Saturday, November 30, 2013

Holidays and Wandering Hearts

Each morning I awake and pray to the Lord: "bind my wandering heart to Thee."

It's the holiday season. Since before Halloween, stores have begun to stock their shelves with Christmas lights, decorations, stocking stuffers, and everything for the holidays. Christmas lists were made months ago, written full of things we think we so desperately "need." Buying gifts anytime there is a deal becomes the norm and money is quickly drained from bank accounts. Baking holiday treats becomes a daily occurrence.

This is life in the holiday season. It is busy. I have spent the past three days inundated in the holidays, moving from one holiday task to another. The days have been full of holiday fun and joy and have been truly wonderful. But in some small ways the holiday things become more of my heart's focus than the Creator of the holidays.

And what a sad sad thing that is.

Thanksgiving should be a lifestyle. Our hearts should be overflowing with gratitude to the One who died on a cross to save us... And while Thanksgiving is a day for good eating, it is also a day to love and be thankful for the One who blesses you with food to eat and for the people who fill the chairs around the table with you.

As for Christmas pictures, it is about loving the people in the picture with you; not taking the most picturesque photo that portrays a false sense of perfection. It is more about the community living in the photo than the photo itself.

And then there are twinkle lights. The lights that sing sweet music to my heart and give me butterflies in my stomach each and every time they twinkle. May I know that the Lord of the universe is the ultimate source of joy and the ultimate source of light each time those lights are a sparkling.

And those are the things that my wandering heart forgets sometimes. This holiday season, I want to continue to stand in awe of our Heavenly Father whose love is everlasting. I want to be overjoyed by the Savior with a remarkable name, Jesus. I want to know and celebrate the Creator of the holidays, not just the holiday.

In this season Lord, and in all times, bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Held By Love in the Mountains

Some days I ask myself "how in the hell did I get myself to Fraser, CO, one of the coldest cities in America?" And when I think about it there are the obvious ways: the whole I applied for a year-long position and when Frontier ended their program I ended up applying for the year-long at Crooked Creek... and then I got the internship and accepted it... and then at some point in August I packed up all my belongings in Fonda and drove across the country. There are all of those things that easily explain how I got here.

But digging deeper, I believe that the Lord has brought me to this valley and to this place. He has gone far beyond my own ability to plan to draw me to this place of love.

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." -Proverbs 16:9

It is no secret that my last semester of college and the summer that followed were difficult for me. There were months full of confusion, pain, and frustration. Graduating seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen to me, coupled with many difficult situations and relationships. So when it came to moving to Colorado, I was dragging my feet and begging the Lord to change the plans for my life. I did not think I was ready and I was filled with fear. 

But somehow, I am still here. The Lord never granted my requests for a different life direction. He had far greater plans than I could ever imagine or have prayed for. He is the Author of a story far different and far more spectacular than I could have ever written for myself.

He has brought me to this valley, surrounded by the most majestic mountains, to draw me to my knees and to hold me in His love. As I stand in awe of the mountains that surround me, I too stand in awe of the Lord that is surrounding me and holding me in His perfect, steadfast love. 

I would have never picked Fraser, CO as the place I would be held in the Lord's love. I thought that place was Chapel Hill... the place where my best friends were, where people knew my pain and frustrations, where I was comfortable, and where I felt safe.

But the Lord works differently than I do (praise the Lord for that because Lord knows I am slightly crazy most days). He has brought me to a place where I am being held by the mountains and I am  being held by His love. 

Just the other day I ordered Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. It is the bomb dot com and will rock your brain and heart cells. And in it I read: "You have to begin to trust that your experience of emptiness is not the final experience, that beyond it is a place where you are being held in love." 

The experience of pain and emptiness is not final. Some days, the enemy tries to make me believe that it is final, but it is not. Those are lies. The battle has already been won. The Son of Man died of a cross, defeated death, and has risen victoriously so that we are not kept in a place of pain. On the cross He exclaimed, "It is finished." Jesus has brought us to a place of freedom and life and love through His resurrection. 

And my time here in valley is just that... the place I am being held in the Lord's love. It is the place beyond the experience of emptiness and pain. It is the place the Lord speaks to me sweetly and is daily reminding me that He has not left me, but that He instead has something far better for me than I ever thought myself. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

From Both Sides

The days are long at times. Especially long when 700 campers and leaders are pouring into camp on Friday evening. There are sheets to be folded, cabins to be cleaned, mattresses to be moved, food to be prepared, snow to be shoveled, lodges to be turned over, and everything else in between.

Quite frankly, some days it can be rough. It seems that one more radio call to move more mattresses across camp might be the breaking point. Tension runs high as patience wanes and the sunlight draws to a close. Nothing really describes fun like scrubbing marshmallow off of a stage, then cleaning up the food stomped into the floor of the snack bar, followed by scrubbing toilets all around camp.

There is nothing glamorous in the job. 

Except, we are setting up a place for the gospel to be proclaimed. Now that is a beautiful responsibility.  That is the joy and heart of working at a Young Life camp.

So when patience is drying up and energy is slowly being sucked down the drain, I pray for eyes to see the work the Lord is doing here at Crooked Creek. I pray for hope in something more than just the work. I pray for joy that bubbles up from the deepest part of my soul that delights in the dirty jobs and the long days.

For you see, the Lord is doing mighty things on this property. He is working and stirring in hearts of hundreds of high schoolers and middle schoolers.

Just last weekend, I stood on the other side of the camping dynamic.

I rolled into Crooked Creek in a ten car caravan with 47 campers and leaders from Grand County and I was set to be leader for the weekend.

No longer was I working at camp, but I was participating at camp. And the beautiful and magical masterpiece of Young Life camping was drawn full circle.

As we sat in the club room and Shelley spoke, the gospel was proclaimed. As we played glow mixers and walls were broken, the gospel was proclaimed. As program created laughter of the deepest sorts, the gospel was proclaimed. As stories were shared in cabin time and bonds were formed, the gospel was proclaimed. As we left unified as a Grand County Young Life area, the gospel was proclaimed.

Praise the One who died on the cross to give us such good news to proclaim. Praise the Father who is working on Young Life camps all over the country to draw high school and middle school students to Himself.

And as this weekend closes and another 700 people leave camp, I know that our work here is worth every single second, every single tear, and every single difficult day.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Best Friend Turns 23

I met my best friend one chilly day at the end of May of 2011 in northern Michigan. She had just gone down the obstacle course slide at Timber Wolf Lake fully clothed and she was soaked and freezing. I did not know then that I was meeting my best friend, but now I look back at that moment and know that I did.

Today is her twenty-third birthday and today's post is in honor of her.

Amanda Vivian Stephens changed the way that I understand a friendship can be.

To put words to our friendship does not do it justice, but I'll try nonetheless. We are the friends that have only lived together for two summers, but understand one another in ways that do not make sense. We are the friends that will make the twelve hour drive to see one another because sometimes it's just necessary. We are the friends who escape the swamp for coffee and chai for doses of best friend sanity. We are the friends who hop on planes to surprise one another. We are the friends who when both have to drive somewhere, Sushi will offer to drive one of the cars so we can ride together. We are the friends who answer the phone at all times of the day when the other one is calling. We are the friends who have the difficult conversations. We are the friends who fight for one another and wipe one another's tears. We are the friends that will one day convince our future husbands that it is best for us to live next door to one another. Yes, we are those friends.

And here is what our friendship has taught me about life and about friendships: 

1- Long distance best friendships are more than possible. They can be some of the most intentional and rewarding relationships.

2- Best friends are there to speak truth into the hard places in your life and are there to point you back to Jesus every single time.

3- A twelve hour road trip to see a best friend is worth it. Every. Single. Time. And so are last minute plane tickets. 

4- A best friend can see past the "it's okay" and the "I'm fine" and can insist that you actually tell the truth, the whole truth on how you feel.

5- Some mornings require calling your best friend twice before 8:00am, because that's just how life goes.

6- Growth happens when you believe the best in one another and challenge one another to know the Lord more.

7- Play dates in northern Michigan with your best friend might just possibly be the best thing in the entire world.

8- Extending one another grace when one falls short is not only necessary, but it is also life-giving.

9- Some thoughts can just be communicated through a simple laugh or smile or raise of the eyebrows, because you just know what the other is thinking.

10- No matter where in the world two people are and no matter how far apart they are, the Lord can create connections between two friends that make bonds that go far deeper than you ever thought possible.