The pieces of this messy walk

scattered pieces of a messy walk way... that's what my life appears to be sometimes...

scattered pieces of a messy walk way… that’s what my life appears to be sometimes…

Today I feel drawn to write again.

It’s been a while since I’ve been here putting pen to paper (so-to-speak), and it’s been due to a number of reasons, most of which I won’t get into today simply because of the monotony of them. But it seems like blogging and writing in general follow the usual pendulum that is my life: desperately seeking and craving consistency, but following a God who continually leads me by The Spirit, who doesn’t usually allow mundane routines to take hold of my life, even when I think I’d like them to.

I think it’s due to a craving for control. Women? Can you relate? I say women, but really it is a very human thing to want control: of people, of timing, of situations: of money… it’s a natural desire.

I look at some people in my life, who I am sad to say are not saved, and their life seems to be so consistent. They get up at the same time each morning, they work out (everyday without fail!), they go to work, they get work done, they come home, make dinner (everyday without fail!), and they watch their usual tv shows, and then they go to bed at the same time every night. They have their schedule to count on. It will always be the same.

I want that for myself sometimes, at least, I convince myself that I want it. I want to wake up each morning at exactly the same time, have an hour of quiet time without fail, get to work with everything prepared, use each of my prep periods wisely, have a lunch and bible study without interruption, work out for a hour at the gym at exactly 3:30-4:30, come home and prepare dinner for Dennis and myself, eat it, go to bible study, or spend time doing whatever it is I’d like to do, then go to bed at exactly 9:30pm and do it all over again the next day. Consistent work out, consistent bible study and prayer time, consistent work, consistent meals, consistent bed times, consistent wake ups. Consistency. I convince myself I want this so badly.

First of all, I know I cannot compare my life following Jesus to those that aren’t. The Bible is clear about comparing ourselves to others and longing for lives that do not leave room for His presence.

Second of all, I know that if I had that consistent routine that I think I want, I would become bored with it and feel that my life is meaningless (which it would be).

My life following Christ is messy, and I want to learn to be proud to say it. I have periods of time when my job and the kids I teach are so needy and important, that I don’t have time to make incredible dinners. Sometimes I go through a canned soup and crock pot chicken season. I have periods of time when my night owl husband needs me up late too, and I wake up later than planned so I have to listen to my “pray-as-you-go” podcast in replacement of my worship time. Sometimes I go through a season where my prayers are jotted down on post-it notes and not elegantly arranged in my beautiful journal that sits on my desk. Sometimes I’m all ready to go to the gym, but a little child knocks on my door and needs an apple and some Bible time, so I sacrifice the toned muscles I think I need for some quality time with God and His little children. Sometimes I feel I’m so emotional and messed up that I can’t even think about writing in this blog, and so I get out of the habit and months go by and comments go unread and suddenly I forget how to do this…

And I sometimes think to myself, God is consistent! He never changes! So why does my life seem so messy and unpredictable?! Why is everything up in the air and pieced together into weeks that don’t align and schedules that never stay the same? Am I just uncommitted? Do I have a lack of discipline? What’s wrong with me?

Then I realize that while the people, emotions, levels of energy, jobs, conversations, and all other earthly things in my life are completely inconsistent, it makes it so that all I have to lean on is The Lord. He is the one constant thing I can cling to in this life. My craving for consistency is really my deep desire to know Him. According to Malachi 3:6, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed…”. What a beautiful picture. God’s consistency does prevent me from being consumed by my own business and “productivity” turned monotony.

Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. My life as a Christian and my walk with Christ is messy, yet He is not. My life as a Christian is not on a plateau; it’s an upward climb with tests and trials and bumps along the way. It’s not stagnant or stuck in a rut, but always moving and always flowing forward as Christ is.

My life as a Christian and my walk with Christ means that I can sacrifice my need to control my schedule and my time in order to live by the seemingly random promptings of the Holy Spirit. Because, although they may seem random, I know that God knows what He is doing, and this life I’m living according to Christ, is exactly the path which He wants me on.

So today…. The Spirit has called me to write. I’m not sure why or for what purpose, as I’m sure people have realized that I am far from consistent with this blog, but nevertheless, God has called me back.

It’s good to be where God calls. Even if it seems random and unplanned. The consistency and stability I crave is found in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning”.

Do we really need to give to anyone who asks?

thirsty thursHappy 4th of July everyone!

Today for Thirsty Thursday I am drinking an Orange Spice Iced Coffee with Soy from Starbucks. I received a Starbucks gift card, and I am putting it to good use. Although… when I ordered this drink, the woman apparently did not know they served anything “orange spice”, so I am guessing this drink is not as popular as it should be. So I am doing Starbucks a favor now and letting all of you know that it is a good investment. Go order yourself one today!

Now that you have your fancy drink, let’s get on with the rest of our post…

Last week my church conducted something called “Compassion Sunday”. This is a day when our church members go out into our surrounding community of Roseland on the far South Side of Chicago. Some pray with people, some give food, some provide a service, others visit shut in members or sick members, and some hold services in the local shelters or hospitals.

This particular time, I was in charge of a clothing drive. The process involved collecting clothing donations from the church, sorting them, organizing them into nicely folded piles, and then spreading the word!

The spreading the word was probably the most fun. On the Saturday before the Compassion Sunday Clothing Give-Away, I snagged a neighbor girl along with 40 fliers, and we hit up Michigan Avenue (between 107th and 115th  street, not the Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Loop).

During our jaunt down the block, the two of us just wandered, looking into the famous Roseland Doughnut Shop, watching with several others as men made giant globs of apple fritter. We stopped to talk with a family of 5 who were parked on the side street and eating melting popsicles with open van doors. We tossed out granola bars to men sitting on the side of the street, claiming that they had the “munchies”, and complimented a girl on her nice dress and intricate nose ring.

We stopped to hand one man a flier, and asked if he wanted a granola bar. He said yes, reached in the bag and pulled out two handfuls. My face must have shown surprise, or perhaps even disapproval, because he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I have a few? I’ve got some kids down the block…” I nodded my head and smiled.

“Of course. Take as many as you need.”

My neighbor squinted her eyes; she has been trained (and trained well in my opinion) to be distrusting and wary, especially of men on the street. “You know he was prolly lyin’ right Claire?”

“Oh I don’t think it really matters.” I say, but really it’s not me whose speaking, because…well, me? Well, I’m thinking the same thing in my own head. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of me who spoke, and I was reminded of Jesus.

To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” Luke 6:29-31

Jesus’s instructions are clear. We must give to who ever asks. Even if that man had taken all of our granola bars, I know Jesus would instruct us not to ask for them back, just as this passage teaches.

I was reminded of this yet again during Compassion Sunday. A woman’s hungry eyes were darting all over the clothing racks and tables of purses, belts and shoes. I handed her plastic bag after plastic bag, and she took as much as she could carry.

My natural, judgmental instinct would be to glare at her, ask her if she really needed all of these clothes, and request she think of others rather than herself and to please save some items for the rest of the people.

But Jesus is pretty clear. This woman was asking for more.

It was not my place to judge whether she needed more; it was my job to give her more, and to not even withhold the clothing off my own back from her (if she for some reason wanted to put my shirt in her bag too)!

It is the same with the Gospel. We are to share it– to give it to others. What they do with it after we give it to them is on their own conscious, not ours. In the same way, our job is to simply give to those who ask, never denying anyone. After we give, it’s up to them to decide how they choose to use the gifts. 

Jesus is the joyful giver. He is the Spirit of giving, and He gave his life for us.

How are we reflecting His precious gifts to us by giving to others who ask? How are we using our own gifts from God, including the gift of giving?

Sunday Scriptures: Why Adam’s Rib?

Sunday Scripture

It was a normal Saturday morning: I was making the coffee and boiling the eggs for breakfast. The kitten was wining about not having any milk to drink and I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes enough to be forgetful of her. Steam screamed from the orange bauble-kettle and I turned off the burner to scoop Folgers into the French press, sprinkling the pile of dark grounds with a dash of orangy-brown cinnamon and pouring the steaming water up to the brim. After pealing the eggs and dousing them in black pepper, I sat down, opened up my Bible, and began to read. Not soon after taking my first bite of yolk-soaked toast, I was hit with this mind-shattering verse:

“For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” 1 Corinthians 11:8-9

Now ladies, how do we feel about this?

As a newlywed, I have been learning quite a lot about my role as a wife, and let me tell you, it has not been an easy route; nor, I imagine, will it continue to be for quite some time. And perhaps it might have been a bit harder at first because of this fact: Men were not created for women. They were not created to serve them, respect them, love them, provide for them, or make them feel beautiful. They just weren’t. If they were, Adam would have been the second human, created to serve his wife Eve.

Instead, Eve was created for her man. She was to be his “help meet”. Meaning, she was a gift to Adam because she was completely designed to give him his every need. She was made from him and for him to be a helper, an encourager, a lover, and a team mate.

You all know the way it went, right? Eve was actually created from Adam’s rib. She actually was made from him. She is that much a part of him, and now, even though a wife is not cut from her husband’s side, she is still to come along side him (very much like a rib), and help him in the calling God has on his life.

Now, at first I thought that this meant women were below men, unequal and inferior to men. And to be honest, I had a little bit of a hard time swallowing this. Who of us ladies wouldn’t?

But this is not the case.

We were designed to be our husband’s help meet. So, we were created by God with a special man in mind for us. And when God created that man, he had us in mind as that man’s special helper. We were created, not to serve all men, but to serve and help and love and reverence one man: our husband.

Cover of "Adam's Rib"

Some of you may think: “Well Claire, this still seems like women get the short end of the stick!”

But it’s not true. We have the privilege of serving our husbands because, just like the Holy Spirit serves the Father and the Son and yet is still part of who God is, so we are in our marriages.

We are one with our husband. “The two shall become one flesh”— and so we are a part of him in a sense. Our natural design already is to nurture, encourage, love, defer to, and reverence. And when we do all of those very natural things for our counter part, our other half, our partner heir in the Kingdom, we make our husbands cherish us, love us, and value us as part of himself (his rib- if you will).

When we truly understand this scripture, we might read it as this: “For the Father is of the Son, but Christ is of God. Neither is the Father created for the Holy Spirit, but rather, the Holy Spirit was created for God.”

The only way, wives, we will ever see the beauty of the way God truly designed marriage to be, is if we start thinking of it as a reflection of God.

…However, I imagine some of you were like me that morning, utterly astounded and pretty much hacking up your breakfast when you read this kind of language. So….what does it mean to you?

How have you ladies seen this verse to be true in your lives? How has God been reflected in your marriage?

The First Thirsty Thursday

thirsty thursAs this is my first post for Thirsty Thursdays, I thought I’d explore an appropriate verse as well as explain what Thirsty Thursdays’ posts will generally be about.

If you’re in college, you might know “Thirsty Thursdays” to be completely different than what might be found on a Christian blogger’s posts. According to Urban Dictionary, Thirsty Thursday refers to “a term normally found on college campuses, the title becoming popular when many students did not have early morning classes on Fridays, allowing them to drink and party on Thursday night”.

Well, this Thirsty Thursday is quite different for several reasons:

Number one, I’m no longer a college student, but I do, in fact, have early morning classes on Friday (I’m a High School teacher), so late night partying is not really something I could do even if I wanted to.

Number two, alcohol and raging parties is just kind of not my thing anymore. And if it still were, would I be blogging about it and glorifying it on a blog that’s suppose to be glorifying my Lord and Savior? Um, no.

So usually, what I will do for Thirsty Thursdays, is I’ll be drinking something. Usually coffee or tea, but sometimes I guess I’ll be drinking Naked juice or Diet Pepsi or a glass of red wine (because drinking alcohol is not a sin, but being drunk is)…. or water. Water is always good. Anyway, I’ll be drinking something and I’ll probably tell you about it (because I know you care!). Then I’ll blog about Jesus.

Why about Jesus, you ask?

Well, number one, because He’s awesome, and He totally deserves a weekly blog post. And so much more.

Number two, because just like I need water to satisfy my thirst and keep me alive, I need Jesus to satisfy my thirst and to give me life.

In fact, this leads me to my verse of the Thirsty Thursday:

… Living Water, that is.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

That first part: it’s it so true? I swear, there are days (usually hot summer days) when I cannot seem to drink enough water. I’m always thirsty, always wanting more.

Water is an earthly substance. Indeed, planet Earth is iconic because of it’s water sources. It means that life can exist.

Our bodies are made of 60% water. We need it.

But, like all earthly things, we can never be fully satisfied with it. Just because we have water to drink, or water near us, or water in our bodies, it doesn’t mean that we’re truly alive.

Here’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus is alive. And because he is alive, we can be alive too!

The Living Water is different than regular water….. but how?

The kind of water which Jesus spoke about was “living” (moving or running) water. During the times of Jesus, water from a cool running stream was always preferred to the still, dirty water one might find in a pond or well; it was cleaner, clearer, fresher, better. The water which Jesus spoke of symbolized the always-moving Holy Spirit. The Spirit part of the trinity is the Living Water, the one who moves us to action and inspires the divine works in our lives. This “water”life makes us a new creation in Jesus Christ.

The Living Water of the Holy Spirit satisfies our deepest desires, thirsts, and longings for God. It is better than any earthly remedy. Like water, we need to drink in the Spirit everyday, multiple times a day, or we will become dehydrated, lethargic, and sick.

Now that you know what Thirsty Thursdays are all about, I will leave you with one deep theological question:

If earthly water makes up 60% of our body, what percentage of our body should consist of the Living Water that Jesus speaks of?

Oh, and also, I’m drinking home made iced coffee from our french press. No big deal.

Satisfaction Guaranteed Part II

When are you most satisfied with God?

pathways

Will you go your own way, or will you go God’s way?

I asked this question to one of the girls I am discipling over these next two months. It is a tough question to ask yourself, especially when you’re not sure how to maintain the relationship with Christ during a day filled with distractions. The students I am working with spend almost all day at ministry sites, evangelizing on the streets of Chicago, or listening to workshops and interviews with ministry workers; their focus is clear. But this kind of situation is not as common for the majority of us.

It’s like going to a retreat or a mission trip and feeling absolutely on fire for God while we’re there, only to come back feeling empty and lukewarm. God doesn’t seem as present as He was when we were in the midst of all the ministry and worship and prayer and people.

Why though? Is one true and the other false? And if so, which sensation is false– the “on fire” passion we felt momentarily, or this halfheartedness that consumes us when we get caught in our daily lives?

There is a true and present danger that can and will cause us terrible loss and pain if we are not deliberately fighting against it.

The danger is our own selves.

We come from a fallen family of sinners, and if we trust out own efforts and strength to live our Christian lives, we are guaranteed to experience failure and frustration rather than intimacy and satisfaction in God.

This is not a completely modern predicament, as Paul was writing to the Galations about this very same thing: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galations 3:3)

The truth is, human beings have been trying to go it on their own since Eden. We’re all just like the first humans, doing our own thing, thinking that we’ve got it totally under control.

We cannot enjoy all God desires for us if we live by our own self-centered desires.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galations 5:17).

Perhaps we felt “on fire” for God because, unlike our usual life, we were putting our own selfishness on pause for a retreat or a mission trip or even a church service. Perhaps we don’t feel a connection to Christ afterwards because our own desires are replacing the desires that His Holy Spirit has for us.

Ah ha! The answer is yet again tied to the Holy Spirit. The third member in God’s Holy Trinity.

When we become a Christian, we receive the Holy Spirit, and we commit to walk an intimate journey which we can only walk successfully in the Spirit of Christ. When we walk with Him, we increasingly experience intimacy with God and enjoy all He has for us. When we walk in the Spirit, we have the ability to live a life that is pleasing to our God.

But… how do we live by the Spirit?

Although it may seem as though answering this question might be difficult, it actually is quite simple. Just about as simple as…. well, as simple as breathing!

Spiritual Breathing is a powerful picture that helps us experience moment-by-moment dependence upon God’s Holy Spirit.

Exhale: Confessing sins in the moment you become aware of it, agreeing with God concerning it, and thanking Him for His forgiveness. John 1:9 and Hebrews 10:1-25 explain that confession requires repentance, or a change in attitude and action, so this is a very real and yet symbolic way that we can acknowledge our own need for grace.

Inhale: Surrender control of your life to Christ, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to fill you with His presence and power. Allow God to put His plan for you above your own plan for yourself. Let your faith be bigger than any earthly desire you might have.

The act of simply breathing in the Holy Spirit can bring us back (if we let it) to God’s presence and power within us. For it is by the Spirit that we live the fullest life.

Satisfaction Guaranteed Part I

What words would you use to describe your current experience as a Christian?Growing, disappointing, forgiven, struggling, defeating, up and down, discouraged, intimate, painful, guilty, so-so, frustrated, fulfilled, stuck, joyful, exciting, empty, duty, mediocre, dynamic, vital…?

Each and every one of these words could have been used at one point during these 3 years I have been a Christian to describe my walk with Christ. I would love to say that my walk has always been rewarding and encouraging, but the truth is, my walk has been messy, unpredictable, and at many times unsatisfying.

But… I’m a Christian! Isn’t life suppose to be fulfilling and awesome now?!

I never really went through a “mediocre Christian” walk, where I was half-heartedly following Jesus just because it was expected of me. This was because I was not raised in a practicing Christian home, so I could never simply follow Jesus by default; Christianity was something that was not expected of me. Still, I have felt my walk become lukewarm, even during such a satisfaction-guaranteedshort time following Christ.

When I look at my personal journey, and the journey of so many others, I have to ask myself why? Why do we get so negligent in our pursuit of Christ? Especially if we really are aware of all He’s done for us, why do we so often feel unfulfilled in our faith?

Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). John explains what Jesus meant, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:39).

Jesus promised that God‘s Holy Spirit would satisfy the thirst of deepest longings of all who believe in Jesus Christ as well as glorify Him who sent his Spirit. The Holy Spirit then, has the potential to be the source of our deepest satisfaction as well as God’s!

But just who exactly is the Holy Spirit? God? Jesus? Some kind of ghost?

The Holy Spirit is God’s permanent presence with us here on earth: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17).  And this Counselor is the one who enables us to understand and experience all God has given us. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:12).

I have met many a person who claim to be Christian and followers of Christ, but who do not live by the Spirit. The Holy Ghost has no real place to live and move in their life because they do not allow themselves to be ruled by God. First Corinthians tells us that the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God because they cannot understand them and that the spiritual person makes judgments about all things with the mind of Christ.

So.

Spirit= Understanding and oneness with Christ

No Spirit= Foolishness, lack of clarity, disunity with Christ

Perhaps, like me, this is starting to clear up some of the reasons you may have chosen some of those negative words to describe your walk with Christ.

We as Christians cannot experience intimacy with God and enjoy all He has for us if we fail to live by His Spirit. If we trust in our own efforts and strength to live the Christians life, we will experience failure and frustration, as will those who please themselves rather than God.

When I think about my walk with the Lord, there have been dark times and there have been times of illumination. Looking back, I can see that the darkness sprung from me deliberately or accidentally shutting out the Holy Spirit, and the illumination came as a result of relying on the Holy Spirit to guide my actions. It was all about how I chose to live, or rather… who I chose to live for.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that all who love their life will loose it, but all who loose their life for Christ’s sake will find it. So too, when we live for ourselves rather than for God, we loose our satisfaction in His Spirit, we loose our guidance from His Spirit, and we loose our identity in Christ.

Before I dive deeper into this topic, stop and think about where you are in your walk with Christ. Do you desire more? Are you completely satisfied? How clear can you see God’s work in your life?

Then ask yourself, do you listen to the Holy Spirit?

What’s the Purpose?

Today I was in the middle of a grammar lesson and one of my students sighed dramatically and exclaimed, “What’s the purpose of this?!”

A valid question, to be sure. But when attempting to teach 25 children about misplaced modifiers, it is difficult to explain the relevance of such work early on in the process of learning it. The truth of the matter was that I couldn’t effectively and efficiently explain why this lesson was important. He needed to trust that it simply is important, and in time, he would see why.

In getting slightly frustrated with this boy, I was reminded how God works in the same way, and to Him, I must sound like this irritating child who just couldn’t do the grammar exercise without being explained it’s importance.

So often God instructs me with His Word or His Holy Spirit and I don’t understand the purpose of His instructions. I become bothered by the lack of explanation He provides and my trust dwindles.

When this happens with my students, I, rather exasperated, remind them how well they did on the last exam because of this kind of practice, or I remind them that I graduated with a degree in English and that they can trust me that reading the assigned book will indeed make them more educated human beings.

Then I am humbled, thinking of myself in my student’s place, sitting at my own little writing-desk which God has called me to, complaining about the lack of direction in the open-ended assignment he has given to me. How many times has God saved me? How does it usually work out when I break away from His will and do my own thing? Has He ever allowed me to fall from grace and has He ever left me with plans which hurt me?

 I am reminded that in order to learn something new, you have to trust the masters of the craft. Just as my students can trust me as their guide when writing a reflective essay on internal racism in “The Bluest Eye”, I need to trust God in the work he has for me to do. When my students trust in the process of writing, they soon realize it’s value when looking at the end product. With God, it is just the same.

Since I am seeking to do His work, I have to trust in His process if I want to see the product that He has in mind.

Lately I have been wondering what God’s got up His sleeve. I hear His voice calling me to specific projects and even to avoid specific people or activities, but I don’t know what the purpose is. I feel like that dramatically exasperated boy in class– too wrapped up in the world to open his eyes and see the big picture, or too self-concerned to trust that there even is a big picture to see.

One of His latest assignments, among others, is to plant a garden. My friend gave me a starter kit vegetable garden and it has been sitting in my kitchen looking cute and taking up valuable space for about two weeks. I also have two bags of soil sitting on my porch also taking up space and looking… well, not so cute.

I could not explain to you why God wants me to plant a garden. I even expressed to my husband today how I’m not sure I enjoy gardening at all, and how I would really love to like it, but I’m not sure I do, and anyway, I’m so busy with work and church obligations, and housework and you know, being alive, that I just don’t think I have time for planting things…Well, that may be true in my mind, but to God, I am just that obnoxious student who always vocalizes frustration with not understanding the point of reading such an “old” book!

In short, I am a disobedient and disrespectful child when I question God’s purpose, even if it is in a simple assignment such as planting a few tomato plants. But if I cannot obey God in the small commands, how can He trust me with larger blessings? My students cannot write a full essay until they know how to write a sentence, and if they practice their addition and subtraction, they can soon divide and multiply.

If I want my gifts and blessings from God to multiply, I must do good with the small responsibilities that God grants, even if I don’t understand His purpose. For, as He says, “my thoughts are higher than your thoughts”(Isaiah 55:9); I am not meant to understand His ways, and if I did, He would not be a God worth obeying.

The all-knowing-all-seeing Lord tells me through His Word: “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land”(Isaiah 1:19)…. and in the case of crop-growing, that promise may be very literal.

What assignments is God giving you these days? How have you learned to trust Him without always knowing His purpose?