Lent

Sunday Joy: I Choose Peace

In all the things I “gave up” this week … I still didn’t give up peace.  I gave up comfort and safety… I resolved to trying things even when the situation doesn’t quite seem “perfect… I chose to pray with expectation instead of sticking with “safe” prayers.

There is definite potential for uncertainty and anxiety in these resolutions. It seems as if praying for these things could potentially bring the exact opposite of peace.

Yet, the reality is that I can give those things up BECAUSE of the peace I find in Jesus. In tough times, I don’t need to just focus on the next best thing that’s coming my way; I can rest in God’s arms right now. If sharing my faith with a friend fails in epic ways, I can have peace that I obeyed what God was calling me to do and that’s enough. If the prayer I pray doesn’t get answered in the way or time I would desire, I can trust that God used those moments of prayer to draw me closer to His heart and will provide for all I need for the outcome.

I had a friend ask me this week how I felt about a situation that could have great potential for producing anxiety and fear… this situation brings with it a level of risk.  I surprised even myself by saying: “I’m so excited!”  I realize after the fact that I was able to respond in that way because I know that I’m exactly in the place God needs me in that situation and with that there is great comfort.

I gave up a lot this week, but in doing so, I choose peace. peace

Lent

Giving Up Fear in Loneliness

If you’ve ever taken a Myers Briggs personality test, you know that one of the spectrums that you are rated on is I and E … Introvert and Extrovert.  We often think of extroverts as loud and outgoing and introverts as more isolated.  While that is part of it, this is also measuring how someone gets recharged.  Do you prefer to be alone or have a few close friends?  Or is heading out to a big party where you don’t really know anyone more thrilling to you?  Do you get energy from being around people or does it drain you?  Most of us need both but tend to lean one way or the other.  Over the years I’ve taken this personality test 3-4 times and every time I end up EXACTLY in the middle of “I” and “E”.  I see this as true in my everyday life too.  I NEED both to be with other people as well as to be alone.  Too much of one or the other can be draining to me.

All that to say, even the most introvert of us doesn’t want to be alone ALL the time.  God created us to be in relationship with each other and when we don’t have enough of that (what ever “enough” is for each individual person), we crave it. I might even go so far to say that we perhaps fear that loneliness.  We all love to be alone from time to time, but no one wants to feel lonely.

Just like the other fears I’ve mentioned so far this week, I see this fear creep into my life and lie to me, paralyzing me from things.  When fear and loneliness get together, Satan has a heyday bringing a million “what ifs” to mind and when you’re alone, there’s no one to remind you how ridiculous some of them are?  What if something bad happens to you and no one knows about it?  What if some of the dreams you have for marriage and family never come to fruition?  What if you make the wrong decision about this major purchase because you had to make it on your own?  What if someone breaks into your house?

What if?

What if?

What if?

When I force myself to step back and think about all of these what if questions, I begin to see how unnecessary (and unhelpful) these fears are.  If something bad happened to me, Kathy Figini would know within 5 minutes and have help on the way.  I have friends and family around me to help me make decisions and if I still make a wrong one, they’ll be there to figure out the next steps.  And no matter what any given day or the future in general holds, even if it ends up being bad, it’s not worth my times to live in fear.

No matter what, God’s promise over and over and over in Scripture that He is always with us and we are never alone.  We have no reason to fear when God is on our side.  So, in those moments where fear and loneliness meet, may we give up the fear and cling to these beautiful promises of God:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.(Isaiah 41:10)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.  (John 14:16-17)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

lonely

Lent

Giving Up Fear… 

What do a dark room, a tall building, and spiders have in common?

They all top the list of things people fear.  While those may be the first things that come to mind, I actually believe there’s another list of top fears that are perhaps even more common.  Things like fear of what other people think or fear of failure. Fears over what might happen to people we loved or fear based in uncertainty about the future in general.

Fear is such a big part our lives and can keep us from all that God has in store for us. This week I’m going to spend each day giving up some of my biggest fears.  Over 300 times in the Bible God reminds us that with Him on our side we have no reason to fear.

To get us started today, here is one of my favorite:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭41:10‬)

Jesus, help us to give up fear today and every day, resting in your hands and trusting your provision for us. In your name we pray, Amen!

Lent, Music

Blissfully Unaware – Giving Up Worry

I recently joined the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and have truly enjoyed singing in an ensemble regularly again. One of the pieces we’re doing at our concert this Sunday is a 3-movement piece by Bernstein featuring a collection of Psalms sung in Hebrew. No matter what order we rehearse the movements in, the second one is the one that always plays over and over in my head for days after a rehearsal.  

A soloist and the women start by singing the well-known Psalm 23, when suddenly they are interrupted by the men singing Psalm 2.  We go from peaceful sheep in green pastures by still waters to “why do the nations rage?!?” with quite a different tone. Part of the way into the men’s psalm, the women come back in recounting the Lord as their Shepherd again over the top of the chaos described in Psalm 2.  While the words are powerful (especially when you look at them in English together), it suddenly meant so much more when I saw the musical markings as the women come back in. Typically the music may say something like “fast and crisp” or “bright sound.”  In this section we are instructed by the composer to come in singing “blissfully unaware of threat“. (You can listen to this movement here performed by the Taipei City Symphony.)

In my mind, this musical note isn’t suggesting being naive about the danger, but rather, of remembering in Whose arms you rest as the “nations rage”. A sheep doesn’t spend all of it’s days freaking out about the potential dangers around them, and even if they do, there is absolutely nothing they could do on their own to protect themselves from the things that might attack them.  They have to depend on their shepherd.  

The same is true for us. 

  
So today in my Lenten journey, I give up worry. I give up freaking out about things over which I have no control. I give up wondering when things will happen in my life.  I give up worrying about our own “raging nations” in the world today. I give up unproductive concern for loved ones.  Worrying about things doesn’t make any potential threat go away. 

Instead as the troubles come, I pray that I can simply rest content in my Shepherd’s arms… that I find myself blissfully unaware… abiding in His love. 

Adonai r-oi, (The Lord, My Shepherd), even when I walk through the valleys of life, may I do so without fear, because I can trust that You are with me.  Help me today, give up my worry and replace it with trust. No matter what is going on around me or what happens in this life, may I rest secure knowing that I will dwell in Your house, forever. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

  

31 Days of Imperfection

Saying No: When Perfection is Imperfect {31 Days of Imperfection – Day 9}

Exactly one year ago today I returned to Buffalo from my first trip to Haiti.

 

Exactly one year ago today, I also was proposed to by one of the most amazing, godly, wonderful men I’ve ever met.

 

I can only imagine the reactions of some of you reading this right now…

Say, WHAT?!?

You’re engaged?

How didn’t I know about this?

What’s going on?

Did I miss the invitation to the wedding?

 

I guess I should continue by saying:

Exactly one year ago today, I made one of the best decisions of my life this far and said, “no”.

 

 

The story of how Isaac and I met (in Uganda) and the journey leading to a proposal is a great one and I’d be willing to share it with anyone who wants to hear about it.  But for today, the ‘no’ is the important piece of the (extremely long) story.

 

As I said before, Isaac truly is one of the most amazing, godly men I’ve ever met in my entire life.  He is passionate about sharing Jesus with others.  He is well respected  by the people in his family, at his job, in his town and by everyone who meets him.  He cared for me and made sure I was protected while in some possibly dangerous situations in Uganda.  He encouraged me in my calling to ministry and my calling as a child of God (and continues to do so as an amazing brother in Christ).

 

By now some of you are probably wondering why in the world I said “no”.  While there are many reasons, one of the biggest reason is that I simply wasn’t in love with him.

 

Throughout the discussions about marriage that we had, and despite the fact that HE truly WAS in love with me, I slowly came to realize that one of the only reasons I continued to consider the prospect of getting married to Isaac was because I thought maybe that’s what God wanted me to do and I needed to prove my willingness to sacrifice for God.  Sure, Isaac had many of the characteristics of the man I hope one day I get to call “husband,” but to move forward in a big life decision like this simply out of duty is NOT the life God has called us to.

 

In my striving for perfection, I set aside one of the most important gifts God desires to give us: JOY.

 

In the weeks and months of me seeking God for wisdom, guidance, and direction, I realized that if I stepped forward in this relationship and it really WAS God’s plan, he would bless it with joy and peace.  Yet, as my heart leaned that way, there was nothing but confusion, duty, and sacrifice.  I’m not saying that God’s plans for our lives don’t involve sacrifice, because they often do, but in my trying to follow God perfectly, I had forgotten that following God is just as much about finding joy in our lives (IN HIM) as it is sacrifice.

 

Another big issue was that God gave me my passions, gifts, desires, and talents for a reason.  At that point in my life, I didn’t know where I was going to end up after my internship, but I could sense God’s calling loud and clear that I was supposed to be in America.  Throughout the time I knew Isaac, I could tell that his passions and gifts were rooted in ministry in Uganda.  As I said before, God’s plans for us are often different than our own and often include sacrifice.  However, nothing I read in God’s Word points to a God who creates us with unique desires, passions, and gifts for ministry in His Kingdom only to tell us to ignore it all.  Instead, the God I know and love gives us opportunities to use all that in a way that brings Him glory.

 

In my striving for perfection, I lost sight of this truth:

My God loves me.

He doesn’t love me because I was willing to give up everything and marry a guy (I didn’t really love) and move to Africa. He also doesn’t love me because I stayed here in America to serve him.  He doesn’t love me BECAUSE of anything I do.

He just simply loves me… imperfection and all. No ‘ifs’, ‘ands’, or ‘buts’.

He LOVES me!

 

Sometimes recognizing that love, joy, and peace comes … in saying “no.”

Bekah's Heart, Blessing, Joy

Vacations are for Detours

I come ‘round the last curve in the road.  A smile grows on my face as contentment grows in my soul.   If I wasn’t sure before, I’m now convinced that this impromptu detour down “J-Hill” road was a great idea.

I can’t wait to get down the drive and park the car, quick turning off the radio allowing for the silence this place demands. 

I look around for a rock to carry up. Unsuccessful, but decide the rocks don’t have to be literal, my figurative ones will work just fine for today.

The ascent begins and I ponder… Was it really nearly 10 years ago that I made this climb for the first time?  I also recall some of the “rocks” I laid down here nearly a decade ago… some of the same burdens I’ve come here to lay down again today. 

I pass the crossbar and continue the hike, thankful that the frozen ground makes this journey a little easier than the typical summer day with shifting dirt and sliding rocks.  Near the top, I finally turn around.  The awe-inspiring view steals my breath once again.  

As if there were an automatic recording, the familiar tune and words begin to come out of my mouth…. “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary…”

I ponder again… how many times have I climbed this hill?  How many times have I sung that song?  How many rocks have I laid here… my sins, my burdens, my hurts, my joys.

I linger for a while but eventually begin the hike down to the car… hearing in my head the instructions that for many years came out of my mouth… “If you turn your feet sideways it makes it easier to get down without slipping.”  (As this thought passes through my head, I also slightly regret not changing into the gym shoes that were in the trunk.)

On my way down I pay specially attention to the names that remain on weather-worn rocks.

Luke.

Kylie.

Trina.

Julius.   I pause a little longer here.   

I wonder… What burdens or pains or hurts or sins might he have left there with his rock only weeks before he left every burden behind forever and went to the place of no more tears. 

Luke.

Anneka.

The names and rocks continue, some more familiar than others.  Each name representing the same thing…  a life changed in this place.  Each rock carries a story… one often known by God alone.   Each rock left there together forms a certain shape reminding… We are free.  Over the last decade, hundreds have made that same climb leaving behind their “junk.” And now, collectively, that “junk” is somehow able to point to our risen Lord.  To God Alone be the Glory!

Thanks God for today… for that spontaneous voice in my head that prompted my journey to 7821 Lyons Creek Road… one of the places in this world that has the label “home” in my heart … a place that gives a little glimpse into what our forever home will be like.

Bekah's Heart, Internship Highlights

‘Tis Good, Lord, To Be Here

Today was a beautiful day.  I’m currently back at school in Nebraska for a Mid-Year Conference with all of the DCE interns from all over the world. These few days back on campus are hard to describe.  Most of us interns have used the word “weird” in that description more times than we probably can count.  It’s this interesting dynamic of loving this place but not really fitting in… at least not in the way we have in the past.  Our roles have shifted, and that’s okay.  In the midst of this awkward, indescribable, mid-way check point, it has been such a blessing to just see God presence everywhere I turn.  Here are just a few examples of where that was found today alone:

  •  A conversation with a beautiful woman with whom I’ve literally had one prior face to face conversation with before, yet somehow our hearts just know each other.  I don’t get it, but was so thankful for our time together this morning and God’s presence there.
  • Chapel.  I miss chapel.  What a wonderful REST was found in the very SIMPLE yet profound proclamation of the Gospel today as it was describe as a song, a melody that can, in a way, be the “background” music to our life.
  • Lunch (at Dragon Palace) with fellow interns, talking about anything and everything and nothing.
  • A chance to share with other DCE students our experiences and where we’ve seen God at work through our internships.
  • Being able to “pick up” friendships where they left off and just get straight to what really matters… to know and be known.  

As corny as it may sound, I really felt like the last verse of a hymn we sang in chapel today encapsulates this trip back to Concordia for me.

’Tis good, Lord, to be here.
Yet we may not remain;
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.

It is so wonderful to be able to reflect and see all the many ways God has blessed my life through Concordia… to be able to come back and be overwhelmed in a good way… to realize the number of people through whom God has blessed me and made me who I am.  But now, as good as it is to be here, it’s obvious that this is not where I belong right now… and God comes with me to what’s next.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lord, ’tis truly good to be here… to behold Your beauty… to see You at work in my life and the lives of others… to hear and remember your gospel melody that accompanies my life.  And now, as I prepare to wrap this time here up, may You remind me of your promise to go with me and continue to open my heart and ears to that beautiful melody of Your love.  ‘Tis good Lord, to be Your child.  Thank You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bekah's Heart

Content to Linger

As I opened my Facebook page this afternoon, the first day of 2011, my eyes fell upon these words in the status of a friend:

We’re in no hurry, God. We’re content to linger in the path sign-posted with your decisions. Who you are and what you’ve done are all we’ll ever want. – Isaiah 26

I was struck by these words and began to wonder how many of us could actually say this is true about our lives… that we’re not in a hurry?… that God is all we’ll ever want?  Yet… this is the beautiful life God desires for us.

 

I assumed this was from the Message paraphrase of the Bible and searched quick on the internet to find out for sure.  When I did, I stumbled upon a blog post by a man named David Norman in which he said the following about this verse:

 

Isaiah spoke of a time when the people of God would find complete rest and peace and hope in God. He longed for the day when God would be enough for them. …  I wonder, sometimes, if I am obedient to the extent that I am "content to linger" where God places me. I often find myself pushing and stretching in order to accomplish these big dreams God has placed within me. Very rarely do I ever find myself in an area of rest where I am not moving toward something.

 

I’m guessing many of us (and definitely myself) can associate with David Norman in the fact that we’re always focused on the next thing.  Lately I’ve been learning a lot about the beauty of just letting something be.  Instead of just trying to plan and fix and change everything around me… I’m beginning to see what God means when he says that he want to change ME.

 

So, as I start a new year, I resolve to not have a list of resolutions to try to keep, goals to attempt to meet, or plans to fix what I might perceive as broken in my life.  Instead, God, this is what I want to be…

 

content to linger.

okay with standing still… with standing in pain… with standing in joy… with standing where you take me.

comfortable with simply being and refraining from trying and striving and pushing forward.

at ease with the path before me.

satisfied with letting You be more than enough for me.

resting in who You are and have made me to be. 

 

And in the process, this coming year will be blessed in greater ways than I could ever imagine with my own resolutions, goals, and plans.  This year… this day… this moment, Lord, teach me a way of life in which I’m truly able to say:

“I’m in no hurry, God.  I’m content to linger in the path You have for me.  Who You are and what You’ve done is all I ever want.”

31 Days of Hope

Hope {Day 12} – Hope and Contentment… the Best of Friends

Tonight at the wonderful Philippians Short Course Bible Study at First Trinity we were studying chapter 4.  It’s a wonderful chapter which I strongly suggest everyone read.  (You could even do so right now by clicking here.)  Anyway, in summary here are a few things covered in that chapter:

  • vs 4 – Finding JOY in the Lord
  • vs. 5-7 – Finding PEACE to replace anxiety through prayer
  • vs. 8-9 – Finding TRUTH to fight the lies Satan gets us to believe.
  • vs. 10-20 – Finding CONTENTMENT in Jesus rather than our circumstances.

You may be starting to wonder what all of that has to do with a blog post that is supposed to be about HOPE. 

 

However, as I was driving home just now, I began to realize that “CONTENTMENT” and “HOPE” are very much alike.  Maybe hope grows out of contentment or contentment comes from hope or maybe neither, but in any case, many similarities appear.

 

Take a look at what Paul says here in Philippians 4 about being content:

… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know that it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength. 

Just like contentment, we learn to find HOPE no matter what the circumstance.  Hope doesn’t come FROM the circumstance.  Most of the time, if we look at our situation, we’d probably find more despair than hope. So while hope doesn’t come from the situation, we can find hope IN the situation. 

 

Paul states here that he found “the secret” to contentment, and it comes in looking to Christ for strength.  The same is true of HOPE… we have to look to something, or rather Someone, outside of our situation in order to find hope. 

 

Verse 19 tells who that Someone is:

And my God will meet ALL your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Despair, the opposite of hope, comes when we start to think that there’s no way out… our situation is too big… to hard… too much… my needs are too many or too great.  In reality, when we can’t find contentment or we can’t find hope… it’s because somehow our circumstances have blinded from seeing God’s provision.  We start to let our minds wander and think, “Well, maybe God isn’t enough for me.” Our situation can, at times, keep us from realizing that our God is MORE than enough for us.  He provides ABUNDANTLY.

 

When fear and anxiety attempt to rob us of contentment or hope… we can focus on “whatever is true.” (vs. 8 ) And this my friends is true:

OUR GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF US! 

 

Provision.

 

Contentment.

 

HOPE.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gracious God,

We thank you for the promise that you will provide for ALL our needs.  We thank you that you’re not giving us just enough to survive, but that you provide abundantly, that You are MORE than enough for us.  When the situations and circumstances of our lives blind us and fill us with anxiety, give us strength and bring us back to truth.  We know from Your Word that in that place of truth… in being honest with you in prayer, your peace will guard our hearts and our minds.  That is our prayer tonight, Lord… that you would protect our hearts and minds from despair as you point us to Hope Himself, Jesus Christ.

It’s in His name we pray,

AMEN!

31 Days of Hope

Hope {Day 7} – Giving Hope from Afar

In a way, this post is kind of “Part 2” of yesterday’s post.  I mentioned yesterday that often in the times where hope needs to be offered, there aren’t really words or actions that can give that hope… rather, being present is simply enough. 

 

While I believe that is often completely true, I can’t just stop there. No, I’m not saying that I want to do more.  Rather, my heart calls out, “What about the times when I CAN’T be there?” 

 

Three months ago I moved halfway across the country from all my family and friends.  I’ve come to realize how difficult it can be to see friends and family go through hard times (and good times too) and be hundreds of miles away… feeling helpless.

 

While technology is wonderful and allows for more communication during those times, the act of just “being” with them, isn’t really an option. How do I give hope in those times?

 

Up until this last week I probably would have finished this story by saying something to the effect of “I guess all I can do from here is pray for them.”

 

While that is a true statement, I can’t really DO anything else… I realized a new, and what I believe to be a better, perspective while listening to Pastor’s sermon this weekend:

 

Prayer shouldn’t be my only option to help simply because I’m not close enough to do something “more.”   With this perspective, I make prayer something small.   But dear friends, prayer is anything but small.   As Pastor Chuck said, “The prevailing power of God flows through people who pray.”

 

Instead of seeing myself limited to this seemingly insignificant task due to my distance from those hurting, I can feel privileged to be able to pray for my family and friends when they experience trials and joys in life. 

 

I can find FAITH that God’s power works through the prayers I’m lifting up for the CUNE/Seward community as they mourn the loss of a little 10-year old girl right now.

 

I can find JOY even in being able to stand on a hill with arms outstretched… praying that the God of HOPE would surround the hearts and minds of those I care about whether I can be present with them or not.

I can find PEACE as I pray that those I love would find hope to be an “anchor for their soul” (Hebrews 6:18-20). 

And through that process of prayer, I am then also anchored to Hope Himself, Jesus Christ.  

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