What 2015 Taught a Road-Weary Traveler

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By the time December arrives, I’m usually trudging through the year like a road-weary traveler.  When December 31st finally gets here, I’m just plain over it – I’m limping toward the finish line.  I’m lethargic and bleary-eyed and tired of being confined in what feels like the smallest of spaces.  I’m straining my eyes to look for any kind of oasis I can spot ahead – a beacon of hope that promises me a chance for something better than where I am currently.

The past few years have been good… but good doesn’t necessarily remove the hard.  Every December 31st for the past four years, I’ve practically catapulted myself into January, breathing a deep sigh of relief when the clock struck 12:01 a.m.  I’ve looked to the new year as the only hope for redemption for the less than stellar year before – a year full of unmet expectations and unanswered prayers.  I’d hope for a year of better and newer and brighter and deeper.  An unparalleled year of peace and joy and happiness.  I’d say to myself “Maybe this will be the year my prayers are finally answered.”  

This New Year’s Eve finds me still a little road-weary but in a completely new territory begging to be explored.  I’m not looking to 2016 to bring me hope or joy because I’ve finally figured out what it means to look to Christ to meet those needs.  He alone is my hope and my deep well of joy.  Not what did or didn’t happen this past year.  Not what might possibly happen in the upcoming year.  Christ alone is my hope and joy.

This year I’ve decided to stop looking to the new year to provide the things I thought I wanted most in life, the things that I thought might make life a littler shinier, a little better. I’m looking at this new year as an oasis – a spacious place that provides rest for my soul and room to stretch my legs.

365 more days to draw closer to Christ.  365 more days to be creative.  365 more days to feed my soul.  365 more days to rest in who He is and who He says I am in Him.  365 more days to learn and laugh and love and live.  That’s what the new year’s about.  It’s about growing.  Blooming. Twisting and twirling and soaking up every bit of sunlight I can possibly absorb.

 

I can’t move into 2016 without acknowledging how good 2015’s been to me.  I’ve learned more about myself this year than ever before.  I’ve deepened my walk with Christ and found new joy in my relationship with Him. I’m so very thankful for all that 2015 taught me.  Here’s a few of the biggest lessons I learned this year:

 

2015 taught me that you absolutely can not keep your fists clenched when the Lord commands you to open them and let go of something.  Obedience means letting go – not just holding on and praying for the Lord’s will to match your own.  He cannot place His good gifts in tightly fisted hands. Letting go is one of the most deeply satisfying places of soul rest I’ve ever encountered.

2015 taught me that you should never have to convince someone that they need you in their life.  You shouldn’t have to sell yourself or the love and friendship you offer.  People either want you in their life or they don’t.  They either respect and value your friendship or they don’t.  Good, true friendship is mutual and healthy.  It’s life-breathing instead of soul-crushing.

2015 taught me that people can misconstrue your intentions – no matter how pure your heart may be.  You can’t control the heart posture of others, so you can’t control how people will view you or your words and actions – even when you know your intentions were pure.

2015 taught me that intimacy comes in many forms in many different relationships.  It’s your friend bringing you a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios – dry with no milk and in a Tupperware bowl and not one of her “real” cereal bowls – because she knows and loves your quirky preferences.  It’s a friend realizing you’re a little down and inviting you to come to dinner with her family.  It’s a friend stopping whatever she’s doing to pray for you and let you talk through whatever’s on your heart.  It’s opening up to your community group about the dark places of doubt and uncertainty in your life.  It’s having someone in your life who is the iron that sharpens your iron, someone who makes you think deeply and wrestle with the hard things in life.  Intimacy is the thread that stitches together the deep connections of community.

2015 taught me that there’s a very real difference in knowing you need to find rest in Christ and actually allowing yourself to rest in Christ.  Saying you’re going to clear space for yourself and for God is one thing.  Actually doing it is something else entirely.

2015 taught me that sometimes the Lord chooses to answer your prayers in the most unconventional of ways.  Be open to it.  Accept His good gifts no matter what shape they come in.

2015 taught me the importance of speaking God’s promises over yourself.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).  What we speak over ourselves is as powerful as life or death.  I’m finding it more and more important to surround myself with scripture in my home and on my desk at school so that I’m staring His promises in the face daily.  I’m learning how important scripture memory is for times when I need to drench myself in His love for me.

2015 taught me that it’s ok to doubt yourself and not have everything figured out – even when you’re thirty-two and have been *mostly* successful at adulting for a good ten years or so.

2015 taught me that the 18-inch journey from your head to your heart is one of the most rewarding journeys you’ll ever take.  The road may be bumpy and long and winding, but it’s one of the best trips you’ll ever take.  The shift from knowing something to truly believing something will be a catalyst for all sorts of change in your life.  Knowing He’s my Father and that I’m His daughter is one thing.  Believing it allows me to stop doubting my identity and step into the plans He has for me.

2015 taught me that dreams and passions and giftings can shift according to His purpose and intent.  Just because he’s igniting something new in you doesn’t mean that you’re forever leaving behind the other gifts He’s so graciously given.

2015 taught me that saying yes to too many good things can mean saying no to myself and risking burnout.  Sometimes my yeses to good things have even meant saying no to God in other areas.  I’ve had a really hard time trying to figure out how to step back from an overcrowded, overcommitted schedule of really good things.  But as a wise friend once told me, “Just because it’s good doesn’t mean it’s God.”  I’m still working through this one.  I’m still learning balance.  I’m still learning to discern the good from the God.

2015 taught me to look to Christ alone for my identity.  I often find myself living in the land of Not Enough.  You know the one – I’m not good enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not Godly enough, I’m not smart enough, etc.  Not Enough often disguises itself in comparison.  Comparison leads to jealousy, discontent, and ungratefulness in my life. Comparison threatens to destroy all I have.  Lara Casey says “Comparison isn’t only the thief of joy; it’s the thief of everything.”  I refuse to dwell in the land of Not Enough when the land of the living, the land of God’s fullness is where I belong.

Wherever this December finds you – even if you feel like a road-weary traveler – don’t rush into the new year like I used to do.  Take a few moments to think though all the good and bad of 2015 and what it taught you.

What did 2015 teach you this year?

Living a Life of Purpose

I love the reflection and readying that comes with each new year – reflection on the past year and readying yourself for the year to come.  I’ve spent a lot of time the past few days reflecting on all the things 2015 has taught me.  (More on that soon!)  I’ve learned more about myself than ever before.  I’ve grown more spiritually in the past few months than all of my years combined.  I’ve made new friends and let other friendships be put to rest.  I’ve walked through times of deep sorrow and times of buoyant joy.  2015 was good to me.

As I think ahead to 2016, a common theme keeps popping up: purpose.  I see a connection between the noun form of the word and the verb form of the word.  Both have been on my heart the past couple of days.  I want to live a life of purpose (n.), but to do that, I must purpose (v.) my heart and my mind and my soul and my body to do those things.

It’s no secret that I love social media.  I love connecting with people from all over, but I mostly love how my thinking is challenged.  I love how reading someone’s tweet or blog post or Facebook update can spin a whole new perspective on something I thought I already knew deep in my bones.  I love how someone’s transparent vulnerability inspires me to look a little closer at my own life and make me willing to risk sharing.  I love how common themes or ideas will surface all at the same time – flying at me like arrows straight to the marrow of who I am.  It’s at times like these that I know the Lord is speaking to my heart.

That’s where purpose comes into play.  I’ve gathered these little snippets like wildflowers because they tell the story of where my heart has been the past few days.  They speak of what the Lord is calling me to do in 2016:  Live a life of purpose with a purposed heart and mind and soul and body.

 

On changing your heart… 

Purposing to change happens where prayer meets perseverance.” – Ann Voskamp

 

On wanting more of God…

“I simply want more of him. If I want more God then I must clear the space for him. You need to make room if you want to let God in.” – Hannah Brencher

 

On making good choices…

“Will this choice add to my peace or steal from it?” – Lysa TerKeurst

 

On taking my thoughts captive…

“Taking every thought captive is surrendering every thought that wards against your peace.” – Brian Johnson

 

On focusing my attention…

“Wherever we focus our attention the most will become the driving force in our lives.  We steer where we stare. – Lysa TerKeurst

 

These are the pieces God is already weaving into the story of my heart for 2016.  I’m purposing my heart and mind and soul and body to live a life of purpose this year.  I’m excited for what’s to come.

Unexpected Grieving Births Unexpected Hope

roses-1373441_1280There’s a rose bush growing outside my apartment.  A tangle of skinny little branches that grows wild and free in the midst of several shrubs.  I can only assume that the last tenant planted it there sometime before I moved in.  I walked past that bush twice a day for close to two years before I finally noticed it.  There were no bright pink or red blooms to draw my attention, so it just blended in to its surroundings.  Once I finally noticed the wayward plant, I couldn’t un-notice it.  For the past year, pretty much every time I’ve walked past it, I’ve said to myself “You know, I really need to get my Daddy to come help me yank that thing out of the ground.”

I honestly don’t think there’s ever been a bloom on that rose bush in the three years I’ve lived in this apartment.  No blooms – just prickly stems and branches growing unhindered.  It’s so tall now that several of the branches have bent under the pressure of their own weight – a miniature, thorny weeping willow.  This bush is growing like mad, but it’s producing no fruit.

I don’t know much about gardening, but one thing I do know is that most plants require some sort of pruning in order to produce good, new growth.  Pruning isn’t just about cutting off weak or dead places.  Pruning is also about cutting back places that are thriving but need to be subdued.

Cutting back growing, living places can help grow a stronger, more resilient plant so it can live up to its original purpose.  That rose bush outside my front door?  It’s never going to produce the beautiful, sweet flowers it was intended to create if those wild offshoots continue to grow unchecked.  It needs to be trimmed, pruned.  The act of pruning allows for prosperous growth as intended by the Creator.

It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it?  Cutting back these places allows for the intended growth of the creation to take place, for it to be shaped the way it was intended from the time it was planted.

The uncomfortable part is knowing that pruning is not an enjoyable process.  Pruning is painful.  Cutting off what’s living and breathing and thriving and growing is one of the most intensely painful things you can ever go through.

This is the hard place I’ve been in for the past several days.

I opened my eyes a few days ago and looked around – completely startled to find myself in a situation that looked all-too familiar.  A situation I swore I’d never let myself walk through again.  A situation where I thought I was in complete control.  A situation that I realized all too late was growing wild and unbidden – just like the rose bush outside my front door.  I knew I had to get these thorny places under control soon if I didn’t want them to completely overtake the good in my life.

I reached out to several friends and mentors.  One of the women I consider a spiritual mother was wise enough to gently remind me that it is completely ok and very necessary to be honest with God and honest with myself about what I was thinking and feeling.

I did just that – I talked through some things with some of my girl friends and I prayed… a lot.  After a good while, I finally felt like I had a grip on what was rolling around in my heart and mind.  I knew exactly what I was going to do.  I knew how I was going to get rid of the wild mass of thorny branches in my life.  I had a plan.  I was in control.  I was resolute. I had it handled.

But I didn’t.  I was cleaning my apartment and listening to music when Sarah McMillan’s King of My Heart shuffled through.   (If you don’t know this song, you really should do yourself a favor and listen to it here!)

All of the sudden, I was sobbing.  I don’t just mean crying.  I mean sobbing.  Like loud, ugly, shaking, doubled-over-at-the-waist sobbing. I told a friend that there was nothing to compare it to but wildly uncontrollable grieving.

As much as it completely rips me apart to admit, there were several places in my life where I had not given Him full reign and trusted Him to be King.  Places where I didn’t see Him moving and working, so I assumed He wasn’t.  Places where I refused to acknowledge His sovereignty.  Places where I doubted His goodness.

When I realized this, it broke me.

I finally recognized those places for exactly what they were – places where the night was holding on to me.  But the one thing I hadn’t realized?  God was right there holding on in those very same places.  If I believe Him to be who He says He is, I have to believe that He’s the King over every aspect of my life – even the wild, thorny places growing unbridled.  I have to let Him have authority over every part of my life.  Not just because of His title. Because He’s good and He can be trusted.

I realized that just like I want my daddy to come help me yank that thorny, tangled mess of a rose bush out of the ground at my apartment, I needed the help of my Father to prune back the wild places in my life that were growing out of control, the places that were threatening to stifle my growth if not subdued.

I want to live up to my Creator’s purpose for me.  I want to grow strong and resilient, but I’ll never be able to if I don’t allow for a little pruning of the wild places in my life.

Those places over which I wasn’t trusting God to be a good King?  Those are the very places that are growing wild and unfettered in my life.  The places that are threatening to bend over and drag me down against the dirt.  The places that are blending into the background and the noise of this life and not producing the fruit they were intended to produce.

Those places are now being pruned by the best Gardener I know.  It’s a process – most likely a long one.  It’s hurting like crazy, and I’m grieving. But sometimes you need to allow yourself to grieve over things you didn’t know you needed to grieve over at times you didn’t expect to grieve.  It’s in those places of grieving that you find healing.

The grieving, the hurting?  It’s worth it.  Unexpected grieving births unexpected hope.  The places in my life that are being pruned will bring forth new life.  As long as I trust Him to prune me where He sees fit and however He deems necessary, new growth will take over, shaping me as the Creator intends me to be shaped.  I trust Him as King over all these places because He’s good and because He can be trusted.  He can grow me and shape me however He sees fit.  After all, He created me.  He planted me right where I am and He desires me to produce good, beautiful fruit.

 

 

When the Holidays Seem So Hard

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I’m a holiday girl. You know what I mean? I LOVE holidays. All of them. I love the family time and the traditions and the food. Oooh… and the decorations. Let us not forget the decorations. I may or may not have three storage containers of pumpkins. It’s a problem.
While all those things are great, I especially love the spiritual side of holidays. I see most holidays through the lens of my faith and what Christ has done for me and in me. I will tear up at the mere mention of freedom in a patriotic song on the 4th of July because it reminds me of the freedom I’ve found in Christ.

Check out the rest of today’s post over at SingleRoots!

Not Another Fluffy Article on Christian Dating

My Twitter feed and Facebook timeline are full of articles on dating and marriage.  I’ve read everything from what girls should be looking for in their guys and what guys should be looking for in their girls to articles written to future husbands and articles that talk about allowing God to write your love story.  Most of what I’m reading is spot on.

I absolutely do believe it’s good and necessary to keep an open mind when it comes to dating and not limit yourself to a long, lengthy list of must-haves and can’t-haves.  I tore up my late-90s youth group “boyfriend wish list” a long, long time ago.  I’ve quit looking at men through my flawed, human eyes, and I’ve started looking at them through my “Jesus eyes.”  No longer do I care if he’s taller than me or if he shares my taste in music.  He doesn’t have to wear cologne and he doesn’t have to love Mexican food just because I could literally eat it every day.  I just want a man who loves Jesus more than himself, a man who loves Jesus more than he loves me.  A man who’s committed and actively growing in his relationship with Christ and doesn’t mind letting me grow along with him.  A man who sees the value of ministry and serving within the local church.

I believe character counts.  Not eye color or hair color or height or build or any other smattering of physical characteristics.  I’m not knocking physical attraction.  I’m truly not.  But a man’s character?  His heart?  Man, that’s sexy.  And it lasts.

I’m pretty sure my Father knows what I need to worry about when it comes to dating checklists.  He’d rather me partner with a man of great character than a man with great style.  He’d rather me focus on the eternal rather than the physical.

If age has taught me just one thing, it’s this:

God’s best does not always fit your preconceived idea of what you think you need.  

I’m in complete awe of the ways the Lord has shown me different facets of His character through my interactions and friendships with men. And guess what?  None of the Godly men I admire and respect would probably fit my former dating checklist completely.  There are men in my life today that have shown me characteristics and traits I admire and desire in a partner that were not even a blip on my radar back in 10th grade.  If I was still holding that list tightly to my chest, I’d be missing out on a whole lot of good and a whole lot of God.

(And guys… I’m sorry I’m writing this from a female point of view.  Feel free to swap out the nouns and pronouns.  It works just the same.  I know this is what you believe, too.  I truly believe our hearts are the same.)

I used to devour those dating articles about what we should be looking for in a potential mate.  I’d read them and think “Man, if only so-and-so would read this and GET A CLUE… Let me just post this on Twitter or Facebook and hope he reads it.”  (Girls… you and I both know you’ve done this.  Guys, I’m not one hundred percent certain, but I’m pretty sure you do the same thing – in one form or another.)

We live in a generation that puts our best social-media-self forward.  And sometimes it’s not just self-preservation and pride at play.  Sometimes it’s simply an effort to make ourselves more desirable to the opposite sex.  We make sure our lipstick and the lighting is just right and the angle is flattering before we snap that selfie and post it.  We put our best “Man, I’d make a good wife” pictures on Instagram, showcasing our ability to make a perfect four-course meal or bake beautiful, Pinterest-worthy Christmas cookies.  We craft Tweets with a specific person in mind, hoping he or she will read them and think “This girl LOVES her some Jesus!”   We’re so concerned about fostering that best image of our outer selves that we lose sight of what we know truly matters: our character, our heart.

These things go hand in hand.  Do you see it?  Do you really get it?  Because after years of making jokes about my singleness in an attempt to deflect attention from my real feelings and after years of heartache from feeling like I’m not enough, I finally get it.

I’m not enough.

I’m not enough, but Jesus is.

Instead of trying to put my best self forward, I need to put my best Jesus inward.  I’ve realized I can’t be the good, Godly woman a man desires to do life with if I’m not yet that woman.

I cling to the promise that He’s not done with me just yet.  He’s still shaping my heart.  He’s still molding my thought processes.   He’s still showing me what Love looks like – His love.  He’s still building my character.  He’s still imprinting His truth on my heart and in my mind. He’s still teaching me more and more and more.  He’s patient and loving and gentle and kind – even when I wrestle against Him.  He wants MY character to count. He wants ME to fit His list of what a Godly woman looks like.  He wants me to be the woman he intends me to be.

This is what I now fully know in the deepest parts of my heart:

Ladies, if you want a Kingdom man, you have to be a Kingdom woman. 

Men, if you want a Kingdom woman, you have to be a Kingdom man.

We can’t get so caught up in looking for that Godly man or woman that we forget to be a Godly man or woman.

More than anything – more than dating or marriage or a family – we must desire beautiful hearts that look more and more like His each passing day.

 

In Him we live and move and have our being…

  
The Father who planned our days before we were ever born also adopted us as sons and daughters and sent His Spirit to live in us. He chooses to live in us. Because of love. This same Love relentlessly pursues us every day. His pursuit doesn’t waver or grow weary. His pursuit even persisted through the gruesome death of His beloved Son – a substitutionary atonement for our sin. This is love. And for this Love and in this Love we live and move and have our being.

You are loved

Last night I woke up in the dead of night.  I had a playlist of worship music playing while I slept, and I woke up right as one song ended and another began.  I was in that dreamy stage between asleep and awake, but I clearly remember thinking that it seemed as if the Lord woke me up on purpose to spend time with me.  As the sleep cleared from my head, I began thinking through the lyrics of the song I was hearing.  It was a song reminding me that Christ is enough for me – that his love is sufficient for me.

While I was listening to the song, I heard the Holy Spirit say “You are loved.”

My immediate response?  “But God…”

And then clearly once again He spoke: “There are no buts in my love.”

I was a little stunned.  I couldn’t believe my initial response was to compile a laundry list of reasons He shouldn’t love me.  I was shocked I even needed reminding that His love is not conditional. It’s not an “If you do this, then I’ll love you” kind of love.  It’s not even an “If you choose me, I’ll love you” love.

God’s love is full of even thoughs and even ifs and even whens.

Even when you are controlled by fear, you are loved.

Even though your desires remain unmet, you are loved.

Even if you haven’t been to church in months, you are loved.

Even though you’re still learning you can’t be everything to everyone, you are loved.

Even when you feel unloveable, you are loved.

Even if bad times make you doubt my goodness, you are loved.

Even though you look to others for validation only I can give, you are loved.

Even when you refuse to forgive the ones who’ve hurt you, you are loved.

Even though you haven’t chosen me yet, you are loved.

Even when you are rejected by man, you are loved.

Even when you continue to allow the lies of the enemy to control you, you are loved.

God’s love is condition free.  His love is for everyone – even for the toughest and hardest of hearts. His is the love of a Father who can not wait to lavish His affection and good gifts on His sons and daughters.

Ask Him to show you all the ways He loves you.  He’s waiting to spend time with you.  He’s waiting to shatter your “But Gods” with even thoughs and even ifs and even whens and a declaration that will never change:

You are loved.

Where is your hope?

This year has been one of my most challenging years as an educator.  I still can’t quite put my finger on it.  My students are great. My administration is great. My colleagues are great. But something just isn’t quite sitting right with me.

Most days I leave school with a tension headache and knots in my neck and shoulders.  I feel like the weight of the world is literally weighing me down.  I have a hard time getting things accomplished, and my to-do list seems to be never-ending.  I’m warring within myself because I know I’m doing my best, yet I still feel inadequate.  Sometimes I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean treading water with an all-to-distant shoreline taunting me, just out of reach.

I have been doing all I know to do to try to center myself. I pray constantly.  I literally invite Jesus into my classroom every day.  I blast my “Jesus music” during my planning period in an attempt to keep my heart pointed to the cross.   But some days, I still feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.  I’ve started feeling hopeless, and with that hopelessness comes frustration.  Where’s my help?  Is this going to get better?  Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? 

One day this week I left school completely discouraged.  Tears were dripping down my face and onto my shirt and my heart was heavier than it’s been in a while.  I was thinking about test scores and data and constructed response writing prompts and Lexile levels and beating myself up for not being what I deem as good enough.  All of the sudden the Holy Spirit gave me a good little nudge.  Where is your hope, Carrie Beth?  And then it hit me.

My hope does not lie in test scores. My hope is not found in data analysis or percentages or growth bubbles or stretch bands or the teacher evaluation system.

My hope is in Christ alone.

This is what I must remember when I feel defeated like I did that day, when I want to throw my hands up and walk away.

My hope is in Christ, and he has placed a calling on my life to love kids. My current assignment may require me to administer state mandated tests and analyze data, but my hope is not in these things.  My hope is in Christ.  He is my Hope.

Be encouraged today.  Step back and remember in whom your hope lies.

As for me?

My hope is in Christ alone.