Every year for the last several years on my birthday, I write down a blessing from the year for my age. So this year, I'll write 24 blessings from this past year. It's been a great rhythm for me to start off my birthday praising God for all He's done in the past year.
My birthday is coming up soon and in early November, I began to ponder what I would put on this list. What would I list as my number one blessing for this past year? What am I most thankful for? How can I summarize what God has done for me in this past year?
It has been an absolutely wonderful year and I have seen God move in my life in so many ways (even in the midst of hard, hard trials) that a list of 24 items just would not be long enough.
But then I started to think about what I had prayed would be number one on my list this year. The thing I had desired most last year this time that as I closed my journal I quietly prayed that God would give it to me and I could write it in my number one slot this year.
Today is December 7, 2018 and I cannot write what I had prayed for in my number one slot.
In mid-November, this thought absolutely devastated me. I was teetering on the verge of tears for a couple of weeks. I cried and asked God to show me what I had done wrong to not earn what my heart desired. I beat myself up. I was hurt and angry. I felt like these last almost nine years God has held this promise out in front of my face like a carrot and has been stringing me along all of this time with no intentions of doing what He promised. I had spent the last several months studying about how God CAN and WILL remain faithful to His promises. Those months I had heard His voice so clearly encouraging me and reminding of His love, goodness, and trustworthiness. I believed and rejoiced that God would do exactly what He said He would. Why did I all of a sudden have such a hard time believing that God would be faithful? Why did I doubt all of a sudden? Why did my rejoicing turn to such bitter lamenting and mourning?
I think the answer is pretty simple: I took my eyes off of Jesus and put them on myself.
My focus had turned away from who God was and is and is to come and started focusing on myself. I stopped counting all the ways that God has been good and started counting all the times I didn't get exactly what I wanted when I wanted. Like Peter, I had taken my eyes off of Jesus for a split second and I was sinking, needing a Savior to pull me up again.
When I finally shared my heart with my mom and told her that I didn't know what I had done to make God not give me what He promised. She told me, "Allison, you don't have that kind of power."
The same statement was echoed from a spiritual mother at Bible study as she spoke to a room full of women. Jesus had put that in there for me. I don't have that kind of power. I didn't have that kind of power to save myself from the punishment of my sin. I don't have the power to earn His grace or His love or even His willingness to listen to my prayers, much less speak to me.
This past week, the Lord used His Word to speak to me again. I'm so unworthy for so many reasons but after a pity party and temper tantrum like that, He still wants to communicate with me? Man, what a patient, loving, all-knowing, faithful God. There is no one like Him and there is no one greater.
I was reading Psalm 23. I've heard that Psalm throughout much of my life and have always heard it read from the King James where verse one says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." The thoughts of not wanting anything while in the care of the Good Shepherd seem foreign and hard, reading verse one in the New International Version was enough to make me weep.
"The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing."
Oh my word.
I do not have not because I have not earned. I do not have because God is God. He is my Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd and He provides all I need. I do not have because I do not need. I do not have x. y, or z to put in the number one slot of my blessings from the year because I do not need x, y, or z. And when the Good Shepherd gives me what I have prayed for in the future, it is not because I lacked it now. The Lord has given me more than enough to make it through the season He has me in. When the Lord grants me x, y, or z, it is because the Lord has determined that it is what I need for that season.
The funny thing about desires is that they're always changing. I may desperately long for one thing now and then when the Lord gives it to me, that longing will change to something else. So even when I have exactly what I have prayed for and my heart longs for something else, I will still lack absolutely nothing.
When we are striving to be exactly in the center of His will and relying on Him, we lack absolutely nothing. When we taking our eyes off of Him and begin putting our faith in ourselves to get what we want (or what we think we want/need), we start to sink. We find ourselves crashing off of our "mountain top experiences" straight into a a muddy, slippery, sticky valley that we can't get out of by ourselves. We need our Good Shepherd to come and restore our soul (23: 2). When we follow the Good Shepherd and stop going rouge, our cup overflows (23:5). That dream we wanted in our number slot becomes filled with all the goodness, faithfulness, mercy, grace, and love of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
"Surely Your love and goodness will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Psalm 23:6, NIV
Hello friends! Man, has it been a hot minute since I've been here!
There are so many good reasons for my absence on the blog-scene here lately but I'll leave you with this one: In past years, I've always written about things the Lord has been teaching me. In the last two years, my presence on the blog has become less and less. That isn't because God isn't teaching me anything but in the midst of my daily battles, the lessons He's been teaching me feel sacred. They're just between me and Him right now. Maybe one day I'll share them on such a public and open forum but for right now, it's between me and God and those in my immediate day-to-day life.
But another reason why I have been a little MIA is because I've been working on this list! The past THREE YEARS I have set a New Year's Resolution to read 30 books by the end of the year. The first year, I made it to 5 books. In 2017, I made it to 11 books.. When 2018 rolled around I was determined to meet my goal!
I did it! I even exceeded it! Praise Jesus!
The books from the reading list will be arranged by category: professional (dealing with my career as an educator), just for fun, and all about Jesus. There's one category that's a bit heavier than the others and that is simply because I wanted to actually read the books I want in my classroom library (gotta make sure they're appropriate). Plus, they're also the quickest to read.
In addition to the books on the list, I'll give a couple of thoughts about the books. I'll also make a list of the books I started but didn't finish and why.
So without further ado, here is my 2018 Reading List!
1. Reframing the Path to School Leadership by Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal - If you're a new teacher, new principal, or a veteran in the school system, you need to read this book! It' a fictional story but there are so many valuable lessons within the pages for all teachers walking through their careers.
2. Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer - This book is mostly directed to college and community college instructors but I believe that all teachers NEED this book! So many interesting, thought-provoking insights and ideas for instruction!
3. The Reading Specialist by Rita M. Beam - If you want to know the basics about being a reading specialist, this is the book for you.
4. Teaching Tips by W.J. McKeachie - Super valuable resource!
Just for Fun:
5. Holes by Louis Sachar - I loved this book! It's easy to see why this is such a classic book for teachers to teach! I've never seen the movie but I'll have to get my hands on it!
6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montegomery - Classic. Tears. Wowza. I watched the movies as a little girl and once I finished, I remember why I never wanted to read the books...they make me weep! So, so good!!
7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - After I read this work of art, I watched the BBC adaptation (the one with Colin Firth) and I love it even more. My transformation into Kathleen Kelly is nearly complete.
8. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo - Such a charming book! This book should be another DiCamillo classic. It merges graphic novels with comic books and the high-quality prose that DiCamillo always delivers. I suspect this book would be a quick favorite of both girls and boys! (Sorry if your kids are suddenly obsessed with squirrels after reading this.)
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Classic. Still one of my very favorite YA books. I reread this one as I set out to read the whole series. If you loved the book, you probably won't love the movie. If you love the book, just don't watch it. Let your imagination be the primary voice that guides you through the pages.
10. A Wind at the Door by Madeleine L'Engle - Not my favorite but excellent! We get a better glimpse into what Meg's day-to-day life was at school. There's also an unlikely protagonist that you'll come to love. That's all I'll say about that!
11. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle - This one is probably my second favorite in the Time Quintet. Not to mention we see grown Meg and Calvin!
12. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle - Skip this one. I have many thoughts about it but I'll just leave it at that. Just skip it.
13. An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Matter of fact, just stop after book 3. This one was okay and we get to meet one of Meg and Calvin's children. There isn't a pretty conclusion to the Quintet and the last two books just left me feeling sad and in need of a better resolution.
14. The Unexpected Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - This one should be a classic but I have no idea why more people don't know about these books. A retired, widowed, charming lady becomes a CIA agent and the most amazing things happen after.
15. The Amazing Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - Just as charming, wonderful, and captivating as the first one. I LOVE these books!
16. Lunch Money by Andrew Clements - Another good ole school kids story from Clements. Not as charming or memorable as Frindle or School Story (my personal favorites) but still very well written!
17. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart - If you've read The Mysterious Benedict Society and the books that followed, you should read this one. This is like the prequel that comes at the but gives so much insight into the mysterious, insanely smart, and lovable Mr. Benedict.
18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling - An excellent read but, personally, I don't understand all the hype of behind it. I enjoyed it but not enough to finish the series.
19. The Elusive Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - Seriously wonderful.
20. A Palm for Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - I was worried that the further from the original, the less I would enjoy the books but that turned out to not be the case. Each one is just as wonderful as the one before.
All About Jesus:
21. Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors - A beautiful and convicting follow-up to Kisses from Katie.
22. The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller - Wow! There was so much I learned about Hellen and I walked away so inspired by her.
23. Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff - Absolutely hilarious and thought-provoking. Acuff calls out the weird and quirky parts of Christian culture in an absolutely hilarious way that makes you think about how we can and should do better.
24. How to be a Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee - After reading hilarious articles on the internet from Babylon Bee, I was overwhelmingly disappointed.
25. Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs - So, so good. I've been reading her blog, watching insta stories, and listening to her podcasts for years but I feel more like Annie's BFF after reading this! Wow!
26. Radical Integrity of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Michael Van Dyke - I stinking love Bonhoeffer and I love the perspective this book offers on his life.
27. Know Who You Are & Live Like It Matters by Tim Tebow - This wasn't what I expected but still excellent! With stories from Tim's life and Scripture, this is more of a devotional for homeschool students but can easily apply to all young teens.
28. This is the Day by Tim Tebow - More stories from Tim's life with a huge focus on his switch to baseball. This book offered a lot of insights and inspiration to take a step of faith and follow Jesus.
29. Remember God by Annie F. Downs - Wow. Just wow. So much healing was found in those pages for both Annie and myself. I suspect this book will be one that becomes a favorite of many 20-somethings that get passed down through the years.
30. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte - Beyond the excellent discussion of how Lewis and Tolkien were influenced by WW1, this book reveals how much of our modern world and society is built around three words: God is dead. And if He isn't dead, He isn't as loving as the evangelical world says He is. But Lewis and Tolkien emerge from the frontlines (including the Somme) and become two of the most influential writers of the modern world who show us that God is real, loving, and there is a call for all of our lives. If you love history, Narnia, or Middle Earth, you should definitely consider diving into this book.
31. The Lucky Few by Heather Avis - So amazing. I don't know if I would ever have the courage to knowingly adopt a child with health issues, much less Down Syndrome. Heather does an amazing job of presenting the beauty of adoption and it's reflection of Christ's love for us.
Books Started but Didn't Finish:
1. Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck - The cussing. Couldn't do it.
2. A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L'Engle - I tried really hard to love this one but I just couldn't get into it. I found myself avoiding reading it so I stopped.
3. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis - I honestly didn't have the brain power to finish this. Lewis requires your whole mind and imagination to read the Space Trilogy and in the middle of the classes, I just didn't have it in me. I will definitely be revisiting this one on a longer break.
4. Emma by Jane Austen - The same reason as #3. I just didn't have the will-power for it.
Man, it sure has been a long time. The last time I sat down to write something for the blog was back in October. One of the main reasons I've been so MIA these last several months is L I F E. Being a full-time graduate student and a preschool teacher has been no walk in the park. A lot of the time that I used to spend working on content for the blog or sharing it on different networks has been taken up by assignments and cutting out our next craft for the letter R.
But there's another reason. This time during grad school has been absolutely physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. I've been brought down to my lowest and rejoiced from the mountain top. I'll spare you of the details because they're not that important right now. But one of the main questions the Lord has been asking me over and over and over during this season is "How are you, Allison, living out your faith?" How am I actively living and showing the love of Jesus Christ in my life?
Dang. That's a great question.
Ever since I started this blog and got a Facebook account, I would've answered this question by pointing out the Bible verses and song lyrics I shared, how many views my latest blog received, and how many likes my prayer received on Instagram.
Share Jesus? Check!
Because this past weekend was Easter, I kept seeing the quote all over social media that said, "Jesus died a public death so we should live a public life for him." When I first read this, I thought 'Phew! I'm safe! I don't need to change anything!" But as I sat in church on Easter Sunday and reflecting on the past three months, I realized that I have a lot that needs to change.
We often say that Jesus is our example and we need to imitate Jesus in all we do, including how we share the Gospel with others. But I think social media has changed the game entirely. Like myself, I think we sometimes believe that sharing a Bible verse or writing some thoughts on what Jesus is teaching us recently on social media means we have checked the box of, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19-20)
But does typing "Amen" and sharing equate going and making disciples of all nations?
Before, I would say yes but now....I'd have to say no.
The first problem with my perspective is the lack of action. The first word in the Great Commission is GO. It requires action. It means walking away from the screen and engaging with those around us. Going costs us something. It costs us our time, our pride, and our comfort. Sharing something on Facebook or writing that blog post isn't costing me much. It's costing me time but what about my pride? No because I can word things in a certain way so that my pride is well-intact. What about my comfort? Again, no, because I am currently in my pj's and sitting on my bed in my house with heat and air and everything I need and could ever want.
This blog and the posts on Facebook and Instagram do not mean I am going and making disciples.
Social media and missional living do not exactly go hand in hand. I'm reminded of what Jesus said as He was teaching on serving and He said, "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing." (Matthew 6:3). Then later Jesus says, "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:6)
Then the whammy, verse 1: "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven."
To respond to these commands from Jesus we must examine our heart and our motives...
Are we posting and writing and sharing so that Jesus will be seen or so that we will be seen?
Jesus knew what was coming when he said to "be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others." We live in an age of oversharing where we check-in at church, we post our sermon notes, we take a picture every time we read our Bible and share it, we post a song or Bible verse with someone in mind that really needs it, and we absolutely ignore those people in the grocery store, the doctor's office, and the homeless man on the corner.
Your social media posts aren't sharing the Gospel with the mom in the grocery store just trying to keep it together as she shops. My blogs aren't reaching the man at the doctor's office who just found our he has cancer. Our lives, our actions, our words, our facial expressions, and how we GO reach those around us.
Activity on social media does not equate missional living. Every time you share the Gospel does NOT need to be posted on Facebook. Don't take a picture with that man you just gave a meal to. Don't share a photo of your cup of coffee you had with the caption, "I love spending time discipling others." I say all of this because I would've done something like this and I HAVE.
Living a life publicly sold out for Jesus is not about what you post but who reach that is right in front of you.
I don't say all of this to discourage you from posting Bible verses and blogs and all of the above because they DO serve a purpose. I have talked with so many people who were challenged or encouraged by something I wrote or shared on Facebook or Instagram or the blog. But they are not to be my priority. Social media is not supposed to be my priority. The people that I come in contact with every single day that are hurting or struggling and going through absolute MESS are to be my priority over how many views my blog post received.
Social media is not your ministry. Your life is.
This doesn't mean I'm saying goodbye to writing and sharing. But it isn't going to be my priority. The people around me in my community need to be my priority. I need to live by GOING and moving out from behind a screen.
So, I will ask you the question Jesus has been asking me the last few months:
How are you living out your faith? How are you actively living and sharing your faith in Jesus Christ?
"Holy transitions!" I was telling a friend not too long after graduating and going straight into grad school. Maybe if I thought of them as holy and molding me to be more like Jesus each and every day, it wouldn't be so hard.
I don’t have a life right now. When I’m not studying or writing papers, I’m at preschool or church. When I’m not at church or preschool, I’m studying or writing papers. That’s pretty much all there is to it. It’s not very exciting, not very glamorous. I wipe snot, change diapers, and try to teach letters, numbers, and shapes to babies whose attention spans and fuses are very, very short all while inwardly stressing about all the homework I have waiting for me as soon as I get off work.
As if that wasn't enough, I moved back home and into my childhood home with my family. I went from complete independence to living with my family again. WOAH.
I say all of that to say, where I am right now is not where I thought I’d be when I embarked on this whole college thing my freshman year.
Here's some questions for you to answer in your mind:
Where are you in your life right now?
How many of you have envisioned in your mind where you’ll be in your life in the next 5 to 10 years (whether you’re single, dating, engaged, what kind of apartment you’ll live in, what job you’ll have, what kind of dog you’ll adopt, whatever…)?
How many of you have a Pinterest board for every single thing I just mentioned?
Y'all, I've got both hands up for that one!
When I started college, I had a plan. I won’t bore you with all the details but I’ll hit the highlights:
Music minor – didn’t happen
Go back to home and teach second grade – didn’t happen
After first year teaching, go to grad school – Nope
Major in Elementary Education – Isn’t happening.
Be married by the end of my first year of teaching – Not even funny y’all.
Have/adopt child #1 by 28 – To be determined
When I moved in, on an index card taped to my wardrobe and my mirror in Small Hall was a verse that I THOUGHT I knew what it meant and maybe you guys have heard it too,
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
In my 18 year old mind, I hoped and prayed that this meant by the end of my freshman year the Lord would miraculously bring my future husband into my life, I would have tons of friends, be on homecoming court, and basically be everything I was too scared to be in high school.
I learned very quickly that what I wanted for myself and what Jesus wanted for me were two very different things. BUT THIS VERSE? Mainstream Christianity had taught me that if I loved Jesus enough, He would give me all of my hopes and dreams simply because I wanted them.
If you look at that verse alone, that’s kinda what it seems like. “Delight yourself in the Lord” – Love Jesus, “and He will give you the desires of your heart” – He’ll give you what you want.
I am not at all saying that Jesus doesn’t want to give you what your heart desires most. Please don’t misunderstand me – But there is a little more to it than that. In order to receive what we “desire most” from Jesus we must have three things. I’ll list them for you right now and then I’ll go back and explain:
Let’s take a look at the first concept, longing.
1. In order for us to delight ourselves in the Lord and for Him to give us the desires of our hearts, we MUST desire Him and long for HIM FIRST. (vs.3-6)
There are three commands we see in these verses: Trust, dwell, and delight and I don’t think it’s any accident that they are in this specific order.
Trust means "Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one on which confidence is placed" – “Trust in the Lord”
Dwell means "To live or continue in a given condition or state; dwell in happiness – “Dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” - NIV says we will “Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture”
Delight means "A high degree of gratification or pleasure; synonyms are 'joy,' 'rejoice,' 'triumph.'"
In order for us to delight in the Lord, we have to trust Him first. We must be assured of His character, ability, strength, and the truth of His Word and that He is who He says He is. Once we have that trust, we will “dwell in the land.”
When I first read the phrase "dwell in the land" it confused me a little but when I considered Jewish history, it made a little more sense as to why this would be the best possible scenario for them. To dwell in the land meant to be in the land promised by the Lord and to live in His presence. It was something that was promised to Abraham, what Moses abandoned his cushy Egyptian prince lifestyle for, what Joshua fought for, and ultimately, what Jesus died for. But the cross gives us a new perspective. For us, to dwell in the land doesn’t mean a part of this world where the land is flowing with milk and honey. It means to live each and every day sold out for Jesus in obedience to His Word and our promised land is in heaven with Jesus forever.
Once we completely trust Jesus, desiring Him above all else, walk with Him and following Him and His Word, we will find delight and joy in Him. We can rejoice in Him.
I’m going to pause that one right there and let’s look at number 2, commitment:
2. Our delight and trust in Jesus must go beyond a feeling. Our delight and trust must be seen in our commitment to Jesus and our actions, public and private. (vs. 3-6, 8, 27-31)
Obedience to God's commands is not a foreign concept to us. Throughout Scripture God tells us, “Be holy, therefore as I am holy.” James tells us that “Faith without works is dead” and that our faith in Christ is demonstrated by what we do. The Bible is a guidebook to the way we are to live our lives daily. We all struggle and we all fall short of meeting the standard set by God. There’s grace in our failures and also a call to live tomorrow better than we lived today.
The same call is echoed in Psalm 34.
“COMMIT your way to the Lord” (vs. 5)
“Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake His faithful ones” (vs. 27-28)
“The law of his God is in his hear; his feet do not slip.” (vs. 31)
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath…” (vs. 8)
Even when we go back to verse 3 it says, “Trust in the Lord and do good…” All of these verses are talking about our actions that are a result of our faith and delight in Jesus. The Lord desires for us to trust Him and to act on that trust.
I think sometimes it’s hard for us to trust Jesus and act on that trust when He is calling us to do something hard or uncomfortable or painful because we don’t know what will happen, we can’t see ahead in the future. All we can see if what is right in front of us. But that’s where our trust in Jesus is so important.
The trust Jesus is calling us to is one of complete and total surrender. It requires us to take up our cross and follow Him. It means we’re in this until the end and we’ll go where He leads.
Jesus is calling us to TRUST: His word, His will, His way.
Trust His word: He is who He says He is. He will never leave us or forsake us.
Trust His will: God has a plan for our lives that is more wonderful than we could ever ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) In order to experience that will, we have to surrender and say, “Father Your will and not mine.”
Trust His way: We leave it all at the foot of the cross. We not only say “Father Your will and not mine” but we actually follow Him where He leads, no matter the cost. We can do this because we trust His word and we know that His plan is working for our good (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11)
As if those two weren’t difficult enough on their own, here is number 3, faithfulness:
3. When we desire Jesus above all else, we can trust Him with our biggest dreams for ourselves and remain faithful to Him and His will as we wait on Him and His timing. (vs. 4-6, 34)
Three times in this Psalm, the Lord tells us “Do not fret…” In verse 8 He says, “Do not fret- it only leads to evil.” When we worry, we pick back up the burdens we laid at the cross. We try to make our dreams happen on our terms and in our timing. The Bible gives us so many examples of how going outside the Lord’s will and timing because someone was worried the Lord wouldn’t do what He said He would. Can we say Abraham, anyone? When we make it happen on our own, we’re saying “Lord, I don’t trust You. I don’t believe You are who You say You are. I don’t believe You will be faithful to Your promises.”
“Wait for the Lord and keep His way. He will exalt you to inherit the land.” (verse 34)
Your faithfulness does not go unnoticed by God. You are seen, heard, and dearly loved.
So let’s revisit our original verse. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Delighting ourselves in the Lord isn’t so much about going to church or doing our best to follow the ten commandments with the expectation that Jesus will bless us. Delighting ourselves in the Lord is about desiring Him above all else, committing our lives to following Him, and being faithful to Him as we wait. As we follow Him and serve Him and learn to trust Him more day by day, He changes the desires of our heart. When we are in relationship with Jesus, our desires begin to line up with His desires for our life – His desires for our life is His best for us.
If you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of His heart which have become the desires of your heart.
The desires of my heart are very different than they were the first time I set foot on this campus. But I’m also closer to Jesus than I was my freshman year. My desires have changed and my longing for Him has changed, grown deeper.
How has your longing for Him grown deeper? Are you delighting in Him, His word, His will, and His way? Are you being faithful in the waiting or are you trying to make things happen? Do your desires for your life match up with His desires?
It was finally Thursday morning. I had spent almost the entire summer getting ready for this day. I had planned and shopped and painted and decorated and shopped and rearranged my classroom. It had taken me countless hours to prepare for this day and the moment I woke up, it hit me.
Butterflies, sick on my stomach, aching nervousness.
I drank my coffee and did my best to brush the feeling off. It was going to be okay, right?! I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair to look just right, made sure my makeup was just enough but not too much, sifted through my closet for the thousandth time trying to find the perfect "teachery" outfit (maybe I should wear a sweater...no, I'll just take one just in case), and walked out the door.
On the way to school, I practiced welcoming the parents and what I would say to them. Is "hi" or "hello" better? Should I shake their hand or not? What if I forget something?!
I get to school and start putting the final finishing touches on my classroom. Rearrange a few things AGAIN and carefully comb through my classroom library to put the perfect books out for parents to see. (What if they don't like me? What if they think I'm too young?)
To distract myself from my inner freaking out, I walk around and check out my co-workers classrooms. Bad idea, y'all. I don't have this or that. I don't have as much experience. This is my first time ever. Do I need that? What on earth was I thinking?!
Then open house starts. Y'all, when I say I forgot almost everything I wanted to say, I did. I stumbled over my words. I said "um" probably a thousand times. I shook some hands but didn't shake others. Did I smile too big? Do they think I'm not the best person for this job? Do they think I'm silly and too young? Do I look "grown up" enough? Do they like me? Are they annoyed?
Hi, my name is Allison and I am a recovering people pleaser.
Man, what a lifelong struggle it has been.
I could not even begin to tell you how many hours and days I have WASTED wondering what people think of me and wondering if I'm good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough, dedicated enough, diligent enough, hard-working enough, and just flat out enough for someone.
Most of my life, I have lived cautiously, not wanting to offend anyone or upset anyone or disappoint anyone or hurt anyone. While these things in and of themselves are not inherently bad, these things being our focus is deadly. When our focus is on pleasing others, we lose sight of who we are living for and who we should be striving to please: Jesus Christ.
My freshman year of high school was tough one and there were a lot of lessons learned during that one short year. The ones I remember most happened almost within the same semester and I can still tell you exactly how I felt in those moments. They were big.
The first came and went in a matter of three weeks when I "dated" someone. I so so desperately wanted a boyfriend that I took matters into my own hands and got myself a boyfriend. I had been praying for YEARS for God to give me a boyfriend and when I got the answer "Wait," in January 2010, I was done waiting. I pushed hard and I won. Then it didn't work out. And I was absolutely crushed. I cried for weeks as he moved to another girl and then another girl while I was left still picking up the pieces feeling unloved, rejected, and not enough.
Two months later, I was listening to my iPod and working on homework in my room when the song "Back at my Heart" by Natalie Grant came on. I cried the whole time the song played and when it was done, I closed my bedroom and listened to it again, weeping and literally on the floor on my face before Jesus. (The song is at the bottom of this post if you want to listen to it!)
I needed Jesus to come and mend my heart but before the healing could begin He showed me my ugliness and need for a Savior. I didn't want a boyfriend because I was looking for a future husband. I wanted one because that's what all of my friends did and maybe if I had one, other people would accept me too. My desire was to be liked by everyone and the only way (I thought) I could do that was to have a boyfriend.
In those moments, I knew Jesus was asking me to trust Him with this area of my life. I needed to rely on Him and refocus my life on pleasing Him, not my peers.
That moment is when I began "dating Jesus" and taking our relationship deeper than ever before. But the days, weeks, months, and years following that moment and my promise to live to please Him was not without it's struggles, losses, and disappointments.
Not long after that, I was still struggling to not focus on pleasing people and I was beginning to be afraid that I would never be good enough for Jesus. I struggled so much, how could I really be considered a Christian?
I was listening to a teaching by Priscilla Shirer and I honestly do not remember a thing she said but she talked about one particular verse that has guided me ever since.
"For God did not give us a spirit of fear; but of power and love and a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7
Sound mind. Man, I don't know about you guys but there are some days where I need the blessing of a sound mind threefold. When she read the verse, I don't think I wrote anything else down or heard anything else she said. I was wrapped up in this verse.
God did not give me a spirit of fear. He did not cause me to be timid or fearful about stepping out in faith. He created me and my personality, yes, but with God's help we can always rise above it. Satan was the one that offered me paralyzing fear. He wrapped it up nice and pretty and made it seem like this "gift" was a better option than Jesus's sound mind.
The moment I realized that I had rejected Christ and His gift by continuing to walk in fear of judgement of others, I was done. I was never really on the "wrong path" but I wasn't living out my faith in private the way I should've been. Just like the song, on the outside everything was fine but inside was a broken mess. I got back on track. I began reading Scripture with such a hunger and spent almost an hour before school every morning in my Bible. I began memorizing Scripture and carried that verse with me everywhere on an index card. On really hard days, I set it on my desk to remind myself of WHO I was in CHRIST.
I wish I could tell you that people respected me more because of my faith and I was well accepted.
The following years have been filled with seasons of loneliness and rejection. Some seasons, I came out stronger. Some seasons required more healing afterwards.
I still struggle with wanting to please people rather than Jesus but it's different now. I can recognize Satan's tricks and attacks. That verse comes back to me and I praise Jesus because of it. Then Satan gets quiet because there's nothing he hates more than for believers to use his attacks to bring glory to God.
As I drove home, beating myself up for everything that went wrong during open house and being paralyzed by my fear of not being liked, the Lord reminded me of His sweet message to us.
"Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear the One who can kill both the body and soul in hell." Matthew 10:28
I know this verse doesn't sound much like a promise or even very comforting but if we look carefully, you can see hope and peace woven throughout it. Here, Jesus is saying to His disciples not to worry about the Pharisees. The worst they could do is kill your body. The same is true for us. The worst someone could do to us is kill our body but as followers of Christ we have the promise of eternity in heaven with Him. Our soul will live on. Praise the Lord! No one wants to die, obviously, but if the WORST someone could ever do to us is give us heaven, then why does it matter what they think?
Our focus should not be to please those who can only kill our body but God who can kill our body and soul. Our mission in life is to live to honor and glorify HIM. He is our life, joy, and song. He's all that matters.
So, just a little real talk and self-evaluation here (I'm talking to myself too):
Are you more focused on the quality of your quiet time with God than the quantity of likes or follows you get on social media?
Are you more worried about who looked at your insta or snapchat story or what God sees when He looks in your heart?
Does acceptance by your peers matter more to you than being the hands and feet of Jesus at school?
I know I still have a lot of work to do but I'm recovering.
"And what, then, should we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31
It is FINISHED.
All of heaven and hell,
Waiting and watching.
The Father hurting.
Broken and hiding.
Is this really happening?
What was I thinking?
How did I get it so wrong?
Could it be
Was just a man?
The Father edging
On the seat of His throne
To see His boy
R I S E.
IT IS FINISHED.
Slaves no more
Sin’s grip vanquished
The enemy powerless
Our shame erased.
Our guilt washed white.
Fighters now followers.
Rejected now belong.
Orphans now heirs.
Scripture living, speaking.
Scripture still speaking.
Weak made strong
The least made great
Broken made whole
Victims made victorious
IT IS FINISHED.
Finding He is enough
He has suffered.
He has died.
He has won.
He has saved.
He has redeemed.
All for us
To know us
To love us
To be with us
IT IS FINISHED.
For a majority of the summer and the entire fall semester, I went through the book of John. The words and miracles of Jesus came alive, I made 11 friends (obviously I’m not counting Judas, little stinker), and fell more deeply in love with Jesus than ever before. If you’ve never read through John yourself, you should. It’s life-changing, hope-giving, correcting, challenging, and convicting. After I finished, I didn’t know what to study and what was next. It also didn’t help that I can’t seem to get John 20 out of my head.
Before we keep moving, take a moment to read the chapter for yourself. Get out your Bibles, break out a pen and paper. This chapter is full. But in case you aren’t near your Bible, here’s the passage:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the facecloth, which had
been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”28 Thomas
answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs vin the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20 ESV
Before we dig to all 31 precious verses, I want to take a moment to say that some of the things you are going to read are what I imagine happened or rather, what the people involved were thinking and feeling. Other than the passage quoted directly above and verses quoted below, nothing I am writing is the inherent Word of God. I am not claiming to know anything but only what I imagine they were feeling/thinking/experiencing.
If you grew up in church, you’ve probably heard this story a million and one times. We know it like the back of our hands. But when I read this chapter with fresh eyes and within the context of the rest of the Gospel there are new things that really stood out to me.
Let’s start first at the END of the chapter with the disciples. Jesus had just been brutally murdered for doing absolutely nothing wrong. He was mocked, tortured, and it was very clear that his close friends were in no position to be walking around freely with their head held high. They were in danger as well. They didn’t know what was going to happen. I can only imagine that the first couple days after the crucifixion, they spent it alone in their own homes and tried to forget what had happened. The man they had spent so much time with, sacrificed it all for, was dead. I imagine that as time went on, they realized they needed each other. No one else in the entire world could relate to what they had experienced and the emotions they were facing other than each other. So what did they do? They congregated together. They needed each other now more than ever. They were all gathered together when the man that spent so much time with and sacrificed it all for appeared to all of them, alive. Well, almost all of them. The disciples that were present go to see him, touch him, talk to him, eat with him, and for just a moment, things almost felt like they were before. But wait, where’s Thomas? Shouldn’t he be here? I don’t know where Thomas was but I can imagine that not long after Jesus left their midst the disciples ran to tell him what had happened.
Thomas’s face fell and eyes welled up with tears as they excitedly told him what happened. I think he might’ve felt like we do when something super awesome happens at a party or gathering we weren’t invited to (or maybe we were invited but we didn’t go because we didn’t want to – talk about major FOMO). I can hear his voice crack and a silent tear roll down his cheek as he says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” People like to call him Doubting Thomas but I think he might’ve been Hurt Thomas or I’ve-Been-Burned-Again Thomas.
Eight days. It was eight days until Jesus appeared to the disciples again. The natural question that comes to mind is, “Why did Jesus wait so long to visit again the men he shared each and every day, moment, tear, and prayer with?” I think, like with the death of Lazarus and going to be with Mary and Martha, he wanted it to be, “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Jesus knew where Thomas’s head was and he was getting ready to do something mighty. But, y’all, eight days. What was Thomas thinking during those eight days? Was he hurt? Was he angry? Did he try to forget Jesus and the other disciples? I can only imagine he was probably angry and hurt. “Why didn’t he appear to me? I thought he loved me! I sacrificed everything for him! Was that not enough for him?!”
Someone talked Thomas into coming to be with them one evening and Jesus appears before them once again. Jesus has come to show Thomas that he is everything he said he is, as wonderful a Savior as we hope him to be, and this whole Jesus thing isn’t too good to be true. I can picture Thomas wide-eyed at first and when Jesus locks eyes with him, Thomas drops his head in embarrassment and shame for ever doubting and being hurt and angry. I can imagine Jesus walking across the floor and whispering for only Thomas to hear, “Thomas, look at me.” Swallowing hard and choking back tears, Thomas slowly lifts his eyes to meet with Jesus’s. He expects to see disappointment but sees only love. A tear falls. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Now he can’t stop the tears, he searches for the words to truly express how sorry and ashamed he is but all he can say is, “My Lord and my God!”
If anyone was going to be first to the tomb, it was going to be her. People were angry, others were hiding but she wasn’t so sure what she should feel. He had changed her life, he had rescued her. That was worth something. She made the journey, the whole way holding back tears but once she got there, she couldn’t hold them back anymore. The stone was moved and the tomb was empty. He was gone. Her heart rate quickened, blood drained from face, and she looked around for someone, anyone who could help but because it was so early, there was no one there. She knew the place where John was, and probably some of the others, so she ran.
Mary, Peter, and John were running back to the place where Jesus was laid. When they got there she cried, voice cracking as held back tears burst through, “See! He’s not there!” Peter went in. She didn’t need to see it again, it would hurt too much but she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. First they killed him and now they’ve taken him away. This couldn’t possibly get any worse. Peter and John were getting ready to leave and they asked if she wanted to walk with them. “No, I think I’ll stay back.” As they walked away, she dried her eyes and peeked in the tomb. The composure she thought she had gained, she lost again, overwhelmed with heartbreak and hearing the hammer hitting the nails in her mind. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man. To avoid annoying the stranger, she moved in the opposite direction but the man asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Hiding her face and composing herself long enough to answer, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She looked at him, eyes blurred with tears, she hoped he would know where they had laid him. She needed answers. She needed closure. She needed to say goodbye.
“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Jesus! She was seeking Jesus, her Lord! Just the thought of his name on her lips made her eyes flood again. She couldn’t say his name out loud, it hurt too much. Her voice cracked as she answered, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”
Jesus smiled at her. He was getting ready to do something mighty. This time, he wouldn’t make her wait for his presence. He said her name the way he had since the day he met her, “Mary.”
Immediately, she recognized his tone. No one else said her name the way the Lord did. How could it be? How is this possible?! It doesn’t matter! Her Lord is alive and he is here!
Y’all life is hard. Things happen and we lose hope. Our heart breaks. We’ve been let down. Again. We go the only place we can think to turn. We go to church, we read our Bibles, why doesn’t anything get any better?
So many times during hard times, I feel like God has left me high and dry. I’ve given it all up for him and I question whether or not he really loves me. I question whether or not my effort was enough. I know what God’s Word says but unless I see him come through for me, I won’t be a happy camper.
“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (verse 25).
We wait not-so-patiently and our eight-day wait is torture. We question everything we’ve ever done from him and whether or not he really loves us. We throw a temper tantrum. The thoughts in our mind and our hearts are ugly. I mean, really ugly. We’re angry. We’re hurt. Why could he do that for so-and-so and not do this one thing for me? In those eight days, our heart is so far from the foot of the cross, it’s going to take a miracle to bring us back. Every step away from the cross, we bring the hammer down and drive the nail further into his hand and we don’t even care. He hurt us.
Then He shows up. We lock eyes. I wasn’t expecting him to do anything. I thought he had left me to die. At first I’m wide eyed and stunned by his presence. Then my face flushes, I’m suddenly interested in the floor, and I’m ashamed. He looks at me, moves closer, and whispers so low, I’m the only one who can hear him, “Allison. Look at me.”
He says my name the way I’ve heard him say it a million times before. It’s the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard but it’s not always fun to hear. Sometimes it’s to offer encouragement, sometimes it’s to correct me, sometimes it’s to ask me to do something I don’t want to do at all. But it’s never filled with disappointment, anger, frustration, hatred, and hurt. Only love.
My voice is the only one filled with disappointment, anger, frustration, hatred, and hurt. Then he says my name and it all melts away.
Something profound happens when Jesus calls us by name. Whether it’s the first time or the millionth, it never gets any less remarkable. He knows us through and through. He knows every thought, every word, and every moment of the eight days (how scary is that?). He knows us deeply and intimately. Right now, we may not feel like we know him as deeply and intimately we would like but we know his voice. Even the first time he said our name, we knew it was him. Because when he called our names, all our anger, frustration, disappointment, hurt, anxiety, shame, and sins are clearly known and are open before him but melt away. He knows our pasts. He knows our ugliness and still desires us to be closer to him because he’s going to do something mighty. During the eight days, he didn’t take back his death on the cross. He doesn’t take back the scars. He holds out his hand and invites us to, “put our finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve but believe.”
And dear one, know you are so dearly and thoroughly loved.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (verse 29). You may have your moments and your eight days but you are so blessed. So loved. So adored. And, dear one, never alone. He wants to do something mighty in your life. If you feel like you’re alone and not loved by him, please know that you are. The cross still stands. The tomb is still empty.
When he calls your name, worship him.
My Lord, and my God! How unworthy I am of you!
Hello beautiful friends! It seems like a whole year has passed since I talked to you last (new year jokes, y'all)! January has come and gone and with the ripped pages of my calendar, unfortunately, are some ripped resolutions that didn't make it past month one. Am I speaking anyone else's language?
Something I've noticed this past month is that everyone starts off the new year full of energy and hope and ready to make changes, make dreams come true, and make a difference. Then, life happens. The newness of our lifestyle changes wears off and they either become a chore or a routine. The bright, refreshing hope we started the year off with begins to dim and before we know it, we're looking back on our craziest week thinking, "Man, I need an attitude adjustment." Let's be honest, no one starts off January needing a new attitude. Once life really gets started is when we realized we messed up and here we are in pit of self-pity because we can't follow through with anything or we're unhappy with our circumstances or x, y, and z.
I'm right there with you, friend.
A few days ago, I was catching up my reading in the devotional book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young and what it said just hit me right between the eyes:
"Give up the illusion that you deserve a problem-free life. Part of you is still hungering for the resolution of all difficulties. This is a false hope! As I told my disciples, in the world you will have trouble. Link our hope not to problem solving in this life but to the promise of an eternity of problem-free life in heaven. Instead of seeing perfection in this fallen world, pour your energy into seeking Me: the Perfect One.
It is possible to enjoy Me and glorify Me in the midst of adverse circumstances. In fact, My Light shines most brightly through believers who trust Me in the dark. That kind of trust is supernatural: a production of My indwelling Spirit. When things seems all wrong, trust Me anyway. I am much less interested in right circumstances than in right responses to whatever comes your way." John 16:33, Psalm 112:4,7
This past month, I've been so focused on making sure all the circumstances were fair or lined up with what I had envisioned or expected that I lost sight of what was really important: not the circumstances themselves but my attitude and reaction to those circumstances. Negative Nancy was back and she was taking no prisoners.
After the Lord convicted the mess out of me (because, honestly, subtle hints have never been my strong suit), I began to ask Him what He wanted me to do to change it because that's how a relationship with the Lord works. It's not all about going to church, doing and saying the right things, not doing this or that. Rather, it's about the work you do with the Lord daily. (If you don't do the work, you'll never get better.) Now, I was not excited about asking the Lord for one more thing for me to do. Not even a little bit and when I heard it, I was even less excited because that meant I would for real have to change my attitude. For all of my fellow teachers, this might sound a little familiar but it's so simple and has completely changed the way I've been viewing even the craziest days and weeks.
The 3-2-1 Challenge:
3- List three things you are thankful for today. It can be as simple as thanking Jesus for coffee or the good parking spot or as profound as thanking Him for a promotion or His peace in a stressful situation.
2- List two things you learned today. Write about a lesson you learned or something about the character of the Lord. It could be that you learned more about the Lord's patience or you learned that y=mx+b and it just blew your mind.
1- Spend at least one minute in prayer. There's a lot you can say in one minute and I'm not at all saying that you should just spend one minute in prayer. This is the minimum. If you are feeling led to change that one minute to ten or an hour, go for it! He wants to communicate with you! If you don't know what you could possibly say for one minute, go back and thank Him for the things you've already written down. Most importantly, ask the Lord to open your eyes to what He has for you tomorrow. He's got something special for you each and everyday.
That's it. Simple enough, right?! So here's the challenge: We've already talked about how we stink at making resolutions for the whole year. Why don't we make a commitment to do the 3-2-1 Challenge at the end of every day for a month. A month sounds do-able, right? And plus, it's February so there's only 28 days. I think you can do it.
If it takes buying a special journal and fancy pen for your 3-2-1 Challenge (right here, my hand is raised), then do it! If you need a more extrinsic reward like a piece of chocolate or cup of coffee, go for it.
I'm making this commitment and I hope you will join me in this challenge. I'd love to hear what you guys are learning and how you're growing through this. So, to keep in touch through the process, you can share your thoughts/pictures/whatever on the Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (links to each of those sites can be found on the side bar) OR you can use #321Challenge! I'm excited to see what the Lord has in store for each of us this month!
So get your journals ready and get ready to 3-2-1!
One day a couple weeks ago, I had a momentary lapse in reasoning while cooking dinner, I burnt the last two fingers on my left hand pretty badly. As a result, I had to take off my purity ring so the burn could heal and not scar or blister. As soon as it no longer hurt to wear it, I put the ring back on. It was the longest few days of my life. I felt naked and vulnerable without it. Which is 100% silly because my commitment to the Lord hadn't changed even though I didn't have the ring on. Those few days I didn't have the ring, the Lord took me on a walk down memory lane.
A few years ago, I read a popular article about why this 20-something Jesus-loving girl stopped wearing her ring. Her main point was that she was no longer going to sit around and wait for the Lord to bring her the man of her dreams. She was going to pursue Christ with all her heart in this time of singleness and not let the fact that she didn't have a man stop her. I got it. I was in the same place a few years ago, too. I was tired of the question, "When are you going to bring a boy home?" I had a lot of really gutsy strangers ask me if I was married and when I told them I wasn't, more questions about the ring followed. Instead of looking at those situations as opportunities to share what Christ has done in my life and what the ring means to me, I got frustrated and acted like these people were throwing it in my face, once again, that I am single. (I had a not-so-attractive attitude about the whole thing.) I was so frustrated, Quietly and spitefully, I took it off and every single day I made the decision to not wear my ring the Lord was convicting me big time.
At first I thought, "Well maybe the Lord wants there to be an outward sign that I love Jesus." This wasn't entirely true because people thought I was married and a ring doesn't scream "I LOVE JESUS," your countenance and the way you present yourself and carry yourself does. The next thought was, "Well...the Lord will still love me, even if I don't wear my ring." So I didn't really have a good excuse to no longer wear the ring even though it didn't change anything about my commitment to the promise behind the ring.
It seems like just yesterday I decided I wanted a ring but really it was eight years ago... I had just gotten out of my first "relationship" that lasts a whopping three weeks. I thought I knew what I wanted at the beginning of those three weeks: a boyfriend and a future with said boyfriend. At the end, my fourteen year old heart was broken and all I knew for sure about my future was I wanted Jesus to be my future. I bumped into my ex in the hallway at school and the hurt that flooded my heart and eyes was followed by the comforting whisper of Jesus leaning down from heaven, taking my hand, and promising me He would never hurt me. I went home and asked my parents if I could by a purity ring. They were, of course, supportive and didn't look at me weird when I bought two just in case something happened to the other one (Type A personality, right here).
I chose the silver ring with the words "True Love Waits" engraved and I was so excited when I got it in the mail. Before I put the ring on, I wrote a letter to the Lord with my commitment to Him. I wasn't as sentimental then so I didn't keep the letter but the promise has remained the same. Eight years ago, my broken fourteen year old heart promised to love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I was an empty vessel ready to be filled with Him until I was overflowing. I moved from the driver's seat of my life to the passenger seat. My promise to Jesus wasn't (and isn't) so much about being pure until I'm married, although that is part of it. It's about being faithful to the Lord and seeking His will in my life in all things, including marriage. Until the Lord shows me the man I'm supposed to marry, HE is my husband, my best friend, my confidant, my everything. Now to some people that sounds stupid (and there are plenty of blogs that will try to convince you it's stupid) but before you judge that line of thought, you are not me and you do not have the same relationship with the Lord that I do. In Isaiah, He tells us He is all we need and more. To the friendless, He's a friend. To the widow (and single), He's a husband. To those in mourning, He is the Comforter. I could go on and on but I think you get the point.
About the same time, all of my Jesus-loving friends were going on Daddy-Daughter dates and their dad's were giving them their rings. At the time, it didn't bug me but a few years later, it started to eat at me. I asked my dad why he didn't take me out and give me the ring when I asked for a ring. I can still see his grin and hear his laugh as he answered my question, "Allison, would it have made a difference?" "No..." "You wanted that ring because you were making a commitment to Jesus. You were making a promise to Jesus, not to me. I didn't take you out and give you the ring because it was between you and Jesus." He pointed at my hand and said five words that have guided me all eight years since I put the ring on my finger, "Your true love didn't wait."
And I am so glad He didn't. Jesus didn't wait until He was ready to come down to earth and bear my sins on the cross. Jesus didn't wait to rise from the dead until all the people who wanted Him dead had long forgotten about Him. Jesus didn't wait until I got my mess together to tell me He loved me. Jesus didn't wait until I was less insecure, less anxious, less or more whatever to be my Savior. He has never waited to be my God, my Savior, my King. I still wear my ring because at 22 years old, He is still my true love, my God, my Savior, my King, my everything.
So when the burns healed, I placed the ring back in it's rightful place where, Lord willing, it will stay until I'm dressed in white and looking love in the face. That may be on earth with a earthly husband or when we're all dressed in white and the Bridegroom has come to make us His for all of eternity. Until then, I'll follow my Jesus wherever He takes me.
"Umbrellas up! ...And that's enough pear juggling."
If you don't know this quote as soon as you see it, you need to stop right here and go watch Princess Diaries right now. You'll thank me later.
"'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me."
2 Corinthians 12:9
Most of my life, I have lived with an "umbrellas up," mentality. The umbrella has been the wall around my heart to protect myself from hurt, disappointment, and pretty much any other uncomfortable human emotion. My umbrella pretty much stayed up and it would take me a long time to move the umbrella down just an inch to let you into my heart. It took a lot for me to be vulnerable and to be open and honest about how I'm feeling. All the while, juggling too many pears like worship positions, quiet time, school (a HUGE school pear), family, friends, and a private life. I would hold that umbrella up high with one hand and juggle with the other hand- but that's another discussion for another time.
I keep using past tense but honestly I still do all of these things. Maybe not to the same degree as I did them before but I still have my umbrella up. Why is all of this important? Because, honestly, I'm terrified of two things:
1. Dropping my umbrella and being completely vulnerable.
2. Dropping my umbrella, being completely vulnerable, and no one wanting me or wanting to know me because they see me. Just me. Umbrella-less Allison.
One thing I've learned in just the few short weeks of the beginning of my senior year, is the umbrella isn't all it has cracked up to be. Over the years, I've noticed the umbrella come down just a little bit. A centimeter at a time. Little by little, the big, heavy duty wall that I held with a firm hand over my head and my heart, has come down. I've noticed that the further down I let my umbrella, the more God uses me.
This summer, the umbrella went completely down. I was my truest self: messed up, flawed, insecure in myself and yet confident in Christ in me (most of the time. Sometimes I get it right...sometimes), and 100% loved by my King and Lord. It's not that I wasn't those things before (especially the loved part). Rather, it was that I didn't recognize those things as much because my umbrella had been keeping out the most important person I needed to let in: the Lord. I knew I was flawed, believe me. This summer, I began to see those flaws as beautiful because instead of beating myself up about the fact that I still wasn't perfect, I could see where God had brought me (where He had redeemed me and healed me) and begin to see where He was taking me. He took me by the hand, told me I was beautiful (flaws and all), and took me on a walk down memory lane.
Now, camp will make you put down that umbrella. If you've ever been to a camp before, you know this to be true. At camp, I laid my umbrella down but I was sure to pick it back up before I left. A terrible decision, really. Why?
Pros to having my umbrella up:
1. I might not get hurt - but it doesn't guarantee that I won't.
2. I won't cry - but crying isn't a sign of weakness.
3. No one will see my face as I cry - it isn't the picture of sophistication and grace.
4. I get to pick what people know about me and I can pick all the good stuff - doesn't make the bad stuff go away, it just makes it a secret.
Cons to having my umbrella up:
1. No one is helping me carry my burdens. I'm carrying them on my own.
2. No one is encouraging me or building me up because I'm too scared to let them that close to know my struggles.
3. I have to constantly maintain the perfect picture the umbrella presents about me.
4. Do I even truly grasp what I'm struggling with or do I reason it away?
Over the years, I had turned myself into an island while telling other people, "It's okay that you're not okay. You can be vulnerable and share those things with someone," and not taking my own advice.
I'm not at all saying that we should be vulnerable 100% of the time because I don't think that's what God has called us to do. Scripture even tells us to guard our hearts because everything we do flows from it- it is the wellspring of life. I think God has called us to selective in whom we choose to be completely vulnerable towards and guard ourselves in other relationships. We shouldn't be an island. Instead, we're supposed to be like a small community. I was an island. I was Tom Hanks, stranded. Instead of talking to a beach ball, I was talking to an umbrella.
The umbrella doesn't keep you safe from getting hurt. You're still going to get hurt one way or another. The umbrella keeps you from loving others as Christ loved the church, completely and sacrificially (and sometimes that means sacrificing your pride and sharing your intimate struggles with someone). The umbrella does keep you from crying. Sometimes tears are exactly what you need and tears of joy are even better. The umbrella does allow you to pick and choose what information people know about you but is it really you? The umbrella doesn't keep you safe. It hurts you because it keeps you from being vulnerable before the Lord who will keep you safe. The Lord is a mighty Warrior and our Refuge. He already knows our struggles so why do we try to hide underneath our umbrellas like He can't already see through it?!
The umbrella also holds you back from experiencing all that God has planned for you. 2 Corinthians 12:9 demonstrates that perfectly. When we put our umbrella down and surrender to Him and His will fully, His power is made perfect in our weakness. Not almost good enough, not kinda okay...perfect. Our surrendered hearts and spirits to the will of God is the closest we will get this side of heaven to being the perfect human being God created us to be (and we consistently mess up).
We may think those flaws that we hide so well under our umbrella are ugly and not worth loving or showing to the world. Jesus thinks otherwise. Where we see weakness, He sees His power, love, and might. Where we see ugliness, He sees beauty. Where we see frustration, He sees His grace.
So, dear one, put down your umbrella. You are chose, holy, and dearly loved. It's time we both started acting like it.
I am currently a student learning more about life and Jesus' marvelous love and boundless grace.