Abundant Life

What comes to mind when you think of abundant life? Really?

I have to laugh at myself a little, because what immediately came to my mind is a country song I have been loving these days: "Buy me a Boat".  I am 100% serious when I say my life would be significantly more abundant with a boat in it.

But no matter the abundance we have at a physical level, (A boat, a truck to pull it, a Yeti 110 iced down with some silver bullets) we are going to crave abundance at a soul-level. That's just how we are created. And I'm coming to understand, through the Spirit weaving God's Word in my heart, that abundant life comes through the things we least expect. Actually, through the things we expect to drain us and take away from our life of happiness and comfort.

Take, for example, the "joy of hospitality" - sounds lovely, doesn't it? But hospitality isn't what you see in Southern Living Magazine, it's opening your your home, your heart, and your life for the sake of welcoming, inviting, including, and sharing. When you pause to really consider the scenarios in which this true definition of hospitality plays out, it can actually be terrifying.

Imagine people seeing your true mess and knowing that (surprise!) you don't have it all together. Or beginning to understand the things you have always seen as "your's" don't actually belong to you, but are rather gifts from God. (i.e. your money, your time) But the scariest part of all is that God calls us also to do these things for the "least of these" . . . for his children who have some messed-up junk going on in their lives. 

I see three things at the root of abundant life in Christ:

  • to love and to feel loved, truly and genuinely, 
  • to share the Gospel - the good news of Jesus
  • to serve with a humble spirit

It is entirely too easy to pray for these things. Being so central to our faith, we are hear them so repeatedly and forget the weight that they hold. This morning, when I paused to pray that God would open my eyes to those around me who are in need of loving, I resisted mid-prayer, because I realized what that requires of me. But I prayed through it, trusting that God's ways are better than mine and more fulfilling than the selfishness that I cling to.

The things that make me leave my comfort zone are also the things that make my life abundant. And Jesus says these things are ultimately life-giving rather than soul-draining. 

So maybe one day, when I sell 50 million art prints and make enough money to buy a boat and a truck to pull it, I hope I'll find myself inviting people to share it with, especially those who can offer nothing in return. To take long rides in the warmth of the evening, hearing about real life struggles and confessing my own in humility. Having the courage to speak of what God has done through Jesus, in my own awkward and messy way. And giving freely of my time and comfort to love that person as Christ has loved us. That is life abundant.

Immeasurable Grace

Today I would like to share about an unexpected blessing along with a few things that the Lord has been teaching me. 

I have a part-time job to support myself financially during my year-long internship. I expected it to take a backseat to the other things going on in my life - participating in the discipleship program and trying to grow an art business, to name a few - but I have grown to love it in unexpected ways and it has become a really defining part of my life in Anderson. Today I received a blessing from my little job that I in no way deserved, and one that actually was costly to my employers to give, but they gave it excitedly and cheerfully. It will suffice to say that I shed a couple of thankful tears throughout the morning. 

First, you should know something about me: I have a hard time with grace. They say the oldest sibling is usually the most hung up on fairness and just treatment - I definitely identify with that. I cringe deep inside when I have to accept something I didn't earn. A gift given freely usually leaves me feeling confused; so much so that, no matter how many years I've been on this earth, Christmas and birthdays can even be uncomfortable. An act of service leaves me feeling guilty and assuming that someone did it for me because I usually do it wrong. And then, when I have done something wrong, I feel much more closure when I've received my due punishment and then move on from there on even ground. The problem is that, as a believer and follower of Jesus, my whole life is hinged on grace! So I find myself constantly re-learning what it means to live from undeserved love rather than trying to earn it. It's safe to say that I'm currently in one of those seasons of trying to reiterate grace to my unbelieving heart, and I will be honest: most days I cannot grasp it enough to live from it. 

The Lord knows that my best understanding of things, and especially of Him, comes through analogies. Standing at the highest overlook of Linville Falls, watching the water surge over the edge of the rock face, is a captivating experience. Last summer, I went there a lot. From that distance, the waterfall is as big as my thumb, yet you can still feel the rumble of it's power and imagine its mist reaching you all the way on top of that mountain. In those moments, I caught a glimpse of the power of God. Granted, Linville Falls is one waterfall, from one river, in one little community (the location isn't even considered a town. Yep.) And you could continue zooming out until you're looking at North America, the globe, the solar system, the galaxy. But it's in that one little waterfall where I experience the heart knowledge of how powerful God is. I think if I grasped the full of it, my mind would actually explode. 

I have to realize that this is how my feeble mind must approach grace, too. I have a tendency to get frustrated at myself when I can't understand grace (oh, the irony) or even try to force feed it to myself like a large pill that I just can't seem to swallow. But that's not how the blessing of grace works. The blessing from my employers was a gift that came as a "we decided to do this, it's happening, you didn't really make it happen, we chose for it to happen, you get to enjoy it, no worries about what it costs us, we're happy to give it, because we care for you, and here's some extra blessing while we're at it". Today I am overwhelmingly thankful for the little grace analogy that God has given me through my little part-time work and I am reveling in imagining how much more the blessing is that he extends to me every moment of every day for all eternity. I certainly can't begin to focus on what that means or feels like, but how sweet it is that God intersects the monotony of our everyday lives to give us glimpses of his ridiculous love and grace.

Lamps

Waiting can be a difficult task.

I will admit, I'm not the most patient person at times, and it's compounded by living in a world that does not wait, and especially does not see any value in doing so. We are constantly updating, fast-passing, and quick-looking so much that it has become engrained in the fiber of our being. "Wait" is a bad word. But the reality is that, amidst all of our instant gratification, we find ourselves forced into the discomfort of waiting. Not just in lines, but in life. It's out of our control and actually hits us where it hurts. Maybe it's that you're not as "far" in your career as you thought you'd be by now. Maybe it's a looming decision; maybe it's a craving for companionship. Whatever it may be, it's worrisome and discomforting, and we find that waiting is not something we want to mess with, so we quickly try to take matters into our own hands and power through. Because that's what we're supposed to do, right?

So I was pretty confused one day when God brought to my attention that He actually wants us to wait. The Bible says to wait on Him a lot. And it's not like the twiddling of the thumbs, "why is this lane moving so slow" kind of waiting; it's actually incredibly emotional! Throughout the Pslams, waiting and crying out to the Lord are paired together more often than not. That verifies my suspicion that waiting is something that stirs us deep within. So what does "waiting on the Lord" even mean or look like?

Around the time these questions started to swim around in my head, this song by Bethany Dillion kept popping up on my Pandora. It's so beautiful and wise and has so much to say about waiting.

In her song, she references a story that Jesus tells in the book of Matthew, urging us to keep our lamps filled with oil. In that story, Jesus gives us a spot-on analogy about ten virgins who are going out to meet their bridegroom (an illustration of God and his church). Five of these virgins bring extra oil with them to keep their lamps lit, however the others do not. By the time that the bridegroom has come to meet them, the lamps of those who did not bring extra oil are burnt out, and they cannot see to find their groom when he comes for them.

In learning about waiting, I am reminded that the walk of a Christian is not an easy one. It requires that we bring everything before God - our joys and our pains.... and sometimes, that pain lasts. Daytime leaves us and night comes. We see only by a lamp, and it becomes monotonous and tiring, and we are tempted to just let it burn out. But we do not. We seek him. We actively trust him. We cling to the truth that he tells. We keep our lamps filled with oil. It requires constantly bringing our vision back to the Gospel, and in that I so easily forget that surrender requires action. That, while I know that I can do nothing to earn my salvation, it does not mean that I am taking on an attitude of carelessness. 

Yes, I can be overwhelmed with feeling like I'm waiting for my dream career to present itself to me, I am so often frustrated when there doesn't seem to be a clearly "right" decision, and from time to time I consider joining a convent because aren't all 22 year olds getting engaged and married?!? (I kid.) In all this it is better for me to wait on the Lord, because he has much better plans for me than the ones I could try to manipulate or piece together.

I pray that we would not be tempted to stray from from him act our of worry or pride. I pray that we can always find the joy of relationship with God that comes from waiting well.  

Making Moves

I love to create. 

Painting, writing, and all things in between give me great joy and satisfaction, too. And I am not ashamed to feel that this is a God-given desire. But this has not always been something that I felt comfortable declaring.

Creating was a muscle that I had lots of opportunity to stretch growing up. My family encouraged me, my art teachers validated my work, and the confidence I gained from those people gave life to my creativity.

But things changed as I moved out on my own, and I found myself tucking the pursuit of art away. Many more things took precedence as college classes kicked my butt, making friends was now hard work, and this area that I had so much confidence in was stamped out by feeling like, as a "budding young adult", I should take interest in more "successful" things, because who builds a career in art, anyways?

Looking back, I feel that I really missed a lot of great chances. By not being brave enough to pursue the things that I loved, I ended up on half-hearted paths. By graduation, I had learned and grown so much from my education, but I knew full well that I wouldn't be pursing anything in my degree. 

Thankfully there are people in my life who so graciously draw me to encouragement and truth.

Like family, who remind me of what I love. Business-minded friends who help me put away insecurities and try things. Roommates who put my work on their Etsy site in our final days of college together, who helped me dream up creative ideas and proposing things I could be capable of. Then there was this crazy moment when people I had never met bought some of my prints. I was like, "Wait, people who aren't obligated to tell me my work is good (i.e. my mother) are telling me they like it, and better yet, paying money for it???"

I'm here, doing this, because I'm declaring in faith that the Lord can use my love of drawing lines and the thrill of brushing color onto paper. I'm trying to learn business and working my creative muscles because I don't want to be afraid of loving art. I want to embrace these desires of my heart and use them to glorify God, who placed them there. I praise God that my heart is growing in courage to fight against my insecurities and fight for heartfelt pursuits. I am so excited to finally make moves.