praise him for allowing it to happen. If it’s not so good, I pray that He in His infinite wisdom will fix the problem or change my perspective. I listen to worship music, play it on my guitar, and/or write worship lyrics on a semi-regular basis. I even tend to present myself in such a way that people around me know that I’m a Christian whether I’ve deliberately told them or not.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also have a habit of not deliberately setting aside moments for God. I try to remember to and most of the time I do remember that I need to do it, but I’m often in the middle of doing something else and then end up forgetting or I get caught up in something else. I pray in the moments when I need something or something exceptional has happened, but I don’t often deliberately sit down to have a conversation with God. Nor do I deliberately take moments out of my day to worship Him.

I’m a writer, a musician, and I like to doodle and sketch. These are three hobbies that are perfect ways both to share my prayers and praises with God. All I need is a journal and pen or pencil or even my smart phone and I can write and sketch my prayers and praises out for Him. My job is not a time consuming job. As previously stated, I work at a call center at night. I get plenty of time between calls that I could use for journaling, writing, and/or sketching. In fact, I usually do use the time between calls to do one or more of these three things. Why not do them still but for the Lord? The same goes for reading my Bible. I have a horrible habit of looking the part and carrying my Bible around with me but not actually opening it. I plan to, I really do, but I get caught up in the conversations between my coworkers, which let’s be honest, I really shouldn’t be a part of at least half the time because they tend to be rather inappropriate. Really. It’s true and they know it, because if they know I’m listening or even joining in, they (mostly the before mentioned Stephanie) try to clean up the conversation or at least apologize for it. I appreciate that, I really do, but she shouldn’t have to apologize, because I shouldn’t be a part of the conversation in the first place. These moments especially are the moments that I could and should be using my time to share my prayers and praises with God and to get answers back from Him through the Bible.

I do have moments when I feel His absence, but it’s often not until I’ve already started to slip into temptation. Like when I’m joining in on inappropriate conversations with my coworkers, or I start to feel anxious, or worried, or those moments when I know I’m about to do something I’m going to regret, but I do it anyway because I think maybe this time it will be okay. Spoiler Alert: It won’t be okay this time just like it wasn’t okay last time! I know, I know, as a Christian I’m “not supposed” to admit that I sometimes deliberately do something I’m not supposed to do, but you see, that’s exactly what Christians are supposed to do. How are non-Believers ever supposed to relate to us or come to know Jesus through us if we put up walls to block out all our imperfections? Last time I checked, there was only one perfect person and He died on the cross over 2000 years ago so that imperfect Christians like you and I could be real with Him and each other and still get into Heaven when we accept His sacrifice, repent of our sins, and try to do what He asks us to do. I’m not perfect, but I do serve a perfect God who loves me and forgives me when I repent from my sins, even the deliberate ones. Anyway, this a post for another time.

The point is, if I feel the absence of Stephanie when she’s not at work and Shelby when she’s not at church, then surely I should feel the absence of God when I’m not spending time with Him every day. If I’m not feeling that absence, then it’s definitely been too long since I’ve made it a habit to spend that extra time with Him. I pray that this will become a “problem” for me. That it will become such a strong habit for me to spend time with God daily that it feels strand and disorienting for me not to spend time with Him. I pray this same thing for you, whoever you are, who are reading this post right now. I want us to feel like something is missing from our lives when we’re not spending regular time with God, just like I feel like something is missing from my life when Stephanie isn’t at work or Shelby isn’t at church. To be completely transparent, I actually felt that way twice in the past five days, because Stephanie left work early on Wednesday and Shelby wasn’t at church today. Do you know how many times I felt like something was missing from my life because I wasn’t spending time with God this week? I’m ashamed to say it, but before this morning when He nudged my heart, I didn’t really feel like anything was missing, at least, I didn’t realize I felt like something was missing.

As often as you think of me, please pray with me and for me to deliberately spend with time. I want to feel like something is missing when I haven’t deliberately spent time with Him. I’ll be doing the same for you! If you made it this far in reading this post, then thank you and God bless you! ❤

Genuine Worship

In the past couple of years, I’ve seen a trend of blog posts about how Sunday morning worship has become more of a performance and show than a moment when a church congregation worships one God together. This saddens me, because I have such a deep-rooted love for music that every fiber of who I am knows that I only sing because God lets me sing so that I can sing to Him. Now, I can’t speak for other churches, and I honestly can’t speak for the hearts of the worship team from my church, but I can say what I see. Every Sunday morning, at Compass Church in Helotes, Texas, I see a worship team that is truly on fire for God. During the service, I hear talented voices gifted to be pleasing to the hears of those in the church seats, not so that can put on a show, though they’re certainly talented enough that they could if they wanted to, but so that these worshippers can truly worship God to the best of their abilities while leading the rest of the congregation to do the same. I see skilled hands stroking the piano keys, strumming guitars, and patting the drum box (if that’s actually what it’s called, idk). I see eyes closed or lifted to the sky in total surrender to the God who allows these talented people to stand (or sit) on stage at least once every few weeks to share their gifts with fellow believers. Sometimes, I see hands lifted in worship and thanks from those worship team members who don’t have instrument in their hands (seriously, our worship is legitimately talented). With eyes opened, sometimes I even see hearts breaking in love, surrender, thanks, and more to the God they worship.

Many times, I have shown up early enough to church to see the worship team still practicing the week’s set so that they won’t mess up during the service. Even while they practice, I see and hear true and genuine worship flowing from the voices and hearts of those on the team. It seems to me, no matter how many times they have to repeat the songs, their hearts are still filled with worship every single time they sing. It’s incredible to me, because even though it’s not a show, they do need to practice the set several times, so it would make human sense that they may not put their full heart into once they’ve done it so many times, but even when I stay for the 11am service after attending the first service, I hear just as much, if not more, intensely powerful worship in the voices and instruments of these churchgoers as I do the first time around.

I have the privilege of calling our worship leader, Shelby, my best friend, so I know that she really does have a heart full of worship. Obviously she’s still human, so I’m sure she has her moments when she’s not feeling “a heart of worship,” but when I see her and talk to her, her love and worship of God seems to flow out of her with no effort at all. I can’t help but think that, whether the rest of the worship team members have this same “worship flow” or not, I’m sure Shelby’s “worship flow” really helps influence the rest of the team to be as full of worship as they always appear to be. Each member of the team is on some level or another also my friend, but I don’t really see or speak to most of them more than few minutes once a week in passing, but when I am with them, they do also seem to have their own “worship flow,” that is only added to by having a worship leader who cares as much about the people on the team as she does about worshipping the Lord herself.

I don’t know if showy worship is a thing at other churches, but unless I’m blind and missing the mark myself, I can say it’s not a problem at my church, and I wanted to take the time to applaud and encourage the members of our worship team to continue doing whatever it is they’re doing, because I never leave a worship service without feeling the spirit flow in me through the voices and instruments and words of our worship members. Thank you, Shelby, Sarah P., Sarah M., Paul, Lilly, Adrianna, Daniel, Dan, and anyone else I’m missing, because I know I’m missing a few, for all that you do to make our worship services as genuine and real as they can possibly be. Though we do it all for God, you do still deserve the recognition for all that you do!

Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship

Worthily Magnify

1 Last week I spent a couple of days attending the National Worship Leader Conference , hosted by Worship Leader Magazine , featuring many well-known speakers and worship leaders. The conference was held about 15 minutes down the road from me, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m glad I went.

I met some new people, heard some thought-provoking teaching, enjoyed some good meals and conversations with worship leader friends, and experienced in-person some of the modern worship trends that are becoming the norm in evangelicalism. It was eye-opening in many ways.

Over the last few days I’ve been processing some of what I saw and heard.

Worship Leader Magazine does a fantastic job of putting on a worship conference that will expose the attendees to a wide variety of resources, techniques, workshops, songs, new artists, approaches, teachings, and perspectives. I thought of Mark Twain’s famous quote…

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The Humble Bragging and Whole-Hearted Thanks of a High School Graduate

Well, today marks the one-year anniversary of my high school graduation and I’m sure there are many people that would like to claim I’ve wasted my first year as a high school graduate, because I decided not to go to college (at least for now), but I really don’t care what they think, because I’ve accomplished things of far more importance to me than getting a college degree, just for the sake of getting one, which is what I would be doing if I went to college at this point in time. I’d say my first year as a high school graduate has been a major success full of many accomplishments and tons of memories. I’ve met personal goals, had a few adventures, I’ve seen dreams come true grown as a person, and grown in Christ.

After graduation, whether directly after graduation or a while afterward, I set two goals for myself—buy a car before June 1, 2014 and stay healthy and active enough that I wouldn’t gain the “freshmen fifteen.” Thanks to my best friends’ very generous father, I was able to buy a car for next to nothing after he not only found it, but also fixed it up for me. In addition to buying a car this past year, I started paying close attention to what I eat and how much time I spend being active versus being inactive. Thanks to choosing to live a healthy life style, as of today I have only gained a few pounds since graduating, which I consider to be a huge accomplishment, considering the fact that I work at Chick-fil-a where I normally eat almost every day (except of course Sunday).

I’ve had a few adventures since graduating. I went to a summer camp where I went canoeing, tubing, zip-lining, and played flag football in the mud and rain. I went to a college party at UT (no alcohol of course, because we were all church kids and a lot of us are under 21) and stayed out until 1:30, when we inevitably found out that I couldn’t stay in my friends’ dorm room, because it was finals week, so we (my friends’ mom and I) ended up staying in another friend’s apartment, (some guy I hadn’t even met before) but that’s a story for another time. I’ve traveled, not once, but twice, all by myself for the first time ever (on the Mega Bus to Austin to see my best friends at UT). And, I’ve gone “real” camping for the first time ever.

I’ve seen some personal dreams come true. I officially started three books. I wrote blog post that has been read 1,467 times and follow-up to that post that has been read 222, both of which are still seeing more traffic almost every day.

I’ve grown as person by becoming a teacher at my church for 3rd through 5th graders and somewhat of a leader in my church’s youth group. I become confident in who am as a person, a friend, and a daughter of the one true king! And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, I’ve grown so much closer to God than I ever imagined possible and I just keep growing closer to Him, because when I draw near to Him, He draws even nearer to me!

In addition to my humble bragging, I’d just like to take part of this blog entry to give recognition where recognition is due. I’d just like to take a moment to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me through what has simultaneously been the best and worst year of my life to date. Thank you to everyone who has believed in me so much that I have finally started to believe in myself. Thank you to everyone who has cheered me on as I’ve made the “risky” choice of not going to college (at least for now, if ever). And thank you to everyone who, with the right heart and words of love, challenged me to think long and hard about every decision I’ve made. First and foremost, thank you to my loving and gracious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ the Son of God my Father and Creator, without whom I wouldn’t have any of the blessings I’ve been given.

Below God, I’d especially like to thank Allie, Holly, Shelby, Eryn, and Mrs. Jeanette who have basically become my second family. I wouldn’t know where I belong in this world if it wasn’t for Allie, Holly, and Eryn who took me in as one of their own during my first Sunday at our church a year and a half ago. Without Eryn, I wouldn’t have my place as a teacher for my precious 3rd through 5th graders every other Sunday at 11am. Without Allie, Holly, and Shelby, and the friendship I’ve shared with them, especially since graduating, I’d pretty much be a completely different person than I am today. Without these three girls and the words of encouragement and love that share with me showing that they believe in me, I wouldn’t have the self-confidence that I have today. I also wouldn’t have the three greatest sister-friends I’ve ever known. And, without Allie, Holly, and their mom, Mrs. Jeanette (I tried, but I just can’t not say “Mrs.”), I wouldn’t know the family that has become my second family!

“Honorable Mentions”

I’d also like to thank my newer friends, Priyanka and Julia, for being a part of my life. I’ve only been able to spend time with Priyanka three times, and I haven’t had much of a chance to talk to her very much, but I’ve spent enough time with her and talked to her enough to know that she is a priceless gem whom I hope to know for a very long time, after hopefully getting know better sooner or later. Julia, my friend from Bible study, treated me like a sister from the moment I met her and we’ve slowly but surely formed a close friendship since we met the first time about three or four months ago.

In addition to the seven women I’ve already mentioned, I’d also like to say a special thank you to “The Laurens” in my life—Lauren Patterson and Lauren Bump. Lauren Patterson is the daughter of the man who owns the Chick-fil-a I work at. Let’s be honest here, I might have had this preconceived notion in my head that the boss’ daughter would be one the two typical “boss’ daughters” from the movies. Spoiled rich girl who seems nice, but is really just spoiled and has never had to work a day in her life or a successful older woman with a family and a nice job of her own. Lauren is neither of those things, she is a successful young woman who is my age and willingly works alongside her father’s employees with grace, poise, and a heart of gold! From what little I know about her, she seems to have a heart that is on fire for God with a desire to love and serve others. Since meeting her a few months ago, I have started to really love my job of four years again, because she and her parents have showed me what it’s really like to have a servant’s heart. Neither she, nor her parents, have to come to work every week to work alongside me and the other employees, but they do, because they have genuine servant’s hearts and they understand that true leaders work hard to become and remain leaders. Lauren Patterson has the kind of smile and the kind of smile that just makes everyone around her awesome and happy. I’ve talked about her with a few of my coworkers and they all agree that Lauren is awesome and that she brings a fresh ray of sunlight to everyone’s lives. Then there’s Lauren Bump, who I won’t spend much time talking about because I’ve already written three posts about her, but I’m grateful for her because she has really changed my life and been used by God to change me in a major year over the past few months.

And, finally, I have to thank God one more time, because without Him and the hand He has so obviously placed in the lives of each of the afore mentioned women, they wouldn’t be able to bless me in the ways that they have.

True Success

2014 – The year when I’m supposed to start going to college.

College – Something that is supposed to train me for a career.

Career – Something that’s supposed to help me get more money.

Money – Something that is supposed to measure how successful I am in my life.

My Life – Something that is supposed to be approved of by everyone I come across.

At least, that’s what society and even a lot of church members seem to be telling me.

“Go to college,” they tell me. “College will help you figure out what you want to do with your life.”

“I already know what I want to do with my life,” I tell them, but they don’t listen.

“Okay, go to college; it’ll teach you important skills that will help you in your career so that you can hear a lot of money and be successful.”

“I don’t need money to be successful,” I try to explain to no avail.

“You won’t get very far in life without money,” they say as they look at me with pity in their eyes as they continue to explain why my “wisest decision” would be to go to college. At this point, I just nod and “mmhmm” politely, because it’s taking all I have to keep a pleasant smile on my face while they try to tell me that not going to college is stupid and naïve.

I just don’t understand why everyone takes it upon themselves to worry about something that is totally out of their control. If I want to “go nowhere fast” as they pretty much tell me I’m going to, that should be my decision. I shouldn’t have to explain myself to everyone, but because it’s a part of my testimony and I know God plans to use me somehow in some way through not going to college, I will explain myself and my motives to everyone who asks.

I’m not going to college. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a 20 something high school graduate who isn’t going straight into the military and I’m choosing not to go to college either. Before you ask, no it’s not about the money. With FAFSA, I could probably get into college for next to nothing because of where I live and because I live with twelve siblings. I’m not going to college because I feel like I could be more effective in this world if I didn’t go to college. My goals in life are to be an author (I’m currently in the process of writing a book right now) and to inspire young women to admit they are hurting, confess their brokenness to God, and accept His offer to heal them. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound.”*

I spent all of 2013 and half of 2012 thinking, praying, reading the Bible, and reading other religions books in order to figure out what exactly it is that God wants me to do with my life. While I believe He would bless me if I chose to go to college, because He has given me a free will and will use me somehow in some way regardless of my decisions. I believe God will be able to use me most effectively if I spend 2014 writing my book and posting blog entries. I believe that for me to go to college would be wasteful, because I would be using the money that the government doesn’t have to get a diploma in studies that I do not have to have in order do what I feel God has called me to do. I can write a book and start a ministry without going to college. Why should I waste my time and the government’s money when I could be using my time for more important things and the government could be paying for another student to attend college? It just doesn’t make logical or spiritual sense to me.

I even went through all of the motions of applying for college (the University of Texas at Austin was my first choice), looking for majors, and ultimately ways to use my majors, but I was never at peace while I was doing any of that. Sure I was excited, because it was a new adventure that I would be able to embark on, but I was not at peace. However, I have been at peace with myself and with God since the very moment I accepted the fact that God didn’t want me to go to college. God has uses many tools to show us if we are following the best path in life; a spirit of peace is one of His greatest tools. If you’ve chosen to do something that doesn’t bring you a sense of peace and joy, then you should probably reevaluate, because God is probably trying to tell you something.

Money won’t make me successful. Everyone’s follow up question to whether or not I’m going to college is how I will earn money if I don’t go to college. I have a one word answer to that question, “God.” I know without a shadow of a doubt that God will provide for me as I choose to follow Him in my life. “Are not two little sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s leave (consent) and notice. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, then; you are of more value than many sparrows.”** God cares about the birds of the sky enough to give them food and shelter, who am I to doubt that He will also take care of me and provide all that I need, whether that be food, clothes, shelter, or money? I am “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”*** I do not possess the power to question God when it comes to providing for me. It is my job to trust Him and do as He has asked me to; it is not to worry about how He will provide for me.

While I believe the people who worry about how I will be successful if I don’t go to college and earn a lot of money ask with the best intentions, I also believe they are seriously missing the mark by measuring success with college, careers, and money. Success isn’t about where I do or don’t go to college; it’s not about what career I have; and it’s not about how much money I earn. Success is about living a life that is pleasing to God. Success is about leaving a mark in this world that will carry over into the next life when Jesus comes back to take us with Him to Heaven. My success isn’t measured by where I won’t go to college, what career I might have, or how much money I’ll make in the future. My success is measured by what God thinks of me and if other peoples’ opinions don’t match up with His opinion, then that’s okay, because I’m not looking for their approval! My only goal in life is to please God, love the people around me, and leave an impact on the world that will last long after I am gone!

I’ve been planning on writing a blog post about success since Christmas time and then I read the blog post below and was truly inspired to really right it. The fact that they probably sound really similar is pure coincidence, because Lauren’s words fit “my” definition of success perfectly!

http://labump.blogspot.com/2013/11/success.html?m=1

I’m Thankful for My First World Problems

            Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about everyday things that I take for granted. I live in America, so I’m already more fortunate than the majority of the rest of the world, but even still I’m more fortunate than a lot of Americans. At twenty years old, I still live with my mom, who pays for everything but my gas. I have a car to drive, a job to go to, a house to live under, and a bed to live in. I have warm clothes and multiple pairs of shoes. I have running water, both cold and hot and the only health issue I have is that I have to wear glasses. I’m thankful for my first world problems that I take for granted on a daily basis—my hair, my life, my job, and my freedom of religion.

            How many times have you gone on Facebook, Twitter, and or Instagram and seen someone post a picture with a hashtag complaining about their hair with another hashtag mentioning how it’s one of many first world problems? I can’t speak for you, but I know for me it happens on a pretty regular basis. So, it might sound silly to you that I’ve been concerned about how I’ve been taking my hair for granted, but that’s okay. I’m not afraid to sound silly. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about cancer, because I’ve seen several movies on Netflix that had main characters with cancer and because one of my favorite authors, musicians, and actresses, Paige Omartian, had cancer when she was growing up, a little girl whose family is friends with some people from my church was diagnosed with cancer this past year, and my team leader from work had a sister who lost her battle with cancer in the past year. I have thought about how the treatments for cancer often lead to hair loss and I have wondered what I would say or do if I was diagnosed with cancer and lost all of my hair. Honestly, I would probably cry about it. My hair has always been my favorite thing about myself. At some point or another, I have complained about every square inch of my body, physical, mental, and emotional except for my hair. So, yes, I have felt guilty about taking my hair for granted and I’m trying to remember to thank God for it every time I look at it, stroke it, or push it out of my face.

            I’ve been thinking about how I have taken my life for granted. I’m not guaranteed another breath, and yet I act as if I’ll live forever! While taking life for granted isn’t necessarily a first world problem, it is a lot easier for those of us who live in first world countries to take our lives for granted, because unlike the residents of third world countries, most of us don’t have to fight for our lives on a regular basis. In the past, my mother has been pregnant at two different times with babies that didn’t even get to live long enough to see the world with their own eyes, my team leader’s younger sister passed away as a young teenager last year, a week ago a young woman only four years older than me was murdered, and there many people somewhere fighting for their lives right now. Right now, I am breathing in and out, I’m tapping my feet to the music coming from the TV, and I am using my fingers to type these words. Those are things the previously mentioned people never be able do again and yet I take this actions for granted on a daily basis. Inhale. Exhale. I did it again, and I’m still doing it, I’m breathing. That’s not something to be taken lightly and it’s certainly not something to take for granted. I’m still breathing; I should be thanking God for blessing me with life.

              I am daily taking my job for granted. Not only do I have a job, but I also have a job that pays well. I have a job that pays me $7.25 an hour. By American standards, that’s minimum wage and isn’t considered a high paying job. In fact, having a minimum wage job is often considered a first world problem, but compared to most of the other countries in the world, that’s a lot of money. In America, $7.25 can’t even get me more than one coffee at Starbucks. When I compare that minimum wage to that of other countries, like China, I can’t help but laugh at myself for complaining. In China, minimum wage is $1.19. That’s not even enough to get a tall Passion Tea Lemonade from Starbucks, which is one of the cheaper items at Starbucks. It’s barely enough to get me a small ice cream cone at Chick-fil-a for $1.18 (including tax). I take job for granted, especially when I consider the fact that I’ve been employed since 2010 and my managers pretty much let me take off 8 to 9 months a year for volleyball and basketball each year until I graduated high school in May of 2013.

            Finally, I take for granted the freedom of religion that living in America grants me. I have the freedom to worship whichever god I want to worship and not be burned at the stake because I choose to worship the God of the Bible. I have the freedom to stand in a street corner and proclaim the praises of my Lord and Savior. I have the freedom to sit under the stars with a group of friends singing worship songs to our Creator, the one who created the stars above us. And, I have the freedom to publically meet with fellow believers on Sunday mornings in a movie theater, in a building rented from someone else, in my own home, in an actual church building, or in the middle of the field. My freedom of religion is something that I’ve grown so accustomed to, that I often forget that there are still more countries than I can count that are persecuting Christians who publically proclaim their belief in Christ. As an American, I may be verbally persecuted by people that don’t understand what Christianity is really all about, but what is verbal abuse when I could be living in a country that would torture me for my beliefs? It’s nothing but a first world problem!

            My challenge to you and to myself is that we stop taking things for granted! We need to remember that we are blessed! We need to be thankful for our first world problems! I am blessed to have hair, to be breathing, to have a job, and to have the freedom of religion! What are you blessed to have? My challenge for myself this year is to write on a sheet of index paper at least one thing I am thankful for each day until the end of the year. Why am I doing that? I’m doing it so that when times get rough, I’ll remember the things God has blessed me with. I’m doing it so that at the end of the year, and years from now, I’ll remember the little things that I’ve been blessed with, and I’m doing it so that I will remember to have a thankful attitude each day. The more you make yourself think about the things you are grateful for, the more grateful you become for all the things that you have.

            Now that I’m done writing this blog entry, I’m gonna go appreciate some of the things I’m grateful for—my soft mattress in my heated bedroom (it’s only 43* outside here in Texas, which is considerably warm compared to the negative degree weather in most of America right now, but it’s still freezing for us), my warm UT Longhorns snuggie and UT Longhorns house socks, my two fluffy pink blankets and soft Texas flag blanket, and both of my pillows with my UT Longhorns pillow pet. And, I’m gonna to enjoy something else that I take for granted each night—sleep! Thank you for reading this blog entry, I hope you enjoyed it! J haha

I Am Not Worthy!

“I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant.”

Genesis 32:10

 

            Have you ever felt worthless? Have you ever felt like you don’t deserve to live? I have! There have been moments in my life when I have seriously questioned God about why He has given me life. Not in the servant-minded way because I was looking for my purpose in life, but because I didn’t feel like I deserved to live. Have you ever felt unworthy? Have you ever felt like you don’t deserve any of the good things you have in this life? I have! There have been many moments when I have felt like I don’t deserve the blessed life God has given me!

            There is a difference between feeling worthless and feeling unworthy! We should never ever feel worthless! We are of so much worth that the only thing worthy of buying us was the precious blood of a perfect Man named Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, the Son of God, who always was, always is, and always will be God Himself! I think we should feel unworthy, though! We should feel like we don’t deserve the blessed life we live, because we don’t deserve it! Every good and perfect thing in our life is given to us by a God who loves us and wants us to be happy, regardless of the fact that we are so undeserving! That’s called grace!

            I don’t deserve the house I’m in right now, the bed I’m sitting on at this moment, the cell phone on the bookshelf next to me, or the laptop I’m typing with right now! I don’t deserve the loving friends and caring family I have! I don’t deserve to live in a country where I have the freedom to worship God without risking my life! I don’t even deserve to be breathing right now.

I AM NOT WORTHY! YOU ARE NOT WORTHY! NONE OF US IS WORTHY!

            God loves us anyway though! He loves us with an unfailing love! His relationship with us is unfailing! He blesses us every single day! And, He daily drenches us with His grace. You may not be able to see the blessings and honestly, the blessings may not be anything more than breathing some days, but God blesses us EVERY day! You have loving friends! You have a caring family—blood, church, or adoption. If you don’t have loving friends or a caring family, then you’ve at least got me and Jesus! You might be reading this and I might not know you, but I care about you! You are worth the sacrifice of Jesus’ life and because of that, I choose to care about you, even before I know you!

More importantly than that, Jesus cares about you! He gave His life for you, even though you don’t deserve it! You might be a murderer/hater, so was Paul/Saul! God loves you both anyway! You might struggle with fornication (sex before marriage), so did Rahab! God loves you both anyway! You might have a big mouth, but so do I and so did Peter! God loves us anyway! You might be a liar, cheat, and or thief, so was Matthew, but God loves you anyway! It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what you struggle with! God loves you anyway! I am not worthy! You are not worthy! None of us is worthy!

BUT GOD LOVES ME! GOD LOVES YOU! GOD LOVES EVERYONE!

            It’s time to stop feeling worthless and start feeling unworthy! When we know we are unworthy, rather than worthless, we realize just how much we are blessed!

            “I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness” God has given me, but He gives it to me anyway! I’ll be honest with you; my life has REALLY been dragging me down lately, especially for the past two days, but I can see the blessings God has given me! I am a very mouthy and opinionated person, so I get myself in trouble a LOT with opening my mouth and inserting my foot! I disrespect my parents and dishonor my grandparents. In fact, for the sake of being authentic and honest, not five minutes ago, I disrespected my mother by yelling at her, but God still chooses to bless me anyway! My parents and grandparents love me. I have best friends who shower me in godly encouragement and constant reminders of God’s promises ALL THE TIME, and I don’t deserve that! I deserve to have friends who discourage me and tell me how awful I am for treating my parents, grandparents, and siblings the way I do, but God loves me so He has blessed me with friends who encourage and love me! I can sleep easy tonight, because, God shows His love for me in that while I am still a sinner, Christ died for me!

 

 

            For someone to talk to about something you might be struggling with or to ask questions of any kind, whether related to this post or not, send an email to daretohope12@aol.com.