Monday, December 31, 2012

To the Years...

Dear 2012, 

You were a very odd year. I didn't know I could love that deep, cry that hard, learn that much, worship God that profoundly, be that blessed, or be that confused in one year. I guess that is what comes of me praying hard prayers. You probably thought I would learn my lesson, but guess what? I kept praying hard prayers all year long. And God answered. Yeah, it was hard. Yeah, I sometimes felt like I couldn't take anymore. But guess what? God was right there, and I could take more. And I did. And I am a different person as a result. 

I must admit, though, 2012--much as I learned and grew, I am not exactly sorry to see you go. I will not forget you, nor your lessons, but I am glad I will not have to re-live you. Just sayin'. 

With gratefulness, 
Carissa
____________________________

Hey there 2013,

Even though we have not yet become acquainted, I am already looking forward to seeing what God will do in your twelve months. I'm sure it will be intense, like 2012 was--probably more, especially considering all God taught and prepared me for last year. To be honest, you scare me. 

Especially you there, January. I see you sneaking up on me. I remember the last few Januaries that sprung on me... how can I forget? However, I will face you head-on, with a glint in my eyes and resolve in my steps--for the Savior of my soul has gone before me into your depths, and He walks with me even now. How can I fear when Jesus is near? 

2013-- bring it. I am ready. 

With anticipation,
Carissa



Friday, December 28, 2012

On Grief.

Doesn't that just sound like a delightful topic? Um, yeah, not really.

I've been thinking about it a lot this year, having experienced it for the first time. Not that I had never been sad before--there were sad things before this year--but this was a year of death.

Not of people, not in my life. Not yet. But the death of dreams, the death of friendships, the death of a part of me.

It has been almost a year now since the starting of all this... yet it is still so deeply grievous that it can all come to the surface suddenly and I'm crying without warning.

I had no idea, before, of how long the grieving process is. And I haven't even had someone close die yet. I can't--don't want to--imagine.

My own grief has made me much more sensitive to others who are grieving.

It has also made me wonder. How is it possible that in 6,000 years of people dying, moving away, hurting each other, and so on, we still are terrible at grieving and comforting others who grieve? How is it that it is not a natural thing--it is something that must be learned to be done well?

I think I figured it out, though. It's because it is all just plain wrong.

People aren't supposed to die. Friendships are not supposed to end. People are not supposed to sin and hurt each other.

It's all wrong. This isn't how God designed us. This isn't the way it started out.

And we are still not used to it. Even though the fall happened so very long ago, we still struggle and flounder as a result of its effects.

(This is one of many reasons why evolution just makes no sense to me. If it were true, grief would be perfectly normal--in fact, maybe we wouldn't even be sad over someone's death. Survival of the fittest, right? Yay for me, I lived longer! :P)

Yet, in the beautiful way that God is, He has turned suffering into something for our good. Glorious, isn't it? That something so hard, so trying, so wrong can be used for good?

16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
 
18While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The other thing that has comforted me indescribably during my hard days has been the fact that Jesus Himself suffered. If He had not--if He was just up there telling us suffering is good for us--oh, what a hard directive that would be to obey. And how unjust it would seem. But He did. And when we suffer we get a taste, a share, in His sufferings. Amazing!

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Hebrews 2:9-10

3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5
 Thank God.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Top Five Books of 2012

2012 has been quite a year. Never in my life have I had a year so full of adventures, the unexpected, pain, and spiritual growth. It has also been a year of amazing books. Most years I read some good books, even a few really good books. However, this year I have found some truly awesome books. Hence, I am writing this post. Hence you should really go out and buy at least one of them. ;) I even linked the titles of the books to the book on Amazon. There, now you have no excuses. You can surely spend around $10 for a life change, right? (and no, I am not getting paid in any way for any of this. :P)

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1. Grace for the Good Girl--This is one of those books that, only about three chapters in, I was trying to sell to people. (I was reading it during my time with Generations of Virtue). I was also left wondering, how on earth did she know what is going on inside of me?? I smiled, I laughed a bit--I almost cried. And my life is changing, because I read this book. How? Well, she first goes through and talks about the many "masks" we "good girls" hide behind. We hide behind our fake "fine, we hide behind our many acts of service, we hide behind our spiritual disciplines.... hiding, always hiding. We are, in essence, religious. Living out of the law, not grace. She helps to gently show you where you are hiding, and then invites you out of your hiding and into God's amazing grace. You are left feeling more inspired to love and serve God, not less. But not because you HAVE to, not so that everyone else will think you are all that--simply because you love Him and you are so, so thankful for grace. And in that grace, you are safe. (Now my sister Hannah is reading it, and even though she's not done yet, she is already planning on buying for several people. And we made a list of over 60 girls and moms who need to read it. I'm not kidding when I say this-- if you are a girl, buy it. :D)

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2. Gold by Moonlight--this one has helped me countless times this year in times when it all just seemed too hard, too painful. She is one that has walked on a painful road--she knows how it is. And, having faithfully gone on before on this path, she offers a way out. Not out of suffering, but out of wrong focus. She turns your eyes upon Jesus. She helps you to know how to get the most out of hard times. It is a very unique and fun to read book, too. Each chapter begins with a picture--a dark wood, a ravine, snow, lilies--and she draws from each image a lesson in suffering well. You just read wherever your need is... it doesn't need to be read in a particular order.

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3. The Three Battlegrounds--this book is not kidding when it says in-depth. It is relatively short, but it is jam-packed full of helpful, biblical information. It connected a lot of dots for me, helped me to know better what was happening to me and in the world, gave me direction in my prayers and interactions with others, and so much more. It's one of those books that is underlined and stared and written all over with many colors--I just keep rereading it. I really like how it says that our focus should not be on spiritual warfare, but on Jesus.

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4. The Pursuit of God--I literally just finished this one today. :D I've known about it for a long time, and read bits here and there... but I was given this book at the completion of J127, so I finally just read it. And wow... now I know why it's a classic and all that. He did such an amazing job of clearing away misconceptions, showing how beautiful a relationship with God can be, explaining how it all works, and so much more. It's rather difficult to describe. But it's another book that I'll be reading for a while yet... probably the rest of my life or something like that. ;)

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5. The Pursuit of Holiness--This is a very practical book. Which, considering the topic, is extremely rare--and helpful!! He does a brilliant job of describing God's part and our part and how they work together, what holiness actually is, and lots of other things I've wondered about.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Swordfighting

Our swords crashed together, echoing in the stillness of the chapel. Again and again we struck--focused on the fight, surprising those looking on in our intensity. She drew back, and we paused.

I waited, excitedly, impatiently. Then--

A sword. In my face.

Drop your sword.

It clattered to the ground.

Take off your helmet.

Half smiling, uncertain, confused, I complied.

He gestured downwards.

I released it, and it joined the sword on the cold floor.

The sword was still in my face. I was defenseless, confused. Had I done something wrong?

In the semi-darkness, I could see his face--intense, but still kind. He said words, many of which I have forgotten. But some, some I can’t forget.

This doesn’t feel like love, does it. A sword pointed in your face. But this is how love is, sometimes. Sometimes God must do this to get your attention. Sometimes He has to take all your defenses away and leave you exposed so you will open up to Him.

He went on, and I listened--still not sure about what was happening. I mean, have you ever had someone point a sword in your face and then speak words that burn straight to your soul--after having only known you a little over a week? Yeah, me either.

Afterwards, I went in the hallway of the chapel, away from the others--trembling inside. Trying to fathom what God had just shown me. As I prayed, kneeling there on the floor in the darkness, I got the sense that He was trying show me two things in particular. I was to drop my shield, my fleshly defenses, and let Him be my shield. And secondly, I had dropped my sword earlier in the year out of sheer weariness, and He was asking me to take it up again--but this time, to fight out of His strength, not mine.

I’ve been thinking about these lessons a lot lately, and God has been showing me more and more of this.

See, the thing is, life is scary. It hurts. So what do we do? We build walls. We hide.

And it helps. For a while. We feel safe, huddled there behind our wall--plastered with sweet-sounding phrases and less-than-genuine-smiles and pretty dresses.

Until we discover, much to our horror, that the walls we have built to keep the bad stuff out have kept all that out--and the good, too. And not only that, but now we are trapped inside. Our hearts have hardened, and not only do we not care when people hurt us, but we don’t care when we hurt people, either.

And that hiding business--people actually believed it! They actually thought you were alright, that you were a good girl, that you didn’t need help. And now you want to be found, so desperately. But you’re scared. What if you do come out from behind, what if you do show them your hurt and your humanness--and then they all leave? Not that they actually got inside your walls anyway, but... but they won’t even been near the walls, anymore.

And it’s a sad, sad lonely place. I know; I’ve been there. Sometimes I still jump back behind those pretty walls.

But I am learning, slowly. I’m learning that He is my shield, my refuge, my strong tower. I don’t have to build walls that harden my heart and keep everyone away--I have to draw close to God, revel in His love, soak up His word--and let my faith in Him be that shield.

Okay, so now we have a shield. What about the hiding and wanting to be found and not wanting to be found and still hiding?

He is our hiding place! I don’t know how many times I’ve read that, sung that, told people that. But it’s finally starting to sink down in. And not only is He our hiding place, He is our Seeker. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He KNOWS us. I don’t know about you (especially girls here, but guys too), but I long to be known. Really, deeply known--and loved anyway.

And God has been speaking this to my heart, over and over.

I know you. I made you. I love you. I know you. I made you. I love you.

So here we are, coming out from behind our walls and slipping in behind His shield, the shield of faith.

Here we are, being found by Him, known by Him--and in that security, we are safely tucked away, hidden under the shadow of His wings.

Free to love and be loved, free to feel other’s pain and our own, but not crushingly, for He bears the burden for us. Free to be safe. Not as the world views safety, but really, actually, always safe, whether we feel it or not.

Because when you are in Christ, nothing can snatch you out.

(Okay, so the swords didn’t actually crash together--they were foam swords. "Crashing" just sounded so much more epic than "thumping". But all the rest is true.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ice Skating and Fear

We went ice skating last night.

I only fell once.

I stayed near the edge most of the time. I figured it out a little more, but I didn't ever venture out to the middle, nor did I go fast.

I was afraid.

Every time I started sliding, I would feel like I was slipping and was going to fall, so I'd stop myself and hold on to the edge.

I was afraid.

Afraid of what? Of falling.

Seriously?

Falling isn't actually that bad.

I missed out on the fun of gliding across the ice simply because I was too fearful to take the risk of falling. Someone from our group came up to me and after trying to help me figure out the technicalities of ice skating, told me that I was living in fear and not love and that is what my problem was. He then laughed a bit and said, "I'm not one of those scammers, I mean it. That really is your problem." (or something like)

I smiled and thought about it, and he was right. I tried to loosen up, to not hold on so much.

But I still stayed near the edge.

And my focus was still on not falling, on getting it RIGHT. Not on ice skating.

We left, and on the ride home we were talking about various things--mainly God stuff. I mentioned that I learned a lot when I was ice skating, and it wasn't about ice skating--it was about me.

I really do live in fear.

I hide it so well that I am only just beginning to find it in myself, or rather God is just beginning to show me it. It's so deep down and I hide it so well that I don't even realize it's there. And yet, it is. And it hinders me in my life. I'm afraid.

Afraid to love, afraid to live whole-heartedly, afraid to be me, afraid to--ice skate.

Because I don't want to fall down. I don't want to get hurt. I don't want to look foolish.

So I stay near the edge, and I only fall down once or twice. And I never get to the middle. I don't feel the pleasure of gliding across the ice, of living whole-heartedly.

And then one of my team mates quoted Star Wars to me, and said that is what he remembered when he was figuring out skating... it was something along the lines of, "The reason we fall is so we can get back up again."

We also talked about love--God's love. God was showing me last night that He stands between us and our adversaries... We don't have to be afraid. He intercedes for us; He defends us; He LOVES us. He made us, He bought us. We are His.

And He won't let us fall down anymore than is absolutely necessary to help us learn.

So... I'm learning to live in love, slowly. When I feel that fear rising up, I remind myself of the One who ever lives to plead for me. And in that knowledge, in His love, I am free.

Free to fall down, because after you fall He helps you to your feet again.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Coolness

Oh, the things I could write about right now... they are so numerous that should I attempt them all, you would definitely fall asleep by the end. But don't worry, I shan't do that. Right now I just have a bit of a rant forming, and I want to write about it. So here I am.

I've been noticing this startling tendency in myself and in other Christians to think we're more cool if we are like the world in certain areas. *gasp* No really, it's true--if you look closely enough.

If we have higher standards in, say, music, we kinda try to hide it around other people. Even Christians. Or we feel like we're cool when we listen to music that is closer to the world's kind. We like the beat and so forth. I am NOT saying that the kind of music is bad. Honestly I like it, or at least quite a bit of it.

What I don't like is when I feel more "cool" because of the music/movie/clothing item/etc. 

That is not what we base coolness on anymore!! 

We are no longer of the world. We don't base our worth, our "rank", our "coolness" by earthly things.

It is all based on Christ. On what He has done. He is now our standard for "coolness".

Not the world.

The End. :D


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Another Blog...

Yes, yes, I know... I already have too many blogs. But I'm going on a trip! Doesn't that deserve it's own special blog??

Apparently it does, since I already started one... here it is.

Feel free to check it out and even follow it to see what I'm up to on my trip! If you do stop by, please leave a comment so I know you were there. :)

God be with you!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Announcement of the Day!

I'm leaving! Forever! Okay, that's an exaggeration... but I am leaving. In less than one month. To New York. For two months.

Surprised? Not much more surprised than I am... :P

And why am I going to New York for two months? Well... you see... *starts story mode*

Once upon a time at a homeschool convention not too far away, a girl (named Courtney) came up to me (in spite of the fact that I was reading and being rather unsociable at the moment) at the Generations of Virtue booth. She was nice, and she said something about a "new program" and "J127" and "traveling" and "intensive discipleship" and "are you interested?"

Well, to be honest, I wasn't particularly interested. But since I'm nice and stuff, I gave her my email address so she could email me with details. And, to add to the fun, I had a vague feeling that God might want me to do it. So.

I waited... and waited... wondering if she'd actually email. Rather pessimistic of me, but I've just had too many experiences where people don't actually do what they say they will do.

But! She did! So I was pleasantly surprised and rather interested to see where this would go. I thought and prayed about it some, and I had a sense that God might be calling me to do it. However, I thought it rather impractical. (Which... God is impractical. Just for the record. And that's a good thing, because in Narnia it was the White Witch who was Terribly Practical, not Aslan. Um... sorry. I'm reading The Magician's Nephew to my little brothers.)

And then I went to Pennsylvania (oh! I didn't even say anything about that ever on here... sorreee...) and I was busy with that trip (and yes it was FUN!! I guess I will write about it, um, later.) and while I was still thinking and praying about the J127 program, I just... didn't get the application sent in. The deadline to apply, July 25th, passed. And I thought... um, well, I guess... I guess I'm not going? But it didn't seem properly final. And so I wondered what was going on, because if the deadline was passed then didn't that mean I couldn't go?

No, of course not! Another email from Courtney! The deadline was extended! To August 8th!

Oh! "I guess that means I should do something about this, then, God?" Yep.

So I talked to my parents about it and they were supportive and they said to talk to Pastor Mark. I emailed him, along with my "mentors" Arlene and Pristine and my longest running friend, Beka Wimer. (They have you include three references... one from a Pastor, one from a Mentor/teacher, and one from an over 18 friend.)

Pristine emailed and said "I've scanned through the website and it sounds very exciting! If you feel the Lord leading you that way and have the opportunity to apply, I would. Continue to pray about it and ask the Lord to confirm to you His desire. I will be excited to see how it turns out!"

Sunday (the 5th) Arlene talked to me about it and asked me all the sorts of questions one would expect from a Mentor, and she, too, thought it was exciting and would be a good experience for me. 

Beka emailed me on the sixth and said that she would do my friend application...

But I still hadn't heard from Pastor Mark. And it was the seventh now. I didn't know what to do, because I didn't want to apply without the go ahead from him (not to mention that I needed him to fill out the reference form)... so I was praying about it and practicing my prodigious waiting skills. ;)  

And he called! Finally! And he thought it sounded exciting too and said that if I felt this was something God wanted me to try for, I should. He also said that it was a short time to raise that much money... but we both agreed that if God wanted me to go, He could certainly make that happen. 

I hurriedly filled out my application form (except it took a few hours) and emailed it off and rushed to meet with Arlene at Panera.

When I got home, I had an email that said the application form was blank. :P So I had to resend it. Thankfully the data was saved, so it wasn't too bad. 

On the eighth I got an email confirming that my application had been received. 

On the ninth I had a missed call from them and a voicemail telling me to call back, please. Oh dear, what did I do now... so I called back, and a nice happy girl named Katherine told me that--- My application had been accepted!!... ?!!? "Wow! That was fast!" (I'm very original like that. But really, I thought I had to wait till the 15th.) 

So then I blinked for a while and was like.... um, I guess... I'm going! Cool! This is interesting...

Sunday I told about it some--of course forgetting to say obvious things like "in NEW YORK" and stuff like that. I also didn't say anything about *whispers* money.  *sigh* Anyway. I think I managed to confuse mostly everyone, but that's good for them. I think. 

*end story mode*

By now you are probably wondering what on earth I'm going to be doing for TWO MONTHS. Well, to be perfectly honest, I'm wondering that myself. 

But I do have some idea... it includes things like helping at "purity events", helping to renovate "The Mission" (a really cool sounding, HUGE (110,000 square feet) old building), listening to authors and speakers, praying, traveling (I think to Colorado and I'm not sure where else), and probably a great many other things. You can read more about it here and here.

So what am I hoping to come away with from this? To borrow from what I said on the application...

I am hoping to come away with more skill in teaching and leading in Bright Lights, my family, and church--and future ministry opportunities God brings along. I am hoping to form Christ-centered relationships with young people who are dedicated to seeking and loving God, people who can challenge me in my walk with God and inspire me to higher heights and deeper depths. I am hoping to use what God has already given me to bless others on the team and the people we minister to. I am hoping to become more disciplined and self-sacrificing. I am hoping, above all, to use this to the glory of God, and to know Him more intimately, to love Him more dearly, and to be more in awe of Him than ever.

It starts on September 12th and ends on November 17th. 
 
The biggest thing I need in this is prayer. I know you've read many "prayer letters" that aren't really quite... prayer letters. But really, honestly, I need your prayers more than I need money. I could get all the money but not have God's blessing and help and it--really wouldn't work. I'd be better off at home with no money. So... I would greatly appreciate prayer. For wisdom, for grace, for love... that I would be a blessing and that I would let God work in me through this, and through me in other's lives. 



Also, if you did happen to wonder about the money part of it... I need $2500--$3000.
"As J127 (through Generations of Virtue) is a registered 501C3 non profit, your church, friends and family may send checks directly to us and receive a tax deductible letter at the end of the year! Have checks payable to: 
Generations of Virtue

And mailed directly to:

Generations of Virtue
Attn: Carissa Mann J127 Support
5604 Mission Road
Conesus, NY 14435"
So there! Now you know. :)

I'm not sure how busy my schedule will be... I may or may not be able to blog while I'm gone. Ve shall see. :)  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Character

I've wondered about character for a long time. Growing up in a Christian homeschool family, you hear the word plenty. There are books that build character and songs that build character and friends that build character... all kinds of things.

"Build character"? What does that mean? What does "character" even mean??

 I finally figured it out, and then I promptly wondered why no one had ever told me before... and why it took me so long to figure it out. :P

Very simply, character is your habitual response. For instance, when you are provoked, the way you regularly respond indicates what kind of character you have. If you usually respond kindly, you are a kind person. If you mostly respond with anger, you are an angry person.

 It's just... habit. The way you normally respond to life. Do you make the lazy choice or the diligent choice? Do you work hard or do you just do "enough"? Do you put others first or do you put yourself first?

Well, then. So how do books and so forth build character?? If the attitudes and actions portrayed as good in the majority of books you read are Christlike ones, you will grow to appreciate and accept those attitudes--and, slowly, they will become part of your response. What we are surrounded with is what we become. This is also true in reverse, of course. And I'm sure you can see the results of the kind of media most people choose... it's quite evident in our culture.

 The next question that occurs in this thought process is the most crucial: "Why is having good character important?" Now I'm sure most of us would agree that it's a least a little bit important to have good character. Or at least that everyone else doesn't have it and they should!! :D (Have you ever noticed how ironic it is that we tend to complain about people complaining? Or gossip about someone else gossiping? Or point out everyone else's need for good character while neglecting your own? :P) We've heard about character plenty, or at least I have.

 But why?? (I must have been an annoying child... I always want to know why.)

Finally, finally, I'm getting it. It's so much broader and more important and glorious than people make it out to be. It's not just us looking good or making our parents look good. It's not just being a good person. It's not just about other people. (gasp)

Oh, no. It's about Christ. It's about the reason we exist.

Why do we exist? "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

And, I ask you, how can we possibly glorify God if we are not building and striving for Christlike character? If we are not in the habit of responding kindly, how can they see Christ's kindness in us? If we are not in the habit of responding meekly and humbly, how can they see Christ's humility? If we are not responding in love and forgiveness, how can they understand Christ's love and forgiveness? If we are not purposefully seeking to make God look great by our actions, why are we here?? And how dare we call ourselves followers of Christ?? Followers, you see, FOLLOW the person they are following...

Yes, it is His power that works in us. Without Him, it is impossible for us to become like Him. Only Christ can be Christ.

But if we are so full of US--how can He come in and take over? If we are so busy listening to worldly influences, how can we hear that still small voice of the Holy Spirit? If we are so busy gratifying our flesh, how can we walk in the Spirit? If we are so caught up in the things of this world, how can we love God? If we are so sure of our own strength, how can He show Himself strong in us?

We are called to fight. We are called to endure. We are called to press on. We are called to lay aside the weights. We are called to put off our old nature and put on Christ. We must take action.

We cannot sit still and expect God to magically poof us into being like Him. We must make those little choices, every day.

Humility over pride. Patience over impatience. Joy over complaining. Peace over worry. Diligence over laziness.

Little choices. Big results.

Why? Why choose to help your little sister instead of reading that novel? Why give up the last seat to that old lady? Why clean up the kitchen when it isn't your job? Why keep working until your story is the best you can make it? Why choose to tell the truth even though it may cost you dearly? Why keep loving someone even when they hurt you over and over?

Because of Christ. Because He loves you. Because His way is the best way. Because... that is how you bring God glory, how you show Him to be like He really is.

It may not seem to make any difference. Probably people won't notice that you took the extra ten minutes to dust the fan when you were only asked to dust the blinds. Probably no one will see that you gave up the last bagel so your little sister could have one. Probably no one will cheer when you choose to do your school instead of goofing off. Probably getting up an hour earlier so you can pray won't make the headlines. Probably no one will notice that you rewrote your blog post five times instead of throwing it together. Probably no one will know how hard you had to bite your tongue to keep from making that mean comment. Probably no one will know how hard it was to forgive that one person.

Oh, but God knows. And He takes great pleasure in it. And it does glorify Him.

And, moreover, there will come a day when there are big choices to be made. When the stakes are high and the world is watching and Christ's name is in the balance.

What will you do then? If you have consistently made the good little choices, you will just do what you always do. Of course you will tell the truth even though you'll go to jail--isn't that what you've been doing all along? Of course you will forgive the ones who killed your brother--isn't that what you've been doing all along?

These days will come. Mark my words.

Will you be ready?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Death and Life and Lies and Truth

We started out alive. Very much alive. We were in direct, perfect communion with God. We had no division or misunderstanding or selfishness in our relationships with each other. We were physically healthy. We were mentally sound. We were emotionally fulfilled and whole.

And then
we
died.

God told us we would, if we did That; but we paid Him no heed.

Thought we knew best.

We tried so hard, we did.

We tried to pretend we were still alive.

We hid. Hid from the One with the Answer, from the One who sees all.

And we’re still dead and we still pretend.

Outside we look alive.

Inside we are naught but a corpse.

Rotting, shriveled, dry.

We plaster on a smile and we laugh and we talk loud and we DO. Frantically, we try to convince ourselves–or at least everyone else–that we aren’t really dead inside.

But we are.

And we all know it, no matter how hard we try to make it look otherwise, no matter how many people tell us we are beautiful and good, no matter how loud we laugh, no matter how much doing we pile on top of our deadness in an attempt to look alive.

Ugly, small, not-right.

This is us.

Correction: this is us without and before Christ…Before the Christ-life comes in and fills that hollow, dried up, dead spirit of ours. Before He comes and breaths His life into our breathless spirit. Before His Life-Blood begins flowing in our spiritual veins.

But oh, when it happens–what a glorious thing!

We who were

once dead,

who were

once far off–

are alive in Christ,

brought very near

by His precious life-blood.

Why, then, do we--who are alive in Christ--sometimes still feel dead? Why do we sometimes still see ourselves as ugly, shriveled, hopeless?

In a word:  

lies.

You see, Before, the lie was:  

You aren’t really dead;  

somehow, someway, 

you can beat it.  

You can cover it up.  

Hide, run  

and hide.  

Don’t let Him see.  

Just put on some more makeup,  

maybe buy some more expensive clothes.  

Make sure you do everything  

right.  

Keep doing all those good things; maybe 

that  

will make you feel better.

Once we see through that lie and accept the Christ-life, however, the lie takes another twist.

He whispers the other side of his deceitful tale into your delicate new ears:  

You aren’t really alive.  

You’re still just as 

dead 

as you ever were.  

Look at you!  

Insignificant, putrid, hollow old you.  

Who do you think you are,  

claiming to be new, holy, cleansed, alive?  

You’re wrong.  

He doesn’t really care for you.  

Maybe the other people–look how beautiful they are.  

Not you. 

 Look at what you’ve done, who you are.  

No…you’re still dead.

 BUT IT IS A LIE.

Just as plain and simple as that.

It’s a lie.

Lies are nothing, nothing but the twisted fragments of nightmarish thoughts from the Enemy of your soul.

The one who tricked us into believing The Lie that brought death to our souls in the first place. The one who desperately tried to keep your soul dead. And the one who, now that your spirit lives because of Christ in you, wants nothing more than to keep you believing that you are still dead.

Don’t listen.

Trust.

I know you don’t see, yet.

You don’t see what God saw when He had the idea for you. What He knows you’ll become at the end of the story. You don’t see, quite, the glow He had–has–in His eyes when He looked at you. You didn’t see His joy when your long-dead spirit finally accepted His life and became new.

But you have to trust.

Trust that He knows what He’s doing. Trust that He who has promised is faithful, and that He also will do it. Trust that He makes everything beautiful in its time. Trust that His life is in you, and that you aren’t dead inside any more.

No.

You are alive, very alive.

Because The One

who is

The Life

is in 

you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Avengers

 

Yes, I’m reviewing a movie. Yes, I’m reviewing the Avengers. Yes, I watched it.

Yes, this is Carissa. :D

How did this happen?

Well, Hannah and I were home with just Papa and Josiah for a few days. They, being male, and having this opportunity, wanted to watch as many action movies as they could--including The Avengers.

Again.

 Being polite, they asked us if we wanted to go.

“Um.... I don’t know, maybe? Will we like it?”

“I don't know, probably... You don’t have to pay for your tickets...”

Well, if you put it that way... and, being that there wasn’t much else to do, and that we didn’t want to be boring and such, we went.

And... I was surprised, actually, by how well I liked it. I always talk myself into thinking I don’t like that sort of movie, but then I do. :P (I was all excited afterwards, and Josiah said I liked it too much.)

Now that I come to think of it, though... I guess this isn’t really properly a movie review, since I’m not going to talk about how they moved the cameras around (cinematography--I do know the terms, at least) or how good/bad the acting was and who played what part and so forth or how good the music was or the special effects or... well, I guess I do have a few things to say about that aspect of the movie...

Being a writer and a Word Person, I just have to comment on the script a bit--The dialog was brilliant. Very witty. And the humor was genuinely funny--not crude, or lame, or forced-- just funny.

Oh! And the clothes were good as well--I was pleasantly surprised and didn't feel bad for my brother and dad. (Though Natasha's zipper kept bothering me because... not that it was really awful, just, um, annoying. Zip it up a bit more, lady, it'll look less awkward... haha. :P)

As for family friendliness--it was literally action packed. There were only a few scenes that people weren't fighting or buildings weren't blowing up--and those scenes were full of tense dialog. So that might be overwhelming for little ones. However, the language was quite clean (a few words thrown in, but not anything horrid and it wasn't often or noticeable); it wasn't overly gory (there is some blood, but not a lot. The worst part was "the eye part".); most of the deaths are just implied, not really shown; the romance was minimal and appropriate (not even any kissing); and as I said, the clothes were pretty much modest. (you encounter worse at church. :P)

Alrighty, getting to the main point of this blog post... I’m going to talk about what I thought about it. What sort of lessons there were. (surprise surprise)

The biggest thing I took away from it was how powerful the True God is.

I got this from quite a few different parts in the movie, but particularly this one:
Loki: Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I shall not be bullied...

[Hulk flattens Loki with repeated smashes into the floor]
The Hulk: [Disdainfully] Puny god.
http://i.imgur.com/xJ3cs.png

 Loki seemed pretty powerful, maybe even godlike--until a bigger guy came along and made it quite clear that he really wasn’t, by comparison. And I thought... wow. I’m so glad our God is not like that. No one will ever say “Puny God” about the One True God, when He comes back in judgement. No one will be able to stand, much less say anything.

Loki wasn't... ugly. He was almost... well, sort of girlishly good-looking. In a creepy sort of way. Made me think of Satan--we forget that he was--is an angel of light. He isn't some ugly monster type creature, not on the outside. He's beautiful, smooth, intelligent. He's got "charisma". (*wry/sarcastic* know anyone else known for that...?) And he's full of lies and hatred and treachery and pride. And, much like Loki, he IS powerful, and he DOES have a huge, evil force on his side, and he, too, would like to think he is a god.

You've probably heard this quote a few times if you've read anything else about the Avengers, but I have to put it in anyway...

Natasha Romanoff (The Black Widow): [discussing attacking Loki] But he's a god!

Steve Rogers (Captain America): Ma'am, there's only one God, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that.

My dad pointed out that it was great because not only did they have that line in the movie, but Captain America was the leader. He wasn't put down or made fun of for saying that at all. And he was good example of a leader, too, I thought. He was more of a servant/lead-by-example type than a boss people around type. He was humble, he knew what he was talking about (well, mostly.)... all that good stuff. 

I also liked... well, ahem... I'd been reading about Spiritual Warfare, and all the fighting got me more excited about it. I must say, I totally did not go into the movie expecting to be uplifted spiritually, but I was. :D

Self-sacrifice was also a strong theme--and one muchly needed in our self-centered culture.
Teamwork was a huge lesson--made me think of the body of Christ. We all have these tremendous gifts--and we also have a horrific enemy. And we aren't getting along very well, just like The Avengers. Once they learned to work together, though, they were an unstoppable force.

It is imperative that the body of Christ learn this lesson so clearly portrayed in the Avengers: the only way to win is to be united, humble, self-sacrificing, persevering and so on.

Well, there you have it. My very first attempt at a movie review. I have the nagging feeling that there's more I wanted to say, but I can't remember it right now... perhaps when I watch it again I'll do a part two. :)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Patience...

... is a virtue.
Virtue is a grace.
Grace is a little girl
who wouldn't wash her face. 

That's the rhyme I always used to think of when someone said "patience!"...

I thought that patience was a good thing, you know. Helpful for waiting to go to the park or for waiting until you were old enough to sit in the passenger side of the car. Things like that.

Now I think of this when I think of patience:

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:10

I'm realizing that patience is actually a great deal more important than I thought it was...  It isn't just nice for earthly things like waiting for the results of a test--it is necessary to obtain the promises.


 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4

Let patience have its perfect work--that you may be perfect and complete!  Oy... did you realize that before? Did you ever stop to think that it was patience that works in us to make us perfect and complete?

Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. 2 Thess. 3:5

"Into the patience of Christ". Christ was patient. We are to be like Christ. < insert a 'duh' here >


 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. James 5:10-11

Patience... isn't optional. It isn't just a handy thing to have. It is something we should be actively striving for.


It's... something God's been pounding into me, and-- by His grace--something I am growing in.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Flowers and God

I've been thinking about flowers.

Yep, flowers. I like flowers. A lot.

I've also been thinking about God.

"Like" is not at all adequate to describe how I feel about Him... 


Flowers are beautiful... but more than that, they teach me about our God.


A God who cares about tiny details...


A God who loves beauty... who is beautiful Himself...


A God who is incredibly creative...


A God who blesses us...


A God who loves us and rejoices over us...

A God who brings life from death...

sunflower, gator, garden 015
A God who is the light we can always turn to in our darkness...

This God, I love.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross...

... I learn.

I learn about sin and the horrors thereof. I learn that my sin is that bad. So terrible that it required His LIFE. You know how people say if you were the only one in the world Jesus would have died for you? Sounds nice--until you realize that your sin is SO horrible that He would have still needed to endure all of that for just your sin.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

I learn about real love. I learn that love is totally, almost horrifically, unselfish. That the opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness. Because God hates. He hates sin. And if He is love, then the opposite of hate must not be love. It's impossible. And when you think about what love is... it becomes very plain.

Love. . . does not parade itself, is not puffed up; . . . does not seek its own, . . .1 Corinthians 13

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.1 John 4:10


I learn about humility. I learn that God--Creator of the universe, the King of kings, the One who was and is and is to come--humbled Himself. How much more, then, should I--a sinful creation--be willing to be humbled.


 ...but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8-9 

I learn about forgiveness. If He can forgive us--the ones who called for His death, the ones who did it, the ones who... made it necessary in the first place... if He can forgive me, surely I can forgive my siblings and my parents [Insert my younger brother coming over and begging me repeatedly to play a game and getting in my face. Yes, God has sense of humor.] and friends when they do silly little things that annoy me or hurt me a little.


Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34

I learn about sacrifice. About giving up good things--Jesus' position in heaven certainly was a good thing!--for the greater Good. Namely, God's glory.

This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. . . . John 21:19


I learn about obedience. About submission. About wholly giving yourself to God's plan and will.


For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.” John 12:49-50 

I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. John 5:30

I learn about... dying. I learn about how what seems like The End--what seems like a horrible tragedy--what seems like defeat--can end up being the greatest triumph. 



I learn about God's "weakness". I learn that He is so strong, that even in the weakest possible looking way--as a human, suffering a criminal's death, at the mercy of sinners, naked, bleeding--dead--He can conquer sin and death and Satan.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:25


I learn about how different God's ways are from ours. We wouldn't have done it like that!! Just face it. We would've had Jesus calling down all those angels and obliterating His enemies. Oh, but how wrong we would have been... 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. Isaiah 55:8

. . .and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:40


But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” Matthew 26:52-54


I learn about... God. I learn about who He is. His love. His mercy. His compassion. His justice. His plans. His glory. His power. His beauty. Who He is. 

Oh, the things I learn when I survey that wondrous cross!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Waiting

I must know, my heart demands.
How long, oh how long?
How long must I live in this fog?
How long until I see your plan?

Wait, He replies. Wait on me.
It is enough
He whispers
Into
My impatient heart
Enough that I know

I want to defend, my heart screams.
Will things ever be set right?
Will they ever see the other side?
Why don’t you show them now?

Wait, He replies. Wait on me.
I am your defender.
He whispers
Into
My misunderstood heart.
Leave it with me.

My dreams are dying, my heart cries.
Why must they die?
Will they ever be resurrected?
Were they not given me by You?

Wait, He replies. Wait on me.
I have a plan,
He whispers
Into
My longing heart.
And it is good. 

(This is a poem I wrote today and posted here. There are other poems, quotes, and so forth there as well... some by me, most not.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Things I'm Learning

Actually, I won't tell you all the things I'm learning, since that would take up the rest of the day... :D But here are a few highlights.

Have you ever been crying--hard--with deep pain and little hope? I have... last night was one of those times. But I know what to do, now. I got out of bed, went to my desk, and got out my notebook. (my current random notebook... Bible verses, quotes, poems, prayers, notes)

I started writing to God, telling Him how I was feeling. (Being a writer person, writing helps a lot. Prayer helps even more. So doing both at once is awesome.) But that feeling didn't last long... I was soon sent to the scriptures and to praising God. Here are some of the verses God spoke to me through:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?


One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.

 
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.


Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”


13 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord

In the land of the living.

 
14Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!
 (from Psalm 27)
  
8He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; (means a lot more when you're crying)
The rebuke of His people
He will take away from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

 
And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.
 (Isaiah 25) 

Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed;
Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause. 
(Psalm 25:3)

Wait on the Lord,
And keep His way,
And He shall exalt you to inherit the land;
When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
(Psalm 37:34)

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
 
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
 
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.
 
Blessed is that man who makes the Lord his trust,
And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
 
Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done;
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.
(Psalm 40)

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
(Psalm 62:5)

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope. 
(Psalm 130:5)

I am learning that He really does speak to us through His word. And I am learning what it means to wait on Him: to just trust Him and rest in Him and love Him, no matter what is going on around me. To be able to have peace and hope and love even when things are rough: because He is greater. I am learning that He does hear us.

I am learning how powerful praise is. Where God's praises are, there He is. When we praise God... our fear and worry and pain slip away in His presence. Satan cannot abide God's praise--he is, in essence, allergic to it. Praise is a valuable weapon. Singing, reading scriptures that praise God, praising Him for what He's done and is doing in your life-- these things all help tremendously. 

I am learning that He wants ALL of us. He isn't kidding when He talks about crucifying the flesh.

 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

 And I am learning there's more to that than merely surrendering your life. 

"There is all the difference in the world between your [our] surrendered life in My [God's] hands, and Me [God, specifically the Holy Spirit] living My life in your body." --Intercessor:Rees Howells, page 219

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6


I still don't know, quite, what that all means. But I know I must die. 


 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:18

I want that. I want that to be true of me. 

God hasn't changed. 

All the incredible things the apostles did--they did them because of God. And He hasn't changed.  

Neither have His requirements.  

We still have to die. We still have to confess and forsake our sins. We still have to renew our minds. We still have to be living sacrifices. We still have to be wholly, utterly His. We still have to love Him will ALL that we have and are. We still have to have faith. We still have to be humble. We still have to forsake ourselves and follow Him. We still have to walk in the light. 

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1

And then God can use us--way beyond what we could do or even imagine.

The world is hurting way too much, folks. Too much for us to continue complacently living in our sin. Too much for us to be denying God entrance to every part of our lives. Too much for us to live as though He didn't live and die for us. Too much for us to continue to pretend we don't see... 

God wants us. He needs men and women who are passionately devoted to Him. Men and women who fear Him much more than man. Men and women who care infinitely more for God's glory than for their own comfort and well-being and reputation. Men and women who do impossible things, because they have let God take over their lives, and it isn't them doing it anymore.  

I don't know why God has chosen to work through us. But He has. And I want to be in. Part of His elite force. Not because of anything I've done, not because I have any merit--because of what He's done for me.

And I am getting in. I am doing all I can to be one of those women. There is so much available to us in God, if only we will strive for it and do the things He has asked us to do.

And God's name and His glory... oh. I am having trouble articulating this... but it's... so important. That we let Him glorify Himself in us. That we do not bring any more shame to His name by saying we are Christians, but not... letting Him live in us and change us into Christlikeness. 

I am learning how very horridly awful sin and self are. How much pain and devastation they cause. And how much they hurt our God. Have you ever cried hard because of your sin? I hope so. Pray that God will show you the horrors of it. 

I am learning how different God's ways are from ours. And how much higher His goals are than ours. 

I want to be a nice person. God wants me to be like HIM. o.0 

I want to be happy. God wants me to be joyful. 

I want to have a good life. God wants me to have a good heart. 

I want to have peaceful circumstances. God wants me to have His peace, which is above circumstances. 

I want to be comfortable. God wants me to explode my comfort zone for Him. 

I want to help a few people, do a few nice things. God wants to use me to change the world. 

I want to be nice to people who are nice (mostly) to me. God wants me to love everyone and anyone, no matter what. 

I want to live. God wants me to die--so He can live in me. 

I want what I want. God wants what He wants--which is infinitely better. 

I want my life to be normalish. God wants to live a completely counter-cultural, abnormal life--because that's what He did. Because "normal" is wrong. It isn't supposed to be normal. He doesn't want me to be weird, He wants me to be righteous. And a quick look around will tell you that righteous is weird in this world. :P

I am learning that I have an enemy. A real one. One who is ancient and treacherous and horridly deceitful. One who hates my soul and my God and my ministry. One who wants me dead or impotent. One who wants me to be prideful, because humility is surrender to God and he hates that. One who seeks to thwart my prayers, my confessions, my walk, my friendships--everything good.

I am learning that confession is necessary. Just today, I wrote a letter to my parents confessing sin in my past. Things most of you probably wouldn't imagine me struggling with. I didn't want to. But I had to. (The Holy Spirit is very bossy, once you let Him have authority in your life. It is both wonderful and horrible.) For years I have convinced myself that it was okay, I did not need to tell them, it was just private sin, it didn't need a public confession, and so on and so forth. 
But I am learning.

If I want to be in the light as He is in the light, I must walk in the light.

I am learning that God doesn't want a Great Person. He doesn't want me coming at Him with grand ideas of how I will serve Him. He just wants a humble, willing SERVANT. He wants me willing to do whatever He asks, no matter how small and insignificant it seems--and no matter how big and crazy and impossible it seems. I am learning that there are tons of little sacrifices to be made every day. 

As I have drawn closer to God, He has asked some little sacrifices of me.

For instance, recently my siblings were going swimming.

The water was cold, I don't like swimming, my hair gets all nasty, etc. Those are my normal reasons for not going swimming.

And I tried, really I did. I tried to explain why I didn't need to go. But it was no use. The Holy Spirit was quite clear. Go swim with them. Why?? Just do. It is loving. And I did. And it was fun. :D And they were so happy I went. Yeah, it was cold. Yeah, it was uncomfortable. Yeah, it was inconvenient.

But was it worth it? Oh, yes. I'm not cold anymore-- But I have the satisfied feeling that I obeyed. 

Yes, it was "just a little thing". But I think that's the point. It's the little things that add up and lead to big things.

The little compromises.... or the little sacrifices. 

I have had far too many "little" compromises in my life. It's time I started making more little sacrifices. 

I don't want to give the enemy ANY territory in my heart and mind.

Well, there are a few things I've been learning... I hope some bit of that was encouraging to you.

What have you been learning?