the Water of Life comes only from Jesus

... Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive... ~John 7:37-39

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The Valley

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now, but I’ve been putting it off, because this post isn’t pretty. It isn’t happy. It will be honest, and that scares me. I don’t know if anyone will find inspiration in it, but here goes.

I’ve been in some very dark places lately, darker than any other time in my life. And the more I talk to others, the more I find I’m not alone. One dear friend of mine explained it as going through a dark tunnel; before, when they had experienced these times of darkness, they were always able to see the light at the end, to hold onto hope. They were always able to remember that everything has a purpose, and to eventually find that purpose in each trial and season. But this time, the tunnel seems to just go on and on, with no light, no reprieve, no hope; only darkness, only questions with no answers. I found myself heartily agreeing.

I have spoken to others who, like me, have found themselves in a storm like no other storm before. This season in my life, this storm, has threatened the very foundation of my faith, shaking everything within me down to rubble until I am left wondering what I was building in the first place, or why. I am left holding onto words which seemed so helpful and hopeful before, but which now seem weak and flimsy in the face of this much torment. In this way, I have become like Job.

And Job said,
“Let the day perish on which I was born…
For my sighing comes instead of my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water…
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes.” (Ch. 3, ESV)

I have even been angry with God, as have many of the Psalmists (see Psalm 13). Many Christians are familiar with Lamentations 3:21-23, but I am lately more acquainted with the preceding verses:

He has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long…
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:2-3, 17-18, ESV)

Some days, it’s a chore to continue reading until I reach the hopeful verses. Despite my misery and my fear, I am holding on with the last shred of my strength to this one truth: God is still God. Some days, I believe He’s good. Other days, I believe He’s there. But today, I remember that I’m not alone.

“In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world. [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.” (John 16:33, AMP)

Jesus promised there would be tribulation. I like this version because I think most of us typically view this familiar verse in terms of persecution, but here it seems Jesus is talking about all kinds of trouble. Emotional distress. Physical suffering. Fear, anger, depression, confusion, uncertainty. These things will happen. Jesus himself experienced these things; in fact, he said these famous lines not long before his betrayal and arrest. Some days we have great faith; we can walk on the water in the midst of the storm, as Peter did (Matt. 14:29). And some days, we are like the disciples crying out to Jesus in the midst of a great storm, “Don’t you care that we are dying?!” (Mark 4:38). The storm always breaks, and the sun always returns. But some days it’s bitter trying to believe again the words of hope that were so sweet in the past.

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:19-24)

There are numerous stories in the Bible about people who wanted to quit, people who didn’t understand, people who were downright angry with the way God was doing things–Jeremiah and his scribe, Elijah, David, Jonah, Moses, Abraham, Thomas, Paul–and God did not forsake them. Often, He was gracious to them, as when Elijah fled into the desert (1 Kings 19).  We can be honest with God, because He can take it. He knows our hearts. He doesn’t give up on us, even if we give up on Him. In the modern film adaption of The Count of Monte Cristo, the main character laments that he can’t fill the request of his dying friend because he doesn’t believe in God, to which his friend replies, “That doesn’t matter; He believes in you.” God always has hope for us, even and especially when we don’t have it for ourselves.

Some days I do have hope for this life. But most days lately, the hope I cling to is the only eternal hope: Jesus is king. He’s already won.
One day the darkness will pass away.
And in the meantime, we are not ever alone.

tolkien_hope

For further reading, I recommend Psalm 42.

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Change is A-Comin’ (And It’s Not Bad!)

To my few faithful readers and many passersby, if you’ve noticed, I haven’t been very active in writing here lately. I’ve been wondering and wrestling with the purpose of this site for a little while, on top of the other goings-on in my life such as finishing college, looking for the next step God wants me to take, and as always, growing more into the person God wrote me to be before time began.

I’m certain now that I’m coming into a new season–even as the whole Body is entering into new seasons–and that in this season, this site will look potentially very different than it has so far. I’m intimidated by the things I might begin writing here. But God is moving, and He has something to say in every season so that we all would know His love and His sovereignty. We humans are privileged to be the vessels God chooses to use, to work with and through, to bring the glory that is His goodness. And who am I to turn down such an exciting invitation?

So to all my faith-filled readers, please pray for me as I walk in this new land; and pray also for the Bride as she is raised up like never before for the glory of God. Thank you all!

Sea Slugs

If anyone were to ask me what the most beautiful animal on earth is, I’m sure I could think of a few, but sea slugs would definitely be on the list. I mean, type “sea slugs” into a Google image search.

Just look at them.

Their vibrant colors, their ethereal forms, their variety. Some of them are just breathtaking. Yet these humble invertebrates spend their lives essentially vacuuming the ocean floor, rocks and reefs, and they are essential to the ecosystems they abide in.

It seems my God is not without a sense of humor. Though I’m sure He likes to have fun sometimes, I’m also convinced He never does anything without purpose, even if that purpose is relatively small.

I’m certain that God uses all the extravagance and diversity of sea slugs to make a statement about beauty–I can’t help remembering “The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes going on about vanity. But sea slugs don’t need anyone to tell them they’re beautiful. They’re just fine going about their cleaning business, fulfilling their purpose in the deep blue sea.

Affirmation and compliments in our lives are encouraging, even desirable, but could we be more like sea slugs? Can we live out our divine stories, content knowing who and what we are (and whose we are), even if no one else is reading our stories?

The Body of Christ is a body indeed–no members exist in isolation–but imagine what could happen if all its members began to focus on their divine design for the good of the body and the glory of the head (that is, Christ), rather than on their desire to be something else, or to be affirmed in their assignments by other members. Imagine what the Body could do if Christ himself and the story he authored and finished for us was enough.

Imagine if we could humbly wear our beauty with confidence, rather than insecurity, and simply go about our business in the Lord. After all, we are all of us beautiful creatures to Him. And we all have an essential purpose, even if that purpose seems relatively small.

Spring is Now

I was driving on Ruston Way last night. It was after dark, and I was surprised multiple groups of people out, and I thought, Yup, it’s Spring now. There are jokes about what constitutes appropriate weather for going out in the Pacific Northwest; our threshold for what counts as “too chilly” seems to be higher than in other regions, and especially after long, gray winters, we tend to look outside and think, “close enough.” The people I saw walking the waterfront were mostly bundled up in blankets and puffy coats because, despite the lovely sunny day, the evening was very chilly.

I couldn’t help thinking how these people were determined to enjoy the season. Despite the weather report or the temperature, the fact remains that it is Spring, and people are starting to live like it’s Spring. And I couldn’t help thinking that this is a spiritual truth as well: When the season we’re in changes, sometimes the weather of our lives looks pretty much the same at first; or maybe a terrific storm comes when before it was simply cold, and it seems like Winter is only restarting and nothing is improving, or it’s actually getting worse. But the fact remains that the days of death and cold are over, and the days ahead are getting warmer and brighter; new life is blossoming, things are changing, because despite the weather, the season remains.

Of course, tomorrow is the day believers across the globe celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God, and the consequent resurrection of every story that was marred by death. This season, the season of Abundant Life, zoé perissós*, goes on without end. All the darkness tries to hide the truth, to convince us that the storm and the cold and the gloom are here to stay; but the darkness cannot change the fact that life is here and now. We are able with Christ to live the way we were meant to, to walk out the story God has written for us, despite the weather. The days of death are over; Spring is here.

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*John 10:10

From Believing Today: “Day 15 – Truly Free”

“Whether it’s to yourself, or everyone around you, when you feel the need to win a heart, you may inadvertently bind yourself to a false opinion, and therefore, to a false identity. Freedom can only be found in the authentic you; the one Jesus came to restore. No one else can truly know you. So, why let your joy be determined by somebody else?

. . .

Until you are content with yourself, under the love of God, you will have a difficult time in your relationships with others. Who you really are will always be covered over by needy behavior. . .”

Read More Here: Day 15 – Truly Free  (and subscribe!)

Leaving Ashes

The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols: It’s a mythical fire bird which consumes itself in flames and rises renewed from the ashes. It doesn’t do this just once, but many times, so that it lives on and on. It reminds me of the beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. . . to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit… (Isaiah 61:1, 3 ESV)

I can’t help thinking about this creature and these verses on this first day of the new year, as I say goodbye to 2015 (I won’t miss it at all), and look forward to a brand new year. I woke up today and it was as if I had new eyes too see everything; I had hope and joy for the days ahead like I haven’t had in quite some time—maybe ever. Today truly is a new day; all the days before are gone, and they cannot tell me who I am or hold me back from where God is leading me. I am ready to leave those ashes behind, no looking back, for the beauty and the joy of walking with the Lord in His all-consuming fire.

It is a happy new year indeed.

Why the baby?

Christmas_2015_crop

I haven’t felt much of the “Christmas Spirit” this year, and I’m not really sure why. This season of my life has been tough in general, but usually Christmastime brings great joy: All the lights and shiny things, giving the gifts, sharing the good food and good times… This year not so much. But today, I spent some time with a friend helping her get things ready for her Christmas, and when I went home and was mulling over all these things, I came to this:

Why do we celebrate Christmas? I know the Charlie Brown answer, but really—why do we care that a baby was born in a manger a couple millennia ago? We could talk about Isaiah 9, John 1, the story of his birth in Luke…

The story of this baby is a wondrous and beautiful one, full of angel praise and mysterious dreams. But this is really only part of the whole story of who Jesus is, and this is what matters. What makes this story worth telling is what happens after Chapter 1.

This baby born became a man who died, who lived again and received his crown as The King.

Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of God; He is the Word made flesh; He is the embodiment of the Love of God that always was and always is and always will be. He came as a human child to grow up and become who he really is, and to fulfill the promise of reconciliation and to bring new life, so that we too could grow up and become who we really are, and become the fulfillment of God’s promise of Love to those around us.

When people talk about having the “Spirit of Christmas all year round” (thank you Christmas Carol), they’re talking about unconditional, extravagant, beautiful, Capital-L Love—the kind of Love that God lavishes on his kids, the Love that Jesus himself is the absolute greatest proof of—not because he was a little boy born in a barn, but because he is the Son of God, who chose to die and rise again, to fulfill God’s promise to all his kids: The promise that He Is who He says; the promise that you are everything He says you are, and you can live this great story He’s written about you.

PS—If you’re breathing air, God considers you His kid, and all of this applies to You. ❤

* * *

And Now, if you need a little Christmas Pep, enjoy this Happy Christmas song:

* * *

Pining

Long lay the world in sin and error, pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth

I was listening to this song the other day in my car. It’s an incredibly familiar song, so familiar I could sing it in my sleep. And yet on this day, when this song came on my Christmas playlist shuffle, God dropped an understanding on my head of these lines that has thoroughly ruined it for me (in the best way).

I always thought about this part as a poetic little description of the world’s need for a Savior. Now that’s probably still true, but even more true is this: The world was pining for the story which was spoken right out of heaven, which sin and error made us forget. This goes right in hand with what the Lord has been saying in our church body recently. It’s not that people were so horrible, but that they were so lost, so unaware of the worth they always had in the Father’s eyes, so unable to remember who they really were. For God so loved the world

Jesus is the embodiment of the promise of God’s love. He is the hope and the grace for every soul to walk in the wonderful story God imagined for them before they were born.

This isn’t a new message. This is the Gospel, the eternal Word. This is what God has been saying all along. You are worth everything.

A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

If you’re thirsty for more, check out the latest sermons from Zion’s River here.

Recommended Listening:

Positive Belief

I was driving home tonight after hearing a popular Christian speaker, who at one point talked about becoming everything God has designed us to be. This entails believing who He is and what He says, and who I am, which led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts until I distinctly heard, “What is keeping you from believing God?”

So don’t quote me on this, all you math and science people, but I heard once that, mathematically speaking, there’s no such thing as “deceleration.” It’s actually represented in equations as negative acceleration: If you’re going faster and faster, the number is positive, and if you’re slowing down, the number is negative, but both numbers in the equations represent a change in speed. And you’re thinking, I didn’t come here for a math lesson… So the point:

There’s a man in the Bible who, when Jesus talked to him about his belief, honestly and wisely blurted out, “I do believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (That’s in Mark chapter 9). Now the unbelief here is in reference to Jesus, what he is capable of, who he is. But if the man didn’t believe one thing, it’s because he did, ever so subtly, believe something else.

So when Adam and Eve were in the garden, God basically told them, “All I have here is yours: All the food, the whole garden to enjoy, except just leave this one tree alone. But everything else, have at it!” And they were content for awhile to dwell there, believing God’s word that He had given them everything they needed.

And then there’s this snake.

He comes up to Eve and says, “Did God really…?” And she questions what God said. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she just has to stop and think. But the serpent keeps going, on and on about how this one tree is so great, and how important and special it is, and how God is withholding this from her, and how she’s missing out on something… The lies begin to creep in, clashing with the truth, and all Eve is doing so far is weighing these two opposing words, but now she has a choice to make: Who will she believe?

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… (Genesis 3:6)

We all know how that turned out.

The point here is that she only began to disbelieve what God said when someone else started talking. The enemy whispered in her ear, just like he did to the man in Mark, just like he does to us: You don’t have what you need, God won’t come through for you, you can’t trust God… And there is a choice to make: Will you believe the fear, the shame, the past, the coworker or friend or family member or random stranger who said that thing? Because if you’re having trouble believing something God says, it’s because you believe something else—it’s a negative belief. If you’re not believing the truth, you’re believing a lie, and lies are all the enemy has. He can’t tell you who you are, but he can try to convince you of who you are not.

Believing what God says about who you are and what you’re capable of, even if you’re not entirely sure what that is yet, will cause an acceleration in you to live the story He wrote about you while He was still singing the stars into being. And God is immeasurably excited about you and your amazing story (because Amazing are the only stories God writes).

So: What is keeping you from believing God?

Light Comes

This is a paper I wrote for my creative non-fiction class, edited slightly to post here on my blog. Any feedback or constructive criticism would be appreciated!

Light Comes

There are people who insist that people don’t change, that a person is only what they always were, and will always be what they are.

I can’t say I remember the first time I met Lisa, or how we became friends to begin with. I told her so at her wedding, before she went off on her honeymoon: I said I couldn’t imagine my life without her; she’s like a sister to me. I do remember one event which really solidified our friendship. It was one weekend at Women of Faith, an annual Christian women’s conference; Lisa was rooming with my mother and me at the hotel. On the way back from a meal break, my mom had gotten us lost and made us late and then been mad at me for it, and I was so frustrated with her that I couldn’t sit in the arena. I wandered around the concourse with Lisa until we found a little room reserved for prayer. We spent the rest of that session together in that room; we missed the whole Mandisa concert, but she didn’t care and stayed with me anyway. That’s how Lisa is: She deeply cares about people. She has this love that seems to pour out of her and spill all over you until you’re drenched; her smile and her belief make you feel like you can do anything. When I first knew her, I thought she was a perfect model, with her natural blond curls and slim tall feminine build and perfect kind smile. She is the most joyful and beautiful person I know, my best friend.

We talk about everything. We’ve had conversations about faith, about politics, boys and men, movies and romance, food and fashion. Once, when we were talking in my car, I had an idea, almost an image, pass through my mind, and I told her what it was: It’s as if the whole world is black and white, and when she walks into a room, she brings the color with her. It’s just who she is. She is the city on the hill, a beacon. She is also a former felon.

When we would talk together, she sometimes told me about her history. She wasn’t always full of light and grace. I don’t remember the exact conversations; I’ve heard her story a few times since. She told me about her teen years, how she got into alcohol and all sorts of drugs. Her mom once rented a one-bedroom apartment with a boyfriend when Lisa was only sixteen; there wasn’t room for Lisa, who was expected to figure things out on her own. She often hung out with thieves and broke into places to steal. She told me a little about her time in prison. More often than not, she was in solitary confinement, wing 3 South —“the hole.” I saw a picture of the old her: Black hair, mug shot glare. No color, no life, just resentment and hatred and darkness. She would fight anyone, for anything. She would tell me these things, and I wouldn’t believe her. I’d tell her that was a completely different person. She would agree.

Sometimes we talk about my life, my struggles and anxieties and fears. We talk about how difficult my relationship to my mother is; how it feels having to go back home as an adult; what it’s like to be virtually the only person I know who’s still single and with no children; what it’s like to feel alienated from people my own age; how it feels to question the path I had complete faith in when I took that first step over three years ago. We talk about how I’ve been through many changes in my life, yet I feel as though I’m back at Start: I did not pass “Go,” I did not collect $200. Sometimes I feel like I’m in jail, waiting, watching others take their turns around the board. The path I’ve chosen is taking me through a long and weary wilderness of papers and ink, fearful dabblings in writing, late nights spent in alone rather than out with friends, allowing ideas to form and change. Sometimes I wonder what it’s for, why God is taking me this way and if it is really Him, and I tell my friend so. She reminds me how everything is a season, how the leaves will turn eventually and the attire of my weary desert will change for something cozier, and all the trekking that feels like worthless wandering will have been worth it because I started out going somewhere and I’ll get there. She believes in change. I believe her.

When Lisa decided to follow God and to get clean, she lost everything: The friends she used to run with abandoned her; she had to take her little girl and leave her boyfriend; she really had nowhere to go. Everyone told her she would fail and be right back, and no one took her seriously. She was a single mom with a record, and a recovering addict. Employers don’t often care what a person’s felony charge was, or how much their life has changed, or how much they regret their mistake; all that most employers see on paper and before them in an interview is a felon, and felons aren’t hirable. Lisa was alone in the world with very few options, and might have given up but for the dim light growing within her that drew her on for just one more day, one more day. People who experience addiction and recovery say it’s not one life-changing moment, but a thousand impossible choices every day. Lisa chose every day to take one more impossible step into the unknown, to leave behind who she was and everything she knew, to become the beautiful person she is today—an impossibility itself—a miracle. She chose to be the impossible before the eyes of her old friends and family, every day over years and years becoming what they told her she would never be: Free.

Lisa is married now, and going through even more changes; our friendship has gone through some changes as well. She and her husband are busy learning how to become one, figuring each other out, working out how to build their new life together. She seemed distant for a while, and I was afraid the season for our close friendship may have come to an end for good; but it was only a short winter while her new marriage began its long spring. We still talk, and now I go to her house to visit with her whenever I can. Lisa and her husband just had their first baby together, a girl. She’s changing before their eyes. She will grow up with a father who loves her and a mother who believes in her ability to change and the goodness of it. She’ll also have an auntie, not by blood but friendship, who will be there as often as possible. Lisa is still my best friend; that hasn’t changed, and for that I am glad.

Though it’s much different than it used to be, life is not suddenly easy for her, because she’s not done changing. We all continue to morph into different versions of ourselves as long as we live, either becoming more and more the person God made us to be or running from that person. Every day we choose to trust what He says about who we are is a day we choose the impossible. Lisa inspires me to keep hoping one day I might be married, though I can choose to be whole and happy now regardless; to keep hoping, even when I feel as though no one else is walking the same road as me, that this season won’t continue forever. She reminds me I am exactly where I need to be in order for God to do what He needs to do with me, even if it’s not ideal. I don’t know who I’m becoming yet; I don’t know what I’ll do with this degree once I earn it, besides hang it on my wall. I believed in the beginning that this part of my journey had a purpose, that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. This road is not easy, and it must be because it’s the right way; His roads are always narrow, after all.

Lisa told me once about being in the hole in prison, absolutely at her desperate end. Her life felt as though it was being engulfed in darkness and despair and she would never get away from it, never change; she “kited” for her mentor over and over, but her mentor let her be alone. The only book they allow you in the hole is the Bible. She read it and read it, sought and groped after all the promises and hope written in the pages, longing for the light. One day it came. As to Paul on the road to Damascus, the light came. It flooded the cell, flooded her, and the love that came with it destroyed her. To this day, it destroys her; it shines out from that hill of her life into the dim valley of single college students dwelling at home in the wilderness, reminding them that things change and people change, and light always comes.

For more of Lisa’s story, read her testimony on the Esteem Outreach website.

Mary

As I was driving home tonight,  I thought about that young Jewish girl who became the mother of God Incarnate so long ago. She is revered, a heroine: The little woman who said yes to God, to the impossible.

Mary was not unaware of the trouble that saying yes would bring. She knew people would not understand. They might disbelieve and even shun her. She knew raising a boy called the son of God would be difficult, to say the least. She knew her life would never be the way she’d expected or imagined it would be. But still she said yes. Why? Because she believed the One who spoke, and trusted in His words.

We all have a chance to be like Mary.

We all come to that moment when the Word of God comes, and we have the choice to say, like her, “Let it be unto me according to your word.” Not because it’s easy, not because we’re not nervous nor even terrified, not because we’re perfect and flawless. We can say yes because “No word of God shall be impossible.” He who speaks is faithful, both to His word and to us. He already favored us and chose us; we have only to believe Him.

It’s Christmas

It’s that time of year again: Time for the Christmas Wars. What to say to strangers? When and how should we shop? Is this even the right day—or season—to celebrate? To Santa or not to Santa?

I have heard many convincing arguments from all sides, and I thought I’d throw in my two cents about Christmas in general.

Christmas is a beautiful time. I’d really argue it’s the most beautiful time. It’s a celebration of love and joy, a holiday commemorated by lights, lovely displays, food, gift giving and general generosity. Why? Not because the days will finally start getting longer (although that’s a bonus, especially for us up here in the Northwest). Christmas is about the unfathomable love of God and the unimaginable gift of Himself to us. The God in whose image we are made came in our likeness, so we could be like Him and with Him.

I’ve heard about the theories of religious dominance surrounding the choosing of the particular day. Many people argue (and they’re probably right) that the actual historical birth of the Christ didn’t happen on or even near our December 25. I would ask: Does it matter? If we believers do in fact believe, are we not to celebrate love and give generously every day of our lives? This is, after all, the essence of living in the “Christmas Spirit” all year round—very near to living in the Holy Spirit and by the fruits thereof (see Galatians 5:22-23). Christmas is the celebration of God’s extravagant love and the hope He brought to the earth. It’s the commemoration of the birth of the Son of God as the man Jesus. He is the light come into a dark world; I cannot think of a more fitting time to celebrate this than in the midst of winter, when all is dark and cold. So even though Christmas may not be a historically accurate day, I’m certain it is a spiritually accurate holiday, and I will always wish a very Happy Christmas to anyone and everyone.