Conflict of Interest

blog-post-checklistI believe God created me on purpose for a purpose.  He wired me intentionally, and my personality is not an accident.  He often works through my personality, but sometimes He stretches me beyond my natural tendencies so I can better love my neighbor.  So what happens when my personality, preferences, and priorities might actually hinder effective ministry?

I’ve known for a while that my Type-A personality can sometimes keep me from enjoying life to the fullest and from loving others sacrificially.  So I’ve developed a new habit, a question I ask myself multiple times throughout the day: “Am I living life or managing life right now?”

Living life?  Or managing life?  It’s my ongoing mental refrain.

I default to life management.  Give me a list and watch me labor to check off every item.  I love that.  But give me a day to enjoy, and I’ll find something to clean, organize, produce, or manage.

Rarely do I left life just happen.  And if I do let it happen, I don’t often savor it.  And, though I genuinely want those around me to relish life, I don’t want it to get in the way of my life management.

See the problem?

Some of it is personality and preference, but most of it is an addiction to control.  And an obsession with control inhibits trust in God and service to others.  If I’m going to love God with my whole self and love others as myself, then I will need to put aside anything and everything that might be a hindrance to those two aims.  I might need to break my routine for a day or let the bed go unmade or invite a friend over for dinner even though it isn’t on my calendar.

Life is a good gift from a good God.  Control is His job, and He’s really good at it.  He can be trusted to sovereignly manage the universe while I do what He put me here to do – live life in a way that makes much of Jesus as I love Him and serve others.

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Up All Night

20140722_023538311_iOSLast night was the first night we spent in our new home after nearly six weeks of laborious renovation.  Exhausted from the physical, mental, and emotional strain of it all, I took one last look at our new bedding, climbed under the sheets, and expected to fall asleep within a couple minutes.

But I couldn’t sleep.  Maybe it was the unfamiliarity of a new place or the excitement of finally moving in, but my mind raced for most of the night.  In my inability to rest, my thoughts wandered to an article written by John Piper many years ago in which he wrote, “Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God.”

For people, sleep is a necessity.  Our ability to function without it is limited.  It’s also a commonality, a shared part of the human experience.  But God is altogether different.  Psalm 121:3-4 says, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

God is God.  He doesn’t need to be tucked in every night to get eight hours of shuteye.  After creating the universe ex nihilo, He rested, not because He needed a break, but to set a precedent for mankind (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11).  The same universe He spoke into existence He also upholds by the word of His power 24/7 – and it’s not taking a toll on Him (Hebrews 1:3).

John Piper is correct.  My need of sleep is a perpetual reminder that I’m not God.  Each night, the illusion of control fades into oblivion as the world keeps on spinning while I’m lost in my own inexplicable dreams.  In a simultaneous show of His power and protection, God watches over me as I do nightly what He does never.

From sunup to sundown, and every second in between, the Maker of the universe keeps you.  And whether you’re out cold or tossing and turning, take heart.  He will be up all night.

When Mountains Disappear

Sunset over BluefieldAs I drove to work yesterday morning, I noticed something was different.  It took me a minute to figure it out, but I finally realized what it was.  A thick fog had settled in the area and had entirely covered the mountains.  Bluefield is surrounded by mountains, and you’d be hard pressed to find a spot in town where you can’t see them at all.  But yesterday morning it was like I didn’t live in the mountains at all; they had disappeared from my line of vision entirely.

Although I couldn’t see a hint of the mountains, I knew they were still there.  I didn’t assume they had somehow moved to another location or that I had mysteriously left my hometown.  There are two reasons why.  First, the nature of mountains – they don’t just leave or disappear.  They are (generally) permanent fixtures.  Second, the history of mountains – I’ve seen them in the exact same spot every day for almost a year now.  If they were present yesterday, I can reasonably believe in their continued existence today, even if they’re nearly undetectable.

Sometimes the fog of circumstances is thick over our lives.  Our perception of the presence of God is strained.  Perhaps it seems like He has disappeared.  Often we suppose He has abandoned us, but just like the mountains, obscurity doesn’t equal absence.  We can have confidence in God’s continual presence for countless reasons, but I want to emphasize the two that came to mind yesterday morning.

First, the nature of God – He is good, loving, and faithful.  His actions are governed by His perfect character.  Second, the history of God – He has an eternal pattern of perfect faithfulness.  I can trust God today because He was faithful yesterday and every day before that.  He has proven Himself time and again.  King David express this when, reflecting on his lifelong walk with God, he writes, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken” (Psalm 37:25).

I have confidence in the mountains’ presence even when I can’t see them.  That they would disappear overnight is laughable.  But the Bible says God is even more worthy of my confidence.  In Isaiah 54:10, God Himself declares, “The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.”  In other words, it’s more plausible that Mount Everest will be gone tomorrow morning than that you’ll wake up having been abandoned by God.

Even when you don’t see Him, God is present and at work.  Don’t let the fog keep you from trusting Him.  After all, His love for you is more firmly established than the mountains.

Facing My Fears

10514507_673570402732376_6360866769822484178_n 10409654_673570456065704_4745137369580343869_nAbout this time last week I was standing at the bottom of a telephone pole trying to convince myself that climbing it wouldn’t end in death.  I was a chaperone for our middle school youth group’s trip to Ligonier Camp and Conference Center, and our first activity Monday morning was the zip line.

I wasn’t planning on riding the zip line since it required participants to climb a telephone pole, maneuver onto a shaky platform, and eventually jump off the edge.  Since I’m petrified of heights, I’ve made it a habit to avoid activities like zip lines.  Last week I was content to stand at the bottom of the pole, hold the rope as a proud belay team member, and cheer for those brave enough to tempt fate.  Putting on a harness to stare death in the face never crossed my mind.

Out of nowhere, I had this feeling that I needed to climb the pole.  The feeling was so unshakable that before I realized what I was doing, I had put on a helmet and harness.  Stunned to see me ready to climb, David inquired, “You know you don’t have to do this, right?”  One of our students, who also is afraid of heights, was so surprised to see me in climbing gear that he asked David, “Wait a minute, Abbey’s doing this?”

On the surface, I didn’t have to do the zip line, and I didn’t want to do the zip line.  But I started climbing.  When I neared the platform, I froze.  I couldn’t fathom moving away from the pole – even slightly – to pull myself up to the top.  The instructor at the top looked down and asked, “What’s going through your mind right now?”  She probably wasn’t prepared for me to answer, “I feel like I’m about to die.”

With the encouragement of the crowd, I made it to the top where I clung to the pole until it was time for me to get down…by jumping, of course.  Although I felt sick to my stomach, I also felt a sense of accomplishment.  I did something I never planned to do, something I didn’t think I would be able to do.  More than that, I knew I earned something through that climb and subsequent jump.

I earned credibility.  The reason I decided to do the zip line was because I realized that I couldn’t ask our students to face their fears and try new things if I wasn’t willing to do the same.  By publicly facing my palpable fears, I earned the right to be heard.  Suddenly, I was able to challenge our students to attempt all of the activities, even the scary ones with names like “Vomit Comet.”  And because they saw me try even when I was scared, they took my challenge seriously.

At the end of the week we were asked to identify a lesson that we’d take back home with us.  A high school senior who came as a student leader with her church’s middle school group shared a profound insight, “Sometimes being afraid isn’t a good enough excuse not to try something.”

She’s right.  Facing our fears gives us confidence and credibility.  Going to camp reminded me that being in a position of leadership requires action, not just words.  Talking is one thing; doing is another, more influential thing.

I’m thankful for a great week away and for the life-changing ministry of Ligonier.  As you can see from the pictures, I really did do the zip line, and to my surprise, I lived to tell about it.

On My Way Home

photo-2The morning after my new husband and I returned from our honeymoon, we drove across town to pick up our wedding gifts.  The gifts were stored at my previous home, the place which, almost overnight, I began referring to as “my parents’ house.”

I remember that Saturday morning like it was yesterday.  We pulled up the steep driveway and walked through the garage into the house.  Just as we opened the door, my dad greeted us with a hug and exclaimed, “Hey Abigail!  You look great!”

Immediately, my eyes filled with tears.  I bit my lip and fought them back.  I didn’t want my dad — let alone my husband of one week — to know that the house I no longer lived in still felt like home.  I don’t know why I expected a wedding ring to trigger an automatic shift in feelings, but I did.  I was caught off guard by the deluge of emotions that met me just inside the door that day.

We filled David’s truck with our wedding gifts and were preparing to head back to our house — my new home — when my dad said he needed to talk to us.  We stood in the garage as he shared the news of a relative’s unexpected cancer diagnosis.  At that point, the tears became irresistible and they continued for most of the day.

That one memorable day represents the importance of my parents’ house in my life.  In it I have experienced some of life’s greatest joys like planning my wedding, celebrating holidays, and watching the Buckeyes beat The Team Up North.  In it I have also endured deep pain and inexplicable hurt.  Here I have had to process change as I’ve witnessed countless seasons, like high school and college, come and go.

Tomorrow another season will come to an end.  I will pull down the steep driveway one last time, leaving in the distance a house that in so many ways still feels like home.  As I showered here for the final time tonight, the tears flowed like they have so many times before.  I reflected on God’s faithfulness over the years and thanked Him for the people who have made a place more significant than walls and a roof could ever be on their own.

This particular transition is especially difficult to process, and I’m not surprised.  The Bible opens with God creating the world, forming man and woman, and giving them a place to live and thrive — home in the truest and fullest sense.  Because of their infamous fall, Adam and Eve were banned from the Garden of Eden, and mankind has been displaced from his home ever since.  Even the most special of earthly places can’t compare with the home for which we were created.

It won’t be this way forever, though.  Before Jesus’ death, an unwelcome transition in His disciples’ lives, Jesus promised that He was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-4).

Leaving my parents’ house tomorrow won’t be easy, but the main reason this place has been so significant is because of the people with whom I’ve shared it.  Thankfully, my family will always be my family, and I’m sure we’ll make many more memories in the new places to which we’ve been called.

When the rearview mirror loses sight of this house for the final time, I’ll have to remember that home isn’t somewhere in the past.  Home is a future reality, a coming, eternal destination.  And that Home will expose all earthly homes as the cheap imitations they are.

When my Heavenly Father greets me at the door of eternity, I won’t have to bite my lip and hold back tears.  For the first time ever, I’ll know what it’s truly like to be Home.