His Plan For Our Lives

If there is one thing I dread more than anything, it’s making decisions. Especially those seemingly drastic, life-altering decisions such as what grad school I’ll end up at, who I might spend the rest of my life with, where to move, what internship to take, etc. I’m guessing some of you can relate. And it’s not so much that we are afraid to make a decision, but we afraid to make the wrong one. So here are some thoughts, words, and inner-movements that have brought me peace of mind as I so blatantly forget what Matthew 26 says (i.e. “do not worry about tomorrow…”) on a regular basis.

I have found that the most difficult decisions to make are the ones in which it seems that there is no “right” answer. You can choose left. Or you can choose right. Contrary to popular belief right is not always right… and neither is left. They are just two different options and therefore each one will cause you to end up in a different place.

I sometimes find myself racking my brain for the “right answer” when faced with a decision. I act as if I might make the wrong choice and with that, my life will come crumbling down right before my eyes and God will look at me like “Yeah sorry, you-uh shoulda made the right choice… this is all on you. Good luck cleaning up this mess lol.” But then my heart stirs and the God who lives inside of me is like hold up. His words speak louder than the fear and doubt inside of me. His truth wins over.

And He says to me,

As if you have that much power over your own life! As if you have that much control! As if what you do will change the ultimate plan I have for your life, the good I have in store for you.

He softly reminds me in a still small voice that He is sovereign above all things. And there is definitely a way to make wise decisions, but even failing to do so will not permanently stray me from His perfect plan and promise.

I’ve learned not to expect so much from myself. In all actuality, I am really not much without Jesus. I’ve learned that oftentimes I simply cannot know what’s best for me at the moment, because I can’t see the future. And that is okay. Only He can see the big picture so all He requires of me is to take His hand and stay as close as to Him as possible; to simply trust Him and keep moving forward towards True North. True North is a term a good friend used the other day to describe the direction of seeking Jesus first above all things. By doing so, it is impossible to fail.

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Now I don’t think “all these things” is talking about unnecessary material possessions, I think this is talking about things like love, joy, and peace. Along with the necessary things we need to make life’s big and tough choices such as discernment and the Holy Spirit.

Learning to discern God’s voice is the only way to discern His plan for our lives. In order to discern His voice, we need to be familiar with it.

John 15:26 says “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.”

The Holy Spirit will always speak in accordance with the truth because He comes straight from the Father and He points us directly to Jesus. So by seeking God’s truth and in reading and meditating on His word, we can start to recognize if God is pointing us in a specific direction. And sometimes I believe it’s possible there is no right answer, because either one will bring Him glory, and that’s truly what we are here for. So before you make a weighty decision, simply choose to submit to His will and His ways, because they are higher and greater and more beautiful than any life we could ever orchestrate for ourselves on this earth.

 

Lastly, I just want to share some simple lyrics from a Steffany Gretzinger song called Steady Heart.


I can’t see
What’s in front of me
Still I will trust You
Still I will trust You
Steady heart that keeps on going
Steady love that keeps on holding
Lead me on
Steady grace that keeps forgiving
Steady faith that keeps believing
Lead me on

 

~~Leah

Little Butterfly

Little Butterfly, won’t you tell me why

With wings so beautiful

You fold them in and cry

Oh darling please tell me why

Little Butterfly, don’t let the time pass by

Before you know it you’ll be wishing

You’da lived your life

Don’t tell me it’s ‘cause you’re shy

 

‘Cause I think it’s ‘cause you’re scared, terrified

That you’ll get caught in a web

Already stuck, web of lies

And now you’ll never fly

You say you’d rather die,

Little butterfly

 

Little Butterfly, please don’t say goodbye

Can’t leave unless you fail

And you won’t fail if you don’t try

No, you don’t have an alibi

 

‘Cause I think it’s ‘cause you’re scared, terrified

That you’ll get caught in a web

Already stuck, web of lies

And now you’ll never fly

You say you’d rather die,

Little butterfly

 

Little Butterfly, I think I now know why

You were scared to face the world

And so you chose to hide

You were waiting to be revived

 

But now I know it’s ‘cause you’re scared, terrified

That you’ll get caught in a web

Already stuck, web of lies

And now you’ll never fly

You say you’d rather die

You say you’d rather die

Little butterfly

 

These are the lyrics to a song I wrote when I was 15.  15 years old and I was feeling the immense weight of uncontrollable anxiety and fear. Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear to face the world and accept who I truly am. If you would have asked me at the time, “Leah, what are you afraid of?” I would have sheepishly proclaimed, “Nothing really”. Not because I was trying to seem tough (well that might have been part of it), but because I was completely unaware of the grip that fear had on my life. I wasn’t too frightened by little things like snakes and spiders. Darkness, heights, and performing in front of people didn’t bother me. But yet from a young age, fear controlled my life. I was afraid of not knowing where to go or feeling unsafe in everyday situations. I was afraid of trying something and not having it meet my expectations. In my mind, I was afraid of things that didn’t quite seem logical. So I invalidated my fears and told myself everything was fine, unwilling to admit I had fears much less face them.

Here’s a little guy I captured in action awhile back.

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And here’s the thing about butterflies. They are creatures of restoration, revival, rebirth, and renewal… all things re. They weren’t always so beautiful. They started out as creatures completely incapable of doing what they were made to do, unable to reach their full potential until a complete transformation took place. And so once the little caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it is expected to fly, right? But what if that’s not always the case. What if the butterfly was used to being a caterpillar for so long, it didn’t even realize it had wings. What if once it did realize it had wings, it was too afraid to take flight. It would be missing out! But finally it discovers that its fear of flying hadn’t allowed it to accept who it really was, a caterpillar transformed into a beautiful butterfly.

I know I am that butterfly. Forgetful of my true identity, thus fearful of taking flight. But once I am transformed, there is no going back. Once I am made new, there is no undoing of that. Once I am healed I am healed once and for all. All I have to do is accept it and just be.

Now I am very aware of the way fear creeps in and paralyzes you. It cripples you and keeps you from doing exactly what God has called you to. An incredibly sneaky tactic of the enemy. But I am also aware that because of Jesus, the reality is just like the Bethel song says, “I am no longer a slave to fear”. That is something I must actively choose to believe in order to find freedom in it.

Don’t get caught in the lies and find yourself waiting for something that has already happened. But rather accept the work Jesus has already finished on the cross for you, my child. His love and His grace are too wonderful for us to comprehend sometimes. So we just sit there with these big, glorious wings right on our backs. But I can promise you that if you keep following Him, He will lead you to flight.

Leah

 

Feeling is a Feeling

[Warning: this gets pretty feely. So feel free to feel… or don’t read it. Up to you.]

The last blog I posted was on the day that I hit my head on some stones beneath a swing. On Easter. How Ironic. This little accident resulted in a severe concussion. The sound of my skull clanking against the cobblestone path still rings in my ears. I remember as soon as it happened I very quickly stumbled up to my feet, LAUGHED (for goodness sake), and probably tried to mutter something that didn’t quite come out right like: “I’m fine, I’m okay”. But what happened next was not an indication of me being “fine”. I stumbled around for about 5 seconds before being ushered into a car as I felt hot tears fill my eyes. I get headaches often, but this was a new breed of headaches I hadn’t yet been introduced to. The back of my head was throbbing although I wouldn’t admit it at the time. Little did I know, this newfound ache, as well as the exterior pain from the blow, would be my constant companion for the next two weeks. At the moment, I had truly convinced myself I was fine. When my boss told me (yes it happened while on the clock… how convenient) she was going to have someone take me to the E.R. because I might have a concussion, I felt a part of me let go as I suddenly slipped into the realization, “Oh. This is worse than I thought”. And as I so often do in many scenarios, I had minimized this one. I had minimized my pain… big time. When I realized I would be spending the evening in the E.R. instead of studying for a test I had the next day, I felt shocked, relieved, but mostly overwhelmed. The tears started to stream. And for the rest of the night, the E.R. visit, the phone call to my mom, the awareness that my headache wasn’t going away with advil this time, the doctors telling me, “Well your skulls not cracked open so you should be fine to take that Psychology test in the morning”, I was on the verge of more and more tears. An endless stream it felt like. A deep deep well. “Where was the bottom?” I asked myself, “Why am I being so overdramatic?” I told myself to “get it together”. When I was finally diagnosed with a concussion on a Monday, I planned to be back in school by Thursday. That didn’t happen.

I won’t lie, recovering from a concussion, even one that doesn’t have permanent neurological damage (Praise the Lord!!) was not easy… especially for me. This being because I was told to “not think too much”, to “not over-use or exhaust my brain” so that it could fully heal. I wasn’t supposed to go to school or drive or be on screens. Although I really had no desire to do any of that at first. My head was almost constantly begging me to keep it horizontal, on a pillow, with my eyes closed… I slept a lot in the first few days after I fell. The not using my phone part was hard, sure. I am devoted Pinterest and Instagram user as many of you can relate. But it wasn’t as difficult as lying in bed awake for hours on end when I had already slept as much as I needed, and I had to keep my thoughts quiet. For one who overthinks every thought that crosses her mind, this was difficult to say the least. The part that was hardest for me was the lack of control– even though it was temporary and I was almost certain healing would come, that time of waiting was rough. And on top of that, the non-permittable stress about school was taking over as I knew I would not be well in time to take my finals in just a few weeks. The more stress I felt though, the more I tried to numb it all. It was easier this way in the moment. After all, I wasn’t supposed to think too much. But I could tell that it would all come up later. And one afternoon after I had been going back to classes for a couple days- for the first time in two weeks- on the floor of my dorm room, it sure did. All of those shoved down frustrations from the whole debacle erupted. And I felt it all. But I also felt God saying softly, “We are starting over now”.

I can honestly say my concussion was a way in which “the enemy intended to harm [me]”. But there is a second part to that verse…”but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Now granted that verse is taken completely out of context, but it does say something about God’s character. He is a redeeming God. He is bringing light to the darkness and healing to the sick and broken. The thing to keep in mind, although disruptive to what is perceived to be our picture perfect redemption story, is that there cannot be one without the other. No joy without the sorrow, no good without the evil, no day without the night.

I, for one, have minimized pain my entire life. And I’ve shamed myself for feeling too much of it. My injury, though small and not fatal, was a bit of a metaphor for the emotional pain in my life: what I’ve faced, still face, and have buried deep within. This world is broken. It is dark. Sometimes I look within myself at what I have deep and buried and am displeased at the darkness I find. I feel shame when I don’t “choose joy”. But if we scope through the trenches of whatever lies buried in the parts of ourselves we seldom go. If we look and see that there’s no darkness within us there… then what did Jesus die for?

Harsh reality: I am not a naturally joyful person. Maybe you are. That’s great! But I am not. Naturally, I have very dark thoughts, I can write an angsty song,  and my sense of humor is often morbid. Yet, I am terribly enthralled with the beauty in life. What a paradox I am (you don’t need to tell me). Those larger than life, happy people used to annoy the heck out of me. Partly because I always felt like such an outsider. My resting face in school was either wicked RBF or a dazed look that made my teachers ask, “Hey, are you okay?”. But here’s the thing. It’s something I had to learn myself in my own time, and it’s something I’m definitely still learning: in order to find true joy, we need to be able to recognize and accept that darkness. That sadness, that anger, that inexplicable pain, and just the utter brokenness of ourselves and this world. Every feeling.

A truly joyful person is not joyful all the time. They choose joy because they also chose to feel the hurt and the pain. And there are seasons in which you must let yourself feel each and every one of these things. The hardest place to live in, I’ve learned from experience, is when you choose to feel nothing at all. Minimizing not only the pain but the joy too. Until you start to wonder what each of these feelings even truly feel like. But see we were made to feel. Sensations and emotions. All of the above. We can’t go on living as a whole person if we are only feeling half of the emotions connected to what is going on around us. I’ll be honest, I have gone through times where I truly feel like no more than half human. And then I realize why. I need to stop minimizing. And while this is at first a bit of a relief like when my boss told me I’d be going to the E.R… there’s also an “Oh. This is worse than I thought” element, which usually calls for a prolonged eruption. And maybe few of you can relate to that right there, but I know for a fact all of us feel things, and though some of us won’t dare admit, even to ourselves, we all feel deep pain. It’s only when we finally choose to lean into that pain, that the real healing can begin.

More Expectationless, Less Faithlessness

With this semester taking me for a whirlwind, I am now realizing it’s been almost 4 months since I last wrote. And now the sooner the semester’s end is approaching, the harder it is to believe. But that’s just life. It goes on and I love that. Spring has crept in, and the light and warmth have begun to maintain their glow. The constant summer glare and heat will soon set in. I love the changing seasons and how I get to look forward to each one up and coming as I start to grow weary of the previous. It seems like the new ones always come in perfect timing. I am honestly never lacking in expectation and excitement for the next season. Even though I talk of how I despise the cold and sometimes all of winter, I really have no desire to stay in the same season all the time. For one, that would be incredibly boring. For two (I don’t know if that’s how you say that but hey it works), I love looking ahead and getting excited. I love looking forward to things — new things, changes in weather, atmosphere, relationships, stages of life. And while no season is perfect by any means, they are all beautiful in their own way.

I have always loved looking forward to things. Ever since I can remember I would find things to look forward to and overflow myself with excitement just because I could. In fact, it used to be that I loved looking forward to something almost more than when I was getting to experience it. I just loved looking forward to things. And I still do, but thankfully, I have grown out of over-exciting myself to the point where I have no excitement left when the day comes, whatever the event may be: a birthday party, spring break, Christmas, etc. I have gotten much better about not idolizing the expectations for that something. But then I realized that there are some times when I tend to overcompensate for my overexcitecism in that I try too hard to not to get overexcited about things. So, bottom line here, is that there is a balance somewhere in there. But the reason I air on the side of less excitement is that because, truthfully, expectations do not always match up to reality. Now I know I’m not popping anyone’s bubble nor brightening anyone’s lightbulb here. This is a well-known fact. I am just explaining how I’ve seen this theory play out in my life. In contrast to when I was little and found myself searching high and low for an up and coming thing to make me not sit still with excitement, there was a (and are) time(s), I believe, when I idolized setting my expectations as low as possible to avoid disappointment. Because let’s be honest, disappointment only stems from our own expectations not matching up to the situation at hand. When you thought you did so well on a test, because you studied for hours and you felt you deserved an A, but…You get a B-. Not a bad grade at all. But you were expectant of that A. Now on the other hand, if you put in minimal effort and still received a B-, the response would probably just be “cool.” and then you’d contently move on with the day… vs. fighting back a tear or two and venting to the next 5 unfortunate people you come in contact with preceding that class.

So, could it be that there are really only two options here? To A) overexcite yourself at every opportunity only to be let down when reality sets in the chocolate cake is just a little drier than you expected. Or B) set your expectations low or in the ground and then you’ll never be disappointed! But you may just take on the identity of the “Debbie Downer” (jk I know no one uses that term anymore) of your friend group.

Well, as you probably can tell, these are the two extremes. There is in fact a way to find balance. And in some cases, there is a way to find freedom from the disappointment and the pessimism. I have found the most freedom in having no expectations for something.

The freedom of no expectations.

For me, this has been the most freeing way of going through life, because it involves taking things as they come, living somewhat in the moment or day by day. It could look like simply being happy in the times that you are while allowing yourself to feel “not okay” when you’re simply not. Living free of expectations for yourself, your life, and for others. I could honestly probably write a novel about just this. I won’t for the sake of time. Maybe some day. But I am currently a full-time college student and a young life leader with a part-time job and some relationships I don’t want to see go down the drain 🙂 So not right now. So I suppose expectations can be necessary, and in some cases, impossible to avoid (i.e. if you know the water is cold you know it’s gonna be cold when you jump in it), but if you have never tried going into something, especially something out of your comfort zone, without much expectation, I strongly suggest it. I’ve gone on a trip to Cuba, into starting college, into my current relationship, and to a week-long worship school full of complete strangers with little to no expectation. And in all of those situations, during those first few steps I was taking, even without a well known “perfect” vision of what I was getting into (and keep in mind I am an INFJ), I found myself thriving. And come to think of it, I actually did jump into a really cold ocean on New Years Eve without thinking about how cold it was gonna be too much and it was great too! In the absence of expectation, there is a void. We as humans need something to cling to. This is why God calls us to have faith.

Replace your expectations with faith.

When we are uncertain of the road ahead, whether likely to be good or bad, we can take heart in knowing He has already been there before us. He goes before us, ya’ll. When we try and predict what something will be like, He laughs (or maybe cries) because He’s already seen it and He knows what’s coming. We ought to take comfort in this. We ought to line our expectations up with His, and all that requires is knowing He is good.

Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for the good of those who love Him”

Cling to this verse if that’s what you need to do. Cling to it until you know for certain it’s true. Love Him, seek Him, and trust Him. He will do the rest. So yeah, I guess I better wrap this thing up. But also, it’s the day before Easter, and how cool is it that Jesus rising from the grave was something that literally SHATTERED every expectation of every human who has lived, lives, and whoever will live. He is alive for eternity, you guys. What a plot twist. Jesus defeated death for us, so that now we can too. Whatttt. So cool. We did not deserve that, but He loves us more than we can ever imagine. That just shows how sad it is when we think we have reason to fear or worry. Even when the season your in currently seems so difficult and like it might never change, know it will. It’s okay to feel the pain, but have hope and find joy in His love on the Saturdays, knowing that it was on the next day that Jesus rose from the grave. Waiting for Sunday may seem impossible, but have hope because He still loves you, darling, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Alright now I’m finished (or “It is finished” am I right?) haha oh dear. I will now close this novella/blog with a quote from Martin Luther.

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf of spring time.”

Happy Easter, friends.

Also if you want to see what cool thing God is doing in my life right now, check this out!!!

https://www.gofundme.com/sendmeto21project

-Leah

A Reflection from Deeper Waters [My Week at The United Pursuit School of Worship]

“Two of the most important things in life: music and family”

I listened as this sweet, energetic, young, life-filled red-haired girl whom I’d met less than 10 minutes ago talked the ear off of our uber driver, Santiago, from the front seat. I looked over and smiled at my new friend Kittie as we both listened intently to their conversation not realizing at the time how that simple phrase she’d said would ring true. “Music and family”. Little did I know that simple phrase she uttered just to make casual conversation with an Uber driver would turn into one of the pillars of the upcoming week. Little did I know by end of that week, those two girls in my uber car would be my family. Those two girls along with 27 others, strangers nonetheless, would become my true family. Bonded by music. But of course, there was more to it than just the music. Sure, music was a huge part of it. It was a worship school after all. Every single one of us possessed some sort of beautifully God-given talent for singing, song-writing, or instrumenting. When we all came together to worship and sing, it made me think of what heaven must sound like. It was angelic, to say the least. And so there I was, sitting in an Uber car leaving the John Wayne airport in Southern California, with three complete strangers sharing a passion for music (Santiago loved his Latin Rock), unaware that any expectations I had had for the United Pursuit School of Worship were all about to be beautifully shattered.

To start off, we were not just thrown into some sort of school setting where we’d learn and eat and make a few friends. But rather we were graciously welcomed into a real home where we were drawn into the culture of the true community of Christ and blessed with phenomenal home-cooked meals while observing and learning what it looked like to pursue a true life of worship. Through this process, we also watched as an amazing new pocket of the family of God on earth unfolded.
I truly learned what a life of true worship looked like by experiencing first hand the authenticity of a lifestyle led by the Spirit alone. I felt the presence of the Father like never before.

It was that authenticity, I believe, that drew us all in. Something so hard to find in this day and age. Fearlessly authentic worship. Singing in the brokenness and in the pain. In the bitterness and in the sorrow. That’s where the purest form of worship comes from. When we are most vulnerable with ourselves, others, and God. Throughout the week I saw His work in the deepest parts of my life and that was only through being vulnerable. I allowed Him to come in and work in the deepest parts where shame was lurking.  But when He was down there working, He decided to take that shame with Him. I was able to be real with myself and with God and the people around me. I was ushered into a culture of fearless authenticity guided by the Holy Spirit alone which allowed me to heal in ways I never thought possible. It takes faith to step into that. It really does. Especially when you’ve been dealing with some of the junk I’ve been dealing with for as long as I have. It is not easy and it takes courage and strength. But I decided not to rely on my own strength and I decided not focus on my own weakness. I decided to praise Him no matter what. To be thankful and rejoice in all circumstances– even when 3/4 of the group caught the stomach bug on New Years Day (I was a fortunate soul). I made up my mind that beginning this year, no matter what He was calling me to, I was going to listen. And in doing so, I made up my mind to praise Him, exalt His name and His magnificent character above all else. I decided to look at every perfect aspect of His faithfulness I have seen in my life. I decided to revel in His beauty and majesty and wonderful mystery. I decided to look into the light and the hope that light brings. And carry it with me always. I decided to laugh out loud obnoxiously because I could not contain the joy that was filling my heart. His presence is an unstoppable flood every time we worship from the deepest parts of ourselves. Unspeakable, unstoppable joy. Deep cries out to deep. The deepest parts of the God of the universe cries out to the deepest parts of me. My soul. He wants all of me. and He wants all of you too. Just let that sink in. Soak it in. His goodness overflows. That is something to rejoice about.

So my word for this year is deeper. Because I know that God is taking me deeper than ever before. I think this word was solidified over my life when I did a somewhat prophetic act of running and plummeting myself into the freezing cold ocean at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I still remember the fear of not knowing if I was about to step on a piece of glass as I was walking down the streets of New Port beach numb legged and barefooted. It was worth it for sure and it’s a memory that will stay with me no doubt. Beginning the New Year with a group of new people you met less than a week ago is memorable in and of itself, let alone allowing yourself to risk getting pneumonia. Needless to say, it was a life-changing experience. If someone were to ask what takeaways I got from this Worship school, it might not be the expected. It might not be all about the music after all.

Something Michael Ketterer told us was that

“It’s not even about the song, it’s about the dream”.

So it might just be about getting to know people on a deep level by writing songs with them, finding the freedom to be yourself and learning to be fearlessly authentic and bold as a lion about it. Maybe it’s all about dreaming bigger than you tell yourself seems rational, praising God in all seasons of life, or letting go and letting the Spirit take over. Maybe it’s simply resting in Community. Maybe it’s realizing the truth of who we are and our identity as sons and daughters of the One True King or understanding the Father’s captivating love for us and allowing your own capacity to love God drastically expand. Or perhaps it’s the steady, strong voice you hear from way out past the shore calling to the deepest parts of you saying, “Come as you are”. I’d say those are definitely some takeaways from the week.

But wow guys. It’s truly insurmountable what all He can do when we decide to let go and hand over every piece of ourselves to Him. A good quote from good ol’ Bob Goff says it best:

“It has always seemed to me that broken things, just like broken people, get used more; it’s probably because God has more pieces to work with.”

Granted, I did not explain every detail of the week and the specific ways God worked in my life, trust me, He did a whole lot. Yes, it was super cool getting to play, write, and sing with some amazing worship leaders and musicians from around the country and the world. Yes, it was incredible getting to facetime with one of my favorite artists of all time. Yes, it was awesome getting tips from a professional songwriter who used to write for the big leagues. But I loved getting to experience the Kingdom of God on earth more than anything else. The kingdom of God is family. And that’s all I really have to say about that.

Here are a few photos taken by the wonderful Micah Francisco:

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Here is my team’s song we wrote during the week. Solid musicians right here and pretty happy with the final song which comes mostly from Psalm 51.

{Happy New Year and God bless}

 

Leah

Come Winter

Like the frost on a rose
Winter comes for us all
Oh how nature acquaints us
With the nature of patience
Like a seed in the snow
I’ve been buried to grow
For Your promise is loyal
From seed to sequoia
I know
Though the winter is long even richer
The harvest it brings
Though my waiting prolongs even greater
Your promise for me like a seed
I believe that my season will come
Lord I think of Your love
Like the low winter sun
As I gaze I am blinded
In the light of Your brightness
Like a fire to the snow
I’m renewed in Your warmth
Melt the ice of this wild soul
Till the barren is beautiful
I can see the promise
I can see the future
You’re the God of seasons
I’m just in the winter
If all I know of harvest
Is that it’s worth my patience
Then if You’re not done working
God I’m not done waiting
You can see my promise
Even in the winter
Cause You’re the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child

[Seasons by Hillsong]

It is a lovely feeling to have seen the completion of the first– although very small– piece of a new season of life. Having completed my first semester of college thus delving slightly into this unexplored chapter, God has revealed so much more than I could have ever asked or imagined.  I am truly blessed and thankful beyond anything else. He is calling me deeper than I ever would have planned to go myself. He is stretching me in ways that bring great discomfort, while uncertainty is constantly looming. Yet, I know He has way more in store for me than I see even with hindsight. There is no doubt in my mind that the best is yet to come.

I have always struggled, however, come winter. It’s the season when things end, nature dies, the air goes dry, the temperature plunges, the days are pruned, the sun’s job to shine becomes a part-time one, and my mind and body tend to go a little numb.  For one, I hate being cold. For me, in the cold months, it’s not only a chore, but a constant battle to stay warm.

There is an internal battle as well. No matter how magnificent the prior season of life is, I always seem to find myself back in the same dark corner of doubt, fear, and brokenness come winter. Summer means sweet warmth, a multitude of growth, tremendous light, and beauty surrounding. Winter seems to only bring about discomfort, death, darkness, and doubt. In addition to this,  about four years ago, the weather changes began to spur on what appeared to be a consistent array of panic attacks. Come winter, my anxiety was suddenly shooting upward like never before and depression began its looming. The worst of this reality was the realization that these feelings were taking place in the midst of what was supposed to be a joy filled season. Christmas time is not the time for this, I thought to myself bluntly.

Although, it looks different every year, since then, every winter I am brought back to a place of brokenness I thought I’d left behind the year prior. It is to my confusion that I seem to find myself back in the same place every year. Even after 4 years, I still question why I feel the way I do when winter rolls around. I try to focus on the fact that there has been so much growth throughout the year up until this point. That was even my word for this year: growth. I wanted to be able to celebrate at the end of 2017 for all of the progress I had made in my life Spiritually and simply as a person.  But even after I’ve seen tremendous growth, beauty, newness, and a seed of hope has been planted, a sharp pain comes out of nowhere, leaving me blindsided and feeling helpless. In my questioning and in my brokenness, however, I have found acceptance of the pain and that seed of hope remains rooted. This pain I am feeling is only temporary and it is for my own good.

The season of winter is like one giant pruning.  Everything dies so that it can be made new. If you only look at the bare branches year after year, you will only see dead branches. Choose to look at the tree as a whole. Yes, it is bare. Yes, it looks dead. But it is oh so alive, and year after year it continues to grow. Each time, winter rolls around, the tree will have made significantly recognizable changes in its physical appearance, despite being left with bare branches. When the branches do become full again, they are often fresher, greener, more fragrant than the year before.  The tree did not truly die. It remained planted and rooted in the frosted soil. And it waited– patiently waited– letting nature take its course, trusting that its greenery would soon be restored. Hope was never lost. In fact, hope is here. Hope is here now, and what better season to celebrate this hope than in a season that needs it most. I know I am not the only one who struggles come the winter months.  Whether it’s the reminder of broken relationships past or present, another year without work, the first or 50th Christmas without a loved one, a joy that’s been overshadowed by doubt, or a feeling a failure caused by a shattered image of all the things that didn’t turn out the way you’d expected, winter has a way of stripping away life’s foliage and making you feel cold and bare. And maybe you are like me and you feel like it’s about time the despondence stops having a say in the way the season makes you feel. Even when you move past the initial heartache and you have accepted the pain, the next step might not always be completely apparent. So maybe you are like me and you know there is hope and you can see it coming but right now you’re not sure how to get to it quite yet. It’s as if you’re a trapeze artist having let go of the previous swing and you haven’t grabbed onto the next one yet. You are in the air, uncertain of what’s about to happen. But faith is knowing God will pull that swing out of nowhere just before you finish plummetting to the ground. You just got to trust.

The in-between can feel like you’re alone in the wilderness. But just as Moses waited a whopping 40 years in the wilderness, we are called to wait too. There is beauty in the Lord calling us to wait on Him. He calls us not only to wait patiently but to wait actively. This means relying solely on Him and waiting in expectation of what He’s about to do. And we can take heart in knowing, He remains faithful throughout this time. I think it only deepens my understanding of God’s consistently faithful character to realize that even after all this time, He has never left us. Not only that, but He was at work in our pain and in our waiting. He was and is at work making all things new. In the seasons of waiting, in the pain, in the brokenness, in the uncertainty, in the dry desert wilderness, He is with us. Emmanuel. What a Savior. To endure the feeble body of a baby, and go through bountiful pain and sorrow, just so He could be with us. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

So come winter, there may be a plethora of emotions you feel. But whatever it is you are feeling– from pure joy to utter despair– it ultimately does not change the way God feels about us or the glorious truth we place our hope in.

Merry Christmas

&

Shalom Aleichem

 

 

Two Kinds of Trials {Part 2 of “Something Out of the Vat”}

Recently I was talking to my mom about the trials people go through in their everyday lives. One of my mom’s best friends is currently fighting a fierce battle with cancer, and the chances of her flesh claiming the victory are rapidly fading. Yet, this strong woman is so incredibly faithful and her Spirit is filled with more joy than ever. This blows my mind, and also serves as a huge encouragement and inspiration to me.  She undoubtedly holds the steadfast belief that Jesus has already claimed the victory.

I was talking to my mom about this dear family friend as well as some other rough patches taking place in the lives of friends and loved ones, and I began to think about my own life… and also every person I’d ever known… or heard of… ever. I hate to be a Debby Downer here, but human suffering… It’s inevitable.  It’s inevitable that living in a broken world is going to result in broken situations. Every human on earth has that tough time, goes through hell, or walks in the valley of the shadow of death a time or two. I’m not downsizing these situations by any means, I’m just saying they are in fact, indefinitely inevitable. And so I’ve been looking into some scripture recently that encapsulates the meaning of these trials. Specifically, I Peter 2, 2 Timothy, and the story of Job and his crazy and unfortunate whacked-out life. But as I’ve dived into the depths of the topic of human suffering, the truth has been loudly reiterated and made increasingly apparent to me that we all go through trials for a distinct, God ordained reason. These trials are not only inevitable but completely necessary if you allow them to be. Allowing them to be necessary requires you to view them from God’s perspective. An example of this is being able to see yourself as the gold that must go through the fire in order to be purified like in 1 Peter 2. In addition to the fact that we all go through things and there is beautifully intricate planning in all of it, a believed abstraction that came to me was how all of our trials look totally different. Just as you and I are uniquely and wonderfully created, so are our trials. They are incomparable. We are all irrefutably broken and no one has a perfect life, even those who may seem or act like it.  But don’t go comparing your situation to others, because this will do no good to a single soul.

As this train of thought kept on making its way, I actually began to put the biggest trial(s) of a person’s life into two pretty distinct categories:

Category 1: Perhaps you were born into the world seemingly innocent, but then “fate” (we’ll just call it that) took its toll and brought upon you some pretty unfortunate circumstances without you having any say in the matter whatsoever. You were left feeling like a helpless victim. You may have been left feeling shameful, hurt and angry, so you take it out on the world around you, on God, or yourself.

Category 2: Or perhaps you had a wonderful childhood with no negative memories, a loving and stable family, and maybe even the circumstances of your adolescent years weren’t too shabby either. So essentially you seemingly brought some sort of storm upon yourself through a poor decision or giving into temptation. Your life was at some point or is currently harboring the consequences, and you are filled with shame, regret, and reoccurring feelings inadequacy to those around you.

Now before you criticize my statement and ponder my ponder, I want to say this was really only my initial thought.  And then I began to realize these categories mesh together like the chocolate and vanilla of a Neapolitan ice cream cone on a hot day.  But there is still truth in the initial defining difference.  Person A who had no say in the trials they were thrown into may feel like a helpless victim.  While Person B may struggle with an insane amount of guilt for decisions they made.  And so I am not saying every person falls into precisely one or the other, but rather it’s more of a scale which could be tilted to one side or the other.  Either way,  we are left feeling shameful of who we are and our story, which is exactly what the devil wants. But you don’t have to feel this way because our stories don’t end at that scale.

No matter which category you fall into, or where you are on the line, it does not actually matter. Because the grace of Jesus extends in either direction, to any length, no matter what. All that matters is the no matter what. He has promised grace upon grace, which means there is and always will be enough to cover any amount of shame you’ve ever felt from things that you’ve done or what’s been done to you. For me personally, my story has left me feeling like more of a victim– the Category 1 if you will. It has taken me years to realize and accept that I am no longer a victim when the grace and love of Jesus covers me. This means I am no longer a victim, but rather a victor! Jesus has won the battle and God sees us through the lens of His perfect son. The God of the Universe sees us as His victors. How beautiful.  We are victorious. Every story He’s written, including your life, ends the same. It might not seem like it, but in the end you will see that there is an astounding victory that has already taken place. Because in reality, it’s not our story (it never was!), it’s God’s. There is nothing we can do to change that. So if you are going through the valley right now, the greatest advice I can give you is to trust Him. Let go of the fear, worry, anger, shame, doubt or whatever it is you’re holding onto. Have faith and trust in the Lord. Your life is in the hands of the Maker of Heaven.

And so now I just want to close with one of my favorite verses of all time: Johns 16:33.

It says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Blessings,

Leah

Something out of the Vat | Part 1

I have had so many ideas, topics, and life occurrences in the past few months that every time I thought about sitting down to write a new post, I was immediately overwhelmed because I simply couldn’t pick one thing to write about.  The ideas would all mesh together and rather than going through them, sorting them out in my mind, and maybe even picking one to elaborate on, I chose to just let them all sit and marinate in a vat of more undeveloped thoughts. And so that was that. And now this is me forcing myself to pull something out of that probably stenchy, overcrowded vat of who knows what and just go with it. In all honesty, (at this current point in time) I’m not sure what it is I’m even going to begin with. But you have to start somewhere. And you should feel special, reader, because I am not afraid to live in my present thoughts with you, to process them with you.  You may be sitting there like “okay I could have done without this” or “get on with it, girl, please”. But hey, this is just me and you clicked that link to read this blog so this is what ya get.  If you’re into books and reading and all that jazz, I guess this first paragraph could serve as a forward if you’d like… to whatever I’m about to write about. It still hasn’t quite come to me. But it might be incredibly deep. It might be painfully shallow.  It will most likely have a little bit of both.

Alright, so I’m seriously living in the present right now with this (maybe being a little extra). And I figured I’d pull something fresh out of the vat, rather than trying to go back in time or flip through old journal entries or books I’ve read but can’t quite recall (still me living in the present).  Also, side note– if you’re wondering why I keep mentioning “living in the present”, it’s because that is what I have been aiming to do recently. There are so many changes about to take place in my life with moving into a college dorm room in less than a month etc., that it’s necessary for me to focus on the present in order to not worry about the future unnecessarily.  I have to keep on constantly reminding myself to focus on the here and the now and –relating to the title of my blog– fix my eyes on Jesus alone and not on whatever uncertainties are lurking. Because I am definitely (as Ellie Holcomb says) “a recovering perfectionist” — which means I like control… a lot. The logic behind this being then I can perfect the situation or whatever it may be. This is, of course, a joke because my road to perfection is so incredibly broken (hence the term recovering– praise Jesus!). So when we give all of the control of the current situation, relationship, thought, sin, or other part of our life to God, there is incredible freedom and peace unexplainable in knowing He’s got us– now and in the future. And we are one step closer to giving every part of our life to Him. Because that is what we chose to fix our eyes on… HIM! It’s a process, you guys. This is just me processing that process with ya’ll.

And so for your time’s sake, I have just decided to split this blog into two parts. Could we have done without part 1? Sure! But this first part is simply what I needed to do in order to get my mind back in the mode of blogging ((And I hope you don’t feel as though time was wasted in reading this, because there was really no specific topic in this blog (that’s probably more just perfectionist Leah feeling like there needs to be)).  So, yes, I am going to leave you hanging with a little bit of knowledge of what my Part 2 will be about– I want to talk about the necessity of trials in people’s lives, but also an elaboration on a pondering thought I had about them (It will most likely be as extensive as it sounds). And by the grace of God, I plan on doing so through His lens and not my own.  Because it can be really difficult for me not to wander into my own atmosphere of tainted thoughts sometimes, and I’m sure most of you can relate. And if you do struggle with that, the best words I can give you are to relentlessly re-focus time and time again on Jesus in order to train your eyes and heart to always look to the Lord and seek Him first. Also be on the look-out for part 2 of this whirlwind of a blog 🙂

 

Just some truth to fuel your Friday (or whatever day you’re reading this on) —

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”    -Matthew 6:33

 

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,”  -Ephesians 3:20

 

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   -Hebrews 2:20

 

Have a blessed day, you guys!

Leah

 

 

People, Places, and Dreams

Hi Friends,

I should really be asleep right now, but the guilt has built up a little too much from me not writing another blog post as I promised I would… a lot sooner than I am now.  I really need to stop making promises about theses kind of things though. Because moral of the story is: life gets crazy, and I am in fact lazy. So. From now on — new rule! — I post when I post 🙂

I wanted to start this blog by sharing a little bit about my friend, Rebeca, from Cuba. She was born and raised on Cuban soil. She is a very cool gal. Despite our cultural differences and the slight language barrier, we instantly connected through music. We shared our dreams, our hopes for our futures, and our favorite Hillsong songs. Rebeca is 20 and currently a second-grade school teacher.  I learned that she decided she wanted to learn English from watching Hannah Montana when she was younger.  And so she did (You go girl!). The day we met, we spent that evening playing songs on the guitar and praising Jesus in the streets of downtown together.  It was a pretty cool experience if I do say so myself. It was also a cool God moment (kinda lame on my part…) because since the moment I had gotten to Cuba, I had really wished I had brought my guitar as I had planned to. I low key prayed I’d somehow get one… And so I meant Rebeca the next morning. When getting to know her one of the first things I asked was “what do you like to do?”.  She said she liked to play guitar… and yeah I think you guys can pick up what happened after that. God is cool. And He tends to even the little, trivial details.

So although Rebecca and I were quite different, we had one sure thing in common. We both shared a passion to live out God’s plan for our lives — whatever that may look like.  We were able to encourage each other in this, which was just really awesome.  

You might not be able to tell this about me at first glance, or maybe it is obvious despite my introverted disposition, but I love people. Especially people that are nothing like me.  I love listening to, observing, and interacting with people who outwardly I don’t necessarily resemble. But even when I don’t see much in common that I have with a person, it doesn’t stop me from relating to them — whether that be mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  In reality, we are all so much more similar than what appears to be.  There are universal truths about humans and their similarities throughout the world. I believe all people are lovers and dreamers.  They all have a desire to love and a need to feel loved somewhere inside them.  And every person at some point has a dream — something they feel they need to accomplish in order to feel they have some sort of purpose in this world.  And there is a reason for this.  I believe all people — no matter the culture, language, age, or beliefs — are able to find similarities with one another in some shape or form. This is because we are all created by the same God, in His image.  I just think that it is so cool how we as humans are laced with intangible and visible qualities that reflect our creator (Genesis 1:26).

It is so evident in simple conversations I have with people. I like to understand people more than anything.  I like to know their thoughts, their dreams, their passions, their desires, what drives them, how they receive and give love (love languages anyone?)… But unfortunately, we are all sin-ridden human beings (Romans 3:23 amirite).  So our dreams or aspirations may become tainted by the things of this world, and our love for one another will always be broken and impure. Even so, God uses the passions and dreams we do have and even better– He will give us the desires of His own heart! All we need to do is take delight in Him (Psalm 37:4). Wow! His love is perfect and it certainly satisfies the soul, let me tell you. Even then, we won’t be able to accomplish these things by our own strength. But it is when we surrender our plans and dreams to Him and ask Him in return for His strength to do His will in order to accomplish His plans and dreams for our lives, that everything will fall into place.  Perfectly. Because His will is perfect.

This is what I saw in Rebeca.  She might not have necessarily been living out what she had always dreamed of doing as a child (Something tells me she wanted to be the next Hannah Montana, but hey so did I…), but she was doing something so much greater.  She told me that her dream was to do God’s will.  And let me just say that takes some faith. Because we have no idea what that looks like.  It could look like literally anything.  Only God knows. So it requires a whole lot of trusting, and living in the present moment He has given us to do so. So you best not even think about worrying about the future (Matthew 6:34 thank you very much), because it is in your Creator’s hands. Honestly, though, I am preaching to myself right now more than anything. It is a pretty critical transition point in my life right now as well as many of those around me who are also looking forward to a completely new season of exciting opportunities, decisions, freedoms, responsibilities, and all other wonders the college life brings.  So I know I need to take this thing one step at a time. But I know I need to keep my eyes fixed on Him as I move towards the dreams I have for myself. And if I continue to do so, I am certain that somewhere along the way He will so graciously align the desires of my heart perfectly with His.

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“May He equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

-Hebrews 13:21

Blessings,

Leah

 

6 Days of a Different Way of Living

It’s hard to believe it has been an entire week since I returned from my first mission trip. And man, do I miss it. It has been a crazy busy week for me. It was as if leaving behind a week of no obligations, slow, steady pacing, and minimal planning meant going into the next week trying to make up for all of the time not spent going full speed through life. I really did mean to write sooner, so I must first apologize for that.  The fact that I acquired some sort of sickness while in Cuba and was still recovering from it days later attributed to my lack of updates.  And my lack of updates throughout the trip was because there was no service or wifi the entire time. My phone was simply a clock and a Spanish translator.  I probably looked at my phone 1/10 as many times in a day as I normally do. But it was just so freeing to not be weighed down by any obligations.

So I didn’t exactly know how to go about this whole blog process, but I’ve decided to just go day by day. For the next five days I am basically going to blog about each day I spent in Cuba, and thankfully I’ve actually already written a lot in a travel journal I kept throughout the trip.  So this right here is an edited excerpt from something I wrote the first day right after I flew in and got picked up from the airport.  We had just gotten dinner (it was supposed to be lunch but took much longer than expected), and at this time we were on the way to our hostels in Pinar del Rio, Cuba which is on the West side of the island about two hours from Havana:

I’m watching the sunset from my breezy bus window as the faint voices of not so strangers anymore undermine the ínstense sound of every single part of this old school bus rattle and creak. The old, classic yellow school bus proudly displays “Taunte Marie” on the side, but is called “The Wawa” and it is our transportation for the trip. Out the window, I also watch outdated, colorful cars — models which I’ve never seen or heard of before zoom through the narrow crooked streets- all of which look the same. I hear talk of the house churches we are going to visit and to be honest, I’m really wishing I would’ve brought my guitar.

It’s getting dark. The ride to our hostels was originally only supposed to be an hour from the place we ate for dinner, but our translator, Manuel, now says it’s at least two. I’m exhausted yet immersed in too much unfamiliar content to let my mind go blank in allowing myself to rest my weary head. All I know about this trip is the names of a few places we might go and where we are staying– Pinar del Rio. I have ideas but no concrete description of what we will actually be doing all week. I know we are going to church tomorrow but that’s about it. The fact that I can’t picture what I’ll be doing on Monday is causing my subconscious to believe I’ll probably just be home by then. It hasn’t sunk in that these faces, this language, the hostel, this bus will all be my life for the next six days. I have no expectations. I have no rules on what needs to be done in me or through me. It’s all up to God. I’m trusting He will use me precisely how He chooses. Wow. The sky is now a meadow of soft pink clouds with hints of orange and purple brush strokes hovering over small mountains and some of the greenest trees I’ve ever seen. 

Bienvenido a Cuba.

FullSizeRender (1)The Wawa parked outside a house in the neighborhood of the housechurch we served throughout the week in Pinar del Rio.

The biggest way in which I was forced to adapt during these six days was the way of living- slowly, casually, friendly, selflessly.  This is the way these people seem to go about their lives and it’s beautiful. When someone says “We will be eating in about an hour”, expect it to be three. When someone says “We’ll pick you up at 8 in the morning”, expect it to be at least 9:30. Not because they are liars or careless or playing a funny joke, but because that’s just life.  And it’s okay. They just don’t put a giant, stressful emphasis on how fast something gets done or following the plans to a T, and it’s really rather refreshing. Life’s too short to waste time stressing about timing and plans.  Especially when nothing should be in our timing. It should be in God’s. God’s timing is perfect. Oh and it isn’t our plan we should be trying to live out, it is oh so most definitely God’s.

One of my favorite quotes a friend from the trip said was “When we make plans for ourselves, God laughs” and it’s so true. I’m an obsessive planner and list maker, and sometimes I think God completely messes up my plans on purpose just to remind me- Hey, this life is not your own. If you have given your life completely to Christ, then abiding in Him first before all else creates space for Him to move and work in your life. This is one of the things He really showed me during this trip. And wow you guys there is SO much more about this trip that I want to tell you all about and things I want to share that have truly changed me from the inside. So I promise I will try to share a lot of it. But just have a bit of patience with me, because unfortunately, I’m not in the relaxation of the Carribean anymore…

But God willing I’ll have a post up tomorrow… orrr the next day.

Love you guys 🙂

Leah