BSTUD :: ECCLESIASTES 3:9-11.

IMG_1974

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

Bet you didn’t think I’d be doing one of these posts on a passage from Ecclesiastes.

I sat down with these verses the other day, asking God to help me understand how they fit together. As He answered that prayer, I began to see just how much they show God’s character and our identity relative to Him.

The first verse, verse 9, says: “What do workers gain from their toil?” A common theme in Ecclesiastes is wondering about meaning and meaninglessness. This question considers why the heck we work so hard all day long. It’s only gained more relevance as time has gone on and culture has progressed to turn us all into little worker bees.

Verse 10 continues: “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.” Following verse 9, it seems like that burden is hard work with little to no reward. But verse 11 changes the game.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” God is the One who makes all things new and beautiful in His timing. He is before the beginning and after the end; He has put longing for eternity in our hearts, but not understanding for it in our minds.

How do a question about the worth of work, a statement about God’s burden for us, and a declaration of what God has done fit together?

As I sat with Him, God helped me make sense of it: The writer questions the meaning of work because He sees that so much of our work is futile, without God, striving for nothing that really matters. We work to achieve, when God has not placed an expectation for achievement on us. His burden for us is trusting who He is and what He is capable of. That’s why the writer switches pace to talk about how God has made everything beautiful in its time and no one can fathom His deeds. This passage shows that work outside God’s mission is worthless, because God has not placed a burden of work on us,  but of faith. His only requirement is that we trust Him, the One who makes everything beautiful in His timing, the One whose forever we long for but cannot comprehend. God’s gift of an eternal heart leads us to trust Him, because we have forever desires with worldly, transitory minds. We need to trust Him, because we can’t understand. We can trust Him, because He is who He is. Trusting Him is the “burden” He places on humanity, and that is why it makes absolutely no sense for us to slave away at work by ourselves, for ourselves.

God’s call is for strivings to cease. We may perceive it as a burden, because it’s hard to put aside our confidence in our own capabilities. But once we trust Him instead of ourselves, we discover a God who is infinitely more able, making more beauty than we can dream of, outside the realm of our tiny comprehension.

Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’

John 6:29

(BSTUD is a blog series studying the Christian holy scriptures. BSTUD = B(ible) STUD(y). You can read more BSTUD posts here.)

HONEY.

pancakes-2139844.jpg

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve become a major slight health nut in the past year or so. I plan out my meals on a spreadsheet to make sure that I’m balancing macronutrients and food groups, I roam around the Internet looking for workout tips and tricks, and I’ve been known to launch into lectures when people use blanket statements like “such and such is bad for you.” (All foods fit, people. All. Foods. Fit.) I just want my body to be able to do all the things I want to do for as long as I want to do them, so I eat the kale and do the push-ups. In some of my recent Internet health research (which has admittedly become a time-consuming hobby), I came across a series of articles from Perry’s Plate titled “Staying Whole in a Processed World.” She talks about how to best fuel our bodies in the midst of American food culture. Something in her post on sweets caught my eye.

She explained that in the olden days (like, olden olden days, as in Bible times), honey was as sweet as it got. The only other source of sugar was fruit. Wild honey was a lucky, delicious find. This got me thinking about all the times that honey is mentioned in the Bible. Here are a few examples I found:

  • “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)
  • “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 26:9)
  • “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Psalm 81:16)
  • “The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:9b-10)
  • “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
  • “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:13-14)

A key feature of the Promised Land is abundant honey. God wants to satisfy His people with honey. God’s decrees and His word are called sweeter than honey, and wisdom is like honey. These verses have lost some meaning for us, because our bodies don’t get a sugar rush when we put a tablespoon of honey in our tea. But they would have signified plentiful, overwhelming sweetness for people in Bible times.

To (hopefully) give the same effect, think of your favorite dessert. Warm, homemade, chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven. Your favorite flavor of ice cream. Lemonade cake. Pumpkin-flavored anything when fall rolls around. A cinnamon roll from the Bean, which you absolutely must try the next time you’re in Auburn. Maybe it’s just straight-up M&M’s. Whatever your favorite sweet treat is, God. is. sweeter. His desires for you are sweeter. His word of truth for you is sweeter. He wants to bring you into a sweet place. Who He is and what He has for you are sweeter than a cookie cake with buckets of frosting.

God is good. It’s a key feature of His identity. But oftentimes, we translate His goodness to holiness and perfection. And while that’s definitely true, it’s easy to forget how sweet His goodness is. We adopt a punitive, harsh view of God, but His discipline is only ever meant to benefit us. We fall into thinking He is good but mean, when really, His goodness is so sweet.

Imagine a father’s face lighting up when his toddler rushes to greet him after he gets home from work. A friend staying up late just to talk to you, because they know you’ve had a bad day. A husband buying his wife flowers just because. These extravagant, delighted, lavish forms of love pale in comparison to God. He is the Father who lights up when we run to Him, the Best Friend who is always there for us, the Heavenly Husband who loves us when we run. Is He not infinitely sweeter than the cheesiest movie line or your favorite candy?

The enemy often leads me away from viewing God as sweet. I fall into the trap of worrying that He’s mad at me, waiting for the shoe to drop, expecting punishment and anger. But His goodness for me isn’t just holiness; it’s also sweetness. He is sweet to me, and He is sweet to you. He desires to give you good things, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. He wants to fill you up and satisfy your every need and desire. He is sweeter than honey, and because of that, we can run to Him with everything, lay our messes at His feet, and trust Him to love us through it all.

MOVING TO MALIBU.

 

Version 2

I’ve been really into learning from others’ stories lately. Obviously I believe in and love the Bible as God’s word (I have a whole post about it here, and a whole category of posts dedicated to studying the Bible here!). But recently I’ve been inspired to dig into accounts of how others have experienced Jesus. I imagine the early Church, who didn’t have the New Testament to read. They read letters from other believers like Paul and shared personal details of how Holy Spirit had moved in their lives. Thinking about it that way, it’s important to not only read the Bible, but also to get to know others and their stories about God. God is alive and well, working and moving in people every second of every day. We can see Him more fully when we listen to or read about others’ experiences and perceptions of Him, always comparing their views to the absolute truth found in His word.

Because of my newfound interest in others’ stories, I’m totally loving the Delight Stories and Devotionals book! Delight is a college women’s small group ministry that I’ve been a part of ever since coming to Auburn. I. love. Delight. so much. with all my heart and soul. I’ve made some of my best friends through this ministry, I’ve come so much closer to God, and everything they make is pink!

I was reading Haley’s (what a coincidence, huh?) story from their story and devotional book the other day, and this quote stood out to me:

I see it like this: say somebody gave you an all-expenses paid beach house vacation in Malibu, complete with travel, a car, food, and all the hip furniture and decor you could ever dream of. You could brag about your new lifestyle, tell all your friends, plan for it, and dream about it. But until you pack up and leave your current home, the new life is never really yours. You cannot live in Malibu and your current hometown at the same time.

Delight Stories and Devotionals, vol. 5

I love this picture of life with Jesus. God has given us the gift of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. When we believe in Him, our eternity and inheritance in heaven are promised, sealed forever, a 100% guarantee. He has given us the deed to His house in heaven. The rest of our lives on earth are us moving into that house. We’ve been given the gift of heavenly eternity with our Father, but we can start to live in that reality now. We own the house, so to speak, because it’s been graciously given to us, and we will move in fully when our time on earth is up, but we can start the moving now.

We can take our earthly mindsets and move them to a heavenly one. We can take our flesh caving in to temptations and transfer it to letting Holy Spirit’s convictions change our behavior. We can look at our worldly worries and trust God instead. We can excavate bitterness, annoyance, and disappointment in others, and replace it with purity, love, and forgiveness toward them. We can move from earth to heaven while our bodies are still on earth, because our spirits are already citizens of heaven.

True faith in Jesus is like a moving van for us on earth: its purpose is not only salvation, but also sanctification. Holy Spirit is gradually taking our earthly, sinful selves and replacing them with who God created us to be. That’s the moving. That’s us moving from our earthly reality, the death we were condemned to, to our heavenly reality, the one God created for us when Jesus died and was resurrected. We don’t have to wait for heaven to see this heavenly reality that supersedes our earthly one; we can move now.

Here’s the thing about moving in real life: it’s hard work. You have to haul boxes up and down multiple flights of stairs. If you’re moving in Auburn in the summer, you sweat. A lot. You have to leave behind what’s comfortable, which can be painful and lonely at times. Moving requires others’ help to lug mini-fridges and giant armchairs around. And let me reiterate: it’s hard work.

But Malibu is so much better than the broken-down shack. God’s heavenly reality is infinitely better than our earthly one. We have already received the gift of heaven, and it is nothing but that: a gift. Whatever we have to sacrifice to live in that gift now, is worth it. Moving may be hard, but Malibu is better.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

C.S. Lewis

BREAK THE YARDSTICKS.

IMG_3178

If you come into Haley’s room and cuddle with her, she’ll want to talk to you.

If she starts talking, soon she’ll get emotional and start crying.

When she starts crying, her nose will start running, so you’ll need to get her tissues (usually a large box).

Once she has the tissues, she’ll realize that she’s thirsty, so you’ll need to get her a glass of water.

Once she has the water, you’ll need to somehow get her to stop crying so you can leave and go to bed.

If You Give a Haley a Cuddle, a modified version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

All jokes aside, I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours of sleep my mom has lost from our late-night conversations. One we had recently was no exception; it fit this poem to a tee, right down to the tissues. As I talked and cried, my mom noticed how frequently I was using the word “enough.” Eventually, she commented on it: “Haley, where are you getting your ideas of enough? Who gave you these standards? Whatever yardsticks you’ve somehow found for yourself, I wish I could just break them.”

Before that point, I hadn’t realized how many of my tears were coming from perfectionism and comparison. Because I wasn’t perfect, because I wasn’t like Everyone Else, or because I wasn’t perfect like Everyone Else, I didn’t feel enough. I saw myself as inadequate in my relationships, in how I take care of my body, in my academic and professional ambitions, in my walk with Jesus, in my living out God’s mission. I kept staring at the gap between where I was and where was perfect, frustrated and embarrassed at my inability to close it. I let that gap start to fill my head with lies about my identity and capability. And it all resulted from these stupid yardsticks.

The yardsticks of perfectionism and comparison will always be bigger than who we are and what we’re doing. If we use them to measure ourselves, we’ll grow exhausted, ashamed, bitter, and angry. We’ll end up exactly where we don’t want to be because we’ve strived and strived to get where we want to be but haven’t been able to quite make it happen. But the problem isn’t with us: it’s with our theres. We will never get there if our there is perfection and not progress, if our there is what Everyone Else is like and not who we are meant to be in this moment. The yardsticks get longer the harder we work to measure up to them.

I’d bet that if we dialed in to our thoughts and emotions, we’d all find perfectionism and comparison at the root of looooots of our problems. When we put pressure on ourselves to do it all, to be the very best, to be like Everyone Else or even better than them, we start focusing on where we’re not living up to those impossible expectations. We focus on the gaps we can’t fill instead of focusing on Jesus, who came to close the most important gap of all: the one between us and God. He lived up to every perfect standard so that we don’t have to, because news flash, we can’t. And the enemy wants to leave us striving instead of accepting grace. But that’s not what I want for myself or for you. I want us to experience freedom from the bondage of perfectionism and comparison. I want us to trust that our Savior has been perfect for us and made us perfect in Him, so we don’t have to live perfectly. I want us to live the life we were created to live, not by always trying harder, but by accepting our shortcomings and praising Him for forgiving them.

So today, I invite everyone into a process. It’s one I underwent in that conversation with my mom and one I continue in today. It can bring emotional, mental, or relational freedom. It can break the yardsticks. And even if you don’t believe me, it’s worth a shot. What do you have to lose? Here’s how it goes:

  1. Pay attention to the word “enough.” When you think or speak, where does it pop up? How often? Relationships are a common area that trips me up.
  2. Once you notice your use of “enough,” dig a little deeper. Why don’t you feel enough in this area? Is it because you’re not doing everything perfectly, or because you’re not doing it as well as Everyone Else seems to be? I sometimes don’t feel enough in relationships because I think I’m selfish or think that I don’t feel all the right emotions.
  3. Trace it back to the yardsticks. This is my favorite part, where the truth comes in. Realize that your yardstick is impossibly big… and realize that God’s love and grace for you are so, so much bigger. Acknowledge your yardsticks of perfectionism and comparison (or both), and then tell them: You are not realistic. I will never measure up to you, but I don’t have to. Because I have a Savior who’s already measured up, and because of His grace for me, I measure up, too.
  4. Break the dang yardsticks. Snap. them. in. half. If you need to, do what I did: march out to Home Depot, buy a yardstick, break it, and hang it up on your wall. Reinforce the truth that you are enough by living like it. Repeat the truth over and over, every single day, until it speaks louder than the lies of perfectionism and comparison. The best way to do this is to fix your eyes on Jesus. When you look at Him instead of the gaps between who you are and who you want to be, it becomes clear that God does not see the gaps when He looks at you. He sees His son or daughter.
  5. Repeat as needed. Even as I type this post, it seems similar to others I’ve written before. And that’s because it is, because I’ve struggled with perfectionism and comparison a ton in my mere twenty years. Yardsticks creep into my brain when I’m not paying attention. The enemy is sneaky. His lies take root in my mind and start to look like truth. And when that happens, I need to say enough with the not-enoughs, because I am enough as a daughter of the King. And you are enough, too.
  6. Help a brotha out. (I’m guessing I should never use the word “brotha” again.) Sure, we can try to take out the lies on our own, sit down with a journal and cup of tea until we’re believing truth again. But I don’t know if I ever would have realized my issues were stemming from yardsticks if my mom hadn’t pointed it out. We need one another. We need other people to speak truth to us, and we need to speak truth to other people. It’s certainly not a substitution for believing truth ourselves, but oftentimes, others can see our yardsticks much more clearly than we can. It’s so much easier to break those yardsticks together.

I hope this helps someone who is struggling with perfectionism and comparison. And if that’s not you today, I hope you bookmark this post for a time when the yardsticks might come to get you. Wherever you’re at on your journey, I hope you hear me when I say: You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.

Now let’s break some yardsticks.

For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Hebrews 10:14

FAVORITES OF 2017.

Snow Fun!

What a year it’s been. I wrapped up my second decade on the planet, I discovered a new love for almonds, I changed my major to Social Work, I launched this blog, and I learned a heck of a lot. I won’t be diving into everything from 2017 here, but I will be sharing my favorite books, music, movies, TV shows, and recipes from the year. I hope your 2017 was fabulous, and I hope you enjoy the following finds!

Books

2017 was a better reading year than 2016 (in that I read more books), so huzzah for that! Here are some of my faves:

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Is this book meant for children? Yes. Did I still thoroughly enjoy it? Absolutely. Did it make me cry? Of course it did. Wonder is about how a boy named Auggie, born with a facial deformity, goes to mainstream school for the first time. It’s inspirational, emotional, and fun. In this book, I loved both the plot and the characters. I also enjoyed the split POV, the short chapters, the humor, and the overall adorable vibe. Sometimes, you just need to take a break from teen angst and dive into a children’s book, and Wonder was wonderful for that.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi: This fantasy middle-grade book is both thought provoking and incredibly whimsical. Furthermore follows Alice Alexis Queensmeadow as she and her new friend Oliver search for her Father and learn a lot about magic, telling the truth, friendship, and themselves along the way. My favorite part of this book was the ending, because it was an extremely well thought-out plot point. I also enjoyed the growth of Oliver and Alice’s friendship and the way Tahereh Mafi develops consistent themes in such a wild ride of a book. I recommend this to anyone looking for some fantasy fun (and also to anyone who wants to read a book that makes them sigh with happiness every time they close it because come on, the cover).
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King: Glory O’Brien was my favorite book of 2017. Honestly, it’s just weird. Glory O’Brien and her friend drink a bat and are suddenly able to see other people’s pasts and futures when looking at them. (Didn’t believe me when I said it was weird, huh? Try actually reading it.) I enjoyed all the weirdness, as well as how well the writing style fit the storyline and how Glory’s character develops.
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis strips down Christianity to its bare-bones basics. He begins with a logical argument for Jesus being who He says He is and continues into clear and compelling explanations of theology. The content of this book is just phenomenal. I also absolutely love his writing, which is full of strong word choice and stunning metaphors. I think this book would be an interesting, exciting read for long-time believers, new believers, and non-believers alike, so basically, I recommend it to everyone.

Music

I discovered some new artists in 2017, and some of my favorite artists released new stuff. What a good time! Here are some of my favorite tunes from this year:

  • Notos by The Oh Hellos: This album just came out a few weeks ago, and it is grand. The Oh Hellos are back with their classic folk sound, upbeat melodies, and fun vibe. Basically, I’ve just really enjoyed listening to this album.
  • “I’ll Stay (Carla’s Song)” by Matt Stinton: I cry. This song is about choosing to stay with someone forever, and it. is. beautiful. Matt Stinton’s not-quite-crisp vocals and the simple acoustic guitar blend really well, and the lyrics are just wonderful.
  • “New Year’s Day” by Taylor Swift: T-Swizzle got a lot of hate this year, but I love her new album Reputation. My favorite song from it has got to be “New Year’s Day,” although “Getaway Car,” “Dancing with Our Hands Tied,” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” are also contenders. Contrasting with the rest of her very pop-y album, “New Year’s Day” is stripped down with gorgeous lyrics and simple instrumentation. Honestly, it’s just really pretty.
  • Starlight by Bethel Music: This is my favorite worship album of the year. It’s Bethel’s second all-female-led album, and it’s both powerful and extremely well done musically. My favorite songs are “Starlight,” “You Came (Lazarus),” “I See the Light,” and “Extravagant.” The lyrics on the entire album are poignant, inspiring, and refreshing. And of course, all the vocals are phenomenal!
  • JOHHNYSWIM: My favorite artist find of 2017 is JOHNNYSWIM, hands down. I’d heard of them before this year but didn’t start listening to them until the spring, and I’m so glad I finally did! This band is led by married couple Abner and Amanda Ramirez, which is just precious in and of itself. But to make matters 1000 times better, their music is also dang good. The harmonies are gorgeous, the songs range from upbeat and fun to slow and smooth, and the lyrics are honest and meaningful. My favorite songs of theirs include “First Try,” “Villains,” “Diamonds,” and “Adelina.”

Screen Things

All of these movies and TV shows are available on Netflix. You’re welcome.

  • Poverty, Inc.: Mark this down as the only documentary that has made me cry. Poverty, Inc., explores the compassion industry, from governmental foreign aid to TOMs shoes. It’s brutally honest in a way that is so, so necessary for reforming the broken systems that we use to “help” others. I highly recommend it to everyone, but especially those who are interested in helping others, whether you’re a nonprofit CEO or someone who donates a few bucks to Salvation Army every Christmas.
  • The Crown: This Netflix original series details the personal lives of Queen Elizabeth II, her loved ones, and her political contemporaries like Winston Churchill. It’s dramatic, emotional, and beautifully done; the colors and the atmosphere are artfully created. If you’re interested in history, Britain, or both, The Crown is a great show to try! And speaking of Britain…
  • The Great British Baking Show: I have never been able to get into cooking shows, but last week I straight up cried at the season 1 finale of Great British Baking Show. I am obsessed. I started watching it as something to put on in the background while I cooked, but then I became genuinely invested. Now, my mom and I are watching season 2 together. Even if you don’t like cooking shows, you would like Great British Baking Show, and my theory is that it’s because the contestants, hosts, and judges are all British. They’re so pleasant! Their accents are lovely! They’re competitive but also kind and considerate! They have such wonderful attitudes! Watching British people bake patisserie has brought me so much joy, and it can do the same for you.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: I loved this book series when I was a kid and was so excited when Netflix debuted the TV show, especially after the movie wasn’t the most accurate thing in the world. The show is so well done! The sets are very creative, the visuals are stunning, the writing is incredibly witty, and the storyline is accurate. I can’t wait for the following seasons to show the rest of the books and dive into the intriguing world of the Baudelaires!

Noms

This fall, I moved into an apartment (with a kitchen) and started cooking for myself. I used to be self-conscious about my stunning lack of chef-ness, but now, I absolutely love to cook! Here are some of my favorite recipes from 2017:

  • Smoky Potato & Chickpea Stew: I made this stew a few weeks ago when I was starting to feel sick, and it totally hit the spot. It’s got plant-based protein, delicious flavors, and kale; what more could you need? (This recipe and the Chimichurri Chicken & Rice came from BudgetBytes, which has a ton of recipes under $2 a serving. As a broke college student, this site is one of my favorite finds from the year!)
  • Autumn Sausage, Veggie, & Apple Sheet Pan Dinner: Sheet pan dinners are great for meal prep (which I do a lot because I need to grab stuff quick when I’m running late for class, and because I’m cooking for one) and for the tiny, tiny, tiny kitchen we have. I used turkey sausage for this recipe and added some brown rice to stretch it from four servings to five.
  • Pumpkin Turkey Chili: Call me basic, but in the fall I’m all about all things pumpkin. This chili has lots of veggies and was so easy to make, so that’s a win in my book!
  • 5 Ingredient Turkey Stroganoff: I used ground turkey instead of ground beef for this super simple recipe. It was a great weeknight dinner and meal prep. After adding a side veggie or side salad, this stroganoff is a filling, easy, and healthy meal.
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins: Another pumpkin recipe with absolutely no apologies. These pumpkin chocolate chip muffins are delicious and good for you. (A nutritionist actually told me to eat a piece of dark chocolate a day, so the chocolate in these muffins is good for you, too.) Shoosh yeah.
  • Chimichurri Chicken & Rice: This one is my favorite recipe of 2017! I modified it a little by adding more frozen peas (can you tell I’m a little obsessed with vegetables?), using brown rice, and subbing balsamic vinegar in the chimichurri. This one-pot meal was quick, easy, and SO DANG YUMMY. I can’t wait to make it again!

Thanks for reading, everyone! Farewell 2017, and here’s to 2018!

THE TWELVE DAYS OF LOVE LETTER WRITING.

intro shared

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! First of all, it’s Christmastime, so the holiday tunes, yummy food, and pretty lights have got me feeling all sorts of festive. Be Rich, my church’s annual giving campaign, just wrapped up with amazing results. Aaaand… it’s the Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing with More Love Letters!

The World Needs More Love Letters is a fab organization that writes love letters to people all over the world. Anyone can request a letter bundle for a loved one who’s going through a tough time—illness, loss, breakup, or just down in the dumps and needing some encouragement. Then, people can view those requests on the More Love Letters website and write an uplifting note to them. The person who requested the bundle gathers all the letters and gives them to the bundle recipient in one huge outpouring of love.

Since its founding by Hannah Brencher in 2011, The World Needs More Love Letters has celebrated the holidays with 12 days of 12 letter requests. The Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing is one of my favorite things about the holiday season! I love taking a break from studying for finals to write a word of encouragement to people who need it (and sometimes, the notes I write for others are exactly what I needed to hear myself.) It’s a great way to dig in to what the holidays should be about: giving love to others without expecting anything in return. In a time that often becomes more stressful than joyful, we need to remember that people need us. We have the incredible opportunity to be there for one another. The Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing is one way to do just that.

The Twelve Days campaign started on Monday, and a new letter request will be published on the More Love Letters blog every day until next Friday. If you’re looking for a way to spread some holiday cheer, look no further! You can write a letter to one of the requests or go cray-cray and submit a note to all 12 bundles. All letters should be postmarked by December 20, 2017.

Today’s request is for students at REAL School. This one is close to my heart because I’m a student, I love working with kids and families, and I believe in the importance of education. I’m encourage all of my readers to write one note to the following request:

REAL school serves middle school students who require structured therapeutic school-based supports and are at-risk in the areas of academic achievement as well as emotional and behavioral development. Most are dealing with challenges at home and in the community—trauma, abuse, violence—as well as mental health disorders. They and their families oftentimes lack access to effective resources and lack exposure to people outside of their communities, city, and the world around them. Research shows that these types of disconnections lead to ongoing struggles: incarceration, homelessness, a lower lifetime earning potential, chronic difficulty getting and keeping a job, living in extreme poverty, lack of health insurance, substance abuse, and chronic depression.

Our students (we currently have six boys in the program, ages 12-14) are resilient, vibrant, creative, outspoken, musical, funny, caring, curious, resourceful, athletic, and often, overlooked. They love to rap, dance, play sports, do arts and crafts, and learn about others. They deserve to feel appreciated and supported. They deserve unconditional positive regard. And, most of all, they deserve to feel connected with others.

I’d love to share letters of encouragement and motivation, of overcoming tough times, and of different life experiences (cultures, cities, people) with our students as well as our amazing REAL School staff members.

Please address all letters to “Dear Students” and mail them to the following address:

Students of REAL School

c/o Elizabeth L.

12 S. Stafford Avenue Apt. A

Richmond, VA 23220

USA

Let’s brighten one another’s lives this holiday season! If you’re interested in learning more about The World Needs More Love Letters, you can check out their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on twitter and Instagram.

BSTUD :: MATTHEW 22:9-10.

IMG_2422

‘So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Matthew 22:9-10

Just imagine: You plan a wedding, receive RSVPs from 150 guests, and then on the day of, no one shows. So you go out into the streets and invite 150 randos. Totally not weird, right?

Jesus tells this parable that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet. The king prepares the wedding banquet for his son and sends his servants out to tell the invited guests that it’s ready. But they ignore the invitation, and some even abuse and kill the servants. So the king drastically expands his guest list, inviting people right off the streets.

When I read this passage a few days ago, one particular phrase stood out to me: “Invite to the banquet anyone you find” (v. 9). I asked myself: Am I willing to be found?

Hiding from God isn’t new, even though it’s entirely futile. The first two people tried—and failed—to hide from Him in the Garden. In John 3, Jesus speaks about our tendency to cover up our ugly:

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

v. 20

When we do wrong and fall short, our first instinct is to run from our only remedy. We try to bury our sin in the depths of our hearts, where it grows roots and breeds shame. We hide. Then, when the King comes around to invite us into all He has to offer, we don’t want to be found. We’re embarrassed by our shortcomings. We wonder why He would want failures like us at His table. We fear being fully seen, because what if our perfect God rejects us, these imperfect sinners? The thought of Him knowing everything about us, inside and out, drives us into panic.

What we don’t understand is this: He’s not inviting us to His banquet so He can laugh at us, reject and ridicule us, turn us out when He sees our mess. He’s inviting us into the solution for all our problems. He’s inviting us to receive the grace we so desperately need. He’s inviting us into the relationship with Himself that we were meant for all along. He’s inviting us to know Him and be fully known by Him, in the intimacy we were created for. And He’s inviting everyone—but will we let Him find us so He can place the invitation into our shaking hands?

Are we willing to be found by our Father? I mean fully found: fully seen, fully known, and the best part—fully loved. Will we let the darkest parts of our hearts into His marvelous light? Will we stop hiding even the sin that floors us with shame, and step into the loving arms of our Father who can take all that pain away?

When we’re in hiding, it’s like a little kid who closes their eyes and thinks they can’t be seen. He sees us anyway. He’s God. So let’s quit pretending like we’ve got it all together without Him. He’s aware of the mess we’re in. We don’t have to hide; He already knows everything about us, everything we’ve done, all our fears and failures—and He still loves us. He still desires us. He still offers His mercy and extends His grace to us. He still wants us at the banquet, to feast on Jesus, the Bread of Life. He pursues us when we run, in a grace-filled chase scene. Even though we’ve made ourselves ugly and broken in sin, God desperately wants us with Him; may we be fully found by Him, so that we can receive His invitation and shout a thundering, exuberant yes in response. Then, the miraculous cleaning and healing begin.

(BSTUD is a blog series studying the Christian holy scriptures. BSTUD = B(ible) STUD(y). You can read more BSTUD posts here.)

INTRODUCING: BSTUD.

IMG_2408

B(ible) STUD(y) = BSTUD.

I know, I know, I’m so cool you almost can’t handle it.

Introducing… BSTUD, a new blog post series of little wisdom nuggets straight from Scripture.

A lot of the time, when I’m reading the Bible, I learn something cool that I want to share, but it’s too long for an Instagram caption and too short for a normal blog post. #relatable, right? I’m starting a new series to share the wisdom God gives me in mornings spent with Him. I hope you enjoy! Scroll alllllll the way to the bottom of this page to follow this blog and receive updates with each post as we dive into truth together. Thanks for reading!

WHY YOU SHOULD LOOK AT YOUR APARTMENT BEFORE PAYING THE FIRST MONTH’S RENT.

IMG_2443

Confession: I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with transitions. Each time I approach a fresh start, whether minor or major, I think: This is it. It’s my time to shine. I am finally going to pull it all together. I’m going to complete all my homework days before it’s due, maintain a spotless living space, eat kale for every meal, run five miles every morning, and spend my free time volunteering for a somewhat obscure but definitely worthy cause. This thought process arises at the beginning of new school years, semesters, months, and even weeks. Confession #2: I have always fallen short of these perfect goals. Every single time, I find myself needing more grace than I expected.

Of course, the beginning of my sophomore year brought the familiar feelings of excitement and anticipation. I was moving into an apartment with two of my roommates from freshman year. I had it all planned out: My bedroom’s color scheme was light pink, gray, and navy; I would have trendy hand-lettered quotes up in picture frames on the wall; I would finally own a car to drive around Aubs; I would spend Fridays (when I only have one class #blessed) meal-prepping cute, healthy dinners; I would use my new planner to finally stop procrastinating once and for all. Fortunately, after repeated failures of the “my year” philosophy, I did start out this fall a little more realistic. I tried to reframe my thinking, to hope more for growth than for perfection. Little did I know, God had a surprise in store for me to help me accomplish that goal.

When I showed up in Aubs on Wednesday afternoon, I checked in to my apartment, payed the first month’s rent, and received my keys. We walked in… and were met with mold, a broken toilet, a missing smoke detector, a completely black air filter, and an overall filthy, unsafe apartment. We spoke to a manager that night, asking them to fix the issues by the next day so that we could move in. After spending the night in LaGrange, we went back to the apartment the following day to find… the exact same mess. Ultimately, after many unsatisfactory interactions with staff and management, we decided to try to get out of our lease and began searching for other places to live. I’m writing this post from a guest bedroom in my mom’s former coworker’s house.

A few days ago, I read the following passage from Matthew 8:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'” (vv. 23-27)

The winds and the waves of my current apartment storm obey Jesus. As I prayed in my journal today, Holy Spirit led me to gratitude to say: Thank You for this apartment situation. Thank You for starting my sophomore year off in a place of dependence on You. What a miracle, that God gave me what I needed, not what I wanted. What a miracle, that He orchestrated these events to grow my faith in Him, instead of my sense of self-sufficiency. What a wonderful God, that He has already used this crappy apartment for so much good in my heart. And who knows? Maybe there are even more reasons for this mess than just growing my faith. Maybe my new neighbors at another apartment complex need Jesus. Maybe my previous apartment complex will prove to be unsafe, and this situation is His form of protection. Maybe one of my new neighbors will end up being a friend and a light to me. I may not know all the reasons yet, but I believe these events are on purpose.

Now, I definitely haven’t been a ray of sunshine and faith this whole time. My emotions have been rampaging all over the place the past five days. My flawed handling of this situation is yet another reminder that I must seek growth, not perfection. And I’m thankful to say that God has grown me. A friend told me last night that she noticed how surprisingly okay I seemed, given the fact that I’ve been living out of my car since Wednesday. Truthfully, Jesus deserves all the credit for my stunning lack of freakouts. He’s covered me in more peace that I thought possible. He’s teaching me that peace in any circumstance is far greater than the control over my circumstances that I was seeking.

He reigns as King of this world, of my heart, and of my current living situation. He is already redeeming it all and using it for my good and His glory. What a wonderful God He is!

THE B-I-B-L-E.

IMG_2157

For the past thirteen months, I’ve been reading through the entire Bible, cover to cover. This morning, I finished! It’s been a thrilling, challenging, amazing adventure that has forever changed my relationship with God. In this post, I’m sharing about what God has taught me on this journey.

1.

If you read the Bible, you will know God more. Period. The Bible is the word of God, and when you want to know someone, you let them talk to you. You listen. You make time to communicate. That’s what the Bible is. It’s listening to God speak to you.

It’s honestly difficult to describe how much better I’ve gotten to know God through this experience. I’ve never understood His bigness, His essence, what it means that He is God, this clearly. I’ve never seen Jesus this fully. I’ve never experienced Holy Spirit this closely. And the cool thing is, the more you get to know Him, the more there is to know.

I heard a pastor this fall put it this way (paraphrased): So many of us want to see God and hear His voice. Reading the Bible is how to do that. We don’t realize that we have what we so desperately want, sitting right there on our bookshelf.

2.

Reading the Bible requires discipline, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no magical formula, at least not that I’ve found, to make yourself excited to read genealogies at six in the morning. I’ll be the first to tell you there were days I snoozed the alarm and squeezed in my Bible time later in the day, or forsook it altogether. I won’t pretend that I’ve jumped for joy opening my Bible every morning, craving the message of Obadiah. Some days, I’ve only read the day’s passage out of habit and my motivation to finish this goal. Other days, I haven’t read it at all.

Reading the Bible is deepening your relationship with God, and relationships aren’t always rainbows and cupcakes. Relationships require work. It’s not wrong to not feel like reading the Bible. The proper response to God’s word is certainly awe, but this response takes practice and time to occur naturally.

The best way to get a good attitude about reading the Bible is to read the Bible. If you make it a habit to explore God’s word, you realize how amazing it is. Over time, that cultivates a deeper sort of excitement: one that lasts.

I feel like people talk smack about reading the Bible as a habit, but I’d like to counter that. When you make reading the Bible a habit, you’re telling God: what You have to say is more important than what I’m feeling in the moment. What You have to say is so important that I’m regularly carving out time to listen to You. I want to make Your word part of the fabric of my life. I want to put in the work to hear You and see You. I want to need Your word every day. Doesn’t that sound a little more like awe than hoping for fireworks every time we turn the page? Don’t despise the discipline; glory can be found in the hard work, too.

3.

Start with what’s clear, then move on to what’s not. The last book in the Bible is Revelation, arguably the least clear book in the entire thing. But through this lens of focusing on what I understand, I was able to find some pretty cool, fairly obvious truths: God will be worshiped eternally. He is victorious and will reign forever. All that stuff about the dragon (y’all, there is a dragon in the Bible!) is certainly important—after all, it’s in the Bible—but it’s not clear yet. I can trust God to help me understand what He wants me to know when He wants me to know it. God is endlessly revealing His mystery, and it’s easy to get bogged down in what we don’t comprehend. Instead, I’ve started to come back to the essentials again and again: God loves me. Jesus died for me. Holy Spirit lives inside me. The details are important, but they aren’t worth forgetting the core of God’s word.

4.

The Old Testament gets a bad rap. I went into it expecting to find God harsh, even mean, because Jesus hasn’t arrived on the scene yet. What I found instead?

A consistently sinful people, loved by a consistently faithful God.

The Old Testament chronicles the failures of God’s people. Time after time, they fall short of holiness and righteousness. They worship idols a lot. They stubbornly ignore prophets. Their family drama showcases hatred, bitterness, and jealousy.

Isn’t it amazing that God’s response is never permanent abandonment? How good must God be to still want these people? He disciplines them so they will turn to Him. He’s not being mean; He’s being loving. He chooses people who choose everything but Him. His voice, through the prophets, tells of His hope for the future: “They will be My people, and I will be their God” (Jeremiah 32:38). He longs for a right relationship with His people, even when they don’t want it back.

The story of modern Christians is so evident throughout the Old Testament. We are still a consistently sinful people, loved by a consistently faithful God. God isn’t different in the Old Testament, because He never changes. The story changes, though, when you get to the Jesus part. And man, I am so much more grateful for the Gospel now.

5.

When you read the Bible, celebrate little victories. The Bible is a big book. Maybe you’re inspired to read it cover to cover now. Maybe every January 1 you start a “Bible in a year” reading plan and give up by February. You look at that big book, and it seems daunting. Impossible.

But I’m a big believer in little victories. I didn’t finish the Bible by waiting for a year to celebrate God’s work in me. I rejoiced when I finished a book, or a week. Honestly, I wish I had celebrated even smaller wins. I wish that I had finished every day of reading not just thankful for God’s word, but also thankful for what He had done to bring me to the point of waking up and reading Obadiah.

Every time you read a Bible verse, that’s evidence of God’s faithfulness to you. Don’t forget to thank Him for that. Not in a “thank You for helping me find the earring I lost” way, though I don’t want to discredit that kind of gratitude. Thank Him for orchestrating your life so that you can read an easily accessible Bible. Thank Him for calling you to know Him more fully. Thank Him for stirring your heart to read His word. Thank Him for propelling you through whatever you read and speaking to you the whole time.

Don’t the little victories seem like kind of a big deal now?


One last thing: The Bible is seriously so amazing, but it’s not God. It’s His word, alive and powerful and true. It’s one of His avenues for helping His people get to know Him. He reveals His mystery through those pages, and that’s so cool. But the word of God is only powerful because He is powerful. It’s only good because He is good. And even this holy, sacred book of His word to humankind—it pales in comparison to the Author.