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)

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-_jtqUhgLWgI/T1ZFzQnF5XI/AAAAAAAABZ8/dGjMKWLqP6Q/s1600/grace+for+the+good+girl.jpg

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)

http://i43.tower.com/images/mm101942617/gold-by-moonlight-amy-carmichael-paperback-cover-art.jpg

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.

http://media-cache-ec3.pinterest.com/upload/176133035397088156_QaLXoohP_b.jpg

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.

http://freechristianbook.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/the-pursuit-of-god.jpg

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. ;)

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_llTxuV-KPpA/TMCMj--TS6I/AAAAAAAAAPw/cMAlCnFVbMI/s1600/pursuit+of+holiness.jpg

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.)