day thirty-one: simply be

Slide1Today is the last day of the 31 challenge. Whew! It’s been a long month, and I have mixed feelings about ending the series. I’m looking forward to a weekend without writing, but I’m worried I may go into withdrawal. We’ll see.

I’m not finished yet.

Way back on day three, I defined “being” as a verb used to indicate three things: 1) identity 2) qualities 3) condition. Now after 31 days of being, I want to briefly summarize what I’ve learned about the characteristics of those three facets of being.

Identity. You. Unglamorous. Light. A creation. In community. Like Jesus.

Qualities. Hopeful. Peaceful. Intentional. A listener. Patient. Trusting. Compassionate. Enthusiastic.

Condition. Raw. Still. At rest. Childlike. Dependent. Home.

Who are you? What are you like when no one’s there to hold you accountable? Are you consistent?

It’s not easy living in a broken world and being an imperfect vessel. But God is making us new. It’s not going to happen overnight, but as we start focusing a little more on Him and His creation and a little less on us, we will be changed. We’ll look back and think, “Wow. God was so present. He knew what He was doing.”

Meanwhile, as we wait for Him to work, let’s live fully in today, taking joy in the fact that each moment is a gift.

e2565f24bacbcde684322f4a7e259562To me, Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 is the essence of being. There is so much of life to enjoy when we take time to truly appreciate it. Let’s not take these days for granted!

Oh, how sweet the light of day,

And how wonderful to live in the sunshine!
Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
Take delight in each light-filled hour,
Remembering that there will also be many dark days
And that most of what comes your way is smoke.

Youwho are young, make the most of your youth.
Relish your youthful vigor.
Follow the impulses of your heart.
If something looks good to you, pursue it.
But know also that not just anything goes;
You have to answer to God for every last bit of it.

Live footloose and fancy-free—
You won’t be young forever.
Youth lasts about as long as smoke.

~ Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 ~

– – Phebe

(PC: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-tips/people-pets-photos/#/children-playing-philippines_40412_600x450.jpg)

day thirty: be childlike

cc8f148f0119d9bd4fea76c36610c25aIn our culture being childlike is usually looked down upon. Bursts of childlike enthusiasm, excitement, or joy are often considered “immature.” Maturity (apparently) is based on skepticism, put-togetherness, and coolness. When the disciples saw children crowding around Jesus, they shooed them away. Jesus was far too important for their childlike behavior. Yet Jesus’ response was not what the disciples expected: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” (Matthew 19:14).

There are three elements to childlikeness that I think point us a little closer to the heart of Heaven.

First, children have a great amount of faith. Children have the ability to take something at face-value without the need to question. As Christians, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see,” (Hebrews 11:1).

Children do that well. They are often gullible, yes, but they are trusting of people and facts without inhibition. Adults not so much. We tend to need proof. Part of “being” is learning to accept the mystery of our faith. God is mysterious. I need to learn to be okay with realizing that I’m not going to understand all of God’s plan. Things may not make sense now, but He is in control. I simply need to have faith that He is God and I am not.

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Second, children are playful. What do children love to do more than anything else? Play. Children are always seeking fun. They are full of creativity and imagination.

Maturity is linked with responsibility, concentration, and success. Have we lost our ability to play? Have we lost our ability to laugh? To guffaw? To giggle? Have we lost our ability to create? To see beauty?

I know that there is nothing better for them [the workers] than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his good efforts.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12-13)

God has blessed us with this beautiful life so that we can delight in the joy of living. Sometimes I can get so consumed in everything I have to get done that I forget to enjoy the process. In the rush from class to class, I sometimes forget to look around me and revel in the beauty of an autumn afternoon.

Productivity is not our end.

Let me repeat myself, if only for my benefit: Productivity is not our end.

When we are so consumed in checking off our list, we can’t see the people around us, feel the warm sun on our skin, or hear the melody of birds chirping. There is so much more to life. God wants us to find joy in the life that He has breathed into us.

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Third, to be childlike is to feel. Immaturity is showing your pain and being vulnerable. Immaturity is experiencing compassion and sorrow from the hurt of others. To feel is to be weak. So we are told. But no. To feel is to be human.

Sensitive hearts are beautiful. I think people who experience sympathy are a little closer to reaching the heart of God.

Jesus was full of compassion during His time on Earth. He held the hands of sinners. He mourned His friend’s death with broken sobbing. He preached even when He was exhausted, because He knew the people needed to hear His message of hope.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Children are wonderful at showing compassion and love to others. If only we could look outside ourselves to notice and sit with the brokenhearted. Jesus has shown us compassion during our troubles, so that when others experience the same struggle, we can relate to and comfort them.

So tomorrow when you wake up, embrace the heart of a child–one that is trusting, enthusiastic, and compassionate. Heaven belongs to hearts like these.

– – Phebe

(PC: 1) http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2013/06/part-2-of-the-2013-national-geographic-traveler-photo-contest/100539/, 2) http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/07/national-geographic-traveler-photo-contest-2012/100339/, and 3) http://www.flickr.com/photos/andsos/5849501892/)

day twenty-nine: right now

Worship Wednesday: Edition #5

I can’t believe that it is already down to the final days of this writing challenge. Because it is the last edition of Worship Wednesday, I have chosen two songs for today.

First, Kari Jobe’s “Be Still My Soul” is a beautiful song that encompasses what it means to be patient: to wait peacefully knowing that God is in control.

Second, Natalie Grant has been one of my favorite artists from a young age. As I was flipping though her albums today, I came across her song “Wonderful Life.” She sings about living in the moment and taking time to appreciate the right now.

‘Cause the sun is shining
And the world is alive

Every things alright, ’cause all we’ve ever needed
Is a perfect day to be alive
So no more waiting now for a wonderful life
‘Cause its a wonderful life right now

Listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kj6FQplXrAk

day twenty-eight: be patient

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:Slide1

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 ~

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I am so impatient.

Recently I’ve been feeling especially impatient. I want to know what my major is, I want to create a game plan, and I want to execute. I end up comparing myself to all the other freshman who know exactly what to do, and then I feel so wishy-washy about my own interests. I know what I love; I just don’t know what to do. AHHHH!!! (That’s me letting out my stress.)

My roommate and I have spent a lot of time talking about being patient. We feel like we’re always rushing from one thing to another. We feel like our brains are constantly in gear, with almost no time to relax. There’s always something we could be doing. We’re in constant motion — going somewhere, but not sure where we’re going. We are surrounded by people, yet we don’t feel known.

Today over lunch we reminded ourselves that we need to give ourselves grace. We are still adjusting to this adventure called college. The routine, friendships, confidence, and academic plan will come in time.

There is a time for everything. I have to remember to be patient. I am in the adjusting and learning stage right now. I don’t have to have everything figured out. In fact, I’m not expected to have everything figured out.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. This verse makes me thing of the Gungor song, that says, “You make beautiful things / You make beautiful things out of dust / You make beautiful things / You make beautiful things out of us.”

Beauty doesn’t happen overnight. God has His own timetable. Often, it is very different than ours. We are finite creatures who are ruled by time. God is an infinite being who rules time.

It is difficult for me to grasp that, because I like to be in control. I like things to be resolved quickly and I like conclusions. Yet God sees what I don’t. “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:9). Earth’s outer atmosphere extends approximately 10,000 kilometers. That’s how much higher God’s thoughts are compared to ours!

Out of confusion and chaos, God creates order. Out of pain and sorrow, God creates beauty. Who am I to rush His perfect plan?

So as I feel impatient about everything that needs to be resolved (my future, my swollen finger, the dorm ping-pong table debate…), I will choose to embrace the right now. One can’t rush art, and our lives are pieces of artwork. God’s timing is perfect. Trust.

– – Phebe

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day twenty-seven: be in pictures

I’m currently about to fall asleep, because the Benadryl just kicked into gear (at least my yellow jacket sting doesn’t itch right now). So I am going to post a few quotes and pictures of what it means to simply be. Enjoy this diversion from the regular posts…

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(All images taken from Pinterest.)

Good night!

– – Phebe

day twenty-six: have some tea

“Where there is tea, there is hope.”

I’m not sure who said this, but the statement is certainly true. Tea brought our hall together today, and it provided a joyful and hopeful escape from the worries of school.

Emily (my roommate) and I have been praying about how God can use us to do ministry on the hall. Tea has become our ministry. We’ve been planning a “tea party” for the past few weeks. Last weekend we went shopping for ingredients, and then today we spent our Sunday afternoon baking.

IMG_2667Everyone brought their own mug and we provided the ambiance, apple crisp, pumpkin scones, English biscuits, and tea. We set up everything on the picnic tables outside our dorm. Over half of the girls on our hall and students from the other halls came outside for afternoon tea. Even three guys came out with their mugs (although it was a “ladies only” event, we couldn’t say no to guys with their own mugs looking for tea).

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For most of the tea party I was running around, boiling and serving teapot after teapot of hot water. Once I finally had a chance to sit down, I was overwhelmed. All around me surrounded college students drinking cups of tea and engaging in conversation. They weren’t stressing about class schedules, studying for their next midterm, or debating whether to get a ping-pong table. They were sitting and talking. Everyone of them was simply “being.” The sight was beautiful.

IMG_2651God is working. He is giving us opportunities to provide free food and then He is providing the peace. de9397a581285b440b7e150562c09b1f

– – Phebe

day twenty five: be a listener

Slide1This morning my roommate was talking about how she wants to do things with her grandparents. She likes to get out and go on adventures, rather than just sit around. She feels like it’s a better way to build relationships. In response, I was telling her how valuable it is to just sit and be with someone. And I sounded like I really knew what I was talking about, because, well, I’ve been writing about the topic of “being” for almost a month.

Then this afternoon I realize how bad I am at simply sitting. I get bored easily. I also like to get out and do things. I like conversation, but I have a hard time listening. Rarely do I just like to sit and be right where I am. I started thinking about how bad our culture is at just sitting. We are told that we always need to be running from activity to activity. We need to keep ourselves busy. We need to fill the awkward silences. We need to fight the time.

But time is not mine. I often refer to “my day” or “my time,” when really it is is “God’s day” and “God’s time.” He is the creator of it, I just decide how I’m going to use the time He has given me.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV)

It is our decision whether we are going to take the opportunities that God gives us–opportunities to love the people who God places in our paths. When I sit and talk with someone, I’m not wasting my time. I’m using God’s time. The same is true when I take the time to help a friend with homework, clean someone’s dishes in the kitchen, or go to a friend’s performance. I’m not wasting time that I could have spent doing schoolwork or cleaning my own dishes. Instead, I am choosing to focus on what really matters: loving people.

IMG_2339 - Version 2As a society, we are so bad at listening. Last night, the IV women had a Q&A session with counselor, speaker, and author, Nicole Unice. One of the young women asked how she can intentionally encourage the other girls on her hall. Nicole replied that our culture is just not interested in getting to know people deeper. The biggest way we can encourage people is to show them that we care. She gave four steps.

1) Be present: do it in person and be all there

2) Seek to understand: be fully engaged and actively listen

3) Care about their lives: pray that God would allow you to like people enough to actually care about who they are and what is going on in their lives

4) Ask a good question: try to go deeper in relationship by asking a question that shows you understand and care

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (James 1:19, NIV).

We are finite creatures. God has given us a certain amount of time on this Earth. (We won’t last forever.) He has called us to a specific time and place. Bloom right where you are.

So take the time to sit and listen. You will stand out as a Christian. Be okay with staying up until 2 in the morning talking. Be okay with simply sitting quietly while a friend vents her frustrations. You’re not wasting your time. It was never yours to begin with.

– – Phebe

day twenty-four: be you

Slide1There was a point senior year when I felt completely comfortable in my own skin. I felt confident and accepted. I didn’t feel the need to be ‘approved’ by anyone, because I knew who I was. I owned my identity, meaning that I was okay with my interests, preferences, and beliefs. I was me. And I loved being me.

But it took a long time to get there. It took five (sometimes very lonely and awkward) years of discovering myself. When I reached that place of confidence, I felt perfectly content. It was wonderful.

The problem is that confidence can turn into pride. We start believing that we have mastered life. We loose our vulnerability. In a way, we start believing that we have it all together. During the summer, I started feeling too comfortable. I knew that I needed to be challenged and move outside my comfort zone. College was my opportunity.

Now I feel like I’m starting all over again at college. I’m discovering myself. I spent five years reaching for acceptance, I found it, and now I’m looking again.

The hard thing about college is that I’m surrounded by unique people who are incredibly talented. They come with impressive backgrounds and are working towards big dreams. I’m realizing how easy it is to get lost among the millions of opportunities. So much is at our fingertips, yet we can get lost while trying to find ourselves. In trying to define ourselves, we end up loosing our identity.

Smart people are really good at faking it. From the outside, it looks like we have it all together. We are mastering the college equation. But life doesn’t work like school–it can’t be conquered by learning and memorizing all the answers. We can be wearing away on the inside, while looking like we are succeeding on the outside.

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The same thing applies to faith. God isn’t something to be mastered. The Bible isn’t a book to read and memorize. Prayer isn’t a task to check off at the end of the day.

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3, NLT)

God blesses those who realize their need for Him. When I get too comfortable, I tend to forget how much I need God. That’s why the challenge of finding my identity in college is so good. It forces me to rely on God. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It is a struggle every day. I often fall into the temptation of comparing myself and giving into stress. I can choose to rely on my own strength or I can choose to rely on God. I’ve found that my own strength often proves futile.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1-2, MSG)

I think sometimes we can turn Romans 12:1-2 into another checklist: be a living sacrifice and don’t conform to the world. Sounds like a lot of work. That’s why I love The Message version (which I actually just heard tonight at IV). The art of transforming is simplified into two actions. #1: Give God your life. #2: Pay attention to Him.

But as I concluded with some friends tonight, simple does not mean easy. The Christian faith is so simple, but it is not easy by any means. It is a struggle day in and day out. But the blessings are immeasurable. So it is with Paul’s instructions in Romans 12.

Surrendering to Christ is simple but difficult. Yet when we do this, God takes care of the rest. The power of transformation is not something that we have to do. We can’t “try” to change ourselves. God is the one who does the transforming. Lay your life before God and “you’ll be changed from the inside out.” It is not that you will change your self. Nope–you will be changed. 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not okay with letting go of my control. I’m also not okay with letting God be God. Rather, I want to understand what He is doing and know when He is doing it. Yet God is a mystery. His plans are also a mystery. However, I can trust Him because I’ve seen Him work.

I’ve felt Him turn my anxiety into trust. I surrendered my fears to God. I told Him that I trusted Him. Then I went about my life. And one day, I realized that I wasn’t feeling anxious anymore. I wasn’t having regular anxiety attacks. I was living my life with peace and hope. It didn’t happen overnight. The process was long and slow. But it wasn’t by my personal doing. I handed my life to God and He transformed me from the inside out.

Yet again and again I have to say, “You are God. I am not.”

Jesus, take the wheel. Every. Single. Day.

As believers, we have the Holy Spirit interceding for us in ways that we can’t understand. That’s another part of the mystery. Yet what a comfort it is to know that I have someone else advocating on my behalf.

I don’t have to prove myself. Jesus did that on the cross. Before Romans 12, Paul had spent 11 chapters talking about the theology of grace. My identity isn’t based on anything I do. Instead, my identity is based on the fact that I am saved by grace.

College has shown me that I am not good enough (as I wrote in my post “be unglamorous”). I have to accept that.

I came across this music video by Colbie Caillat over the summer and recently re-discovered it. I absolutely love the song. The chorus says: “You don’t have to try so hard / You don’t have to give it all away / You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up / You don’t have to change a single thing.”

I think the song applies perfectly to the way God works. I don’t have to try so hard. God works when I am simply “being.” All I have to do is give in to Him.

Just be yourself, and God will take care of the rest.

– – Phebe

day twenty-three: be hopeful

Slide1On Monday, I wrote, “Life isn’t about always being happy, but it is about being hopeful…” What should we be hopeful about? On the rough days, where can we find motivation to persevere?

The answer is revealed through the climax of the Bible. The core of the Christian faith is the Gospel. Often as Christians we view the Resurrection as the center of the Gospel. Because of our culture, we think of the climax as an emotional event right before the end of the story. The structure goes… begining -> conflict -> climax -> epilogue. However, the ancient writers used the chiastic structure. In the chiastic pyramid, correlating events lead towards and away from the center. The center of the story is the climax.

So what is the center of the Gospel? What is the climax, the most important part? Luke and Acts tell the full story of the Gospel. They were both written by the physician Luke and they were both part of the same book. Somewhere along the line, scholars decided they should be separate. But Luke and Acts reveal the center of our faith. Based on the chiastic pyramid, the ascension of Christ is the middle of the story. Luke ends with His ascension and Acts begins with it (see Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9).

Jesus’s return to Heaven is the climax.

The cross and Resurrection are foundational to our faith. What happened in Jerusalem is important. But if His return is just an epilogue, fixing the loose ends, then we’re missing something.

Here’s what we’re missing: Jesus is coming back! He will return the same way we saw Him go.

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“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NIV)

The climax changes everything. Once we understand the hope of Heaven, everything on Earth pales in comparison. The hope gives us the fuel to go through the trials. When we don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning, the hope gets us going. When we don’t see the purpose in trying to live a godly life, the hope reminds us why we aim for righteousness. Hope is the reason we don’t have to fear the wickedness in the world. Hope is the reason we can have peace about the future.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14). 

After the Resurrection, I’m sure the disciples were left wondering, “now what?” Or at least that’s how I feel. The hope of the Gospel is not solely rooted in the fact that Jesus rose from the grave. The hope is found when we realize the story’s not over yet. In fact, we’re part of the story!

469666071_4ceb90e92dI’ve often struggled with connecting the anticipation of eternity with living in the moment. How do we balance being fully present and looking Heavenward? I think that the angel’s words in Acts 1 provide the connection. The anticipation of eternity is found when we realize that Jesus will return. The present living is found when we respond the way the apostles did. The second half of the story (Acts) is all about people living out their faith. The disciples and other believers faced terrible persecution, but they continued spreading hope because they believed in Jesus’s return. They wanted to be found doing His work.

So stop looking up into the sky. Jesus is coming back. Believe it. Meanwhile, be His hands and feet on the Earth. Get out there and get messy.

– – Phebe

(PC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hermandadblancaorg/469666071/)

day twenty-two: my only hope

Worship Wednesdays: Edition #4

I listened to a lot of beautiful songs while trying to decide what to share today. I eventually chose “Only Hope I’ve Got” by Ellie Holcomb. As I looked back over this past week’s posts the common themes were thankfulness, grace, contentment, and rawness. This song doesn’t fit perfectly with all those themes, but the words are a reminder that we are completely in debt to God. He is our hope and strength. And out of that realization springs a heart of thankfulness.