Reflecting & Preparing

2015 is quickly drawing to a close, yet the clock still ticks reminding me of the coming year. The new year, full of promise and possibilities. Full of hope and determination. The new year points to Jesus and the newness He gives though the cross, through forgiveness and radical grace. It’s a reminder to reflect and prepare.

New year. New beginning. New experiences. New trials. New goals. Everything new. Wrapped in shiny paper just waiting for hopeful fingers to unfold. But what about the goodbyes?

The goodbye to the old year. The adios to that bad habit or stressful job. The see you later to the fears, the victories, the secrets. What about those?

The new year calls for both hellos and goodbyes, both reflecting & preparing. You can’t do one well without the other. You can’t prepare for a new year without looking at the past to see what worked and what didn’t. But you also cannot reflect on the past to the point that you forget you have a glorious future set before you. So, friends, let’s join in reflecting on the past year and preparing for the new.

Reflections of 2015

  • Isaiah 61, Psalm 46:5 & 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • I have a choice between my “two rooms” & what goes in them (post to come)
  • Jesus understands (post to come)
  • Change is bittersweet
  • Performed final show with Concert Ballet
  • Started a blog on a whim, but Jesus had cool plans for it
  • Loved giving my senior thesis & won the award
  • Graduated high school
  • Was a bridesmaid & watched 3 sweet cousins get married!
  • Dance parties are good medicine
  • Ask me how God showed up over & over again this year
  • Can now say & believe “God is GOOD.”
  • Close relationships are hard, but oh so good
  • Finished first semester of college, loved it!

Preparations for 2016

  • Theme: BOLD & Brave
    • These are the words God placed on my heart for this year and they are so fitting given all that I’ve learned and been challenged with in 2015. Living bold & brave through the Holy Spirit. 
  • Study: Galatians, Esther, 2 Timothy, and all things Holy Spirit
  • Daily
    • get the Word in (quality over quantity)
    • be still & silent (silence over screens)
    • laugh until it hurts (best stress reliever ever)
  • Habit to Break: checking phone first thing in the morning
    • As Ann Voskamp says, “first 10 minutes always with my first Love.” Instead of getting social media and my to do list in my head first thing, I want Jesus to be the first thing on my mind.
  • Habit to make: Praying before eating
    • I’ve been challenged with this one through reading A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester and realizing just how deeply connected food and God are.
  • Blog: post twice a month as led (but all things with loads of grace)

*If you need a good place to start for your new year preparations, check this out.*

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To the Girl Without a Date

To the girl without a date,

You are seen. You may feel invisible. You may feel at times that you don’t exist. You may wonder if you have an invisibility cloak that hides you from the view of all guys. But, you are seen.  You may not have guys clamoring for your attention, but you are still seen. At parties, you may be the girl that stands alone. At dances, you may be the girl that is never asked to dance. In your friend group, you may be the only one without a “significant other.” All of this may be true, but the real truth, the truest truth, is you are seen. Jesus knows the desires of your heart and the perfect timing for each of your desires (Psalm 37:4, Ecc. 3:1). He sees all things and you are no exception.

You are known. You may look around you and feel as if there isn’t a soul in the room who really knows you. You may feel like no one, especially guys, would ever care to know you. You may be discouraged and feel alone. You may feel like you are simply too much to handle or not interesting enough to know, but you are known. You may not have guys lining up to talk with you or even a date in the foreseeable future, but you are still known. All of this may be true, but the truest truth is that you are fully known by God who made you cell by cell for an individual purpose that no one else can fulfill. Ya, that guy across the room may not care to know you right now, but the only Guy that matters wants nothing more than to know you right this very minute and to have you know Him.

You are beautiful. You are. You’re probably rolling your eyes or laughing under your breath right about now, but it’s true. You may not have guys fawning over your outward appearance or gushing about your beauty. You may not be “magazine material”  or have a guy that tells you you’re beautiful daily. You may feel unattractive or plain on your best day, but the truth is that you are beautiful. If you’re anything like me, then you still don’t believe me. So let me tell you a secret…no one on earth will ever be able to convince you of your beauty until you are convinced that you are worth being called beautiful.

You are loved. You may have been hurt in the past or simply overlooked. You may feel unlovable. You may believe that there is nothing about you for a guy (or anyone) to love, but you are wrong. You are so very wrong. Please hear this: You. Are. Loved. You may have moments, memories, that seem to prove the contrary, but the truest thing about you as a human being is this: you are loved. It’s that simple (John 3:16).

You are worthy. You are worthy of love and affection. You are worthy of respect and honesty. You are worthy of faithfulness and gentleness. You may not consider yourself worthy of anything, much less of these characteristics. You may have been told you are unworthy by someone or had a guy in your life that made you feel unworthy of good. You may have done, been, said, seen things that left you feeling completely unworthy of all good. You may simply believe, for whatever reason, that you are inherently unworthy regardless of anything you do. But that, my friend, is simply not true. You are worthy.

So, to the girl without a date, you are seen. Even if you are overlooked in the moment and feel invisible in a sea of pretty girls, you are seen by the Father. Even if no one asks you to dance or looks your way, you are still seen. You are seen by El Roi, the God who sees. No matter where you go, you will always be seen by Him. There is not a place you can run that will hide you from His gaze. He has His loving eyes on you forever and ever.

To the girl without a date, you are known. You may look around and see the couples, hear the stories and feel alone, unknown, unworthy of being known. But you are not alone and you are entirely known. In fact, you were known before the beginning of all time. God sees you and wants to know you intimately. He wants nothing more than to spend time with you. He wants to capture your attention and to have a relationship with you. You are known by your Father from the inside out.

To the girl without a date, you are beautiful. You probably look around and see the girls that have guys fighting for their attention and wonder what makes them more appealing, what they have that you don’t. I bet you come to this conclusion–they’re more beautiful, thinner, funnier, more outgoing and fun, more of everything that you are not. But I want to challenge that. They are beautiful, but so are you. You are altogether beautiful and there is no flaw in you because you were perfectly made in the image of a perfect Father.

To the girl without a date, you are loved. There doesn’t have to be a so called “prince charming” in your life for you to be loved. Look around you at all the ways that God is loving you in this moment through His people and his creation. You are SO loved. So loved that someone died for you. And better yet, He died to save your life. Is there a better, more novel worthy love than that?

Lastly, to the girl without a date (or the girl with the wrong date), hear this: you are worthy. Just because there isn’t a guy pursuing you right now, doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of one. You are worthy of a man that will respect and cherish you. You are worthy of a guy that treats you with patience and gentleness. You are worthy of a gentleman and of being treated like a lady. So, be that lady and wait for a gentlemen. Because you are worth waiting for.

I will leave you with this: You do not need to be thinner or taller or funnier or smarter or more talented and flirtatious or anything else under the sun. You are seen, known, beautiful, loved and worthy just as you are, date or no date.

Breathing Room

Lord, I need breathing room.

That has been my prayer the last couple weeks. When my therapist breathed those words out and I breathed them in– breathing room– a weight I didn’t even know I carried, lifted.

Breathing room. Space. Leeway. Margin. However you say it, I need it.

I’ve never had breathing room. I’ve lived the last 8 (at least) years in a confined space, a box, a little square drawn in the sand. I’ve lived stuck. Stuck in a tight spot. Claustrophobic but afraid.

Eating disorders, many mental illnesses and compulsive behaviors leave no breathing room. They are the tightest-of-tight boxes and the smallest-of-small spaces. There is no room for anything but the rules, the expectations (of self or others), the behaviors. There is no bending from anorexia to go to a birthday party. There is no pausing over-exercising, self-harm or purging just because there is an opportunity to travel. No. No, because there is no breathing room in any of those situations. There is no room for error, no room for a change in plans. You do not stray from the black line. You do not change plans. You do not change your mind. You simply do not, because there is no room for that.

There is no room, because room, margin, leeway. They all mean mistakes, errors, mess-ups, mishaps — failure. Room to breathe means room to fail. And I have never allowed room to fail. Perfection, yes. Failure, absolutely not I’d rather die.

Perfection leaves no breathing room. Anything outside of the realm of perfection, of the expectations placed upon us, is utter catastrophe, sending the world into a dizzy.

I grew up sticking myself in that little box out of fear, desire to please, perfectionism. No one had to put me there. I didn’t need anyone to draw those black lines of my “allowed square inch.” I did that myself.

Strangely enough, I have always hated tight things, anything that confines me physically. I am seriously claustrophobic, yet I am drawn towards this tight confining life. The life that says when and what you can eat, who you can see, what you can do and say, unwritten rules galore.  Rigid, unrelenting, changeless, unforgiving.

So when I heard those words — breathing room, give yourself breathing room– I thought “Can I? Can I really?” All the confining I had done on purpose. All of the restricting I had inflicted upon myself. All of the rigid rules. I did those things. I inflicted it, enforced it. I gave myself a life of confinement, a life without air, without any room to breathe, to fail.

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I gave myself that kind of life, but now I’m choosing to give myself a life that breathes. I need  to give myself room to have hard or bad days. I need room to get overwhelmed and cry. I need room to be imperfect. Because life is not perfect. My family and friends are not perfect. College will not be perfect. There will be overwhelming, hard, straight up bad days where I just want to throw my hands up in defeat. Without breathing room those days are too much, unrecoverable. Those days are failure and make me want to quit. But, insert some breathing room, stretch that square inch a bit, and that same day can be called good. I can laugh at that day. I can pause, breathe deep and say, “this too is good.”

That extra room means that what would have been failure in my teeny-tiny perfect box can instead be called grace, growth, good. That extra room means release of the pressure to be good enough, an end to the proving and the living up. That extra room means God has room to move. Room to change me, bend and break me, mold and challenge me, love and grow me. In my confining life there was no room for anything “else,” not even God.

As I have thought and prayed over this need for breathing room, God gave me this — You don’t need more breathing room. You already have all the room you need. I gave you all the room you could possibly need on the Cross. Just take it. Use it. 

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(image via Pinterest)

Talk about dumb-struck. Of course I have all the room I need. Jesus gave me all the room in the world to fail and fumble and fall on the cross. He gave me so much room, grace (unmerited, undeserved favor), to mess up that I will never be able to use even half of it. It’s immeasurable the grace He has bestowed upon me. James 4:6 says, “But he gave us more grace.” He didn’t just give grace, He gave more grace and even more on top of that. His grace has no constraints. It is freely given to all. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Not just the good or the perfect or the tall or the thin or the pretty or the smart or the talented, but to all. Yet this grace was not given because of something I did. No, this grace is a gift. It’s a gift that God gave in His Son. It’s a gift that cost more than we will ever be able to comprehend. And it’s a gift that we choose to breathe in and live out of daily.

I will leave you with this question — do you need to use more of your gifted breathing room?

Soul Weary

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Photo: Jordan Mitchell

This season of busy has taken over. The last months of my senior year has been full of thesis, final days of high school, parties, graduations, a wedding, and so much more. All beautiful, exciting, good things. I wouldn’t change this season or even slow it down, but I would change my attitude, my perspective, my approach to it.

The truth is, I’m tired. Not physically so, but soul weary. I’m weary inside. Worry has me worn and fear leaves me frustrated. The trying, striving, seeking has left me tired. The heaviness of carrying my own heart & soul hurts leaves me worn to the bone.

My insides ache from too much busy and too little still. Too much busy, building, buying and bearing. Too much emptying and not enough filling. My days consist of waking, only to jump to the first task as hand. Hurrying into my day before a moment of still, a moment of grounding, God-glory stillness. The day carries on from one task to another before I stop and still. Low and behold, it’s night again and physical weariness takes precedence over soul weariness. So I sleep again without the still.

I snap at loved ones. I anger inside. I get hurt deep and hold it all in. I place man before Almighty. I speak before thinking and hate before caring. Withdrawn and weary, I long for solitude. Not necessarily physical solitude, but rather solitude of the soul. Nothing pressing with plans or pain. Nothing vying for my attention. Nothing to chase after or desire for.

Seasons of busy come. There is no stopping them. Life goes on and we must continue living. But what about this weariness? What about this simultaneous emptiness and heaviness I feel? Finally, after weeks I stop long enough to hear Him whisper deep, “Arden, you’re striving after everything but me.” I jolt awake and think, “No, that can’t be! I’m doing everything for you. I’m reaching out to the hurting. I’m serving and listening and trying to love like you.” But as I sit in my weariness, I can see. With his eyes, I can see. In this season, I have worked, planned, executed these good God things and left Him, the very one I so long to glorify, alone. I have carried burdens with my strength alone. I have tried to do things for God, but not with God. I have sought to glorify Him, but I have not sought to include Him in the process.

God wants to be a part of the process. He doesn’t just want me to bring Him a freshly fired vase. He wants to help me make that vase. He’s a hands-on kind of God. He wants to be included in the rolling out of the clay, the spinning, shaping and painting of that vase. He wants into the process. He wants to be a part of the messy, tiresome work. That is what I’ve forgotten in this season. I’ve forgotten to include Him in the process.

My soul longs for the kind of solitude that sinks deep, refreshes my heart, recharges my fighting-for-the-heart dreams, and fills me with more grace and gratitude. I can’t find that kind of solitude in any amount of “alone” days. That kind of soul weariness is only reversed by including Him in the day to day.

You see, I can make that vase on my own. I know how to cut the clay, shape the vase, and fire it in the kiln. But making that one vase will leave me weary and worn. That one vase will drain me, if I make it on my own. I’ll be left empty, with nothing else to give.

Thankfully, I don’t have to make it on my own, and simply show God the finished product at the end. Jesus says in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Do you hear that? His yoke is easy and He’s offering to trade with us. Our heaviness, our emptiness, for his lightness and His fullness. Our weary for His rest.

So, friends, let us not be those that live soul weary. We were made for more than that, yes? Instead, let us be those that sing a psalm of David, “You God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).” He has promised to satisfy and replenish the weary soul (paraphrased, Jeremiah 31:25). There is no need to live wearily trough trying seasons, just getting by and wounding on the way.

We have a God who WANTS to be a part of the process with us. He wants to replenish our weariness. We have water, real thirst-quenching, soul reviving, water. Let’s drink from it and live soul weary no more.

P.S. If you like music, here’s a song by Tenth Avenue North that has been playing while I write through my own weariness.

The Beginnings of Brave

Contrary to popular belief, bravery is not an elusive thing of the past. You don’t have to scale mountains or live in the old Wild West to be brave. You don’t have to fight epic medieval battles or captain a battleship to be deemed brave. Bravery is more than that. It’s more than heroic actions. Would you like to know how I know this?

I grew up on Little House On The Prairie and old fashioned, make-believe worlds. I’m pretty sure I lived and breathed to be brave like Ma, Mary and Laura. Later on I wanted to be brave like Anne Frank, Corrie Ten Boom, my Granna and other Holocaust victims/survivors. I wanted to be brave like the missionaries of old who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel. But I was never brave. I was shy and quiet. Fearful of sleep and wake. Anxious about talking and being silent. Afraid either option would end in humiliation. How could I be brave? I was just little old me.

But now, through a series of events, I’ve decided I am brave. Perhaps not traditionally brave. But brave indeed.

I’m brave because I’m alive. I’m living. I’m thriving, seeking, communing. I’m trying, doing, failing. I’m smiling, laughing, dancing. And that is brave. This right here is brave. Life in its messiest, most chaotic state is brave, because bravery is found in simply living. Living is a truly brave and beautiful thing.

You, yes you, are brave too. No matter who you are or where you come from. You with the cuts and the scars. You’re brave. You with the broken marriage and the empty bed. You’re brave. You with the newborn babe and the tired eyes. You with the messy house, burning dinner and crying kids. You’re both brave. You with the grave and the grieving heart. You’re so brave. You with the plate of food staring back at you and the voices in your head. You’re brave too. You with the boy who took more than you wanted him to. You’re brave. You who gave the boy more than you should have. You’re brave too. 

If you’re anything like me, you’re screaming inside, “I’m not brave! You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve done, who I am! I can’t be brave!” 

Oh, but you are. Brave indeed. 

You’re brave because day after day you choose life. You’re brave because a part of you knows there is hope and redemption for your life. A part of you at least hopes there is hope and sometimes that has to be enough for the moment. You are brave because you keep loving your kids even though they kept you up all night and threw tantrums all day. You are brave because even after loss you dare to love. You are brave because through abuse, abandonment and heartache you live on. 

Still don’t believe me? Read this. 

 

You’re brave because He, the God of the universe from the biggest star to the tiniest cell, says you are. You’re brave because the God Man who rose from the DEAD says you are. You’re brave because Jesus, who took your sin to the cross and said “It is finished,” also looks at you right now and says “You dear one, with the heavy heart, are brave and I love you.” You’re brave not because I say you are but because Jesus Christ says you are. 

The question is, will you believe Him and start living BRAVE?