Southeast Asia Travel Diary: Day One

16,000 kilometers. 9,941 miles. Ten and a half timezones. Three planes. Two buses. Over 40 people. Sometimes, numbers can be both incredibly revealing and quite dulling. Once a certain threshold has been reached, numbers become abstractions. Try to picture every star in the night sky or ever grain of sand on the beach. You may be able to fathom such immense detail for a time, but a point comes when generalities become far more practical for our minds to comprehend. We can easily comprehend what a stadium of 43,000 people looks like, but we cannot fully appreciate the unique detail given to each individual. In writing this summary of my recent vacation to Southeast Asia, I do not want the sheer amount of detail to be lost on you, because each number shared here is representative of someone like you or I. Each uniquely created, uniquely gifted, with a story to go along with them! Even I do not know the full story of each person I interacted with during my brief time on the other ends fo the globe. I wish to dispel the cynicism that can easily overtake us when we are told large numbers or what could be considered cliche. Frankly, nothing that occurred during my time in Southeast Asia could be considered cliche or simplistic. What follows is an account of the work God, the almighty creator of the universe, is doing in the other-most reaches of the world.

I am convinced that the closest thing to time travel that we have is air travel. Travel to the East, and your 24 hour day becomes 15. Travel to the West, and your 24 hour day becomes 36 hours long. You can see the sun rise in the morning in one airport, land at another at noon, leave on another flight, and land at your final destination just a mere 4 hours later. What kind of magic is this? Time. In order to arrive in Southeast Asia, henceforth shortened to SEA, I had to endure three different flights with various layovers over the course of three days. I’ve learned over the years the best way to overcome the rigorous demands of travel is to drink as much water as you can, as often as you can. The pressurized cabins of airplanes are notorious for causing dehydration and because your ability to move is greatly restricted, the desire to hydrate is diminished. I was determined to be attentive, alert, and fully present once we arrived at our destination. Upon meeting up with the rest of the team, I was energized. I was ready to go! There is work to be done!

However, before the work could begin, we had to take a long bus ride to the compound that we could call home for the week. While this should have taken roughly four hours by all logical reasoning, our trek turned into six hours because traffic works differently in this part of the world. As we would learn, we are on SEA time and that means we arrive when we arrive. All things considered, we were on an adventure! The bus we rode in was unlike any other I had been on. You could sleep in a bed that resided over the standard seats below. Think about the Night Bus in Harry Potter and you’ve got a good start.

We chugged along at whatever speed we were presently able to go, with intermittent stops, and even a portion of time where we were reversing against oncoming traffic! All the while, I talked with my friends, L., B., and H. about what they had been up to before I made my rendezvous with them. We laughed about the craziness of our rather eclectic bus, watched the incredible landscapes against the sun zoom by, and laughed at random stories and jokes and memes. I, being someone who is rather fond of quality time, really enjoyed being with my friends and sharing in the experience of our journey. We finally arrived at our compound in a bustling little city in the heart of the jungle and we settled in for the night by finding our bunk mates and preparing for dinner.

So technically, our first day in SEA was entirely dedicated to travel… but there is so much to tell! In fact, at the time of our arrival, there was a wedding being hosted in our compound which meant that the night was going to be full of partying and fireworks! B. had already told us about how she had crashed one wedding in her time in SEA and as we wrapped up dinner we decided to go outside to see what all the commotion was about. Our curiosity was short lived, however, and I headed off for bed.

The morning came quickly for me, as I was wide awake at three in morning (which became a common occurrence for those in our compound during our stay) and I tossed and turned until I finally decided it was late enough to justify being out and about. I got dressed and stepped out into the very warm morning. The sound of tennis balls being plopped back across the net filled the city’s symphony. A cacophony of car and motorcycle horns constantly punctuated the soundscape. I was at home! I went downstairs and awaited breakfast.

Breakfast and dinner were communal affairs, which I sorely miss, as the entire team sat down to share a meal together over pleasant conversation. Toast with butter and jelly were served to us with omelettes with a masala twist, and to top off such a fine meal, chai tea! I cannot explain or describe how this spiced tea differentiated from what we call chai in America, but I can only tell you that it is so much better than what we drink! One of our local leaders told me to savor it as much as I could because I would not be able to recreate it back home. They were correct, I couldn’t!

After breakfast, we moved on to orientation where we gave introductions to everyone who was with our group. Basically, we shared our name, what we do, etc. You know, the simple basic questions. However, when it got to my turn, I was given some additional questions that nobody else was given. Was I single. Yes. And if I was searching. Also yes. Apparently, our designated leaders like to also play matchmakers. Who needs Christian Mingle after all? Jokes aside, it was here in orientation that our teams were developed. Breaking into teams of three, which had been assigned prior to our departures, we began to get a sense of what roles we were going to take for this first day. Some would lead introductions, others would share stories, and others, still, would lead prayer.

Due to my circumstances, I was the odd man out. A man without a team. However, I sat back and awaited my instructions as I would be team hopping each day. Many factors played into my role during the week, but I was excited for any and every opportunity that God had in store of us. So while the teams found their rhythms, I went through my pack and doubled checked my gear. If you did not already know, I am a photographer and will take photos where I am with whatever I have. It just so happened that I had a ton of gear to use this time around and wanted to make sure it was in tip top shape for the day ahead.

Once everything began to wind down, we packed up and headed for the cars to leave the compound. As I walked through the entrance of the compound I was told to head out with my first of many teams. I joined B. S. and L. and our local leader and translator in our tiny vehicle and drove out of the city and into the jungle. I somehow managed to get my 25lbs bag into my lap and into the front seat. If I had known now what I didn’t then, I would have packed my gear differently. Fortunately, tomorrow is a new day! We drove for roughly 40 minutes away from the compound into the fields and forests which rural farmers worked. Each village we passed was more colorful and poor than the last, and the cows wandered the roads like stray dogs. If one did not know any better, they very well would have been asking themselves about how peculiar everything they were seeing was.

The more we drove, the more I was reminded of my time in the Middle East. The homes built in similar ways, traffic behaving in similar ways, the nature of small, dense villages brought back many memories. The biggest difference being in where there would have been sand, there were now trees and fields. We pulled aside on a dirt road, in front of a red temple for some god, and crossed the street to a homestead made of five units. Our local leader escorted us to the first home where we promptly removed our sandals and greeted an older gentleman and his son. With a small bow, the pressing of our hands together as though we were praying (called “giving honor” mudra), and a warm “namaskar” or “I bow to you with respect.” I was given the only plastic chair to sit in just inside the doorframe, and others were quickly gathered from adjacent homes when word spread of our arrival. Our team each had a seat and L. began making introductions by thanking the family for receiving us in their home and telling them that we had come from a far away place just to meet them!

As we made small talk through our translator, more villagers gathered just outside the doorstep. Women sat tightly together in whatever available space was present, and men sat on the stoop as B. shared a story with them from the Bible. I do not recall which story specifically B. shared with them, but he was very animated and full of passion as he recounted scripture. My head, naturally on a swivel, panned around as I took in every detail of the people who sat with us, those passing by, the details of the way in which the people lived. I was never taken aback or hit with extreme culture shock, nor had I held any preconceived notions or expectations coming into SEA. We, then, shared stories and extended an invitation for those who had been listening to respond to the glory and power of Jesus Christ. They accepted!

Having shared a story, a testimony, and greeting, we moved on to the next home as some of the villagers followed closely behind. We kicked off our sandals and greeted the people living there as our translator pointed out the many idols that were littered across the entry way, showed us the shrine that they had made to worship their idols. Thus, as we settled into out seats, I felt a tug on my soul. A single name was pressed upon my lips, and as my teammates and I looked at one another pondering what story we should share, I just said “Elisha.” One man, a prophet of the one true God, against 400 prophets of the false god Baal. Such an incredible scale and opposition would speak directly to the true, mighty power of the almighty God! So, as L. made introductions, I turned into scripture and skimmed through the passage to gather the more important bits that would resonate with what we had been presented with.

When my time came, I stood up and introduced the story that told of God’s power and majesty. There came a time when the people of God had turned away from Him, and they followed many false gods. One day the people approached Elisha, a man who remained faithful to the one true God. They questioned who followed the true god. Them or Elisha. So Elisha posed a challenge to the 400 prophets of the false gods, let us build an altar to our respective gods and let us ask them to answer with fire. For days, the 400 prophets of Baal cried out to their god. Cutting themselves, performing sacrifices, and anything else they could think of to spur their god to act. Elisha, watching this unfold over many days mocked the people, cried out to the prophets to yell louder for their god is surely asleep and can’t hear them or perhaps he is relieving himself. Finally, after the prophets of Baal had exhausted themselves, Elisha called for a trench to be dug around his altar and to have jar after jar of water poured out over the altar until the trench was full. Elisha prayed to God and asked Him to respond with His holy fire, and fire fell from the heavens consuming the drenched altar, the trench full of water, and the people were awestruck. Who is this God they asked. Elisha beckoned to those who believed in the true God to turn from their wicked ways.Having completed the story, I began to unpack the passage. To preach and explain the significance of what happened and who God is to us, why He sent us to America to these people, and why He wants them to turn from their sinful ways. We offered an invitation and even more came to be saved! Praise the Lord! Serious, God is so good! My words here do no do justice to the work God is doing in the nations. I wish to give you some insight to what I did, what I saw, and what I saw the Holy Spirit doing! God is doing so much more and there is far more to share than I can reasonably fit into this post. So much happened during our short time in SEA and I am eagerly looking forward to going back! So, for now, I will leave you here with some of what happened on my first day and will return soon with another look into our time in SEA!

Grace and peace to you,

Terren

She Is…Obedient

Today, I would like to share the work of a dear friend of mine who has just recently begun sharing her writing online! I hope that you find her article both encouraging and applicable to your spiritual walk with God. Enjoy She is…

She is Ministries

“For God did not give you a spirt of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self- discipline.” – 2nd Timothy 1:7

How many times have you held your tongue when God has told you to speak, or how many times have you sat on your bed at night thinking of opportunities God placed before you but you missed because fear stepped in the way? Fear, it’s a small four letter word, and yet we let it dictate our lives, we even go so far as to listen to this four letter word over God. I am no stranger to this sin, and yes I do say sin. Why do I call fear a sin, so glad you asked. First though I feel  I need to clarify, there are healthy fears and unhealthy fears. Fear of God is good good; fear of failure is bad bad. Ok now that…

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Take Initiative

American culture is marked by capitalism and consumerism. The free market enterprise enables competition and diversity among businesses, products, and utilities. Just think about the cereal aisle of your local HEB or Kroger’s which undoubtedly has over 5o types of cereal from five or six different brands with many variations on the same style of cereal. Such diversity reveals the inherent ability we as consumers have in making decisions. We have the ability to choose that which alines most with ourselves and our preferences. Additionally, we have the ability to communicate, with our wallets, where we prefer to get the things we want. The immense amount of choice Americans have is very different from the majority of the world, which is historically marked by imperialism.

Unlike our colonial parent, Americans have far more flexibility in the social hierarchy as we revolted against the monarchy. In this sense, the “American dream” rings true. Americans get to pick and choose how to proceed through their lives, and can take steps to better themselves. I speak historically, and while it is highly unlikely there exists the chance that I could become president. While it would be impossible for the majority of Britons to become King or Queen without being in direct succession of the royal bloodline. Now, this article is not on colonial politics or empires of old or even the American dream, but rather the invasive and destructive nature consumerism within the Church.

I recently had a conversation with a friend and disciple of mine who commented how, to use their wording, “popular” I am among within our ministry, which sparked this basis of this post. This person did not mean popular in the sense in which the word is mainly used, as I am not popular in the slightest. I am tolerated or respected, sure, but I am hardly popular. My friend’s observations stemmed from a desire to increase their circle of friends and to know people more fully, and they had taken notice of my interactions with others and how I seemed to know everyone and they knew me. My response to my friend was simple, I asked, “When is the last time you initiated something with someone?” There was a pause in the conversation and then a look of understanding from my friend.

My interaction with my friend here only presented one of many ways in which consumerism within the Church rears it’s head. We bemoan that Churches are too large and that nobody cares to reach out. We lament that the children’s ministry isn’t up to snuff. The preacher is too charismatic or too conservative. The music is too loud, too contemporary, too boring, and so forth. We lay out all sorts of grievances and complaints, but when do we ever do something about it? When is the last time you stood up and took action when something didn’t go as you liked? As it pertains to making friends or getting invested within a congregation, when is the last time you initiated? Most likely you didn’t and you sat around idly waiting for something to happen. What happened next? Most likely nothing, and you responded in exasperation and vowed never to return to this church or that church.

Physics can help us in understanding intuitive. A rock that sits precariously on the edge of a cliff contains within it’s state a lot of potential energy. Key word is potential! As it sits on the cliff, unmoved yet having the potential to move, it will do nothing until the stone is acted upon. A small breeze may have an effect upon the boulder, but it is not enough to overcome its resting energy. However, let’s say someone comes up to the boulder and gives it a firm shove which causes the stone to shift just enough for gravity to do the rest. The boulder begins cascading down the mountainside while quickly gaining more momentum. What happened? Something acted upon the stone, and the stone responded. You are the stone that sits on the precipice and you have a great deal of potential within you. What are you going to do with that potential?

Initiative can be loosely defined as the ability to assess things and to them take action or as the opportunity to act and to take charge. Returning to my disciple, I pointed out to them that the social engagement that they had been witnessing was the result of many years of intentionality and purposefulness. What wasn’t seen were the many nights of shed tears, the feelings of loneliness, of not being understood, the frustrations that stemmed from cliches, and so forth. My “popularity” or more accurately my standing with people took many years to form and develop. What would have happened if I did nothing or I waited for other’s to change? Would I be where I am today? Probably not, I’d likely be much worse for wear. I took initiative to engage with others and the community which assisted in changing things for the better. Now to be clear, I was not alone in doing this and what our ministry looks like today has been the result of God and many other people who were purposeful in their actions.

Those who changed the world, people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Gandhi, etc., took ownership of something and used their potential to overcome it. What’s the difference between them and us? Nothing! They are and were people just like you or I! Their circumstances may have been different, their upbringing different, and abilities may have been different, but the one thing that they have in common is that they took initiative. They took ownership of what was before them, and they changed the world. The smart phone may have looked very differently had Steve Jobs not created the iPhone. The revitalization and privatization of space exploration would likely not have happened had Elon Musk not attempted all that SpaceX is currently doing to innovate shuttle launches. The majority of people who have found success today were not born into it, but rather they worked their way there through years of trial and tribulation. They did not stand by and complain about this or that without having skin in the game.

This brings us back around to Church consumerism. Where do you stand currently? Are you sitting in the pew complaining without taking action or are you putting skin into the game? Are you making an effort to change that which is not working or pointing out issues without offering a solution? You may gripe, complain, and bemoan many things, but you’ll never experience change until you take ownership and take initiative. Want to have a thriving college ministry? Start one! Want to find the community within the Church, invite others to be apart of something! What to make friends, then be a friend and go out for boardgames and coffee! Do not be disillusioned, no singular congregation of people is perfect. Every church is flawed and full of hypocrites like you and I! You can hop around from church to church to church and will always find something that isn’t working properly, and you can complain about it all day and night… but what are you going to do to change that?

The Church is not a set of buildings with different names or corporate sponsorships, the Church is God’s people. One thing that I’ve learned throughout my time in life is that investing in people hardly, if ever, yields no returns. The people who change lives and the world are not the ones sitting idly. They are the ones who are doing, who are stepping up to do something about the very things you dislike. They are the ones who are putting to action that which God commanded. On this side of heaven, we will never know of perfection in its completest sense. However, we can strive to be and create environments which closely mirror the likeness of God’s design for the Church. The catch is that you have to overcome yourself and to seize the opportunities places before you. Most people are unlikely to realize the potential impact and influence they possess in leading in the Church. Most people are going to sit back and be passive, laissez faire, and be shoppers instead of being innovators. Scripture tells us in Galatians 6:7 that “… for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” What you get out of Church, community, worship, and all of life for that matter, is what you invest into it. Take initiative! Seize the opportunities to invest in yourself and into others! How can iron sharpen iron, if all the iron is doing is going out of its way to complain that its not being sharpened? Did the iron consider taking itself to the anvil and being forged? Obviously, you and I are the iron in this metaphor. You must overcome yourself and our sinful tendencies to complain, to wait for others to do, and to criticize the very things that we had no part in developing!

There’s a quote that everyone and their grandmother knows from The Empire Strikes Back: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Either you are doing something to make a change or you are not. Attempting to do is not actually doing. You can talk about what you are going to do all day long, but until you put any actionable effort toward what you are talking about it is nothing. You are doing nothing. Don’t just talk about it, but actually do what you are talking about! If you want to bring worship close toward discipleship, then join the worship team and begin putting that into action. If you want to grow more deeply with friends, then make a conscientious effort to initiate gatherings! Go! Do! Make! Don’t just sit around and wait! The world was never changed by someone doing nothing. The world will never change for someone who isn’t acting to make the world a better place.

Check in with Your “Strong” Friends

We know who they are and know why we rely upon them. They are the cornerstones, the pillars, the anchors, the structural supports, and the baseboards. They are our strong friends. For one reason or another, they seem to weather any and all waves that are hurled in their direction through life and seem to remain standing as though nothing phases them. You know exactly who that person or persons are in your life and can probably list off many occasions when you’ve gone to them for advice, for support, or for encouragement. You’ve gone to them frequently, but when is the last time you’ve stopped to check in on them?

Strength manifests itself through a variety of means, and is marked with very specific characteristics. Your “strong” friends can likely be described through the same manner, and are identified by those very specific characteristics. Consistency, integrity, character, authority, and honesty are just a handful of descriptors that we commonly use in reference to our “strong” friends (particularly within Christian circles). Strong friends carry themselves in a particular manner, not as though they are trying to present themselves off as something they are not or as to mischaracterize themselves, but that is a result of their life experiences. Our perception of our strong friends is the beginning of a larger issue, because we overlook or forget that they are going through life just like you and I are. Chances are, your strong friend is exhausted. Chances are, you strong friend feels defeated. Chances are, your strong friend is teetering on the precipice of hopelessness. Chances are, your strong friend is being weighed down by a burdensome dilemma. Remember to check in with you strong friends!

Ultimately, let there be no illusion, each and everyone of us faces our own battles. The war against sin does not simply go away purely on strength or willpower. If that were the case, then why would we need a savior? Jesus Christ came, not to be a remedy or a treatment for temporary illness, as the ultimate cure for a curse that had no cure. In Jesus, sin’s perfect record for death was broken. Liberation came on the cross and hope flooded across the face of the Earth. However, in the midst of life, we all experiences seasons of abundance and seasons of drought. We stand triumphantly on top of the mountain and at other times trudging through the muck and the mire, all the while our eyes stand on the things of the Lord. We may not be without hope, but that does not mean that we’re struggling.

We were designed for community. When God first created Man, He created a helper from Man’s rib. Together, they formed the first community with God in the garden of Eden. Before that, God was in community with Himself as apart of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit were in community with one another! We are no different in the fact that we are not solitary creatures. Your “strong” friends are apart of that community, and they may even be the one’s cultivating an environment in which community may flourish. In doing so, you might not even realize that they’re doing just that or that there may be things lying just under the surface. Your “strong” friends rely on you just as much as you rely upon them. That is the essence of Christian community, that we carry one another’s burdens, that we encourage one another, that we serve one another, and that we edify one another with dignity, honor, and grace.

None of us are meant to go about life alone. We may be put down our individual paths, but God created us to share in life with those He has placed around us. So, as you go about life, remember your strong friends need you too. Ask them how they’re doing. Offer them a word of affirmation. Listen to what they’re facing, and steward the fellowship and community that God created for us.

Uninvited

Pulling out of the driveway of a rented beach house on a beautiful Saturday evening, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of loneliness and separation. There, within the confines of my vehicle, I felt as though I were a million miles away from the rest of the world and from myself. In the heaviest of traffic, I was seized and wretched by this unseen force with tears dammed just beneath the surface ready to breech. In an instant, the bottom dropped out and my heart plummeted into a depths of the abyss. How could this be? Where did this come from? Why do I feel so numb to everything? My world was flipped in one instantaneous moment and has continued to linger since.

My weekend leading up to this moment had been one of the best experiences I’ve had with my friends in a long time. Thursday night we packed into a theater ready to experience all that was Avengers: End Game. The following day was met with one of my favorite pastimes, baseball. Myself and three of my most favorite friends loaded up my car to head to the stadium. We had the most lovely of times watching the game, sharing in laughs over the heckler sitting a row behind us, and the well orchestrated fireworks that followed the game! We truly did have a wonderful evening together. Saturday brought with it a crawfish boil where even more of my friends gathered together to share in fellowship and fun. Yet, just mere hours later, I was struck by the cold, numb feeling of loneliness.

Loneliness is defined as “being without company, cut off from others, not frequented by human beings, sad from being alone, and producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation” by Merriam-Webster. Britannica states that loneliness “occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired” and highlights the highly subjective nature of loneliness. One may be alone, but not feel lonely whereas one may be surrounded by others and feel lonely. At this time, I fall in the second camp as I’m surrounded by many incredible people who I have strong relationships with, but I feel lonely. Outwardly, I may not appear as though I am hurting but that couldn’t be further from reality. I am not putting up a front or trying to hide my pain, which is, perhaps, why being under this particular mood or temperament is so difficult for me.

Pain comes in many forms, but, unlike physical pain, loneliness hurts without anything inflicting a wound. Loneliness attacks the heart and it’s fragile brokenness is only exaggerated by the spotlight that is isolation. The best way I can describe it for myself is an overarching feeling as if I am just a bystander to other people’s lives and successes. An inconsequential, obscure blur as the world passes by like the trees on the side of the road as your stare out of the car window. The reality is that loneliness hurts unlike any other pain one experiences, and is difficult to describe beyond general abstractions like the definitions given above. In my case, I am not without company, or cut off from others. I am frequently around human beings, and I am not sad from being alone. I may be down, I may feel sad, but my sadness does not stem from being away from others.

Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston seats 41,168 people, which is incredible considering the stadium does not feel as though it is as large as it actually is. Then again that’s what good stadium design is suppose to do. All things considered, being one face in a massive crowd reveals one of the more frustrating aspects of loneliness — just because you’re around people does not mean that you’re not lonely. You may feel fine and know that you’re on good terms with your circle of friends, but you can still feel distant and cold. For myself, I become frustrated by this because I am waging war between what is real and how I currently feel. Bemoaning the difficult navigation that I must take in order to remain rooted during such times of intense loneliness. However, this too shall pass.

The mind is a curious thing, and is not impervious from the affects of sin. We must be graceful and cautious in our approach to addressing these matters. While we may be well-intentioned in our words and actions, we may inadvertently provide ill-informed advice and care to those who are hurting. As someone who has, off and on, experienced loneliness and depression, I can speak to the illogical thoughts and feelings that appear when experiencing such matters. While we may know that the thoughts of loneliness and sadness are not true or unfounded, we are burdened by the weight the circumstances we find ourselves in. Loneliness and depression can go hand-in-hand with one another, and oft times come in relationship to one another. For myself, loneliness came first and then the mild depression. As I write this now, both have passed and been removed from their residences in my life. As unwelcome of guests as they may be, I have had to reflect upon myself and the tendencies I have in how I respond to changes in my emotional and mental well-being.

I have, without a shadow of a doubt, been called into ministry. Looking back through life, I see the path and opportunities God placed before me to bring me to where I am today. He has sought my heart and obedience so that I may want His will over my will. However, as I’ve gone deeper and deeper into this process, I have learned from my peers and friends who are in ministry of the dangers of this calling. One fact that I have seen in my life and in others, is that those who are called into ministry are attacked through different means. One of the more quiet, less visible means by which they are attacked is loneliness. In leading others, in serving others, and in creating a space for people to flourish, the illusion may appear that ministers/pastors/leaders are without suffering. Do not be fooled! We can easily forget that we are all broken, because of the way in which people carry themselves. Not that people are putting up a front or trying to wear a mask, but we carry ourselves in a manner based on who God says that we are. Our hope and trust in God dictates how we conduct ourselves in spite of whatever trial we may be facing.

Having said all that I have, I recognize that I have some areas which may feed these uninvited guests. Firstly, I tend to put other’s needs above my own. I favor lifting others up over speaking up that I am hurting. Secondly, I can fall into the trap of belief that because others do not show the same level or awareness of compassion that I do, that must mean that others do not care. We are all gifted very different and have different skill sets suited for different tasks. I happen to be called to and gifted in counseling which has very specific methods of execution. Much of my expectations in being cared for stem from my own background, which is not how most people are going to operate. Finally, I carry/conduct myself very particularly and as a leader among my church family, the perception seems to be that I have life figured out and that life is easy. None of us, in reality, believe that anyone else’s lives are perfect or easy or without their struggle. We do, however, sometimes forget that reality for any number of reasons. I’m guilty of this too.

As I finish writing this post, these feeling have since subsided and been subdued. Loneliness and depression are uninvited guests who can linger for some time or pass quickly. Fortunately, both have moved on quickly in realization that I am not going to wallow in self-pity and self-doubt. I have a community that is focused on transparency and accountability who I can rely upon to walk with me through whatever season I find myself in. I wish to encourage you, whomever may be reading this, to seek out a community who will serve you, love you, and walk through every season with you! If you are hurting and in despair, lean in to those around you! Surround yourself with other who love you and care for you and be willing to speak up about the difficult parts of your life. Be willing to let go of the bondage of loneliness, depression, and sin and find hope, freedom, and mercy in the hands of God! Be brave, not matter the fear or doubt you may have, to speak up when you are hurting. Rely upon those God has placed in your life and trust in His purposeful placement of those around you!

The Burning, Consuming Fire

In the four years that I have been consistently writing to this website, through it’s various iterations, I feel as though I’ve written exclusively on being frustrated. My life, looking back, has been chocked full of frustration. I was frustrated because I couldn’t understand why I was being picked on in middle school. Frustrated because I was angry all the time. Frustrated because nobody seemed to understand me. Frustrated because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Frustrated because I couldn’t afford to get into college. Frustrated because nothing ever seems to work in my favor. Even now, as I sit hear banging my head upon my desk, I am frustrated because of some disconnect between my thoughts and my ability to construct them into structured sentences. I’m frustrated with life and with God.

As I’ve gone about writing, I’ve strived to be transparent about myself as to not present myself falsely or to give airs/impressions that I have everything together. I don’t. I’m falling apart, broken to pieces, suffering. I would be wrong to think that only I am alone in suffering in this way. For those of you who know me personally likely do not associate me with adjectives like broken, weak, frail, angst, etc. In fact, some of you have described me quite differently. I lament that none of you are capable understanding me more fully by having first hand insight into my emotions, thoughts, and experiences. None of us are ever truly capable of knowing somebody fully. We may know somebody intimately, know their tendencies, their idiosyncrasies, and their demeanor, but we cannot be present in their consciousness. Nevertheless, I strive to portray myself accurately and as unbiasedly as I may.

I’ve not had the typical ‘college experience’ as some would describe it. I spent two years working at a dead end job on minimum wage after high school before starting school somewhere that I was not too thrilled about studying something that I honestly had little interest in learning more about. Years have since passed since I started school, and I’m still not done yet (but I’m very close to the finish line) which is not what I wanted to still be doing this close to being thirty. I didn’t think that I would be living with my parents at my age. I did not think that I’d still be single after all this time. I did not think that I’d be working in the jobs that I did. Through most of twenties, I’ve definitely been very discontent with everything God chose to give me. The majority of my frustrations in this stage of life came from my refusal to budge from my plans. Even though I was a stubborn child, God worked in my life and changed my perspective. As I looked inward trying to get a better understanding of why I am the way that I am, I realized that I tend to be an idealistic individual. For what it’s worth, I score as an INFP on the Myers Briggs Personality Test and as a 2w1 on the enneagram personality test. I don’t put a lot of stock in these personality tests, but they offer some insight into my logical and emotional tendencies.

However it may appear, I am grateful for the path God has set me down! In fact, I do not wish that life had gone about any other way. Ultimately, I fell in love with theology and Biblical studies and God had already been drawing in that direction. God called me into ministry and has provided ample opportunities to love on and pour into the college, high school, and junior high students. God broke me down, allowed me to experience my own shortcomings, and build me back up with a great appreciation and understanding of the work He is doing in my life! Which is why it is, ironically, funny that I am equally frustrated with God while expectantly rejoicing what God is preparing. This peculiar dynamic makes for quite the internal storm that rages within the depths of my soul. I am wholly at peace while also being wholly in turmoil (if that even makes the slightest bit of logical sense) through this season.

For some time now, I have had an ever increasing desire to be in a relationship, to move toward marriage, and to, eventually, have a family of my own! This is a very natural desire to have as God commanded His creation to be fruitful and to multiply (Genesis 1:28), and the majority of believers will see this desire come to fruition. Marriage is a very intentional and specific gift given to humanity by God as a reflection of His relationship between Himself and His creation. Christian’s hold the covenant of marriage, rightfully, in high regard. But for the young twenty year old believer, marriage can appear as a destination and that singleness is an obstacle to be overcome. This could not be further from the truth. We have been afforded great opportunities to be used by God for greater things than ourselves! Singleness offers a great deal of more freedom to serve God without extra considerations, and yet, for myself and others in similar places in life, marriage is a consideration we’re looking toward.

Among my peers, I am toward the oldest side of the spectrum and I’ve watched from the proverbial sidelines as my friends have come together and moved through the stages of dating, engagement, and into marriage. I’ll go ahead and admit that it can be quite discouraging to see your friends partnering up and getting married while you’re not quite there yet. You’re super excited for them and you want to celebrate their relationship, but part of you also yearns for something similar as well. This is only compounded exponentially the more of your friends move through this process at the same time. I’m no mathematician and cannot quantify the mathematical statistics to back up this claim, but you get the idea.

For myself, I have grown more frustrated with God because I do not see where to move forward. I’ve taken notice of qualities and character traits that I find desirable, and I’ve investigated who people are. Yet, something holds me back from even considering pursing anything further. There is definitely a chasm, a schism, a disconnect between the heart and the mind which further complicates matters. Scripture speaks very clearly that the heart is deceitful and that it wanders toward whatever will immediate satisfy the itch. Christians are warned to guard their hearts for good reason, both from external and internal sources. I’ve written before about being quite ‘head-y’ meaning that I get caught up within my own mental prowess. I am an over-thinker and internal feeler. I’m not entirely sure what I am to do with emotions and states of being like infatuation and attraction. I’m a babbling idiot for all intents and purposes. Through all of this, I am frustrated with God because I don’t get it. He placed this desire on my heart, He is the cause, the source… and yet I do not see where He has provided or even if He is going to provide.

Am I inadequate? Am I undeserving? Am I interested in the wrong women? Am I not patient? Am I unworthy? I’d be lying if I said that I did not suffer in the waves of self-doubt that crash over me. I honestly do not understand, and I straight up tell God that. I don’t understand what you’re doing! As I’ve walked through this area of life, seeking counsel from my closest friends and family, I’ve heard a great variety of things. I’ve also had to navigate around and through their expectations for me and also embrace the reality that my expectations, too, may need calibrating. I’m not discouraged however! I am hopeful! God is preparing something, just as He has in every other facet of my life. I’ve been encouraged by my peers in knowing that I am going about the process properly! So what do I have to fear?

Lauren Chandler wrote an article for Desiring God that I read this morning that resonated me to my core, which is exerted below:

“…it doesn’t feel like your faith is being tested. You still believe God is able to do anything; he’s just choosing not to do the things you want him to do for you. It feels like punishment. It feels unfair and confusing. You didn’t ask for these desires, but here they are. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about them. So what are you to do with them? In your mind, you assume there are two choices: either he gives you what you want the way you want it, or he takes the desires away.

Beloved, there is so much more.

Here’s what he’s doing. He is burning away the fluff. He is pulling out every false prop on which you’ve built your trust. He is frustrating your plans so that you turn your eyes from those around you and the lack you find inside you to see and love him for who he is and not merely what he can do for you. There is no more vital work than that. He loves you too much to give you what you want too soon.”

If that isn’t me at this very moment… Even in the midst of that is going on in life, I know that God is preparing me for so much more. There are two instances involving fire in Scripture that I have been drawn to recently, one being in the Old Testament and one in the New. God has a penchant for creating incredibly vibrant and awe-inspiring displays of majesty. We have much that we can learn from God.

When God first appeared to Moses, He did so in a burning bush. What is awesome about this moment is that the bush was, while it was engulf in flames, that is was not consumed! Fire consumes. When all the usable fuel is expended, only ash remains. That is not the case for God. God provides infinitely! God does not require anything to produce something. He gives freely and abundantly and works all things together according to His will! We may find encouragement in God’s provision. As I’ve written about before, God has blessed myself and my family on more occasions than I could ever begin to list. God has provided divinely to meet needs that I could hardly have anticipated!

Secondly, Jesus as the true vine. John 15 reads as follows:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

For the follower of Christ, we are constantly being pruned, molded, and drawn toward God. There are areas in our lives, branches that are not bearing fruit, that need to be removed. Misconceptions, doubts, fears, and sins that have need of corrected. This process is not ideal or pleasant. Sin feels good, let’s be honest. We enjoy sinning, which is why we turn to it every change we get. Christ calls his disciples, meaning His Church, to abide in Him. We must be willing to let go of those things which are not necessary, the fluff, the false props, our inferior plans for ourselves, and to adopt a posture that is more inline with God’s will. Christ’s words here in John 15 offer reassurance for those, like me, who teeter between the extreme of peace and frustration.

This is what I know: God is working in my life. Preparing me for something bigger than myself, than my plans, than my expectations. Furthermore, as I’ve come to better understand, God is the originator of the true desires of my life, and as I linger closer and closer to God, His desires become my desires. I have faith that God will keep His promise to me just as He did for all those throughout the Old Testament and through His son. Whatever it may be, He will provide abundantly and appropriately. God loves me far too greatly to allow me to rush into something, to enable me to engage in foolishness. I am hopeful and eager to see what God is presently preparing to do in my life, and I know that He understands my frustration. He understands me far greater and fully than any other person on this Earth ever could! God is not withholding a relationship from me to stymie me or to deject me, but to prepare me. I must trust in Him, to ask for an ever increasing faithfulness, and to be willing to be corrected. Pruned.

-Terren

Look at Your Life Through Heaven’s Eyes

Pause for just a moment, with me, and clear your mind of anything that is vying for your attention and focus. Take a deep breath and let the stresses of the day roll off your shoulders for a few moments while you and I take this time to reflect upon God’s incredible handiwork! If you will, take a second to look about your surroundings and notice the sheer amount of detail that went into making things. I look around and see the precise stitching on a baseball, the textured patterns of woodgrain that house studio monitors, the texture of graphite upon paper, and the tiny switches that enable keyboards to make that satisfying click. Now, if you will, look at the image below and marvel at God’s handiwork!

If you click on the full size image, you’ll notice the superb details and textures of the Earth’s surface, the shadows being cast by the clouds, and the changes in the sea floors as it plummets deeper into the ocean! God made all of that, you know? Every grain of sand, every droplet of water, every leaf, and every cloud. God shaped and molded and placed exquisite detail into every part of the universe that I cannot help but marvel at His awesome power! But I ask, why do you believe that God did not put just as much, if not more, detail into creating you?

I ask this question of you, because I know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that God has instilled within you a purpose and that He has gifted you with many talents and skills unlike anyone else! You have been uniquely created by the God of the universe with a life unlike any other! No two snowflakes, supposedly, are identical in their makeup just as no two people are completely identical in their makeup! God has a very specific plan for you and your life that is set apart from others. Sure, some will follow in similar trails and paths but no one is walking your life exactly as you are. So why do we try to force ourselves and others through the same cookie cutter mold as if we’re all going along the same path?

You and I have our own agendas, our own timelines, and our own expectations for our lives which greatly influence the way in which we operate through life. We, unfortunately, become beholden to, slaves of, our own expectations from which we cannot see beyond. I’ve got to get good grades in high school so I can attend this college, I’ve got to be married by 23, have kids by 30, have 6 puppies, and a house on 50 archers of land. We’ve got to do this to get to that. We’ve get this job or do this job. These agendas serve as a gauge in which we measure ourselves to that which we perceive as being most beneficial for ourselves, but another measure lies waiting just beyond our attention. Comparison.

Unfortunately, when life does not meet our expectations we wonder where we went wrong and why we’re not seeing the same successes as others in our immediate area. Why are all of my friends getting married, but I cannot seem to even get into a relationship? All of my friends are beginning their master’s degrees, but I cannot even seem to graduate with my undergrad. People my age are buying new homes and cars, but I cannot afford to move out of my parent’s home. This girl is so pretty. He’s so handsome. This. That. The greatest villain to our perception of ourselves is comparison! We perceive, without a full understanding, what others have that we lack yet want, and get discouraged. We make attempts to have what others have to no avail, and wonder why we’re not seeing the same results. Both of these gauges fail to truly reveal the higher purpose we have been designed with.

Thus, I raise the question back to you again. Why do you believe that the God who put extraordinary detail into every facet of the universe put less detail and attention into making you? Now, I’ll be honest, I have doubted God. I have had a faulty perspective on life because I used the two gauges above to measure my life. By all accounts, my early adulthood has been anything but ordinary. I’ve come to learn that life is no walk in the park, nor should my expectations lie in my own hands. I never truly had the ‘college experience.’ I’ve never experienced what being in a relationship is like. I’ve not experienced life on my own. I’ve struggled with my place in this world. I’ve struggled to see beyond myself. I was wrong. This is why I do not ever want to give the impression that I have life figured out or that I have everything together. My life is messy, chaotic, and not what I would have ideally planned. I’ve not met any of the arbitrary timelines that I had for myself. Even now, entering into my 6th year of college, I’ve given up on holding to something that was never mine to begin with.

God has a plan for you! He has made that clear! He created you specifically, purposefully, and willingly! You and I are no accidents or random occurrences. Our lives, as disciples of Christ, are not our own. We live not for ourselves but for God as we carry out His will in obedience. Therefore, as I’ve come to learn, we ought to look at life not through the lens of this earth or our expectations but from God’s point of view. One of the more underrated animated movies, Prince of Egypt, has a wonderful moment of transition when Moses begins to have his perspective shift. You may watch the scene here, but the lyrics say:

A single thread in a tapestry
And though its color brightly shines.
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design.

And the stone that sits up on the very top
Of the mountain’s mighty face.
Does it think that it’s more important,
Than the stones that forms the base?

So how can you see what your life is worth,
Or where your value lies?
Oh, you can never see through the eyes of man.
You must look at your life
Look at your life through heaven’s eyes!

A lake of gold in the desert sand,
Is less than a cool fresh spring.
And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy,
Is greater than the richest king!

Should a man lose everything he owns,
Has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning,
Of a new and brighter birth?

So how do you measure the worth of a man?
In wealth or strength or size,
In how much he gained or how much he gave?

The answer will come to him who tries,
To look at his life through heaven’s eyes.

Through Heaven’s Eyes – Prince of Egypt

I find encouragement within the premise of this song as it serves as a reminder that so much of what we perceive about life stems from our limited perspective. Our humanly tendency is to elevate others based on many factors like success, wealth, power, influence, social status. The same is true when we evaluate our own sinfulness. My gossiping is not the same as murdering someone. My anger is not the same as stealing. The lies I tell are not nearly as bad as those who use other’s for their pleasure. We like to quantify and justify our actions based on worldly standard when all sins are equal in the eyes of God. We are all fallen and sinful. None of us are free from death that comes from sin. Comparison comes to rob us of joy, of peace, and of perspective.

We must shift our focus away from our humanly perspective and seek understanding from God. You see, God values you. Treasures you more accurately. He created you and knew you before you knew of yourself. He has plans for you. He wants to use you and your life for something far bigger than your plans or your expectations. God wants to use you to reach those who have not yet come to know God. To speak life into the void, to be a beacon of hope in the darkness. You, your life, are a vessel! When we shift our perspective toward God’s view, we get a glimpse at the bigger picture! As the scope of our focus widens and we are able to see more, the details remain. The stone at the top of the mountain is just as much apart of the mountain as the stone that rests at the heart of the mountain. The leaf that rests atop the highest tree is just as much tree as the root that holds the plant to the Earth’s surface. You are just as much part of God’s design as everything else!

Earlier, I mentioned how we attempt to filter everybody through the same mold. Our experiences, relationships, paths through life, and more must seemingly fit through the same mold when that is so far from the truth. We make an echo chamber out of one another as we fail to address one another without pretense or expectation. Let’s face it, not only do we have expectations for ourselves, we have expectations for those around us. Who we want them to end up with. How they should behave. What we would like them to become. What we hope their lives blossom into. This fact reveals the fundamental flaw in our internal systems. Our own biases. You’re biased! Congratulations! Now, in recognizing that your biases, you may work against them in yourself and toward others!

I ask that you take a moment to pause once again, and re-examine yourself. Where is God leading you? Where is God calling you? Where is God attempting to work in your life? Are you resisting against him? Are you wrestling with what God is asking you to step out in faith in? Have you undervalued yourself because you’ve lost sight of the intrinsic value God bestowed upon you? Look at your life through God’s eyes. Who does He say that you are? Who does He want you to become? Where is He leading? There is peace with God. There is hope with God.

I know that I have caused myself so much additional stress and strife because my life did not reflect what I thought life was suppose to be. I did not meet my own timeline or society’s timeline, but I have learned that none of us are walking identical paths through life. I have come to appreciate God’s wisdom and timing because I’m in a far better place than even I would have imagined. I’ve also come to see some faulty reasoning in my personality in regards to my appreciation of idealism and efficiency. Ultimately, I had to take a step back from my life and pause from my headlong charge forward. What is it that I’m really pursuing? My own ends or God’s will? Why am I trying to rip open doors that God has stated that it not yet time? You and I forget to pause, especially in our society where news becomes old in a matter of minutes, for reflection. God has detailed, incredible plans for you and your life! God designed you with a purpose! God knows you better than any other person on this Earth ever could! Believe that He is working in your life for the better! God did not create you aimlessly. God did not just make you detailed for thoroughness’ sake! But, until we stop and examine our lives through Scripture, through God, we will never truly learn of the greater possibilities of what may come of our lives! So pause, look through Heaven’s eyes and see life according the Creator of the universe!