The Search for Joy

It’s almost too ironic: after a week when I’ve been very worried and stressed, Pastor Joel Tetreau preaches on anxiety and worry. After a difficult week when I’ve been particularly frustrated, disgruntled and sorry for myself, he teaches on Joy. Funny how that works!

But it’s definitely to my benefit. Like me, you may have heard before that JOY stands for “Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.” Simple, but true, and very hard to live. You may not have heard this (I’m quoting from the handout):

  • Joy is a by-product of “Living in Christ.” Sometimes Joy is “felt” as a gift from the Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:3, 5,10, Gal. 5:22, Ps. 4:7)
  • Joy is a tool for “Living in Christ.” (Sometimes Joy is not “felt” but determined based on the facts of our faith, not the feelings of our faith.)
I thought the second point was aimed right at me. I tend to focus  A LOT on my feelings, not on what I know to be true by faith. I tend to forget the John 13:17 principle I talked about some before, where right thinking leads to right doing, and then it’s followed by right feeling. 

“The crossroads for many believers is this. Satan has stolen their joy using the same technique he did on Adam and Eve. First, he built up “unfair expectations” toward God and others. Second, he tempted (and succeeded) Eve and then Adam in not being content. Notice the result when this happens: You loose Joy, You find Sin (or it finds you!)” 

The above quote really caught my attention. I’d definitely built up some unfair expectations of God and Brian, and felt let down and discontent as a result. And as I wrote on the side of my paper, according to Psalm 16:11, we don’t have any excuse for not being joyful. We like to tell ourselves that we can’t be joyful because of _______. Maybe our marital status, job, finances, health issues, etc. But Psalm 16:11 says: “You make known to me the path of life:  in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If we are God’s children, we have God’s presence with us always! We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and God promises never to leave or forsake us. 

I made a lot of excuses for why I wasn’t joyful last weekend. In fact, even Sunday afternoon, I was back at it.  I’d written Brian an email the night before with all the things I’d wanted to express all week when I didn’t think he was listening, so we went to our complex’s pool after Sunday lunch for some couple’s time. Brian finally told me that he had a hard time wanting to listen to me because I’m “always negative about everything.” Despite the superlatives, there was some truth to the statement. I shot back: “Well, I had a really hard week! It’s easy for you to be positive! You get to leave and go to work every day, where you have friends and everyone likes you. I’m stuck here all day by myself with lots of dirty dishes and laundry!”

We had a good talk I think, and it clarified for me that I was just not being content with where God has me right now. Sometimes I feel stuck…not stuck as in I wish I were single, but stuck at home doing school until Brian gets home, fixing dinner, cleaning up, and going to bed, day after day after day. After all the frenzy of school where I actually had to go to campus, involvement with our college group, teaching a Bible study, wedding planning, the wedding, honeymoon, and move, this seems really boring! I’m ready for another adventure! 

But I think I’m beginning to see God’s plan for this time of inactivity. I got way too busy for a while there, and I was neglecting the most important thing: spending one on one time with God, really listening and learning and  worshiping. I think I’m “stuck” so that I can learn to be still and appreciate who God is

And so, this week I’m going to be looking for joy. I’m going to pay closer attention to the everyday things that God has blessed me with. Every day (hopefully) this week I’ll post something that brings me joy. I’m going to focus on the positives and delight in the simple things of life. 

Do you have joy? Often, seldom, or never? What’s keeping you from experiencing joy? What brings you joy?

Whatever is True

Well, the second half of my week did not go as anticipated. On Thursday I suddenly realized that this Sunday was August 1st. I mean, I’d known July was almost gone, and I’d known for a long time that all the units for my two online Astronomy classes were due August 1st, but I didn’t really get the connection with THIS SUNDAY. Until yesterday. I had six units for one class and five for the other to complete. I’ve knocked it down to three and a half total left as of right now, but it hasn’t been fun. So, instead of researching all the fun things I wanted to write about yesterday, I’ve been staring blankly at my computer screen, trying to match the orbit of a baseball with either Orbit 2: Semi-major axis 3189km, highly eccentric, or Orbit 4. Semi-major axis 22,000 miles (35,000 km), eccentricity 0. And I don’t even know what a “Semi-major axis” is.

The last two days have been discouraging for me; I feel like I’m not doing well in my classes, so I think I’m a bad student. I feel like I’m not doing well at fixing meals, or unpacking the guest room, or cleaning the apartment, so I think I’m a failure at housekeeping. I’m SO grouchy and touchy every morning when I fix Brian’s lunch, and I’m always frustrated by my lack of productivity by the time he comes home, that I must not be doing a job as a wife either. Plus, I’m worried about the state of our finances, because I don’t know exactly how we’re doing with our budget, and I feel like since Brian isn’t worried, he must not care, and since he isn’t interested in making plans for my birthday, he must not care about that either, which means the he must not care about me, right? 

God reminded me of the sermon I heard last Sunday morning. Pastor Joel explained “Thoughts lead to Actions which lead to Feelings which leads to more Thoughts.” So wrong thinking leads to wrong doing, which leads to wrong feeling, and more wrong thinking, and so on. This is the cycle anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression will recognize. It’s how fears, worry, and despair get started and soon become so ingrained that they are second nature.

That’s what I’ve been doing the last two days, wrong thinking about myself and about Brian, leading to wrong doing and wrong feeling and more wrong thinking. I need to renew my mind, start thinking true thoughts, and then doing what is right, and wait for the right feelings to follow. I need to realize that I made a mistake with my class, but I need to do all I can to rectify it and get it finished. I need to recognize that the housekeeping can go by the wayside for this week, until I get these classes finished, and that I don’t have to do it all. I need to remember that Brian is not the enemy, and it’s not fair to take out my frustration or exhaustion on him. And I need to get enough sleep. I need realize that Brian’s lack of concern over our finances probably means that my worry is unnecessary, and I can trust him to take care of me. I need to remember that Brian loves me deeply, and he does care about me, and my birthday, and I just need a little patience. 

I’ve been listening to the Christian radio a lot lately, and there’s a Dr. with a talk show who always talks about “The Power of One Thing,” or focusing on one thing at a time, growing in one area, fighting one temptation, parenting one situation, completing one essay, doing one good deed, at a time. I read this blog post by Simple Mom, and it totally reinforced the idea of doing one thing, even if it’s for only 15 minutes. Often we are perfectionists and think that if we can’t do it ALL just right, right now, then why even start? That kind of wrong thinking keeps us from right doing, and we don’t do anything. Go read the article, it’s worth the two minutes, and I know it will be a blessing to you as it was for me. 

When you find yourself feeling discouraged or dissatisfied, what are your thinking patterns like? Are your thoughts true? Are they noble? Right? Pure? Lovely? Admirable? Praiseworthy? Excellent? If you are at all like me, you know your thoughts are often quite different. How does the way you think affect the way you feel, or vise versa? What do you do to change that unhealthy cycle? 

Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Let’s remember these criteria for our thoughts this weekend! See you next week!  

Blogging Blues

This week I’ve been sort-of following a summer-long Build a Better Blog challenge by SITs, The Secret is In the Sauce. If you haven’t heard of them, click on the link or button on here and follow them right away. If you have a blog, you won’t regret it! I find new favorite sites from their featured blogger of the day, and I’ve learned a TON about blogging. Mainly, that blogging well is really an art form requiring lots of strategy and computer know-how in addition to writing skill.

I see now that my original concept of a blog was very naive. I thought I’d just write posts now and then, people would find them, read them, follow me, and post comments, all on their own. After all, I didn’t notice Julie in Julie and Julia posting her posts to facebook, twitter, stumbleupon, and RSS feeds…whatever those are…and she was a hit! Well, based on the fact that lots of people tell me they read my blog, but don’t FOLLOW ME, and prefer to send me emails or facebook messages instead of commenting on my posts, I’m beginning to see that it takes more than a new background, new widgets, and diary-esque posts to have followers (Btw: you don’t have to have a blog to follow mine). Don’t get me wrong; I’ve greatly enjoyed the emails, facebook messages, and in-person comments! But I always find myself wishing I could copy and paste what you say onto my blog so that others can enjoy it too. After all, that’s what blogging is all about- sharing, meeting new people, and learning new things (and support!).

I’m beginning to wonder, if I don’t have a Twitter account, if I never figure out how to add the facebook “like” button, if I don’t learn how to embed videos, if I don’t know how to network, is my blog a failure??? What if I can’t define my niche? What if my page and my posts don’t have a matching theme? What if I don’t have a blog button? What if nobody thinks I’m funny?

In the midst of all the new information inundating me that I may never really understand (What is SEO?), I have picked up a few things: Good writing has an Audience. To have an Audience, writing must have a Purpose, and this Purpose should be clearly stated. That brings up more questions: What is the purpose of this blog? Why do I blog? Why do I care whether or not people follow me or even read anything I write? 
  •  This blog is to keep my friends and family up to date. It is also to provide encouragement and hopefully insight to those who read it. I also want to share helpful information and tips on various topics. Now, how do I sum that up in a nice sounding phrase? Any suggestions? 
  • I blog because, well, I LIKE it. I really do. I LOVE reading posts by blogs that I follow. I especially love honing my writing skills and developing my computer knowledge. I love the idea of having my life, my ideas, me – out there for people to read about. I’m not really sure why that is, except that it’s very validating. 
  • Why do I care… now that is the question. If this blog is for my family and friends’ benefit, why does it matter to me whether or not those family members and friends want to publicly identify with it? I’ve thought about it long and hard, and the only reason I can come up with is that I am selfish. Yep, it’s true. The little girl inside me is standing on a chair, yelling red-faced about something but really meaning: “NOTICE ME! I want ATTENTION! I want, I want…”

 Which leads me to the next question, what do I want out of it? I want to feel like I’m good at something. I want to feel liked, accepted, and loved. And this blog, and my attempts to make it successful  are only one small expression of that very human desire. 

However, while I know it’s a very real, very human desire, I also know that this blog isn’t going to fulfill it, even if I do someday have 100’s of faithful followers and figure out what an RSS feed does. 
Really, I don’t need to be affirmed through this blog, because I (should) know who I am. I’m a jar of clay. (See verse in the blog subtitle) Empty. 
If I’m going to keep blogging and keep my sanity, I’m going to need to remind myself often of the main Purpose of this blog: Glorifying God. He’s the only one who can fill this jar of clay and pour it out as a blessing to others. So, this is my Blog Building Challenge: 
  • To focus on developing the writing skills God has given me, instead of comparing myself to others, with the purpose of glorifying Him by blessing others. 
  • To focus on sharing honestly with my readers, instead of counting my followers. 
  • To enjoy writing, both that of other bloggers and my own.  
  • To do this, one day at a time. 
Thanks for reading this far…I think this post was more for me than you. But, if you have an idea, a suggestion, or a word of encouragement for me, I’d love to hear from you- in person, email, facebook, messenger pigeon, note in a bottle, smoke signals…however you prefer, just not in an RSS feed.  
(Photo credit: www.Dreamstime.com)

Moving Resolutions

‘Twas the night before we’re supposed to leave, and all through the house, creatures are stirring, but not any mice 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂

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, “My 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

Agape Week

Hello everyone!

“Agape” may be a familiar word to you. I knew that it meant “love,” but I didn’t know that it was one of three words for love used in the Bible. One word is for a romantic, passionate love, one is for a brotherly love, but Agape is for love that isn’t an emotion or necessarily a feeling, but a choice. We as a project, but especially we as a Bible Study, deeply experienced this kind of love this week.

Our Bible Study Leader
Sunday night’s message was about God’s Agape love for us. It’s amazing to think that God doesn’t love us because of who we are, but in spite of who we are. “He doesn’t love us for our accomplishments, but in spite of our failures. He doesn’t love us because we have it all together, but he loves us in spite of our brokeness.” Those were the phrases that really stuck with me, along with the statement that God’s love has nothing to do with us, how deserving or undeserving we are, but it has everything to do with his character.

On Monday night, my apartment threw a surprise Bacheloreatte party for our discipler, which was neat because it happened to be the anniversary of when she and her fiance started dating. We all dressed up and took her to a very nice restaurant, had a candlelit dinner and took a ton of pictures, before heading to the beach.

Dinner
Photo Shoot
More Photo Shoot

 Dinner took a lot longer than expected, so the person we were going to have take pictures for us wasn’t available, but two teenage girls on the beach agreed to take them for us. The sun was setting, and the ocean was incredibly beautiful. It was so perfect. Kim told us that she never felt so special in all her life, and we still had more planned! We brought her back to our apartment, where we’d decorated the tables with sea shells, rose petals, and candles, and we set out the chocolate fudge strawberry torte we’d made, got everything ready, and led her in with her eyes closed. Her face was priceless!

After dessert, we each gave her a gift, and since it way too late to start Bible study, I just summarized what it was going to be over, and we discussed it for awhile. At the end of the night, we prayed for each other and for Kim. It was pretty emotional; we’re all going to miss Kim a lot!

Loving Strangers
Tuesday night is outreach night, but this week we did something a little different. Since we don’t have enough car space for our whole impact group, we usually go sharing on the beach or on mainstreet, but our campus director arranged for us to help out at the church’s homeless dinner instead. The church has a free meal, showers, and clothing give away every Tuesday night.

I was so impressed by the attitudes of the people who ran it. It wasn’t a duty to them. One lady said it was her favorite night of the week, and it was evident that all of them genuinely loved these people. One man who helped out must have been in his 80’s, but he cheerfully did whatever small tasks he could.


I helped serve the food, and I was surprised by the homeless people themselves. I think I always had this stereotype in the back of my head that they were lazy, greedy, free-loaders who just needed to get a job. But when we’d offer them food, instead of hoarding it and demanding seconds and thirds, they’d only ask for “Just a little.” They all had stories to tell; some of them had once been business owners, but because of financial struggles and addictions, they are where they are now. One lady had a 14 month old baby, and was pregnant, and she lived in the woods. I can’t even imagine that. In this heat, and sparadic weather, being pregnant, and living in a tent, getting showers once a week, not knowing where your next meal was coming from. It makes so many of the things we complain about seem pretty insignificant. I was pretty convicted about the way I viewed homeless people; I definitly wasn’t seeing Christ in them.

Loving My Bible Study
Thursday afternoon I met with Kim for our final discipleship time. We went through each of the girls in the Bible study and she asked me what things I noticed in them that could be worked on in discipleship, and it was very interesting to see that we both noticed exactly the same things! She shared her vision plan for me for the next five weeks, which listed things she saw as strenghts that I had, and areas of growth that I can work on for the next five weeks. They were exactly what I wanted to work on too; scripture memorization, leading with authority and confidence, and not worrying. She also suggested that I share my testimony with the entire project, a very scary prospect for me, but one I know I should do, and also that I make plans for what my ministry will look like this fall. I strongly desire to lead a Bible study, because I know that especially after doing it this summer, I’m not going to want to stop! I also want to find people to disciple next fall, to build into people’s lives on a one on one basis.

Then Thursday night our project had an Agape dinner before the weekly service. We didn’t really know what to expect when we were told to wear comfortable clothes and bring blankets and pillows. When we arrived at the gym, a section in front of the stage had been roped off by Christmas lights, and inside that each impact group spread their blankets and pillows and sat on them.

Some of us were wondering if it was going to be like the international dinner, but they then explained that it was going to be a little like the feeding of the 5 thousand; they’d pass trays of food to different groups, and then each group would take what they need and pass the tray to a different group, until everyone had everything. It was really fun! There was plenty of food for everyone too.

We had a time of worship there, and somehow sitting on the floor with the dim lighting, and acoustic guitar music, it just made it so easy to focus entirely on praising God. That all lasted about two hours, and then we went into the sanctuary for the service. All the chairs had been moved, so we all sat in groups again on the floor. Our project director challenged us to not turn back now that we were halfway through, to love each other and resolve any conflicts, to be all here, and not to stop spreading the gospel. We discussed with our Bible studies where we would rate ourselves in each area, and we all said that we wanted to do better in evangelism, because I think we’ve all kind of slacked off somewhat over the last couple weeks. It was so neat to hear the girls say they were challenged on things that I was planning to talk to them about in discipleship! God is so at work in them.

After that discussion time, we were all handed candles, the kind almost every church has for their candlelight service. The lights were turned off, and the only candles lit were those belonging to our project directors. They both spoke briefly about their confidence in our new leaders, but our responsibility as a project to grow spiritually and share the gospel. Then they lit the candles of our new student project directors, who lit the candles of people near them, and so on until everyone’s candle was lit. During that time, all of the staff had made their way to the back of the church. After everyone’s candles were lit, our project director gave us a last reminder to shine brightly and said, “The project is now yours.” At that moment, all the staff blew out their candles, and turned and walked out the doors of the church. I think we all felt mingled emotions, I felt sadness and fear, as it hit me that they really were leaving.

Our new directors instructed us to blow out our candles and move all the blankets and pillows to the side, and after we’d done that, they explained that as leaders, we were called to serve as Jesus did. As a practical demonstration of that, they asked all the Bible Study leaders to come to the front, and after they washed our feet, it was our turn to wash the feet of our disciples.

Ok, I thought, this won’t be so bad, because whenever I’ve seen it done before, all they did was dip the person’s foot in the water and dry it off, and that’s considered washing them. That’s not how they did it. They used a washcloth, and actually washed them, not hurrying through it, but taking their time and doing it well, and with JOY. Afterwards, they hugged us and prayed over us before we went back to our disciples. Well, after that I threw out the dipping and drying off idea.

It was probably the most amazing experience I’ve ever had, it really was. As I washed off their feet, I felt such an overwhelming love for each one of them, that all I can say is that it came from God. It wasn’t anything I could make myself do. Yes, I could make myself wash their feet, but I know that I could never love them like that on my own. As I hugged and prayed with each of them, I was so overwhelmed with the desire to see each of them grow in specific areas, and so overwhelmed with thanks for each of them, I could hardly hold back the tears. When I finished praying with the last girl, one of the other girls spoke up; “Guys, let’s pray for Emily too!” They all circled around and laid a hand on me, and one by one they each prayed for me. I cried then! I’m getting choked up just writing about it now!

Each of us experienced God’s love in an intensely personal way that night. I am still in awe of just how much God loves each of my girls. I’m in awe of how much He loves me, to give me this opportunity to love them, and to give them a love for me!

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:37-39

Future Missions

Hello all,

So I’ve been meaning to tell you about the international dinner we, the prayer and world vision team, put together a couple weeks ago, and the impact it had on me.

Our plan was to have several stations, one for each of our international partnerships; Australia, France, Latin America, East Asia, 4J (code name, to protect the believers there), Ghana, as well as one station for America, and then the Hidden People. Students were designated to each station , and each station was decorated along the theme of the country, with some glaring differences.

  • Latin America only had chips and soda to eat, which symbolized their empty, unsatisfying religion. 
  • Ghana was given baby food, representing that there were numerous believers there who lacked spiritual maturity. 
  • 4J was given a box of stale popcorn, tightly taped shut, to symbolize the difficulty for them to access religion, and even then, it’s old and dead.
  •  Australia and France were given real food; chicken, baked potatoes, etc, but it was all cold. 
  • In East Asia, the students were crammed into a small place enclosed by roped off chairs, with barely enough room to sit down, and they weren’t allowed to talk except in whispers, with only rice to eat. 
  • America, on the other hand, had a lavishly decorated table, with more food than they could possibly ever eat, with staff to wait on them hand and foot. 
  • The hidden people were put upstairs in the church, in a small attic, with only water.

The goal was for the Americans to realize that they had the good food, and they could share it with people in the other countries. After a person was given solid food to eat, they could then leave their country and share solid food with others. Hopefully, someone would notice that people were missing, and go looking for the Hidden people. When they were found, they’d have to get past the guards, and teach the people how to eat before giving them solid food.

All of us who were on the prayer and world vision team had to be Hidden People because we knew what was going on. Several random people were also designated as Hidden People with us. We were led to the attic, and told that we could not talk at all. About 30 of us were crammed into the tiny attic. We were so tightly packed in that we had to take turns stretching out our legs. It had been 105 degrees the last two days, and the air conditioner was un-plugged. When someone was about to plug it in, our staff guard told her, “Don’t even think about it.”

I was aware of what the conditions were going to be, but I was really unprepared for how miserable it actually was. All of the students were simply told that it was an international dinner, which conjured up images of a buffet of concoctions from around the world which could be sampled at ones discretion. This was not at all what they were expecting. Water, crammed conditions, and intolerable heat. The staff told them that everyone else was in the gym eating, and probably didn’t even notice we were gone. We decided to try to make as much noise as possible in case they were looking for us. We clapped, we stomped, we pounded on the walls, we drummed on water bottles, and we whistled.

I started whistling “Amazing Grace.” It’s classic, familiar strains brought a sense of peace and hope into the desperation of the situation. We’d been waiting for almost two hours, and no one had found us yet. The tune caught on, and soon almost all of us were whistling “Amazing Grace.” That’s when it struck me: yes, we are trapped in a very hot, uncomfortable room for a few hours. But we have hope! We know eventually we’ll be found or they’ll let us out. We can pray, we can sing hymns, and we have something bigger than ourselves to draw strength from. But what about real Hidden People groups? They’re trapped for a lifetime, actually, an eternity, without hope! They don’t have the grace that we’re singing about. Is anyone even looking for them?

After two hours, some people found us, but only one girl could get past the guards, and she didn’t bring any food. At that point, the staff called the rapture, so the game was over. We all went to the gym, where we were given pizza. Then began the debriefing time, where the game was fully explained, and one staff and one student from each station could share their experience.

It was so interesting to hear how different people responded. Of the Americans, one guy realized immediately what was going on. He’s a quiet, shy person, but he wouldn’t sit down and eat until he found out how he could get to the other countries, and he didn’t stop sharing the entire game. Another guy who was an American ate an entire chicken by himself. The Latin Americans were overlooked, just because it looked like they were having a good time, and because they were so close to America, which is exactly what happens in reality in missions. The French were offered warm food, but they rejected it. They were distracted by the activities at their own table and never noticed what was going on in the rest of the gym. The Australians were much the same way, but a few of them caught on to what was happening and shared food. Very few people noticed that others were missing, but didn’t take initiative to look for them.

One by one, students stood up and shared how they never even thought of Hidden People groups before, or missions, and especially not going themselves, but after their experience, they were going to start prayerfully considering it. When a few nights later we had an information session for each of our partnerships, almost the whole project came.

I personally had forgotten my plan of going on a stateside missions trip this year, and going overseas next year. I’d gotten too caught up in school, Brian, and my plans. Through this experience, God reminded me of how much I had desired to go to France or Africa next summer. I’ve started researching summer projects, and there are two 6 week long ones to France, and several 1 week long trips. In Africa, there’s a project in Ghana for two weeks, and one in Kenya for three. Right now, I’m just praying about all of them. I know that if it is God’s will for me to go, He’ll allow for all the scheduling around summer classes, having a job, and other events to work out. I just need to trust him and be willing to make sacrifices if that’s what it takes.