Tuesday, July 10, 2018

How A Tiny Church in Maine Changed My View of Failure

Many years ago my dad planted trees all around our yard. There were two special balsam firs, one taller than the other. My sister and I quickly claimed them as "our trees", and we helped to plant them and decide where they would go. 

 We still watch our trees and see how they've grown. My sister's tree has grown tall, full, and straight. But my tree has struggled. For the longest time it wouldn't grow. The trunk curled to the right and though it straightened eventually, there's an awkward extension like the handle of a tea cup. And if you look closely, my tree is slanted.

 Recently, my tree feels like a visual reflection of my life. Like my tree, my life seems to be going nowhere. I live at home, I'm single, I have a job in a factory, my writing is struggling, my Bachelors degree has been useless, I've only gotten no's from overseas opportunities, and I am unsure about what I want to be doing in two or three years. I'm just like my crooked, skinny tree.   
 A few weeks ago I was able to take a break from all of those things and spend a weekend in Maine with friends. Sunday morning we worshiped with our sister church- a church that, like mine, has the same send off or "mother" church. 

 My friends told me the church was small. I heard jokes about how our group would double the congregation that morning. But I still wasn't prepared for just how small. At the most there may have been about fifty-five to sixty people, there, including our group of twenty-two. And maybe most surprising was the lack of children.

 It would be easy for us and the church to assume they are a failure, but we don't think that way. Instead, it is encouraging. This church was started about eight years ago and the pastor has been faithfully preaching the Word without fail no matter how many people show up on a Sunday. I know it has been difficult for them to press on at times, but the gospel must be preached whether it is for an audience of twenty or two hundred. God uses the churches of small towns and low numbers as much as he uses the gospel preaching mega churches. This little church looks past the numbers and past the traditional meaning of success to see what God sees: a small church faithfully preaching the gospel and reaching their community with the love of Christ. Isn't that what every church does? Isn't that what every individual believer does?

 I would never call this little church a failure. They are not as big as my church. They have struggled more than most of sister fellow church plants and are even smaller than the newest one that is only a year or two old. Of course we want our churches to thrive and grow and plant other churches and fund missionaries and have the capabilities to help in our communities. But at the end of the day all that matters is if the church preached the gospel. 

 My life looks like a failure. From a certain standpoint it is. There is a reason I was not offered jobs and internships. Though there is no shame in working at a factory, I have failed to get a writing job and have failed to finish a book.

 I fail every day in my sin. But I am not a failure. My debt has been paid by Jesus' blood. And isn't that the main point of the gospel? I, we, are failures. We are dead in our sin. But Jesus died for that sin. 

 So if today, God wants me to follow Him by working at a factory, being single, applying for opportunities I may or may not get, and figuring out what my future holds, who am I to argue? It may not be what I had hoped. It may not be glamorous. But it is what God has given to me. 

 My tree may be crooked and strange and not the best tree in our yard. But it is standing and green and growing. And it is mine.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my 
power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast 
all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of 
Christ may not rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I 
am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, 
and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

"But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every 
way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. 
And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice..."
Philippians 1:18, NIV

"The Lord measures the faithfulness 
of our labor, not our success."
~ John Piper

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

New Favorite Things // May 2018

 I once read about a "Favorite Things" party in a magazine. Every year around the holidays several women got together to celebrate. It was always before or after the Thanksgiving and Christmas rush since none of them had time nor could they gather when they had family obligations. But they set aside a specific time each year to celebrate the season with each other and share a new favorite thing.

 It could be a book they discovered and loved. It could be a recipe. It could be a new lotion or product that revolutionized life. Whatever it was, they would buy one for each friend, sharing the story of why it became a favorite thing.

 So until I have my own place and can host a "Favorite Things" party of my own, here are some of my new favorite things.

ESV Scripture Journals
 My mom made this discovery. You've heard of Journaling Bibles, and this is the same thing, only individual books of the Bible. It is a slim and somewhat small book with the verses on the left page and a blank page with light lines on the right. You can buy the whole New Testament (hopefully the Old Testament will be out soon) or one book of the Bible. 

 My church just started the book of John, so that is the one I got. I've been doing a combination of sermon notes, personal reflections, and drawings and it has been fun and helpful for really getting into John. For the next book I may just use my ESV Scripture Journal for personal reflections and prayers and see if I like it better. 

David's Tea
 A new store opened in my area, and it's a loose leaf tea store out of Canada called David's Tea! They have an entire wall of canisters with tea and more flavors than I imagined. I have to admit I am hooked. Their tea is stronger and richer in flavor. Plus they have the coolest names for their teas, like Cold 911. 

What's the Point of Art?
 Since getting an i-phone, I have been enjoying the new world of podcasts. So when I stumbled upon What's The Point of Art from The Gospel Coalition, I listened to it the next day on my way to work. I love how God works, because over these last few months I have been wrestling with my writing and the gospel and how they connect on a functional level. How do I write good literature without being preachy since I am writing stories and not sermons? But how can I not put the gospel into my writing since the gospel is the most important thing in my life and the entire world? What is the balance

 I concluded that I was overthinking things as usual. But the question was still there. And then I listened to this podcast. I am still unclear as to how the gospel will appear in my writing specifically. But this podcast was so helpful to me. And I think that other artists would love it, too. It is about creating art and not just for writers. So I encourage artists and art enthusiasts alike to listen. Though on the longer side, Jackie Hill Perry is hilarious, and it seemed short to me. I need to listen to it again!

Newly Discovered Music
 These are the songs I've been playing on repeat, lately.

 On Jordan's Stormy Banks by Peter Bradley

 St. Clarity - Mahogany Sessions by The Paper Kites

 Fall Away by Jackie Hill Perry

 Delicate by Taylor Swift

 Super excited and nerding out on this cool Korean website that sells notebooks, journals, stickers, and other office type supplies. Maybe it is the type of stuff they sell. Maybe it's the Asian designs and vibes. Maybe it's the specific and detailed sticky notes (I just got cherry blossoms!!) Whatever it is, I love it! I'm not one to spend money easily, but I was literally squealing as I viewed every page. So check out mochithings

 What are some of your new favorite things?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

An Open Letter to My Sister Graduating from College

When you started college, I had lots of advice. From roommates to homework to living away from home for the first time, I knew what you would struggle with and I knew what I wanted to share with you.

Now you are graduating. I know many of the struggles coming your way. But if I'm honest, I have little advice to give since they are still the same struggles that I am currently battling.

 So I write to you as an older sister who has started this journey a few years ahead of you, but who is still learning. And this is what I want to tell you about post graduate life.  

 1. People will tell you how you should live your life. 

 People love to share their opinions, particularly, I have found, when it comes to where you should live. Some will tell you to live with your parents because it is financially smart. Others will tell you not to live with your parents because if you do you will not be a true adult. And still others will tell you everything in-between. 

 Some will be people who love you and have wise things to say.  Most, I have found, will be people who will share their opinions whether you want to hear or not. Do me a favor and ignore that second group. They don't always know you and what you need. They don't know our family and what is best for us. So long as you have a job and are doing what you and our parents feel is right, do what you want and not what they think you should do.

 Even taking into consideration the words of wise people who love you, the decision is yours and your alone. So make your choice with no guilt. 

2. Be Flexible. 

If I have learned one thing about life after college, it is its' unpredictability. I told myself that this was when life was really going to happen, and I was right, but not in the ways that I expected or hoped. I didn't get married. I didn't get a job in my field. I didn't even stay in the area I wanted. I think in high school and college our life is settled in most ways. Yes, a lot is up in the air, but we know we're going to wake up in the morning and go to class and in the summers work and go to the beach. But after graduation, there is nothing quite so "fixed" in that way. There are endless possibilities- jobs, more school, travel, internships, locations- and there are endless possibilities within those categories. And it is all before us and all up to us. With so many possibilities, flexibility is required. 

3. The path is not always clear.

 For some it is, and I envy them. But for me, I feel like I have been walking through fog since my college graduation. I can only see what is directly under my feet. 

 Thankfully Jesus is my lighthouse, the light forever glowing and leading me toward Him. Thankfully He is yours, too. 

4. Have fun in this season of your life.

   I don't need to tell you to have fun, the girl who will always have fun and will make fun for everyone else. Just don't forget its importance when life gets hard. Every different season of my life has had its difficulties. But I always miss some parts of them. Don't forget to have fun in the unique parts of this season.

 And it is a part of joy and contentment. It is a part of being thankful for what God has given us and choosing to be joyful in those blessings despite the turmoil and despite everything wrong. 

 So take time to do something crazy that will make you laugh.

5. You can't do this.

 There is debate about when a person truly becomes an adult. No matter when it really happens, you are one now. 

 And you can't do it.

 I can't do it.

 At the end of the day, when we have bills to pay, an endless amount of student loans, a pile of no's from our dream employers, and an empty fridge, we can't do this.

 Luckily, we have a savior who can.

 Remember that with me as we try to figure out our lives and fail miserably.