Sunday, February 23, 2014

Love (What's that?)

***For those who are following my blog...just an update to say I have decided to add a song to the bottom of each entry that I feel connects with whatever I am writing about. Personally, music speaks to my heart in a way not much else does. So, after the fact, I added a song to each of the entries below. Feel free to scroll down and check them out.***

Have you ever felt like God had a message just for you? You hear something you believe is from Him and then it is confirmed over and over and over again. Sometimes it's a challenging word; something He wants to change in your life. And we all know that change is never easy. But in our heart of hearts we want to be challenged because we want to be changed for the better.

At the beginning of the year, the ladies in my life group (aka small group, Bible Study, etc..) were challenged to think about a word we wanted to be "our personal word" for 2014. Something that we want to grow in this year, where we want to see God work in our life. And then attach a Bible verse to it. Throughout the year we are praying for one another and at the end of the year we will celebrate with one another at the changes God has made in our lives as a result of focusing on this area.

My 2014 word is LOVE. The challenge I heard as I was praying about what word to pick was that I need to understand at a heart level what it means for God to love me. Not just in a "yeah, I know God loves me because the Bible says so" kind of way, but in that deep place inside me in the depths of my heart where I never doubt it and where it creates power from the inside out. And then, to share that love with others in action as an overflow. The scriptures that I chose are from 1 John 3:1 and 1 John 3:18.
       "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"
       "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

I'm going to take you backwards here before I go forward:

If you are new to my blog and you don't know me at all or very well, you have probably picked up on the fact that I am a Christian. A follower of Jesus Christ. I chose to give my life to Jesus (put my trust in Him and follow him all the days of my life) when I was 9 years old. At that time, I believed at the basic level, with the heart of a child. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father. Although I didn't know all the details and my faith was simple, I knew enough that God chose to connect me with Him through the death of his Son Jesus and that he would love me and protect me throughout my life. As I grew older, I was the "good church girl". I don't say this sarcastically, I truly am thankful for the life I have lived and to have a story that says I have been fortunate to avoid many things in my life that could have taken me down a bad path and that I chose at an early age to focus my life on trying to be more like Christ. But I am most definitely not perfect and have had to grow a ton in my faith and in "Christ-like" behaviour...and I still need to grow in this every single day. For most of my school days, church was social for me and I learned about God but I don't think a whole lot sunk in. My focus was on other things. In college I became much more focused on allowing my relationship with God have an impact on my life and my faith deepened so much. But a blind-side in my life has been insecurity. I never thought about that before as a lack of understanding about God's love. But I'm beginning to see it now. Once, on a mission trip in Florida, I walked out of a prayer meeting feeling just awful. Feeling like I have nothing to offer, what am I even doing trying to help other people understand who God is. Someone who was on the trip with me that I didn't even know that well, walked up to me, looked me in the eyes, lifted my chin with her finger, and said to me, "lift your head up, YOU are a daughter of the King". I've never forgotten this and it encourages me today, 11 years later. I needed a reminder that day that God loves me because I am his child. He created me for a purpose and nothing can get in the way of his seal on my life. This is unconditional love from my heavenly Father.

So I am on a journey this year to find out what God wants to show me about his love. That I am on the right track has been confirmed so many times in the last several weeks. It's really undeniable. First, my other small group has been doing the study by Henry Blackaby called "Experiencing God" in which the majority of the study talks about God's love. Then, a book I have been asked to read for work as self-improvement is called "The Loving Life" and uses the book of the Bible "Ruth" to explain living a life of love. Then, my pastor has just finished a 4 week sermon series on different types of love. Yes, God, I believe you have my attention. I have already learned so much and I look forward to what is to come.

My pastor said this morning "God cannot love you any less than he does right now, and he cannot love you any more than he does right now." (By the way...this is true for you today as well!) God's love is not based on conditions or on anything that I can do for Him. He does not love me because I gave my life to him at an early age or because I've lived as a "good girl". He will not stop loving me when I mess up or when I forget to pray. He loves me because he loves me. How freeing is that! How does that change how I think about Him? What does that mean for my life? Answering these questions are the first steps in my journey. And then, even though doing things doesn't change God's love for me, it should ignite something in me that want to show God's love to others and to live a life of visible love. We need more genuine love in this world don't we. I want to be someone that adds love to the world.

I think in the world we live in today, the word love has been so distorted that it's hard to grasp what the original word means. I pray that my heart will take hold of what God's love really is and that I will have the courage to make necessary changes in my life to live in this understanding of love.

For God so loved the World (How He Loves)

How He Loves (full song): David Crowder Band:

-The Real Me

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Living Outside My Comfort Zone

         "The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-           neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk."  (Wikipedia)
Wow! With that definition, does anyone actually live inside a comfort zone? Can you live life with no sense of risk?
I have often thought about my life and wondered if I was living too far inside my comfort zone. Do I take enough risk? Am I being too safe? I love reading quotes, and since Pinterest came along, I get to feed that habit any time I like. I've read so many quotes about making sure you step outside your comfort zone, get out there and live life, etc.
Well, as I reflect over the last couple years of my life, I think I can safely say I am almost constantly living outside of my personal comfort zone. How do I know? For starters, SO MANY things that I do cause me at least some level of anxiety.
Fear is an emotion that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. As I've grown in my relationship with The Lord, He has helped me tremendously with my fears, but I still fight fear often. Growing up, I think fear sometimes stopped me from doing things that I could have really enjoyed, and meeting people that could have been great friends. As a teenager and through college, I would occasionally have a panic attack. Not enough to be diagnosed or anything. At the time I didn't even think of them as panic attacks (as a Psychology major I guess this was a self diagnosis). They typically came on late at night, sparked by a thought or a noise. About 9 years ago, after I graduated and I moved to a new city, I can praise God and say that he removed panic attacks from my life and I have not had one since. But I do still recognize fear as a struggle in my life.
While I can see many times in my life where I pushed beyond the anxiety and did whatever it was that was outside my comfort zone, it's not until about 2 years ago that I can really see a change that happened inside of me that cause me to choose to no longer let fear stop me from doing things that would challenge me and grow me in so many ways (emotionally, spiritually, professionally...).
In early 2012 I was in my 6th year of a job in Data Entry. I really enjoyed the 6 years I spend in Data Entry; learning the office world after college, growing in my understand of computers, people, processes, etc. But I was getting antsy to learn something new and I could tell that God was preparing me for something different. That "different" thing was definitely not what I imagined of even planned for. On a Thursday afternoon I was asked to a meeting in HR where I was offered a position in a brand new department (for the same organization) and I had one day to make a decision if I would accept the offer for this job that I knew nothing about. Umm, I don't typically make decisions that quickly. I need to plan it out, see every angle, pray, think, analyze...I can't just...decide. But I did, and the next day I accepted this position and my work life has never been the same. This...was a LEAP outside of my comfort zone, and 2 years later it pretty much still is every single day. On any given day I can be given a task that I have no idea how to complete. It could be something I've never done before or it could be something that terrifies me (like being in a video shoot or hosting a webinar or having one week to plan a training for 100 people (and executing said training) for a really high profile important event). But you know what...I LOVE IT. I love the feeling I get when I complete a task that I didn't know I could do and it helps me to realize that I'm no longer allowing my comfort zone to hold me back. Life is SO MUCH more exciting outside of your comfort zone.
There are other areas in my life that I've begun to live outside the comfort zone as well and I truly believe that God is calling me to continue to grow in what it means to push beyond those comfortable walls. This past year I have been doing this with my local church situation. In September I left a church I had been attending for about 2.5 years. I did not leave for any negative reason. One day my heart began to stir and I had this desire to do something more/different/bigger than me. So I figured I would visit several churches and figure out what God was calling me to do. Funny thing, God already knew where I was heading and it didn't take Him long to get me there. Before I even visited this church called "Upside Down"...yes that's really what its called...I went to an event they were doing in the center of the city. On this day they were reaching the community in two different ways, first they were serving food to the homeless population and second, their praise team was worshipping the Lord right in the middle of the city while church members where meeting and talking with the surrounding people. So against my "comfort zone" nature which on the inside was saying "you don't know anybody maybe you should just stand back and watch. You don't have anything to say to anybody and you aren't even a part of this church!" I had this moment of bravery and jumped in. I introduced myself to a few of the church members and asked how I could help and I spent the next hour passing out water bottles and talking to people. And in my heart, I knew I had found something special. Special people with a passion for helping others and it was like an awakening in my spirit. This is what God wants me to do. This is the challenge he has for me. I say challenge because nothing about talking to strangers or meeting new people is easy for me. But I WANT to get better at it. I believe God commands Christians to be in relationship with others, loving people regardless of age/culture/life situation etc. We are here to love one another and to share God's love with other people. This is what I need to be doing...but I HAVE to be living outside of my comfort zone to do this.
It took me just a couple weeks to make the transition to Upside Down Church and begin serving in small ways there. I still have shy moments even just during our normal Sunday services where I have to push  to step outside myself and interact with others (making friends/meeting new people). But I'm in an environment that lends itself to getting better at this (the people here are more loving and better at expressing that love than almost anywhere else I've ever been). I'm still growing in understanding the best way I can reach out within my community and God is teaching me this in baby steps as I choose to do little things that scare me (serving the homeless, going door to door in a community to pass out batteries for their smoke detector, etc.). But you know what...I LOVE IT. Because I'm growing into a better person, a better Christian, a better friend. I am thankful that when we choose to live outside our comfort zone, God will challenge us to get braver and become more the person He wants us to be.
As I look towards the future, more and more I want to move farther away from my comfort zone. I want to do and experience new things and go new places. I want to live a life of courage. I want God to be able to send me anywhere and I have the strength to say yes Lord, I will do it.
Living outside my comfort zone is a choice...are you choosing to live outside of yours?

Sara Bareilles: Brave
The Real Me


Monday, February 17, 2014

The Beginning

Until this moment I had totally forgotten I ever thought about writing a blog before. It turns out I first had the idea in 2008 and now 6 years later I'm going to attempt this again. I don't really think anything I have to say is particularly interesting, but I was encouraged by a friend today to give it a try. She says it's amazing that people think they are alone in the way the feel and think, but as people read your blog you will find people are more similar than you could imagine. Considering I have been extrememly encouraged by her blog, I guess maybe that could be true.

So, I've named my blog "The Real Me". My intent is to have a place to share my real thoughts, my unfiltered thoughts. How I am on the inside. I would guess some might think my thoughts are silly, or annoying, or ridiculous. To those people I would say, you have a choice not to read my words. Sometimes my thoughts are silly. And sometimes they are annoying (even to me!), but they are me and they make up the person that I am.

And thus, I begin The Real Me with this...Friday was Valentines Day. I hate Valentines Day. I really believe it is the most depressing day of my year. I don't hate love, actually I have chosen to focus 2014 on learning what real love from my heavenly father. (more about this later). But considering that I am almost 33 years old and I've never been able to celebrate a Valentines Day with a "significant other", I find that V-Day is a blaring neon sign that says "congratulations, you are alone again this year". I have had some well-meaning friends remind me time and time again that I am loved by God, loved by my friends, and loved by my family. So I really shouldn't feel bad at all, but let me ask a married person; do you spend Valentines Day with your friends, your family, or with God? Or do you spend it with your spouse. I'm going to go out on a limb and say 99% of people in a relationship spend V-day with that significant other. I know that I am loved, this is not the problem. I just hate that there is a whole day to remind me just how single I am.

Some years are worse than others. Last year was not so bad. There wasn't any guy I was super interested in and so I was not so focused on being alone. In fact, I was down right content. This year, however, was bad. I've spend the last 7 months trying to get to know a certain person (and trying to let him get to know me). I will tell you, it is somewhat rare that a guy really catches my attention, I'm pretty picky I guess you could say when it comes to thinking about investing time dating someone, but when I do find someone I believe to be special...I fall hard. I try so hard to guard my heart and all that, but I'm just not very good at it. Maybe this is a girl thing, or maybe it's a me thing...but I begin to imagine what life could be like with this person. How would my life change, what would our life be like together. And if I can really imagine that and it seems to fit, I fall harder. Sigh.

So I met this man 7 months ago. I can honestly say he is one of the most unique people I've ever met, but that makes every story he has to tell that much more interested. He has a lot of world travel experience (of which I do not) and while I don't know a ton about his life growing up, I can tell his household was probably different than most (in a good way). His sense of humor was the first thing to catch my attention. We exchanged a few emails and he always has a one liner that cracks me up. I wish I could think that quick on my feet! I will say, he is also good looking, but the things that really set him apart are his relationship with God, his servant heart, his love for people, his integrity, and his humility. In short, he's amazing. BUT...of course, he doesn't seem all that interested in me, which poses a problem in the image I have in my head of our future. Being that it's been 7 months, I'm 90% sure he is aware of my interest, and he still doesn't seem to make much of an effort in this friendship...I decide this weekend (Valentines Weekend...the weekend I hate) that it is time to move on. My actual thought was "give up" but a very sweet co-worker says I should use the words "move forward". Yeah, that sounds better. But it FEELS like giving up. And so I am now in the... depressed, when am I ever going to find love, what's wrong with me, I hate this part, maybe if I let go he will notice me and we can really end up together..state of mind.

While in this case, moving forward to protect my heart is the right thing to do...I will not give up on the dream of finding that special person to share my life with. He's out there somewhere. He has to be. And I know when we end up together, I will believe that all the heart breaks and all the depressing and lonely Valentines days will be worth it.

Mandisa: Praying for You