The Key to Purpose // Maybe You’ve Got the Wrong Door.

Ever tried to jam a key into the wrong door? I have. Last year I always made the mistake of trying to use my college dorm key to get into my family home. It was out of habit, but it still got on my nerves as I vigorously struggled to make the key magically open a door it was clearly not made to open.

And if you think about it, a key without the right door is pretty worthless. For example, if you can’t remember where any of the keys on your key chain were meant to fit, their heavy jangling presence will eventually become annoying to the point that you begin to wonder why you have continued to lug them around in the first place. Without the right door, it all just seems pointless.

I think this is why people get frustrated with their lives. We spend years upon years attempting to force something we want to happen- like jamming a key into a door we long to open. And even when it DOES happen, sometimes it still doesn’t feel right. There’s something missing. The door was forced open, but there’s still an emptiness that can’t be denied. Now I know this is a touchy subject, but think about the amount of suicides that occur among the rich and famous. If the key to life were money and renown, wouldn’t they be satisfied? They have everything the world says is the key to a happy life. And yet, often it’s not a happy life at all. What’s wrong?

Now I could throw out the old cliché “money can’t buy happiness”. And yes, that’s true. But that doesn’t solve the problem. If money and fame can’t buy happiness, WHAT DOES?

I believe the answer is PURPOSE.

Most people want to feel a part of something greater than themselves. They want some kind of meaning to this often very difficult life. To explain it better, let’s bring it back to the key analogy:

If a key without the right door seems worthless, wouldn’t a person without the right purpose feel the same way?

Perhaps this is why people become unsatisfied with their lives…they feel just that: worthless, unwanted, and alone amidst the masses. Like an unused key without awareness of the door it was specifically designed to open.

See that’s just it. You were DESIGNED to do something beautifully fulfilling for a Creator who longs to fulfill the purpose He created you for. He has been waiting your whole life for you to realize who He MADE YOU to be. He calls us all at different times and in different ways. However, He isn’t the kind of Father who will force you to do something against your will. He gives you the freedom to make a choice. He loves you enough to let you choose. But unless you choose to seek Him, you may never truly find the purpose God made you for. It will always feel like you’re jamming a key into a door that wasn’t made for you.

Think about it:

How can creation know what it was meant to do if it never consults the One who created it? It’s like the French press coffee maker I just got for Christmas. Without reading the directions written by those who created the product, I would have had NO CLUE how to use it. Seriously, I was so in awe of the item that I would never have dared to accidentally break it by trying to fabricate my own way of using it. I knew that in order to PROTECT the product, I needed to use it how it was DESIGNED to be used. And man, was it WORTH IT!!! It changed my coffee lover life completely. {Side note: Go buy a French press. You won’t regret it.}

But the point is that if I had not read the directions, the machine would not have worked the way it was meant to. Furthermore, when used for the wrong purpose, I easily could have broken it.

And isn’t that what we do with our lives when we don’t know our purposes? We know where we want to go, but never consult the Creator as to if that’s even the right direction for our lives. So what happens? We often try to write our own instructions and end up broken, confused, frustrated, and questioning everything.

It only makes sense that we wonder if God is really there when we neglect to connect with Him in the first place. That’s like receiving a key without asking the key maker what is was made for. All you had to do was ask. But God took it a step further. He even gave us an instruction manual to answer any other questions about our purpose we may have. It’s called His Word.  

See, our failure to hear God’s purpose for our lives is not His lack of communication…but our own negligence of praying, pausing to LISTEN for HIs answers, & reading the Bible…the grand instruction manual that tells us what we were made for….where our keys were made to fit.

Society often tells us that if the door doesn’t open, break it down yourself– no matter who gets hurt in the process. However, there’s something we forget in the process of breaking down a door we weren’t made to open. The one who may actually get broken down is YOU. You might be the one who gets hurt- not the people you pushed down on the way there.

See, when it comes to both people and keys, there are so many little edges and indentations intentionally designed into them for specific reasons. Many of these little edges go very much unnoticed or unidentified. With this in mind, only the Creator alone knows these nuances FULLY.

So if you are jamming yourself into a purpose without even fully knowing who you are, it’s really easy to feel like something is wrong with you when you feel like you don’t fit right:

  • Fit right into that career path
  • Fit right into that relationship
  • Fit right into that body image you want
  • Fit right into that community of friends

If you don’t know WHO you are, how can you know HOW you were meant to belong in the world? And if you don’t know WHOSE you are, then how can you know WHO you are?

And if we don’t know who we are, we are more likely to toss somebody else our key and expect them to provide us with our purpose and identity instead. And as a result, we are likely to get hurt by someone who didn’t even know what to do with their OWN key.

If only someone were to come and stamp on our identities for us. If only someone were to come down here and tell us FACE TO FACE that our Creator has the right door waiting for us. Maybe then we would find our purpose…and most of all: our WORTH.

Thankfully, Jesus did. He came to earth to speak right into our trembling eyes full of fear: “I hold the keys. And I am more than capable of holding your heart too. God made you and the door, but I am the way to that door. And it leads to Heaven. So don’t be afraid.”

Look, it’s right in the instruction manual:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

“Lord,” said Thomas, “we do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.  //John 14:1-6// [emphasis added]

In other words, Jesus is The One who can guide you to the door for which you were created to open.

Because when it come to keys:

God made them. Jesus holds them. And the Holy Spirit leads them. This is why we trust Him.

{PS: All other doors lead us elsewhere. And let me tell you- you and I don’t want to go “elsewhere” if it’s not Heaven.}

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The C H A S E // Controlling your Brain Space

Have you ever stopped to think about what you always think about?

Seriously.

What have you been thinking MOST about in the last 20 minutes? Or perhaps the past 20 days? Or if you’re my age, the past 20 years?

Are you contemplating the future? Work? School? A significant other? Or perhaps if you haven’t met them yet…the IDEA of a significant other?

Have you ever had trouble sleeping because you were just too wired on the inside to fall asleep?? Have you ever felt like your mind was running in circles over and over again? As if you were chasing your own tail like a dog??

I think when our minds are racing it’s because we are unsatisfied with what we are chasing.

Think about it:

  • We are always chasing something; whether we’d like to admit it or not. We are typically chasing a career, a marriage, or some kind of image in our minds that we believe the future should look like. It’s chasing what we WANT to be known in the unknown.
  • However, there’s an issue that you and I both know about the unknown. We can’t see it, touch it, or control it. So we drive ourselves CRAZY trying to make sure the unknown goes as planned. We want it to be OUR perfect little story wrapped with a nice big bow.

Now I already know what you are probably thinking. You think I am going to tell you to chase God over your worries. But I am not.

“WHAT? LAUREN YOU HAVE CHANGED YOUR TUNE.” –maybe your thoughts?

And perhaps I have. But actually, it wasn’t me. It was God. He nudged me the other day with this truth:

“You don’t need to chase Me. For I am already standing right beside you. You need not to look very far to find me. Just believe. However, DO chase my Kingdom and my righteousness…and all else will fall into place.”

That’s a promise folks. And upon further investigation, it comes straight from what Jesus told His followers in Matthew 6:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. //Matthew 6:31-34//

So basically if we chase the advancement of His Kingdom through seeking to understand His righteousness (which means doing our best to act in accordance with what’s morally right in His eyes), we never should have a reason to worry. He’s got everything taken care of. Seems easy right? Well, I’d like to say it is. But God knew that the only way to do this was through reliance on Him and His grace. We can’t do this on our own. It’s just not possible.

But what happens when we feel like we are following Jesus but STILL have our minds race at night?? I think it has to do with your brain space.

And here’s what I mean by brain space:

We spend a certain amount of time thinking about the necessary things like school, work, family and friends. That’s fine. But then there’s that extra brain space that we dwell in a LOT between classes or other important activities. It’s the space we fill with the things we WANT to think about, not the things we HAVE to think about. Some fill it with thoughts about TV shows or gossip. Others fill it with thoughts about chasing guys or girls. And a ton of us spend it worrying about the future. To test where your brain space is at, think about what you think about while driving. This is the best example of the extra brain space I’m talking about.

To be completely honest, I didn’t realize how much extra brain space I had until I started the journey of cleaning it out this semester. God gently showed me that in order to truly seek God and find His voice in my mind, I needed to dig out the things causing unnecessary anxiety. It turned out that my worries about worldly things were taking up a lot of space that needed to be freed up in order for me to really connect to Him.

This is I have found to be true during this process:

Filling your brain space with chasing the unknown simply leads you down a stressful rabbit hole. Because there will ALWAYS be an unknown future while you’re living here on earth, there will always be something that comes NEXT that you can’t control. And if there’s always a “next” that you can’t control, you are ALWAYS going to be worried about that “next”. It’s a vicious cycle.

And as a result, you’ll spend every hour of your life stressed out and filled with worry. Your mind will feel like it’s on a permanent wild goose chase. And if you are always on “worry mode”, it is no wonder that it is difficult for you to sleep peacefully. How does one “power down” when your entire day’s only constant is worrying? It’s how you live. So it only makes sense that it would impact how you sleep. You can’t just immediately shut down at night what has become your coping mechanism all day.

And these “worry circles” that invade our sleep don’t add any more brain space. They just make us feel like our brains are going to IMPLODE! Jesus said it best. We can’t add hours to the day by worrying about the next one:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]? //Matthew 6:26-27//

But let’s take this a step deeper.

See, I think a lot of spend so much time worrying because we are chasing the wrong things. But if we were to ACTUALLY believe in God…and FULLY BELIEVE in who He is…our brain space would stop being filled with all these worries. And to prove it, I have found this not to be some idealistic and christianized fantasy…but a very, very REAL and POSSIBLE reality this semester.

Think about it: if the only thing that will ever continue after this life is God’s Kingdom, why do we put so much emphasis in our minds on what will ultimately perish?  It doesn’t make sense if we are on our way to Heaven to be so focused on anything but. Heavenly connections endure forever, earthly ones don’t. But something is keeping us from believing this. Something is telling us that happiness can only be found right here in this world. But who would do that?? What would cause our minds to chase things of this world and not those of Heaven???

Well here’s a truth that you and I probably don’t like to come to terms with:

Sometimes in our chase of worldly things, it’s actually the devil that is chasing us.

Death is something tempting you every day with decisions that may lead you closer to it.

We think we are chasing a future. We think we are chasing success. We think we are chasing perfection. But in chasing these things over the Kingdom of God, we are actually the ones BEING chased. Because death says “do this now and you’ll be happy and have tons of money and you will be well liked here on earth.” So you do the thing. You take the risk. You think, “this will get me closer to contentment.” But in reality, death is just pulling you further away from Heaven and closer to himself.

But fear not, because thankfully- this is NOT the end of the story. There is another force CONSTANTLY chasing you too. And that’s your perfect Father…who would do ANYTHING to hold your heart and bring it HOME where it belongs. You were not made to be another lost cause. You weren’t made to be a casualty in this war that’s already been won. It is God’s victory, not death’s.

See, the devil likes to make you think that he’s the one who’s winning. He will do whatever it takes to tell you that you are just another person without worth. He will forge any lie to make your mind run mad. He WANTS your mind to race. He WANTS you to think that your only worth comes from things of this world. Because if you believe your success comes from looks or money, you are less likely to turn to God to chase anything else.  

And as a result, you may start to find that your life has become about a full schedule, not a full heart.

Yikes. Let me be the first to say that this was NOT how I expected this blog to go. But I am finding that what we chase in our minds ultimately has a strong hold on us. And all I want for you and me is that the strongest hold on us would be that of Heaven, not hell. Can I get an amen?

So now I challenge you: who or what has the most control over what you think about? What are you thinking about most when driving? When walking between classes or events? I’ve got a lot of work to do. And maybe you do too. We aren’t perfect. But we do have a perfect God. You don’t have to chase Him. He’s right next to you waiting for you to ask WHAT to chase. I sincerely believe that Heaven CAN be found on earth if you chase it. He can turn our worries into worship.

And what if your time spent chasing a guy could have been spent asking God WHO He wants you to wait for? What if HOW you find that special someone is THROUGH chasing after God’s Kingdom here on earth? What if that future you hope to have is DWARFED by God’s plan if you had only chased God’s Kingdom calling for your life? What if life with a full heart is BETTER than that of life with a full schedule? What if PEACE were only found through chasing His Will, not your own? What if He’s greater than you think? More beautiful than you are believing? Open up your brain space…

And THINK about it.

// PS: //

{What if the minute you opened up your brain space…God told you crazy things like the things in this blog that are NOT from me. What if He revealed the truth. I can attest that these words are the result of letting go. I opened my brain space and He filled it with wisdom and peace…and more of it than I could ever have found on my own.}

What Do You Do When God Says No? // Lessons From a Shooting Star

I prayed so hard to see a shooting star in St. Simons. I looked, I watched, I waited. I believed God could do it. I knew He could make a shooting star appear. I just wanted it right in that moment. In faith, I prayed. I don’t even know why I wanted to see one so bad. I guess it was due to the fact that I had never seen one before. So naturally, in a clear night sky like this one had to be the PERFECT time, right?! Of course!!!

But no, it never came.

The sky was beautiful, but the only thing that darted across the sky was a plane. Honestly, I was disappointed when the prayer wasn’t answered. I got back in the car a bit dejected. Now I know this is a very small example- but I think a lot of us do this. We pray in expectancy that God is going to answer a prayer immediately and in the way that we see fit in the moment. When it doesn’t happen, we get confused. We ask, “if I believed, why didn’t I receive?”

However, God showed me that I was believing in what He could do, but NOT in who He was.

In fact, I wasn’t believing in God so much as looking for proof of His presence. As a a result, God reminded me that day not to test Him. That’s just not how He operates.

So about a month later in the mountains in North Carolina, I peered into the starry sky once more. However, this time I wasn’t looking for anything. I was just standing in awe of the beauty of the stars scattered across the sky in perfect harmony. But then all of a sudden, a star shot across the sky! I had never seen one before, so it took me completely by surprise and put me in a state of wonder. I also immediately remembered the prayer I had prayed in St. Simons. It had been answered- but NOT AT ALL in the way I had expected.

God wanted to teach me something that day. He isn’t a wish granting factory, but a loving FATHER…One who would rather surprise & delight us in HIS timing, not ours. And when we really think about how He is a good Father, His wild timing begins to make more sense. What Father on earth would give their child Christmas gifts before Christmas morning?! He knows that the suspense is what makes the arrival of the gifts BETTER. And giving the gifts early diminishes the joy of Christmas morning. Like with anything, proper timing MATTERS.

Not expecting it made the gesture sweeter. The funny thing is I didn’t even know I was waiting for it. I forgot I had even prayed that prayer. Sometimes when we let go & stop thinking about something, He makes it all work out. He surprises us in HIS timing. Not one prayer goes unheard or unanswered.

{ But sometimes God doesn’t give you what you ask for in the timing you asked for it because it doesn’t glorify God in the best way. Let’s go to John 14. }

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” // John 14:13-14

Jesus makes it clear that He will give you what you ask SO THAT His Father may be glorified through the answer. Sometimes the things we ask for aren’t going to glorify God. We may THINK they are, but often God has a different way in mind that’s better. This does NOT mean He doesn’t hear and answer your prayers. He does. But His answer may not be what we want. He may give us a “not yet.”

But WAIT, what if the answer is a straight up NO? What if what you prayed for DOESN’T happen at all? Should we doubt and wonder if God is really there? Should we fear that all of our prayers were for simply for nothing?? No. And here’s why: His no may actually be making a way for a far better YES in the future that you aren’t even aware of yet. Or perhaps, God doesn’t answer the prayer the way we would see fit because it isn’t beneficial to anyone in the Kingdom- not even you.  

  • What if that camp counselor position you prayed for would actually keep you from an incredible internship opportunity that you had no idea existed???
  • What if that sorority exec position would keep you from getting more involved in a church that you love?
  • What if having to say no to a date night you wanted to go on was actually protecting you from a boy that you thought was good for you, but actually would have wrecked your heart?

I am speaking from experience here. I wouldn’t be writing any of this unless I had lived through this struggle of figuring out God’s timing myself. Given our limited view point of the universe, it’s extremely hard to wrap our minds around a moment when God doesn’t do what we asked. But that leads me to my next point:

The more I learn to trust God, the more I’m learning not to question when things happen the way they do.

There’s about a billion other variables that I simply cannot see. You never know if you got put in a class that you really didn’t want simply so you would meet a certain person God knew you needed in your life. Or maybe there’s a day you felt too tired to go to church. This happened to me this past Sunday. However, I felt strangely called to be there- even though I really didn’t feel like it. I asked God if He wanted me to go and I really wanted a no. But that wasn’t the answer I got.

My friend texted me and asked what time we were leaving…before I had time to back out. Next thing you know, I was driving to church for reasons I knew I didn’t fully understand. I just knew God wanted me there.  So I trusted Him and obeyed….even though I had to drag myself out of bed quite literally. Two things happened as a result of that morning: the sign that I had forgotten I had even prayed for the night before arrived the minute I turned into the church parking lot. And how could I have possibly known that the message spoken could have resulted in three hours of fervent prayer about that very topic with someone later that night?  We just have no idea why God tells us to do things. But the moment we figure it out results in even more trust in the unknown. Difficult circumstances start to look less like obstacles, and more like opportunities to see God move in ways we would NEVER have imagined.

With this mind, we no longer have to stress about the answer to this prayer: “God, please use me.”

Often we pray that God would use us and get pretty upset when we don’t feel like He is. But this is because we are looking at the world with human eyes, not God’s. In His unique timing, God can use ANYTHING to advance His Kingdom.

Now go back to John 14:14. Jesus promises us ANYTHING we ask in His Name that glorifies God. ANYTHING is a powerful word. It reminds us of how limitless our God is.

This gives us great hope because it means that He probably IS using you….but just not always in ways we can SEE. Think about it: why would an invisible God only use you for what’s visible? A heart change in a friend isn’t seen- but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. So how does one KNOW if God is using them? You don’t. But if you prayed, God heard it and has probably been answering your prayer over and over again…but just not in ways that you can visibly understand.

So because our God can use ANYTHING, even the seemingly minuscule decisions could have GIANT impacts on other people that you may not even know this side of eternity. He could be using things you do EVERYDAY to help strangers that you have NO IDEA about.

For example:

  • A stranger in Starbucks the other day taught me a lesson from God. All he did was stand there and wait for his order. But I heard His name called out: “chase”. And because that word hit me at the PERFECT TIME, it was really significant for me. It reminded me to CHASE after God. I know it seems like a small thing, but it inspired me to write part of this blog post. And yet, his trip to Starbucks probably FELT unproductive. Yet for me, it was impactful. But he has NO IDEA. And it’s likely he never will on this side of eternity.
  • Still don’t believe in God’s timing? My life verse is Micah 6:8. Why? Some anonymous middle school boy decided to put it in a newspaper I randomly decided to read one day. I looked it up and knew those words were for me. Will that boy ever know that his choice to type up Micah 6:8 in a middle school newspaper would inspire a girl to hold onto a verse for the rest of her life? Nope.
  • Will you ever know if the smile you gave that stranger changed the trajectory of their entire day? Nope. But it could. Because God can use anything in His perfect timing.

So how does one change the world? Pray and know you’re heard. And then trust in the timing God has for you. Trust and trust again. BELIEVE that God is truly working, because He is. You can’t question the God who knows eternity when you don’t even know tomorrow.

Why? Because God taught me something else that day when I saw that shooting star. This is what I wrote in my phone notes shortly after, & it’s what I’ll close with:

“I am a shooting star. A flash of light in time that burns for only an instance. Impacting my surroundings on this planet for but a moment. But I WILL shine. Here and then gone…but not without purpose. I want to burn as a light here with all I’ve got…I want to burn with His Light until I BURST!!

All in His timing, all for His glory. God bless you.

The Milky What? // What Googling Space Taught me about God’s Kingdom

As I stared up intently into the night sky, I had never felt smaller. The beach in St. Simons was empty except for us and the glow of the moonlight illuminating the sand and sea. I had never seen the Milky Way before- and yet there it was- a gentle haze that seemed to float on for miles and miles into the infinity of space above me. I couldn’t comprehend it. I still can’t. We sat in awe of 2 grand infinities that night: space…and its Maker. The beauty of the mystery was unsurmountable.

It got me thinking about the details I didn’t know about the universe. So a day later I began googling what exactly the Milky Way is. And GUYS. I have never been more MIND BLOWN than ever before!!! And I am not just mind blown at the complexity of it all, but the INSANE ANALOGY the galaxy is to life itself!! Below I am going to break down the different parts of the Milky Way that I believe could very well represent the Kingdom of God in a far more beautiful way than I could ever put to words. I believe God created these things not just to dazzle us, but to TEACH us about Himself and how our world works. All scientific quotations are from an article on “space.com” about the Milky Way. My commentary follows the quotes:

  1. ARMS OF LIGHT: “A glance up at the night sky reveals a broad swath of light. Described by the ancients as a river, as milk, and as a path, among other things, the band has been visible in the heavens since Earth first formed. In reality, this intriguing line of light is the center of our galaxy, as seen from one of its outer arms.”

I see this to be the Body of Christ. This line of light is like Jesus’s legacy on earth. As Christians, we live our lives to follow it and become His “arm” on earth to reach others in His Name. Like a river flowing through us, Jesus is always working in and through His people to bring light to the darkness. We can become His lights to thicken this trail- like a trail of stars in the Milky Way.

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” –John 7:38

  1. 3 MAIN PARTS: “The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, about 100,000 light-years across. If you could look down on it from the top, you would see a central bulge surrounded by four large spiral arms that wrap around it. Spiral galaxies make up about two-third of the galaxies in the universe. Unlike a regular spiral, a barred spiral contains a bar across its center region, and has two major arms.”

Woa- doesn’t this seem like a representation of the trinity? One bar spans the breadth of the entire galaxy. The other two arms branch from it. God is like the bar the spans the entirety of creation. And yet, two other arms: The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are also connected to it. Like the trinity, the arms of light are each unique parts of the galaxy, but still make up ONE galaxy.

  1. ALWAYS MOVING: “The Milky Way does not sit still, but is constantly rotating. As such, the arms are moving through space. The sun and the solar system travel with them. The solar system travels at an average speed of 515,000 mph (828,000 km/h). Even at this rapid speed, the solar system would take about 230 million years to travel all the way around the Milky Way.”

So we are ALWAYS moving!! We often think God isn’t moving because we can’t SEE Him moving. And yet, He always is. That’s just like how we can’t see the galaxy moving, but yet we are ALWAYS going 515,000 mph?!

  1. COMPRESSED TO MAKE NEW CREATION: “Spiral arms are like traffic jams in that the gas and stars crowd together and move more slowly in the arms. As material passes through the dense spiral arms, it is compressed and this triggers more star formation,” said Camargo.

I see this like our lives with trial on earth. We are all crowded together wherever we are in the world. And sometimes we get hit by trials in a way that we are compressed. Our limits are tested. However, we end up finding Christ through that struggle so that we too can become a light. So in essence, a new “star” is formed.

  1. HELD BY A HALO: “Our galaxy is surrounded by an enormous halo of hot gas that extends for hundreds of thousands of light-years. The gas halo is estimated to be as massive as all of the stars in the Milky Way. Like the galaxy itself, the halo is spinning rapidly.”

I see this as the equivalent of angels.  We are constantly surrounded by angels watching over us without even realizing it. It’s like they are “spinning” all around us. How interesting is it that this part of the galaxy is even called a “halo”? I know I sound crazy making these connections, but all of this is so exciting to me!!

  1. LIMITED SIGHT: “At the center of the galaxy is the galactic bulge. The heart of the Milky Way is crammed full of gas, dust, and stars. The bulge is the reason that you can only see a small percentage of the total stars in the galaxy. Dust and gas within it are so thick that you can’t even peer into the bulge of the Milky Way, much less see out the other side.”

This is like how we CAN’T SEE ETERNITY. We only have a limited viewpoint of our lives. In fact, we can only see what’s happening NOW and what’s happened in the past. This fact alone I believe is the source of everyone’s anxieties. We can’t see the future, so we live our lives stressing about it. And as a result of knowing there’s an end point to our lives, we try to cram everything in before that time comes. We get in our heads that unless we achieve the “perfect life” within the numbered days, we will be unhappy. We freak out over this idea of a “time limit”. And yet, stressing about the end point was never meant to be the purpose of our existence. With Jesus as our Savior, there is NO time limit. Heaven is our home- so everything here, which is just a tiny section of eternity, is meant to feed into that destination. Ultimately, what I am saying is that everything is meant to be done with Heaven in mind, not the “perfect American dream” life. God never intended for us to freak out about earth’s imperfections, just our Heaven centered connections. We are supposed to be living without a fixed limit as we fix our eyes on Him.

 “For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” -2 Corinthians 4:17-18

  1. THE BLACK HOLE: “Tucked inside the very center of the galaxy is a monstrous black hole, billions of times as massive as the sun. This supermassive black hole may have started off smaller, but the ample supply of dust and gas allowed it to gorge itself and grow into a giant. The greedy glutton also consumes whatever stars it can get a grip on. Although black holes cannot be directly viewed, scientists can see their gravitational effects as they change and distort the paths of the material around it, or as they fire off jets. Most galaxies are thought to have a black hole in their heart.”

 WOA. Stop for a minute. Read that again. Galaxies have BLACK HOLES IN THEIR HEARTS?! And they “consume whatever stars they can get a grip on”?! And though they “can’t be directly viewed,” they can change and “distort the paths of the material around it”. YIKES! Guys I can’t help but think of hell. This is a crazy similarity that I refuse to see as a coincidence. How often does the devil try to get a grip on Christians, create a black hole in their hearts, and then suck them away from a life in Christ? These black holes ultimately do one certain thing: EXTINGUISH LIGHTS FROM THE GALAXY.

Wow. So with ALL of this in mind, it doesn’t sound so crazy anymore to believe in a God who loves us…who is INFINITELY for us. We are suspended in an infinity that we already barely can understand as it is! And that’s just the things we can SEE! Imagine the works happening in this world and beyond us that we CAN’T see! Doesn’t it also just make sense that an infinite God would have infinite creation? And if we were created for infinity {for eternity is set on the human heart- see Ecclesiastes 3:11}, why do we spend so much of our lives stressed about what’s temporary? If I was made for Heaven and who I take with me, peace can resound because things made for infinity are not in my hands to decide. All He requires of me is to trust Him and live with open hands till He says it’s time to come home. These verses sum it up best:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” –James 1:17

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” –Psalm 19:1

What’s Your Cure for Fear? // Open Heart vs Open Road

 A girl stumbles into a room with a lot of broken, dilapidating walls. She looks around in confusion. She feels trapped. Her heart is breaking. Her tears hit the wood. With every passing breath, she feels a heaviness settle on her soul. She’s in the dark.

They told her: “Climb this mountain away from the world. Go to this door. You’ll be safe there. No one will be there to hurt you. Time away will heal your broken heart. No one will be there to let you down. Your fears won’t be an issue. Just stay away from the scary, the bad, and the hard- and you’ll be happy.”

But she finds no comfort in the creaks of the floors or the peeling of the wallpaper. The hollow silence is deafening. No one is there to heal her heart. These walls are no help. Time itself only makes it worse. It was then that she realized it: she had fallen prey to a lie that was meant to keep her SAFE from lies. And now she’s trapped. She spent so much time finding ways to build walls between herself and the pain of the world that she accidentally cut herself off entirely from freedom.

Don’t a lot of us do this though? Don’t we all gravitate towards places that require the least amount of risk to our happiness? We run from the uncomfortable in favor of what’s “safe”.

However, what if this pursuit of “safe” was costing us more than we realized?

 Society often tells us that the best cure for fear is simply running away from it. The idea of “safety” sounds so inviting. If you do this or buy that, you’ll be safe. However, I am learning these days that society’s version of “safety” is actually just letting fear control your life. Yes, it seems safe to stay in your house all day without the risk of getting hit by a car. It sounds safe to have TONS of money stored up with no intention of using the extra to help other people. Giving it away could possibly take away from the comfortable lifestyle you want to live.

When contemplating this topic, I think of the movie A Christmas Story. In the movie, one of the children is forced by his mother to wear an extremely large and constricting coat to be kept warm in the cold. The kid can’t even put his arms down, much less walk like a normal human being! It’s truly a hilarious scene. But needless to say, the poor guy isn’t likely to do anything productive in that coat. However, by the world’s standards- he is “safe” from getting frostbite or a nasty cold.

Now while I certainly condone wearing coats if it’s cold, I don’t believe that we should be coating our lives with ridiculous amounts of protective measures designed to keep us so safe that we completely lose our ability to do anything of real value. If we live our lives running from the hard, uncomfortable, and daunting- will we ever truly accomplish anything? Or will we live it driven by fear? And if we are driven by fear, will it lead to an open road or an open heart?

Open roads are lonely. Open hearts lead to life change.

The open road is running away. The open heart is dealing with what’s right in front of you- even when it’s hard.

Open roads sound like freedom, but only take you to dead ends. Open hearts to Jesus yield direction and purpose, not aimless running.

Because here’s a scary truth: you CAN’T run from YOURSELF.

No matter how many roads you take to get away from those frustrations….whether it be finding a safe place in the mountains or in the depths of your Netflix and social media accounts….you can’t help the fears that live inside you. You take them WHEREVER you go.

BUT WAIT- this is actually such a GOOD thing:

Why? Because the cure for fear is ALSO inside you.

The “you” that you can’t run away from was made to be a home to the ONLY true safe haven on this earth. And His Name is Jesus….and He wants to replace your fears with faith. He wants to make an unbreakable home in your ever-breaking heart.

We can find immense hope in this statement; especially when we take a minute and realize that NO place on this earth is actually safe. We are always in potential danger. Just take a look at the news headlines and that can be confirmed. This is just a reality of living in a world that’s broken. But if true safety from heartache and pain can be found within ourselves, there is nothing to fear. Hurricanes and disasters may come- but God gives us the strength to rely on Him, not material things. People may break our hearts by abandoning us in a time of need. But Jesus will NEVER leave us alone. He is literally listening to your thoughts right now. And mine. He knows you better than anyone, so He will LOVE you better than everyone.

So what’s the cure for fear? The cure for your loneliness? For anxiety? Not an OPEN road leading to more brokenness and confusion. But an OPEN heart running towards Jesus- where we are ever-accepted and ever-loved.

// PS:

{ Another broken human could never fix the broken in me. Only my Maker could do that. This is why marriage isn’t what heals broken hearts either. We were made to love God and THEN each other….to have a constant love supply with which to GIVE, not take from others. If God isn’t our FIRST love supply, a person will never be able to fill that void. When we use people to try and fill the space, it may just lead to unmet expectations, bitterness, or divorce. In the words of Andy Stanley, let’s stop living in “debtor relationships”. Love is not love if it is owed…only if it’s freely GIVEN. }

 

 

 

The People Around You // The Person to Your Right May Not Actually Be “Alright”

If only you knew her story.

She sits with eyes glazed

And an expression seemingly un-phased

Fixed on the board

“She’s probably just bored.”

You have no idea what’s inside

Or that scar she’s trying to hide

Why say a word

It will probably go unheard

I don’t want to seem weird

I have a heart that’s always feared.

Being bold as a stranger

Seems like a social danger.

Let’s stay silent

And refuse to relent.

To speak up is hard.

It could result in letting down my guard.

The fear of rejection

Has become an infection.

Even a simple text can result in stress.

On our heartstrings we need to press.

If we were to take a risk

And eject the status quo’s disk

We may possibly find

That the humans beside us are actually kind.

Or see that the girl sitting over there

Is in need of a heart repair.

Her eyes may be blank

But her parents’ marriage may just have sank.

Her eyes may be fixed on the board

But what if you introduced her to life’s sword?

Jesus cares for you.

And He cares for her too.

To be like Him

Is to love on a whim.

To not be afraid

To join His parade.

He sets the captives free.

But with eyes on your phone how can you see?

How can we see people if all we see is a screen?

That’s the place where all looks serene.

But pictures can be the world’s greatest liars.

So grab the plyers.

Pry open the door.

Seek the lost and the poor.

Don’t turn away.

Just stop what you’re doing and have something to SAY.

You may think this is for someone else to do.

But what if God sent YOU?

What if you were His plan?

To turn her can’ts into CAN?

To bring her from strife

Into true LIFE?

From a life of moping

Into one of HOPING?

Our silence won’t accomplish anything.

But a simple hello could be the catalyst for redefining one person’s EVERYTHING.

Just some food for thought…

That could maybe change somebody’s future life plot.

Why spend a lifetime WAITING on world change…

When it could simply start with the person sitting in the closest range.

The person to your right,

May not be alright.

Find out,

& love without a doubt.


Sometimes we forget that the simplest way to “change the world” is just by being kind to strangers. Everyone has a story they are living- no one’s is more important than someone else’s. So why not add a bit of light to the story of someone else? Even if it’s just for a mere minute. You never know what a simple question or smile can do. Perhaps the happiness of their tomorrow could be sparked by your kindness of today.

 

The Desert //finding freedom from what drains you//

Imagine a desert. It’s so hot that it gives you difficulty to even walk. The hot sand whips against your sweat drenched forehead in the wind. Yet not even the breeze offers any respite from the heat. Your breath feels hot and heavy. Will you ever make it? How will you possibly cross this without being overtaken? What direction do you even go? You feel lost. Alone. But yet, your feet are moving. Your brain is functioning. You are most certainly alive.

Now compare this environment to the life you live daily. Have you ever felt like you were so bogged down by responsibilities that you feel completely DRAINED by life? We often associate the idea of deserts with inactivity and dormancy. However, what God has been pressing into my heart lately has been the idea that we create our own deserts that aren’t inactive at all. In fact, they are the complete opposite. So many of us, including myself, throw so much into what we are DOING with our lives that we feel like we are suffocating beneath the weight of our responsibilities and self-ascribed expectations.

We think we are building a “successful life”. But in reality, we are simply building a desert. And what’s worse is that we get well accustomed to it. The familiarity of chaos strangely becomes a comfort. We get in our heads that as long as we are doing this, a part of that, achieving x, y and z….we matter. However, this is just exactly what the world WANTS us to believe. See, the desert is where the devil does his best work. When we are drained, we are far more desperate to find meaning in our lives…so much so that we will DO whatever it takes to be what society says is “enough”. This works perfect with the enemy’s plans because he wants to keep us well inside these self-made deserts. Why? Because ultimately, they keep us from the TRUE source of life. “Deserts of activity” keep us from the Living Water. They keep us from Jesus.

Our generation isn’t the first to run into this issue though. The Israelites decided to try and build up their own lives apart from God too. They thought that gods and idols made of wood would suffice. This isn’t too different from our own pursuits. We tend to place a lot of value on the things we make and do with our hands as well. We look on our accomplishments and images with the wrong kind of pride. We see things not as blessings, but as results of our hard work alone. Yet we were made to take pride in God’s work, not our own.  

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” //Jeremiah 2:13//

See when we try to build up our own flimsy worlds based on pointless things, we miss something FAR greater that we never could have dreamed up.

But WHY? Why, if we know God’s plan is better in theory, do we STILL choose to chase lives spent in the desert of activity? I think it’s because we get all this desert stuff twisted. Too often we see God’s Will as the desert itself. We get in our heads that following Jesus keeps us from a life of fun, adventure, and success. It looks like a far worse desert than the one we’ve been living in.

We’ve also grown so accustomed to our broken lives in a drained desert that we don’t want to leave it. We don’t like change. We want familiarity. It’s why kids struggle with college at first. Even though it’s a far better and more lively environment full of incredible opportunities, it’s easy to let fear keep us from reaping all of its benefits. We know what we know, we like what we know, and would rather settle for mediocre lives than those that are FULL….simply due to the mental block of lies telling us that college…or God’s Will…asks too much of us.

But this is what the enemy wants. He will do anything to keep you from God’s promises. All he has to do is tell you a good lie. And the thing is, you’ll be tempted to believe it. Because somehow the devil can make a desert sound good…like it’s what’s RIGHT. He twists the truth until we can barely find it anymore. This is how culture works. The Israelites struggled with leaving the comfort of their deserts too. God looked in disappointment at how much they had strayed from Him in pursuit of empty lives:

“I had planted you like a choice vine
of sound and reliable stock.
How then did you turn against me
into a corrupt, wild vine?
22 Although you wash yourself with soap
and use an abundance of cleansing powder,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.
23 “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled;
I have not run after the Baals’?
See how you behaved in the valley;
consider what you have done.
You are a swift she-camel
running here and there,
24 a wild donkey accustomed to the desert,
sniffing the wind in her craving—
in her heat who can restrain her?
Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves;
at mating time they will find her.
25 Do not run until your feet are bare
    and your throat is dry.
But you said, ‘It’s no use!
    I love foreign gods,
    and I must go after them.’ //Jeremiah 2:21-25//

But yet, we DO run until our feet are bare and our throats are dry. It’s called anxiety. And it runs us right into the ground. Like the Israelites, we too are “accustomed to our deserts” where we can be easily entranced by false offers of love and acceptance…just like the wild donkey in the passage. We become far too easy to please.

Somebody once told me that we are like children who prefer mud pies to cherry pies simply because we’d never tasted a cherry pie. Yet we settle on the mud pie because we made it ourselves and it seems fun. However, we have NO CLUE what goodness we are missing if we never let our mothers convince us to ditch the mud for the fruit.

For Christians who are struggling to put God first, we know the fruit is better. We know His Water is life. Yet we still run. We become so drained by our desert of to-do lists that we forget the taste of water altogether. We simply gravitate toward what our desert tells us will make us most successful.

But God planted us where we are for a reason. We were made for so much MORE than things the world tells us needs to be done. We were made for a true relationship with Jesus that doesn’t leave us grasping for breath. There are things to be done in His Name, yes. But our worth isn’t to be found in them. This just runs us dry. Life is found when we let go of what’s good and choose what’s best. And often that is simply rest. Rest at the feet of Jesus by surrendering your anxious thoughts and let Him take you in. Let Him revive your heart with the truth. The truth says “done”, not “do”.

You want to be a light of the world? Already DONE by Jesus. So go be a light, but not like it depends only on you.

You want to tear down the gap between people and God? Already DONE by Jesus. So go love people in His Name, but don’t put the whole world on your shoulders.

You want to change the world radically? Already DONE by Jesus. So go fight for change, but don’t act as if it’s only up to you.

If we ever want to actually “do” things for His Kingdom, we have to come at it with a peaceful reassurance of the “done”. We can’t try to save the world our own. It’s already DONE. The pressure is off! Breathe and be thankful for your life in Christ right NOW. Look around. Be grateful. For He is faithful. And in His eyes, you are ALWAYS enough. You are loved. You are cherished. For God loves you for WHO you are, not just what you do. Because glorifying God is more about being, not doing. Being kind, caring, loving, merciful, intentional, faithful, and compassionate speaks far more about God’s character to others than the works of your hands. You are loved as His humble child, not just as a worker. Believe that today. You will find a spring of true life unlike anything this world will ever offer you…because unlike how jobs and people can disappoint us, choosing Jesus over the world will NEVER fail you. All of this can be summed up by one simple story found in Luke:

 “Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” // Luke 10:38-42 //

When the Waters Call //inspired by Moana & visiting Hawaii//

According to native Hawaiian culture, it is believed that everything has “mana”, or a spirit- the wind, the sea, and all of its creatures. I used to think that this was a strange belief. But as I sat nestled under a tree overlooking calm waves gently riding towards the shore of a breathtaking Hawaiian bay, I finally understood.

Imagine yourself growing up on an island surrounded by absolute paradise without believing that there was some type of power within it. The stars alone are enough to mystify the wandering soul. But think about the ocean. Yes, the big blue expanse that seems endless. Imagine waking up every day to something so deep, wide and powerful…never knowing how far it goes. The movie Moana certainly exemplified this fascination.

“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Honestly, I sat in a renewed awe of it myself as I breathed in its presence right at my fingertips. What a beautiful mystery the ocean is. I will admit, I did feel a bit called by it. However, with Moana jokes aside, the Spirit calling was not that of the ocean itself- but its Creator. See, this is the truth I believe about nature: The Spirit works through it to beckon us closer to The One who designed it. There is no greater relationship on this earth than that of a human and their Heavenly Father. Nature in its pure form simply facilitates that connection. So it only makes sense then that as the waves continued to gingerly lap against the rocks, I felt a deep peace set in. And then I suddenly felt The Spirit moving me to write. The words below are straight out of my journal. They aren’t my words though- I know it was The Spirit…the words came down quickly and with not enough thought for them to have possibly come from me. I hope God uses these words to speak to you somehow:

           //  Here in Hawaii, they say everything has a spirit- the ocean, fish, land, flowers, birds and the breeze. I think they’re right. Everything does have a spirit…that of the Holy Spirit. I think God uses nature to call us to Himself. He beckons us with the sun, and romances us with the moon. The greatest love story, as strange as it may seem to our culture, is that of God and His children. He takes us on adventures greater than we could imagine- ALL to draw us closer to Himself…so that we may see the world and ourselves more as He sees them. Perfectly His. Uniquely broken.

…Broken in a way that can ONLY be fixed in His special way. He knows how to call our hearts unlike any person ever could…because He knows what truly lives within them. The secrets we keep are no secret to Him- so He takes them and keeps them safe. He treasures them. He treasures YOU. The reason that there is no relationship stronger in this world than a human and their Heavenly Father is that He literally knows EVERYTHING about us…every thought or random musing and yet STILL chooses to love us. Unconditionally.

His call isn’t one of force. He is gentle and kind…like these waves in front of me. Yet also like these waves, His love for you is much stronger than it may appear in your mind. Looking at these waves, they look calm and serene…almost weak even. But try jumping in. You’ll not only see differently, you’ll feel it. In fact, the further out you swim, you’ll realize that there’s a whole ocean waiting- full of currents more powerful than you could ever dream of. On the shore, you thought God was only found in the shallows. He starts out where you’re comfortable. Just come as you are.

But as you begin to trust Him…or trust the waves more…you begin to wade further and further beyond the shoreline. Soon you’re neck deep. But you’re not afraid- only sometimes. But that’s when God may pull you back closer to the shore to try again. And that’s ok. No one goes into the ocean and stays in the same spot the whole time. You shift and MOVE WITH it. Waters that are stagnant aren’t going to lead you anywhere past your fear. With God, you’re always MOVING somewhere, namely Heaven. Even if you don’t see it.

Have you ever floated on a raft and didn’t see how far you had gotten till you stopped and looked back? Paddle boarding was like that a few days ago. I kept pushing and gliding, not thinking I was going that fast or truly going anywhere really. Boy was I wrong. I looked back at the shore in AWE at how far I’d come. I think our relationship with God works the same way. We paddle, see some sea turtles that surprise and distract us, then keep rowing in awe of what we just witnessed and keep going…and then look back very shocked  at how far we’d made it. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a watery journey that not only physically MOVES us to explore different places, but also spiritually MOVES our hearts to explore new depths of God’s character.  //

Ultimately, God truly is the Spirit within everything. Every aspect of nature points to the power and precision of our Heavenly Father. He’s as great and mighty as the raging seas of a hurricane. And yet, He also designs the tiniest and most delicate of details in the universe such as the lovely sweetness of a honeysuckle flower to the tongue on a hot summer day. His Word explains it best though:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

8 Things God Taught Me in Thailand

 

If you know me well, you’d know that it is quite rare for me to be up at 8:32am writing something. Yet, here I am. Thanks to jet lag, I have actually been wide awake since around 5am. I hear my brother now, who also went on the trip, waking up too.

Time is funny that way. Honestly, have you ever considered how crazy time is? We use it to structure all of our days, yet it is entirely made up. Hours pass regardless of our recognition of its number. I say this because I am fresh off about 30 hours of travelling in which the actual time was completely irrelevant.

We arrived at the Thailand airport around 11pm and left the ground at 2am, flew for 6 hours, and then magically arrived at Qatar’s definition of around 4am. After a 4-hour layover there, we flew for another 15 HOURS (please understand that this is like sitting down for a WHOLE DAY surrounded by crying children that you can’t escape). By the time we reached America, it was around 5pm here. But honestly at this point my internal clock was so messed up that recognizing the “official time” felt pointless.

I’ll never forget how God moved in me during that miserable 15 hour flight though. I wrote this in my notes:

In God’s presence, peace & joy can be found high up above the clouds….where the good & bad of daily life aren’t striking. You’re just sitting. Yet fullness of joy is accessible. It isn’t confined within the boundaries of human declared space and time zones. The hours pass & all I know is that that I am made ALIVE in Him.

I don’t need a clock or to know where I am in the world to know He is with me.

God operates outside of humanity’s “settings”. We like to set times. Set boundaries. Set outfits. Set divides. God conquers ALL divides. Here up above the clouds, all is CLEAR. We focus far too much on minuscule things & forget that God operates way BEYOND these self-prescribed restraints on ourselves….on humanity. This is why we stop praying for miracles- by believing they simply aren’t possible. But that’s what MAKES it a miracle. Don’t doubt God’s power. Don’t listen to the lies that like to question His validity. He is ABOVE it all. So stop focusing on things so small.

This idea of God being above and available at ALL times in ALL nations to ALL people was a common theme for me throughout my time in Thailand. I just realized it more prominently during the flights. So the first lesson I learned before and on the way home from Thailand was this:

  1. Sitting, resting, and reflecting is GOOD. Learn to take a break and realize that very few things matter on this earth. Focus on God. Taking a flight and being legitimately above every human stress and event made me see them for what they really were- tiny and irrelevant in comparison to a relationship of faith and love in The Lord.

But going back to the idea of God being in ALL nations, I have to explain what God told me about culture during the trip. Yet, I first must explain to you how AMAZING this country was to live in for two weeks. The people, the culture, the architecture, the diverse aromas that filled the streets…& the FOOD….it was all breathtaking.

Yes, it looked, felt, and smelt different than good ole Georgia. There was no Chick fila (but there was a KFC- except the menu was in Thai, so Alexis and I accidentally ordered too many of the WRONG meal…and we didn’t know how to ask for utensils or napkins in Thai so we ended up eating our chicken like animals- sorry America, we lived up to your stereotypes). There was usually no toilet paper in the bathrooms. I typically fought massive battles with mosquitos in our showers. I never once saw a Christian church- unlike here where there is one on every corner.

Now before you start judging Thailand as strange and weird- I need you to understand that where we lived, this was their normal. They would look at us as just as insane for our giant portion sizes, obsession with fried food, ridiculous amount of churches, and the necessity of having a McDonalds and a Starbucks nearly every 2 miles. I was also told Americans have a distinct odor that we REALLY should take more showers to fix. That was one of the main reasons I braved my mosquito infested shower more intentionally.

So what am I saying? Everyone has their normal. Everyone grows up a certain way and doesn’t typically question it. It’s not my job to judge it, but learn about and celebrate it. By the time we were finished with the first week, living in Thailand quickly became MY normal. It’s amazing how much humans are designed to adapt.

However, here’s something crucial to realize about the world that will become my second lesson:

  1. While cultures may LOOK different, they are all rooted in the SAME things.

Think about it. People are not so different after all. Places & things vary, but love for one another, a desire to connect, to change the world…to change one’s OWN world….it’s all the same. Everyone wants to matter. Everyone wants to be valued, loved & treated as so. Everyone wants to find purpose- something greater to live for- even if it’s just something solely found in their personal world view. These are universal traits.

But these common traits that make up EVERY culture in the world are what PEOPLE are dependent on, not God. Just like how God operates outside of time and space, God is INDEPENDENT of culture. Yet culture is dependent on the traits of humans that display a need for God. It comes full circle doesn’t it?

People want purpose. People want love. People want acceptance. People want to be with other people.

These are the common threads of all of humanity. And I saw them in Thailand loud and clear:

-Family was an extremely important component of life there. Kids yearned for their parents, siblings, and friends just as much, if not more than in America. I saw this beautifully displayed in the English Center we worked in each day. It was there that we also got to share the Gospel. More will come about this later.

– The desire for a specific kind of beauty was evident, just as in the USA. However, in Thailand it was all about skin tone. A lot of money was clearly being spent on facial creams to appear whiter. Billboards were full of extremely white skinned Thais advertising the products. Their definition of beautiful was white skin…which was hard to swallow considering that most people in America desired to be tan. This a particularly clear example of 2 cultures expressing their exact same desires of acceptance in 2 different ways.

-Religion there was largely idolatry. Nearly every house or business had shrines and intricately decorated “spirit houses” that people woke up early to give offerings to. Massive temples dedicated to Buddha were widespread as well. Each was extremely ornate and stunning. I got to visit a few while I was there- it was truly an incredibly beautiful construction of humanity….which brings me to my next lesson God taught me:

  1. We view people bowing down and worshipping statues that they created as foreign and strange. The irony is that in America, we do the EXACT same thing without realizing it…which is even more disturbing.

I remember the moment. I was sitting bare-footed and on my knees in a strikingly grand temple. An enormous and elaborately decorated gold Buddha stared back at me. All was silent. I watched as people went before the statue and bowed reverently multiple times with their hands clasped above their heads to show the greatest amount of respect. I looked around and noticed how every inch of the temple seemed perfectly designed to appease the eye. That’s how it was in every temple I visited. Everything LOOKED beautiful by human standards…just like our perfectly designed Instagram accounts am I right? Its attractiveness was undeniable. It got me thinking how hard we work to perfect and worship our own images in the USA. We simply camouflage what we worship. For example, we may not be physically bowing down to our social media accounts, but how often do girls stop eating to appear perfect on them? And we may not be giving offerings to a shrine each morning, but how much do we offer up our precious time by mindlessly scrolling through those same social media accounts instead of spending that time in community with loved ones?

These are things to contemplate…but another is the power of God amidst these spiritually dark places in our lives. This leads me to lesson 4:

  1. God is with you. Always. Even in a temple devoted to an entirely different religion. God’s love, power, and presence is greater than a single piece of gold in that entire temple.

Going back to that silent moment, I remember saying one powerful thing in my head that changed the whole experience for me. It was simple. But it meant so much to me that I knew it was The Spirit reaffirming His presence:

“Father.”

I prayed in that moment to my Father. My FATHER. Not some statue that sat and stared at me blankly. Not an image created by broken human hands that leaves me empty. Not a set of Buddhist laws that are impossible to fully uphold. No. I was with my Father- who LOVES me. Who WANTS me. Who CARES about me…not just how pretty of a temple I build for Him. My body IS the temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). What I DO with it is what matters, not whether or not it meets the acceptance of perfect human standards. Jesus is the ONLY way to true freedom and love.

See I was told that Buddhism, while typically thought of as a very peaceful religion, is actually a very difficult religion to fully follow. It is based around cycles of karma, strict lists of rules, curses, and ultimately good works as a result of fear. This taught me yet another lesson:

  1. Works for Jesus are done as a thankful RESPONSE to His love already freely given. Works for anything else are done out of fear as a REQUEST for a love that they desire.

And I am not just talking about religions that aren’t Christian. Even if you don’t believe in anything, the universal traits of humanity are still in you and desire to be met. As a result, we find ourselves doing anything to achieve the love of someone else in a way that fully fills us. When one person can’t fully fill you, you move onto the next. Without Christ’s unbroken love and acceptance of us, we often get lost in the cycles of trying to find a perfect love in a very imperfect world. This disappointing cycle can lead to a very depressing world view built on desperation and fear….fear that you’ll lose someone…that you’re never going to be enough for others. This is because you weren’t meant to be enough. Jesus is the only One who can be fully enough for anyone- because He is the only One who says you already ARE enough for Him. It’s amazing how that works isn’t it?! He made you just the way you are and LOVES that about you. Why is this so hard to grasp for us? Why do we run away and decide not to believe so easily???

  1. The world tells us we are simultaneously both enough and not enough all at the same time. Think about the competing messages: “You are beautiful just the way you are!! Be different!” and “If you want to look like ______, buy this!” 

Due to fear of not being accepted, it’s easier to listen to the conflicting messages of culture than it is to Jesus. It’s this fear factor that often drives our entire lives. The irony is that you’d think we’d be more fearful of a life apart from God. Yet we aren’t. And in Thailand I realized why:

  1. In America, we are pretty numb to the Gospel. When telling someone about it for possibly the first time, you realize the immense power in John 3:16.

I’ll never forget that first day of ministry at the English Center in Thailand that I wrote about in my notes. We were to do a Vacation Bible School style teaching of who God is. We didn’t realize that very few of the kids really had any real understanding of God or Jesus at all. A lot of them were there simply because it was a free hour and a half to possibly make crafts. Here’s what I wrote that day: 

Ian, my trip leader asked the class,”Who is God?” Crickets. Does anyone know who God is? Or Jesus?” More crickets…maybe a nod here or there slightly. It was then that I realized the difference between American children and those of other nations. A lot of us, especially those in the South, are socialized into knowing a lot about Jesus at a very young age. We can answer the questions perfectly. These kids have no clue. 

But then God hit me with a large glimmer of hope about the matter:

 What a grand opportunity to show them who God is without any preconceived notions of who He is?! There’s no “boring church” thoughts. Just Jesus & who He is. Christians in the USA struggle to convert because some people see LOTS of “Christians” who do a poor job of showing what Jesus is like. Here there are barely any. So the few that are here get to set the tone….it’s a beautiful thing- getting to teach the gospel to people who don’t just see it as common place- but drastically countering to the cultural norms. The few on fire can make a greater impact if they truly live like Jesus. That’s a different lifestyle foreign to here. However, just like the original 12 disciples, it doesn’t take much to start a fire if the first sparks are authentic. The USA has too many sparks that fizzle out but still identify themselves as a flame.

 Something I need to mention is that the two people in charge of the English Center we worked in were NOT American. They were a married Thai couple that had both found Jesus on their own. Both faced banishment from their families for choosing Christianity over Buddhism. Yes, they were cut off- that doesn’t really happen where we live. However, they explained that their separation actually made them stronger in Christ because it created a greater dependence on Him. So many miracles occurred as a result of their trust in God through all of the seemingly impossible scenarios. This reminds me of another lesson you may have heard before:

  1. When God is all you have, all you have is all you need. God truly does provide.

Every part of their story was covered in prayer. It was an extremely pivotal part of their story. And what better reminder is there to close with in this very long blog?? I know this was a lot, but God moved so much in our hearts during these past 2 weeks. Honestly, I am still trying to process everything. I hope it brings you some type of insight to the world and God’s unlimited heart for it.

PS:

I also hope you realize that God’s heart is not just for the nations, but for YOU. He goes to the ends of the earth to reach His people just as much as He goes to the ends of individual logic to reach your heart. Never doubt His work in the world through His work in you. I wrote this in my notes in Thailand and I hope it speaks to you somehow:

You are worth more than what pixels define you as. You are a human being. You are valuable. You have a purpose. You are loved. You matter. While The world will simultaneously tell you that you both do & don’t matter, look elsewhere for worth. A worth that isn’t dependent on an outfit, a photo, an aesthetic, or an outside perceived persona. It’s dependent on the Creator of worth. He is unsinkable. So therefore when you place your trust & faith in Him, you too become unsinkable. For humanity truly CAN be infallible…in Heaven: the place where we were MADE to thrive in. This broken place is but a temporary mirage in the journey to our true Home. So don’t get too caught up in the mirror…it will only fade with time. But the hearts of people, when truly invested in through the infallible power of Christ, can last forever. Let people be the mission of people.