Thoughts on Not Wasting Your Life

Living a meaningful life – it’s about living life with a single passion for God and displaying His excellence in all spheres of your life.  John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and the related Bible study as well as the Lecrae song by the same name have been a favorite theme of mine over the last six years.  It’s about not living life on trivial diversions or living for comfort and pleasure. It’s about not living a life that counts for nothing.  We are to live with a war-time mentality, risking our lives to make the treasure of the Gospel known.  When we reach the end of our lives, we don’t want to say “I’ve wasted it”. 
If I continually ask myself if I’m living a meaningful, unwasted life, I often feel like I’m failing.  I’m not leading any Bible studies right now.  I’m not serving in any capacity in my church right now.  Sometimes I’m not even there for my friends or my family as I think I should be. I haven’t shared the good news of the Gospel with anyone lately.
Even though I want every minute of my life to count for something, to serve God wholeheartedly, my flesh can’t keep up.  My failure fills me with guilt.  While trying not to “waste” my life, I have caught myself succumbing to the following risks:
·        Doing too much – leading multiple Bible studies at one time until I burned out,
·        Focusing on what I am doing in the church more than who I am being in relationship to God and the people nearest me,
·        Serving to justify my own existence or to validate my worth.
If I sit down and watch Funniest Home Videos on TV, am I wasting an hour of my life?  Maybe.  Maybe God nods and says it is good to sit and relax and laugh a little bit.  But maybe sometimes He is telling me to just be with Him instead.  If I ask Him in the moment, I think He will lead my heart.  The key would be in remembering to ask Him.
On the other hand, Ken Gire has challenged me to think about the whole concept of evaluating a wasted life.  Sometimes to understand the life we have lived, we need time to “sort through all the memories, to re-mat them with perspective, reframe them with forgiveness, hang them in a place where they catch the light just right so they can be seen the way they were meant to be seen” (Relentless Pursuit, 143).
The thief on the cross surely felt he had wasted his life when he came to realization of who Jesus was and put his faith in Him.  But who knows how many people are in heaven now through the example of the thief and realizing that yes, they can make the decision on their death bed to put their faith in Christ.  My grandfather is one of them.
So how do I live my life so that it is not wasted, without continually evaluating and being consumed with guilt that I’m not doing more?  I’m still trying to figure out the answer to that, but at the moment I think the key to the answer is in I Corinthians 10:31 (and Colossians 3:23), whatever you do, in your work, in your rest, in your relationships, in your finances, in your parenting, in your church, in what you eat and drink, in every single thing that you so, do it to reflect and display God’s greatness and to show you treasure Christ.

Linking up with Finding Heaven.

Relentless Pursuit - Book Review

Perhaps we can all relate to the feeling of being an outsider at some point in our lives – whether it is rejection from a job opportunity or being squeezed out by “friends”.  Growing up as an introverted, invisible-feeling girl, I’m familiar with the feeling of often feeling like I was on the edge of things but rarely part of the inside.   I see the people who are uncomfortable in the crowd or overlooked by others. I feel God’s love for them, for us, so I was excited to read Ken Gire’s book Relentless Pursuit: God’s Love of Outsiders. 
Ken Gire writes this book under the inspiration of Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”.  God pursues us with his relentless love with the desire to lavish His love on us and to restore us.  Nine chapters are organized by the pursuit, the pursuer, the nature of the pursuit, the lost part of us, God’s passion and provision for the outsider, Jesus mission to the outsider, and God’s mandate to the insider.  He uses personal stories of his life along with biblical examples and his thoughts inspired from various movies and pieces of literature in an easy-to-read manner.  Each chapter ends with a list of questions that can be used in a small group or pondered for individual thought.
Ken Gire is seminary-educated and has published 24 books, but this is the first of his that I have read.  My favorite chapters were chapter 7, where Gire provides biblical examples of Jesus’ mission to the outsider, and chapter 9, a summary with ideas that provoked me to stop and think about my life and God’s pursuit of me. 
While I loved the idea of the book, I had difficulty tracking with the author’s thoughts.  He provides vivid physical details when he shares his personal story but leaves his thoughts vague when I wanted to understand them more concretely. I’m not sure that I agree with his theology - that it is solely up to the individual to determine if they will have faith or not, like God has no part in the awakening of the soul to His grace at all. This book didn’t live up to my expectations.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Why Do You Write?

All my life I have felt compelled to put pen to paper or type my thoughts through my fingers into a keyboard, but I do not consider myself artistic with words. Isn't that what a writer is? A word crafter?  Sometimes thoughts or ideas move me so deeply that I have to express them concretely and organize them, even if it is just in an e-mail to a friend.  Only then can I release them.

I remember writing my first stories in a book while riding a train from Texas to Kansas in first grade. A lady on the train expressed interest in my stories and admired my drawings. Writing was an expression of the world in my imagination, and if I wasn't writing, I was 'living it' with my stuffed animals and Barbies. Recently I purused a collection of my school story writings and was surprised, wondering when my imagination had begun its fade into dormancy.  I never won any writing contests and was too shy to pursue journalism.

Can a writer have a horrible vocabulary? I was barely average on the ACT or GRE in language arts, and I far more excelled in math.  Now I am a scientist, but I still want to write. I need to write - even if I'm not a gifted writer, even if I am never published.  It's just something that I must do to feel like I am really alive.

The gift of writing....
I no longer think it is a facility for words, or an active imagination, that makes one a writer.  I don't even think it is a way of seeing the world uniquely.  I have rather come to believe that it is a way of feeling: things move you, deeply, and then you feel as if every cell in your body must pay attention to what is moving you, with a sense of something like urgecy. People like this grope to find something to express the feeling - a pen, a brush, a keyboard...And that is how art is made. Not always, but often.  (Ken Gire, Relentless Pursuit page 51).

To my blogging friends - why do YOU write?

Serving Others When I Feel Like I Should But Don't Want To

Sometimes I know without a shadow of doubt that God wants me to invest myself in someone’s life because He gives the burning desire in my heart – a burning desire to meet a need or merely connect with them or to come alongside and encourage each other.  The fire is one that can’t be squelched and the Holy Spirit fills me with motivation to follow through even if it is tough. 
Other times, I feel like I OUGHT to minister to someone but the desire is not there. I don’t want to do it.  God loves a cheerful giver, so if I don’t feel cheerful about giving my time, emotions, resources, I shouldn’t do it, right? If I don’t want to do it, does that mean that God is not leading me to do it?
I struggle with this because it is emotion-based and the heart can be deceiving.  Just because I don’t want to do it does not necessarily mean that God is not leading me to do it.  I have several choices. I could:
1.       Deny how I feel and devote my energy to simply doing it instead of how I feel about doing it.
2.       I can try to convince myself that I really want to do it.
3.       I could do it even if I don’t want to and feel guilty for not wanting to or not doing it well.
4.       I could do it and maybe God will change my heart in the process.
Maybe the first thing to do is evaluate why I feel like I ‘should’ do something when I don’t want to do it? Is it to please others or is it to please God?  Is someone putting an expectation on me that God is not requiring of me or that God is reserving for someone else? Or do I know it is God leading me to do it, but I am afraid of how people will react so I’m reluctant to face rejection or being thought a dork?
I think sometimes God can convince me that it is His plan for me to do something even if I don’t “feel” like it merely because He inclines my heart to do it.  Obedience should not be based on feeling, but what if the inclination isn't there either?  The flesh and spirit are constantly at war in me.
All I know to do is pray that God will change my desire, to incline my heart, or give me a knowing that will help me move beyond the “don’t feel like it” feeling. 
How do you know God is leading YOU to do something when your feelings don’t match up?

From the Library of C.S. Lewis - Book Review

C. S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christian apologists and philosophers of the twentieth century, and those who inspired him speak into the needs of our own generation, helping us to see beyond our own generational blindspots.  In the book From the Library of C.S. Lewis, compiled by James Stuart Bell with Anthony P. Dawson, you will find a rich smorgasbord of food for thought (aka writing ideas). 
This eclectic collection of writings from spiritual mentors includes over 200 excerpts from over 100 literary giants of a variety of genres from a vast range of time periods.  Genres vary from poetry, fantasy, and science fiction to journals and theological treatises with authors as old as Aristotle to as recent as G.K. Chesterson.  The selections are organized into 18 categories by subject, such as suffering, obedience, writing, humility, death, sin and temptation, grace and redemption, and living a devout life.
I tried to read this book in order starting from page one, but after reading through the first quarter of it, I found it to be tedious and boring.  However, when I changed my approach by reading a page or two a day at random based on my momentary subject of interest, I found it to be a delightful source of ideas, mulling them over and meditating on them.  This is a book that I will keep on my nightstand and read repeatedly.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

My 397-Day Journey

 Today marks day 397 – the end of this journey of contrasts. Pain and joy. Betrayal and forgiveness. Despair and hope. Apathy and love.  

When day 1 was logged, I had no idea how long this journey would be.  When I sprinted across the starting line, I didn’t know I would be running a marathon.  If I had, maybe I would have paced myself differently.
When I reached 166 days, I “hit the wall”, ready to completely crumble, not knowing how much longer I could survive it while somewhat resembling the woman God wanted me to be. 
Chronicling this leg of the race in my life would have created a meaningful blog, but I dared not even journal it privately.  I would prefer to erase the hurdles that tripped me up. I wonder if someday I will regret not documenting it in writing.  If I don’t have the written tangible evidence of how concretely God worked in these difficult days to show me what it means to live like Jesus, will I forget?
 I look at the topics of my blog over the last 397 days for any record of the valleys and mountains of where I have been and here are a few posts inspired by this journey:
·         The Meaning of Hope
·         Life is Hard: Hype or Hope
At times, my flesh exposed all my selfishness, self-centeredness, and ugliness that I bowed in shame, clinging to the foot of the cross.  At other times, my spirit soared with compassion, empathy, hope, and love at times when I could have felt disheartened, frustrated, resentful, or self-righteousness instead.  Maybe in these times, this is what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.
 I can find no rhyme or reason why one wins over the other, why God sometimes infused me with unexplainable strength and other times left me on the verge of unravelling.  Yet He sustained me.
I want to find out why I sometimes have “it” and why sometimes I don’t, and then find out how to have “it” now that I know “it” is possible in the most unexplainable of moments.  In any circumstance – even despite circumstances. 
I want to live “it” all the time.  The outcome of this 397-day journey – it’s a gradual transformation through which the obstacles serve as catalysts.
So now one chapter closes, and a new one begins.

Linking up with A Pause on the Path

Tough Guys & Drama Queens - Book Review

My little princess is now a 16-year-old drama queen, and my sweet little boy is trying out his new role as tough guy at the age of 12½ . With the teen years, my confidence in my parenting skills has plummeted down the tubes with no help from this technologically-driven and sex-saturated culture.  Maybe the ways I have been parenting my older teen have not been working.  Mark Gregston showed me that what works well in the early childhood years can backfire in the teen years.  He explains how and why I may want to take a different (yet still biblical) approach in his book Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child’s Teen Years.
As I began reading, my hackles were up and I became defensive.  Who is Mark Gregston, a grandfather, to tell me what will work? But I kept going, and it was worth it.  He truly does have the credentials and experience to assert these biblical ideas that are different than the ways that many of our parents raised us as teens. He has been working with teens for nearly 40 years and has witnessed the cultural impacts on the way teens think.  He provides practical tools and tips to help parents abandon old-school parenting styles that no longer work and replace them with relational methods that engage teens. And he explains why – and why it’s different today than it was even a few years ago.
The most valuable tips that I garnered from Mark Gregston in this book is knowing what to let go of and what to re-focus on with the big picture of what is truly important.  I think this book is designed specifically for the very involved parent or one that wants control in their child’s life. On the other hand, it may not be fitting for a neglectful parent, but I suppose those kind wouldn’t be reading parenting books anyway.
I highly recommend this book to every parent of pre-teens and teens in order to know what is lurking under today’s murky waters of adolescence and to know what to do if you are stuck knee-deep in the muck already (me!). I rank this book among my favorites as a parenting resource.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review.