Saturday, May 21, 2016

An Anchored Boat Still Sways

Full of anticipation. Full of frustration. Full of hope and curiosity. Full of mind bending questions. Full of motivation and focus. Exhausted, tired and unable to concentrate. Anxious. Impatient with American Culture. Settled. Connected with the Father in a more intimate way. Focused on being present here. Head stuck in the clouds dreaming about my future. Full of grace. About to fly off the handle if one more person talks ill about the Middle East. Inspired. Unable to express what's inside. Discontent. Full of delight in the smallest of things. 

The last few weeks have been a slew of emotions. It's been a concentration of opposing feelings and experiences contending for my energy, vying for my heart and mind. There's been a tension that I've not experienced in quite a long time. Not just a tension between what I'm experiencing in my current season and what's to come. It feels like there's a tension in so many areas as God is challenging my norms, almost pushing me into more. He's drawing me away from what I've become comfortable with. I feel it in my personal life with relationships, in my hope and anticipation for a future family, my finances, within my capacity emotionally. There is a tension between where I currently am, what I currently have and what's to come. 

In the midst of this at times it's hard to not feel like I'm completely losing it. Things that didn't used to bother me suddenly do, because suddenly there's a higher standard present. Things that I had never thought about before seize my heart and stir my passions. Yesterday I sat at my piano for the first time in months and played like I haven't played in years. It feels like there is no part of me that's being left untouched. There's a drawing in my heart for whatever it is that God has for me next, and yet I'm working harder than ever to protect that which He's already given me. 

Tension is a subject that I just can't seem to get off of. There's no doubt in my heart that I've already internally started the transition from where I currently am to where I'll end up overseas. But I'm determined to do it right. I'm determined to steward what I have currently with grace and kindness, serving with all of my best and yet pursue hard after the future God has for me with passion and tenacity. But in the midst, there's always this tension and in the midst of the tension it's hard to feel like maybe I'm not stable in some way, that I'm messing up and not doing my best.

But today as I started writing...it dawned on me. It's a simple truth but it struck me. Even if a boat is anchored, it still sways in the waves. That doesn't make the boat any less secure than what it is. 

Beliefs really are the most powerful weapon we have. It's our beliefs that cause our actions, our beliefs that turn into words and lifestyles. So in the midst of my transition, in the midst of the constant, conflicting emotions and thought processes I will work on this one thing that anchors us more than anything else; my beliefs. He is faithful. I am a good daughter. I will make good choices. I will position myself well. And as His child, I am set up to go from glory to glory. 

No matter how crazy this stage of life turns out to be, it will be deeper and richer with Him. It will be full of His goodness. No matter how big the decisions and the conflicting emotions, no matter how big the bill is I am firmly anchored, swaying in the waves. If you're walking through transition or feel the this kind of tension today, remember that you are anchored. Protect your beliefs and be kind. 




Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Truth about Iraq

It seems funny to me. While I was in Kurdistan I wrote so much, processing through my emotions and documenting everything so that I wouldn't forget. But every time I sit down to write now that I'm state-side I just end up staring at the screen. I want to tell you everything, and warning: it may all come gushing out at once.

I want to tell you about how beautiful Northern Iraq is; about the green fields, the refreshing rains, the strong storms rolling in over the mountains. I want to tell you about the taste of the garlic yogurt in the schwarmas, the tahini sauce, dried fruits and the vegetables that you can buy for practically nothing. I want to tell you about the sounds; the call and its eerie beauty, the local, indigenous instruments and the tone of the voices being manipulated like only an amazing Middle Eastern voice can do. 

But more than anything I want tell you about the people:
First there are the gentle and kind Yazidis; their families so vitally important to them. I have never been so automatically welcomed anywhere. These beautiful people, like so many others, were forced to flee their homes on the Syrian border and relocate where they had nothing. While there is, of course, much sadness there is also much joy in their families. They are a beautiful example of the strength of community and the value of making home be wherever you are with those you love.
Then there are the Children who are outrageously beautiful. They're with me so often in my thoughts and my heart. How simple it was to be loved by them, and to fall in love with them. They didn't care that I couldn't speak with them, they just wanted to be loved, to play just like any child does. Oh how I pray that they can remain children, with innocent hearts away from any bitterness that would want to destroy them. I always love kiddos no matter where I go, but there was just something special about the children of this region.  
We fell in love with the women in one of the camps who have seen and experienced more than most Westerners even have a grid for. As I held the hand of one mama who lost her son in an absolutely barbaric way I was overwhelmed at just how strong each one of them in the room really was. Everyday they live with pain that I cannot even begin to fathom and they are still running households, raising children and making a new life for themselves since they've fled. That day they also opened up to us in such a way that left each of us so undone at the honor it was to know such deep parts of their hearts. These muslim women were beautiful and I often find myself recounting the time I got to spend with them.

And then there are the Kurds. Hospitable, protectors, gracious. There wasn't a moment that I felt unsafe. While I know the location of where I was, I was amazed over and over again at the kindness of the people we encountered. Always wanting to know where I was from, asking me any questions they could think of in english and welcoming me over and over again. "You like it here?" one woman asked me in a shop one day. "Yes! Very much so!" I replied, without having to think about it. With a wide, proud smile she looked at me, almost amazed that I would say such a thing. She then proceeded to sell me 2 cokes, 2 candy bars and a bottle of water for  $1.90 which definitely made my day.

These are just a few of the people I got to meet. I could tell you about so many others. One thing I wrote when I was in Iraq was this: "What we see and experience we are then responsible for." While I definitely know that not everyone is called to travel to places like this, it doesn't help anyone at all to be ignorant of the way things actually are. In this way I feel that I must share. The people of this region are beautiful. They are also in great need. What has happened to them at the hands of the Islamic State is absolutely outrageous. I was only in country for a week and the amount of stories that I heard was overwhelming.

But what can you do? You live here and they live there. Trust me, I get that. A lot of evenings I spend wondering what I, myself can actually do. 

First of all: just be aware. When we were in Kurdistan the acts against the Yazidi people was officially deemed a genocide. Were you aware of that? A genocide in our generation? On our time? It's far too easy to get so caught up in Western, first-world "problems" that really are not problems at all. Please hear this out of the kindest part of my heart, but get over it! Wear the green shirt instead of the blue shirt. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Point your energy to things that really have meaning. That's the best place to start.

Second of all, allow your heart to be soft towards the region. It is far too easy to group everyone from the Middle East into one evil box. I like to say it this way, God has not given up on this region, and so we don't have permission to give up on it either. Every time I go to the region I hear over and over again about people who have had dreams of Jesus and that is what lead them to following Him. He clearly is not done working showing up there, so we cannot allow our hearts to be hard towards a region that the Father's heart is soft towards. Don't allow anger, ignorance and disillusionment shape how you speak about the region. Ask God for His heart. I promise, His heart is tender like a Father for these people. I feel it all the time.

Pray! Give! Go! Pray for the region, for those you know who live there or have a heart for there. Give funds in strategic places for the aid of people, refugees, etc. Only 2% of all missions funding goes to this region. If you feel like you have a heart for the region or want to get a feel of how you can help, then go! Light shines brightest in the darkness, after all.

Lastly, say "NO" to fear. So much of the issue in the West is fear. If people wouldn't be so afraid, more people would be willing to go and be a help, to serve, and to send others, most likely a lot of issues may be solved. Fear also is a key feeder of anger, frustration and anxiety. If any of these is an immediate reaction towards the region, you may want to be looking at what is causing it. (hint, it's actually fear!) Say "Yes" to Love. Simply put, hard to actually do.

If this was a massive guilt trip for you that wasn't my intent. I just must tell you about who people actually are in the region because I am now responsible for what I've experienced and seen. I must tell you about how they are the kindest, most hospitable people who want to sit and talk to you about what you believe, where you're from, etc. I want to tell you About how they're never in a hurry and actually genuinely care that you're there with them. These are the people of Kurdistan. Aren't they lovely?



Monday, April 25, 2016

Trust. Stewardship. Tension. A.K.A. One Month Post Iraq

One month ago I was waking up in Iraq. As I sit stateside in a coffee shop in the jacket I purchased there it can't help but feel a bit surreal. And to be honest I cannot help but feel sad. Today as I stood in Forever 21 holding a nice shawl I literally almost burst into tears in the middle of the store. As I picked it up my first thought was "Next time I'm in Iraq this would be a perfect thing to have!" While the thought was beautiful the response of my heart caught me completely off guard.

You see, no matter how hard I try to hear, and no matter how much I plead with God I have no idea when I'll go back. I love my life. I enjoy my job, and I have the most wonderful friends and family here. I am also not in a hurry to go "do amazing things for God" because I know that I already am right now. Yet, the longing in my heart today as I held that scarf was unmistakable. "When, God?" "How, God?" "Why, God?"

One of my favorite people in my current world explains the concept of favor like this: "Favor is the grace that we are given to take the Kingdom into our sphere of influence." Nothing in my mind can explain what I experience when I travelled better. I've never experienced so much grace in a week in my life. I'm made for it.

When I got back to the states I did really well adjusting back the way you'd expect. I jumped back into work, life, etc but by about Tuesday of last week I noticed it. The grace that had so evidently carried me so peacefully and easily prior, during and post my trip was completely gone. I couldn't believe how drastic it was. By Friday I felt like a complete mess. Jobs at work that are usually simple for me were taking twice as long, conversations that should have been easy turned complicated, messy and exhausting. Today I put myself in what I like to refer to as an emotional timeout...not as punishment, but rather a much needed break.

So today I find myself, once again, leaning into tension as hard and as much as possible. I'm trying to lean, as we many times we have to,  into the author and perfecter of the "now" and the "not yet."

I'm convinced that God loves when we thrive in our now. He loves to meet us in our weaknesses and wants us to be full of life and joy right now where we are. God also does this thing where He puts dreams and desires in our hearts. He gives us glimpses into our future, into what can and will be. Through the Holy Spirit, prophetic words, experiences and scriptures we get a vision for our future. If we're not careful though, that vision becomes our idol and we can end up miserable until we see it. We can get strange expectations and disillusioned on the journey. And heaven forbid that the plan not happen how we think it ought to!

The biggest part of stewarding our future is actually stewarding our today. Our heart attitude at this moment is basically all that we have control over. What we choose to believe and how we choose to respond to it is what is actually in our control.

I'm not going to lie. I'm sitting in a coffee shop an hour from home and yet I couldn't feel further from home in my heart. I'm trying not to cry into my outrageously large cup of coffee in front of a bunch of college kids. So much of me is so thankful for where I am. I'm thankful to be 27, free enough to travel, to have a clear mind that helps me work hard, to be gifted at so many random things. But part of me wants to know, "When do I get to run and do what I'm made for at a different level?" "When do I get to be married and be a mama like I know I'm made for?" "When do I get to be surrounded by the culture that I hold so dear and that has so captured my heart?"

And yet, in these moments, like my whole last week, I realized that the best thing I can do is stop trying so hard to get my answers from God like someone who barely hears from Him and just rest. I have decided I will structure my "now" by trusting Him with my "not yet."

Being a mature child of God is really odd at times. For sometimes maturity looks like pressing in, being consistent and growing up. But other times being mature looks like resting, laughing and being child-like. We must figure out what our appropriate response in the moment is. We must steward the moment we've been given and trust that we hear Him enough to know what that response will be.

So yes. It's been 1 month since Iraq. I am forever changed and forever aware that I'm accountable for what I've seen and experienced there. But I'm also accountable to where I am now. Thus, I must write. I will not hold back the truth of the region. The messiness, the sadness, the brutality. But I will also not hold back the glory of God. The promises, the testimonies and the hope. God has not stopped working in the region...far from it! Don't believe me? Don't you worry about it. I'll prove it to you and Holy Spirit will confirm it in your hearts.

Stay Tuned.
-Lara-

Saturday, April 9, 2016

"It's as Easy as Riding a Bike."

I'll admit that often times I've felt jaded towards people who share stories about their life where they have a moment where they "finally understand what it is they're born for." Perhaps it's because I have a lot of interests in a lot of different things: I love sports, I really enjoy music, playing piano, and writing. I love learning and traveling. I'm really good at administration and organization, I love baking and cooking. And while I generally love all of these things there's always been something in my heart that yearns for that 'sweet spot' that so many people other people share about coming into.

There's a phrase: "It's as easy as riding a bike." Tonight as I was thinking about my recent trip the Lord kept bringing that phrase to mind but not for the reasons that you may think. When we think about learning to ride a bicycle there are many stages. First you ride a small bike that is associated with your size. Next you graduate to a larger bike but there's still the assistance of training wheels. While you may enjoy riding your bike with training wheels you're always aware that actually there's a greater joy ahead. You may have fun on your bike with training wheels but you're never quite satisfied because you have four wheels instead of two like the big kids. There's a more limited mobility when you're carting around those two extra little wheels.Two extra wheels means more friction, so you can't go nearly as fast, either.

Next comes the humiliation and potential danger of injury as you try with all your might to learn how to balance the bike without said training wheels. You most likely will face humiliation at some point due to completely wiping out over and over and over again. Generally, if you're lucky, you will have a parent who literally will just push you as you try to learn how to hold your bike steady with your own strength. It's a delicate process where you have to learn how to balance, peddle, steer and keep up your momentum all at the same time. In this way the phrase "it's as easy as riding a bike" takes on a completely new meaning because when you're learning, it is, in fact not actually easy. 

It may sound strange to you that God would bring this up in my mind as I think about my recent trip to Kurdistan but to me it makes so much sense. You see, the final step of learning is actually being able to ride! There is something so liberating as you finally learn how to ride your bike on your own. The accomplishment itself actually brings something up inside of you that makes you want to never stop riding again. Eventually you're not even thinking of all that you're doing at once to stay upright. You're just enjoying the ride!

Something happened to me while I was in Kurdistan. How do you explain in words the feeling of finally being at home? How do you describe, perhaps for the first time feeling like you fit, like you're made for the very thing that you're doing? Really, how do you describe being completely at peace in your identity? How do you explain realizing and recognizing a completely different way of life? Discovering a life without training wheels, so-to-speak. How do you try to explain the feeling that comes with the awareness that, "This is what I'm made for. This is what I'm alive to do." How do you put into words that you've suddenly come alive in a completely different way?

In some ways nothing has changed, for I'm still 'riding a bike.' But in another way everything has changed and nothing can remain the same. I'm liberated in a completely different way and I never want to stop riding! It's interesting that Jesus took me all the way to Northern Iraq to help me realize that this is what I'm made for. For, I knew it in my mind-that I was born for this. But to 'ride' for the first time with ease, momentum, strength and energy...there's no feeling like it. No longer do I look with jaded eyes at others because I believe that God has moments like this in store for everyone who would pursue them. Moments for them to recognize what they're made for, and to be in those moments where it truly is as easy as riding a bike, and as liberating as it, too.

This trip was life-changing and in the weeks to follow I hope to share some of the stories of the beautiful people that live in Northern Iraq. I can promise you that it's not what you think. But for now I'm going to enjoy my life that's completely the same and yet completely different.



Friday, February 12, 2016

How it's affected me-Sports Edition

My brain is tired. It does not want to put together cohesive thought processes any longer...but blog I said I would do every other week and so blog I will! This year I hope to walk through things that are at the core of who I am. While this next thing isn't necessarily profound it is a central part of me, nonetheless.

I love sports. Most sports, actually. I always forget how passionate I am about them until I'm talking to one of my many international friends, or West coast friends and I see their eyes seemingly glaze over. Most people like sports, but when I start talking about all the things I love I realize that I may be on a different kind of level than just a "normal" liking of them.

My first memories of sports in general come from an incredibly young age. I would say my very earliest memories that I have are myself and my brother Tim playing basketball behind the school in our massively large town of Crawfordsville, Iowa. (yeah, that's a joke...my town was about 300 people soaking wet)

I don't know if it really qualifies to say that we were playing "together" as Tim is 10 years older than I am. It was more Tim playing and coaching me on how to make a layup, what a free through was and how to shoot with the purest follow through, and me watching him wide-eyed. I remember spending hours and hours playing basketball with Tim. Tim is by far the best coach I have ever had in any sport at all. I was probably the only 3rd grader who could actually shoot and make a left-handed layup thanks to him.

It will come as no surprise to you that Tim was also the cause of my first sports injury. What 14 year old boy doesn't want a free target to practice punting at who will robotically return the ball enthusiastically every time just because they adore him? ;) Who can blame him? Don't worry, I just jammed my finger...nothing major.

Growing up I had a natural knack for pretty much all sports that I wanted to. I loved to watch my brother play soccer, absolutely loved basketball and most of all, I loved football. This was probably due to the fact that we lived so close to Iowa City. When you grow up in a state that has no professional presence you love College sports and you pretty much know every person's name on every team that we have. I remember listening to WHO in the snow, during tornado warnings, we listened no matter what. We hardly ever missed Iowa games.

Due to my early exposure to sports, amazing hand-eye coordination and the fact that I was taller than most boys in my class I could usually out-run them, out maneuver them and often times frustrate them. I remember this one time when I was a fifth grader, playing basketball against this boy in school who dared like Iowa State over my beloved Hawkeyes. I would have none of it and decided to face him head on in a game of one on one basketball. This ended in me totally dominating and him being so frustrated that he tripped me, causing a massive scrape up my arm which produced a scar that I still wear today. I think what frustrated him the most, though, was the fact that I refused to cry...but rather laughed as I got up. Talk about salt in the wound!

I'm not sure, as I've never really asked my mom, but I think I probably came home with a lot of cuts. I do remember racing around town on my roller blades like a crazy child and coming home with bloody knees from skidding down the only hill that we had in Crawfordsville over and over. I probably put 1,000 miles on those little blades, and it seemed like nothing could slow me down. I also have a very vivid memory of flipping over my bike headfirst at one point and landing squarely on my bottom, getting up and just continuing to ride home.

Eventually the boys caught up to me. I thought maybe I was going to get lucky and be some sort of giant, but in 8th grade I stopped growing completely. Their skills improved and mine stayed relatively the same throughout high school and college. But I grew more and more to love the ins and outs of the games that I had grown to love so much. I know most of the rules and formations of all of them (and yes boys-I actually know just as much as you about football even though I was never allowed to play it for myself...you have my brothers to thank for that).

I don't really know where I'm going with all of this except to mention that it is a massive part of who I am. I love the fundamentals in sports. I love watching games where players are disciplined, have sound fundamentals, techniques and work outrageously hard. I don't like the showy and those who don't actually work hard just because of their talent. (just ask my housemate how much I love defense in football not offense).

There's something about sports that makes me more aware of how I live my life. In a moment a half step can give way to an open lane and a free basket, a simple few inches of getting your knee over the ball can yield a goal, correct positioning can yield an interception. The list goes on and on. When I was young I used to love sports because of the freedom and joy it brought me. Now I find myself loving sports even more because I see us in them. Life is a constant positioning and repositioning. How do we respond? Where do we choose to spend our energy? While we're here on earth it's all about how we choose to position ourselves over and over.

Have you every watched a game where you're aware right away of what team is going to win? They just play differently in every way? They position themselves towards victory and there's just something that says that the other team doesn't have a chance? Yeah...that's us. And we're in a constant place where we can position ourselves in the same way. I know life's not a game and all that jazz...but I think the analogy works.

So, that's it! I have hours and hours of sports experience. Practice after practice, game after game. It all started on a concrete slab and I'm so thankful for every moment. This is a part of who I am and I can't deny it. To my future husband, yes, I know just as much as you. Sorry, you can blame my brother Tim.

What are your favorite sports memories? How have they affected you?

Until next time...
-L-

I promise next time will be more "spiritual." ;)



Friday, January 29, 2016

What can Happen when Starbucks Closes their Bathroom...

We all have moments. Moments that shape us or change the direction of our lives whether we realize it at the time or not.

For me, one of those moments happened one evening in downtown Beirut. Myself and two other women had just finished up a meal with a dear local woman and we were going to head over to the government buildings to prayer walk. As we were walking down the street suddenly I really needed to use the restroom. Being the daughter of a truck driver this doesn't usually happen to me. You get really good at holding your bladder when you are the youngest sibling and you may or may not have to wait a long time (we're talking hours, people) before the next scheduled "pit stop." But, go I needed to, so we headed to the Starbucks at the end of the road. When we got there for some reason the Starbucks decided that their bathrooms needed to be closed on this particular night so we, to my embarrassment, proceeded to go back to the same restaurant we ate at.

I know that I set you up to expect a certain thing when I started this blog and you are probably wondering why I'm talking about needing to go to the bathroom...

When we got back to the restaurant we went inside and up the stairs to the restroom...we had eaten out on the porch area of the restaurant like most people do when the weather is nice so this was the first we had been inside. Feeling much better now, as I came down the stairs I looked up for the first time to see the inside of the restaurant (I had been pretty focused on one thing when we had come in).

In that moment I was fully aware of the fact that I had, in fact, been in this restaurant before in my dreams. The color of the cushions, the placement of the tables, the place settings, pictures on the walls, wall of windows to the left...everything was exactly where I had seen it numerous times in my sleep as well as the times I imagined it while reading books or praying. I stopped dead in my tracks, aware that God was doing something that I could not fully know or understand but that I needed to pay attention to. Time seemed to slow down and blur together for me at that point.

As I stopped a man from the restaurant rushed up to us. "Would you like to go outside?" He said, his hand motioning to the wall of windows. "What does he mean?" I wondered in my mind, "That's just a wall of windows, how can we go out there?" "I'll open for you, you want to go outside?" The man said again, this time almost more in a tone that told us we must do so to appease his politeness.

"Ok! Sure." I don't really know which one of us said this as at this point I was more aware that something in my life was about to change and had, in fact already started to change as I stared at the place I had been to so very often. Sure enough. The man rushed to the wall of "window" and reached down for a lever. As he pulled, the wall of windows swung open as, like one of my friends back home likened it, 'something you would see in a James Bond film.'

The wall of windows swung out yielding a back patio area. Before us stood a number of things. To our left stood a large church (as Lebanon is a Christian nation), to our right the largest mosque in Lebanon, at our backs the downtown area which included the government buildings and right in the middle a bunch of ruins, because Beirut has been buried at least 7 times.

I don't quite know what to say when trying to explain what happened next. I'm not sure that there will ever be the right words to explain what one feels and sees and hears when Holy Spirit seizes a moment. There, standing behind that restaurant God showed me maybe for the first time of my life who He was making me into.

To the Left: I will always have a heart for the church. She is supposed to be the most beautiful representation of Christ to the world. I long for her to be pure, free from fear and passionately loving and caring because she is healthy and free herself. I want her to love the world as Christ loves us.

Behind me: I have also always had a love and passion for the idea of government. I believe that governments are made to serve their people, protect and keep them safe and act in their best interest. I am slowly becoming more aware of my heart for seeing that happen. Whenever I am in or near a capital I go to the buildings and pray. Leaders make so many hard decisions every day and they need so much wisdom.

To my Right: The mosque. This trip was my first trip to this region. A pipe dream and curiosity caused me to go initially and man, did God have a different plan. As I looked to my right I asked God to give me a love for this region and this people. I knew and still know there is no way that I can love in the way I need to on my own strength. In that moment, again, I cannot nearly explain but my heart was filled with a knowing that God perfectly loves, and He wants me to share that love with this people that the world loves to hate. In that moment all God needed to ask was, "will you?" And my whole being overwhelmingly replied, "YES! Of course."

In between, and in the middle lay ruins. Massive chunks of rocks and stone that used to be buildings. It is crazy how much those ruins stick out in a City as beautiful as Beirut. They don't belong. I couldn't help but be the most overwhelmed by this. There are analogies that I will probably be working out for the rest of my life but there's one I will share with you tonight. I have a heart for the desolate places, for the places that need rebuilding. I also have a heart for those who people have forgotten about, over looked or passed over. I want to help "rebuild" in every sense of the word. I want to help rebuild their hearts, as orphans and neglected being transformed into sons and daughters, seen and valued. I want to help rebuild their lives through economics, skills and businesses, causing them to dream once again. And I want to help rebuild their place within society both on a local, national and international level. These are just a few examples, it's my heart and for that I can't apologize.

Besides being overwhelmed by His love for this region, I don't remember a lot more from that moment except to say that it was no-doubt a sovereign one. I believe the other two ladies would agree. In that moment, God showed me in an instant a picture of who I am in a profound way.

In the next months I hope to write about things that define who I am and this was obviously the week where I talked about my call to missions. I couldn't think of a better place to start. I have a heart for the nations. It's what's caused me to pursue missions and one of my most defining and shaping moments was this one in my restaurant, downtown Beirut.

I haven't shared the story above very often. Sometimes it felt too dear to try to put into words, but I've been feeling the need to start documenting and writing down how this crazy part of my life has started. I hope it will draw you into your own encounters with the Lord. Who knows, maybe you'll need to go to the restroom in your restaurant, too? God has encounters lying in wait in the seemingly every day moments. Encounters that will show you more of who you are, of the love He has for you and encounters that will change your life! Be ready for them. They're waiting for you.

I leave you this week with the two passages that have shaped me the most in my calling. They speak of what I feel called to more than anything else. They are precious to me, but I will share them if you want to steal some of the verses for yourself. :)

Lots of Love,
Lara

Isaiah 42: 1-4 "Behold my servant, who I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law."
6-7 "I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are bling, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." 

Isaiah 49:8-10 "Thus says the Lord: "In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, 'Come out,' to those who are in darkness, 'Appear.' They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them." 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Simple Steps: Welcome to 2016!

In starting this year I've wanted to begin to write more. It feels awkward and unnatural as I've been out of consistent practice for the past 4 years. These blogs will be simple. They will at times have terrible grammar, I'm sure. But for the next year I am challenging myself to take the simple step of writing, on simple subjects that I have found define who I am. Will you come on this journey with me as I try to get what's within me, out once again? As I try to unstop what has felt trapped the last 4 years? If so check back every other week for the next year and beyond.

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A new year has begun without my permission. How dare it? It seems like I blinked and December was over. I can't say that I was ready in any capacity for the New Year. I definitely didn't have my ducks in a row, my goals accomplished from last year nor my vision for this coming year all neat, tidy and set before me. The last 4 years have been a whirlwind of activity, change and just to be honest, full...the fullest of my life. I know that I'm young and still single so to many of you that's not saying much but they have been. Trust me.

In trying to be faithful with what God has given me slowly I have realized that God has given me quite a lot! It's definitely a blessing but increased responsibility also brings the increased temptation to be stressed out of my mind. I've learned what capacities I have that I didn't realize that I had and I've also realized, probably more than ever, where my limits are. The limits are probably much more clear than my capacities thus far.

At the end of each year I love to look back on things; I like to see where I've been, what the Lord has done, etc. Mostly I like to do this because I love to be thankful and to see the faithfulness of the Lord. Because He's always, always faithful. 2015 included things that were beautiful and experiences that I will never forget!

I also like to look forward...

I'm a planner. One of my highest strengths is development. I want to make a plan and stick to it as much as I can. I want to see weaknesses so that I can lean into them and create strengths. I want to see where and how far I can get and what is keeping me from that.

I'm also perpetually hard on myself. I can't just pick out one weakness and move towards fixing it, instead when I look, I see every single weakness that exists. So instead of just having 2 areas to focus and change I have about 30 areas of life; and it's not hard for me to end up feeling like I'm the laziest person on earth who wastes all of her time on empty things that have no eternal value when in reality I'm just trying to implement far too much at once.

But this year as I sat down with my journal as I do every start of the year, to contemplate what things I'd like to work on, what I'd like to see, where I'd like to go, etc. I realized that what I want to spend my energy on is getting back to the One thing at the center of all things; which is and always will be Him. When I had that thought it felt too simplistic. The conversation with the Lord after the thought went something similar to what follows below:

Me: "I need to have some dreams for this year."

The Lord: "You do?"

Me: "Yes. Things I can measure. Some goals, perhaps?"

The Lord: "Really?"

Me: "God? Are you hearing yourself? What am I going to tell people that I'm doing this year?"

The Lord: "Can I just be your one thing and focus this year? Isn't falling more in love with me what matters?"

*awkward yet beautiful silence*

Me: "You mean that's enough? But where are we going? What are we doing? What am I supposed to put in my newsletters?"

The Lord: "If you fall more in love with me, won't it be natural that you fall in love with who and what I'm in love with? Isn't that enough?"

*tears* (because it's always tears with me)

You see, when I measure myself on the scale and standard I set for myself I will always fail, and fail miserably. I cannot measure up when I am making the rules and trying to implement the changes in my own strength.

He's the One thing, the gauge that we should measure everything to. And that's enough. Period. Especially for us planners and developers. He's on His own plan and He tends to plan completely different than we do. I feel this major pull of Him bringing us back to a simple place with Him. I actually love the culture that I live in, where we are constantly pressing in for more, where we want to see what is next in Him, where we recognize that there is always more. But I think that sometimes with the Lord, His answer for our call for "more" may actually feel like less. I think God is way more concerned that we get the most important things REALLY well, and really deep so that it's so much a part of it that it spills into every part of our lives and the lives around us.

It's time to get back to the start; to purity, to calm, to who we are in Him. It's time to come back to the beginning. To be who I am, even if that feels simplistic or like what I have to give is a small offering. After all, what can we give Him that He doesn't already have? It's time for us, once again, to simply fall more in love with Jesus in every area of our lives, and for that to be enough. Because when we fall more in love with Him, it will be natural that we fall more in love with what He's in love with.

So, if you're a planner like me, if you are driven and passionate and want to move into the "more" of the Lord; let 2016 be the year that you simply plan to fall more in love with him in a beautiful, simple, pure and fresh way. It's so easy to overcomplicate things. Heck, I overcomplicated what was supposed to be my "simple" first blog of the year. Let's not overcomplicate this. He is our One thing and we need to simply fall more in love with Him.

In closing I came across a timely prophetic word as I started my year. I leave it with you:
"New things are being established as you take simple steps." Remember that the Kingdom isn't built the way the natural world is, not through striving or frustration. It's built through simple steps of obedience and faithfulness which need to come out of the motivation of this one thing: love. 

Let's endeavor together to simply fall in love with Him more this year. To offer ourselves wholeheartedly, even when it feels like we don't have much to bring to Him in the offering.

-L-

(I'd also encourage you all to purchase United Pursuit's album "Simple Gospel" as you start this year)