Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Looking Glass Lens of Power and Truth

Think back to your most recent crisis/breakdown/panic moment. That time when all things seemed to be weighing you down and new problems kept coming your way. What were you feeling? What were you thinking? What consoled you? How did you rise above that situation? What was your hope?

Be honest with yourself. For me, I know that when everything seems to pile on, turning to God first is not easy. I am a person that becomes very consumed by my problems and can sometimes only see the narrow way out. I rely on my own strength and knowledge to get me through.

During my morning quiet time this morning, I stumbled upon Psalm 77. Its an incredibly powerful psalm full of conflicting emotions, identifiable experiences, and undeniable truth. Take a look:

I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
    I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
    the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
13 Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
    you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, God,
    the waters saw you and writhed;
    the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
    the heavens resounded with thunder;
    your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
    your lightning lit up the world;
    the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
    your way through the mighty waters,
    though your footprints were not seen.
20               You led your people like a flock    
                        by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Reading this psalm brings so much truth on to how we are to handle our tough situations as Christians. Nothing is easy and we are not told to belittle our problems. Rather, we are called to think back on all that God has done for us; look back on all those other times we panicked and see how God brought us through.

From the experience of the psalmist, we are to view our present difficulties by appealing to the testimony of the past (referring to verse 10). God is stronger, wider, more powerful than anything else in this universe and has proven himself to us time and time again. And he has done all of that to us on a personal level. Yup, you and me, individually. 

I know its not easy. Its a discipline that I greatly still need to work on. But I believe that remembering God's faithfulness through ALL things is the key to working through the toughest of situations. Developing a looking glass lens of God's power and faithfulness to look through in any situation enables you to ONLY see God's love and care for you and how he continually pulls you through for his glory. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Heart of a Servant

Well hello everyone! Holy cow - my original goal of blogging once a week has been erased because these past 4 weeks have been CHAOTIC! I'll give you a quick recap before I begin describing to you what God has taught me in these past few weeks.

So... I made it through training! After a fun filled week in Loveland, we busily worked to finish up training at Lucile Erwin Middle School. We were kept busy with practicing program, learning how to cook camp meals, and perform other camp operations. The time was extremely sad when all of Summer Staff realized that saying goodbye to each other would be a very difficult task. It was so hard to believe that after spending two busy, fun, Christ-filled weeks with some of the most amazing people I had ever met that I would have to say goodbye to some of them until next year. The relationships founded upon hard-work, patience, and enthusiasm are some of the best friendships I could ever ask for. Summer Staff: y'all are awesome :)

But, as our time drew to a close... we were SO excited to head out to our locations! After the tears were shed on Sunday morning, we packed up the vans and headed off! Jane and I were blessed to travel with the lovely Kenosha girls for the majority of our caravan across the country. First stop was Omaha, Nebraska with not much else to do other than rest up for the rest of the drive! Then, we headed to Chicago where the experiences and memories are endless. After two fun days in the Windy City, we had to say our goodbyes as we drove off to our locations, only separated by the lake.

On Wednesday, we arrived in Grand Rapids! It was one of the most exciting things to finally meet our lodging facility contact and tour the church we would be staying at all summer. After a hectic couple of days of setting up the facility, visiting project sites, meeting with our local coordinator, and mentally preparing ourselves, we were ready to go! Despite the high stress levels of that first Sunday of camp, we were so blessed to be prayed for during church - it was just what we needed!

First week of camp - YAY! We welcomed 24 campers from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. All of the youth participants were between 12 and 14, most of them being participants of camps in the past. Our leaders were AWESOME as they constantly were lending an extra hand and keeping their kids in line... :) One of the most rewarding parts of the week was visiting sites and feeling like I was interrupting all of the hard work they had done. Both times I visited, the kids were working so hard that they didn't even want me to stop and take pictures.  It was truly incredible seeing God's light pour through these youth as they eagerly served the people of Grand Rapids.  From week 1, I learned that constantly being thankful for each moment is one of the many ways to glorify God. Of course I was nervous for the entire week being the "trial" run. But, I learned that God has a plan for every single moment and that his hand works through everything.

Week 2: Holy moley, 97 people! Campers from Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa enjoyed a hot, humid but ultimately rewarding week here in Grand Rapids. The stress leading up to the week of camp was not as high as expected, despite having to find sleeping rooms to fit 97 people AND their stuff. Jane and I were both incredibly excited to have youth and leaders of all ages fill the halls with enthusiasm to serve. Of course with 97 people comes 97 problems. We were challenged in more ways than one. However, I am incredibly grateful for those challenges: they taught us lessons, made us stronger, grew our patience, and strengthened my love for the Lord. I realized just how blessed I was to work in a safe environment where I was supported by so many people even in the middle of a "crisis." The rewards of seeing the youth engage with their service projects and return with stories upon stories were immeasurable. One adult from Georgia would come back to the church every day feeling so appreciated but also so appreciative himself for having the opportunity to serve and meet the people of Grand Rapids. His enthusiasm and love for his youth group, crew, project, and community was so inspiring.

My main lesson from week 2 focuses on the heart of a servant. While the problems we faced only made us stronger, there were many things that took a toll on my heart. A few times throughout the week, I would mention to Jane, "Why can't they just say a simple thank you?" It was tough. Only hearing, "Where's this?" or "Go get this" was tiring to my patience. Numerous times I would hear in my head, "That's what being a servant is all about." But, I would try to find excuses to rebuttal against that. I have now found that peace:

I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it's like to be a leader, in on Christ's sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way... So be content with who you are, and don't put on airs. God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.
-I Peter 5:1-8

Being a leader is tough. There can be large gaps of time where no change, impact, or respect is noted. But its not about that. Its about maintaining that spirit and compassion of service. Its putting forth so much all the time, with plentiful amounts of grace and love. Its not expecting anything or hoping for more. Its knowing that God gives leadership to those whom he will reward with overwhelming amounts of joy and love. Its a positive, enriching, unique cycle of which I am so happy to be in.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Week 1: Uplifting Unity

WOW! It's hard to believe that one week is down! Its crazy to believe how fast this week went by; it's even crazier to feel that I've been here for so long, that maybe this is becoming a home.

So, one long, busy, stressful week of training is over. Last week was absolutely nuts! I swore going into training that it would be a piece of cake - I thought I had been on enough mission trips to know the ins and outs of leading a Week of Hope camp. Uhh.... not quite. I was thrown immediately into the loop of policies, procedures, and what not. And you know what? The entire experience not only challenged me but grew my excitement even more for the incredible opportunity that awaits me this summer.

As I discovered, the next 9 weeks of my summer will be jam packed to the minute. I really will only have free time on Friday nights and Saturdays. But you know? Thats okay. I'm excited to see how I will grow. As a result, I'm hoping that I will be able to blog once a week to reflect on a lesson I've learned through my training, leading, and serving during the camp week.

This past week, the importance of community has truly been revealed. As I was thrown into a mix of returners and new staff members, my original expectation was for things to be a little bit awkward. However, I cannot think of a single situation where this happened. Through the awkward airport conversations, long bus ride, and time of fellowship, I have met so many incredible, passionate followers of Jesus. The energy, enthusiasm, and love that every single one of these staff members has is absolutely inspiring.  In every new conversation, the genuine hearts of these people are truly revealed. Each evening, we gather together after a long day of training to build up this community, to encourage each other. While I have enjoyed every single moment of training (because I personally think it is super exciting!), the time that we have set aside specifically to grow each other in our walks with God is so valuable.

"If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." Philippians 2: 1-2

To all my fellow Summer Staffers and to anyone who may be struggling with finding the overwhelming support received from a strong community, remember that verse. Establishing a positive network on the foundations of Christ's incredible encouragement, God's amazing love, and the Spirit's providing gifts, unity among a common mission to serve others and spread God's love can be accomplished. The challenges in your life cannot be faced on your own. Even the positive opportunities you are given in life cannot be handled on your own. We all need community. You never have to be alone.

My prayers are with everyone who face the immense opportunities to serve and share God's love this summer. May you be filled with the energy of Christ's outpouring love and united with other encouraging believers. Never lose sight of your vision and stay in God's constant presence.

P.S. In case you haven't heard, my location for the summer is Grand Rapids, Michigan. I can't wait to see all the amazing opportunities that God has in store for me as a Program Leader!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Summer of a Lifetime...

Well I am quickly writing this blog because I am scrambling to pack all of the belongings I need for the entire summer in just a short amount of time. WOW.... TOMORROW is the big day I have waited for. For SO many years, I have always dreamed of what it would be like to serve as a Summer Staffer for Group Mission Trips and my dream has finally come true. I must admit, the feelings that I have now are not what I imagined years ago.  Even in the midst of applying for this amazing opportunity, all I could feel was excitement and joy.  Now, as I anxiously run through checklists and weigh my bags to be under the 50 lb limit, I am experiencing a whole other realm of emotions.  My stress level is to the roof.

But you know, each time that some negative thought of "Can I really do this?" "Am I strong enough, tough enough, brave enough to do this?", God reverses those thoughts. He reminds me that "Yes, Lauren, you can do it. Don't believe me? Check out Philippians 3:14." I am incredibly overwhelmed with the amazing strength that only God can provide. I'll admit, its hard to accept. There are so many things in this world that constantly pull us in the other direction.  But it is in those moments that we should only be clinging even closer to the promise that God has a plan.

"Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you." - Psalm 9:10.  I'm ready for an experience of a lifetime where my fellow Summer Staffers and I will impact thousands of teenagers, youth leaders, community members, and more. I cannot wait to see all that God has in store. Please continue to keep me in your prayers and I will try to update frequently!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Identity in our Vices

Think back to who you were a year ago... Who was your favorite band? What was your favorite movie? What did you value as important? 

What stage of life were you in? What was your biggest struggle? What did you use to get over that struggle? 

For me, I was still under the "confines" of my parents and high school.  One year ago, I was stressing over taking SATs, choosing the right college, enjoying my final year in high school, fighting for the valedictorian/salutation spot, and discovering myself.  Back then, I stressed myself out just as I do now. A random breakdown every now and then brought me down and I was blessed to be surrounded by the same people to help me through each situation.  Thankfully, their support kept me from turning to any other substance or act to cover the stress.

So, with each progressing year of high school, I always thought my problems were worse than the year prior.  I guess this is true; each year that passes we become more cognizant of all the different things that can potentially cause us to fall.  

But, this year has been a struggle.  It's been a year of adjusting.  Who knew that leaving home and having to adjust to a whole different lifestyle in a whole different environment with a whole different set of people would be so difficult? I definitely was not aware of the change and I was taken by surprise.  Having my entire life shaken, I have really become lost in a lot of areas of my life.

I look back on my past couple of years, (yes, I spend way too much time on my Facebook timeline), and wonder where the person I used to be went.  She was smart, successful, a strong Christian, friendly, kind, happy, and what seemed to be perfect.  Why did that Lauren stay in high school and not go to college? 

I know that I haven't taken a complete downfall but it is hard for me to accept that things are not the same.  I can't seem to find the motivation to read my Bible daily or to even talk to God.  Or to even put Him first.  He's not my first thought and to me, that's scary.  

Thankfully, He has had a hand on me throughout the whole change and kept me away from things that would ultimately hurt me more than help me.  But I write this blog for others, to serve as an inspiration. Life is not easy, faith is not run by cruise control.  It causes shifts, in every part of life.  The drive is windy, bumpy, and dark.  Sometimes it seems as though the sporadic street lights of peers and other influencers have the ability to guide you to your destination entirely.  But in my own experience, those lights only last a short time.  You need the headlights that can guide your through the dark, empty places.  

This blog is dedicated to a very good friend.  The "stuff" of this earth will not fulfill you.  The void will only grow deeper and there is only one substance that can fill that hole entirely.  You can never, and will never, walk alone.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." -Joshua 1:9

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Anxiously Awaiting

Well, as always, time has slipped away from me and here I am left wondering how I haven't written a blog in months. So much has happened, it's absolutely unreal.  And to also think that I am in the very last two weeks of my first semester of, what? Finals are next week and I will be an 1/8 of the way done with my undergrad career (yes, call me a nerd all you want).

I'm not really sure that I have an exact topic for this blog.  To be honest, my mind is full of to-do lists, various information for classes, and tons of other things so I apologize ahead of time for the probable inconsistencies and ramblings.

So, freshman year, fall semester; holy moley.  I never knew I could experience so many emotions, situations, and people in one single place.  To reflect on the past couple months is absolutely exhausting for my brain.  I've had plenty of meltdowns combined with abundant feelings of accomplishment, achievement, and gratitude.  I am on a constant self-esteem roller coaster with plenty of twists.   Yeah, this has all been said before but I honestly was not prepared for any of it.

Growing up in my perfect little world back home, I pictured my transition to college to be absolutely smooth with an abundant amount of friends, usual A's in all my classes,  and a constant feeling of confidence. Uh, hold up.  I was immediately thrown into a HUGE pond unlike anything a little fish like myself had ever experienced before.

But, I am ultimately thankful for all of the eye-opening, life-changing experiences I have had so far.  I have seriously learned who I am, how I work with others, and just how challenging life is.  I'm still learning.  And I'm anxiously awaiting the next experience, mistake, or person that will build me up into an even stronger, more mature person.

The most important lesson I've learned? I'm not perfect, I never will be.  No one is perfect, no one will ever be.  People are going to get in your way and you're going to get in their way.  There are going to be struggles and life is going to suck at times.  But it's finding that steadfast peace in your life and holding tightly onto it; not letting it slip away.  Keeping it as your saving grace in both lonely and joyful times.

So I'm waiting, constantly.  For finals to be over.  For a new semester.  For a potential summer job.  For an exciting major to open.  For God's ultimate plan for my life.  For His everyday blessings. And in this season, for His Son.

Give yourself some time to really relax, to find that rare peace.  Whether you're a fellow college student facing the end of the semester or a parent trying to keep up with hustle of the holiday season, take time to give it all to God.  Place it in His hands and wait.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sudden Changes

Well it seems as though I've been caught up in the hectic spirit of life again.  This time I believe I have reason to justify my lack of blogging.  I successfully (and surprisingly smoothly!) moved into college at the University of Pittsburgh three weeks ago! As many people probably understand from prior experience, college is a huge time of change in every area imaginable and unimaginable.  A whole wave of emotions has flooded my life over the past weeks and I felt the need to pour everything out.  So here we go...

Firstly, before leaving the comforts of home I expected to not be homesick whatsoever.  I've been away from home plenty of times before and experienced being responsible of myself in many aspects.  However, almost instantly after my parents left, I felt completely empty.  I never knew the comfort of being able to just be in a normal place was so powerful.  As the week went on, I was still in the mindset that I was just away at "camp" and would be going home soon.  But I was strongly mistaken.  I was completely thrown into a whirlwind when I experienced my first weekend in college.  I realized this would be my new "home" and I would have to adapt.  Luckily, after three weeks I am now adapted to my new room, neighbors, and amenities.  Surprisingly, I'm headed home this weekend but am feeling as if I'll miss this beautiful city.  

First lesson learned:  You never realize how much you love your family until you can't be in their presence every day.  I am truly blessed with wonderful parents and fantastic siblings.

Second change; after a busy summer of life-changing experiences including two amazing mission trips, a week of worship at Creation, and reconnecting with amazing friends, I did a lot of thinking.  On my Brockton mission trip, I did a lot of thinking about who I am as a person.  During one of the programs, we were asked to carve our biggest flaws into a piece of wood.  We were then given a strip of sand paper and encouraged to smooth out all of our roughness.  I began by writing negative attitude on one side.  I quickly sanded the side away but then sat and thought about what God was trying to put on my heart.  After reflection, I wrote the word "myself" on the other side of the wood.  I was so frustrated with the person I was.  A person who gave up too easily, complained about everything, couldn't keep her ground, and didn't serve every person with complete compassion.  I broke down into tears and ended up not sanding away the word.  After talking with some inspirational people, I now realize that I can start over whenever I want to.  And I realized that now was the perfect time.  I was entering into an environment where no one knew who I was.  I could be the person that I wanted to be for so long.

So I worked at the goal when arriving here in August.  I was going to be a more compassionate, loving person to everyone I met.  However, I unfortunately got distracted by trying to impress people from home.  I wanted them to know that I 'm different - different in the fact that I'm more "fun", more "carefree".  After an eventful, emotional weekend, I realized that I'm really not that type of person.  I hurt others and personally hurt myself in the process.  

Second lesson learned: Changing yourself to win people over is never effective.  You end up losing to them and yourself.

So after all of my ramblings, I hope to provide a slight bit of inspiration or warning to always stay true to yourself.  Losing an identity that you have worked so hard to create is truly an unpleasant experience.  I'm glad I caught myself before I went off the deep-end.  But I plan on keeping the following quote close to me so that I don't fall under the pressures of college again.  I hope I can eventually sand off those rough words from my piece of wood and begin to be made new in Christ's spirit.

"Identity is the essential core of who we are as individuals, the conscious experience of the self inside." - Gershen Kaufman