Blank Canvases

The other day I journeyed to Hobby Lobby to hunt down art supplies for one of my classes. That store is not a safe place to go alone! I don’t like shopping in general, but I love browsing Hobby Lobby’s aisles and dreaming about what I could do with all the fascinating materials I find. This time I walked through an aisle full of empty canvases in all different shapes and sizes, and I felt a little thrill go through me. It was the same reaction I get to aisles of empty notebooks and gel pens. (Am I weird?) Apparently I get excited by potential. Thinking about it a little bit more, I realise I don’t feel the same way about a finished piece of art – even a gorgeous one – as I do about an empty canvas. I love beautiful artwork and it makes me happy, but it’s not the same as the exciting potential of an empty canvas.

So I wonder… does God feel the same way about us? When we come to Him with our own plans set in our mind – even if they are good things – we’re comparable to a canvas filled with the blotches of color we have picked for ourselves. It seems to follow that when we come before Him and lay everything – desires, preferences, plans, possessions, loved ones – at His feet in surrender, we become a blank canvas, empty and clean, ready for Him to paint the masterpiece He envisions. I’ll bet He gets really excited about that!

Life has a tendency to empty us on occasion. It takes away our plans in the blink of an eye with something as quick and irreversible as a wreck. It takes all our energy until we feel like we are utterly empty and have nothing left. I will always remember what a friend once told me when I was at that point of utter emptiness. She said that “sometimes God has to empty us before He can fully fill us.”

I want to be filled with Him. I want my life to be a masterpiece that reflects His creative genius. And so, I want to be like those empty canvases in Hobby Lobby.

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Looking Over My Shoulder

The year flew by, and yet last January seems like ages ago. About this time last year I had begun to toy with the idea of going back to school, not knowing why I wanted to or if it was even God’s leading. The idea was simply there, and it refused to leave. So, about a year ago scared little me visited campus for the first time. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I didn’t even have any confidence that the visit would lead to anything. And yet, a year later, here I am getting packed up to head back for interterm and spring semester 2017.

I know for sure, all this had to be God’s doing.

It’s funny, because 2016 has become infamous, yet for me it proved the biggest adventure I’ve gone on yet. When I started the year out I had no idea what was going to happen or where God was leading for sure, but I stepped out the door like a hobbit and followed with faltering steps. I visited campus, hunted for scholarships, worked at my job, went to Bible study, and in general just did life. I knew that I couldn’t get to college in my own strength, and quite frankly I wasn’t sure I would make it there at all. But I felt like that was the direction everything was leading. Then God decided to test my trust. He chose to close the coffeehouse where I had happily worked for almost two years, and consequently took away the only steady income I had. It was as if He was asking – and I could almost physically hear it, it was that clear – “Do you trust Me?” And I had to learn to answer yes, and trust that He knew what He was up to.

Then He gave me another job – actually two – working at the school there in town. I never, never in my life dreamed that I, the introverted and awkward homeschooled kid, would someday work in a public school (no matter how temporarily). It’s funny how the Lord works! It wasn’t a job I would have expected, but it kept me going until school closed for the summer. And then as I felt the strangeness of being unemployed once again, He asked me, “Do you trust Me?” Yes, Lord, I do. I was looking to serve on staff at STEP (you may remember, that’s the camp thing I’ve gone to several times and absolutely love), and waiting to hear back whether they needed me. I desperately hoped I could go, but God inexplicably told me no and closed the door in my face. Instead, He asked me to give towards scholarships for several girls who wanted to come as students but didn’t have the money to do so. He asked me to give way more than I was comfortable with – so much that any reasonable person would look at me – the girl who didn’t have money for college but was trying to get there anyway – and announce that I was insane. And He asked me again – did I really trust Him enough to give away what I had been saving for school? Yes, Lord, I trust You.

So I did it. And He showed me an ad in the newspaper. Someone was looking for youngsters willing to work and do odd jobs around their property. I didn’t know the person, and my parents didn’t either. I didn’t really want to call the number (I hate making phone calls), but the ad had been in the paper for several weeks now and it seemed they must not have gotten any responses from people. So I called and discovered a wonderful lady who was overjoyed to have Noelle and me come as often as we could to help her with various odd jobs. She paid us well, and when the summer was almost over she even gave us extra to put towards school. And so, God used a stranger whom I didn’t even know existed until I needed her to provide yet again.

Then He gave me generous gifts from the former coffeehouse board and my church board to help pay for college. It was enough that I could make the first tuition payment right before I was supposed to move on campus. I barely had anything leftover in my checking account afterwards, but it was enough for the moment. At about the same time, He also provided me with the promise of a job. It was one where most college students work as walk-ins; that is to say, they walk in whenever they have time and if there is something for them to do, they work. Yet for me, He gave me a steady position helping one specific person. I could have a regular work schedule, always knowing there was something there for me to do, and I could start as soon as I moved in.

It has been such a blessing to have the job, but with the very few scholarships I was able to hunt down my tuition payments were still impossibly high. I had made the first one, but only by the gifts given me by people I love back home. The next one was staring me in the face, and I did not have nearly enough to pay for it. I panicked, and turned to my two mentors, begging them for prayer as the deadline loomed closer. And then, at pretty much the last minute, after I had spent the day pleading with God to provide somehow, I found that someone had paid the vast majority of it for me, and I needed to pay less than $75 to make up the difference. I have never in my life felt so relieved and thankful and joyful and humbled and ashamed of my unbelief all at the same time!

Later on in the semester I had a new need – one that I had not anticipated at all. I came back from Fall break to find that my bike was not where I had left it. Nor was it in any of the other places where I would have been likely to leave it. (That bike was the only means of transportation I had with me because my parents couldn’t afford to send a vehicle with me, and I couldn’t afford to buy one for myself.) It was just a rusty old garage-sale bike with no brakes or gear shifts and no suspension whatsoever. And now it was gone and I had no bike to ride the mile from campus to work. To say I was upset would be an understatement. I was distraught and furious at whoever decided my bike was up for grabs, and panicking because I couldn’t afford to buy a new bike – not with my tuition payments!

I did the only thing I could think of. I told my online friend group among whom we have all shared prayer requests as we need extra support and asked them to pray for me, and then I walked to work. The next day I found my bike laying on the ground under the tree in which someone had decided it would be funny to hang it. Its chain was broken, rendering it useless, and so I walked to work again. And that’s when God provided again. That day a friend gave me some money for a bike, and my supervisor at work offered to get his buddy to fix the old one. After work he drove me back to campus and picked up my forlorn-looking bike to take to his friend. I asked him to see if his friend would put brakes on it while he was at it (I would pay him). But God had something else in mind, and the next day when I got to work and neared my desk I found a beautiful brand new bike with the glitteriest giant red bow on it. My supervisor had decided that the old bike was too junky to be worth fixing, and so he and his wife bought me a new one. Once again the Lord overwhelmed me and provided more than I could have asked or imagined.

And so the whole semester went. God has provided for me, not all at once like I wanted Him to, but enough for every step just as I needed it. He has provided for me in countless ways, both big and small, and never the same way twice. As if to top the year off, just before finals He provided an extra grant for the next semester that lowered my tuition payments to a point where my income should be able to cover it, with some left over. He is so, so good! I wish I had trusted Him more fully, and stressed less along the way. I wish I hadn’t doubted Him so often. He has brought me on this incredible adventure, and though I still don’t know exactly why He chose to send me back to school, it has been such an amazing experience to stretch my faith and grow closer to Him that it has been worth it. So tomorrow I head back for Round 2. It will probably be crazy. It will most likely be exhausting. I doubt it will be easy. Contrary to popular expectations, I don’t know if I will finish my degree. But I do know that the God who has brought me this far will continue to take me as far as He wills, and when He changes my direction (whether with a degree or without one), it will be just as wonderful an adventure.

God doesn’t work according to human understanding. This whole adventure has proved that to me over and over. Everyone expected me to get loans for school, and took it for granted that I would do so. Yet I believe that debt is not God’s will for anyone, and so I trusted Him to provide without my going into debt. He has. Human understanding would never say to give away the vast majority of your school savings, but God asked me to do so, and provided for me just the same. He cares for me even when I am doubtful and fearful and emotional and react in ways that don’t honor Him. Last year was a crazy roller-coaster, but I am so glad that He took me on the roller-coaster with Him. I can’t wait to see what adventures He brings this year!

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Individual Initiative

It has been quite a while since I have posted and I apologize for my negligence.

Here we are in the eve of yet another election. I have kept pretty quiet about politics in general, but I’ve been pondering and it felt like a good time to share my thoughts.

Most of us have an opinion about the presidential candidates and most of our opinions are pretty strong. But let’s face the facts, folks – there’s not one single candidate who can fix our problems. Not even the most perfect candidate in the world has what it takes to make everything right. Why do I say this? Because it’s not a government official’s job to fix everything. All a government can do is make laws and create programs. Laws and programs are good to a degree, but they have no power to cure the real issue at the heart of our country. They are only things, and things can’t fix the root problem.

See, the root problem is the same as it’s always been – sin. Sinful people can only be changed on a personal level one by one. The right person in the government simply can’t do that. It’s our job as individuals. Our personal conduct day in and day out, our taking the initiative to find ways to care for the people in need in our circles and communities, our own attitude towards every single face we see as we go about our lives. We, especially as Spirit-filled followers of Christ, have the power to make it break a nation; a single president can change the governmental structure of the country, but we can change the heart and soul of it.

So we shouldn’t worry too much about who wins the election. If, say, you wish we could have a pro-life president (and that is a great thing), I submit to you that you might be missing the point. The point is for you to be pro-life. Not by posting on facebook, slamming the people who disagree with you. That’s not pro-life; that is a disgrace. Be pro-life by looking at that pregnant teen through eyes of love. Be pro-life by investing in her long-term, both now and after the baby is born. Be pro-life by being that person who adds to her quality of life. Be pro-life by being willing to take on her baby if she feels she can’t keep it.

The kind of politics that matter the most are the ones we live, not the ones we talk about. It’s easy to just vote and have done, but if you want to see hearts change, you have to be willing to take the initiative as an individual. Because that kind of change is our job, not the government’s.

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(You can tell how far downhill my brain has gone when the title isn’t even a real word. 😉 )

Today Matthias asked me to build a LEGO castle for him. I had a new design I wanted to build, so unlike previous similar constructions I didn’t build it from the ground up like he expected. I wanted to do something new and fascinating, and so for my design I built several disconnected (and confusing-looking) pieces that I would later attach to each other. He watched in perplexity, trying to figure out what I was doing, but I didn’t explain how the pieces would fit. It’s not that I wanted to confuse him, but I knew that if I tried to explain it to him he wouldn’t really understand. I wanted him to have the surprise and delight of finally seeing and understanding the design when all the pieces were ready to be put together. I think his appreciation of the castle was greater because of the way he watched it come together than it might have been otherwise.

And then it occurred to me that God does the same thing. He builds our stories in many different pieces that don’t look like they fit together whatsoever. We pester Him for explanations and answers, but He doesn’t always stop to explain. Sometimes He simply keeps on working quietly, knowing that, while we are not capable of visualizing now what He has in the works, when we do finally see it we will understand and praise Him for what He has done. Sometimes our appreciation for what God does is greater when we can’t understand all the little pieces until they come together. Then in awe, we praise and thank Him, overwhelmed by His goodness.

So… in a way, it can be best when we don’t  understand. The end result may very well be mind-blowing.

Categories: Ponderizations | 2 Comments

Don’t Fear

I was reading in Luke this morning, specifically chapter 21. Jesus had just finished describing the chaos and the fear and the uncertainty of the end times and then He said something that caught my attention. Luke 21:28 states it thus:

Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Straighten up and raise your heads. Don’t be afraid. Take these fearful signs and acts of violence and confusion as a sign to be even more bold. At a time when everyone around us is running and hiding away, we’re to stand up straight in anticipation of the joy and the hope that will soon be fulfilled.

I think the concept applies not just to the end times. It applies to the present. Today, when we’re facing an unappetizing presidential election, when we’re bombarded with story after story of atrocious acts of violence and cruelty, when the world is reeling in confusion because it cannot define right from wrong, when the media spouts out scandals and conspiracies, I’m reminded of Isaiah 8:12-13:

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.

The Lord knows the intents of the hearts of men better than any of us, and He is in control of the future, conspiracies or no conspiracies. Our hope has never been in perfecting our country or our world. Our hope is not even in peace. Our hope is not in personal comfort. David wrote in Psalm 23:4,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evilfor You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Our hope is founded in, and comes from, the God who walks with us. He is the God who knows what is going on in the world and who is working all things toward their final climax, in which He will once and for all gain the victory over the enemy, over death, over pain, over sickness, over every evil and wretched thing. Why should we fear because of what is going around us? Even if we face persecution and death in the near future, why should we fear? They cannot touch our souls. They cannot steal the joy that only comes from the God who created us and who holds us in the palm of His hand. They can take every personal freedom, privilege, and right; they can even take our lives; but they can never take away our inheritance in the kingdom to come.

What then should our response be to the chaos around us?  I’ll end with Philippians 1:27-28 which sums it up pretty well:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

Let our boldness be the sign to the world of our salvation. Perhaps by our example according to Christ’s power, they will see and come to know that He is the true King over all.

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Stress or Joy

Well, here we are, 19 days until (Lord willing) I move on-campus. I can not believe how fast the summer has gone! Time is only speeding up from here, and there are yet decisions pressuring me. I don’t know what to do. I’m still waiting on God to provide for me, and I don’t know how long He is going to have me wait, which makes it harder to make said decisions. I’m trying to juggle multitudes of time-consuming activities and I’m pretty sure I’m dropping most of them. By now, according to human understanding, I should be freaking out and stressing pretty seriously.

And I have been somewhat. If God doesn’t provide I have no Plan B. I seriously do not know where the last $7,000 is going to come from, even if (as is planned) I do get a job up there. I have no idea how I’m going to balance my schedule once school starts. I don’t know what all I need. And I’m scared that I won’t be up to “extroverting” and so I will be unnoticed and lonely.

When I focus on those things the old depression creeps up and I feel defeated and exhausted. The joy that I know I have in Christ is nowhere to be seen at the moment, and I worry. Maybe that’s because joy and stress can’t coexist in the same human being. If you’re really trusting God for your joy, can you be stressed out at the same time? And if you’re stressing out, can you really trust God for your joy?

So I keep going back to trusting. I’ve been reading George Muller’s autobiography (highly recommend it to literally EVERYBODY) and that has been an incredible encouragement and reminder to look to God for all my needs to be met. And you know? He has been meeting my needs! Friends have (unasked) offered me various items/furnishings, the Lord increased one of my grants by $500, and a myriad of small miracles along the way that point toward His will taking me to Sterling College. If it is His will, and if He has brought me so faithfully thus far, you cannot tell me that He will stop before He has finished what He started. And in that knowledge, I can give Him my stress and take in return His joy to sustain me through these last crazy days of preparation.

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All the Way

I’ve had so many ups and downs in this crazy journey to find the money to make college possible! God has brought me a long way, and I have roughly two-thirds of what I need to pay my expenses…but recently, as the weeks have flown by and August 20 suddenly tells me it’s not very far away at all, that last third has begun to frighten me. I keep remembering a quote by Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love:

“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

This whole process has been one of trust, every step of the way, from wondering if college was worth the time and money, to visiting the campus, to enrolling and picking a dorm. I feel confident that this is where God wants me to go, and I feel sure that He will both use me in this new adventure and grow me to a depth I have not yet known. I also believe that debt is not part of His will for mankind, and if He wants me to study at a college He will provide a way.

Yet, the enemy knows I’m susceptible to fear and doubt, and he has made sure to leverage it. The past couple days have been ones of battle against his lies and my own human fears. If God does not provide the last $9-10,000, I really will be in a bind because I have no Plan B. I have no regular income (occasional housecleaning, etc.) at the moment, most of my savings from the jobs God gave me this spring are gone, and it would be difficult (emotionally if nothing else) to withdraw from the school now that I’ve come this far. I’ve committed myself in the trust that God would provide what I need.

When in doubt, count God’s past faithfulness. He used a friend to point out a cheaper phone plan that will work with the phone I already own. He provided an endowment scholarship I could not have found on my own. He is slowly healing my lagging energy levels, and giving me an enthusiasm that a year ago I might not have believed was possible. He has opened the doors one at a time, providing for my needs every step of the way. The God who has brought me this far will take me all the way. I’m thankful for a God who provides for His children. 🙂

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Jumping In

The little girl clung to the railing as she pulled one little foot up and hauled herself to the top. She scooted to the end of the board, one finger between her teeth, and hazarded a glance down over the edge. Daddy reached his hands up to her from the water below.

“It’s okay, baby; I’ll catch you!”

The water looked deep. Even Daddy couldn’t reach the bottom. It was such a long way down! She screwed her eyes shut as her lower lip began to quaver.

“I’m scared!” she wailed.

“I’ll catch you, I promise. It’s okay, baby; you can do it!”

She peeked over the edge again. Daddy was very strong and he always took good care of her. She bit her lip and inched closer to the edge. Daddy wasn’t scared of the water. Before she could change her mind, she sucked in a deep breath and plunged over the edge. Her heart leaped into her throat with a little squeal as she fell and ended with a splash as she landed in her daddy’s arms. The water got all in her eyes and nose and she coughed.

“Are you okay?” Daddy asked. After a minute she looked up into his face. Her eyes shone. 

“Daddy, can we do it again?”


I mentioned last time about how God’s been leading me to give more than I’m comfortable with. He’s continued to challenge me more through this week, reminding me about my prayers not to let my tight financial situation make me stingy, and asking me if I trust Him enough to give even more yet. I feel just like the little girl on the diving board, looking over the edge, not sure what will happen when I hit the water. But I know that my heavenly Daddy is waiting for me, and He always catches me. As I jump into His arms, I’m reminded that living in obedience is, yet again, the most exhilarating thing. And when the terror of the moment subsides, I find that it was actually quite fun.

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Where He’s Been Working

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I apologize. I’ve bounced from busy-gone to no-internet and back again, and the blog sort of slipped by the wayside. In spite of neglecting to post, I have, praise God, not been neglecting spending sweet time with Him, so I wanted to share a few of the things that He’s been working in my life.

Prayer – At first I was mostly praying for STEP, my beloved camp that I love above all others and most want to be involved in each year. As the month has gone on I’ve begun to pray about other things, and, sometimes, just spent time thanking God for the ridiculous heap of blessings He pours on me, and us as a family. As I’ve been praying I’ve seen several meaningful answers, often quicker than I expected. It’s truly awe-some, in the true sense of the word. I can’t think of any better way to experience God’s love than by just sitting and thanking Him for every insignificant little thing I can think of that He’s given.

Joy – Tied into the previous one, through everything that’s been happening God has slowly given me a joy in the midst of the disappointment I felt when I learned I would be staying home this summer. I’ve come to a point where, even though I don’t particularly know why God wanted me to stay home or what will come of it in the long run, I’m glad to be here.

Risk – God has been challenging me to step out on a limb and do things that I’m not at all comfortable doing – like signing up to teach 5th and 6th grade kids in VBS later this summer, or giving way beyond what my brain says I’m financially capable of. Which leads me to my next one…

Giving – God has been working in me a desire to give more. And not just money, but other things, like donating hair to Wigs for Kids, and *gulp* hopefully donating blood at some point this summer  (despite the fact I have no love for needles). Jesus spent His life above and beyond what He “needed” to while on Earth, day in and day out, and as I see how much He continues to spend Himself in blessing me, I want to do the same for others.

Release – Throughout the course of spending time with Him and working through disappointments and daily needs, I’m slowly coming to a greater surrender of my power over the future. I find myself asking God to work things in such a way that I have no power over the outcome, and thus cannot take any of the credit for them. That’s something new, because I like to have some measure of control, and I’m grateful to see that God is slowly remodeling me to allow Him to work more fully through me.

God is good, all the time. His blessings are beyond comprehension, and I’m so grateful to have an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving God who cares about every infinitesimal detail about my life!

Categories: Ponderizations | 2 Comments

When God Says No

What do you do when God closes the door on the thing you most felt called to do? The thing that made you think, “Yes! This is what I’m made for!” I had great hopes to go back to Texas and serve at STEP (Skills Training for Emergency Preparedness – you know, the place I would disappear to and not post for weeks) again this year, but it was apparently not God’s will and He shut the way. I’ll be honest – it stung, and bad. I cried off and on all day when I heard that I wouldn’t be going. I find myself dreading the fact He might be taking STEP out of my life for good.

It makes me question. Did I go wrong somewhere? Did I put STEP higher than God? I know (and I’m not proud of this) I put it above my family this year. Am I still too immature to be entrusted with a position on staff? Is this a consequence for something I did, or is it a “No, I have something better in mind” moment?

But here’s the truth I have to swallow: regardless of how many questions I have for God, He does not owe me an answer to a single one of them. Nor is He required to take me where I want to go. And though the truth may seem harsh, at the same time I have His full assurance that He loves me and He knows what’s best.

So the only real question that needs asking is this: If God takes away the most meaningful ministry I’ve ever been involved in, can I be content to serve Him somewhere else? Do I trust Him enough to let go of the place and people I so love working with and be okay if He never puts it back in my hands?

Once again, it really boils down to surrender. I may be convinced that serving at STEP fulfills my role here on earth, but if I can’t surrender it completely to God to do with as He sees fit then I’ve no business being down there at all. So maybe God said “no” in order to humble me. It doesn’t matter how much I feel called to do something if He chooses not to give His permission and shuts the door against my prying knocking. Am I willing to give Him that right to do or deny my desires as He sees fit?

In the long run, whether or not I ever get to go back and serve in the future is irrelevant. What matters is what I do instead of STEP this year. I don’t know what that will look like in detail yet, but here are some good starters:

  • Seek God and keep Him first – Getting up early to spend quality time in His presence, keeping scripture-reading and prayer in balance so I don’t neglect one or the other. Earnestly seeking God’s will and submitting to Him daily.
  • Right the areas of my life where I’m at fault – Prioritizing investing in my family and the friends God has blessed me with here at home instead of letting them fall by the wayside. Examining myself to see where else I may have gone wrong and confessing and dealing with it.
  • Strive for, and pray for, maturity – Targeting the weaknesses in my character that I’ve allowed to run rampant (laziness, etc.), and with God’s help taking steps to overcome them and build stronger character.
  • Encourage others – Writing notes and building people up at home just like I would be doing if I was at STEP. After all, it’s needed everywhere in this world, not just at rather intense four-week-long programs. Doing what was the biggest joy-giver and fulfiller while I was at STEP last year anyways.
  • Enjoy where I am – Appreciating the joys of home instead of wishing I was somewhere else. So really, contentment. After all, it’s not like my life has no purpose without STEP.

I hope that’s an encouragement if you’re facing a closed door in your own life. Don’t forget that “in His presence is fullness of joy” and seeking God as often and as long as possible is a wonderful way to find comfort in the face of heavy disappointments.

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