To the Man Who Lives Below and to the Left of Me

Dear man who lives below and to the left:

Stop.

You know what I’m talking about.

You started doing it when my sister-in-law was here. She was at her car waiting for me, and as I crossed the parking lot I noticed you. You were at your car, right next to Andrea’s, with the tailgate up, pretending to mess with something. But I could tell you were actually watching her, through the smoky haze of your fat white cigarette. When I got in the car, she turned to me and asked, “Did you see that man? He was watching us!” So I’m not the only one who noticed.

When we got back, you were still there, waiting outside with your little dog. You stared unblinking from behind your glasses with the same cigarette hanging from your blubbery lips as we got out of the car and walked down the sidewalk straight towards you. Andrea said “Hi,” because we were a few feet away and it was getting awkward, and you responded. We climbed the stairs to our apartment, and as I fumbled with the keys, I glanced down at you. Yep, you were still watching us. You looked away. I looked away. I looked back. You were watching us again. You looked away. I kept watching. Sure enough, you glanced back AGAIN.

I told my hubby about you. My description was not flattering; you are a fat man with a bald head and beady eyes, a red flabby face and glasses. My hubby got to see you for himself later that evening when we returned from shopping, because you were sitting outside on your porch, smoking. You didn’t say hi this time, but you watched us.

My hubby says you ignore him when he sees you. I thought I was done with you, but yesterday you were back to it. After a friend dropped me off, I was walking down the sidewalk to the stairs, and when I got close to your patio, you popped out the door and stood there staring at me, with a freshly lit fat cigarette barely hanging in your mouth. You stared, and I stared back. I said hi, and you said hi. I went up stairs, went inside, and locked the door behind me. Then I got out my pepper spray key chain.

Today, I needed to check the mail, so I carried my keys with the pepper spray attached. I walked in full view of your apartment, cupping the keys in my hand, but allowing the pepper spray to dangle in plain view. You deigned not to make an appearance. I switched hands on my way back, so that you could still see my trusty little black can, and once again, you failed to grace me with your attentive presence.

But guess what, little fat man. I have an even better weapon, and if you make one move, you’re not going to like it. It’s called a “Husband,” “Hubby,” or “Dear,” for short. And it’s 6’1, 200+ lbs. of protective instincts.

Don’t make me unleash the wrath of the “Hubby.” You won’t like it, I assure you.

Sincerely yours,
Mrs. Idon’tlikebeingwatched

Our One Month Anniversary

Today is our one month anniversary! It feels like one week since I walked the aisle, but it’s been one week that Brian and I have lived in our apartment! We are still adjusting; adjusting to the heat, to the early morning job schedule, to the commute to the said job, to making an apartment a home, to being alone in the said apartment most of the day, and to being married, and mainly, figuring out how to sleep comfortably in the same bed. (A double bed. It’s smaller than it sounds.)

The Heat
Dry heat or not, it’s hot. Lucky for me, I haven’t really had to adjust to the heat, because I can hide in air conditioning most of the day. Brian has no choice, because for the two months he while he works in the maintenance shop, he’s practically outdoors.


The Mornings
Brian’s early morning start to work hasn’t been too hard on me either; I’ve been able to sleep through the alarm at 4:30 a.m., Brian getting ready, eating breakfast, and only waking up for the goodbye kiss. Until today, at least. At Brian’s urging, I’m trying to get up at the same time, so that we can be on the same sleep schedule. Laying awake at night isn’t fun, so I’m trying to get on board, but 4:30 comes around fast!


The Commute
We were happy to find that commuting is shorter than we thought it would be, mainly as a result of the early morning, and afternoons getting home haven’t been bad. Except for the day there were two accidents: a nine car pile up followed by one with six cars…scary! Both accidents were ahead of Brian, and he was fine.


The Housewifery
I’m figuring out this home-maker thing. Brian’s oldest sister was here for the worst part of the unpacking,-those initial stages of circular confusion, the can’t-unpack-the-ten-boxes-of-books-until-the-shelf-is-put-together-and-you-can’t-put-the-shelf-together-until-it’s-in-the-right-room-and-you-can’t-put-it-in-the-right-room-until-your-husband-gets-home-because-it’s-heavy stage. It’s very livable now! There’s pictures in this album  as well as many more pictures from our trip. It looks a little different today, since I hung a few pictures on the walls and did more unpacking yesterday with Brian. I am so thankful that Andrea was able to come last week – she kept me company while Brian was gone and provided transportation to get things we needed: basic groceries and my hair cut πŸ™‚ Getting my hair cut was definitely a need, in this case, because it has been in the 106-118 degree neighborhood all week. We also had fun swimming and tanning and going to Barnes and Noble. And, she showed us how to program the coffee maker so that it starts on it’s own, which is invaluable. 

I’m doing well so far with cooking, which is one of the things included in my moving resolutions. Our first dinner in our apartment took place Thursday night, and it consisted of spaghetti (one of the few things I can make without a recipe) lettuce salad, and apple sauce. Friday night we had tacos, and Saturday….we bought Little Cesar’s Pizza. Hey, it was Saturday! I made barbecue chicken for Sunday dinner, and if I must say so myself, it was delicious, and I totally made it up as I went along.

I’ve only been home by myself for two days, and I’m already getting lonely! I called home and my older sister Friday, and I found a Christian radio station and blasted it until Brian got home Saturday while I did my Saturday cleaning. I’m not too worried about making friends, I know it will take time, and probably won’t happen until I get involved at school or in small group at church. At least, I’ve been far from bored. I get up, read a text from Brian, text him back, eat breakfast, read my Bible, get dressed etc, call someone from Iowa, work on my online classes, make lunch, text Brian, email people from Iowa, unpack, text Brian, facebook people from Iowa, unpack, answer Brian’s phone call, do laundry, and greet Brian at the door. That may or may not be a slight exaggeration.


The Married Life
There’s a few things I’ve learned so far, in my short married life.

  • One is to have most of the stuff I want to do done for the day before Brian gets home, and save what’s left for tomorrow. That way I can focus on making him comfortable and relaxed after a long day in the heat, and making coming home a highlight for both of us.
  • Two, I’ve also learned that my priorities aren’t his priorities, and if I push my priorities, I’m nagging. Brian offered to take care of the lunch dishes yesterday, and it drove me crazy. Not because I enjoy doing dishes, to the contrary. But after lunch he worked on the internet, was on facebook for awhile, caught up on emails, and unpacked the book boxes in the spare bedroom, all while the dishes were still sitting on the table and counters. Every time I walked by, it took effort to not say something, or just do it myself. Why? Because I knew that Brian probably hadn’t forgotten, at least not entirely, but from his perspective, fixing the internet and taking care of those boxes was more urgent. If I had mentioned, he would have felt I was nagging him, and if I’d done it myself, he’d be offended that I didn’t think he was capable of doing it himself. At least, that’s what I imagine he was thinking. And in the end, he did do the dishes, and they were none the worse for not being done right after lunch.
  • Three, I’ve discovered that sleeping in the same bed takes skill. We’d been so spoiled with king and queen beds all during our honeymoon and the week we stayed at Brian’s parents’ that the double bed felt pretty small. But, I’m not opposed to cuddling, and neither is Brian. Unfortunately…. he snores.

But laying awake at night, with Brian almost sleeping on my face, making me uncomfortably hot and sticky, and barely able to hear my thoughts over the grizzly growling-mountain slide sounds, I watch him sleep, and the realization washes over me that I’m so very lucky to have such a wonderful man; a man who works hard to provide for me, is thoughtful and affectionate, fun, and wise. And every once in a while, he wakes up, and kisses me before rolling over and going back to sleep.

Yep, we’re still adjusting. It’s been a crazy month, with lots of changes, but I’ve loved every minute of the adventure. The best is yet to come!

Love,
Emily Conley

Phoenix at Last!


Brian and I at the gas station in Texas where I bought the following postcard. 
We totally brought the rain with us, all the way from Iowa to Arizona! Most of the time the clouds were right above us, as if they were leading us to the promised land πŸ™‚ But other times they were off to the side, so we could actually see the rain coming down, like in this picture

Amazing scenery through the mountains!These caves reminded me of Israel.I think this Indian village was fake… Welcome to Arizona!!! .Our first sighting of the tall species of cacti. Traffic as we enter Phoenix. This is where we stopped to let the car cool down. We were afraid it was overheating. I was afraid I was going to overheat when I opened the car door and stepped out into 118 degrees!!!

This is the beautiful sunset we watched last night, after returning from a long day of apartment shopping and checking into Arizona State University. I wish I had pictures of the campuses .We went to two, and were sent from building to building at both, making for a very sweaty day. And I now have a massive blister on my heel. I could barely walk at the end of the day! Both campuses were very interesting, very different from Iowa State, but really cool buildings. Polytechnic Campus is where I’ll be, it’s about the size of ISU but the student population is about 11,000. Unfortunately, after all of our driving and walking in the 113 degree heat (Plus humidity), the advisor I needed to talk to was busy, and so I’ll have to call her Monday probably, after I finish applying. 
The sunset progressing,  Amazing!Phoenix at Last!

I took a video of the model apartment, but I held the camera sideways apparently. If you put your head to the side, you’ll get a dizzying idea of what our apartment is like.It has a fireplace. I know what you’re thinking, “Why would you need a fireplace when it’s hot in Arizona???” Well, it gets really cold at night, especially in the winter. Since there isn’t usually much humidity, there isn’t cloud cover, so the sun beats down in the day and with no clouds, the heat all escapes at night. I’ve been told it can get below freezing even. Plus, it looks cool πŸ™‚ And we can roast marshmallows! 
Of all the apartments we looked at, this was by far our favorite. It’s in a very nice neighborhood, plus it’s gated, and I think it’s very safe. It’s in the back corner of the complex, so it will be quiet also. Although, the whole complex is really pretty quiet anyway. There’s a strip mall close by, with some very high-end stores, as well as lots of dental surgeon, pediatric, and orthodontist offices. We drove around in the evening, and close by found a residential area where we think the people who worked in the nearby dental and pediatric offices live.  The homes are gorgeous, and most had green grass lawns, which is saying a lot. I am pumped to move in. Today we got a call from the agent we’d worked with yesterday and she told us that we were approved, and we could go ahead and call the electric company and get renters’ insurance. Unfortunately, they’re closed on Saturdays, so I’ll probably do that on Monday. 
After all the driving and walking yesterday, today Brian and I are taking it easy. We haven’t left our hotel room yet, and we might not for a while. It’s really nice to take a breather! We’re planning to run some errands and see a movie tonight. It’s between Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, and Knight and Day. 

Thank you for all your prayers! I can’t believe we’ve already found a place to live! As my dad said, God has His hand on us, and maybe that’s why it’s so warm! πŸ˜‰ But seriously, God answers prayer! 

Top Ten Most Interesting People, Places, and Things So Far

We started our trip from Des Moines on Tuesday morning, drove through Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas. We spent the night in Pratt, Kansas at the Regency Inn, and took off for Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. 

Tonight we’re in Albuquerque, and so I thought I’d give you a top ten list of the trip so far. These are the ten “Most Interesting” people, places, and things I’ve encountered in the last two days. 

1. A road sign in Kansas for “Cattle Crossing.” 
2. Brian and the GPS. Every time we’d turn off the Interstate to find a place to eat, or get gas, or a bathroom break, the GPS would tell us to “Turn left, then, turn right,” etc, to get us back on track. It’s a GPS. It does that. But based on Brian’s conversations with it EVERY TIME, I’m not convinced he knows it’s just an inanimate object and really isn’t aware that he’s hungry for Subway. 
3. A city in Oklahoma named “Hooker.” Hooker Street, Hooker Industries, Hooker equity….there was a sign for somebody Tucker candidating for Hooker assessor. What do you call a person from Hooker, Oklahoma? A….. hooker?!
4. Oil rigs. All over Kansas, we spotted the interesting machines nodding away amidst the golden harvested wheat stubble. We’re not in Iowa anymore, Toto. 
5. Corn fields. For one, the cornfields all had huge irrigation rigs sprawled across them, which you don’t see too often in Iowa. Also, in KS and OK, they don’t plant corn the way we do; utilizing every inch; instead they curve every corner so that a big triangle chunk of land isn’t planted. We couldn’t figure out the reason for this, so if anyone knows, let me know.  

6. Cow feed lots. We drove past miles and miles of fenced in cows, seemingly standing room only, stretching as far as we could see. I’ve never ever even imagined so many cows! I felt really bad for them, because they were all crammed in and there was so much grassy land surrounding them that they couldn’t get to. 

7. A postcard I bought in Texas that says in bold, “DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS!”
8. The HORRIBLE service we had at “Silver Moon Cafe” in Santa Rosa, NM, a historic Route 66 eatery that’d been there since 1956 or something. I don’t know how it’s stayed in business for that long. The employees all sat in the back, and very grudgingly got up to drop a couple menus on a table for us and send someone back to take our order. They didn’t have the appetizer we wanted, but that’s not a huge deal. The waitress acted like we were ruining her life by occupying any of her time, my mesquite chicken sandwich with bacon didn’t have any bacon on it, and when the waitress finally came to refill our glasses, she spilled water profusely next to my plate and huffed, “Whatever!” and marched off, without even an attempt to clean it up. I don’t recommend it!
9. Texas county. In Oklahoma. And Texhoma, on the border between the two. 
10. The little old lady at the gas station in Dalhart, TX. The men’s restroom was out of order, but since the women’s room was a one stall deal with a door that locked, Brian went ahead and used it. We were eyeing some snacks when a little old lady with large framed glasses, and long graying red braids popped out in front of us. “Young man, you kin use the ladies room if ya need tah,” when Brian told her he’d already taken the liberty, “Wall Gawd bless yer heart!” 

God bless yours too, and please keep us in your prayers as we continue through the mountains and descend to our final destination, Phoenix, AZ. 
Love, 
Emily

Moving Resolutions

‘Twas the night before we’re supposed to leave, and all through the house, creatures are stirring, but not any mice πŸ™‚ The boxes are almost packed, the trailer is….empty, the car is….almost running.

We’ve said goodbye to my sister and her family, my best friend, Brian’s best friend, my home church, and my home town friends. More goodbyes to come tomorrow, the hardest ones: both of our immediate families. I’m going to miss my siblings like crazy, and my new parents, grandma, and aunts, uncles, and cousins from Brian’s side. It’s been a tough week for me, emotionally and with all we’ve had to do: opening wedding gifts, changing name stuff, getting a cell phone plan, and all the stuff for our trip, including redoing the Durango’s brakes, shocks, and the rear differential (I’ve learned a lot about cars this week). I’ve been told that this is how the Conley’s do things; major re-hauling of vehicles before big trips, generally last minute, but somehow it always gets done. 
I’ve been researching apartments online without much luck. Either they’re too far away from where we want to live, or they’re way too expensive. We’ll just have to wait until we get there and can drive the area. 
Crazy as it seems, it doesn’t seem real to me yet, that we’re really leaving. Maybe I’m in denial, or just banking on coming back in August for my cousin’s wedding. 
Brian was worried about me today, he said he was afraid I’d break down when we got there and not be able to function. I don’t think that’s going to be the case. As worried and stressed as I’ve been, I do recognize that this is God’s leading. As my mom-in-law said, “If God wanted you in Fort Dodge, you’d be moving here.” My best friend mentioned that it’s crazy that I get a completely new start with a new city, church, school, and even last name. I could totally “reinvent” myself, if I wanted to. While I’m not planning to do anything radical, I do hope to change in a few ways. 
1. Get a haircut. Short and cool. I don’t think my long thick hair will fare well there, so I want to chop it off short and cute. And I do have Brian’s permission even!!!
2. Get a tan. No more of that self tanning crap. A real desert sun-kissed-light-toasty color. 
3. Find a sense of style. This will be more difficult. But, I’ll only need one wardrobe for all year, no more of this changing seasons thing, so that will enable me to be more creative with mixing and matching and creating complete outfits. Plus, now that I’m a married woman, I need to look like the part. 
4. Forge a strong marriage. We will really have to depend on each other and God for comfort, strength, courage, and grace with each other. I think this move will be the best thing for our unity and becoming one. 
5. Overcome fears. Crossing city streets, sleeping without a night-light, shopping by myself, meeting people and making friends, roll calls, and above all, driving, to name a few.
6. Become a better communicator. I’ve never been great at keeping up with people, although I think of people from time to time, I’m not good at making the the effort to find out how they’re doing. I want to still keep in contact with friends in Iowa, as well as my NMB friends all over the Midwest, and especially my family. Now that I have a real cell phone for the first time ever, that will be much easier! 
7. Learn to keep house, and make a house a home. I am SO EXCITED to unpack and decorate and arrange everything in our very own place! I’m not so excited to make and keep a budget, meal plan, cook, and do dishes. 
8. Continue involvement in ministry. Being a part of a Bible study and leading a Bible study has been by far the highlight of my college experience, and I really hope to continue it. But, perhaps God will lead me to a new ministry! 
9. Keep working towards getting a degree. With the whole out-of-state tuition thing, it gets a little tricky, but hopefully I’ll be able to continue at ASU this fall. If not, then online classes or community college, here I come!
10. Go deeper with God. So many Biblical characters developed into the leaders and teachers that changed the world AFTER spending extended time in the desert. Moses, Abraham, Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus to mention a few. My spiritual walk has been pretty dry lately; I’ve allowed many other non-essential things to push God off the throne, and it’s time to get things right. I’m ready for time in the desert! 
Please remember to pray for our travels and sanity this week! Love you all and miss you very much, 
Emily CONLEY πŸ™‚

We’re going Where?!

It’s official. After over a year, applying for somewhere between 70 and 150 jobs, countless first interviews, four or five second interviews, countless rejections, Brian has a job offer!!! I confess, I was scared for awhile, and I made a plan B (Live in Brian’s apartment through the end of his lease and then find a month by month one in Ames) and a Worst Case Scenario option (Move into Brian’s parents’ basement). Every time I would start to panic, however, God reminded me of his presence and provision.

For instance, one Sunday night at my home church Dan Dark was speaking on a familiar story: David and Goliath. It was just what I needed to hear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard 1 Samuel 13:34 preached, but it never ceases to amaze me. The sermon was about Giants in our Lives, and point number one was “David knew Goliath could be beat, because with God there is always a way.” I thought about Brian finding a job, and it seemed like there really wasn’t a way at that point for him to get hired before the wedding. But, “With God, nothing is impossible.” Number two stated “David remembered his strength,” which meant that he remembered what God had done in the past, and that he had a proved weapon (the Bible). I recalled how God provided Brian with a new car after his was totaled: a 1998 Dodge Durango, chili pepper red, same year, same color, same everything except with better features and tires and no rust for a steal of a price, and a few minutes away from where he was in Kansas City. God was looking out for us! “David claimed the victory,” point number three, even before a stone was thrown. Dan Dark pointed out something I never knew before in verse 49. Goliath fell forward. Dan said that there are some high powered military weapons today that the bullets fire so fast that they create kind of a vortex of air, actually drawing the target forward, towards the bullet. There’s no way David threw the stone THAT fast, but God definitely could have put a little spin on it! I wrote at the end of my notes, “Is Go just as powerful today as he was then?”

The next day, Brian got a call from a company in Phoenix, Arizona. They called him back a couple days later for a second interview, and flew him down to see the job site not long after that. After a week, they called and offered him the job. And tomorrow, he will fax his acceptance.

I wasn’t wild about the idea leaving the lush green rolling fields of Iowa for the desert and 40 varieties of poisonous snakes (plus scorpions, black widow spiders, mountain lions, and bears. I’ve done my research). I wasn’t crazy about having to transfer from Iowa State University to Arizona State University. I still am torn in two at the thought of leaving our families, including my younger siblings, my older sister and her husband and brand new baby, and all of the people we’ve come to know and love so dearly through classes and Campus Baptist Church. I’m terrified at the idea of starting over in a huge city, different climate, different culture, and trying to make it home.

But I can’t deny God’s hand in it. He’s lead us this far; he’ll complete the good work he began in us.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

Please keep us in your prayers! We’ll see you at the wedding this Saturday πŸ™‚

The last few months

Well, if pictures are worth a thousand words, I figure this might be an effective way to catch up this blog πŸ™‚

To start with, here are some pictures of the fundraiser for Haiti relief that my bible study plus Brian organized and ran. The first picture is our prayer wall. Everyone was given a picture printed from the Churches Helping Churches flicker photo stream, and a piece of paper to write their own prayer for Haiti. On the pulpit, you can see the lists of prayer requests for Haiti.

This is the front of one of the small posters I designed. Copyworks donated the printing for us. I also made hand outs, which my Bible study girls distributed.

We had a special dinner for Haiti instead of our regular Sunday night meal. We served only rice and water, and spent time in prayer, worship, and watching Churches Helping Churches “32 hours in Haiti” video. The next morning, several students volunteered to help package meals for Haiti at the Good Hope Lutheran Church in Des Moines. We got up super early, but we worked for a couple hours and were back in time for classes!

Of course, wedding planning has been very much on my mind these last few months! Two weeks to go! 

I enjoyed a beautiful winter at Iowa State. We had a record snow fall this year! 

Big news! My older sister Elissa had her baby, Aviela, on May 20th. She’s such a sweetheart! 

Well, that’s all for now! Short update, I know, but I hope you enjoy the pictures. I’ll be back soon!

Stretching Towards Godliness

Last Sunday night, my little sister played her “Riverdance” CD for me and showed off some of her Irish dancing moves. Caught up in the irresistible rhythm of the Celtic music, I joined in the fun, quickly realizing that I had no idea what I was doing. Long long ago, all three of us girls had learned to Irish dance for an Irish dancing contest at our Nana and Papa’s Christmas with the extended family. Evi and I had kept going with it, but not possessing the natural coordination Evi has, I moved on to other things.
 So as we jumped and stomped around the living room, much to Brian’s merriment, Evi decided to slide into the splits, not the normal kind, with the legs out to the side, but with one leg straight out in front and one behind. She was just standing, and then in one smooth motion, she dropped with her legs like that. Not to be outdone, I attempted to do the same. The only problem was that Evi execises every day, takes dance lessons, and is actually flexible, while the most exercise I’ve gotten in a while is running from class to class in the fridgid air. I suddenly remembered all of these things as I landed with my knees bent at a crazy angle and my hamstrings screaming in protest. The next day, walking up and down stairs was excruciating, sitting was painful, but not as bad as getting up out of the chair. Even walking hurt. My hip joints ached, the inside of my knees ached, my hamstrings sent stabbings of pain to my brain to remind me of my stupidity the day before. Muscles I didn’t even know existed were aching!

That morning, as I settled myself into the generously padded rocking chair in the living room with my Bible to read, Edward started giggling from where he sat across the room from me on the couch. I noticed the book I’d given him for Christmas, and I assured myself he was laughing to himself at something he read, not at me. Just then he marked his place and got up to put it away.
“Do you like that book Edward?” I asked.
“Yeah,” He grinned shyly.
“Well, why aren’t you reading more?”
“I only read two chapters a day.” He explained.
“Oh,” I could picture him reading all day, and mom making the two chapters a day rule. A thought struck me, “Have you done your devotions today?”
“Devotions?”
“Yeah, I noticed your daily schedule typed up over your bed, and it says ‘Devos’ right after getting up.”
“Oh, well I don’t do that anymore.” He stated.
I asked him to name a friend of his, and he named a kid he knew from cub scouts, Nick. I asked him to imagine that he and Nick were friends, but he never talked to him. Nick would try to talk to him, but he would just ignore him.
“How could you still be friends if you didn’t talk to each other?”
He thought for a minute. “I don’t know.”
“Well, you couldn’t probably. It’s the same way with Jesus. In order to be friends and actually get to know him, you have to talk to him and listen to him every day. When we pray, we talk to him, and when we read the Bible, we listen to him.”
“Oh!” I could tell this was clicking for him. “I was reading John, I don’t remember where I was, so I think I’ll start over at the beginning.” After about two minutes, he closed his Bible and zipped the cover shut with an air of finality.
“Did you pray yet?” I probed.
“No,” his brow furrowed. “I don’t know what to pray about.”
“Well, you can pray about anything. You could ask him to help you become better friends,” I suggested.
He flopped back on the couch and stuck his fingers in his eyes. “Dear God helpmetobegoodandhelpmetobebetterfriendsamen.” With that, he sat up smiling, and put his Bible away.

It’s a start, I told myself.

Both of these incidents reminded me of 1 Timothy 4:7-8:
“But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.  For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

Godliness is exercise! I hurt myself when I tried to do the splits, because my muscles weren’t stretched enough. Right now, reading his Bible and praying are kind of painful for Edward, because he’s not used to it. As this verse says, there’s only a temporary benefit to being in physical shape, but the benefits of living a godly life are eternal. It takes work to live in a holy way; refusing the temptations for the following, “sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry…hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions, and envy, drunkness…and the like” (Gal. 5:19-21) But as we painfully stretch ourselves towards godliness, it will get less and less difficult, and we’ll see more and more fruit in our lives; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Gal. 5:22-23).    

Lamentations???

In my devotions last semester, I started reading through the gospels with the intent of taking another look at who Jesus was and what he did. That was awesome, however, after reading Matthew, I felt like reading another gospel was too much of a repeat, since they all tell basically the same stories. I started looking for something else, and decided to read through Paul’s epistles. Having read Romans last summer, I started in 1Corinthians. Over the last semester and this summer, I’ve read from there through Hebrews (since technically there’s a chance Paul wrote it!). Next in line was the book of James, but since I’d read it first semester, I decided to look for something new. But what? I’d already covered the gospels and epistles, and though it’s not necessary, Revelations would be great to read with a study guide of some sort, which I don’t have here on project.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t read a lot of the Old Testament, besides Psalms and Proverbs. We’re not under the law anymore, right? So what’s the point? I thought to myself, every book in the Bible is there for a reason. It’s been years since I read any of the minor prophets; probably not since before high school, when I read the Bible in a year. Hence, I’ve begun a journey into the Old Testament, starting with the book of Lamentations.

Lamentations? You might be thinking, isn’t that a depressing book about God’s judgment and wrath being poured out on Israel for their sins? That’s what I thought when I started reading it. I honestly wondered how I’d be able to glean anything from the doleful descriptions of the condition of God’s people during their captivity. But every day, God has revealed such amazing things to me!

First of all, I’ve been so convicted of the severity of sin. God is a Holy God! We know this, but sometimes we forget that it means that he HATES sin. Sometimes I think I can get away with sin. I tell myself that it’s just a little pride, a little lust, a little unforgiveness, a little impatience, nothing too big. I forget that for these ” little” sins, God has a fearful wrath!

 How deserted lies the city,

once so full of people!

How like a widow is she,

who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces

has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,

tears are upon her cheeks.

Among all her lovers

there is none to comfort her.

All her friends have betrayed her;

they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,

Judah has gone into exile.

She dwells among the nations;

she finds no resting place.

All who pursue her have overtaken her

in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn,

for no one comes to her appointed feasts.

All her gateways are desolate,

her priests groan,

her maidens grieve,

and she is in bitter anguish.

I’ve been so convicted of my own sin this week, and just how vile, how repulsive it is to a perfect God! It’s also such a slap in the face. I know Christ personally, I’ve been adopted into the family of God, and yet I chose to harbor sin in my heart, knowing that it’s against my Father’s will, and that because of it Christ died.

This was really discouraging to me at first! I realized how much I truly need God’s mercy. Sometimes I think, “God may forgive me, but I can’t forgive myself.” This week, I’ve realized how this mindset is such a rejection of the gospel. It’s not by works that I am saved, it’s nothing I have done! So ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I forgive myself or not, but saying that I can’t is really not accepting God’s forgiveness. And rejecting that is rejecting the gospel, and trying to be right with God on my own terms. As I was processing this, God gave me this verse in chapter 2:

19 Arise, cry out in the night,

as the watches of the night begin;

pour out your heart like water

in the presence of the Lord.

Lift up your hands to him(…)

I need to pour out my whole heart to God, confessing and repenting my sin. Then I need to have faith that he hears and will forgive.

This verse really spoke to me in another way also. I’ve been so burdened for Iowa State University, Cyclone Bible Fellowship, and all the lost people at school. I want to see a revival in the way we reach people and the way we love each other. However, the thought of going back, out of this nice spiritual greenhouse, was terrifying! Then I realized, God isn’t just here in North Myrtle Beach! He’s going with all of us back to our campuses! And only he can bring revival and change hearts; I just have to be obedient to do all he calls me too. So after reading this verse, I poured out my heart for campus and CBF, and turned it all over to him. I’ve also been burdened for two friends of mine from high school that I’m still in contact with. I’ve been praying for God to work in their hearts and bring them back to him for a long time, but I renewed my comitment to praying for them and poured out my heart for them, and placed them in God’s hands.

Today I read chapter 3, and was completely blown away! After the intense description of the suffering experienced as a result of sin, it transitions to this:

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

Then skipping a couple verses:
31 For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.

Wow! How encouraging is that! It’s so true, even though I do wander and pay the consequences for it, I have hope! The Lord is compassionate and merciful to me, and doesn’t give me what I deserve – death! He has new compassion for me, and new forgiveness to cover my failures every day! He is my portion, all I need to be fully satisfied forever! Even in suffering, he is good!

37 Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should any living man complain
when punished for his sins?
40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the LORD.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
to God in heaven, (…)

Instead of turning from God when experiencing suffering, we need to respond by examining ourselves, and turning towards him, not only raising our hands in confession, but also in praise. We know that we can trust him when we are being disciplined, because he “is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.”

My prayer for you is that you are placing your hope in him, even when experiencing his discipline. I pray that as you do, you will experience his great love and compassion every day! I pray that you are earnestly seeking him, because when you do, he’ll reveal amazing things to you from places you’d never expect it!

Strength through Weakness

The other day, our impact group decided to run over to the grocery store together, and being resourceful, one of the guys thought he’d try to ride one of the project bikes. The bike looked fine as far as we noticed. However, only a few moments after he started pedaling, the bike chain came completely off of the bike. It just fell off. It looked like it was in fine condition, when really the problem had been there for a while. Now, what can you do with a broken bike? Not much. You can’t ride it anymore. It’s unusable. Instead of carrying someone, it has to be carried.

The point of that illustration is just to say that these last two weeks, I’ve felt just like that bicycle.

Last week was the first week of leading the Bible study and discipleship with the girls and the first week of working at Wal-mart. I honestly didn’t think I felt terribly anxious about it. Crunched for time, yes, but I thought I was keeping my stress under control. Then I started experiencing the same abdominal pain and discomfort that I had my senior year of high school when I experienced problems with anxiety. It continued to escalate throughout the week, making every day a struggle.

My job is also entirely physical work; lifting crates containing four gallons of milk, boxes of juice, etc. from stacks higher than my head. With the cramped conditions in the freezer, twisting and straining is a given. I was exhausted after only two days.

 On top of the physical misery, I felt completely emotionally drained. I knew, intellectually, that I was just a messenger, that my responsibility was to convey truth and encouragement, and only God could use it in their hearts. At the same time, I felt guilty for being exhausted every day after work when I had to do discipleship. I often felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Discipleship lasts for an hour, and sharing is usually another half hour. There were several days when I could only do discipleship, and encourage them to go sharing another time, or I felt so ill that I had to cut discipleship time shorter than it would normally be.

I also felt frustrated. When I would get to call Brian at night, I was always tired, and so was he, which led to a lot of misunderstandings. After I confronted one of my girls about something during discipleship and she took it badly, and I wanted to be there for friends back home going through tough times, I felt like emotionally I had nothing left to give.

I was stretched, and then I broke. And that was the best thing that could have happened to me. I realized how self-sufficient I was trying to be. I realized how I was trying to look like a “good discipler” by pretending I had it all together, and that I could do it all. I realized that I still need the gospel! Here I am telling it to others, but I needed to realize it’s implications for my own life.

  • One, I don’t have it all together; I’m human and therefore, sinful. Trying to appear otherwise was pride on my part, and thus, sin.
  •  Two, I can’t do it on my own. Just like I couldn’t save myself, I can’t live the Christian life through my own strength. I don’t have enough wisdom, enough love, and enough compassion to give all of my Bible Study girls. 

But, just as it’s only through Christ that we come to God, it’s also only through Christ that I can lead them. I MUST depend on Him for all that I need, and leave the results in his hands. I am just the vessel for his wisdom, love, and compassion to flow through to the girls. I feel like I don’t even have the strength to get up in the morning and endure another day of work, much less go sharing, do discipleship, and the other project activities on top of that. It has to be all Christ. Like the bicycle, I need to be carried.

I think once I realized this, nothing really changed, but it just became better. It was and is still a struggle to find physical strength to get through every day, but I know that Christ is my strength, and I just need to keep leaning on him and having the faith that he will provide for me. It’s hard on me emotionally still, but in my emptiness, Christ can fill me with his love and peace. In my brokeness, I’ve found that God can use me in ways that he couldn’t before. It sounds weird, but I really do find joy in it! The pain and difficulties are still there, but the pressure isn’t. It’s been humbling, and I know now like I never did before just how much I NEED Christ, and the gospel. It’s so ironic, I’ve been reading through Hebrews in my devotions, and when I read Hebrews 12:5-12, it didn’t even connect with me until now. “Endure hardship as discipline: God is treating you as sons.”

Sunrise on my last day of Summer Project

It hasn’t all been rough though! Discipleship has been awesome. All of the girls are so teachable, even though they might not be receptive at first, the truth of God’s word changes hearts. It’s amazing to see! I’m so excited for every discipleship session and every Bible study. I learn so much from preparing the lesson, and then I learn even more when discussing it with the girls. They bring such unique perspectives and insights that I never would have seen on my own. Such surprising things happen too; I’ll say something and then wonder, “Where did that come from?” And it’s always much better than I could have come up with on my own. The Holy Spirit is definitely at work!

We’ve seen phenomenal results from sharing these last few weeks too! God is at work among the vacationers and the few high schoolers still here. People are motivated to continue evangelizing even though staff is gone.

We saw an amazing answer to prayer last week when one of our project leaders had to leave because her mother was undergoing surgery. They didn’t think she’d survive, so she had to leave project for the rest of the summer to say goodbye to her mom and be with her family. God answered our prayers, and her mom came through the surgery just fine! As a result of her leaving, new leaders have been chosen to fill her spot, and the spot left by the person who filled her spot. Kali, my roommate, was chosen to fill the spot as one of the leaders of the outreach team!

Me and Kali with Cracker Jacks

Please be in prayer for us as we make this transition in leadership as a project, and for Stephanie and her family. Please pray for our physical health here too, because fevers are going around, and one of the girls next door has pneumonia. We Bible study leaders are really feeling the strain of trying to fit in work with all of our responsibilities, so pray for us that we can manage our time well.

As always, I would love to hear back from you all! (I almost typed y’all…just shows how the southern accent is starting to affect me!) It’s so encouraging to me to hear your feed back and updates on how things are back home in Iowa. Thanks for your prayers! They make such a difference!

In Christ,

Emily

9 And He said to me, β€œMy grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor. 12:9