God Isn’t Willy Wonka

Have you ever found yourself greatly discouraged and flipped through your own notes/pictures/prayers with God, and those scribbles ministered to you? Yep.

I’m discovering through a really rough season that my faith in God is a foundation. You can’t tear down a wall without running into your foundation. It’s incredibly important to solidify your faith, to spend continuous time with God, to read the Word on a day-to-day basis. Take notes. Take pictures. Highlight and underline. Make your ebenezers, your celebratory mile markers. Build your history with God, so that when the storms come (and oh, they don’t stop), you’ll have a deep understanding of God’s nature.

20131209_174020Many times, I’m sad to say, I have doubted His goodness and His presence. It’s the most obvious thing about Him, His goodness, yet we don’t quite know how to reconcile suffering with the goodness of God. We can’t exactly explain slammed doors, and fear, and the long, silent wait. In time, sure, yeah. You can explain anything in time. It’s like saying “I sat at a traffic jam for 17 years, but then I got ice-cream, so it’s all good.” And one thing is completely unrelated to the other, and honestly, disproportional.

We confuse privilege and prosperity with God’s love. When I go to Six Flags to ride the rollercoasters, I buy the gold flashy passes and waltz through the park skipping every line. It’s not like that with God. We don’t get Favor passes, unfortunately. When we’re preached “Favor” gospel, we set ourselves up for pain. You’re not guaranteed your whole dream jar, and that really stinks and it’s really sad. It’s okay to grieve that. The gospel is that struggle is SO real that we NEED a Savior, and we have Him. Jesus! He’s the reason for joy, not answers or gifts or temporary things, even if they’re good things. We need saving because life is really hard. He’s not Willy Wonka, He’s more like Liam Neeson. Welcome to the reason I’ve been silent.

I’ve challenged a friend in the past with the question “why is it better to go through THIS right now versus your best-case scenario?” She met me with a long pause. She started to think about her weakness and how her patience was getting tested. She was on the edge of herself, really. And it made her look at God and point, and have a heated conversation… which is much better than a rushed “thank You” prayer, if you think about that for a minute. I’ve been having those staring, silent prayers with God, where I just get my forehead all crinkled up and pout, and stare like He’s holding out on me, like I’m skeptical of what He’s up  to. And He stares back, I’m sure of it. He stares back with the “OH REALLY?!” face. Like “Really, as if I would hold out on you, to what? Torture you? To tease you? Don’t you think I have better things to do than put you through misery? Really?”

And so we stare at each other. And if I stare long enough, I can see the fire in His eyes, and it eventually, slowly, looks familiar again. Not like some distant jerk or anything, but like my Best Friend. The One who was there when I was all alone. The One who led me through places I never knew I wanted to go. That Guy. He’s pretty good. I remember Him.

Turns out that staring fights are okay with God. He’s not mad about it. Turns out we’ve got history together. That history is worth something.

His ways are higher than mine, period. I won’t get it, and also… I can’t. I wasn’t meant to understand it all. It’s a scientist’s biggest nightmare, the mysteries of God. Why are certain things so easy and why are some so darn difficult? Why do some things happen quickly while others take forever? Why are transitions always so uncertain? And why does pain flash like a camera, in your happiest days? Why is trauma a thing? Why can’t healing happen faster? Why are there so few guarantees in life? Why do we go through times of particular, intentional deprivation? How are we able to be brave in the Spirit when there are so many very logical reasons to be afraid? Why does life so often feel like a gamble instead of a plan?

I don’t get it. I don’t get any of it. Give me some kind of medal for arriving at this particular milestone of ignorance/bliss. I don’t have answers. I know Him, and He purposefully maintains answers from us, probably because they’re just too complicated. It’s like explaining this upcoming election to a 4-year-old. No, thanks! Maybe this is the best way: to not know, to not understand. It was the original way in the garden, before we disobeyed to try to know more. Not knowing makes us reliant on Him, even when that reliance is somewhat forced since we literally cannot understand things with these brains and hearts. At least love isn’t forced.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
-1 Corinthians 13:12

I look forward to that full knowledge and vision, and every day I’m closer. Until then, you’ll find me trying my best to stay the course, reading old journals, and anchoring deep on the truth of the scriptures. I pray you build your foundation with God, so that you know the way to His arms by heart when you can’t see the steps in front of you.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
(Ps. 126:5)

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
(Ps. 27:13)

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.
(Ps. 71:20)

Fighting For Peace

There’s a fine, dotted line between letting something go and standing up for oneself. It feels like a seesaw, where it’s not any fun when you’re always letting things go and becoming a bitter pushover, and it’s no fun at all to make a fuss over every bump on the road. A wise man once told me to pick my battles, and that’s still a challenge for me. In poker, it’s the difference between knowing when to fold versus staying in the game to win with the bluff. It’s a skill I haven’t acquired yet, but I’m learning. I’m learning how to fight for peace.

If it sounds like an oxymoron, that’s because it is. Jesus sometimes turned the other cheek and preached on forgiving 70 times 7, but He’s the same guy who walked into the temple and turned tables over with a whip. He’s the same guy who wasn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of the religious leaders and call them white-washed tombs, and goats, and all these pretty harsh terms. He defended the adulterous woman from the stoners (haha see what I did there). He fought for our peace by laying down His life on the cross, and then rising again. That’s pretty tough and bloody.

I used to think the higher road was the quiet road. I used to think that the stronger person was the one who was able to bottle up their feelings and donate them to Ariel’s thingamabob shelves in the bottom of the ocean, never to be brought up again. I thought that people who stood up for themselves picked fights, and were labeled emotional and ill-tempered. And who would want to do life with those people?

Thinking like that, unfortunately, caused me a lot of harm. I tried to control situations that were never mine to control. I internalized frustrations, which grew to hurt me over years and years. I made up rules in my head of what to say and what not to say, and I believed lies about myself and others. I judged people on the inside and tried to do life with them on the outside. I began to expect failure out of several friendships and relationships, and by golly, I was right. Failures galore. All because I didn’t speak up when I should have. I let problems grow.

When I didn’t have health insurance, I only went to the doctor when I really needed to. Now that I have insurance, there’s this lovely thing called a well visit. I can go to the doctor on a sunshiny day, on a somewhat regular basis, and see just how well I am. It’s maintenance, not repair. Speaking up is a lot like maintenance. Good communication shouldn’t be procrastinated for the crises. It may feel like a confrontation, but it’s normal. Conflict is actually normal, but how we view it is what makes it grow exponentially into a negative experience.

We’re technically supposed to consider conflict a joyous thing, if you want to get Biblical about it. Conflict comes into the picture carrying a little silver tray, to serve you with maturity and depth of character. Your character shows. Do you get scared? Do you yell and say horrible things? Do you hide? Do you get defensive? Do you listen? Do you speak with kindness? Do you look for exits of grace, ways to move forward? Conflict reveals what’s in your heart, because it usually flies out of your mouth and circles your thoughts. It can turn into a well visit with God, or a surgery down the road, if we keep ignoring the problem.

dac738fc0d99f3fd891635167f44f0cdMy latest heart check revealed that I am a scaredy-cat. I have also grown a bit into a pessimist. Maybe I’ve been watching the news more than letting my mind dwell on what heaven is doing? With every layer, I find myself having to forgive people from my past, over and over. I never realized how much of an influence their actions and those events still have over me. The fear of those things happening again? Ridiculous. Wanna know what I learned from it, though? Every time we increase in trust, we also have to increase in courage.

Courage and trust are besties, inseparable. When we get moved up a notch with the Lord, and He asks us to surrender bigger pieces of our hearts and dreams, we have to ante up with courage. Match the bet. Cough up those chips to play the round. We have to remind ourselves that we have been given a Spirit of courage, not of timidity. We weren’t made shy, but confident. It’s not a bluff play. If you’re suddenly feeling more fearful, you might be swimming in a deeper pool. It might be a good thing. You might have gotten upgraded in faith, and you may have to accept the fact that yes, you will need to grow, and yes, you will need to get braver.

The Lord is within her, she will not fall. He is with you wherever you go. He has your right hand. He doesn’t let your ankles turn. He hears your voice. He speaks to guide you. He strengthens you. He gives you rest. He takes those heavy burdens from you and carries it like a total pro. It’s easy to Him. He can reach it. He overcomes it.

I pray you know how and when to speak up, that you don’t let yourself wilt inside. I pray you don’t let problems grow because you’re scared to rock the boat. I pray you know that God is not trying to torture you or hurt you in any way, because He delights in you. If anything is trying to steal, kill, and destroy you, it’s not Jesus. He’s the fullness of life Guy. He’s the complete joy Guy.

That’s all I have for now… I pray God multiplies it and applies it where you need it.

Ebb and Flow

Life has been vibrant and wonderful. I’ve been trying to understand what Jesus meant by “fullness of life” and not get it twisted with “obligation of life” or “busyness of life” or any other kind of misconception of the meaning of FULLNESS.

My walk with God has gone through natural periods of ebbing and flowing, increase and decrease, like breathing. Times when I feel very full indeed, and times when the only normal thing to do is empty out. Open-handed. Clean slate. Reset, please.

God has been stirring my heart to increase praise capacity. It’s the praising “more and more” like scripture calls it. The praise from yesterday is no longer a measure for today. Just like His mercies are new, so are praises and thankful expressions of my heart. I get excited when I hear a new song that resonates with where I am in Him, a lyric that “reads my mail” if you know what I mean. And sometimes the only way you can understand how you feel is when you hear it in a song, and go “THAT is exactly what’s going on” and you find on the outside what you couldn’t identify on the inside, just by the way your heart jumped out toward it.

compassI started the year fired up to empty out, and I did. Then I felt the need to press pause and just watch for a minute. It’s pointless to operate on old orders, by the way. God is doing new things all the time, and there are some of us that are so obedient that we get busy “obeying” and forget to TALK to Him. We’ve got our heads down obeying what He told us years ago, when He may have something new to say today. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever, but you better believe He is a God of restoration, redemption, and redirection. He’s a rebuilder. Obedience is a lovely thing, but it’s like a liquid. It needs to flow and conform to His leading, and not be so obstinate as to miss the turn on the road and keep going the wrong way for miles or years.

My new orders are to fill up. I ordered 10 books today. No joke. I got 2 textbooks for my birthday, and 4 books for Christmas. My brain and my heart just want to learn. I’m learning about the ways of God, and also about transfusion medicine and genetics, which in my opinion are altogether hilariously laced with gospel paradigms. I’ve been studying for a certification exam, and praying for God to open doors. I am hoping that after this season of filling up, a brand new outpouring will follow.

Just wanted to give you an update of what I’ve been doing now that I’ve been off the grid a bit more. I’m extremely happy. I’m increasing in praise. I’m filling up, focusing on the fullness of life. I am pressing pause on a few things I’ve been doing, so that I can adjust to God’s leading in my life, and in all things, He is good.

Overflow and Fairytales

As a child, it was so easy to believe it all. I wanted to be everything when I grew up. Well, now it’s here. I’m grown up. This is the age when adults do adult things. I’m turning 29 in less than a month, and the people I babysat are grown up, too. As for me, I’ve been cleaning a lot, giving away some things, and making space for my reality.

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I backed off of the internet big time in the last few months, if you’ve noticed. I deleted the Facebook app and deleted a lot of people off of my “friends” list, and made my Instagram private. I almost stopped writing blogs altogether. Crazy, right? The truth is that Facebook isn’t ME. I’m a person, flesh and bone. I live in Atlanta. I have a phone, and an address. I drive a car, and I get coffee and meals with friends and my boyfriend. If you want to be my real friend, I’m available. I’ve been available since 1987, whereas I only got on Facebook in 2005. Back then it was just for college kids, and I wish it had stayed that way. It was much more useful to message someone in the same chem lab and get a study group together, instead of sifting through hoards of cat videos and awkward political posts that fill it up now. What’s the use? Pictures. Information. Announcements. Gender reveals. I would hope that my friends would tell me directly, right? When my best friend got engaged, I heard directly. When one of my best friend’s grandfather passed away, I heard directly. I don’t need the birthday reminders to tell me when my family has a birthday, or when one of my closest friends is turning a year older. It’s almost like we’ve settled into an audience seat instead of being IN other people’s daily lives.

I’m backing off of that so that I can make room for reality. And this is what I wanted to write about: reality.

This is my reality: I work over 40 hours pretty much every week between two jobs. That’s overtime. I get home and sometimes I’m wired, and sometimes I’m super tired. I have a few best friends, and I am head-over-heels in love with my boyfriend. I write a devotional on my spare time, because I think there are people who are willing but want direction. I secretly enjoy teaching, but openly enjoy writing. I think the Bible is inviting and approachable, and it makes me want to go there. Women’s ministry has blurred more into relational ministry than anything else. One friend is finally selling her wedding dress, and is praying that the buy is finalized soon. One friend is going through a tough divorce. One friend is looking at moving to a smaller place. One friend is celebrating that her child is finally cancer-free. You see? It started out as “ministry” but now it’s blurred into friendship. I’m working on boundaries and praying through what that looks like, but I’m beginning to understand that what started out as a “mission” and “calling” is slowly becoming my lifestyle and not something I switch on and off. This is me, and I have a heart for women and discipleship. I am also learning what parts of my life are reserved for only my closest people and mentors.

Now let me tell you about fairytales and overflow: they’re real. It’s a thing. Psalm 23 talks about God’s anointing and His perfect ability to shepherd us unto overflow. Overflow is a real place and a real concept for you and me. If you’ve been on the struggle bus like Job for years and years, don’t forget to read the last chapter. Don’t forget God’s punch line to that story of suffering: double restoration. That’s overflow. Jesus was crucified and buried, but He rose again. Overflow. Don’t get it twisted to call it a fairytale, and roll your eyes, and discredit it as naiveté. Don’t get embittered to the point where you despise the promise of God’s very real abundance. The only thing that could ever disqualify you from God’s abundance is your unwillingness to receive it. SO. I have three little words for you:

OPEN

YOUR

HEART.

You might need to tell your mind to shut up. You might need to tell your mouth to shut up. You might have to change everything you have, and start wearing bright colors again. Paint a wall sky blue. You might need to start hanging out with younger people who sing pop songs and eat lollipops, because you need hope. Roll down the windows of your soul and stick your head out. Play in the rain. Believe that it can happen again, that love can happen, and grace can happen, and that a new adventure can happen for you. You might need to get your passport and go somewhere insane, just so you can get over yourself. I challenge you to it. I challenge you to overflow, or rather to believe in it again. Believe in laughing til you cry. Believe in stomach butterflies. Believe in moments you can’t photograph, like a hot pink sky as the sun rises and little snowflakes fall down. An afternoon rain, falling on the greenest of grass. Counting shooting stars on a rooftop in the middle of the night. Digging your toes in the finest of sand, wondering just how the water could be so blue. Holding that person’s hand that feels so warm, knowing what an insane blessing it is to be in love and to be loved in this short life. Having a little child tell you that they love you, and giggle at you, and pull you to play. THAT. You can only have these things, truly, if your heart is open to appreciate them.

I thought my plant was about to bloom, but it took 22 days for it to actually bloom. Sometimes we think things are just around the corner, and we get disappointed in the waiting. Rest assured, that bloom was worth the wait. Whatever it is you’re desperately waiting for, expectantly, I pray you don’t lose heart. I pray you find your brave moments of joy while you wait. I pray you keep your heart open and stay willing to receive it from God in His perfectly unrushed timing. If it took 22 extra days for a tiny yellow flower, I believe the Lord is also working inwardly and purposefully on your promise’s reveal.

There’s a tragic thing that sometimes happens to people who have been through so much pain, and that is they forget what carefree and happy looks like. They’re traumatized and that trauma traps them like a bug under a jar. The good news is that we are made new in Christ. New means new. New means stop replaying it over and over in your head. New means stop dwelling there and move. New. New looks different and even acts different, and it’s not faking because it’s… new. You have permission to be new, you know. It’s not cheating on your past to be new, it’s giving your present a purpose and your future a chance. Jesus has the gift of “new” for you, and he wraps it with carefree paper and ties it with a ribbon of happy.

This life is only so long, and I pray you’re alive in yours, with the powerful ability to make an impact as an adult, yet the wonderful privilege of receiving overflow like a child.

Lover’s Leap

This week, I took a hike in Chattanooga, TN. I hiked alone. There were places I wanted to see, and I was tired of waiting for a perfect day. The weather forecast looked terrible. Rainy and freezing cold. I looked at it and didn’t believe it for a second. I hoped it’d clear up. It did.

As the clouds parted and the sun came out, and the weather was considerably warmer than it was supposed to be, I hiked around and explored. I went to another place called Rock City, on that same mountain. There were gorgeous trails, bridges, and views. There was a waterfall and a cliff, where you could see seven states. Seven!

That particular cliff was called Lover’s Leap.

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I sat there admiring it all, and thinking with God about this leap. Lovers do leap. Love is a big risk, and you have to go all in. I prayed for wisdom, clarity, trust. My relationship was struggling with this very concept, the leap. I was all in but he wasn’t. It hurt, so I ended things, which led him to realize what he truly wanted: to leap, too. He fought for me, and it blew my mind. We made up, and now I can safely say that it’s true: lovers leap.

It’s hard to leap together. It takes grace, and then more grace, to love another person, to trust them completely, and to entrust them with your dreams, with your family, and with your full heart. That’s a lot. It should take time. It should take some measure of struggle, blood, sweat, and tears. This heart merge is simple yet complicated. You’re embracing everything about another person, while simultaneously allowing them to embrace and know everything about you. There are hesitations, careful pauses, long conversations, and all of the “that was the old me” and much of the “this is who I want to be.” You talk about God, family, personalities, preferences, callings. You learn about their patience, and how much they like to honk when they drive (just as much as I do). You learn if they’re a good singer, cook, dancer, pun-maker. You learn how bad they stink at scrabble, but how great they are at the rubix cube and juggling. Dating is learning.

In the middle of all that learning, there can be insecurity, fear, confusion, and rejection. Two individuals fighting to honor their independence while simultaneously attempting to merge lives? Not so easy. It shouldn’t be. Whoever made it look easy in movies was punking us all.

10993419_10103282990183390_1811311628009497953_n-2The key is choosing each other on the hard days. The humility to apologize. The grace to receive an apology with tenderness. Learning how to change the subject. Learning to how to let the trivial things go, and hold the important things tightly. Finding a way to laugh through it.

It also helped to have the right wisdom. I’ll be drastically adjusting my social media, reeling back my privacy, just a heads up.

I hope this post was encouraging, in the sense that things aren’t always black and white, cut and dry. Make room in your heart for the unexpected, and sure enough, it just may manifest. 😉

Much much love,

Helena

Contentment

Sometimes it feels like I’m chasing after something I may never fully grasp. Maybe it’s the planner in me, or the drive to grow and improve, right?

 My eyesight is pretty bad on both eyes, and it could very well be from squinting to the future so much with the eyes of my heart. Is it possible to be content and just stay there? Must I always strive so much? These are questions I ask the Lord and I feel His peace rest over me like a cloud. I am mostly cloudy with a chance of thunder.

The worst is when my striving breaks, and I sit with no drive. It’s the feeling of eating without tasting, when your nose is congested. Where did all that flavor go? Will I even want it when it happens to me? The passing of the test, the promotion, the loud home? It’s as if God flipped the switch of my dreams to OFF. I wrestle with apathy and doubt. I start sounding a lot like Bohemian Rhapsody with my anywhere the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me. And it isn’t true. It does matter. I know deep in my heart of the promises of God. I know. I know. I know. I realize. God put books and lessons and love in my heart, and it’s my joy to live to unveil them. There are faces I have never met which will absolutely melt me and propel me to heights of love I haven’t dared to imagine yet. Yet.

I’m learning to yield over and over to the higher ways of God. He knows better than I do. I’ve been warding off any bitterness, any hopelessness, and any fear. It’s been like killing mosquitoes in Tanzania. They’re practically robots, but I do have the shoe. Sometimes they get me, and it swells, and bothers me so. It’s just a reminder that I have something they want. If my dreams weren’t so precious, they wouldn’t be dreams at all. They’d be like a grocery list, attainable and predictable. I get to depend solely on the Lord. He is in full control, even when I dare to think others are. I will not barter with fear. I will not go down that narrow, dark alley of despair. My emotions get to take a knee to a Breathing, Undefeated King. It’s my turn to embrace complete humility, gentleness, and patience.

 

DAILY DEVOS RETURN…

As you all know, the #ATLdevo began back in September of 2014, and ran until about August 2015. Every single day, I made it a discipline to write what I was learning with Jesus, and posted it ONLINE, and not only that, but delivered every morning to the inboxes of 80+ people. NO PRESSURE!

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The feedback was incredible. Just incredible. Let me quote some of the emails/texts/messages I’ve gotten throughout this year of writing…

“We, your devo followers, are so thankful you said yes. I know you’re growing from it and it’s a big encouragement.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for your obedience in doing this devotional. This devotional continues to raise me out of so many heart-heavy situations.”

“I look forward to these devotions every day! Thank you for your heart! It is making a difference in my life! Thank you for your obedience!”

“Oh my goodness, you don’t know how your messages speak to me. The last couple of ones I find myself crying and asking God for more of Him!”

“Very thankful for your ministry here. It’s been too long since I journaled about the goodness of the Father and too long since I’ve been still and quiet early in the day. Love the prompts as well! Keep serving faithfully as you are!”

“Thank you for your inspiration and interaction with daily verses and uplifting words. Your obedience to God is one of the many gifts He’s given. You are a treasure to those of us receiving them.”

“Thank you for your daily devotionals. Really great stuff and God inspired.”

“I have been going back and reading the Phylla House devos: SO GOOD! I might use them next year for my class :D”

“Thank you Helena, for allowing God to use you in our lives! Today’s devo… it was exactly what I needed.”

“Your devos are amazing and I can hear your voice as I read them! So great! Thank you for blessing me and so many others with them already!!!”

These are quotes in reaction to the devos I wrote in 2014 to 2015. I picked 100 of those devotionals and published them in a book! You can buy that book here!

book

Why am I charging for this book? Well… I have 80+ people who got it for free, one page at a time, via email and reading the Phylla House blog where the devos were originally hosted. The subscribers actually got more than that, because some of the devotionals didn’t make it into the book. After that, I prayed hard and pulled the devos from the blog, edited them fiercely, and published them in tangible form.

The cool announcement is that I’M DOING IT AGAIN!!! Fresh devos, page by page, delivered to your inbox, free as birds, imperfect  probably, full of late-night/early-morning Love.  You can subscribe to the Phylla House blog and see it unveil one page at a time, as God teaches me over the next year. How does that sound?

And then, God willing, at the end of 2016, I’ll revise the devos and publish them in book form once more, in time for you to gift them to your friends and family, having “already read it” if you know what I mean 😉

I hope you’ll come along with me.

The journey starts again on January 6th, 2016.

Much love,

Helena