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Thursday, July 28, 2016

50 Questions To Free Your Mind

(For the 101 things Challenge.)

1.How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

Probably around Eighty. Most of my interests and personality are that of a much older woman, and I've been told I possess wisdom far beyond my years.

2.Which is worse, failing or never trying?

Never trying. When you don't try something, you will always regret that. And regretting something you now can never do is much worse than regretting something that's done and in the past.

3.If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?

We do so many things we don't like, because society pushes it upon us. We are considered "weird" if we don't. And we like so many things we don't do, often because we have never actually tried them. There is a preconceived "I like this" when we don't really know if we do or do not.

4.When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?

There really is no way to tell, but I hope not. I suppose to some extent I will have.

5.What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world?

People often speak, but rarely do they listen. It's hard to intelligently discuss issues with people, because they are too full of their own opinions to listen to anything you have to say, and your reasoning behind it. Sometimes I am guilty of this as well, but I try my hardest not to be.

6.If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?

A museum curator, or a worship leader, or a Japanese teacher, or anything where I get to share my passions with people, help people cultivate their own passions, or lead others to knowing God.

7.Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?

I'm settling right now I suppose. All of my goals are things that I'll be doing after college, so right now I'm setting the stage for doing what I believe in.

8.If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?

I would be skipping college, and finding another way to pursue my plans.

9.To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life has taken?

Very little. And I think that anyone who thinks they actually have any control on where their life is heading are living in a fantasy world. But, what you do have control of are your actions, and how you perceive what is thrown at you in life.

10.Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?

Doing the right thing.

11.You’re having lunch with three people you respect and admire. They all start criticizing a close friend of yours, not knowing she is your friend. The criticism is distasteful and unjustified. What do you do?

I would probably first try to steer them away from the conversation first, and tell them not to gossip. If they continued, I'd tell them I was friends with the person, and ask them to stop. And if that didn't work, then I'd find some new friends.

12.If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Be confident in yourself. The world will try to tell you all the things that are wrong with you, and try to mold you into something that is pleasing to them, but that's not who God made you to be. You are you for a reason. Embrace that, and love yourself.

13.Would you break the law to save a loved one?

This is entirely dependent on what kind of law. Like, if the loved one did something stupid, and is now in trouble with the law, no way. They need to face the consequences. But if the law is something small, like say trespassing or something, I would probably consider it.

14.Have you ever seen insanity where you later saw creativity?

When I was younger I thought that all kinds of depressing things were strange. Now I find them strangely beautiful and inspiring for the most part.

15.What’s something you know you do differently than most people?

I think differently than other people. I always look at things logically and weigh the options, but I also rely on faith. It's kind of a 50-50, whereas most people I know rely on one or the other, and usually can't even comprehend what it means to think from the other side.

16. How come the things that make you happy don’t make everyone happy?

Because we are all unique and distinct people who don't have to think the same. (That sounds kind of condescending or something, but it's the truth ^^;)

17.What one thing have you not done that you really want to do? What’s holding you back?

I want to go to Japan. Finances and circumstances are holding me back, but I'm trying to push through them.

18.Are you holding onto something you need to let go of?

Embarrassment, and shame. I'm not sure how to let them go.

19.If you had to move to a state or country besides the one you currently live in, where would you move and why?

For a state, I'd probably move to Tennessee. It's so beautiful there, and the people seemed very friendly. For a country, I'd move to Japan. I've loved Japan since I was very young. Their food, culture, people, all of it is just so wonderful. Granted, they're not perfect, but in this crazy world, I feel like Japan would be a pretty peaceful and great place to live.

20.Do you push the elevator button more than once? Do you really believe it makes the elevator faster?

I have never pushed the button more than once. I didn't even know people did that. Why would you?

21.Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?

Joyful simpleton. I'm a worried genius half of the time, but when I am joyful I am so much happier. I'd take joy over knowledge any day.

22.Why are you, you?

Because that's how God made me to be. I feel like if you're not a Christian this would lead to a weird headspace where you question all of life and the universe and all that stuff. But for me, it's really a simple question.

23.Have you been the kind of friend you want as a friend?

Most of the time, yes. Which can be a bit frustrating when that type of friendship isn't returned.

24.Which is worse, when a good friend moves away, or losing touch with a good friend who lives right near you?

Losing touch. You can always find ways to keep contact when someone moves away, but it's often impossible to repair a friendship that's dissolved.

25.What are you most grateful for?

Being born into a loving family. I feel like because my family was so stable, that's why I myself have been very stable. I'm very grateful for that.

26.Would you rather lose all of your old memories, or never be able to make new ones?

I would rather lose all of my old memories. I've had a pretty good past, but I think that there are some memories I'd rather forget, and I feel like the people around me are good enough to help catch me up on who I was and would help me move on to making better memories than I had before.

27.Is is possible to know the truth without challenging it first?

I think that it is, but I think that true blind faith is a lot harder to come by. For most people, me included, questioning things is a natural part of life. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Christians freak out when people talk about questioning their faith, but all the times I've questioned my faith have led me closer to God, and helped me realize that God really is truth. I think it's good to challenge and question everything you believe in, because then when you come to your final conclusion you will hopefully have strong reasons and facts to back it up, which can help you stay strong when other people begin to question you on why you believe what you believe.

28.Has your greatest fear ever come true?

No. And I hope that it never does...

29.Do you remember that time 5 years ago when you were extremely upset? Does it really matter now?

I've never really been that upset in my life, so no. 

30.What is your happiest childhood memory? What makes it so special?

I think my happiest childhood memory is playing with my parents when I was 6 or so. I'm not quite sure why that memory is so special, we were just playing with my toys like usual, but I remember it fondly.

31.At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?

Probably church camp 2015. I really had a chance to connect to God, and to pursue my passions. It was a great week, and I'm really grateful for being able to be a part of it.

32.If not now, then when?

No idea really. I'm still trying to figure that one out...

33.If you haven’t achieved it yet, what do you have to lose?

Nothing I suppose. But that doesn't stop me from fretting over the outcome anyways.

34.Have you ever been with someone, said nothing, and walked away feeling like you just had the best conversation ever?

Sometimes I feel that way when I'm with my best friends. We can just sit and silence, and it still feels like we're hanging out.

35.Why do religions that support love cause so many wars?

Because we live in a fallen world with people who are broken. And those broken people can make good decisions, or bad decisions. And many of them happen to be a part of religion. But really, there are many people not in religions who are the same.

36.Is it possible to know, without a doubt, what is good and what is evil?

I think with some things it's very clear, because God wrote it down in the bible for us. But for a lot of things, I think God leaves it up to us. I do think that he'll let us know if something is good or evil if we ask, but I also think that sometimes he let's us figure it out for ourselves, so that we can see how great our faith really is.

37.If you just won a million dollars, would you quit your job?

I'm not sure yet, as I'm still in university, but hopefully the job I have will be something I enjoy, so that I will want to come back each day not for the money, but for myself.

38.Would you rather have less work to do, or more work you actually enjoy doing?

Less work. Too much work, even if I like it, sends my anxiety through the roof. Mainly because I'm a perfectionist, and I feel like I have to give everything 100%. 

39.Do you feel like you’ve lived this day a hundred times before?

No. Even when my days are average and nothing exciting happens, I still feel like each day is different from the last. I've never felt like any day was a repeat of another.

40.When was the last time you marched into the dark with only the soft glow of an idea you strongly believed in?

I feel like I do that everyday. I have no idea what I really and truly want to do with my life, other than that I want to go to Japan. So I take every day as it comes, and I try my best to make my way in the world.

41.If you knew that everyone you know was going to die tomorrow, who would you visit today?

My grandparents, my two best friends, and my pastors. I'd also probably go out and witness on the streets, and try to serve everyone I can.

42.Would you be willing to reduce your life expectancy by 10 years to become extremely attractive or famous?

No. Being famous is a hassle in my opinion. Someone is always judging and watching everything you do when you're famous, you can't go out on your own, and you can't live a normal life. And being extremely attractive would bring catcalling, and people hitting on me, which as an asexual, sounds like a nightmare. So no. I'll keep my 10 years, and live a happy long life as an average human being.

43.What is the difference between being alive and truly living?

I feel like this is a cliche answer, but basically being alive is just going through the day to day movements, and truly living is doing what you really want to do and what makes you happy.

44.When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards, and just go ahead and do what you know is right?

I'm really not sure. I'm still trying to figure that out. But I feel like if it isn't going to cause you or others harm of any kind, and if you've really thought about it, most of the time you should go ahead and do it.

45.If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make a mistake?

Oh dear, don't ask me this one. I'm gonna go all teacher on you.... Basically, we are taught that failure means the end. That if you fail, then you're not good at something, and you move on to something else. And even if people tell you later in life that you learn from failures, that original idea is ingrained in your head. Instead, you should look at failure as a spring board. Think of it as the first trial in an experiment.

46.What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?

I wouldn't sugar coat my words, or worry about offending anyone. I'd go everywhere in full on mori girl coordinates; the mall, church, hiking, everywhere. I'd share what I was feeling all the time, instead of catering to others.

47.When was the last time you noticed the sound of your own breathing?

I usually notice at least once a month. Is that weird? It usually is fueled by existential crises where I suddenly realize how weird it is to be alive...

48.What do you love? Have any of your recent actions openly expressed this love?

I don't know really. I love my family and friends, and I tell them so and show it by doing things for them and with them. I love Jesus, but I feel like I don't show this enough. I love lots of other little things, but I keep those to myself unless asked usually.

49.In 5 years from now, will you remember what you did yesterday? What about the day before that? Or the day before that?

Probably not. I only remember the feelings of things I did. Kind of like each season of my life had a feeling. But I hardly remember the mundane.

50.Decisions are being made right now. The question is: Are you making them for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you?

A little of both. I think it's just because of the stage of life I'm in. An adult, but not yet on my own.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Not of the world, but sent into it.

There is this quote I want to share, which is my mantra of sorts right now. 

You see, it's been on my heart a lot lately that I need to learn to love well, to make people feel like they matter and are loved by God, but still stand my ground when it matters most. It's something I tend to struggle with, as most of the time I either just want to tell others my beliefs and not love them like Jesus, or I want to just ignore the confrontation and hide in my bed and pretend that I'm okay with everything that's happening. But not everything happening nowadays is okay, and many people look at Christianity in ways that are contrary to what is written in God's word. It's not alright for me to just stand by idly, and say "yeah, this is alright" when it isn't. 

While it is important, extremely important, to share the love of God with others, and to love them as they deserve to be loved, it is still important to stand up for your faith and what you believe in. Of course, it is just as important that you do so in love, but that's for another post another day. But the fact remains that it's not okay to stand by and let others lead themselves into ruin and temptation just because you don't want to be uncomfortable, or because you're afraid. In fact, it's so not okay, that Jesus says "but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6) Pretty serious, right? Kind of makes you realize that just being passive isn't quite what God intended.

So this quote really struck me. It kind of addresses everything I've been thinking, but haven't quite been able to put into words. It's from Paul Washer, and he says: 

"Most of our Christianity is based on cliches that we read on the back of Christian t-shirts. Most our Christianity comes from songwriters and not the bible. Most of what we believe is dictated to us through culture and not by the bible. The bible never teaches that a person can be a genuine Christian and live in continuous carnality and wickedness and sin all the days of their life. But the bible teaches that the genuine Christian has been given a new nature. The genuine Christian has a father who love them and disciplines them and watches over them and cares for them." 

I've always felt that cultural Christianity is pointless, because if you live just like everyone else, why believe in Jesus in the first place? What good is Jesus to you, if you don't follow anything he says? I always come back to that 
C. S. Lewis quote that talks about Jesus being either a liar, Lord, or a lunatic. We either have to accept everything that he teaches as truth, whether we like it or not, or we have to conclude that Jesus isn't worth our time. There is no middle ground, no "I like this verse about Jesus loving me, but I'll ignore those verses about not gossiping because I like to do that."

Basically, the world needs Jesus. We all know that. But if we as Christians look nothing like him, then how will the world know us? How will they see that the joy and peace and every gift he gives to us is real when we look just like they do? When we do the same things they do, speak the same way they speak, and act the same way they act? Our faith needs to be based on God's word. Our salvation, and salvation of others depends upon it. To me, that's worth ruffling some feathers, if we can bring them closer to God.

Again, don't get me wrong, if your first reaction to this is to say "Good. Now I can go and lecture so-and-so on their sins and what they're doing wrong!" then you are doing it wrong. This should make you think "I really need to work on learning more about God, and what his word says is the right thing to do, so that I can be a living example to others and maybe when they ask me questions or tell me something I don't agree with I can respond in the way that God intended me to." Work on the plank in your eye first, and all that. 

But yeah, this is just something that's been stirring in my heart recently. I think that we're about to see a big split in Christianity as we know it. The cultural acceptance of Christianity, and it's acceptance as the general moral compass, are changing. Christianity is no longer the culturally accepted thing to do. And with this shift in acceptance, people will go one of three ways. They will either stick with Jesus and experience personal spiritual growth, all the while beginning to look less and less like the world and more and more like Jesus. Or, people will create a shallow version of Christianity, with all of the socializing bits, like services and worship and meeting together, but lose all of the depth that Christ calls us to, all while becoming more and more like the world with the only difference being they read a bible once or twice a month and attend a few services here and there. Or, people will just abandon and scorn Christianity for being shallow, and full of hypocrites. 

All of these things I already see happening everyday, but I think it's about to get a whole lot more common to see a politically correct Christian, or someone completely against the church, than it will be to see your average "I just really love Jesus and want to be more like him" sort of Christian. So to me, it is more imparative than ever to take this time to look not to what society is saying, but to what God has already said. We need to be a bonfire in the darkness if we want to show the love of Christ, not a flickering flashlight. And the only way to do that, is to spend more and more time becoming like Christ, and less and less time worrying about what the political state of our country is like, or what society is saying is right and wrong, or what others are whispering about us behind our backs. What's most important is to love God, and to follow after his commands, more and more. And through that, and only through that, will we truly know how to love others the way that God intended.

(Title is inspired by this post from desiringGod.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"I rest on his goodness, in my doubt and in my fear."

One of the things that is laying heavy on my heart right now is fear.

The world seems to be soaked in fear right now, and I can't quite understand it. I can't even begin to comprehend why those who have faith in him are even a bit fearful. Fear isn't of the Lord, that much I know, and although I struggle with fear sometimes, I've never lost sight of the long term view that God is still in control. He promises over and over again to protect his people, if only they would follow his commandments. And yet people still fear.

I think that people, especially in America, are used to comfort. We talk about it in our churches of course, and we say things about how we don't truly understand what it means to 'take up our cross' as we face no real trials because of it. But I don't think we really and truly get it.

You see, God called us, as Christians, to a life of trials. He called us to persecution, and ridicule, and pain. He calls us to give up everything we own, and to follow him wherever he leads. He calls us to everything that is the exact opposite of comfort. But he rewards us with the greatest gift of all: his love and an eternity with him.

So why? Why are we so afraid? Why do we concern ourselves with politics, with social issues, with everything other than God? We let it become our focus, our main issue, and we begin to let it control us. We begin to fear it, or it's outcome, and we live out our lives around it. We begin to avoid saying things, to avoid doing things, just because of this fear. In reality, we shouldn't be concerning ourselves with these things. The issues themselves are only stemming from an even bigger problem.

We think that the point of being a Christian is making it to heaven. We focus on the end goal, the idea of eternal happiness. But as a friend once said to me "God's goal for us isn't heaven. His goal for us is a relationship with him."

Whatever happens in the middle, good or bad, it doesn't matter. Our job, as Christians, is one thing. And one thing alone. Everything else is secondary to this.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

That's it. No other commands tacked on. Just go, and teach them about my love for them. He's going to take care of the rest. We just need to do everything in our power to share his love with others.

There's a passage, in Habakkuk 3:17-19, that I think sums this up pretty well.

"Even though the fig trees have no fruit
and no grapes grow on the vines,
even though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no grain,
even though the sheep all die
and the cattle stalls are empty,
I will still be joyful and glad,
because the Lord God is my savior.
The Sovereign Lord gives me strength.
He makes me sure-footed as a deer
and keeps me safe on the mountains."

Things are going to go wrong, but, even though they go wrong, we can be joyful and glad in him.

He's got us covered.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Maybe It's Miraculous

(This piece was written as an origin narrative for my English Comp class, and I've decided to share it with you. I hope it can encourage you.)

The day my papaw was diagnosed with ALS was one of the scariest days of my life. In my mind, the memory is still fresh. I can clearly recall the details of the day it happened: my mother receiving the phone call, watching the pain on her face, and listening as she relayed the horrible news to my three younger brothers and myself. It troubled me greatly to hear that my papaw would not be around much longer, and I couldn’t imagine a life without him. But, little did I know, this awful situation would become something greater than I could possible imagine. Through this hardship, I would be forced to do something I had never done before: trust explicitly in my God. This horrible event would jumpstart the beginnings of the journey that taught me what it means to truly have faith.

One of the top ALS doctors diagnosed my papaw in November of 2012. It was an unexpected diagnosis, at what was anticipated to be a simple appointment to check on pains in his arm. ALS, which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a disorder that gradually eats away at a person’s muscles. It’s excruciatingly painful, without a known cure, and ends only in death. At his appointment, my papaw was not only diagnosed, but was also told that the disease was already spreading fast throughout his body.

At the time of my papaw’s diagnosis, my grandparents lived in Kansas City, Missouri, which is quite a long drive from where I live. They had moved there only a few years prior, when my papaw received a job at a children’s hospital in Missouri, and began working in their radiology department. This meant we were unable to visit them until a month later at Christmas time. By then, we knew that my papaw only had a little while left with us. At most, he had two to three years, but there was also the possibility that it would only be a few months before he was gone. That meant this Christmas was more important than any Christmas before, as it might be the last Christmas I would ever get to spend with him.

Christmas has always been a huge deal to my family. It’s one of the few times we all get together at once, which makes it an important time for bonding and traditions. My favorite tradition is reading the Christmas story together around the Christmas tree. Until we’ve read it, we can’t open any of the many of presents my mamaw has purchased. And she always goes all out with presents. They can often be found spilling out from under the tree and onto the living room floor Christmas morning. Although my papaw grumbles every year about how my mamaw goes overboard with the festivities, he somehow manages to enjoy it just as much as she does. This particular Christmas, however, my family was determined to make the holiday even more special for my papaw. We decided collectively to give an extra gift to both of my grandparents: a picture of the two of them from when my papaw was healthier, made into canvas wall art.

Both of my grandparents wept when we gave them their present, overwhelmed by both the gift and their situation. I remember feeling helpless as I watched them cry. I had never seen my papaw cry before. He had always been so strong, and even in the worst of times he still had a joke and a smile for me. It felt like a storm cloud had settled in the room, and the reality of losing my papaw began to sink in. My faith in my God was starting to crack at this point, and I remember almost denying to myself that my papaw was going to die. I refused to confront the issue, because I was afraid to face it. Avoiding it worked to pacify me, but only for a while.

It was after Christmas that my family decided my grandparents would move to live near us. By that time, my papaw’s fingers on his right hand had become crippled to the point that he could no longer unfold them. Also, his right arm and right leg were both significantly smaller than their counterparts due to the muscle loss. Not to mention, the excruciating pain that came from just moving them. With the promise of the pain only getting worse, we worried that my mamaw would need help caring for him later on. Therefore, it would be best to move them quickly, before it got too bad.

As my papaw’s condition deteriorated further, my flimsy attempts at burying my pain began to fall apart. I couldn’t tell myself everything was going to be fine when I saw my papaw struggling just to walk each day. I decided I had to do something. I prayed to my God, asking him to heal my papaw, even though I didn’t think it would work. It made me feel marginally better to know that I had asked, but not by much. However, it was better to have some hope in his faithfulness to heal my papaw, than no hope at all.

A few months after we had successfully moved my grandparents, my papaw began attending a men’s bible study at a local church. At the beginning of the study, the leader had everyone stand and introduce themselves. During my papaw’s introduction, he mentioned having just moved. When one of the men became curious as to why, he shared about his ALS. Hearing this, the group of men felt prompted to pray together for my papaw. After the study, somewhere around forty men gathered around him and prayed for his healing. It was after this night that I began to see my prayer realized.

Within only a couple of days after the prayer, the pain my papaw had been feeling had diminished greatly. In a few weeks, his walking had improved and his left hand began to straighten, and it only took a few months more before he begun to uncurl his right hand as well. This convinced him he needed to be retested to find out what was going on with his condition. He was so hopeful for positive results for these tests, but I personally refused to let myself feel hopeful. I was sure I knew what the doctor would say. After all, ALS is incurable.

In July of 2014, my papaw was retested with the same tests that had been done for his diagnosis. It was to everyone’s amazement when the doctor pronounced him greatly improved. My mother, who was there, tells me that the doctor’s face was amazing to watch, as he told my papaw that the only signs of the disease were in the fingers on his right hand. The doctor was baffled at this. He told my papaw that there was no explanation for what was happening to him, and that the disease only progresses one way: downhill. However, the tests clearly showed that the ALS had been there, it just wasn’t now. He was healing.

I was skeptical at first about what my grandparents claimed was a ‘miraculous healing’, refusing to get my hopes up. Surely, this was a fluke, and he would just get worse again. But when he continued to improve over the rest of the year, even regaining all the muscle he had lost, I began to realize what was really happening. Somehow, my God heard my prayer, and the prayer of all those men at the bible study, and he healed my papaw of a disease that had no known cure.

I had always been told as a child that my God was there, that he listened to prayers, and that he could heal, but I had never really seen it in my own life, nor had I truly believed it. But after all of this, I really began to have faith. Faith in a God whom I couldn’t see, and sometimes didn’t really follow after very well, but who still cared enough about me and my family to heal my papaw, and listen to my prayer.

The dictionary says that faith is “belief that is not based on proof”. That has been very true for me. Some might choose to take this event and say it was a medical miracle, or perhaps chance, but I choose to believe in faith. And seeing this, seeing my God at work, gave me so much faith. Nowadays, when hardships happen, I find myself not even flinching. The faith I gained from this experience stays with me to this day, reminding me that my God really does care, and that, like I’ve always been told, he really does have the whole world in his hands.