Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Traveling the World: The Other Side of the Story

I have had a lot of questions and comments lately about my travels.  It seems that many people live vicariously through me, and I love that.  I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to explore this great big world of ours and that is something that is not lost on me.  I travel quite a bit on my own, using my personal time off of work, but a lot of my globetrotting is actually for work.  

But you see, here’s the thing.  Traveling the world is no cake walk.  The parts of my travel adventures that I show you on Instagram and Facebook?  Those are the glamorous parts.  Those are the good parts that I choose to share with you.  Those are the three days of my trip out of fourteen where I actually get to explore whatever city/country I happen to be visiting.  This blog post shares another side of the story.  One that most of you don’t realize is there and would never choose.  These are my true travel stories.  The other side of the story.

Jet lag
Yeah, yeah cry me a river Lisa.  Everyone deals with jet lag, right?  Yes.  It’s a consequence of traveling across multiple time zones.  Jet lag is real and it impacts everyone in some way or another.  But it affects everyone differently.  Some people hardly have any symptoms and others are completely debilitated by it.  I’m somewhere in between.  I’m a great sleeper at home.  In fact, I like to call myself a “rock star sleeper”.  I generally fall asleep in about 2 minutes and stay that way until my alarm goes off in the morning.  I don’t take that for granted.  Now put me on the other side of the world and I quickly lose my rock star sleeper status. I want to fall asleep at 3:00 in the afternoon and when it’s time to go to bed at 11:00 at night, I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed.  No matter how much I travel, this really doesn’t change.  I have learned some tricks over the years to help me fall asleep and most importantly, stay that way, but it’s not the same as getting a solid night of natural sleep (see the end of this post for my jet lag-fighting tricks).  Here is the real difficulty:  when I am on vacation, I can choose to take a 2 hour nap in the middle of the afternoon if I want to.  I CAN’T DO THAT ON A WORK TRIP.  So what ends up happening?  I’m dying of legitimate exhaustion mid-afternoon the first few days in the office, I drink way more coffee than usual in order to offset said exhaustion, and as a result, my body is even more out of whack than before.  But it’s a necessity people.  Hello, jet lag.

Yes, I just said constipation.  The constipation problem is real people.  When I have traveled on an airplane for 15 hours or more and land in a country that is many time zones different than my own, it takes a real toll on my body.  On any body, actually.  In addition to the jet lag that I talked about above, the constipation is REAL.  I’m tired, my body clock is off, I’m eating at weird times of the day and on top of that, I’m not eating the types of food to which my body is accustomed.  So, not only am I tired, but I’m sluggish, bloated, my pants are tight, and I would give anything (even pay good money) to have a good poop in the morning.  It’s gotten a little better over the years, but it’s always at least 3-4 days before my digestive system begins to adjust.  I won’t tell you my record for the number of days that I’ve gone without pooping (because that would be going overboard - as if this entire paragraph isn't), but suffice it to say that there is nothing glamorous about traveler’s constipation. You won’t see me posting about that on Instagram.

Travel companions
People who know me well know that I’m an introvert.  That may surprise some others of you out there.  I like being around my people.  I’m only truly comfortable around my people.  I would often prefer to be by myself than to spend significant amounts of time with people I don’t know.  Well, let me clear something up for you.  I SPEND TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER COUNTRY WITH PEOPLE WHOM I DON’T CHOOSE TO SPEND TIME WITH.  Do you see what I’m saying here?  It’s one thing to spend time with people whom I love and actually choose to travel with.  It’s another thing to spend an average of 12+ hours a day for fourteen days with random coworkers.  We are all assigned and we go where we are told to go.  I eat breakfast with them, walk to work with them, sit in a conference room all day with them, eat lunch with them, go back to the hotel with them, often eat dinner with them, and spend at least a portion of my weekend with them.  As an introvert, it’s sometimes a complete stretch on my ability to function as a respectful and polite human being.  I do pretty well for about a week and then I kind of slowly start to disintegrate into a maybe not-so-nice version of myself who doesn’t want to be around people anymore.  And it’s not just me – it’s the entire team.  Personalities clash.  Nerves are worn and frayed.  We are tired and longing for the comforts of our own people.  I’m not saying that my coworkers are bad people – they are actually quite wonderful.  I get along amazingly well with some of them.  It’s just another factor that adds to the complexities of working overseas.

An overworked brain
By now you {hopefully} understand that I’m jet lagged, constipated, and hanging out with a bunch of people whom I may or may not actually get along with.  Now here’s the fun part.  I get to go to work!  Yay!  And sit in meetings.  And read a lot on the computer.  And sit through more meetings.  And talk to a lot of different people.  And often times, I’m dealing with a foreign language and depending upon a translator to help me read.  And y’all, at the end of each day, it takes everything in me not to just crawl into bed at 7pm.  My brain hurts.  My eyes hurt.  I’m tired.  And I just want to do nothing.  And sometimes I do that.  But if I were to do that all the time, I would miss many of the benefits of being in another country.  I would miss seeing the culture, experiencing the food, walking around new neighborhoods, mastering public transit systems, visiting landmarks, and just being in the country to which I’ve come.  I don’t take my job for granted at all and I truly appreciate it.  I have had some amazing opportunities and I have embraced each one of them.  I am thankful for the chance to see the world.  But goodness is it hard sometimes.

The transition home
One of the reasons that I enjoy traveling so much, and why I have continued to do it, is that I always look forward to coming home.  Yes I’m talking about my physical home, but also about Houston, my family, my friends, and the normalcy that comes with a routine.  In a perfect world, I would come home and just jump back into my routine.  I would go exercise at Orangetheory and it would be like I wasn’t even gone.  I would go to the grocery store and stock up the house with food for the next week.  I would show up to church on Sunday morning feeling ecstatic to be back with my church family.  I would have lunch and dinner plans with friends and family.  And my clothes would still fit.  But the reality is this.  I DO go to Orangetheory, but I feel like someone is going to have to scrape me up off the floor after an hour.  I have overeaten and not regularly exercised for two weeks.  It’s a shock to my system.  I don’t have the energy to go grocery shopping, even though it’s one of my favorite things to do.  It’s so much easier to just pick up food to go for the first couple of days.  This is no help to my routine.  I make it to church, and am ecstatic to see my church family, but it’s a tired kind of ecstatic.  People are so excited to hear about my trip and I’m barely functioning and walking around in a bit of a zombie-like trance (hello jet lag).  Lunch and dinner plans sound great in theory, but after spending two weeks nonstop with people, I just want to be alone.  I really don’t want to talk to anyone for a couple of days after I return home.  And maybe the most depressing of all is that my clothes rarely fit the way they did before I left.  The transition back home is not easy folks, but I’ve gotten better about setting my expectations.  I used to think that I could land at 2:00 in the afternoon and meet friends for dinner that night.  Now I realize that is completely unreasonable for me and I don’t even try.  I extend myself a little grace to do what I need to do to recover for a couple of days, then I give myself a swift kick in the rear and tell myself to get it together.

So there you have it.  The other side of the story.  I’m curious if any of it was surprising to you or if you struggle with some of the same things.  I love traveling the world.  I love experiencing different cultures by being immersed in them for two weeks.  And I think that it has made me a better person.  But, it’s not always easy.  There are always two sides to every story.  There are a few additional thoughts that I want to share with you.  Maybe some examples of what I have learned and experienced in each of these struggles.

Those nights and early morning where I have not been able to sleep because of jet lag?  I’ve had some of the sweetest moments with God during those times.  And I’ve read a lot of books.

Dealing with constipation?  I’ve learned more about how my body operates and am better about being kinder and gentler to it when I travel overseas.

Working with people who are not my own?  I've grown so much as a person because of this.  It's helped me see more that life is not all about me.  I'm more patient, more inquisitive of people, and I like to hear life stories.  I also know when it's time to have a night on my own to recharge so that I can face the next day.

My overworked brain?  It reminds me how thankful I am that I have a job and the opportunity to use my brain.  I’ve been exposed to a lot of foreign languages and have learned a lot about different business cultures.

Transitioning home?  I am more thankful than ever that I have a loving home to come back to.  Traveling makes me appreciate home so much more.

I don’t want to end this post without sharing some of my tips and tricks for dealing with jet lag.  I hope these are helpful and of interest to you if you are a globetrotter.  Happy traveling!

Tips and tricks
Here are my tried and true tips for fighting jet lag:  Melatonin gummies.  I only started using these this year and they are a game changer.  I previously took Advil PM, but these gummies are all natural, I don’t feel hazy in the morning, and they work!  I also feel comfortable taking these on the airplane on the night flight across the pond.  No looking at the clock.  If I wake up in the middle of the night, I refuse to let myself look at the clock.  Why?  If I know what time it is, I get stressed out about “only having xx more hours to sleep” or I start thinking about what time it is back home and my mind fully wakes up.  Don’t look at the clock.  Take a sip of water, go to the bathroom, and climb right back into bed.  Trust me.  No phone.  Whatever you do, if you wake up in the middle of the night DON’T LOOK AT YOUR PHONE!!!  This is jet lag’s best friend.  As soon as I look at my phone, my mind wakes up and gets involved with what’s going on in the news, Facebook, Instagram, the Astros, weather, whatever.  And when the mind is awake, no matter how tired the body is, sleep is hard to grab a hold of.  Besides, how many times do you climb into bed at night and before you know it, you’ve been scrolling on social media for an hour?  Don’t look at your phone. It’s so hard to follow this one because when we are bored and restless, phones are the perfect distraction.  Water.  Drink it.  Lots of it.  Go to a convenience store and make sure there is plenty in your room.  Try not to overeat.  This one is hard for me because I love trying the local food and typically eat a lot more than I do at home.  But I also feel full and bloated and bleh after a big meal.  Try to eat normal amounts of food.
P.S.  This is my first blog post in almost two years.  We are going to have to change that.

Friday, January 29, 2016

I Want to Be Someone Else's Underwear

Hello there, strangers.  I have missed this.  I have thought about writing a blog on multiple occasions and for whatever reason, I didn't do it.  Actually, I know why I didn't do it.  I didn't do it because I feared the judgment that I too often place on so many others who do write blogs.  Judgment that says "That person is screaming for attention" or "They think what they have to say is valuable enough that they need to share it with the world".  Well, all of that might be true.  But when I write, I feel at peace.  I feel liberated and free and honest and true to myself.  Maybe because I'm getting it out there.  It's a way for me to reach out to people when I have no other means to do so.  It's a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences in hopes that it resonates with someone else.  And I think that might be the case for other writers too.  Is it sometimes selfish and prideful? Sure it is.  Sometimes I just need to get something off my chest.  But I think that's okay.  Everyone writes for different reasons.  And everyone needs a little pick me up now and then - sometimes that comes in the form of someone else's words and sometimes that comes in the form of knowing that by your words, you have impacted or inspired someone else.

Okay, now the "sorry-I-haven't-been-here-in-a-while" monologue is over.

Let's talk about underwear.

I have been feeling a bit off lately and it hit me recently that I feel like an accessory in my own life. And accessories are great for us women.  They can add such character to an outfit, can be a fun way to express our personalities and styles, and dress up an otherwise plain closet.  But an accessory without a base layer is not very useful.  Not in everyday life at least.  Everyone wants the outfit first, then adds the accessory on later.  Sometimes we choose not to accessorize and just have our plain clothes on.  Sometimes we're just not in the mood to be fabulous.

Unless you are Scottish and go commando underneath your kilt (hellooo Jamie Fraser from Outlander), everyone needs and chooses to wear underwear.  It's a fundamental piece of any outfit, yet one that is not (or rather should not be) seen.  It's a base layer and most of us would not choose to go without it.  We put it on every morning before anything else, without even thinking about it.  It becomes a piece of us.  Most of us would choose a good, clean pair of underwear over an accessory any day.

I want to be someone else's underwear.

I want to be that favorite pair of briefs.  And I don't necessarily mean for a man.  I mean those relationships where you are first, you are automatically chosen, you fit comfortably, you are a base layer for someone.  You are happy to be hidden behind the scenes because you know you are loved and wanted and secure.  This can come in the form of a spouse, sure, but also a child, a friend, or even a cat or a dog.  When my Kenna cat was still alive, this desire was at least partially fulfilled because she needed me to keep her alive.  And I think I needed her just as much.  Now I just have a kumquat tree and a rose bush to worry about, and quite honestly, they manage keeping themselves alive quite well.

What's the problem with being an accessory in your own life?

I don't think that we are meant to be accessories.  In some people's lives, sure.  We can't be underwear for everyone.  But when we are always an accessory, I believe it's time to rethink things.  I believe that we are meant to be someone else's underwear.  And I think that other people aren't meant to be underwear for us as well.

I think I'm an amazing accessory.  But I'm an accessory partly (okay, mostly) because of my own doing.  I'm an introvert, I don't like big crowds of people whom I'm not familiar with.  I like my small close-knit group of friends.  But sometimes those groups change and when I don't go with the flow and adjust to the changes, I become an accessory.  And often times, I think I have a hard time letting someone else be my underwear.

I don't really feel like I fit in anywhere in my life right now.  I feel like I'm "nice to have" but not mandatory.  I might dress up an occasion or add some flair to something, but I'm not a staple.  I'm not the underlying foundation for anything or anyone right now.  I am nobody else's underwear.  I'm nobody's "go-to" person.  And I don't think this is a good place to be.  It's hard.  I feel worn out and replaceable.  Like that old pair of underwear that you have held on to for too long and finally decide it's time to throw away because the holes are too numerous and are embarrassing to look at in your own mirror?  Yeah, that's me.

I think we all have this innate, guttural desire to be needed.  Whether, as I mentioned earlier, the need comes from a spouse, family, friends, children, even a cat or dog.  Underwear is needed.  Accessories are optional.  I want to be someone else's underwear.  I don't know what that looks like for me and I don't know when or if it will happen, but gosh, I'm tired of being an accessory.

Does this resonate with anyone else?  Am I out on my own island here?  I look around me and it seems as if everyone else is underwear.  Maybe all of this is coming about now because I'm about to have yet another birthday.  I used to love my birthdays and celebrate them, now they are a little less exciting to celebrate.  I don't want a pity party nor do I desire anyone in my life to act differently. What I desire is to have that innate, guttural desire to be needed, satisfied.  And I think that happens naturally, not with effort.  You can't convince someone else that you are their underwear.  It just happens.  So I will sit and wait and dream about the day when I get to be a nice pair of briefs for someone else.  In the meantime, I will continue to be your favorite pair of earrings or even that handbag that brightens up your day.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Finding You

Hi.  Hello there.  It's been a while, my blog friends.  Life has been a bit....well.....unconventional for me lately.  Sometimes I go back into my journal and read my past entries and wonder where the heck the words came from.  Usually it's because I am in a different place than I was when I wrote the entry.  But they are always encouraging to me.  The one I've included below did just that for me today.  It's a bit of raw honesty. 

Journal entry to God - May 25, 2014:

I met with a friend recently and she mentioned several times to me how well I have walked this journey with You over the past year and a half.  Sometimes I think I agree with her (only by Your strength and grace), but most of the time I look back and think what a total disaster I have been.  There have been so many days of roller coaster emotions.  Anger and hurt.  Trying to control things.  Doubting You and questioning Your motives.  Being focused on just a future with him rather than on You and the bigger picture.  Days where I would do anything to be with him and I was full of patience and grace, just to see the next day such frustration with him and the timing of the entire situation.  In my mind, that is not a picture of someone walking well.

BUT, You have always been faithful.  You have never left my side or abandoned the situation.  Whenever I had roller coaster emotions, You would steady them.  Maybe not when I thought You would, but You always did.  You supported me and encouraged me everyday in this, often showing to me glimpses of what might be, giving me hope.  You drew me closer to You along each step of this journey, holding me as close to You as I would let You.  You never let me go.  You showered me with grace and forgiveness at times when I cried out to You in anger and confusion.  You let me be impatient and doubt You.  It didn't change Your love for me.  And You blessed me with moments, or days, or weeks of peace after such emotional turmoil.  Which was the break that I needed to rejuvenate and keep going.  You have never lost sight of the end of this journey or of the purpose along the way.  You were stronger than me and my bullying and ultimatums and You loved me through even those.  You let me scream like a little girl when I needed to and then spoke Your truth to my heart when I was finished.

And that?  That right there - that has been the goal of this journey, hasn't it?  Not that I end up married with two kids and live happily ever after, but that You were able to do all of that in my life, that I was able to see it, and that I would realize that a life without You, no matter who else You add to it, is no life at all.  The purpose of this journey has been finding You.  In the midst of chaos, confusion, anger, impatience.  It's been You that I have truly been searching for.  And I found You.

"We must let go of the life we've planned so as to get the life that is waiting for us" - Joseph Campbell

"...because to receive a gift, the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give" - Ann Voskamp

"Jesus calls me to surrender and there's nothing like releasing fears and falling into peace.  It terrifies, true.  But it exhilarates.  This, this is what I've always wanted and never knew:  this utter trust, this enlivening fall of surrender into safe hands.  There is no joy without trust!" - Ann Voskamp

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Behind the Scenes

I had a conversation with God this morning and it went something like this:

“It’s funny, you know. How I know exactly what I need to do, what I need to talk to You about.  And yet, as excited and eager as I am to break this new ground with You, I keep putting it off.  Finding excuses. Justifying my procrastination.  Why?  Because I’m scared.  Scared to hear what You might say to me.  It’ll be what I need to hear – it always is.  But it’s not what I want to hear.  So I sit and wait and think and look forward to the time when I can give You the focus that I need to.  When my heart is ready to receive the tough lessons that I need to learn.  Because I know they’re there.  I know I need this.  But what if it changes everything? What if…..” 

It’s funny, you know.  How I want something so badly but am afraid to actually get it.  Why is it that I’m afraid of something that I know is good for me?  If I truly am living my life for Christ, shouldn’t I be doing whatever is necessary to draw closer to Him?  So am I really living my life for Him?  Or is it for me?  Is it really for my glory or to somehow lift myself up on a pedestal?  And I do it in the name of Jesus – of course I do.  And my actions even point to that.

But where is my heart?

Is it tangled up somewhere in the web of self-righteousness?  Screaming from deep within in its pitiful yet mighty voice – “Look at me! Look at what I’ve done! Look at what I am doing!” Is it longing for attention?

I believe it is.  I believe my intentions are good but my heart is not in the right place.  I believe on the surface, I am doing everything right.  But if you were to look in the deep, beneath the surface, you would see my heart desperately seeking attention, trying to break through the surface and say “Look at me!”  And why have I been putting off this talk with Jesus?  This tough lesson that I’m so eager for yet dreading at the same time?  Because heart work is hard.  It is messy.  It requires me admitting to things (gasp!) and bringing them into the light.  It requires me to actually do something.  It is active recovery.  There is nothing passive about it.  It is, in the words of my pastor, shedding light on reality versus reputation.  It is stepping out of any spotlight that I may be in, back into the dark corners of the theater, working tirelessly yet happily behind the scenes.  Letting God have the spotlight.  And you see, that’s just it.  I've never been a behind-the-scenes type of girl.  But I need to let God take center stage in my life.  And my proud heart is fighting with me on this.  Which is all the more reason that it needs to happen.  All the more reason, that as we approach Valentine’s Day (and coincidentally the anniversary of my birth), my heart needs help. It so desperately needs help.

I can’t help but think that a heart screaming for attention is wearing itself out.  It must be exhausting for my heart.  Always wanting to be out front, always wondering how I can stay in the spotlight.  And I know that my heart is not made for this.  This pressure that I am putting my heart under is not necessary.  I know that my heart would be much happier playing a supporting role in a play, a life, where Jesus is the lead character.

But that damn pride keeps getting in the way.

And I feed that pride daily.  My pride is getting fat, actually.  I feed that pride on meals of Facebook, Instagram likes and Twitter followers.  On “atta boys” that come from people – some strangers and some close to my heart.  I feel that pride with volunteering for things.  For showing up when people are in need.  In comparing myself with others and thinking “I’m better than her”.  And I know I need to starve my pride.  Feed my humility and starve my pride.  And that doesn’t mean that I stop doing anything that I am doing.  It means that I do it even if nobody finds out.  It means that I go from putting myself in the spotlight to being behind the scenes.  I can think of so many clichés that are appropriate here.  But I can say them all and never mean any of them.

I need a changed heart.  Not a replacement, but an improvement.  I know the only way I can get that is through my relationship with Jesus.  And I’m sorry to say that I’m just too scared for that at this moment.  Too afraid to let go of whatever it is that motivates me every morning.  Because it’s probably not all Jesus right now.  I’m scared to starve my pride.  What will I be without it?  I realize that pride and humility cannot co-exist.  They cannot be roommates in my heart.  But I just don’t know how to evict the pride.  And I don’t think I’m ready to just yet.  Because heart work is hard.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Club Talk That Never Was

I realize that my last blog post was in May. I often have ideas for my “next” blog post, but then things happen. Life happens. And alas, that “next” post never happens. A lot has happened since May. A LOT. I have been to five different countries, four different states, and I have become a Young Life leader. I think the journey to becoming a Young Life leader warrants its own blog post at some point, but it has definitely impacted my life. 

If you are not familiar with Young Life, check out the website for a crash tutorial, or as much information as you could ever want to know, your choice. I think you’ll like what you see! (http://www.younglife.org) 

Anyway, one of the flagship events of Young Life is Club that happens every week. For us, it happens each Monday night. And it’s pretty much the only good thing about Mondays. The kids say that at least. The leaders take turns giving the Club talks (the thought of which almost stopped me from being a Young Life leader). We scheduled out the Club talks for the semester so that everyone knew when they would be speaking. I was assigned two club talks. I survived my first one (with the grace of God and presence of the Holy Spirit, I might add) and was in full preparation for the second one. I had written it. I was learning it. I was praying about anything else specific that God wanted me to share with the kids. I was getting comfortable with it so that I didn’t have to read from my notes. And of course the butterflies were having a party in my stomach. And then the day before, on Sunday afternoon, I learn that I don’t have to give the club talk after all the next day. What??? I can’t say that I wasn’t relieved, but I HAD written the talk, I HAD prayed about it, and I HAD learned a lot myself in preparing it. So, I decided that it shouldn’t go to waste. And therefore, my few blog readers, you get the pleasure of reading “The Club Talk That Never Was”.  I hope that in some way you learn something from it, just like I did.  

This Club talk is the last one of the semester. I think it’ll be self-explanatory :-) 

I am aware that its winter and we are now well and truly in the middle of the holiday season, but I want to take you back a couple of seasons and talk about swimming. 

I was swimming from a very young age, and not in lakes or rivers or oceans, but in a swimming pool. I grew up in the desert, so a swimming pool was the only water that I was comfortable with and really the only water that I had ever known. I happily slid or jumped in feet first, went underwater looking for pennies at the bottom of the pool, pushed off backward off the side of the pool, made myself dizzy doing pool somersaults, had contests with myself to see how long I could hold my breath underwater, pretty much everything that you could imagine. I was happy and comfortable in my little shallow world of 3ft deep. And then at some point, I started becoming aware of the other end of the pool. You know, the “deep end”. Where all the big kids hung out. Where the intriguing “diving board” stood watch over the 10ft of water beneath it. And let me tell you, there is a big difference between 3ft and 10ft of water. In 3ft, I could stand, maneuver myself around and get out quickly and easily whenever I wanted. I wasn’t yet fully committed to the swimming pool. I was kind of taking it for a test drive and seeing how it felt, getting comfortable with it before going any deeper and observing from afar what was happening at the other end of the pool. I don’t remember what age I was when I first learned to dive, but I know I was young enough to want my dad in the pool waiting for me. You know, in case I wasn’t going to make it. Dad needed to be there. 

My decision to learn how to dive took time. Lots of time. I don’t know how much time I spent on the outskirts of the deep end watching others dive over and over again. They had taken the plunge, and now they couldn’t get enough of it. A plain dive was no longer good enough for them anymore, they wanted to dive backwards, or with their eyes closed. I was so intrigued. I wanted to be like all of them. So I started out with getting familiar with the diving board. I’m pretty sure I walked up the stairs and to the end of it a few times, and then turned right back around and back down the stairs. I thought that I was ready, but it turns out that I wasn’t just yet. Eventually, I got up the courage to JUMP off of the diving board, feet first. It was a solid start for me and I was proud of that first step. I jumped off the diving board lots and lots of times. And then I learned how to do the cannonball. And all the while, I was watching and observing others take their dives. Eventually, I had seen enough and it was time. And I needed my dad there, waiting in the water for me. And this time, I climbed that diving board, I got into position with my arms stretched high over my head, and I leaned over and dove head first into that water. And it was incredible. An incredible belly flop. And yeah, it was painful and embarrassing, but I have completed a lot of pretty perfect dives since that day, and quite a few more unintentional belly flops as well, but I will always remember that first dive. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the deep end of the pool. 

All semester we have been talking about a man named Jesus Christ. We have shared a lot of information about Him. Things like how He perform miracles, how He befriends the unloved and unpopular, how He wants to befriend each of you. We’ve explained how God requires you to live a perfect life. To be holy and blameless 100% of the time, just like Jesus. We’ve also delivered the unfortunate news that you were born a sinner and because of that, you don’t have the ability to live a perfect life and you deserve death. You’ve heard the best news that you will ever hear – that this man, this Jesus that we talk about, He took all of your sin, He wore it for you, and He was nailed to a cross and died on your behalf. And your sin went with Him. He was the ultimate sacrifice. He did all of this because He loves you. And then He was resurrected three days later. He is the living God. The only living God. 

So now what? What are you supposed to do with all of this information? Is there any action required on your part? 

My friends God has given you a huge blessing and a huge responsibility. It’s called free will. Free will enables you to make choices. Inevitably, you have made and will continue to make lots of choices in your life. Some, I’m sure, have turned out to be good choices and others probably not so good. Some will be perfect dives and some will be belly flops. C.S. Lewis described it like this: “God created things which had free will. This means creatures which can go wrong or right. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely united with Him in love and delight.” 

I want to tell you about a man in the Bible named Paul. Paul was a Pharisee, a devout Jew in Jerusalem who, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, swore to wipe out the new Christian church. He did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul was very religious. His intentions and efforts were sincere. He was a good Pharisee who knew the Bible. He went as far as to get letters from the High Priest authorizing him to arrest any followers of Jesus Christ. So he had set out on the road to Damascus to do just that. Damascus was a key commercial city about 200 miles away from Jerusalem that linked several trade routes to other cities. Paul may have thought that my stamping out Christianity in Damascus, he could prevent it from spreading to other areas. And Paul was passionate about doing this. He had set out to capture Christians, but He was instead captured by Christ. 

ACTS 9:1-18 in The Voice 

Back to Saul-this fuming, raging, hateful man who wanted to kill every last one of the Lord’s disciples: he went to the high priest in Jerusalem for authorization to purge all the synagogues in Damascus of followers of the way of Jesus. His plan was to arrest and chain any of Jesus’ followers-women as well as men-and transport them back to Jerusalem. He traveled north toward Damascus with a group of companions. Suddenly a light flashes from the sky around Saul, and he falls to the ground at the sound of a voice. 

The Lord says, “Saul, Saul, why are you attacking me?” Saul replies, “Lord, who are you?” Then he hears these words: “I am Jesus. I am the One you are attacking. Get up. Enter the city. You will learn there what you are to do. 

His other traveling companions just stand there, paralyzed, speechless because they, too, heard the voices; but there is nobody in sight. Saul rises to his feet, his eyes wide open, but he can’t see a thing. So his companions lead their blind friend by the hand and take him to Damascus. He waits for there days-completely blind-and does not eat a bite or drink a drop of anything. 

Meanwhile, in Damascus, a disciple names Ananias had a vision in which the Lord Jesus spoke to him. “Ananias”. Here I am, Lord. “Get up and go to Straight Boulevard. Go to the house of Judas, and inquire about a man from Tarsus, Saul by name. He is praying to Me at this very instant. He has had a vision-a vision of a man by your name who will come, lay hands on him, and heal his eyesight.”

Ananias replies, “Lord, I know whom You’re talking about. I’ve heard rumors about this fellow. He’s an evil man and has caused great harm for Your special people in Jerusalem. I’ve heard that he has been authorized by the religious authorities to come here and chain everyone who associates with Your name.” 

The Lord replies, “Yes, but you must go! I have chosen him to be My instrument to bring My name far and wide-to outsiders, to kings, and to the people of Israel as well. I have much to show him, including how much he must suffer for My name.” 

So Ananias went and entered the house where Saul was staying, He laid his hands on Saul and called to him. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, sent me so you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At the at instant, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see. So he got up, received the ceremonial washing of baptism identifying him as a disciple, ate some food, and regained his strength.” 

Did you catch the part about how Paul was blinded? And how he heard Jesus tell him to get up, go into the city, and wait for what he was to do? This was the same Paul who was persecuting followers of Jesus Christ. And he made the decision right then and there to obey the Lord. This Lord that he knew so much about, but whom he didn’t believe in. And when he made that decision, scales fell off of his eyes and he could see again. And he probably felt as if he was truly seeing life the way God intended it to be for the very first time. 

Paul's life-changing experience on the road to Damascus led to his baptism and instruction in the Christian faith. He became the most determined of the apostles, suffering brutal physical pain, persecution, and finally death. He revealed his secret of enduring a lifetime of hardship in Philippians 4:13 by saying that: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Paul is a powerful example of how no one is impossible for God to reach and change. Sometimes God breaks into a life in a spectacular manner, and sometimes conversion is a quiet experience. The right way to come to faith in Jesus Christ is whatever way God brings you. True conversion comes from a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and leads to a new life in relationship with Him. 

The same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and did such a mighty work in Paul wants to work in your life too. What could Jesus do if you surrendered as Paul did and gave him complete control of your life? I want to reread verse 15 which says: “Yes, but you must go! I have chosen him to be My instrument to bring my name far and wide-to outsiders, to kings, and to the people of Israel as well. I have much to show him…” You see, you have no idea what God has planned for your life. You have no idea the ways that He can use you. You are uniquely and perfectly created for His purpose. And you will never know or reap the benefits of that purpose until you accept Jesus as your personal Savior. 

Maybe you are not a Paul. Perhaps you don’t know the Bible at all. Perhaps you only know what you have learned here at Young Life. Perhaps you are just like I was at your age. Let me tell you a story. 

I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I have put my faith in Him, I believe that He died for my sins, that He was resurrected, and that He is coming back. But I didn’t always believe. I grew up thinking that good girls go to heaven. And sure, I believed that there WAS a God, and I liked the idea of it, but I had no concept of what it was like to truly have faith in Him. I didn’t understand my need for a Savior and I certainly didn’t think I needed to depend on anything or anyone else in my life. I didn’t see myself as a sinner, and really didn’t understand what sin was apart from the rules that my parents set out for me to follow. There came a time in my adult life, in my mid-20s, when I was brought to my knees and finally surrendered my heart and my life to the Lord. And let me tell you, it was a lot like learning to dive. Over the years I had gathered all of the information that I needed, I had friends who were believers, heck I graduated from a Baptist university. But I was in the shallow end of the pool, in 3ft of water, safe and comfortable, observing what was going on in the 10ft of water on the other end of the pool. And I wanted to be down there in the deep end so badly. I wanted a life that was clutched tightly in the hands of Jesus. I wanted a life where I knew that Jesus would carry all of my burdens, that He would help me through anything, and that He would light up the path before me. And then I realized that the only thing that was keeping me from having all of that was me. My free will. My decision. And then I dove. I dove straight into the arms of Jesus waiting for me in 10ft of water. Straight into the arms of my Savior. And friends, I stand here today and tell you that making the decision to put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Savior has been and will always be the most important decision in my life. 

Last week you saw some cardboard testimonies – some examples of how making the decision to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior has changed people’s lives. It changed mine. It can change yours too. And I want that for each of you. 

Do you know that Jesus prayed specifically for you in the Bible? He prayed for all future believers. He prayed for all who would follow Him, including you and others you know. He prayed for unity, protection and holiness. Let me read this prayer in John Chapter 17. 

My prayer is not for them alone (here He is referring to His disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 

So I want you walking away tonight thinking about the decision that you have to make and knowing that there are a lot of people here tonight who care about you and who are here to talk to you if you have any questions. Grab any of the leaders and we will help you through this decision process when you are ready. If you’re not ready for the deep end yet, if you can’t quite dive in head first, that’s okay. Just know that you have a Savior who is already there, in 10ft of water, patiently waiting for you. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bricks of Burden

*Disclaimer: This blog is not about dieting. I just need to set the stage!*

The way that I see it, there are two schools of thought regarding gaining weight. One school says that you shouldn’t really pay attention to how much you weigh, just go by how your clothes fit. The other school will say that you need to weigh yourself on a regular basis so that if you start to gain weight, albeit maybe only 1 or 2 pounds, you can jump on it and reverse your habits before you do too much damage. I guess there is a third school of thought that basically doesn’t care :-) For me, I think I’m somewhere in between. Yes, the way that my clothes fit is a good indication of whether or not I’m gaining or losing weight, but sometimes clothes are quite forgiving up to a point. And do I really want to reach that point before I realize that I have a problem?

The impact that a few pounds has on a body is significant. It’s said that for every pound you add to your body, you are adding three pounds of stress or impact to your knees. So those 5 pounds that were gained over the past couple of months because you got lazy? Your knees are now carrying 15 extra pounds around. And over time, all of that extra weight adds up and begins to really take a toll on your body. Your body slowly adjusts to the extra weight, but so many parts of the body are negatively affected in the process. Our bodies are incredible machines. They are working constantly to keep us alive. Why would we ever want to place extra pressure on them and make them work that much harder? Think about that for a moment.

Now let’s talk about our souls. The way I see it, the weight that we carry around in our souls is burden. The definition of burden is “the bearing of a load.” Our souls are not meant to bear a load. But in my life, I find it happening over and over. And I acknowledge that it’s completely my fault. I see the similarities between the physical weight that we carry on our bodies, and the burden that we carry in our souls. A small amount of burden, one brick of burden, may be added to us one day. And then we start carrying it around, and perhaps we barely notice it. And then the next day, we may be burdened with something else; another brick gets added. And our souls starts to adjust to this extra weight, and it starts impacting more areas of our life. And then if we are not careful, the cycle continues. And before we know it, our souls are weighed down with these bricks of burden. And our souls begin to crush under the pressure.

Why am I saying all of this? Because our souls are not meant to carry the burdens that we place on them. God is. He will take every burden from us and carry it Himself. I have been learning that lesson first hand lately, and it’s a hard one. I want to control things. I want to fix things. I want to make things okay. But I don’t have the ability to do that. And if I stack those bricks of controlling, fixing, and making everything okay on my soul, the weight will be too heavy and I will crush it. It will collapse under the pressure. Our souls are sacred and sensitive. They house so much of who we are and hold the hope of who we want to become. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives there.

I can’t help but believe that this is a serious issue. Mainly because there are so many Bible verses that relate to this exact topic. And the tricky part is that we may not even realize that we are burdening our souls! We may have a houseful of bricks stacked up and not really recognize it. But if we weigh ourselves, rather, weigh our souls, on a regular basis, then we might just be able to protect them from the bricks of burden.

I don’t know any magical ways of doing this, but I do know this: when my soul is burdened, I feel restless and uneasy. My focus is not on God, but on those burdens. And when I think about all of the things that I want to control and fix more than I do my God, then I’m pretty sure that my soul is beginning to crush under the weight. So I try and do a self-scan on a daily basis of the things in my life that are bothering me; the things that I am focusing on that are distracting me from God. And then I try and release those things to God. He always accepts those bricks of burden for me. And He’ll carry them for as long as I’ll let Him. It’s a glorious thing! And when I do that, it doesn’t mean that I’m happy and everything in my life is great. But it means that despite everything that may be going on, I have hope and a soul that is being nourished by my Father rather than carrying the weight of my burdens.  And I want to love Him with the best of me.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment." - Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Balance Beam

I was a gymnast once. And I use the term “gymnast” in the loosest sense of the word. I went to the gymnastics center, tried to learn how to do a back handspring, use the vaulting horse, and develop enough upper body strength to use the bars. I really wasn’t successful at any of those. I was too tall and lanky, not to mention clumsy. But what I was good at (at least to my recollection), was the balance beam. And I don’t mean Olympic routines, I mean standing on the balance beam and not falling off. Perhaps getting in a hop or two or switching the position of my feet. I think my favorite part of gymnastics was getting to wear fun leotards. What girl doesn’t like to parade around in a fun leotard?

The thing that I remember most about the balance beam is that I had to focus on staying on or I would almost always fall off. And every time I fell off, I had to hop back up there again. This was the literal example of “you fall back down and get back up again”. How cliché, but true. Every once in a while I would find myself day dreaming and still standing on the balance beam, but those moments were few and far between. Fast forward, oh I don’t know, thirty years or so, and I am again a gymnast. But this time, the balance beam is my spiritual life, my walk with the Lord. And while it’s a few decades later, I still feel clumsy. And I still fall off a lot.

The Bible references the narrow road that leads to life. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it – Matthew 7:14. I liken that narrow road to a balance beam. I cannot stay on a balance beam without focus. I also cannot stay on the narrow road that leads me to life without focusing on God. It doesn’t just happen, folks. It takes concentration, intentional choices, and sacrifice. I can’t live my life the way that the world lives, because this world is fallen, broken, ugly, and ruled by sin. But lately, I feel as if I have been falling off of that balance beam quite a lot. And maybe I’m even a bit bruised. And sometimes it hurts pretty badly. And I have to make the conscious choice to climb back up on that balance beam and try to focus all over again.

What I’m learning is that this will be my life forever. I might get better at balancing my life, but there will always be something that distracts me from staying on that balance beam. And I will have to find the strength to climb back up there each time I fall off. I’ve also found that I have “spiritual muscles.” I’m really working on developing these and toning them up right now. And I do that my getting in the Word, praying, journaling, having conversations with God, listening to Him, and spending time with people who also love the Lord. I do this by living my life with open palms instead of clenched fists, by surrendering my day to God each morning, and continually acknowledging and thanking Him for the many blessings in my life. I do this by making good choices, taking every thought captive to Him, turning over my doubts and fears to Him, asking Him for guidance, and trusting Him. And sometimes, I work really hard and build those muscles up and have the strength to stay on that balance beam, on that narrow road. Other times, I get sucked in by life and everything that I add to my plate, and I don’t exercise those spiritual muscles, and they start to shrink again. And I lose the strength to stay balanced, and I fall off. Over and over again. I detour off of that narrow road and join the highway going 70mph.

Over time, a gymnast’s body gets comfortable on the balance beam and it becomes a little easier to stay on and perform a routine. Practice makes perfect, or at least better. It’s the same with walking on the narrow road. When we develop a routine and build up our spiritual muscles, we can stay on that balance beam or that narrow road a little longer before we fall off. But as soon as we start to daydream and get lazy, guess what happens? We get distracted, we lose our strength, and we fall right off.

I know that we are not all gymnasts. Honestly, I probably never was. I was probably just that little girl running around in a fun leotard pretending to be good at something. But as I’ve gotten older, I don’t want to pretend anymore. I don’t want to pretend that I love Jesus, yet not show it in how I live my life or how I treat others. I don’t want to pretend that everything in my life is perfect when I’m walking around bruised from falling off of the balance beam over and over again. I want to work at being a better gymnast. I want to build up my spiritual muscles so that I can stay on that balance beam for as long as possible. And even when I fall off, I always want to have the determination and strength to climb back up. Because that balance beam will always be there and it will always be narrow, just like the road to life. And I will always fall off, but I don’t have to stay there.