Seeds of Hope

So I have so many things that I can honestly write about and really, I want to write about them. Specifically I want to write about race and just how it impacts my life, which I will,-but I wanted to be transparent. I wanted to honestly share and talk about how things are right now. The reality of my feelings in the present, so that hopefully, healing will come.

There is nothing that I have wanted more since this semester has begun, than to finish grad school. Y’all, I was T I R E D of it. I didn’t want to do it anymore! The late night studying, the cramming, the agonizing-I wanted it to be over. But friends, now, it IS over and I feel….weird. I don’t feel as relieved as I hoped I would. I feel a bit lost. Vulnerable. Afraid.

Without school, who am I? The majority of my life up until now has been about school and solely about that for me. I lived, breathed, and ate school. It was what I did and I did it well. In some ways too, I really enjoyed it (well, once I found my passion and followed it). I feel almost like I’m retired. I understand now to some degree, why older adults struggle so much when they have the opportunity to stop working. I mean you work your whole life and then you can just stop and relax? I guess?

I know you may be thinking, well Anna, of course this is not retirement-you just get a job and work and there’s the answer! I don’t disagree with you. If I was working a full time job right now then yeah, I’d probably feel less of this strange feeling I feel now. Stuck, maybe. Struggling to decide what exactly it is I want to do and going for it.

I think a lot of it is getting choked up by my own fears. My fears of inadequacy. These doubts that immediately come up once I set my hopes on something. These doubts that tell me that I can’t do that job, that I don’t have the experience, that I’m not the right fit….that have been crippling me. The reason I’m writing about it, is because I think I need to address it. I need to remember that I’m not alone. I need to remember that these are lies. I also need to be pushed towards the arms of Jesus, who reminds me everyday that He loves me in whatever state I am. Even in this state right now, of uncertainty and doubt.

Friends, there is so much to be celebrated. Next week, I get my Masters. I get to celebrate how far God has brought me-from that uncertain freshman in 2012, to an uncertain graduate student in 2018. I don’t have all the answers. Truthfully a lot of it remains in the air. But I have hope that Jeremiah 29:11-13 is true.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Many things in this life are imperfect. There is a time and a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1) and maybe right now not everything is going the way I thought they would. Maybe it feels difficult, frustrating, and a bit sad-but today I’m choosing to say yes to giving these things to Jesus and trusting him with the unknowns. Waiting is hard. Trusting is hard. Feeling lost is hard. But I’m not alone….and neither are you.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:12 NIV

I’m sending good vibes to you and praying for you. Please say a prayer for me too. Thanks for reading 💕

Advertisements

The Heart of God

So if you had a chance to read my last blog, you know by now that this year I’m making a commitment to spend more time with God. I’m happy to say that 23 days in, I’m still honoring that commitment and it’s been a beautiful thing for me. Something that I’ve been using is the Bible App-(which you can download super easily)-on there there’s an option to add your friends and they can do plans with you. I have found that to be what’s keeping me accountable and active in staying engaged in my Word. Community is really important.

But most importantly, I’m reminded everyday of the character, majesty, love, and just awe of God. I have been blessed with moments, albeit small moments, to just reflect on who He is and just how awesome He is.

I feel like I’m beginning to really understand who He is-not who I think He should be, not what others think He should be like-but simply who He is. A loving father who loves deeply and also corrects His children. He is not just one thing. Lately though, I think I’ve just been getting small glimpses of His deep love for His people-specifically those on the margins.

One day, I was on the subway going to the city to meet with a friend for dinner. I was sitting down and reading when I heard someone begin to call attention to the train asking if someone could help him. This was his story: he shared that he had no one in the world to help him. He is 20 years old and for the past few years he had struggled with a heroin problem. He is afraid to go back to the shelter because he had been robbed and is just trying to make it through. He kept saying, “I don’t have anybody in the world to help me-would someone please help me” he was crying. He was desperate. I looked up and I felt like my heart broke in two.

Not one person had looked at him as he made his way through the train. Not one person seemed to care. I had a bit of change so I gave it to him, but all I could muster up was “it’s not much” I didn’t know what to say. I had gotten off the train because it was my stop and thought to myself immediately-what more could I do? Should I try to do more-but he continued down the train. I felt like I had not done anything. That it was useless. So I just started to pray. I prayed that God would comfort him and being him peace. I prayed that someone else would see him as I did and be able to do more than I was able to think of in that moment. I prayed.

Another day I was in my car. I was stopped at a light and a man was on the side of the road. I rolled down my window and gave him a granola bar. I looked at him. I saw his face. He said to me, “wow this is actually my favorite-thank you so much, God bless you” and all I said was “I’m glad-please stay warm” and continued on my way. I prayed for him as I drove away.

Honestly it never feels like enough. I always feel inadequate in these situations. There is always someone in need and sometimes I’m not in a position to do much-but here is what I realize I can do. I can look at them. I can see them. A big part of it is that these people aren’t viewed as made in the image of God. They’re looked down upon and assumptions are made about them, people look away. I look away. In doing so-I reject a part of the body. I challenge you to not look away. Even if all you can do is pray for them (whether actually praying for and with them or just to yourself) I think the ability to see people who are otherwise forgotten is important.

My heart felt a deep pain that day when I heard that mans story on the train. I think that will always stick with me…and to think-that feeling is only a small, small fraction of how hurt God is by it. How deeply He longs for His son to be seen.

Honestly, I used to think that having a compassionate heart made me weak. I thought that I would be crippled by it. But I think it’s a blessing to have a heart for people and I’m still trying to find the right balance. At the core of it-I’m learning to just give these things I cannot fix on my own to God and resting in the fact that one day everything will be restored.

May you be grateful for all you have today, the good and the bad.

May you take a moment-a fraction of a second-too see those around you.

““The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:40 NIV

Thanks for reading friend!

2018

I know you’re probably tired of reading about resolutions and the things to come in this new year. It can be like information overload and this internal screaming of “who cares” when someone posts a status about it-or urges you to help them stick to their new year resolution. At least, that’s often how I feel about it-or have felt. I am not a fan of “new year new me” mindsets and for some time I hated the idea of even reflecting when the new year rolled in.

What is there to reflect on? Another year came and has passed, big whoop. Yes, I’m grateful God has let me see a new year-but why do I need to reflect on the year? Things happened-they happened everyday, what is so special about this time period? As you can tell-I had some bitterness about it. Unable to control my internal desire to just press forward and not look back. To ignore the hurdles that I’ve faced in the past year, while simultaneously ignoring the victories.

This year, God dealt with these things in me and showed me how reflecting is a valuable tool to see where I have been, where I need to improve, and where I could go. It’s important. I realized a few things and set for myself some spiritual resolutions. This year, I am committing to taking an actual Sabbath, reading my Bible each day, and generally just spending more time with God-in prayer and in silence.

I think these things are important for me to successfully end my college career. I cannot do it in my own strength or with my own “wisdom”. I need Gods help. I also need to learn the importance of rest and of truly trusting God.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the practice of Sabbath, it involves taking a full 24 hour or 12 hour period to rest. This means no work during the allotted time-spending time with God in prayer, silence, etc. and allowing yourself the ability to do things you delight in that give you rest. On that day work stops and you trust that when you slow down, everything won’t just explode, but will be ok.

Pastor Rich reminded me of that. In his New Year sermon, he spoke about the fact that many of us live our lives in full speed, feeling that if we just took one minute to slow down-chaos would ensue. It sounds a bit silly, right? But that’s actually how I’ve been living my life. I am constantly going. Constantly filling my life with the noise of a busy schedule, with about 1 day a week off (if I’m lucky) and no time to rest or reflect. I worried that if I took time to Sabbath in all this busyness, I would somehow fail and things would in fact explode.

So I told God and my friends, I’ll take a Sabbath when grad school is over-maybe I’ll have plenty of time then. But honestly that’s a lie-because I’m sure in some way, I’ll use the busyness of life as an excuse to not slow down and not be with the Father. For much of the end of my 2017, God kept shoving these verses in my face: “28 come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 for my yoke is easy and my burden is light -Matthew 11:28-30

I kept seeing it everywhere and I kept saying, I know God I am weary and burdened, but I can’t rest yet-there’s no time. Have you ever felt that way? Have you been living life at full speed because you’re afraid what will happen when you slow down? I’ve been there friend, I am still learning.

This year, I pray that God reveals things to you-that allow you to bear fruit in His promises for you. May He show you what it is you’ve been holding-so that you can let it go and move to your next stage on this journey with Him. With every step in our lives, may we remember that God is with us and for us. May we remember we are not alone and have each other to lean on, pray for, and be in community with. God bless you in this new year with vision and faith beyond measure. May God bless you always.

Resources:

Pastor Rich’s Grand Examen sermon: https://youtu.be/gZAauF3laXQ

Bible verse: Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

Obedience

If there’s anything that I can say for sure that I know to be true about myself is this: I love God. I am unashamed by this and proud that I can say that. He has blessed me with so much and his love is endless. His grace is abundant. He is a good, good father.
But, it’s really hard to love God. It’s hard to go through situations and feel stuck or even worse, feel like you’re all alone. Like God has peaced out and said “well I’m done, so good luck” there are times when truthfully,I wish I was ignorant about who He was, because then I could do what I want. I could live “freely”. But what really is free?
Obedience is a hard pill to swallow as a believer (and in life honestly). It is difficult to say no to my own will and yes to God’s. This is the constant battle with Sin. One that we will always have to fight.
Everyday when I wake up, I am thankful that I’m alive, I’m thankful that I still have my sanity, I’m thankful for so much and everyday, I must challenge myself to lay down my own will and replace it with God’s.
Everyday, I have to willingly die to my flesh. It sucks. I was talking to God today and I started thinking about obedience. About how it’s so difficult to practice obedience in our walks with God.
I realized that I’m at a place where I have this longing to be obedient. This longing to please God and it’s difficult. It’s better than sacrifice, but honestly usually it feels like a sacrifice to be obedient.
I am like a stubborn child who is always trying to pull Gods hand towards the place I want to go. As he gently tugs my hand towards the direction we should be going, I yank harder.
I yank and it feels like He won’t budge, but actually-it’s me. I’m the one who realizes, this is enough. That I’ve gone far enough within the purview of His protection and I stop. But often I blame Him for that. I get upset and say God is suffocating me. He never lets me have my way. But really, what would it look like if I did? How would my life be more fulfilled? Would it be?
I believe in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”
If we believe that to be true, we must learn to trust Him. We must trust God even when it feels unfair and painful. In trust lies obedience.
Sure it’s not fun, but neither is being a working grad student and you know what? As tired as I am and as overworked as I feel, I am BLESSED. I have my health, my sanity, my family, amazing friends who consistently point me to Christ and remind me of things I mentioned in today’s blog (you know who you are :)), and so much more!
God has given me all of this and that’s what it’s like in obedience—in the end, I have faith that it’ll all be worth it.
Keep putting your hope and faith in the Lord. He will not fail. God bless and thanks for reading ❤️
PS now that you have read this please go listen to Lecrae’s new album. It’s. so. Good. Also the second photo is just some encouragement that may help you remember why it’s important to practice obedience. Love y’all ❤️

The Art of Being Busy

I got a notification from WordPress today. It has been 1 month since I first posted on this blog, for which I think there is reason to celebrate! I have a tendency to procrastinate a bit, so my apologies for not posting sooner. There have been many things on my mind lately. Primarily, the disregard for people of color and senseless killings. I am exhausted, to say the least, but this post is not about this (stay tuned for the next one). This post is about busyness, something of which I know many of us can relate to.

As I am growing as a person, both in my faith and generally, I have been noticing things about myself. Some good things and some bad things, but I think that is just part of reflection and growing up. Among the things I feel like I am discovering,  I have noticed that I really enjoy being busy. We live in a culture and society that praises us when we feel like we have no time to for anything—no time to even breathe. When we feel completely overwhelmed and stressed, its actually a good thing. You’re “on your grind”, you’re hustling, you’re getting money, you’re putting in the work to ultimately be successful and as I was reminded of in service last week, you are climbing the ladder of success (thanks Pastor Pete!).

So, for sure-fill up that schedule with things you have to do-plan, plan, plan. Stay busy, be active, be productive-make contributions to this society. DO things. I have personally made these things a part of my day to day life. It started in undergrad. I made my class schedule and then it began. I balanced club activities, e-boards, RA responsibilities, classwork, a social life etc. It was a great deal of stuff. Some semesters I really felt like it was too much-but I am a bit of a perfectionist. I wanted to get it all right. I wanted things to fit neatly into their boxes, desired to have a stellar GPA-all of it, but something that always, without fail, fell to the side-was the time I decided to spend with God.

In fact, it is so ingrained in me that I never really have time to spend with God that now that I have a lot of time to rest on my hands, I don’t know what to do with it. Seriously. I have no clue. I don’t know what real and true rest looks like. I don’t even know what “spending time with God” should realistically look like. I find myself feeling shame and guilt for not doing what I am supposed to as far as this is concerned.

I would like to tell you that I have figured it all out-that I am now super consistent with my prayer life and that I know how to rest well. But that’s a lie. As I write this, I am still struggling and sharing with you because I am sure that at least one or two of you are also struggling. You aren’t alone. I am learning that busyness does not equal happiness or fulfillment. It can often even lead to ongoing battles with things like anxiety and depression, because of this crazy expectation we place on ourselves.—(We are human beings not human doings friends!)

Now, I don’t believe that we are capable of only rest. I think that work can be a great thing. As humans, I don’t think that we can live well without feeling that we have a purpose we can fulfill and so work cannot be completely taken out, but I think that we can re-prioritize things. Make goals for ourselves (if you are a believer) to allot a small amount of time to spend with God-like 5 mins a day. What you choose to do in those 5 mins is completely up to you. Your relationship with God is unique and therefore so should the time you spend with God. I think something huge I have realized is that I always thought that spending time with God had to be very specific. It has to be devotional or it has to be quiet time or it has to be journaling-but truly I think it can be a number of different things. It can be catching up with a good friend and praying with and for them, listening to worship music or helping another person. God is in everything and because He is in everything, we can be in communication with Him even if it doesn’t happen in the conventional way we have always been taught.

I think that in framing it this way, we can focus less on our supposed failure as Christians and realize that God can speak to us in many different ways. Also, He doesn’t have to wait for you to carve out time for Him to actually do just that. To give an example, I have felt pretty bad for not really having discipline in spending time with God in a structured prayer way, but then one day-I had about 3 different friends reach out to me and through that I could share about faith and pray with and for these friends. That was a gift to me. It was time spent with God.

I am still trying to find a rhythm. I would love to have more structure in some ways, because personally I like to schedule things. I plan and often make tons of to-do lists. So, yes, I want to structure my time better concerning prayer/devotional time, but I also now acknowledge that it all doesn’t have to fit into a box that is neatly tied together. In the end, God still loves us. As Pastor Pete said, “we often look at God through the lens of our parents. We have a god of our projections, not the God of the Gospel”** The God of the Gospel does long to spend time with you but He is also extremely loving and cares about the things that concern you. Perhaps you can take time out of the busyness of your schedule to tell him about those cares and grow closer to Him-your Father. As with all things, take it one step at a time. In time you will reap the benefits and reward of getting close to God. Thank you for taking the time out to read this one and feel free to reach out/contact me (especially if you have found healthy ways to rest!). God bless kings and queens!

**Pastor Pete is one of the pastors who preach/teach at my church, New Life Fellowship in Elmhurst. He is also known for coming up with Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS) with his wife Gerri, which is an amazing tool that is used by churches all over the world, I encourage you to look into it if you haven’t heard of it and here are links to the church site and the EHS site: http://newlifefellowship.org  & http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org

The Intersection Between Fear and Faith

Recently I was talking with a good friend and he said, “you should really start blogging” and almost instantly I had a title for a blog post on the very same thing we were just discussing. Fear and faith. So, I prayed and felt this deep excitement about sharing these reflections with friends and a broader audience.

As someone who identifies as being a follower of Christ, I stand in this weird place of constant tension, with two things almost consistently in my hands. Sometimes the combination is faith in one hand, fear in the other. Other times it’s faith and doubt or faith and hope or faith and sorrow, the possibilities are honestly endless. I stand in this tension because as a Christian, I hope to remember my faith first and foremost, to be an example, a leader, a voice for the voiceless, all that good stuff-but I also am human. I am wildly imperfect, I am judgmental, opinionated, fearful, I think I might have a bit of amnesia sometimes…. I am a sinner; I am a failure. I will basically never get it completely right. I live with that tension every day. I have believed many lies about myself and others in this walk-I have tricked myself into believing that I have to work harder, be better, and DO more to be loved and accepted by God.

But here’s the thing-our salvation is not based on any of that because what good deed could compare to DYING for someone’s sins? And not a cute death-a horrible death- gory, bloody, painful, humiliating-you name it. Our “good deeds” could not compare to that sacrifice. I am writing this to encourage those of you who have been living in that space of fear and faith and wondering how you could possibly be a “good Christian” when you feel these two things simultaneously.

As I mentioned earlier, I am wildly imperfect. This means that I struggle. I struggle to do the right thing, to be kind, gentle, patient, and understanding. I get pissed off, I curse, I can be immature, avoidant, lash out-I can become someone many of you probably had no idea I could be-but that’s simply because I too, am human. So because of this imperfection, I also can have this really annoying amnesia. I often forget what God has done for me, what He promised me, and what He revealed to me. I face new opportunities with fear and disbelief. I stand as though I have no clue who I am or who’s I am. I become a straight up mess and I know I’m not alone. You could be starting a new year of school, a new job, given an opportunity to minister to others, evangelize, go on missions, etc. and you stand with your mouth agape literally telling God- “are you insane? Send someone else” (Or maybe this is just me)

For those of us in college or school in general, we face finals and the end of a semester with dread, literally telling ourselves we can’t make it through—but last semester we did and the semester before that–so honestly, why are we tripping? It reminds me of Peter as he begins to walk on water-(Matthew 14: 27-31). Peter LITERALLY ASKS JESUS to let him walk on the water and Jesus does and so he begins to do it—then when Peter REALIZES the craziness of what is actually happening, he starts to drown. We are so much like Peter! We realize the weight of a blessing coming our way and all of a sudden it is just too much and we have all these doubts. We look at God with puzzled faces thinking, nah, you got the wrong person, there’s no way I can do it.

The craziest part though is that God lovingly awaits our realization-a recognition that He has brought us through so much already and will do it again. He has such patience because of this crazy, unfathomable love that He has for us—one of which blows my mind constantly. So, I say all this to say this-God is super faithful and your doubts, insecurities, and fear will come up at times, but I promise they won’t overtake you. All you have to do is take the steps of faith-begin trusting God’s plan for you and remind yourself that He is literally walking with you through it all.

I learned this in a major way this year. It was my first year in grad school and I felt super unprepared for things. I lacked confidence in my abilities, worried about everything (school related, personal, etc.), and found everything to be extremely painful. I seriously didn’t think I would make it through the year. I thought that maybe I didn’t have the strength to endure this thing-to really thrive. The work felt overwhelming, I had no friends, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing at internship, it just didn’t feel good. Also my internship required me to do therapy with patients, something I wasn’t even taking classes on at the moment to begin with! It just really felt like all too much.

Surprisingly though, or maybe not surprisingly, I made it through. I didn’t just survive, I thrived. I made friends, I succeeded academically, and I somehow built really good relationships with the patients I saw. I figured out that God had placed me exactly where I needed to be and He instilled the confidence in me that I needed to excel beyond what I thought I could handle or do. I found out that this career is not just a career, but my passion and I fell completely in love with it.

I am blessed and humbled by this and constantly remind myself that my actions and missteps are not going to cause God to fall off of his throne in bewilderment. If anything He expects it. So, I propose this for each of us. The next time you look at a new opportunity and stand holding fear in one of your hands, ask God to take the fear from you and replace it with hope or with a deeper trust in His plans. Trust that His plans are greater than yours and that He won’t lead you into the wilderness just to leave you out there to die. Trust He’s got your back and when that doesn’t work and you have a little amnesia and you freak out, that too is okay-you are not called to be perfect. We are all broken, we are all trying. Dust yourself off, adjust your crown and remember that His face is shining down upon you. You got this! My prayers and thoughts are with you, thank you for taking the time to read this.