Tastefully Trendy

A life and fashion blog by Sarah Beth

Tag: inspirational

Anchor for the Soul

When I first started studying hope, I thought God was encouraging me to be hopeful about a certain situation, and I was pumped. I couldn’t wait for how I thought things would work out, and I was excited to prove the naysayers wrong. But, as my friend had predicted, that situation did not work out how I’d “hoped” at all. Like, not only did the door close, but it was slammed in my face, locked, and the key thrown away – that’s how much it did not work out.

So, then I had to decide if I was going to practice what I preached. It wasn’t hard to be hopeful when it looked like things were going my way; it’s much harder when it actually went opposite of what I wanted, and there was no evidence in sight that things might improve in the future.

But, as we discussed yesterday, we do have evidence of better things in the future because God is good and His promises are that He gives good gifts to His children. His plans are to give us a future and a hope, and He has never let His people be forsaken.

Hope is a choice.

That is the conclusion I’ve come to. Like almost everything else in our lives, we can choose to be hopeful. We can choose to believe that God’s Word is true, that He loves us, that He’s working things out for our benefit, and that “this too shall pass.”

OR

We can choose to stay stuck in self-pity and fear and worry and doubt and all the other things that tend to creep in when we’ve lost our hope.

Since beginning this study, I’ve learned that Romans is a book chock full of hope. The book I’ve always viewed as very theology-heavy and cumbersome to read is actually full of inspirational verses about this confident expectation. Two of those verses are in chapter 5 (verses 3 and 4): “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Hope is a result of strong character.

We’ve all heard cliches about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or, as my best friend in college used to say, “it builds character.” But, cliche or not, that’s what struggles do – they make us stronger, and out of that strength, we can have hope. Hope is not a passive, Pollyanna outlook on the world that ignores real life pain. It’s a choice that looks at pain and decides to take God at His word and remain hopeful, knowing that He is working all things together for good (also in Romans – 8:28).

Continuing in chapter 5, the very next verse says that this hope – the one that rises out of strong character, the one founded on a decision to persevere while maintaining hopefulness – does not disappoint. Why? Because of God’s love. Even if the circumstances are disappointing, our hope was not for nothing.

Hope is an anchor for the soul.

This same hope that buoys us also grounds us. When the peaks and valleys of life threaten to throw off our equilibrium and toss around the proverbial ship of our lives, hope keeps us steady. It keeps our emotions from going all over the map. The highs and lows of unmet expectations do not shake us as much because our hope is grounded in the One who is unshakeable.

And when we choose to have hope, when we choose to be grounded, we can also find true joy. Because knowing that this hope does not disappoint, we can, as Romans 12 says, be patient in troubles and joyful in hope!

I want to have hope.

I want to walk in joy. And, I want to live an exciting life that’s buoyed by the happy expectation of what God’s going to do in me and through me, and grounded in the knowledge that no matter what comes my way, God is working it for my good.

And yes, I want a happy ending “in the land of the living.” But, as Gigi from my favorite movie, He’s Just Not That Into You, says, maybe the happy ending is learning to live in hope, no matter what. Then, can we recognize and enjoy the happy ending that God had in mind all along.

I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait and HOPE for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord. – Psalm 27: 13-14 (AMPC, AMP)

(Part 3 of a 3-part series)

Hope Deferred

There are a lot of really great reasons to have hope.
  • By focusing on the possible positive outcomes, you take your mind off the negative possibilities, relieving yourself of that worry and anxiety.
  • The expression “hope floats” demonstrates hope’s ability to keep us “buoyed” – our spirits are high when we are looking forward to something good.
  • Hope motivates us to action. When you’re believing in a positive outcome, you take steps toward making that happen. Just like a pregnant woman prepares her nursery in happy anticipation of her child’s arrival, hope enables us to take measures to prepare ourselves for the good things coming down the pike.

I think the main reason most of us don’t actively hope is fear. When you have been hurt or disappointed so many times, you want to “guard your heart”, as the Bible says. Only, I don’t think “guarding your heart” means exactly what we’ve often interpreted it to mean. I don’t think it means do whatever you can to keep pain out. Rather, it means surrounding yourself with those things that give life to your spirit, with people who encourage you, with Scripture that speaks truth, and with faith, hope, and love. In doing so, you will protect your heart – not from pain ever getting to it, but from being crushed under the weight of that pain.

But, I get that fear.

I have been very disappointed in one particular area over and over again, and that’s the area where I struggle to have hope. When I go shopping, I have no trouble hoping that I will find some cute clothes; my experience has taught me that is likely to happen. I also find it easy to hope that when I go out in downtown Nashville, I will hear good music and talk to interesting people. I’ve learned to have a confident expectation of that result.

But, what about those areas where I haven’t had good results? Where I have been rejected or overlooked or turned away time and again? Those areas that actually really matter to me, deep down? What about those hopes for each of us of getting married, or having a child, or being matched for an adoption, or getting a promotion, or passing the licensure exam, or fill in the blank… How do I have hope when everything seems to indicate I really should keep my expectations low?

Those are the times when hope is absolutely the hardest. But, those are also the times when we must have hope. We must fight for it, for all the reasons mentioned above, and so many more.

If a situation is certain, there is no reason to have hope. At that point, you’re essentially just stating a fact. Yes, I have hope every night that when I go to sleep, my bed won’t collapse; however, that’s never happened, and I know the wood in my bed is sturdy and assembled well. So, I’m really just assured of fact at that point.

I mentioned yesterday that there was one more definition of hope according to Merriam-Webster. Technically, I guess it’s a definition for the expression, “hope against hope”, but it says, “to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment”. Similarly, Romans 8:24-25 says, “…[H]ope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

We can’t wait until things look like they’re going in our favor to have hope. We must have hope now and confidently expect God to move on our behalf.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Many of you are probably familiar with this proverb. I’ve heard it a million times and always thought it meant that hope unfulfilled makes the heart sick. And, I think it does. But, I also think that it refers to putting off hope. By trying to protect ourselves from pain by delaying having hope, we’re doing the exact opposite. We’re depriving ourselves of the peace and joy that comes from anticipating that God will move in our lives. We’re giving room to anxiety and worry and becoming pessimistic. And we are limiting the joy we can experience when something good does happen as a culmination of our hopes and dreams.

I think putting off hope also can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Earlier I mentioned how hope motivates us to action. The converse, though, is that if we don’t have hope, we are motivated to inaction. How many great things never happen because we’re too afraid they might not work out? By failing to act, we create the very scenario we were afraid of in the first place. You’re afraid the boss might find you too forward if you mention taking on more responsibility, so you stay silent; he assumes you aren’t interested in a promotion, and you get passed over. You’re afraid you might not be successful in that career, so you don’t pursue licensure and stay in a dead end job you don’t love. You think long-distance relationships seldom work, so you break up before you have a chance to try.

However, hope actually minimizes disappointments.

To use my earlier scenarios, I don’t lose hope if I shop and find nothing. I’m bummed, of course, because I like new clothes. But, I have the confident and happy expectation that the next time I shop, I’ll find something. If I go downtown and the band sounds terrible and no one talks to me, I might wish I’d stayed home and watched a movie instead, but I don’t assume I’ll never hear good music or meet interesting people again. And I certainly don’t think something is wrong with me. I just assume it was an off night and have hope that the next time I go, it will be better.

Disappointments always come. It’s a part of life, especially since while we know that God’s plans are best, we don’t always know what those best plans are. But, if we have hope, we can bounce back quicker from that disappointment. We can take things in stride, knowing that something else good is around the corner. God’s Word promises that since even human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, our Heavenly Father does even more. It also says that the righteous have never been forsaken or God’s children had to beg for bread (Ps. 37:25).

So, while we may not have, as M-W says, “any basis for expecting fulfillment” in our particular situation, we do have basis to expect God to do good things in our lives because that’s who He is, and He has before. Just like David knew God could equip him to kill Goliath because he’d killed the lion and the bear, so we can look back on our experiences and see the many ways God has worked in our lives, even in ways we didn’t anticipate or in circumstances that seemed, well, hopeless. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so if He came through before, He will come through again – sometimes in the exact ways we’re hoping, sometimes in ways that exceed what we hoped for, and sometimes in ways that are completely different than what we imagined. But, He always comes through.

Where have you been deferring hope in your life? Have you put it off because you’re afraid of the disappointment? Think through the worst case scenario, and imagine what it will be like if you do have hope versus if you don’t. If the end result is going to be the same, won’t it be better to go into it hopeful, and then emerge still hopeful? And maybe, in the process, we will find what we were hoping for all along. But, as the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace said, EVEN IF we do not, we are able to still praise God because He is good, and so are His ways in our lives.

(Thank you to Joyce Meyer and her book, Get Your Hopes Up!, for inspiration on several of these points.)

(Part 2 of a 3-part series)

Get Your Hopes Up!

These three things remain: faith, hope, and love.

A couple months ago, a friend mentioned to me that she didn’t want me to get my hopes up about a particular situation. I knew what she meant – she didn’t want me to be disappointed, and theoretically, if you keep your expectations low, if/when something doesn’t work out, you’re less disappointed because you weren’t expecting much, anyway.

But, at the time, it made me really mad. For one thing, I thought it assumed that things weren’t going to work out. But, regardless, what’s wrong with being hopeful, I thought? Even if I were disappointed, was it better to go through life not hoping? If it didn’t work out, I was going to be disappointed, anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to make the waiting period pleasant by being optimistic?

Thus began my study of hope.

As I started thinking about it, I couldn’t remember having ever heard a sermon preached on hope. Sure, it’s often used as a synonym for faith or trust or belief. But, if the Bible lists it with faith and love as being one of the three most important things, I thought it deserved its own exploration.

Well, what would a Bible study be without a definition of the word? So, according to Merriam-Webster, hope is to cherish a desire with anticipation. It is to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment; to expect with confidence. (There’s one other definition, but I’ll come back to it later.)

These dictionary definitions coincide with an article by J. Hampton Keathley III on Bible.org (I don’t know who he is, but I believe in giving proper credit). According to this article, hope in Scripture is “a strong and confident expectation.” Joyce Meyer calls it the “happy and confident anticipation of good” (from her book, Get Your Hopes Up!).

Bible studies also include statistics. Like, in the King James Version, the word “hope” appears 130 times. That’s a lot for a word that is generally treated as slightly above wishful thinking.

But, what exactly am I supposed to hope for? Or in? Does the Bible only mean we are to hope in Jesus and for salvation and eternal life in heaven?

I don’t think so.

Of course, we are to hope in God; He is the source of all that is good, and the reason we can hope. But, I don’t think God only wants us to have an other-worldly hope. I think hope is very relevant to our daily, earthly lives, and as I began to study, I became more convinced of this.

Throughout the Bible, there are many examples of people who hoped for things on earth – many in the face of impossible odds. Joseph in the Old Testament surely hoped he would get out of prison, even though his best opportunity, when the cupbearer was released, came and went and he was seemingly forgotten. Hannah hoped for a child, despite years of being barren, and her hope led her to beg God so passionately, the priest thought she was drunk. In the New Testament, Simeon hoped that God’s promise that he would see the Messiah before he died would actually happen.

My favorite example of hoping for God’s intervention on earth is Shaddrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. Their hope was that God would spare their lives and rescue them – against all odds. But, they go on to say, EVEN IF He does not, we will still praise Him (my paraphrase).

While all of these people based their hope in God, they were also hoping for their current circumstances to turn out in a certain way. Their hope was that they would, as Psalm 27:13 says, see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

So, what are you hoping for in the land of the living? Over the next couple of days, I’m going to talk more about what I’ve learned about hope, but I want to encourage you now to keep your hopes up, after all. Believe that God is working on your behalf. He loves you, He wants the best for you, and He is faithful. Name those things that you are hoping for – those things that you might be afraid to even mention because they are so dear to your heart (I mean, name them to yourself, although I certainly welcome anything you’d like to share). And let’s work together to find hope in our circumstances, because of God’s goodness.

(Part 1 of a 3-part series)

6 Month Anniversary

I’d like to tell you a story…

About three years ago, I started praying about leaving Virginia Beach for a position at an anti-trafficking non-profit. I really wanted to go to Nashville then – in part because of all the non-profits headquartered there, in part because I’d enjoyed visiting the two times I’d been there previously, in part because I was obsessed with the show of the same name, and in part for reasons I probably can’t really even identify. It was just on my heart.

A couple months later, God answered my prayer to leave VB and work for a non-profit, but He sent me to Georgia instead of Nashville. And as I’ve been not shy about saying, I was MISERABLE. I do not exaggerate when I say that the two years I lived in Georgia were the worst two years of my life, and I was on the verge of real depression. From about 4 months in, I prayed every day that I would get to leave, but every job application I sent out was ignored.

And then my  job was eliminated, and I was rather unceremoniously kicked out the door, with only two weeks of severance and no warning.

If that’s where the story ended, it would be a rather depressing one. But this is a good story. A great one, in fact.

With no leads anywhere and no connections to Georgia, I had the perfect opportunity to strike out on my own where I really wanted to be – Nashville. I’ve shared before about the timing of my job elimination with my lease, etc.; God opened the doors for everything about my move. I had no money, but my dad had some to loan me. I had no job leads, but I found one perfectly suited for my interests, and started just over two months after moving. I even found a great hair stylist on the first shot, nothing short of a small miracle.

And God kept taking care of me. I was swimming in debt, but the part-time teaching job I’ve had for years asked me to teach two courses at once. They’ve never before asked me to teach two at once. Since then, they’ve also asked me to teach three more. I got another part-time job, and for a couple months, I was working full-time, part-time, and teaching two courses online. It was hard work, but it was what I needed to get by.

Also, my tax refund was double what I was expecting, something I’ll never be able to explain.

So now, here I am just a few months after being downsized, and I have paid off not only my debts from unemployment, but  the remainder of my student loans. I went from a significant amount of debt to debt-free in three months, because God took care of me.

One of the things that was very hard for me in Georgia was not having a church. I tried, not exaggerating, over 30 churches and could never find one I liked. I ended up going to the mega church in town with some frequency but didn’t mind if weeks went by without me darkening the door.

But here in Nashville, I’ve found the perfect church for me. It’s a more traditional format, complete with a robed choir, mixed with Pentecostal theology. Seemingly half the church went to my college, and it’s nice to be around people familiar with things I’m familiar with. I’ve joined said robed choir, and they’ve adopted me as part of the family, giving me church friendships I so missed for two years.

The other night we got to sing with Sandi Patty, my childhood musical idol, on her farewell tour. I never could have even dreamed that I would accompany Sandi Patty sometime – it would not have occurred to me that such a thing could be possible. And yet, God knew how special that would be to me, and He really did provide “above and beyond all I could ask or imagine.”

I realized something a few days ago that made this all the more sweet. My church is nowhere near my house, and even if I had stumbled upon it physically, the name of the church and size of the building would have deterred me from trying it. But, a week before I lost my job, I was in Nashville for work and met a new friend. We had mutual friends and a lot in common, and I knew it was a divine appointment. When I moved, I visited her church a few times, but it wasn’t quite the right fit for me. It did, however, meet in the building of a big church with a beautiful choir loft, and I thought, maybe I should just check it out. I went one Sunday morning just after Christmas, and I haven’t stopped going since.

God went before me in my move, opening doors to friendships that led to my church that led to singing with a childhood favorite. He moved on my department chair to offer me more courses than I’ve ever been offered. He provided the finances for me to pay back my dad, buy flights and bridesmaid dresses for my friends’ weddings, pay off my student loans, and have enough left over to start rebuilding a savings. To paraphrase Joel 2:25, He completely restored the years the locusts had eaten.

And, I get to live in Nashville which is the absolute most perfect city, and I am even more happy here than I was miserable in Georgia.

So, today, on the 6th month anniversary of my moving to Tennessee, I want to encourage you that God’s Word is true that He will never leave you or forsake you. I still don’t know why I had to live in Georgia to get to Nashville. I did make a few friends, and met my best friend there. And since living here, I’ve certainly had more perspective on God’s faithfulness and kindness because of my experiences the past two years. Maybe those two things are purpose enough.

Regardless, no matter what you’re going through, please know that God is still going before you, making your paths straight, and opening doors that no man can shut. If you’re in a hard season, don’t give up and keep pressing forward, because your Nashville Promised Land is waiting for you on the other side, and it will be even more sweet because of the pain to get there.

If my story encouraged you, or if you’d like to share a similar story of God’s faithfulness, or even if you’d just like prayer for the strength to persevere, I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or send me an email, and let’s talk.

Love,

Sarah Beth

New Year’s Resolutions

Even though January is nearly over (does that make anyone else feel super old??), I’ve been feeling for some time that I needed to do a year-end reflection and commentary on 2016.  I suppose being only 1/12 of the way through the year when I do so is not too bad…

2015 started off very rough for me. I was living in a town that I hated, working a job that was a poor fit for me, I had almost no friends, and there was no sign of change in sight. I actually went to a counselor a few times in December 2014 because I could feel genuine depression beginning to set in and my personality starting to change and it scared me. I cried pretty much every day and was generally miserable – but, I didn’t want to stay that way.

A friend sent me a book called the Happiness Advantage for Christmas, and starved for happiness as I was, I devoured it.  None of it was revelatory new information; most of it was quite practical, and while written as a secular book, reflected principles I’d long heard in Christian circles.  But, it was the little boost of hope that I needed to believe that happiness was possible again and that there was something I could actively do to obtain it.

So, armed with several of the book’s mantras – the most significant being to write down each day things that you’re grateful for/make you happy (specific to that day), as well as positive expectations for the day ahead – I began an attempt to retrain my brain to look for the good, instead of only seeing the negative that was very obviously in front of me.

To that end, I declared January, “Joyful January”, and made an effort to post a picture on Instagram every day of something (even if it was just a memory) that made me happy.  That effort, combined with writing down things I was thankful for (combined with a wonderful birthday weekend in Nashville), got me out of the dangerous slump I was in. I believe that hope builds on hope – I had enough hope by the end of January that I could look for the light at the end of the tunnel and keep walking towards it, rather than despair in the darkness around me.

Fast forward to September, and I began another Instagram challenge – this one world-wide – of 100 Happy Days. In this challenge, participants are to post a picture every day of something happy about that day (so memories would not be included).  It was hard, but I think I made it for about 85 of my 100 days, even if most of those pictures weren’t that aesthetically pleasing…

I’ve never been a huge proponent of pop psychology, but honestly, knowing that I “had” to post something happy each day, I really did begin to look for the good, and my perspective changed in both instances.

Every year, I like to choose a word to serve as theme for the year. This seems to be a lot more beneficial to me than New Year’s resolutions, as I’m much better at focusing on one word than a bunch of goals I might not keep. My word for 2015 was “joy” because I needed it so badly, and I’m grateful to say that I found joy, even in the midst of hard times (i.e., being miserable, losing my job, moving, etc.).

I realize that my circumstances changed quite a bit at the end of 2015, and I’m beginning 2016 filled with optimism as a result.  But, I can’t help but wonder if my experience here in Nashville would still be quite as positive, had I not already begun the process of learning to look for the happy.

I don’t have a word for 2016 really.  The only word that came to me as I was thinking about it was “success”, which sounds stupid, but maybe I’ll go with it anyway.  Of course, I don’t mean success like making money, because Lord knows my job is not making me rich, as much as I love it.  But, more like life success: growing in my relationship with the Lord; getting rooted in a church and friend community here in Nashville; taking care of myself and my home better… No specific goals, because then I can’t beat myself up about falling short some days, but long-term plans for success in personal growth.

Have you taken time to reflect on 2015? If you chose a word/resolutions, how did they go?  Can you see a theme for the year, or have you picked one for 2016? I’m so hopeful about this year, and if you’re discouraged in any way, I wish so much that you’d join with me in renewing your hope. I’d encourage you to find ways like I did to retrain your brain to begin to look for and see the good, as well as to expect positive things each day, and throughout the whole year. Let’s all join together in making the year ahead a wonderful, joyful, successful one.

Much Love,

SB

Two-fer Tuesday: the Pink Belt

Y’all know I love a good belt.  There’s just something about that simple accessory that can really make an outfit go from just fine to totally put together.

Of course, belts are a little tricky.  The width of the belt, its position on the waist/hips, the waistline of the dress, all make for a game of trial and error.  My solution to this problem, obviously, is just to have dozens of belts.  Then there will almost always be one that fits exactly what you’re looking for.

In a lot of ways, wide belts have had their day in the sun and are being replaced by their more narrow counterparts (or no belt at all).  The long tunic with a wide belt around your hips, for example – a staple of my grad school wardrobe – is no longer en vogue.  But, with a couple trendier pieces, the wide belt can still make a statement and add a little interest (and variation to the lines – I’m all about lengthening my waist 2 inches).

So, here are two uses of one of my favorite wide belts.  I’ve worn both of these pieces multiple times with different belts/shoes/accessories (here’s a variation on the polka dots and one on the jumpsuit).  But, the pink allows me to play up different colors and create a completely new look (something that isn’t always easy with dresses and jumpsuits.  They kinda are what they are).

1 - polka dots and pinkMy cute little necklaces are from Ornaments for Orphans.  I’ve probably plugged them before, but you should totally buy from them and support their cause (after you’ve purchased everything Rahab’s Rope has for sale, of course.)

1 - jumpsuit, pink beltThis jumpsuit is super hard to photograph.  I promise it’s cuter in real life.  And the pink is really subtle – you can actually see it better in the shoe close-up, on the leg of the pant.  I like pulling out minor, unexpected colors to make an outfit more interesting.

How do you feel about belts?  A fashion staple or an unnecessary hassle?  Do you think my addition really made a difference, or was the mix and match too understated to be noticeable?  Let’s talk – I’ve missed y’all!

Wednesday’s Woman: The Woman at the Well

Yesterday, I shared a story from Humans of New York on my facebook page.  Since I think probably all of you are my facebook friends, you may have seen it.  But, in case not, here it is:

“Seven years ago, I was sitting on the ledge of a thirteenth floor window. I’d tried to quit drinking so many times but I couldn’t do it, and I’d finally given up. My mind was racing through all the shameful things I’d done, and I kept hearing this voice saying: ‘Jump you piece of shit. Jump you piece of shit.’ So I put my hands over my ears and started rocking back and forth on the window ledge. Suddenly I heard this small, still voice: ‘Say a prayer,’ it said. And I didn’t want to hear it. It was kind of like your mother knocking on the door while you’re watching porn. But then I heard it again: ‘Say a prayer.’ So I started praying, and I totally surrendered, and I felt an evil presence leave me. And I just kept saying: ‘I can’t believe you still love me. I can’t believe you still love me.’ Then I cleaned up my room, threw away my baggies of coke, took a shower, and went to work.”

I’ve been wanting to talk about shame for a couple weeks now.  It’s something that I’ve struggled with, that many of my friends have struggled with, and based on this guy’s story, I’m thinking that people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and experiences struggle with.

I’m guessing that it’s also something that the woman at the well struggled with.  Take a minute to re-read the story in John 4.  Jesus is traveling along and stops at a well for water, where a Samaritan woman comes to draw water.  I’m not going to get into all the cultural things about Jews and Samaritans, but suffice it to say, the Samaritans were not a well-liked people group.  This woman probably carried shame simply because of the race she was born into.  And, the fact that she was drawing water in the middle of the day suggests that she was trying to avoid meeting other people at the well – perhaps because she was also ashamed of what we soon learn about her: that she has been married 5 times and was currently shacking up with a 6th man.

When Jesus met her, though, He engaged with her in a way that did not leave her feeling shamed or condemned.  Don’t get me wrong, He didn’t let her get away with her sin – He’s the one that introduces us to her past in the first place.  Yet, somehow, instead of running away and avoiding her pain as has been her pattern, when Jesus spoke to her, this woman heard something that drew her closer to the only One who can take away her disgrace, the only One who can help her once again love herself, despite her past.  This woman was so moved by her encounter with Jesus that she went and told her whole town about Him and as a result, many of them were also forever changed.

So often, our sin makes us run from God.  It makes us abandon our quiet times because we just feel too guilty.  It makes us try to bury the pain in food or busy-ness or, like the Samaritan woman, unfulfilling relationships.  It makes us doubt that God could still love us and makes us want to stop trying altogether, even if not in quite as drastic a fashion as the guy in our Humans of New York story.

Yet, that’s the exact opposite of what God’s plan is!  When we engage with Him as the Samaritan woman did, He doesn’t let us get away with our sin, brushing it under the rug, or pretending it doesn’t matter.  But, He points it out in such a kind, gentle way, that instead of making us feel terrible about how bad we are, it makes us want to change – and gives us the ability to do so, just like our coke-addicted friend above. And, this change makes us want to know Him more, and to tell everyone else about it. This ripple effect is a perfect example of His strength being made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  He takes even our sins and uses them for His glory, working them for our benefit and for that of those around us (Rom. 8:28).

Are you carrying a burden of shame around with you?  Speaking from experience, I know it’s so draining and depressing and exhausting.  While I’ve never sat on the ledge of a 13th story, I can understand this guy’s sentiment of being so ashamed of what you’ve done that you just want to give up.  But, let’s not give up!  If God can heal a woman as broken as the woman at the well, lifting her shame and using her to bring many more people to freedom, He can – and will – do the same for us.  Let’s not run away anymore, but give our shame and disgrace and pain to God and see what He will do.

Samaritan Woman

 

Wednesday’s Woman: Esther II

I’ve been thinking a little more about our queen, Esther, and I think she deserves another post.  Not because I didn’t like my first one – it was inspired by Tim Tebow, so of course it was moving.  And not just because she’s a queen, although you know I love royalty.  But, Esther has a lot more to teach us and speaks to a place I’m currently in.  I suspect maybe some of you are, too.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Esther was, essentially, trafficked and probably a very scared and lonely teenage girl.  We’re not told much about her emotions in this story, but I think it’s safe to assume what I said above was true (especially, since she was an orphan, anyway, and now had been taken from her cousin, too).  However, in her captivity, God gave Esther a friend in the eunuch, and he helped her prepare to be the best candidate for queen that she could be.  Esther followed his advice to the letter, and in the end, she was chosen to be the queen, and as a result, positioned to save her entire people from destruction.

While she was in this holding period, Esther could have – and would have had every justification –  pouted, felt sorry for herself, and completely wasted her preparation time.  She could have disregarded the eunuch’s instructions, as he was the king’s employee, and therefore, part of her captivity.  She could have been proud and assumed she knew what was best for her life.

Instead, Esther was humble and obedient and made the most of her time (12 months) of isolation and beauty prep (honestly, though – I would have a hard time saying no to 12 months of beauty prep).  She did not lie around in self-pity or try to take short-cuts to speed up the process – she followed through on what was required of her, and in the end, her hard work and diligence paid off in a major way for her, her family, and her people.

When I first moved to Georgia, I decided that I was going to treat my transition period (which has turned out to take longer than I expected) as a season of preparation, focusing on myself and personal growth – spiritually, physically, and just as a general well-rounded person.  Of course, in my mind, I was preparing for marriage – becoming “Mrs. Right”, and all that.  I suppose I needed more prep than most.

However, I haven’t always been faithful to focus on this growth.  I think in some ways I’ve matured, but in many other ways, I’ve spent a whole lot of time feeling sorry for myself and resenting being alone.  So, I’m challenged by Esther to change my attitude and make the most of this season as I’m waiting for the next.  One of my mentors always said, “preparation time is never wasted time.”   Really, we’re all in preparation for something – whether that be marriage, kids, empty nest, education, a new job – so, if we wasted our time when we should be preparing, we’d never be ready for the next step.  And, perhaps most significantly, as we prepare ourselves for the future, we’re bettering ourselves in the present.

What are you in preparation for?  Have you been a good steward of your time, or have you, like me, squandered it in self-pity or mindless/unintentional “waiting”?   I’m making a pledge to take some active steps towards preparing myself for the next season of my life, and here are a few of my ideas:

  • Physical goals: taking care of my skin and body.  I want my husband to be happy with his choice, even if we don’t get married until we’re 85 (an increasingly likely scenario) – I’ll be the most toned 85 year old that nursing home has ever seen.
  • Financial goals: thanks to Dave Ramsey, I’m super inspired to get my finances in order.  I’ve never been in bad shape financially, but I don’t really have much to offer a future partner (or even future me, for that matter).  With Dave’s plan, I’ll probably be a millionaire by next month.  (Or at least, have paid off my student loans).
  • Spiritual goals: to find my validation solely in the Lord so that when my husband doesn’t validate me as I’d like (I’m realistic enough to acknowledge this will happen eventually), my world doesn’t fall apart, even if only temporarily.

Those are some of mine that I’m working on right now, to become a better me today, so I can be a better wife (and mom) tomorrow (figuratively, of course, but I’d be okay if that tomorrow was literal).

What are some of your goals – do you have some practical steps to take to achieve them? Please share some of yours and let’s inspire each other toward greater versions of ourselves!

Esther pt. 2

 

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