The With

"The Christian faith doesn't have a prescription for how God fixes our problems.
It doesn't have a simple formula for how and when healing happens or how and when eternal life follows death.  
Instead, Christians simply believe that the greatest power in the universe is God's desire to be in relationship with us,  
a relationship we don't earn so we call it joy,  
a relationship we can't match so we call it love,  
a relationship that never ends so we call it glory,  
a relationship that costs God everything so we call it grace.  
And that desire and that relationship are stronger than the other forces in our lives - evil, sin, and death.  
To be a Christian means to be transformed by the discovery that God is with us in such a way that we stop noticing or counting what God does for us.  
It's not about the for. It's about the with."
Samuel Wells 


Praise Befits the Upright

"Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous 
Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre ...  
Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts.  
For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness."  
Psalm 33:1-4

Even in the hard times, ALL of God's work is done in faithfulness. His Word still stands as our plumb line of righteousness and testifies of the One who has made us righteous.

And so our calling remains to shout, to sing, to praise Him with the talents He has given us! For such is only appropriate for those who have been saved by Him. Praise and thanksgiving set us apart as His children!

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so ...."
Psalm 107:1-2 

So let your praise be contagious. It befits you, His beloved one.


Less Like Gold

Regarding relationships ...

Just wanted to pass off some words of wisdom -- or so I truly believe they are.

My brother and I have been talking about relationships -- those which might result in marriage -- because he has become rather close to a young woman in his life. Why he would ask me (the single lady) for advice, I have no idea!

He holds this young lady so close to his heart and was asking me how to spend time with her, grow with her, love her, all at the right timing and capacity -- definitely a tough balance! Especially since he is still asking God for wisdom on whether or not He would be calling him to pursue her. All I could think to tell him was to love her as purely as Christ loves her, and he responded by saying this:
I want to treat her less like gold and more like Christ does!
I think there is a lot of truth in that!
When you love a person like Christ loves them, you are loving them out of a sacrificial, passionate heart whose ambition is to seek out their good, their spiritual/emotional health, their growth! On the other hand, turn a woman (or man) into gold in your eyes and you put them on a pedestal, idolize them, and risk love turning into lust. They become nothing more than a gilded image in your eyes that you fear you might shatter, or lose! If you truly love a person, you will surrender them into the Father's will and ask Him how He might love that person. Often that means incredible self-control, humility, and patience. Surrender. That is certainly not easy.
But out of such, the purest relationships can result -- or so I imagine and hope!
Just thought I would share, and I truly hope it is sound. Blessings!


Hidden Blessings

It was just one of those mornings. As I was leaving to go to work and locking the door behind me, before I could say, "Thank God it's Friday," I closed the door and realized in horror that I had just locked my keys in my house.

My dad was already teaching his first period class and my mom had just left for Bible study. So I quickly called her to ask if we had a hide-a-key somewhere outside of the house, to which she said no. But your grandpa might have a copy of our house key, she offered hopefully. When I called him up, sure enough, he had one and said he would be right over. In less than five minutes, I saw his bright red Chevy pick-up pull around the corner, and after a hug, my grandpa handed me the house key so I could run inside the house and grab my own keys.

Funny how I didn't even expect to see my grandpa that day, even though he lives just a few blocks away. Mind you, this is my father's father, not the husband of my Grandma Grace (my mother's mother) who recently passed away. I realized that if I hadn't locked my keys in the house that morning, I wouldn't have had the chance to get a hug from my grandpa that morning or hear his chuckle as he told me how his mischevious dog brought a possum into the house the night before.

Driving to work, I thought about how I might not have a lot of time left with my grandparents. I would never have expected my Grandma Grace to contract the illness that she did that caused her time here to be much shorter than it could have been. I thought about how thankful I was to see my Grandpa Chuck that morning, how grateful I am to be his granddaughter, to share a love of music and poetry with him (he, like me, loves to write poetry), and to go to live theater and concerts with him. He once took me to see a play/concert celebrating the music of Irving Berlin, just the two of us (I was the youngest person in that theater by at least 25 years), and it was such an wonderful time.

I love my grandparents. Upon my grandma's passing away I realized that I had, if you will, no regrets. I mean I am thankful to have spent so much incredible time with that precious lady, really getting to know her, all about her. There is always so much to know about a person, but I had the privilege of developing not only a solid grandmother/daughter relationship, but a genuine friendship. I realize that I want/have wanted the same with all of my grandparents. I want to go to more concerts and write more poetry with my Grandpa Chuck, go to Barnes and Noble to geek out over books a hundred more times with my Grandma Maggie, and melt in the tender hugs of my so much more vulnerable Grandpa Tony. The world might see them as outdated, out of touch, or perhaps a bit too smothering, but no matter what they say, grandparents are truly such precious people.

I encourage you if you have family, no matter how immediate or distant, old or young that you feel you don't know all that well, please take the time to. You have no idea how much time you have left with them on this earth. And you have no idea how much of a gift they can be in your life. To know people -- really know them -- is a joy given to us by God. Friendship is a beautiful thing, beyond what words can express. Think of how many people God has placed in your life, in your family, your school, your workplace, your church -- think of how many opportunities are knocking on your front door to explore the depths of someone's soul and often find it is much like your own.

Pay a visit to your grandfather or grandmother. Make a phone call to a parent you maybe haven't talked to in a long while. Get to know that customer who comes in twice a week. Sit next to that student in the back corner and grab a coffee with them after class. It'll mean the world to them and may just end up changing your own world entirely.

And whether it's locking your keys in the car or stalling on the side of the road like my brother did later that night, take advantage of opportunities you have for your world to collide with that of your grandfather or the tow-truck driver who comes to your rescue. God may be offering you a hidden blessing.


Amazing Grace

On Monday morning, my Grandma Grace found herself in the arms of Jesus, finally free of a body weak and run down. But even though her body had grown weary, never did her spirit wane or her faith in her Jesus waver. What a legacy she left to her family!
I try to think of words to describe this beautiful woman. All I can say is that she lived up to her name, Grace. One particular definition of "grace" puts it this way:

An unmerited gift, favor, or blessing granted by God

And truly, this lady was an unmerited gift from God. None of us deserved her laughter, joy, or incomparable hospitality and generosity. She was an example of faith to me in so many ways. She never complained, even through her illness, and was always thinking of others. Even when she could no longer speak, she always sent encouraging texts with prayers and scriptures, and loved worshiping with each of her grandchildren.

Her warmth is missed already, but I am so glad that she has traded her discomfort for eternal glory. As it says in a psalm my good friend sent me:

My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God .... Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You.

What a comfort to know that after all of the longing my grandmother has done for the courts of her Lord, she is dwelling in His house now and will continually be praising Him.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
 II Timothy 4:7-8

I love you, Grandma Grace
May 9, 1934 - October 7, 2013


An Ebenezer

"Is there a God besides Me? Indeed, there is no other Rock; I know not one." Isaiah 44:8

"He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us." Psalm 62:6-8 

"In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul." Psalm 138:3 

"Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand .... Who have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You." Psalm 73:23,25  


Strength Will Rise ...

First off, I want to thank the Lord for meeting with me today in a very real, tangible way. I thank You, Father, for the little glimpses we get of You here on earth. Thank You for increasing my faith.

To be honest, I didn't feel like reading the Word this morning -- ever have those days? It's been a trying season. Lately it seems as though every time I step into deeper waters with God, drawing nearer to His heart, asking for His Spirit, pouring myself out in ministry and encouraging/serving others, I get hit that much harder with spiritual attack. Even last night I wrestled with wave after wave of doubt, fear, and depression and cried out, God, I just can't do this anymore. My family has been going through a lot of lately. But this morning, His Spirit was pressing me to open up His Word yet again.

He brought me to Psalms. God, I've read these before, I told him, expecting to change His mind or something. *face-palm* But He led me to a psalm I don't think I had delved deeply into before.

By the beginning of Psalm 31, I was hooked:
In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to hear me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me ...
I read on and on, the Spirit refreshing me with the simple yet timeless truth that God is still my strength -- cuz right now, I feel as though I have none. Not only that, He is my defender. My mom and I have both had our share of injustices done toward us and people we love, so it is indeed comforting to know that God is a God of justice who comes to the defense of His children. Here is yet another beautiful reminder:
For You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities ...
Here I had felt as though I had dropped off of God's radar. But here, the psalmist confesses that God knows exactly what we're going through. He knows my soul in the hard times. He sees the tears we cry. He knows and understands when our souls cry out, God, I just can't take this anymore -- it's too hard. But who better to know us than the Lord Himself? I mean, really? Where else could we go?

The final verse hit me the hardest:
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
If I can be honest, I had given up in this area. Courage is a choice -- and I have felt as though I have not made the choice to fight or be courageous. Nor had I really had a solid hope that the Lord would come through in certain situations. But here is a promise, that if I indeed take courage, and hope in my Lord again with all the faith I can muster, He will strengthen my heart.

God must have anointed me with faith again, because I started to pray that I would indeed take this promise to heart as I went throughout the day. In fact, I wanted to write that verse down on my hand so that I wouldn't forget it!

But I turned out that I didn't have to. At work today, I was operating the register at the drive-thru window, getting lost in the chaos of cars and cash, when a smiling man drove up in his little beat-up Honda. I knew I had seen that smile before. When I handed him his change, I knew I had even felt those shaky hands before. It was when he pulled out some brightly colored cards and said, "Pick one!" that I remembered -- He was the guy who had come through my workplace before and handed us workers his scripture cards. So I picked one, the green one. My friend working with me also picked one. After I said a smiling goodbye to the man and he drove off, I looked at the scripture on the card I just picked. Wouldn't you know it, this was the verse he handed me:
Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord. -- Psalm 31:24, KJV
All I seemed to hear was God saying, "Noelle, I'm right here. I've never left you. I am right here with you. And if you continue to hope in me, dearest one, I WILL strengthen your heart." And He did.

You see, tomorrow is my last day at this job that I have been in for more than two years: definitely bittersweet. I had this hunch that God was indeed calling me to quit -- I say hunch because I am still plagued with a sense of doubt that it was the right decision! Especially when I consider all the people -- coworkers and customers -- that I am leaving behind. And considering that God would call me out without giving me another job to lean on. The world would shout at me, Are you crazy? Quitting before you know what you're doing afterwards? That's stupid! And to be honest, I still feel a little stupid about it. But God has been doing a lot through my resignation. He's already been doing a lot through my boss. And in that beautiful little affirmation through that little green scripture card given by that smiling man, God has given me some insane peace that it's all going to work out. So I am going to hope in the Lord. 

After church tonight, as another sweet affirmation from God, we sang these well-known (yet no less encouraging!) lyrics in the closing song:
You are the everlasting God ...
You're the defender of the weak 
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles ...   
Fully believing and trusting God's promises is not always easy, especially when we go through times when things just aren't working out the way we think they should, or at least what seems logical or reasonable to us. But I am slowly learning that God is not inside our box--He is the uncreated One who is completely beyond us. If He is that much more above us, how much more worthy is He of our complete trust? Who else could we ever trust? Who else could we possibly turn to? He is the only One. My problems and struggles are far from being resolved, but if I truly believe that He is ALL I need--my defender, my strength, my hope now and always--then I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. And I will be soaring like an eagle.   



From King's Cross by Timothy Keller

Jesus is saying, "It's not enough just to know me as a teacher or as an abstract principle; you have to look at my life. I went to the cross--and on the cross I lost my identity so you can have one.

Once you see the Son of God loving you like that, once you are moved by that viscerally and existentially, you begin to get a strength, an assurance, a sense of your own value and distinctiveness that is not based on what you're doing or whether somebody loves you, whether you've lost weight or how much money you've got. You're free--the old approach to identity is gone. Nobody put this better than C. S. Lewis in the last two pages of his Mere Christianity, where he comments on Jesus' call to lose yourself to find yourself:

The more we get what we now call "ourselves" out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become ... our real selves are all waiting for us in him ... The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surrounding and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call "Myself" becomes merely the meeting-place for trains of events which I never started and I cannot stop. What I call "My wishes" become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men's thoughts ... It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His personality, that I finally begin to have a real personality all of my own ... [Nevertheless], you must not go to Christ for the sake of [a new self]. As long as your own personalitty is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all.

If you go to Jesus to get a new personality, Lewis says, you still haven't really gone to Jesus. Your real self will not come out as long as you are looking for it; it will only emerge when you're looking for him.


"Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it."  -- Mark 8:34-35


Rest Oration

This is skin.
This is the beginning of vulnerable.
the sting of cleansing,
the burn of antiseptic.

Refinement is fire
And blood, purification

To rest before You
is to arrive
of my sorrows,
my stresses,
my fear.
is only found
in weakness.

If brokenness
is peace,
I throw my mirrors
upon the temple floor
and kneel
into the shards, 
before Your mercy seat.

Revive me
with incense,
Or I’ll only go back
into the black.

Yet, lead me into darkness
so I can see the Light

And there, I’ll find my rest


Like an Unforseen Kiss

Intimacy. An idea I have struggled with lately. Actually, most of my life, come to think of it. I'm only being honest. It frightens me. Especially when I consider that the Almighty, Omniscient God of the heavens desires intimacy with me.

I don't know if anyone else is disturbed by this idea. But sometimes when I take a good, long look at everything inside, when I scrutinize my humanity, I gawk at the idea of anyone desiring an intimately close connection with this frail human being. Then I realize that Jesus died for such an opportunity. And it is nothing at all to be afraid of.

Yes, God, is combining my circumstances together to resound into a cry, a longing, a desperate burning for the intimacy He has created me to experience.

One night before I went to bed, exhausted from what has felt like running around like a mindless machine, I wanted to see a glimpse of God. I prayed, Jesus, can I please see You again? Can You just remind me who You are? And He lovingly gave me this passage: Luke 7:36-50.

My heart cannot possibly spill out the precious gemstones I collected from this passage. All I can say is, I saw Jesus.  

I saw the woman, this woman with a past: alone, desperate, and in a complete understanding of all this Man was for her. She recognized her need, her inner, desperate need for Someone to save her. And she had faith that He actually could save her. And that faith, that precious faith that perfectly understood who Jesus Christ was, why He came, what He could do for her, caused her to weep at His feet in what I believe is the most poignant picture of worship in the entire Bible. I truly wished I was that woman.

Yet who had I become? I found more similarities in the Pharisee, Simon, than I did in this humble, lowly woman. Simon had become so comfortable in religion. His sacred traditions had become his god. He had relied upon his own goodness to save him for so long that when the Savior walked into his house, he did not recognize Him as such. In his pride, he had no need for Him--for a Savior.

For years, I have realized in conviction how jaded I have become with religion: acts of duty and not of love. How easy it is to know doctrine, to memorize Scriptures and be consumed by them -- and yet be so blinded by such that it becomes difficult to see the face of Jesus Himself. I recalled the earlier years of my life, so focused on being a picture-perfect Christian that I had come to a place of reliance upon religion. Through religious ceremonies, I thought I was saving my own self. What a tiring, lonely road.

Yet I am touched that Jesus did not lash out at Simon. Nor did He lash out at the woman of sin. Rather, He gave them a glimpse of God, a God radically different than any Jew of the day had known before--a God who recklessly loves and graciously forgives all sinners, all the poor and powerless.

This week marks my church's two-year anniversary. In celebration of God's faithfulness and goodness, we looked back at how the church started as a Bible study among friends to become a larger body of believers all gathered under the roof of a local movie theater. And what a body it is. What testimonies all of these people have! I have heard with my own ears the glorious testimonies of dear friends who have been delivered from various addictions, pains, struggles, and sins. And yet I look into their eyes to see the freeing Spirit of Christ shining through them. Hallelujah! Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty! These friends of mine had each come to a point in their lives where they recognized their inescapable need for Someone to rescue them -- and they found their salvation in Jesus Christ Himself.

I praise God for the work in their lives. And each week, I see them come in to serve. They wash the feet of Jesus with their tears, pour out a sweet fragrance before Him as they minister, and kneel in utter gratitude at the miraculous work He has done for them. They know the definition of adoration, for they who have been forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47).

And so I ask myself the question: will I walk in the pride of religious practice, building a protective barrier around my heart impenetrable to God's amazing grace? Or do I have the guts to humble myself, realize how broken I am, and realize that grace alone saves me and not the confines of religious ritual I have followed for so long?

How much sweeter to feel the gentle touch of the Lord's deep healing? How much more freeing to experience His radical grace and forgiveness? How much more rewarding to possess so great a faith to believe--to clasp tightly to my chest--that Jesus loves me? Heaven meets earth like an unforseen kiss. Am I afraid of that kind of intimacy? Or can I just let go and let love come crashing in?

I have come to understand that my inbred desire is to be like this God, to live the words of Isaiah 61 by the Spirit who lives in me, to be like the beautiful Jesus described in the lyrics of this song:

You are the God of the broken
Friend of the weak
You wash the feet of the weary
Embrace the ones in need
I want to be like You, Jesus, to have this heart in me
You are the God of the humble
You are the humble king

Oh, that I can live out Christ's undying love to others by adopting His Spirit, that I can be a vessel of healing, as He has healed my friends of so much, that I can reach out to those hurting as He so desires to do. He says blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn and are broken (Matthew 5:3-10), those contrite (or literally lame and weak!) in spirit (Isaiah 66:2). And that I might behold that glorious, awe-filled day when we may all, equally, rejoice and worship before the throne together.

Oh, that I can weep uncontrollably at the incredible reality of all the God-man has done for me. That I might experience true intimacy. That heaven might meet earth in that incomprehensible, radical, passionate, unutterable unforseen kiss.



The call to die
resounds alarmingly within my heart—
But how can I walk the land of the living
as one dead?
How can the heavenly ghost endure
the casual comings and goings
of the common man?

With one foot, I run to You
With the other, I run away
I come so close,
tip-toeing along the brink of the edge
where I know I must plunge head-first
into the crevasse—
One does not merely trip onto the altar

He holds the dagger above His holy, all-knowing head
I welcome the sting of the blade,
the cutting of the self,
the purging of this spotted heart—
and yet,
when the edge becomes immediate,
I flinch—
I flee,
crying, Father of Abraham,
Why me?

Why must I be given
the gift
of intimacy?


A Closer Heaven

Within a few brief days, a number of pretty intense incidents have sent my emotions reeling into quite a roller coaster.
I have watched my grandmother's terminal illness take another turn for the worse. And I'm scared.
My great-aunt is dying of cancer. Hopefully she'll make it through another couple of weeks.
My neighbor across the street fainted in her kitchen, banged her neck on the counter, and was paralyzed from the neck down.
A friend and coworker of my father, who had been a quadripalegic all his life, was quite suddenly taken to be with the Lord.
As my brother is barely weeks into his new job, he has seen three of his coworkers hospitalized with urgent maladies.
All of these events, one on top of another, have left me exhausted, trembling, and confused. But I have to tell you that all of the above certainly brought me to my knees -- they went crashing to the floor.

I thought I could come up with some kind of neat summation, some lesson learned, something I could wrap up in a blog post and put a nice, pretty, spiritual bow on it. But somehow, I can't bring myself to do that.

What I will say is, heaven seems a whole lot closer now than it ever has been before.

I love the way Max Lucado puts it -- a "Goodbye" on earth is in reality a "See you tomorrow" for the Christian. That brought me so much peace. I remembered the face of my dad's friend and realized he has a new body now, one that's completely whole. He has gone to his heavenly home and is waiting for us.

I really don't want to think of the day my grandma will pass -- though there are some days admittedly where I just can't stand to see her go through anymore pain or discomfort and wish God would take her soon. Then I realize that she too, along with my great-aunt soon, will pave the way for me, to heaven. They'll be waiting for us.

For those who have experienced death before of an immediate friend or family member, it really does bring the reality of heaven so much closer, doesn't it? It almost gives me a giddy feeling inside to picture those whom I love, those who are sick, with entirely new bodies, ones that can withstand the immense glory of God. And I remember what heaven is really all about -- seeing God.

Lately, I had not had the courage to even look God in the face. I so easily become caught up in self-condemnation and shame. Yet the closer I draw near to His cross, the brutal cross which I could never entirely stomach before, the more He is giving me the boldness to look directly into His piercing eyes. That is heaven. Looking into the face of God. The overwhelming reality, the overpowering feeling of "now" in which we are forever caught in His embrace.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that we are closer to heaven than we think. It is literally just around the corner. Heaven is just another word for the place where God dwells. It is not some magical place on a cloud in the sky. It's right next to you. God is right next to you. You can't see Him face to face now. But you will.

Do you know Him well enough? If you were called home or raptured today, would you have gone on enough coffee dates with Him, read enough of His sweet love letters, experienced the joy of His Spirit to really know Him? Because heaven, eternal life, is one big reality of Him. God the Father. God the Son. God the Spirit.
Are you ready to meet Him?

I hope this was encouraging in some way. And if you could, Reader, please pray for the people mentioned above. For me, even. For my family. Praise God, my neighbor was able to itch her nose and move her upper torso, but please pray for complete healing. I'll hopefully post praise reports as they come.


Poured Out

Per request of my good friend who could not make it to study tonight, I scribbled a few notes from my church’s midweek service, in Philippians 2. Being such an admirer of metaphors, and since it coincidentally has much to do with the title of my blog (We are all vessels in the hands of the Master Potter, my pastor said), I copied this metaphor down for being so poignant.
In Philippians 2:17, after Paul encourages the Philippians to do all things without complaining or making excuses so that we can shine as lights amongst our generation (v. 14-15), he says that as he is being poured out like a drink offering, he is rejoicing. "Poured out like a drink offering." I confess, I didn't know what that meant until my pastor came up with an illustration for his interpretation.

Imagine I’m holding a ceramic mug in my hands (since I am oh so fond of ceramic mugs). Now, you can’t see what’s in the mug. It could be water. It could be cranberry juice. It could be coffee (and if you know me, it probably would be). But you cannot see its contents from the way I am holding it.

But say my friend, maybe the one who asked me for the notes from study, comes up from behind and bumps into me (accidentally, of course). Well, you can imagine what would happen. All of a sudden, the contents of my mug would come spilling out. And if it really was coffee that I was storing inside of the mug, well, you would see a flood of coffee-colored liquid pouring out. (Try not to think about the carpet.)

The question is, should your friend knock you over, what would be inside your mug?

Things in life are going to bug us, drive us crazy, depress us, trouble us. Circumstances beyond our control will take us for a spin. They will “disturb the mug,” if you will. What comes pouring out is entirely up to you.

My pastor gave this example. Say you are driving on the freeway, going a casual speed, and someone cuts you off, slams on their brakes in front of you, gives you the, well, finger, and screeches off in a puff of smoke. Your reaction will be one of two things, depending on what is already in your mug.

A. If you have been filling your mug throughout the day with the world, with complaining thoughts, excuses, and selfish desires, your reaction is going to be one of anger, naturally. You might lash back and cut him off in that anger. The thing is, since you were storing up all of that anger throughout the day, it only makes sense that when something irksome happens, that’s what would come pouring out. All that anger was already in your mug. It just took someone to cut you off on the freeway for it to manifest itself.

Or …

B. If you have been soaking in God’s Word, meditating on Him, thoughts tuned in toward prayer and worship, when that person cuts you off, sure, it’s only human to have a reaction of surprise or alarm—even frustration. But then you can return back to a state of peace, because that peace of mind was already in your mug. You might even say a prayer for that person as he zooms off. Nothing can phase you because you have been filling your mug with Jesus all day.

So what is in your coffee mug? What will come spilling out when life gets tough?

Paul said that he was being poured out as a drink offering as he was in prison. In that position, he had every right to be depressed or angry. But he had been filling the mug of his life with God’s Spirit, and because of that, he was able to pen the “epistle of joy”—the letter to the Philippians—as a result of his consistent communion with Christ his Savior. A drink offering is also symbolic of "the joy of completion." It symbolizes the completed work of Christ in what He did on the cross. David, in the book of II Samuel, poured out a precious drink of water that his men risked their lives for by crossing enemy lines to get it for him. Yet as thirsty as he was, he poured it all out, that water. Paul's life was filled with that holy water, that work of Christ, that sacrifice that Jesus Himself was made out of, was filled with.

Convicting, I know. But we all have the opportunity to be poured out as a drink offering. People are watching us, whether we like it or not. Some will bump into us on purpose just to see what will come spilling out. So before life hits you from behind, before times get crazy and you are knocked over by happenstance, what are you filling your little mug with? And are you willing to be poured out so others can see the joy that is in you and glorify God?

Sometimes, God Himself will nudge you just to show you yourself what you’re made of, or, what you're filled with. What will you find? He already knows.


Slowing Down

At the tail-end of graduating from college and now entering a place of rest (thank God), I was struck by a devo I read the other day entitled, "How Is My Walk?" I read from the words of Melody Mead, just coming out of an intensely "busy" season of my life:

"I often try to picture Jesus on His way, talking, touching, teaching, and never hurried. His life would draw me in, calm me down, focus me, and set me on course. As I go my way and walk my journey, does my life do this for others? Or do they look at me and not want my life because it is too full, too fast, and too self-absorbed? Am I making the most of opportunities on which my journey takes me? Do others want to walk with me as I walk with Jesus?"

Immediately, I was convicted. I was filled with stinging regret. I looked back at this last semester of college and realized how "busy" I was. I recalled how many excuses I had made because I was "too busy." I had refused so many opportunities to just spend time with people because my head was always spinning with the next thing I had to do. Truly, my life was indeed "too full, too fast, and too self-absorbed." I knew why others could not walk with me -- I was walking too fast, not slowing down enough to walk at Jesus' pace.

I couldn't go to college Bible study events because of my sorority events. I couldn't go to sorority events because I had something with my church. I couldn't go to a chuch event because of work. I got shifts covered at work because of something with school. And school itself became less of a priority because of all the above.

In all of the darting around from one engagement to the next, the faces of precious people around me would become blurred, less focused. I am grateful for the sweet friendships I was able to cultivate and nurture, but I cannot help but think of the others I could have spent time with but was unable to because I had spread myself too thin. I found myself asking why I was involved in all of these things in the first place. Usually when you find yourself in that place, something is definitely wrong.

I used to envy those people who did 50-something things and looked so accomplished, so together. But I have learned something about busy-ness. For one thing, the more spread out you are with different commitments and such, the less you are able to give to those things. It only makes sense. For another thing, your identity is found in the things you do rather than the person you are: a child of God. You begin to place your sense of self-worth in the works you are able to accomplish.

But at the end of the day, you just end up really tired.

I am so thankful that God has given me the opportunity now to just rest. How good it has been. At first, I was miserable at the thought of not going to grad school or getting an internship or career-launching job. But the deeper God takes me into His rest, the more I realize that my value is found in Him and Him alone, that I need not do anything at all to be loved by Him, and that we are not meant for here. We seek a greater city, a greater existence, yet to come (Hebrews 13:14).

I urge you, brother or sister in Christ, please, do not make the same mistake I did. Don't miss out on opportunities to be God's love to people because you have found yourself caught in busyness. Slow down. Stop if you have to -- don't come to the point where God has to do it for you. Ask yourself, is the work I am doing fueled by a desire to serve God and His people, or is it just work? Am I giving God the glory through my pursuits, or pursuing things that will give myself glory?

If you are in the same place I am in and wish you could go back to redeem lost opportunities, I urge you as well to stop. The past is gone. But you have today. Forget the things behind you and pursue all that God has ahead (Philippians 2:13). Even today, now, in this very moment, lift your gaze upward where it belongs and ask God what He wants you to do in the now -- even if it is to simply rest.

Do not place your value on the things that you do. If you are called to only one job or commitment, be thankful, for you can give 100% to that one thing and do it well. If you are called to many things, make rest in God your priority, ask Him to give you wisdom on spending your time wisely and being interruptible for people.

Remember: God does not want us to do things for Him. He wants us to simply be in Him.


Where Feet May Fail ...

(A beautiful song about faith that God has spoken through to me lately. Highly recommend a listen.)

You've called me out upon the waters
The great unknown, where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand

And I will call upon Your Name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed, and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your Name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior ...

"Oceans" by Hillsong United



To fall upon the Rock
And be broken,
Fragments of flesh
Scattered upon the skin of the earth

What will I have left, O Potter?
Once I have shattered under the greatness
Of Your love,
What remains?
Who am I?

You are Mine.

Your breath of wind gathers the pieces
Of broken glass, of fragile substance,
And from the dust of the earth,
You breathe life
Into the shards

I marvel
As Your meticulous hands
Create a masterful mosaic,
A macadam pathway
To Your side--
The broken road to glory

Beloved, I am yours,
As He opens hollowed hands

And as my hand is grasped within Your own,
This glorious truth is all I need to know


Rejection Is Protection

     I opened the letter with trembling hands, at once recognizing the illustrious university logo on the front of the envelope. I had applied to their graduate program two months ago and had been reassured that all of my paperwork was in order. Why would they send me another letter? Perhaps to once again pacify my mind that they had indeed received every piece of my application? Were they inviting me to another on-campus event?

     I unfolded the letter -- to find it suprisingly short. Reading it through, I understood why.

     I had been rejected to their Master of Fine Arts program.

     After reading their brief "thanks but no thanks" note in regards to my qualification to their establishment, I should have cried. I should have torn the letter in pieces or pounded the table with my fist. Any person would have just claim to do so. After all, in certain terms, I was a reject! But what did I do?

     I skipped through the house giggling and began to cry tears of joy!

     Okay, so it helped that I had just come home from church and was on a Holy Spirit high; thank God for that! But why such an unusual reaction to a seemingly upsetting piece of news ? Because I knew that I was that much closer to discovering God's great plan for my future! He had closed this door -- He had helped narrow down my options for me. And I know, eventually, He isn't just gonna open a window -- He is going to lower the drawbridge to a massive castle gate to His perfect will!    

     In case it was not clear, yes, I was intending to attend the MFA program at a university not too far from my house -- a private, renowned university I always ride my bike past or walk through. I wanted it so bad. I knew God had shut the door on other options I had been considering, so I figured he would want me to at least take a shot at applying for this program. So I did. I spent the $60. I spent painstaking hours collecting and refining 20 pages of poetry to create a portfolio. I wrote a lengthy essay of intent and asked a few of my professors for letters of recommendation. And God gave me such a peace through the entire ordeal. It was kind of exciting, actually.

     Two months later, I have found myself $60 dollars short, my pride slightly wounded (if I'm really honest with myself), and nowhere close to having a finalized plan for my future. But though I might have every cause to feel "rejection," through it all, I have realized yet another cool reality about God:

     Our rejection is often evidence of His protection.

     When I reach for a chocolate chip cookie at a social gathering and my friend swats my hand away (reminding me that I am vegan and I might regret indulging in that delicious disaster), I shouldn't feel rejected -- she's trying to protect me from pain.

     Or when I fell into an emotional relationship with a guy a year and a half ago, whom I was "rejected" by when he realized, after leading me on and hinting at a future relationship, that he had disobeyed the Lord by doing so -- I began to see (after wiping away the weeks of tears that had blurred my eyes) that God was indeed protecting me. Only after I came to my senses did I realize that he was not at all compatible with me, that he was not the spiritual leader I need in a relationship leading to marriage. God has someone better in mind, a far better fit for me than he was.

     God, like a loving Father, will brush away our hand when we are about to touch something dangerous. He will shield us from engaging in something that will not benefit us, that is not in accordance with the perfect plan He has for us. When we endure such trying circumstances in life, we may feel tempted to call ourselves rejects. But the truth is, we are very much the opposite -- as children of God, we are blessed with belonging to a gracious Father whose desire is for our edification, our joy, our blessing -- our protection.
     What a wonderful God!

     I may want to feel like a failure to myself and others for not having a specific plan for the future. I may have been rejected by something stable, something that could have given me security. But this earthly rejection only drives me deeper into His heavenly protection. I now have (literally) nowhere else to go but straight into His arms. And I am, with all of my heart, so grateful for that.

     After all, this is not my home. Praise God for the assurance of heaven! 

     Brothers and sisters in Christ, may our security and protection be found in Him and Him alone, who has great plans in store for us, earthly and heavenly -- the latter of so much greater importance!


     Some verses that got me through:

     "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
     Jeremiah 29:11

     "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?"
     Hebrews 12:7

     "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
     Ephesians 2:10

     " ... being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."
     Philippians 1:6

     "For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come."
     Hebrews 13:14


Worship II

Hope you don't mind more on the topic of worship leading. Every time I lead worship, God is so faithful to teach me something. He is amazing and so gentle in His teaching. I love it.

~~ * ~~

Tuesday night, I came home utterly exhausted, close to tears, and battered by the enemy's attacks. I was supposed to lead worship at my church the following evening, but I felt so discouraged, I was already telling myself I wouldn't go, that I would just bow out.

But I knew deep down that if I didn't go, I would miss out on something awesome.

So, I kept telling myself that I would, no matter how crummy I felt. Come Wednesday, thank God, He totally covered me throughout the entire day, restoring my strength despite the four hours of sleep I got the night before, granting me peace through my midterms, and providing me with the courage I needed to go up on stage that night. I know His presence was following me each and every moment.

I read through the set list my worship leader sent through an email -- he wanted me to lead the song, "The Greatness of Our God" from Hillsong United. Funny aside -- every time my leader asks me to lead on a song, the song always recapitulates a message God has been teaching me. Every time. Laugh out loud. God is too much! Sure enough, this song reverberates all that God has been showing me in my life lately, that He is far greater than I could ever imagine, that none of my doubts could ever restrain Him, that I have barely scratched the surface to knowing all of His character, and that He is walking close beside me. As I have been crying out to Him, "Take what I have known / and break it all apart" (part of the lyrics to the song), He is answering my prayer.

The chorus just says it all. Chew on these lyrics a bit:

And no sky contains,
No doubt restrains all You are,
The greatness of our God
I spend my life to know,
And I'm far from close to all You are,
The greatness of our God

Once again, God gave me the indescribable privilege of leading His people into deeper exploration of who He is, His greatness, His love, His mystery. Amazing.

There was just one problem: the key I was asked to sing it in was way too low for my vocal range. But the key my leader chose flowed with the rest of the songs in the set, so there was no hope that the band could transpose it to a different key for me. I started to panic a little bit. But, in the best obedient spirit that I could muster, I gave it to God and waited expectantly for Him to take over my voice and empower it with strength, finesse, and volume.

But something much better happened.

For those of you who don't know, I am a notorious perfectionist, something I have been praying for God to gradually pull from my personality (especially since I know it stems from pride -- yuck!). So every time I sound check and get ready to practice the worship set, I can get a little too carried away with the technical aspect, making sure my voice sounds absolutely perfect, that I belt every note, that my timbre is smooth, flawless. Every time I sing in a lower key, however, all kinds of bad stuff happens. I end up singing with my throat, not my diaphragm, my voice gets kind of squeaky, and it definitely does not sound like my best -- but my leader keeps giving me songs to lead in lower keys anyways. Can't help but chuckle; gotta love how God stretches us.

When the time came for me to lead on my song, God all of a sudden flooded me with an uncanny peace. My throat was already burning from practice, but I knew I just needed to worship. Throughout the song, a singer's nightmare happened: my voice went off pitch and cracked multiple times, I sounded more like I was croaking than singing, and I ended up whispering some of the words because they were far below my range. But through it all, to my surprise, I was so filled with joy! I was more happy than I have ever been leading a song! Because of my flaws, the pressure of being perfect was off my shoulders -- I could simply worship my God. Every instance my voice cracked, I was somehow drawn deeper into His presence -- so good! And I had such a joy in helping others see Him (hopefully), and I could not help but hope that my squeaky voice gave them the confidence to sing out even stronger.

A small and insignificant anecdote, I know, but it's the little things God shows me that tickle me all over.

I am full of faults, but He is faithful. I may fail, but He fixes me. I am far from close to knowing all He is, but I do know He is my Father. I am still grasping that truth day after day. He is greater still. One day, my little heart is gonna explode from all His greatness! So glad I'm getting a new body in heaven that can actually withstand His glory ...  

... That you may know ... what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead ....

Ephesians 1:18-20