Untruthing “Truths”

It’s finally the holidays. This year has been a wild one. It included such a whirlwind of emotions. The emotions ranged from great moments of joy to great moments of heartache and frustration. It has been quite a tumultuous year to say the least. This season of life has taught me more about the mysterious essence of life than any time before. It has shown me that people can either be my greatest supporters or greatest obstacles. It has shown me that there can be such joy in the most desolate of places. This blog will display a bit of my journey through this past year as I briefly reminisce upon just a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Life is weird. It can be good yet so hard at the same time. Life is a complicated, beautiful creation.  

It is incredibly eye-opening to reflect upon a year and realize what kind of people we were at the beginning and recognize the progress we’ve made within ourselves. 365 days can consist of numerous highs and lows. One minute you’re anxious, and the next minute you’re still a little anxious… but engaged (I just got engaged!!!). And then, there is everything in between. This year, I have come to appreciate life’s complexity and simplicity. Everything can seem so chaotic in the moment, but at the very end of the year, we are able to look back and see it all through a clearer lens. Situations may still be complex, but it seems as though we have a better view from the larger scope of the entire year.

I believe it is important to be vulnerable. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but much of our disconnection in humanity is often due to our lack of vulnerability. We hide behind our perfect social media feeds. We even hide behind our own beautiful smiles. Well, I’m going to give you all a little look behind my closed doors. This is not going to be easy, so please bear with me.

I’ve been angry. Many of you who know me most likely would not think of me as a hothead; however, I do in fact have a bit of a temper. Typically, I am able to hide my frustration behind a smile, but this year has made that very difficult. I have been faced with challenges that have made me almost explode in anger.

More than ever before, I have experienced the pierce, sharp pain caused by the words and actions of others. Through this year, I have realized that people often do not realize the profound impact that their words have on others. Simply asking someone how their day is going can completely change the trajectory of their day. They may have woken that morning thinking that no one has a care in the world about their life. That simple question could make them feel cared for and seen. On the other hand, words can hurt. I’m sure many of you have been hurt through words in the past. I’m sure you can think of one of these instances at this moment. Words like these can haunt us. Words are often the root of our deepest insecurities. So many words this year left a lasting impact on my life. They really did hurt. They did in fact raise my deepest insecurities back to life. They made my loved ones hurt. They made them insecure. And for that, I was angry.

We often learn that we should be slow to anger. Therefore, I decided it was best for me to suppress my anger. In turn, it only kept building over time. Even as I write this blog, there is a part of me that yearns to give in to the anger. I am tempted to let it control my words. It has consumed me because I have been handling it all in an entirely unhealthy manner. Anger is a human emotion. We feel it, and it is natural. Don’t suppress it in an attempt to be “slow to anger.” That is not natural. In fact, that is not what Jesus did. In the time of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus got angry. He was frustrated because people were using the temple as a trading ground. He even flipped over tables in anger. Jesus was perfect yet he also got angry. What do you suppose that tells us? God didn’t design humans to suppress feelings. Quit internalizing your anger. Allow yourself to feel it.

In saying this, the effects that are caused by anger can be unhealthy. Do not take your anger out on someone through the form of manipulation or hurtful words. In fact, we need to learn to hold our tongues in certain instances. Allow yourself time to feel the anger and then respond later. A particular way in which I allow myself to feel anger is through venting to God, whom I trust as a worthy counselor. It’s not like God doesn’t already know the situation. Of course, you should always practice caution regarding who you talk to in certain situations, but if you have someone you trust, talk to them. And counselors are simply amazing. Get a therapist, you won’t regret it. I cannot stress how important mental health is. It always does good to debrief your feelings. Just DO NOT suppress them. Allow yourself feel emotions.

Words have not only made me feel angry but also small. I’m sure many of you know this feeling as well. It’s that feeling where you are simply living your life, but it appears as though everyone around you is thriving. It can sometimes feel like you are messing everything up, and everyone else seems to have it all together. The truth is that it is all an illusion. Someone is most likely making you feel small because they feel small on the inside. I just wish we could all build each other up. Instead, it feels like we are placed in this constant cycle of feeling small and making others feel small. My confidence has naturally taken a hit as a result from some of these situations. Whether intentional or not, people have re-opened some of my deepest insecurities. And when we’re reunited with old insecurities, it just sucks.

One insecurity came out of nowhere this summer. It wasn’t anyone’s words that caused it. It wasn’t actually anyone’s fault. A little friend decided to join me on my vocal cords. It wasn’t a nodule, but it was a polyp. A polyp is essentially a nodule that isn’t bad enough to be considered a nodule. It was practically a small blister that was forming on my vocal cords. Every time I sang, it was only a matter of time before I croaked like a frog. While I joke about it now, it was incredibly embarrassing and frustrating at the time. At first, I thought it was normal. Why I thought croaking like a frog was normal? I don’t know, but I did. Eventually I got into the doctor. They identified the problem, and I had to go on vocal rest for a month. I could still talk. I just couldn’t sing. Sometimes I got sad, but in many ways, I went through a time of healing. My voice had been overused for so long, and it needed rest. Instead of giving it the rest it needed, I said yes to every opportunity that came my way. And it hurt me in the end.

Rest is important. It is easier said than done to rest. It’d be amazing if we could always get everything done, but we simply cannot. There comes a point when we need to draw a line. Don’t be ashamed that you are tired or discouraged. You are human. Again, Jesus felt the same way. Right before Jesus was going to be arrested and crucified, he cried out to God from a place of discouragement, exhaustion, and fear of what was to come. Humanity wasn’t created to constantly be on-the-go. You need to take care of yourself as you are called to do. Again, allow yourself to feel the weariness. I can promise you that one of the ways you hurt yourself the most is through bottling your feelings. You need to let yourself decompress your feelings and not feel guilty about it. We are going to feel tiredness and pain sometimes. It is all a natural part of life. I lost my Grandpa this past year, and for a while, I didn’t want to feel the pain. But friends, bottling up your feelings is not natural or doing you any good. It only makes the hurt sink in deeper. Let yourself feel it, especially if you’re grieving at the loss of a loved one.

My vocal teacher has been amazing at not only teaching me about my voice but also about life. Before the semester was out for Christmas break, him and I were talking about my goals for next semester. I told him my overall goal was to gain confidence. Over this past year, I lost my confidence. Words, the actions of others, and unfortunate circumstances all took a toll on the joy I once found in singing and turned it into something that only made me insecure. I want to gain confidence and enjoy singing again. After I told him this, he replied with something that has stuck with me since. He told me that I need to unlearn many of the truths in which I have been accustomed to believing for so long. For instance, one of these “truths” includes the illusion that being confident is prideful. The truth is that I can be confident in myself without being prideful. There is a distinct difference between the two. In the past, I have felt ashamed for having confidence in myself because I have associated it with pride. But we need confidence in order to be content with the path that God has chosen for us in life. We must unlearn this truth that we cannot be confident in ourselves without being prideful.

Truthfully, we need to unlearn MANY of the truths that we have been accustomed to believing. You are not less than the people around you because you might be a little socially awkward. Going to church is not the equivalent to doing the work of Christ. There are such strong Christians in the world who are trying to gain the courage to walk back in the church doors after being hurt. You aren’t weak because you express feelings. You aren’t being prideful by being confident in yourself. You aren’t a slacker because you didn’t work all seven days of the week. God rested on the seventh day. You aren’t small. People who want to feel big often grow through making others feel small. These are only a few points we need to unlearn. I hope you can join me in unlearning these truths, along with others in your life. It’s okay to be uncomfortable in doing this. We are called to be uncomfortable in order to grow.

And where do we go in the midst of unlearning these truths? How do we even know what needs to be “untruthed” in our lives? To be honest, I believe the answer is always love. Ask yourself if your decisions, your words and your actions revolve around love. Are the truths you’re feeding into filling you with love? Do you have love in your actions and love for the people around you? Love is always a good filter of the truths you should hold onto in life. What did Jesus do? He loved. His agenda was always love, and our agendas should reflect the same. We all need to acknowledge our agendas and reflect upon the true meaning and intention behind our words and actions. What is our true intention? Are our words making a point, or are they bringing people down? Is the truth you are feeding yourself loving or self-deprecating?

What is a truth in your life that you need to untruth/unlearn? Maybe that’s a good question to ask yourself as we begin 2022. Start to uncover the lies that you have been feeding yourself and untruth them. In the meantime, choose love. I promise you can never go wrong when you simply choose love.

The Elephant in the Room

This has been pressing on my heart. It has been pressing on many hearts of people that I know. I’m sure it has pressed on yours. The Church. I know that sounds a little vague, but I’ll explain. However, you’re gonna have to read this entire blog to fully understand. Anyways, whether you are a believer in Christ or not, you have most likely had encounters with the Church. Sadly, they probably weren’t all good encounters. Even if you go to church every Sunday, I’m sure you’ve been frustrated. You’ve had some bad experiences and bad encounters. I promise you’re not alone. I’m here to talk about the elephant in the room. Problems within the Church and within Christianity are not addressed enough. If issues aren’t addressed, they will only get worse.

Over the course of history, Christianity has messed up. It has been wrapped up in power and money. It has been used to encourage corrupt ideals. There are times in which it has displayed to the world the complete OPPOSITE of what Christianity is all about. This may be hard to hear, but the truth can be hard. If you weren’t aware, one of the worst dictators in all of history, Adolf Hitler, used the Bible to justify his horrendous actions. And people believed it. People didn’t believe it because they were terrible people. People believed it because he was their leader, and for all they knew, he was a “good Christian.” The Bible was used to justify a genocide. So yes. Christianity has a messy history.

I don’t say all of this to dog Christianity. I’m a Christian. I have a relationship with God. In fact, I chose preaching the Gospel for my career. You may wonder, then, why I am saying all of this. It’s because me, along with others, are grappling with questions. We’re grappling with questions that go beyond this time. Answers that require a radical change.

I have gone to several events where preachers have claimed that the Church has been in a decline. I 100% agree. That’s a fact. And upon having this knowledge, it is easy to immediately assume that it’s this generation. It is easy to blame anything other than the Christians. I mean the Bible says the world is corrupt, so it’s everybody else, right? It can’t be us. Every generation does this thing where they fixate their eyes on something they believe is evil and say that all the world’s problems result from that one thing. For example, Elvis Presley shook his hips “way too provocatively.” People believed that the generation who loved this hip-shaking dude were so corrupt that Jesus was surely coming back soon. Each generation has something that they believe is corrupt which leads to all of our problems. But what if we, as Christians, are approaching this the wrong way entirely? What if it’s not the generation? What if the decline isn’t because of Elvis’s hip shaking? What if it’s us?

I have had several good conversations with people who have told me they can’t bring themselves into a Church setting for many reasons. Here are a few. The Church says they’re about Jesus. They say they’re about serving people. But they are all about fun and games. They want to be cool. They aren’t actually going out and being a light to the world. They say they love me, but they whisper behind my back. They say I’m worthy of God’s love, but I receive the message that I should live in guilt for all that I’ve done.

These words make me really sad, but like I said, nothing is going to be repaired by ignoring it. I know all of this can be a huge downer. But all of this needs to be said. It’s time that we start representing Christ, like we are called to do.

I can’t take credit for all of these thoughts. I mean, I’ve been thinking of them for a while, but a book called Blue Like Jazz is what gave me the confidence to share. Don Miller has such enlightening thoughts over all of these ideas. There was one part of the book that will forever leave a mark on my faith life.

If you want to know what happens in this part of the book, read the whole book, and then we’ll have a conversation about it.

Just kidding. I’ll tell you. But seriously, READ THIS BOOK.

Don went to a college where there were many non-believers. They disregarded God. They didn’t want anything to do with God. Don was a part of a Christian group on campus, but they hadn’t ever made it known that they were Christians. However, every year, there was this campus-wide party. Apparently, it was always very wild, but they wanted to let everyone know that they were Christians and that there was this Christian group on campus. They wanted to do it… at the party. They had the idea to set up some kind of booth, so they brainstormed some different ideas. Don suggested to his friends, jokingly, that they should put together a “confession booth,” where the students could all come confess their sins. One of his friends was seriously all over the idea. Don was trying to get through to his friend that it was simply a joke. Still, his friend was persistent that they do it. But his friend had a deeper idea behind it. Yes, it would be a confession booth, but instead of having people come up and confess their sins, the Christian group would confess and apologize to them on how the Church has wronged them. These Christians would confess their mistakes. They would apologize for the way that them, as Christians, had hurt all these people. Don was all over this idea. So they did it, and you know what? In a setting where people’s farthest thought was from Jesus, they made an impact. People told them that this was exactly what they needed to hear. Because you know what? The Church had hurt them in these ways. They had over 75 people come to their booth that night. Once people heard the true meaning of this booth, they had to hear it for themselves. For once, these people felt heard. They felt understood for the way that they felt.

“I felt very connected to God because I had confessed so much to so many people and had gotten so much off my chest and I had been forgiven by the people I had wronged with my indifference and judgmentalism.” – Don Miller

Don’t get me wrong. No church is perfect. I mean nothing is perfect. Churches are going to make mistakes. Christianity is going to make mistakes. Some really big ones too. Christianity is made up of humans who are imperfect. However, that doesn’t give us an excuse to not make these radical changes that need to be made. We always hear in church that Christianity isn’t the easy road. That’s because it’s not. We are called to serve. We are called to be a light. We are called to love above all. That’s not as easy as it sounds, which is why many churches are taking the easy road. Us Christians preach messages that encourage people to serve, to be a light and to love, but we don’t always live it out. Our churches don’t always live it out. I don’t always live it out. I am a part of the problem. I think I have finally become aware of that, and it’s a hard truth. But we have to try to do better. Let’s stop living this easy road and live the way that Jesus taught us.

Also – if you’re reading this, whether you are a Christian or not, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the times that I haven’t lived out the mission of Christ that I preach. I’m going to work to be better.

A Great Big World

Last week, I got to go on a trip to one of my absolute favorite places… the MOUNTAINS! I have always loved the mountains. Everything in the mountains is so extremely beautiful that it is surprising it’s even real. The first full day of the trip, my friends and I went on a hike up a huge mountain. Right before we left for the hike, we discussed all of the important things to know if we were to encounter a bear. After this discussion, I honestly felt terrified (it doesn’t take much to scare me). My eyes were peeled and I was ready to face whatever came our way during that hike. But you know what? We never encountered any bears. Instead, we encountered God’s beauty present in nature. In fact, it wasn’t long into the hike that I completely forgot about encountering a bear because I was fixated on the beauty around me. The sounds of nature were soothing. The gentle breeze was perfect. The trees reached up to the sky towards their Creator. It was a kind of moment that reminded me of the gift of life.

With each year that passes, I find more appreciation for nature. Not that I have ever not appreciated it, but there have been times when I didn’t grasp the full beauty of it all. It probably also doesn’t help that every time I step outside, I have a sinus attack (haha). But seriously, nature is a gift. Just as we are made in the image of God, creation also reflects the image of God. In my opinion, being in nature is a form of worship. Think about it. Worship presents itself in anything that points us to our God… which is exactly what nature does. It is a space in which we are completely surrounded by what God created. God calls us to be in community with other people, but God also calls us to be in community with the other parts of creation. Every aspect of creation makes up characteristics of who God is. If we want to discover more about who God is, then we have to be open to God’s presence that is all around us.

You might be wondering why I’m going on a whole tangent about nature. Well, I’m here to say that it is an important aspect of our spiritual lives. God had the intention of us being in relation with the whole world around us. We can learn and grow from all of creation.

When I get stressed, I always try to go take a walk outside. It simply calms me down. It allows me to gain some fresh air and to gain perspective. This past fall, I went into quarantine due to COVID. Thankfully, I never ended up having it, but quarantine itself was not easy. I remember after my quarantine ended, I was mentally drained. I had little motivation, and more than ever before, I was ready for the world to go back to the way it used to be. I was angry at the turmoil and divide this global pandemic was causing. I was sad because of all the isolation people were feeling. I was devastated with all the loss due to the virus. And quarantine gave me way too much time to think about these things. Right after my time was finally up, I went on a walk in downtown OKC at the Myriad Gardens to clear my head. For the first time in what seemed like forever, everything felt better. Even though the world we once knew had completely been flipped on its head, nature was still worshipping God. The birds were still chirping. The flowers were still beautiful and pointing upwards towards God. And after that walk, I felt at least a tiny bit refreshed. I felt a tinge of hope.

There are several different things that nature provides to us. Whether you’re an outside person or not, I think it is good to know the gift that God has given us through nature. I mean if you don’t like the outdoors you can always appreciate it from inside the comfort of your car or house, but I do think a little walk outside can go a long way.

  • Nature can give us a sense of distance from our stressors. When we get away from the loudness of the world, sometimes we can find some clarity. In fact, sometimes we are more apt to listen to God in these moments. I have found that some of my most relaxing moments during the school year are off-campus, in nature. I’m able to realize that although the things I’m stressed about may have a temporary affect on my life, they do not define me. For example, in my life, being in nature and having time to think clearly has often served as a reminder that God doesn’t want me to carry all of the weight of my burdens alone. God truly did not intend for us to carry this weight that we often carry in life. It is the world, our society and the expectations that intend for us to carry these weights. We need to surrender the pride of doing it all on our own and instead seek the help that we can receive from our Creator and the people around us. The hard decisions we are having to make, the expectations we place on ourselves, or even the anxiety that is pressing upon us are not issues in which we should suffer alone. The distance that nature provides from these stressors provides me with clarity that can help me to resort to these sorts of conclusions. I am given more clarity and rationality that I wouldn’t receive otherwise. In the loudness of the world, we can lose the sense of truth.

Think about being in a large crowd. When we’re stuck in a large crowd, if you’re a little introverted like me, it can be stressful. We can’t hear our own selves think. People are pushing and tugging us every which way. People are angry at others who are standing in their way. Some people are going with the flow one way while others are trying to fight to go the opposite way. That is how our lives can be at times. It can be loud and intimidating. Stepping out of the crowd (getting away from our normal) can be the thing that allows us to breathe and think clearly. How are we supposed to gain any clarity when we can’t even hear ourselves think?

  • We can literally breathe better in nature. I mean unless you have allergies. But seriously, studies show that trees reduce levels of some pollutants. Simply being in a space where we can breathe better can help to calm our minds. God intends for our minds to find rest. Our minds aren’t made to be constantly going and going and going. They are designed to also take a breather. Breathing has such a huge impact on our mind. It can significantly reduce the amount of stress we are experiencing. Plus, good things are produced from taking the time to breathe. In the Bible, so many good things are formed from God breathing them into being. Let’s look at some examples.

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7

The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. – Job 33:4

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
– Psalm 33:6

These are just a few examples of all that God’s breath/spirit creates within Scripture. Considering how much the Bible emphasizes God’s creation from breath, I believe we are told of just how important it is for us to breathe. In order to produce good things, we have to remember to take a moment to breathe. If you have a huge work project coming up, better work will be produced from taking the time to breathe. Same goes with a making hard parenting decisions, handling relationship conflicts, or really any other problem we’re facing. Taking the necessary time to breathe is a vital component that helps us in taking the next step. Breathing is essential. And nature is a great reminder of the importance of breath.

  • Many studies have been done over nature that have shown its significant impact on a person’s well-being. In one study, there were sixty participants that were randomly assigned to either take an urban walk or a nature walk. The participants who took a nature walk had a significant decrease in anxiety, a better working memory and an overall positive affect on one’s outlook on life. This tells me that God does not intend for us to disregard nature. Instead, nature is an aspect of life that God designed us to need. It is there to help us in both our spiritual and everyday lives. Nature cares for us more than we know. I mean, without it, we literally couldn’t live. I think that sets things into perspective for us. It shows us how powerful the world around us is. Nature is ultimately one of the biggest reminders that there is something way bigger than you or me out there. It shows that there is something bigger than the decisions we make, the problems we face, or the stress we struggle with. Eight years ago, yesterday, in Moore, Oklahoma, everybody’s temporary problems seemed small as an EF5 tornado whipped through destroying everything in its path. Nature sure has a way of setting things into perspective.

Throughout this next week, take some time to concentrate on the big world around you. Let it sink in that you are living on an Earth that is bigger than the things that we face. Ultimately, just allow the world around you be a gift. Let it remind you to take time away from your normal, to take a second to breathe, and to change your perspective.

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
 the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
 and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
 that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
 and the breath of all mankind.” – Job 12: 7-10

Scandal of Grace

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that Jesus was a 100% human and 100% God. OF COURSE this can be hard to wrap our minds around because this is beyond our human understanding. I think something we often forget is the fact that Jesus was 100% human. He performs so many divine miracles that we forget that he was also just like us. Things that hurt us, hurt him. And in that light, the crucifixion story is a whole lot harder to hear. It’s hard to hear that Jesus had to suffer such an endearing pain for us. And today, we remember that. We remember the human pain Jesus suffered on the cross. The fact that Jesus was fully human truly changes everything. It means we have a God who understands our pain. 

“The day and it’s troubles shall come
I know that Your strength is enough
The scandal of grace
You died in my place
So my soul will live”

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Last night I watched the movie “Soul”. Ever since it came out, I have heard about how great of a message it has to communicate to those watching it. I won’t spoil anything in case you haven’t watched it but let me tell you… it has such an important message for all of us to hear. One of the main things that struck me was the overarching storyline of one of the main characters named 22. You see, 22 struggles to find a purpose in life. She feels as if she doesn’t have a purpose. She’s confused on what she’s supposed to do, and all throughout the movie, it makes her feel worthless. And honestly, sometimes (maybe even a little more than sometimes) we feel the same exact way. That’s why this movie is SO good. It’s very relatable to our feelings throughout our journey of life. When approaching our future, we don’t know what to do. When facing a tough situation, we don’t know what to do. When approaching God, sometimes we don’t know what to do or what to say. Let’s admit it, there are times when we just don’t know what to do.

So what do we do when we don’t know what to do? Lately, we’ve been leading a small group study with some of our youth students that reflects on this question. As we discussed this topic, I realized that I was learning so many things that I wanted to begin implementing into my life. Lately, there have been many aspects of my life that have had me questioning what to do. I have found myself questioning my abilities which, ultimately, have me questioning God’s purpose for my life. I also have been facing everyday hardships that find me wondering what to do. Life is often full of many questions, and I think this question of what to do in difficult situations is one we face daily. We’re always expected to make decisions. We have pressure to do the right thing. We’re expected to care for ourselves. We want to be there for others. We have so many things to take into account constantly, and it can be taxing. It is difficult to decide what to do when we don’t know what to do.

Although it’s difficult, we cannot just run away from tough situations or hard questions. That isn’t how life works… which means we have to have an action plan.

First of all, life’s weight becomes a little bit lighter when we communicate with God. An important idea to always remember with this is that everyone most effectively communicates with God in their own ways. Some people may communicate with God best by sitting and reading Scripture. Some people may connect by putting in their earbuds and listening to worship music. Some people may connect best by simply sitting in silence and waiting for God to speak to them. We need to find the way or multiple ways that we can best feel God’s presence. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe we should be communicating in all of these ways. But if you see a person really connecting with God in one way, and you don’t necessarily connect in that way, it’s okay. The beautiful part of creation is that we are all different. We are all made to connect in different ways. However, for all of us, when we don’t know what to do, our first step should always be to communicate with God. God doesn’t intend for us to figure everything out on our own. As humans, we are made to be dependent on God. If we leave God’s answer out of the picture when trying to figure out what we are supposed to do, we could end up lost and unsure of where we went wrong.

One more thing about communicating with God – quit trying to communicate in the most perfect way. What I mean by this is that we often come up with these elaborate prayers that we think may make us seem more “holy.” We sugar coat the things we are facing when talking to God because we are afraid to bring our raw, authentic selves. Communication with God is simply a conversation. A good relationship is not fulfilled by hiding the bad parts of ourselves. A good relationship comes about when we bring the good and bad and accept one another as we are. I promise that God loves and accepts you as you are. When we don’t know what to do, we need to bring the hard things and simply talk to God. In those moments, we truly allow our hearts to be open to what God has for us.

Secondly, when we don’t know what to do, we need to pursue peace. Now, I actually can’t take credit for this one. This was in our small group curriculum for this series, but I believe it is SO GOOD. Many of our conflicts come from tough situations or relationships that leave us wondering what we are supposed to do. But our ultimate goal should always be to pursue peace in those places. Pursuing peace can look different depending on the situation.

  1. Sometimes pursuing peace is simply finding ways to have grace for ourselves. We sometimes can be quick to forgive others but not quick to forgive ourselves. This will not lead to a sense of peace within our hearts. In fact, this will only lead to turmoil within ourselves. It’ll make it much harder for us to face the situations and conflicts that we are facing in that moment.
  2. Sometimes pursuing peace is forgiving others. This is one of those things that is way easier said than done. It is hard to let go of a grudge when you are hurt. I have seen so many people within my lifetime that have had trouble offering someone forgiveness because of the awful things a person has done to them. However, my advice to them would be to talk to God about their struggle to forgive. Pray for the person who wronged you. In saying that, you don’t necessarily have to let them back into your life. You can care, love and forgive at a distance. In order to best care for ourselves, sometimes this is the wise thing to do.
  3. Often times, pursuing peace means finding ways to enjoy the situation we are in, despite the hardships. School can be hard. Work can be hard. Many things in life can be hard. But when we pursue peace, we can find peace within the chaos. Don’t let the stress, worry, or thoughts that we aren’t good enough take control. We will most likely all experience these feelings within our lives, but in pursuing peace, we choose to restrict these feelings from completely dominating. We allow ourselves to rest on the promise from God that worrying will not make anything better and that we are truly made in the image of God. It doesn’t mean the chaos will subside. But it does mean that we may be able to start seeing life as beautiful as it is, even in the midst of chaos.

Jesus is the perfect example of living out what we should do when we don’t know what to do. Jesus was always in communication with God and was always finding creative ways in which he could pursue peace. The high priests in Jesus’ time constantly put Jesus difficult situations. They’d find ways to try to manipulate Him into saying the wrong things and were determined that His ministry would not succeed. They wanted to stop Jesus in his tracks and prove that He wasn’t really the Son of God. While this would have been very frustrating for Jesus, He was always in tune with God and always able to forgive those who wronged Him. He was pursuing peace in the chaos. If we ever have a hard time figuring out how we should face a situation, Jesus is someone we can always read about to find the answer. Even though we aren’t always going to handle things perfectly as Jesus did, we can strive to live our lives by the example of Christ.

There are going to be many times in your life where you don’t know what to do. However, when you are faced with this kind of situation and pondering the question of what to do, I hope that you open the door to communicate with God and choose the pursuit of peace. God is always standing right in front of you with an outstretched hand just waiting for you to take it. God already knows your heart but still wants you to communicate anyways, so that God may lead you to be the person you’re called to be.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16

Do You Live for the Journey or the Destination?

One of my favorite classes this year is Celtic Christianity. In this class, we get to learn all about Christianity in Ireland, and it is so fascinating. I love seeing how other cultures come together to worship God. But this sect of Christianity has really made an impact on me. You see, Celtic Christians have carried out their faith in such unique ways over the years. We often learn in this class how these Christians would take pilgrimages and journeys in order to grow their faith. In these pilgrimages, they would leave everything behind to go on a journey in nature and spend time alone with God. This was a way for them to walk hand-in-hand with God. I mean, what a way to grow in your relationship with God! We were discussing this idea of journeys in class the other day when our professor asked a question that has remained with me ever since. She asked, “Do you feel as if you are focused on the journey or on the destination in your life?”

I’m going to be completely honest with you all. I am a destination-driven person. In volleyball practice, I was focused on getting home and going to bed. All throughout high school, I was focused on college. In college, I’ve remained focused on what my life will look like once I’ve graduated. I am EXTREMELY destination-focused. While it’s good that I’m always looking forward to what the future brings, it is also causing me to miss out on the current moment. Our journey is important. If we’re always consumed in the destination, we will miss out on what God has for us in the journey there.

Lately, for my youth students, we’ve been doing a Monthly Bible Reading Challenge. Each month, we have them read one book of the Bible while giving them a detailed schedule of what they are to read each week. Then, us leaders post a video every week that pretty much sums up all of what they read. This past week, we had them read a few chapter from Matthew. Everything we had them read was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. As I was reading these chapters, I was still reflecting over this idea of journeys and destinations. And I just kept thinking about how Jesus demonstrated this idea perfectly. You see, Jesus’ journey wasn’t perfect. He faced hate, persecution and people that whole-heartedly believed he was a fraud. But he took each and every moment to glorify God. When he was in the desert for forty days and forty nights without food, there wasn’t once we heard him say, “I’m so ready for this to be over.” It was a part of his journey, and he embraced it. Yet, Jesus was also focused on the destination. He was constantly preparing for the day when he could save this broken world he was living in. He was probably also a little intimidated by what the destination would bring, but he put his full trust in God.

After lots of reflecting, I believe that Jesus’ ministry teaches us three key factors in the battle between journeys and destinations.

First of all, his ministry teaches us to embrace the moment that you are in right now. There are going to be times in your life where you may feel as if you have been in the desert for forty days and forty nights, as Jesus was. I’ve been there, and I will probably be there many more times throughout my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still embrace it. Instead of letting it destroy you, let it be a time of growth. The thing about journeys is that they get really hard at times. When journeys become difficult, it is easy to switch our focus to the destination. However, let me offer you another perspective. Often times, when we look back on a difficult time in life, we can see where we have grown. Whether or not we realize it, we grow within our journeys. So we should embrace them, even when they’re hard. You may be going through a really difficult semester of school. Embrace the knowledge that you are gaining. You may have just lost of loved one. Embrace the love and comfort that Jesus provides to you. You may be struggling in your relationships. Embrace the lessons that will be learned on how to face relationship issues in the future. The journey of life wasn’t meant to be easy. Those Celtic Christians probably faced many difficult times within their journey; however, the whole point of their pilgrimage was to do it all with God. They embraced the difficult and put their trust in the God that they knew would always be by their side.

Secondly, Jesus’ ministry tells us that the destination is going to bring troubles of its own. He knew what his destination was going to bring. He knew that it would change the whole trajectory of our lives, but he also knew it would cause him an enormous amount of pain. Unlike Jesus, we don’t know what our destination entails, even as much as we like to think we do. The destination may look wonderful right now, but we need to be honest with ourselves. We never know what life is going to bring. Our future might be headed in one direction for a second and then go a complete different direction the next second. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment by only being people set on the destination. For example, going into college, I had expectations of what all it would entail when, in fact, it was completely different than what I had expected. So why live from destination to destination? We should just enjoy the moment we’re in. We need to quit acting like we know what tomorrow is going to bring. Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Tomorrow will bring it’s own troubles. Just focus on the journey you’re on right now.

Thirdly, even though we need to enjoy our journey, we can look forward to the destination. I spent the whole last point telling you how important the journey is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to our destination. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he focused on the journey. He healed people. He taught people. He loved each and every person he encountered. But he was also getting ready for the day where he would be able to save all people from their sins. He always had the destination in mind, and throughout his life, he was preparing for it. It’s good for us to work towards our destination, but we don’t need to get too caught up in our destination to where we’re distraught if it doesn’t go as we had planned. A good balance between the two will help us to be more content within our walk of life and our walk of faith. A good balance will allow us to enjoy the current moment, work hard for our future, and be okay when everything doesn’t go the way we planned.

I really want you to reflect on your life right now. Are you always set on the destination or are you often focused on the journey? Or do you feel like you are both destination AND journey focused? This balance in our lives is way bigger than one might think. Depending on what you are focused on truly does change everything. In that case, we want to be focused on the things in life that bring us closer to God and closer to having true joy embedded within us.

Food for thought – maybe if we weren’t always completely focused on the destination, we would take more time to feed our spirit. Maybe we would take more time to spend with our Creator.

Let’s take this journey together.

 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11

All to You I Surrender

A couple of weeks ago, I had to get a little, tiny procedure done. BUT you wouldn’t have known it was a little, tiny procedure if you would’ve seen me around that time. I was terrified. If this gives you any context, my parents once had to trick me with ice cream in order to make me get a shot. Anything medical-related is terrifying to me. It’s by far one of my weaknesses. I get overly fearful. But going into 2021, I designated the word “surrender” to be my word for the year. I’ve really grown on this idea of choosing a word for each year because it gives me an opportunity to grow in an area that needs growth. “Surrender” has such a powerful meaning, but the more and more I reflected on 2020, the more I realized that I really wasn’t putting that word into action. I wasn’t surrendering to God. I wasn’t surrendering being wrong in arguments. I wasn’t surrendering to what I needed for my health. So this tiny, little procedure was my first step towards surrender. I was surrendering to what my body needed, even though I was terrified. But let’s be honest, surrendering can be kind of terrifying, but that doesn’t make it any less worth it.

I’m just going to cut right to the chase. If you aren’t willing to surrender, you are going to struggle in many aspects of life. I want you to think of a time in your life where you held on to something. Maybe it was a grudge towards someone. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was a very bad memory. Maybe it was regret. Whatever you may have been holding on to in that moment, it probably created a struggle within you. It probably consumed you. But that’s not surprising because that is what happens when we choose not to surrender.

I’ve always hated the phrase “God will only give you what you can handle”. Before everyone thinks I’m crazy and stops reading, let me explain. This phrase is assuming that we can take on anything that is given to us in life without God. It’s pretty much saying “If God has given it to you, you can handle it on your own”. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not true. As much as we’d love to think we can handle whatever life throws at us, it’s not true… without God. Surrender is NECESSARY for us to be able to handle life’s ups and downs. We have to surrender to what God has given to us in order that we are able to handle it. We cannot handle it all on our own. It will only lead us to a lonely dead end. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve ended up at that dead end more than once in my life. And it’s because I’ve tried to handle all of what life had thrown at me on my own. We’re not designed in that way. We aren’t made to do it all by ourselves. And that’s such a good thing. We have the opportunity to be dependent upon the Creator of the world. I think that’s pretty cool. So let’s start doing a little more surrendering to our God.

This idea of surrender brings me to a story in the Bible. It’s the story of Jacob and Esau. These were the sons of Isaac. If you haven’t heard the story, long-story-short, Jacob takes both Esau’s birthright and his blessing. Both of which are a huge deal. The birthright is a right to all the inheritance of one’s parents. It is always given to the first-born son, which was Esau. And a blessing from God is obviously important. And it’s very important to note the way that Jacob took Esau’s blessing. He was able to trick his father into giving him the blessing since his father was blind. He simply acted as if he was Esau. When Esau found out that Jacob had done this, he was enraged. And for fear of the wrath of Esau, Jacob ran. He left the situation and didn’t look back. However, years later, Esau was ready to make amends with his brother. When Esau saw Jacob again, he ran and embraced him with a hug. It’s as if he forgot about all the issues. He let go of them because he found his relationship with his brother to be more important. He surrendered his harsh feelings that he held towards his brother. Wow! Does that not just embody all of what it means to surrender? Jacob did terrible things to Esau, but Esau chose to surrender his grudge. If Esau would’ve hung on to all of that hatred, he would’ve been miserable. He would’ve been consumed in negativity. Surrender is a choice. I know it may be hard to think of surrendering a grudge you have towards someone. You may validate your decision to keep holding on to that grudge because of how they wronged you. But in the end, you are only doing more harm to yourself.

I’d like to share with you all a couple of ways that I feel surrender benefits us. First of all, as I said above, you are only doing more harm to yourself by holding on. So by surrendering, we are releasing tension. As people that are a part of this crazy world, I think we can all go for some tension releasing. So knowing that we could have so much more peace through surrendering, why don’t we do it?? Why don’t we just surrender everything? That’s because surrender usually presents itself as the hard path in two given paths. We can either not acknowledge our issues (easy path) or acknowledge them and give up our right to hold on to them (hard path). And as humans we don’t like to let go of our baggage. It makes us uncomfortable to think of letting it go. But when we surrender the temporary things that burden us, we are allowing our heart and mind to be free of a weight. I’ve had my fair share of people in life that I have let put a burden on my soul. I had so much baggage in those relationships that for years I carried on my shoulders. I told myself I wasn’t carrying all of the hurt and pain those relationships caused, but in reality, I was just trying to mask the fact that I wasn’t letting go. When I finally made the choice to surrender all the hurt, guilt, and pain, there was so much tension released in my being.

I’ve been taking vocal lessons for many years now, and through all my years, there is one thing that has remained consistent. I hate singing high. The idea of singing high has always freaked me out, and I’m not afraid to admit it. But the funny thing about this is that I’ve never been able to hide this dislike for singing high. If you look closely at me while singing high (I’m really exposing myself here), you’ll notice that I tense up REALLY BADLY. The other day in my vocal lesson, my vocal teacher caught me lifting/tensing my shoulders and called me out on it. I immediately realized he was right and tried to fix it. So then we took our next go at the same high part of the song. And then we stopped again because guess what I was doing? Tensing again. But we thought it was hilarious that instead of tensing in my shoulders, I moved it to another part of my body. While I was singing, he apparently noticed that a vein popped out in my neck which meant that I moved the tension right up to my neck. It’s insane the amount of ways I have found to build tension in my body while singing high.

But this is a perfect example of what we do in our own lives. Things make us uncomfortable, and instead of surrendering them to God, we find some place to store the tension. The thing about keeping this tension while I’m singing is that it never produces a good sound. Keeping tension within us never produces anything good. Think about getting anything medically done. They always tell you to quit tensing because that only makes the pain worse. Keeping negativity, worry, anxiety, fear, grudges, along with all the other things we build up within us, only makes things worse. In no way, shape or form will this tension solve anything. That’s why surrender is NECESSARY and will only benefit our lives. Surrender allows us to live our lives free of this tension. It allows us to be more loving and joyful in the lives God has given us.

Lastly, surrender enables us to grow. If you aren’t willing to surrender, you aren’t going to grow. A flower can’t grow without surrendering to the nature around it. The beautiful thing about flowers is that they weren’t designed to fight surrender, so they are a perfect example of how we should live. They are always allowing God to pour into their lives through sunlight and water. That’s how they live. They can’t live on their own. Their lives are completely dependent on God. The thing about flowers is that they are constantly allowing themselves to be taken care of. They don’t deny the necessities they need. We, unfortunately, aren’t naturally built like this. We let life get in the way of caring for ourselves. We say we have too much homework to read the Bible. We have too much work to give ourselves a break. We are too tired to enjoy life. We are constantly trying to meet unrealistic expectations. Sometimes that literally means that we don’t give ourselves enough food to eat. We work out too much or too little. We don’t give ourselves enough sleep because there’s too much to get done. We don’t allow ourselves to be the authentic individuals that we are. We don’t give ourselves permission to laugh and be joyful. We fight surrender.

When we don’t fight it, we’ll grow in more ways than one. By surrendering, we have given ourselves the opportunity to be more authentic in our faith, our relationships and in every other aspect of our lives. Surrender allows us to grow to be the person that God calls us to be.

Take this journey with me. Let’s choose surrender.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1

2020… a year that has made me better than who I was before

JD and I went on our two-year date last week. That’s literally insane! It seems like time has been flying by in my life recently. But anyways, we always do this fun thing for our yearly dates where he blindfolds me and takes me to different surprise destinations. This year we went to our favorite place to eat (Nhinja yummm), ice skating & then to see Christmas lights! It was great. As we were ice skating (well while he was skating and I was falling), I felt a sense of joy seeing everybody out having a good time. Children were laughing and practically just walking on the ice with their skate helpers. People were flying by JD and I, and others were slowly making their way around the circle holding the wall for dear life. But one group of people stood out to me. There was a group of teenagers all gathered in a circle on their phones. They would take pictures and then all stare at their phone screens. This honestly was the way it was the entire time we were there. They talked to one another, but the attention was always truly on their phone. If I were to guess, I assume they probably were posting the pictures they had taken on social media. While there is nothing wrong with that, it made me kind of sad. Because instead of enjoying the moment that they were in, they were consumed in something other than the reality surrounding them.

But isn’t it nice to escape this reality? This world has blown up this year. I’ll say it a million times over again that I’m not the same person I used to be before this pandemic. It’s as if my eyes have been open to all the hurt, pain and struggles present in this world. And I don’t always know what to do with all of these feelings. This year has been a year I never expected to experience. I specifically remember a year ago from today thinking, “Tomorrow starts the best year yet. I can feel it.” And as I was dancing with my friends in downtown OKC as the clock turned to 12:00 A.M., I felt excitement. I was genuinely happy and eager to see what 2020 had in store. And then before I knew it, everything just seemed to fall apart. First of all, let’s just talk about the uncertainty. I hate uncertainty, and I think we can all say that each day this year has been packed FULL of it. While the uncertainty has been terrible, I think I can say for many of us, the worst of it all has been the loss. The death, the sickness and the unexpectedness of it all feels like a deep, sharp pain. We, ourselves, and the people around us are struggling mentally. People are fighting depression and loneliness. It’s pretty easy to say that an escape from this reality wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.

I found myself trying to escape reality more than ever this year. Things would get hard, and I would play the distraction card. Whether that be getting on social media, trying to just push the hurt deep into an untouched part of my mind or binge-watching a Netflix show, I would find ways to escape my reality. I didn’t like the idea of addressing all that was going on in the world. But I will say this. In escaping my reality, I didn’t focus on the good that was present within my life. I just tried to numb it all by not thinking about really anything. In fact, I feel that I lost sight of all I had to be thankful for in my life. I was consumed in nothing but negativity.

This year, I almost forgot about the blessing of life. Life is packed full of low valleys and high mountaintops. The blessing of life is not only found in the high mountaintops but also in the low valleys. And you know what? THANK GOODNESS for that truth. Who would you be right now if we took away all those times that you’ve been in the valley? I wouldn’t be near the person I am today. I wouldn’t have any sort of perseverance. Any sort of thing that goes unplanned would leave me broken. But not only would I lack perseverance, I also may not have made as many mistakes. Because in the valley, you will most likely mess up, but you have the opportunity to come out even better. I don’t know who I’d be without 2020, and you know what? I don’t want to find out. I have decided that I’m going to accept this year as a part of life that has made me better than I was before. And part of this blessing of life is that God is not only with us in the good times but also in the really really sucky times. If you were like me in this past year, you forgot that. There were a few times I literally remember thinking that I would go to God once I fixed myself. I would go once the hardships weren’t consuming me as much. But my friends, God was with me in those times. I may have turned down God’s loving hand, but that doesn’t mean God ever left my side. God is ALWAYS with us. What a blessing of life. God didn’t leave you to face 2020 on your own. Maybe you chose to push Him away, but God never stopped being with you. That moment when you lost someone who meant the world to you, God was with you while the tears were rolling down your face. That moment when your depression was all-consuming, God was with you as you wondered how you’d keep going. God never left (even in 2020) and never will.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

I think many people misinterpret the saying “God is with you” as something that Christians just say. But these four words are powerful. They remind us that God’s love for us is unconditional. Some of you all may not have anyone in your life who has always been “with” you so it’s hard to imagine this kind of love. But it’s real and powerful. Some people in your life will leave you when things get hard, but God never will.

You know what else I learned this year? The world doesn’t revolve around me. Throwing a pity party every second of every day isn’t going to fix my problems. Yes. 2020 was hard. Yes. Life is hard. But do you really want to spend life always feeling sorry for yourself? Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times we need to give ourselves time to be sad. But sometimes we need to get out of ourselves in order to care for ourselves. I was not the only one who had a hard 2020. Many people did. And many of the people lost people who meant the world to them. Yet, a lot of times, it makes us feel better to believe in the notion that we’re the only ones that have it bad. This year I was constantly wallowing in all the sorrow I had in all of my situations. But you know what I realized? That didn’t solve anything. It actually made things a whole lot worse. It made me more bitter towards people and unwilling to love. It also pushed me farther away from my relationship with God. Instead of spending genuine time with God and being thankful for all He has given me, I only complained about my situations. All the concentration was on myself and not on my relationship with God at all. When we concentrate on only ourselves and our bad situations, we forget how to love others and even love ourselves.

In escaping the reality of 2020, these lessons would not have been learned. These lessons may not have come from the easiest experiences, but sometimes the hardest times yield the most promising lessons. My biggest challenges for you all in 2021 is to not try to escape to another reality. Don’t run to your phone when things get tough. Don’t binge-watch a show to numb the pain. Accept what you’re feeling and try to grow. Accept the low valleys that come your way. Enjoy the high mountaintops. And have joy in both the valleys and mountaintops. When joy is rooted in you, it persists even in the darkest times. I can’t tell you what 2021 is going to bring. Do I hope it’s better? Yes. But let’s not go in with the expectation that everything is going to be solved and all better. 2021 will bring its own challenges. Let’s go in with the notion that both hard times and good times will come. But through it all, we can know our God will be with us, we’re not alone in our situation and there is no need to escape the reality we are in right now. This is where you’re supposed to be even if it’s not where you saw yourself being. 2021 we’re coming for you stronger than ever before!!

 “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” – Romans 5: 3-4

Better Not Bitter

Bitterness comes to steal our joy. It comes to steal our lives and even who we are as a person. Bitterness also seems to come at the most inconvenient times. It comes in the moments when we need joy most in our lives. I’ve never been a very bitter person. I have always been one that has been able to overlook the bad going on around me and focus on the good. However, this year I’ve found myself consumed in bitterness. I’ve been bitter about the pandemic, the division caused by the election, and so much more. This bitterness has brought out parts of me that have made me ashamed. I’ve been more jealous. I always see the cup half empty. And I’ve been angry. Yes, there are parts of our lives that we are going to get upset about, but this anger has entered a new level. It consumes me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. This year has brought out the worst in a lot of us. This year has left us feeling bitter.

A definition of bitterness from the Oxford Dictionary is “anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly; resentment.” You could say that this year has left us feeling as if our lives are unfair. And on top of the worldly problems are our own problems. It’s easy to get to a place where we are disappointed in our own situations. Eventually we begin falling into resentment. We resent our situations and the unfair treatment. All of this builds and builds until we are bitter. The best way for me to describe bitterness is like a child’s tantrum. It can start out over something small that didn’t go our way. And then it can build into anger/resentment (the screaming and crying) which leads to a really bad mood. Except unlike a child having a tantrum, this “bad mood” lingers for days in our lives. This “bad mood” leaves us feeling ungrateful of our lives and bitter towards the people who treat us wrong.

The concept of bitterness could not relate more to the life of Naomi whose name literally became known as “bitter.” Naomi lost almost everyone in her life. She lost her husband and her two sons, leaving her only two daughters-in-law. All of her losses seemed to be unfair. She resented those losses and her life. I mean who wouldn’t? She lost the people that were closest to her. Her daughters-in-law insisted on staying with her because they loved Naomi. This would’ve been unheard of in this time. The normal thing for these daughters-in-law to do would be to go back home to their family after their husbands had died. Naomi was insistent that they go back home. One of the daughters-in-law, Orpah, obeyed Naomi and went back home to her people, while Ruth, the other daughter-in-law, stayed with Naomi and didn’t go back to her people. Ruth’s home was Naomi.

19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” – Ruth 1:19-21

The name Naomi is translated as “pleasant,” but the name Mara is translated as “bitter.” Naomi used to be pleasant, but then life was unfair. A series of heart breaks left her bitter and empty. She felt that God had dealt with her bitterly through the times that were brought upon her. Can you relate to this? I know I can. She was full, but then life left her feeling empty. She was so bitter that she lost who she was. She was so miserable that she wanted to be isolated. She tried so hard to push Ruth and Oprah out of her life because when you’re bitter, you push away the blessings and gifts that God has given you. Bitterness is like a disease that tries to take every part of your life until it feels that it has taken away all of the good.

But that is not where Naomi’s story ended. Long story short, Ruth met a man named Boaz when she was working in the fields one day. This man found favor in Ruth and ended up marrying her. Ruth had a baby with Boaz, and Naomi found herself surrounded by family. At the end of the story, the bitterness that had once consumed Naomi seemed to have gone away. She was finally concentrated not on what she had lost but, instead, what she had gained. Ruth was the hope that Naomi had needed. I believe Ruth was God’s presence in Naomi’s life. She was a constant reminder that there was still good and good would always remain. Good was not leaving. God was not leaving.

Bitterness is a blinder to the good in our lives. In every situation, there is some sort of good. There are lessons to be learned. There are people to be met. There are good times to be had (if we allow them). So much of our lives is about perspective. We can either look at the cup half full or half empty. We can either look at the blessings right in front of our eyes or look all around that blessing and never recognize or appreciate it. A hard lesson I’ve learned in this season of life is that bitterness is a choice. I’ve chosen to let it be my lens. But now, I’ve decided I’m done seeing my life through the lens of bitterness. I hope you all do the same as well. There is no way we can enjoy this time we have on earth if all we concentrate on is the bad. There will always be something you can complain about, but don’t. Is that really how we want to spend our time here? Life is hard right now. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We’ve suffered loss after loss. My goodness. It just doesn’t stop. We’re losing loved ones like Naomi did. We are suffering from depression. We are fighting sickness. We are battling differences of opinions. And we’re battling our own baggage. But let’s not be bitter. Let’s look right ahead at the Ruth in our lives, instead of focusing on everything else that seems unfair.

Life can be unfair. And it can really suck. But being bitter is only going to make life harder.

15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; – Hebrews 12:15

Is God in this story?

“Where is God in this story?” is a question religion majors here at OCU ask quite often. We are taught that this is one of the key exegetical questions to ask about a piece of Scripture. Why? Because it’s important to know the role of God in each story. It’s important to see how God is working in the midst of heartache, depression, conflict and persecution. It is also important to determine where God is when God doesn’t seem to be present in the book. For example, God is not mentioned one time in Esther, so where would God be?? Better yet, where is God in our story? Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if God isn’t present in our book? It seems that I am usually able to find God in a book of the Bible, but in my personal life… that’s another story. So where is God in my story? In our story?

These past two weeks have been crazy to say the least. This week we’ve been facing an insane election. Last week, here in Oklahoma, a powerful ice storm whipped through and took all of our electricity for days. There are people that are still out!! It was so sad to drive down the street to see so much destroyed. All of the trees still had leaves on them, so when the ice came, the trees were more weighed down and were destroyed. Not only that, but everything was dark. I would drive down the street at night with not a trace of light. Honestly, it kind of reminds me of this election week. There’s darkness encompassing us all with seemingly no trace of light. Everyone is angry and fighting. Every once in a while, I’ll see a post encouraging positivity, but even that makes people angry. People want to be mad and bitter right now, and they’re spreading the bitterness to the entire country. There is so much darkness. Where is God in it all?

I believe we are always subconsciously asking this question. When we’re going through hard times, we search for God whether we know it or not. God is in our inmost being, and though it may not seem like it sometimes, we NEED God. We cannot face life alone. God didn’t create this life for us to live it by ourselves. I mean think about it. Are we not always searching for meaning? We’re always wondering why bad things happen to us. We’re always curious to know where we’re supposed to go next. When we stand outside and see all of the beauty of nature, we’re intrigued with how something could be so perfect. We’re always searching for meaning. We’re always searching for God. God is the hope we’re searching for the bad times. God is in our future plans. God created nature and called it a masterpiece. We’re always searching for God whether we know it or not.

Even in this time, we’re looking for God. But if you’re anything like me, it’s been a hard search. The world just feels heavy. The great thing about the Bible is that biblical figures often related to us more than one may realize. Biblical figures were people too. Although they faced different struggles, they felt what we feel on a daily basis.

Paul is such an interesting person in the Bible. He was terrible when we first meet him. His name wasn’t even Paul. It was Saul. And Saul persecuted and killed early Christians for their beliefs in Jesus Christ. Early Christians avoided him because they knew he was a killer of Christians. But he changed. God changed him. Through an encounter with a man named Ananies, he converted to Christianity, the religion he persecuted. His name became Paul, and he became a devout follower of Christ, who went around spreading the good news. He went from the persecutor to being persecuted. Within Paul’s ministry, there were many times when he got in trouble by public officials for his proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ. In one of these instances, Paul was with a man named Silas. They got in trouble and were locked away in prison.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer[e] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. – Acts 16:25-34

Rather than Paul and Silas, I want to focus on the jailer here. He was in a great darkness, so much so that he was about to kill himself. This man knew that he didn’t do his job successfully, and the authorities would kill him for it. He assumed it would be better to end his life himself. Darkness in our life leads us to do things that we otherwise would not. Sadly, sometimes it comes to ending it all for people, and I pray if you are at this point to please reach out to somebody and seek help. However, darkness can also cause us to be bitter, hostile and hateful. It can cause us to be people that we are not and do things we normally wouldn’t do. I believe this is exactly what is happening in our world right now. We are allowing the darkness to overtake us. The election, the in and out of quarantine, the deaths and the unexpecting nature of 2020 has caused turmoil within us. We are encompassed in darkness. So where is God in the story?

The story of the jailor didn’t end here. Paul and Silas stopped the jailor from ending his life. They gave him hope. They were God working in this story. They said, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here”. Paul and Silas weren’t the only ones there, so was God. When all hope was gone, God was there. And God is not just in this story. God is in our story too. Just because it is hard to see doesn’t mean that God isn’t here. Sometimes the greatest works were carried out in silence. Sometimes the silence remains for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean we are alone. God doesn’t just work in the loud, light-filled place. God works also in the silent, dark spaces of our lives.

There are times God calls us to search. There are times when I’m studying the Bible in class and really struggle to find God. But I keep looking until I do. Start searching in your own life. Don’t expect your faith to always be easy because it’s not. You’re called to seek and not give up, even when you don’t seem to hear from God for a really long time.

At the small group I help lead, one of the students mentioned how it was sad that all the trees were destroyed because of the ice storm. One of the other leaders came back and said, “But isn’t there something beautiful in them even though they’re broken?” Where is God? God is in the destruction and the heartache. God is in this election, no matter the turnout. God doesn’t leave, just because things don’t go the way we want. We can’t expect everything to be perfect. We can’t always expect everything to work out because the world is made up of humans. But that doesn’t mean that God is gone. God is still present and working, in the midst of the heartache.

Let’s start searching a little more and remember that God most definitely is in this story.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7