Living Open-Handed

Last week, the organization I work with had a retreat for all the staff on the island. It was a great few days away – despite the fact I wasn’t terribly excited to be there at the start. 

One of the things I felt I should do to get my attitude right and be able to hear all God wanted to say to me during the time was surrender everything I brought with me. So, Wednesday night, I spent time laying everything down before God – my book, singing, my life in Ireland, ministry opportunities, and other dreams and promises I felt He’d given me. I told Him I only wanted to bring home what He gave me back during the days of the retreat.

During the next two days, I struggled with some of the hopes and dreams I’d placed on the altar of surrender. There were items – like my book – which I expected to be returned and received back fairly quickly. I still don’t know how God will use Live Your Story to impact lives, but I believe He will bring Himself glory through the message. I trust Him with how that will look without specific expectations, so it was easy to accept that item back from God.

Other hopes and dreams were more difficult. One promise in particular kept finding its way back into my hands and heart. Each time I discovered I was holding it again, I would put it right back down on the altar. While I believe the fulfillment of this promise could bring God much glory, it is not so much a “ministry” promise as a personal one. Because of this dynamic, it was much easier to believe that I was picking it up again because of my own desire for it.

By Friday morning, as I spent time listening to God and writing in my journal, I felt God was saying, “Thank you for surrendering your desires and hopes, but you now have to be willing to receive back the gifts I want to give you.” I felt He was saying that He had been trying the whole time to give this promise back to me, but I was refusing to accept it because I was afraid of turning an “I wish” into a “God said.”

I realized once again that surrender really means living open-handed before God. Hands that are open release things, but they also receive. Just as I don’t know what future ministry opportunities will look like or the impact my book will have, I don’t know how the fulfillment of this particular promise will come about or what it will bring. But I have chosen to leave my hands open to receive all that God wants to give and surrender all that isn’t from Him; I have chosen to trust His faithfulness. He is a good Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children. I may not feel worthy of the gift, but He gives based on His character – not mine.

What is God trying to give you today? Sometimes accepting and hoping for the gifts He offers requires courage because hope brings the risk of disappointment, but the hope He gives is always worth the risk. He is trustworthy. Open your hands.

Fighting for Peace

I wrote last week about how I believe the best is yet to come. Wednesday, I spent a good part of the day journaling and talking to God about everything going on in my life these days. I already believed what I’d written the day before, but I reached an even deeper place of peace and assurance that God truly has incredible things in store.

And then Thursday came. The potential disappointment I’d mentioned in last week’s post suddenly seemed like more of a probability than a possibility; I didn’t handle the thought well. The peace I had just a few hours before seemed nonexistent, and I became a bit of an emotional wreck for the afternoon.

As I pulled out my journal once again, the first lines I wrote were: “It’s amazing how often one must fight for peace… It seems like an oxymoron, but it’s true.” I have no idea where those words came from, but they’ve had me thinking ever since. So many times I think of peace as the absence of struggle, but often it seems like a war within to stay in a place of peace.

Jesus told His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He is our source of peace no matter what is happening in the world, but it can be a battle to remain connected to that source when it seems the world is falling apart around us.

Paul encouraged the Philippians (4:4-8), “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

This is how we “fight” for peace. We take thoughts captive, every minute if necessary, and remind ourselves of truth. We rejoice always in Who our God is and the fact He is with us. We dwell in Him and fix our eyes on Him instead of on our circumstances. We present our needs and desires to Him and trust He will accomplish what concerns us, even if it isn’t in the way we expect.

I may have more emotional moments in the coming months as I wait to see what unfolds. But today, I’m in a place of peace. Tomorrow may bring a battle to stay there, but I know the weapons needed for the fight. I will rejoice in God and fix my thoughts on His truth, knowing wherever I am and whatever happens, the best is still ahead!

The Best…

I mentioned last week I’m working on a new website. I hope to launch it in the near future, and I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s ready.

My goal is to have a page on the website where I can share my story and travels through photos, so the project this afternoon has been looking through photos from various trips I’ve done over the last several years. As I looked at photos from Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, China, Jordan, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, the UK, Ireland, and more, I realized just how much God has allowed me to see and do in the last thirty-six years.

Yes, there are things I haven’t gotten to do, promises made that weren’t kept, disappointments in abundance at times. During this past week, I have learned that without God’s intervention, another disappointment (with the potential to alter my future in major ways) may be waiting just around the corner.

Even still, God has been faithful. I have lived a pretty remarkable life so far, and I get the feeling it is still just getting to the good part. The best is yet to come!

I don’t know what story you have lived so far. I would imagine there have been some difficult chapters and some good ones too. Maybe you’ve seen the world, or maybe you’ve seen just around your own neighborhood. Perhaps you’re living your dream, or maybe you’re currently living a nightmare. Whatever your story is right now, I believe the best is still yet to come.

The God we serve is full of so much more than we can imagine, and He longs for us to open ourselves to receive more of Him all the time. He is faithful to show up in the midst of our stories and bring His best to us if we will allow Him, and His supply is limitless. No matter how many good gifts He has already poured into your life, there are always more available.

I don’t know what will happen in my life during the next few months. I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. None of us know how the current events in our lives will turn out, but that’s okay. As we put our trust in God and allow Him to work in and through us, the best is always ahead of us! Let’s run into the days ahead with our eyes fixed on Him and our faith firmly rooted in His goodness.

Living For Him

I’ve heard it said that we should “live for an audience of one.” I’m learning once again how much easier it is to say that little phrase than to actually live it.

Last week, I posted about my book coming out, and I’ve been busy working on setting up a website, learning about Paypal and pre-orders, and doing final edits on Live Your Story! In the midst of all the busyness, I found myself struggling with motivation to move forward on these tasks, and I couldn’t understand why.

On Friday night, I set aside some time with Jesus and my journal to figure out what was going on. The short answer was: FEAR. As exciting as it is to be nearly at the finish line of getting the message of Live Your Story out for people to read, it is also scary. This book is not a story, it’s my story. The sooner it is published, bought and read, the sooner my journey is on display to be reviewed, critiqued, and picked apart.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read (or even posted) book reviews of Christian books, but some of them are brutal. If I’m honest, that scares me. Last week, without me even realizing it, the fear nearly prevented me from taking the next steps necessary to sell my book. I felt like I was busy working toward completing the tasks, but in reality, I was moving from one tab on my web browser to another, reading tidbits of information but getting nowhere with actually doing anything of value.

Since the weekend, I have begun to make (very slow) progress on finding the information I need to accomplish the tasks ahead of me. I am still on a steep learning curve, but I have begun asking for help from people more knowledgeable than I am on these jobs, and I am starting to move forward.

Am I still scared to put my life on display for those who read the book and open myself to whatever criticism people wish to offer? Absolutely! However, I have remembered they are not the reason I wrote Live Your Story; God is the One I wrote it for, and He is the One I want to please. I hope others’ lives are impacted by my willingness to share my story, but ultimately, that isn’t what matters. I have been obedient, and God can use the result in any way He chooses. This book was His dream before it was mine, and I trust that He will use it for His glory and my good.

I’ve probably asked this question on blog posts before, and I will likely ask it again: What dream has God given you that you need to act on? What’s stopping you? Today is a good day to start living for the audience of One, and take the next step no matter how scary it seems. Live to please Him alone, and He will always come through for you!

The Time Is Now

In previous posts I’ve mentioned I’m working on a book. I’ve been working on this book for nearly seven years, and on many occasions, I’ve wondered if I would ever complete it.

Last week, a good friend bought me a gift: a mug declaring in bold letters “THE TIME IS NOW.”

I doubt the publishing process is what she had in mind with the gift, but the message certainly fits. I signed a contract a month ago with a publisher. For a while, not much was required from me to move the project forward, and it was easy to forget all that’s happening. Today, I am completing my review of the first round of revisions from the publisher, and I’ve been in contact with him about cover designs and finalizing a title. Suddenly, the reality is sinking in: soon, I will be a published author!

After years of doubting whether I would finish the book (or have the courage to publish it), the time is now. I am excited. I am scared. I wonder who will read it and whether they will like it. I imagine criticisms I will receive, and sometimes, I think of positive comments I might receive. (Why is it always so easy to imagine the worst and forget to dream of the best outcomes?) If I allowed the onslaught of thoughts and feelings to overwhelm me, I’d never take the next step of the process; I wouldn’t have started the process in the first place!

The time is now to take a step. The book is one area of my life where the time has arrived. I may have to take steps in other areas in the near future. Sometimes, these steps feel like leaps off a ledge more than a small stride forward. Fear is a close companion in these times of uncertainty. “What if…?” can become a debilitating question if allowed. Thankfully, the One directing the steps can be trusted!

Could it be time for you to take a step? I would wager most of us have some place in our lives where God is waiting for us to move, but He won’t force us to take a step.  We get to choose whether and when we move forward. We don’t want to move ahead of God, so it’s essential to seek His wisdom and timing. However, if fear is what’s keeping us in the same place, waiting for it to pass will keep us stuck forever. Sometimes, we just have to take a deep breath and step into the unknown with God, believing He is with us no matter what the outcome!

For some of us, I’m sure:

MUG

Celebrate!

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and I must be having a blast! How is it nearly July already?!

I love July. Independence Day is fun with fireworks and BBQs (when you’re in a place that celebrates that particular day), but the main reason I love July is my birthday. I may be turning 36 in a couple of weeks, but I’m still like a kid when it comes to how excited I get about celebrating every year. It’s a little hard not to be with family to celebrate most years, but I’m grateful for the friends God always brings to celebrate with me wherever I am in the world!

I know some people who hate to celebrate or even acknowledge their birthdays. Others just don’t pay much attention. Maybe I’m weird, or perhaps I just like an excuse to splurge a bit and go out with friends, but I like to think that there is more to it than that. No offense to those who ignore or even dislike their special day, but I believe life is something to celebrate. Sure, we don’t have to wait for one specific day each year, but why not take the chance to mark the occasion and thank God for another year of life? It is a chance to reflect on what has happened in the last year (or over the course of your life), to dream with God about what the next year might bring, and to thank Him for the great things that have come so far and for bringing you through the hard times.

Some of the people I know who do acknowledge and even celebrate their birthdays are hesitant to share their age. I’ve never quite understood why that might be. I know that aging may not be the most enjoyable thing there is, but it certainly beats the alternative! While my life looks nothing like what I thought it would by the time I reached the second half of my 30’s, I have lived a pretty incredible life so far, and I believe that the best is yet to come.

I don’t know exactly how I’m going to celebrate my birthday this year. I know it will include friends, food, and fun. I also know that I intend to make the most of it and celebrate another amazing year of life. It has been a hard and confusing year at times, but I wouldn’t trade it in for an easier one because I am grateful for the growth it brought. There have been a lot of tears, laughs, late night talks, prayers, encouragements, disappointments, surprises, and adventures, and I am so thankful to God, my family, and my friends for being with me through all of it!  

You may not have a birthday coming up in the next couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take some time today to thank God for the years you’ve lived so far and dream about the future too!

On Faith and Doubt

I’ve shared a couple of times in recent weeks that God has asked me to have faith for some things that seem highly improbable. In a number of verses in the Bible (James 1:6-7, for example), it says to ask in faith, without doubt, and you will have what you ask for. I have been doing my best to live up to those instructions.

However, it seems no matter how hard I try, little questions often sneak into my mind. “Did God really promise…? What if you got it wrong? Do you seriously believe God can/will do THAT? For YOU?” Each time these thoughts come, they bring guilt and condemnation with them. The one thing God has asked me to do is to believe without doubting, and I can’t even get that right!

This past Sunday at church, we had a guest speaker. There were a lot of great points in the sermon, but one thing has been stuck in my mind for the past three days. He made the comment that faith is not the absence of doubts, but confidence in the face of them. He went on to say that uncertainty of the outcome of a given situation is what makes faith possible. If we were completely certain that what we hope for would happen, there would be no need for faith.

What a freeing thought! I am not a failure because questions come to mind on occasion. I only fail to have faith if I entertain those questions and dwell on them. If I give them more room in my mind than I give to the confidence that God “will accomplish what concerns me,” then I give in to doubt.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Confidence and assurance in the face of uncertainty. We don’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises yet, and it is normal that questions will arise. Every person mentioned in Hebrews 11 – the “Hall of Faith” – asked God questions on numerous occasions. Questions don’t equal sin or disqualify us from receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Some teachers might tell you that if you only had enough faith, life would be easy and God would have answered your prayers by now. That is a load of rubbish. God never promised an easy life to anyone who chose to follow Him. In fact, in many cases, it was the opposite. What He did promise was that He would be with us, that He would never stop loving us, and that His words are true no matter what! (There are many other promises in His Word, so go read the Bible to find more.)

Whatever it is you’re hoping and praying for today, have faith. Don’t choose to live with the doubts that try to fill your mind. Acknowledge them, remind them of the awesome power of the God Who loves you, and send them on their way.