Unshakable Hope: When Life Feels Disappointing

Life can feel disappointing. Plans don’t work out the way I thought they would or expected them to. When what I did expect didn’t happen, and what I didn’t expect did happen. My mind can spin in circles trying to figure out circumstances that don’t seem to make sense.

What’s worse, though, is how disappointment undealt with can lead to depression and doubting God’s love for me. Why did this happen? Why didn’t this happen? Why didn’t this work out the way I expected? And then, So what do I do now?

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Disappointment can be redeemed through one thing: hope. The foundation of my faith, being that Christ who was dead rose again. And because of His resurrection, there is more. There is hope. There is life. There is new life in Him.

Do I know specifically what the “more” is in my life? The timing, the place, the details? No. But because of this anchor of hope (Hebrews 6:19), founded in Him and not myself, I can have hope. Even when it feels like I’ve hit a dead end. Even in the wilderness seasons where God is more concerned about my heart and less about what I do.

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For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11

This hope is unshakable, even when I feel shaky and vulnerable. Even when I feel sad, let down, or afraid.

He is my hope, and in Him I will trust.

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more. Psalm 71:14

There is more in the future. And there is more here and now, too.

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Seeking First His Kingdom: The Secret Place of the Most High

I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans.

The girl presenting before me, twirling her floral skirt as she spoke, was finishing her English Capstone presentation.

And I was next.

I stared back at my notes in front of me, praying silently. Lord, help me to speak loud enough to be heard and clear enough to be understood. My patented prayer before any time I find myself speaking before a crowd, the last place I ever like to be.

I pushed my wavy brown hair behind my ears and walked to the front of the class. I turned to face the crowd and spoke, “I don’t know what English looks like for me after graduation.” My professor smiled from the back row.  “But this is where I’ve been,” a picture of Detroit displayed on the screen behind me, “and this is where I’m going again.”

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Sometimes what’s next ends up being right under my nose the whole time.

As I stood in front of my English Capstone class sharing for ten minutes my research on teaching English in American-Muslim communities, the answer to what was next was right in front of me. Right under my nose, already rooted in my heart.

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Scripture says, after reiterating the uselessness of worry and the faithfulness of the Lord, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

As I press into Him, He is faithful to lead, faithful to provide, and faithful to establish His path before me. Even when it requires miraculous provision. Even when I feel like I’m in over my head.  Even when fear churns my stomach and I need His faithful provision of faith to step forward in obedience.

And even when I find myself wiping my sweaty palms once again, stepping forward onto a stage, and speaking into a microphone before a crowd, saying “This is where I’ve been, and this is where I’m going.”

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I’ve heard it said that the only safe place in the world is found in the shelter of the Most High. Safety isn’t found in the city I live but in the arms of the only One I can rest secure in.  For he who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [Whose power no foe can withstand] (Psalm 91:1).

And it’s in those arms, in that secret place, that I’m being challenged to trust more fully, rest more deeply, and step out with more boldness than ever before.

When I feel anxious, heavy, or afraid, to rest in this truth: The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1).

For He Who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.

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Be Still: When You Can’t See What’s Next

I spilled coffee on my denim shorts.

My laptop in front of me, along with an old, leather journal from five years ago, I set out to continue writing my spiritual memoir, to master the art of being a disciplined writer.

But I quickly and quietly reached for the brown Dunkin napkins in the canister beside me to clean up my soggy mess, hoping no one noticed half my 99 cent refill of mocha iced coffee ended up in my lap.

I came back a few days later, my plastic refill cup in hand again, only to make a wrong turn into the wrong parking lot. Then, after getting my coffee and finding a table next to an outlet for my laptop, a wasp flew in my hair.

I swatted and watched it bang against the window, thankful to have avoided being stung before I realized what was crawling through my hair.

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Everyone has to start somewhere.

Every writer has to find their niche, their personal writing nook, their schedule, routine, and writing habits.

And me? Freshly graduated from college and with a press in my heart to write more than ever, sometimes I wonder: What am I doing? Am I crazy? What is all of this time spent writing going to amount to in the end?

Before I realize it, my mind gets twisted with anxious thoughts that steal my joy–my passion to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and my love of writing.

Its then that I hear a still, small voice whisper to my soul: Be still. Know that I am God.

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God. The One who can take a handful of loaves and fishes and feed multitudes. The One who can make blind eyes crack open, take lame legs and bear weight to walk, and raise what no longer has breath and make alive again. The One who has lifted my own life and set me on my feet again, who knit me together inwardly and is acquainted with my rising and my lying down:

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” (Psalm 46:10)

Because the quieter I become, the more I can hear His voice saying this is the way; walk in it (Isaiah 30:21).

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So I pull up at Starbucks on roasting June afternoons, plug in my laptop with my grande Valencia Orange next to me, and write. And write. And write. Amidst young mothers with small children sipping on sugary frappachinos and other introverted, bookworms like me occupying the small, wooden tables next to the outlets.

No, I’m not guaranteed that it will become anything. But I have faith that this journey of writing is not in vain but serves purposes beyond fathomable for my mind to understand right now.

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” (Luke 1:45)

As Mary had faith to believe in what wasn’t yet visible, so I want to have faith to believe in what my eyes cannot yet see. I want to have faith not in my own wasp-swatting, coffee-spilling self, but in the Author of all authors who speaks tenderly to the souls of His people.

Be still. Know that I am God. And I will be exalted.

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Graduating College Part 2: Bitter Waters Made Sweet

I never thought I would graduate from college.

Not necessarily because I didn’t think I was smart enough. And not necessarily because I didn’t think I was capable of handling the workload that comes from school while also balancing life.

No, these were not reasons why. But rather I wasn’t sure if I was suppose to finish. Or if I would be able to physically, emotionally, spiritually, or financially handle it.

I had the doors closed on me before. And I don’t know if you’re like me, but when I had doors closed on me that I really wanted open, that I prayed and believed and had Scripture to hold on to believing that God was perfectly able and capable of making a way, only to have Him choose not to, have Him say “no,” an earth-shattering, life-changing “no,” it made me angry. It made me bitter. And it left me questioning His goodness, His faithfulness, His power, and ultimately His love for me.

I was shattered, left wondering if I would ever be able to live a normal, healthy life.

But because the Lord is good, faithful, powerful, and loving, He never let me go. Even when my heart pushed Him away and all I could do in worship was stand and stare at the screen unable to sing, He remained tender and compassionate.  His love never fails.

So I moved seven times from the time I started college to now graduating. I lived in five different states and attended three different schools.

I never planned on life going that way. But He has been gracious enough to allow me to finish what was started. I have seen that what He starts He is faithful to finish.  And eight years later, I’m now finding much needed closure.

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A passage that has kept coming up during my last semester of college has been in Exodus 15 when the Israelites complained about bitter waters. The Israelites had just been delivered from slavery, only to immediately be tested by the Lord.

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah). 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

The Israelites then looked to Moses for what to do, to which the Lord showed him.

25 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet..

The bitter waters became sweet. And it is here that the Lord first became known as Jehovah-rapha, “The Lord Who heals” (verse 26).

The first thing the Lord healed was a bitter heart.

And so, I have come to know Him more fully as Jehovah-rapha, the One Who heals bitter hearts. Hearts that doubt His goodness, faithfulness, power, and love as I have. The Healer of bitterness so that hearts can sing again in liberty and celebrate how He never fails.

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Graduating College Part 1: A Picture Reflection

I confess my loss on how to summarize how it feels to be graduating from college. When I think about finishing out this season and moving on to something new, I think about a lot more than just college. I think of all the places I have been, the people I have met, and the journey of reaching this point.

There is one truth though that is clear in my heart: The Lord is faithful to finish what He starts.

“And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.” (Philippians 1:6)

The greater work that the Lord completes is an internal work, a transformation of the heart.

And these sweet moments captured along the way are merely the surface to that work in my own heart.

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Me, Joan, and Tammy

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me playing keyboard

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me with Isaac

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at mercy

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roses

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st louis zoo

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with meleah

girl hug

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with jenn

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An “Evolving Faith”: Spiritual Memoir by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans‘ memoir Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask The Questions tells her story about growing up in evangelical culture and her difficulties in coming to make her faith her own. Growing up in the town where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place that shook fundamentalism, she pens her journey of coming to appreciate an “evolving faith” able to carry own throughout generations.

One quote I particularly liked from her introduction titled “Why I Am an Evolutionist” says, “The ability of the body of Christ to change–to grow fins when it needs to swim and wings when it needs to fly–has preserved it for over two thousand years, despite countless predictions of its imminent demise” (21). Evans uses a nice image here to morph her ideas about an evolving Christianity that mirror much of her spiritual journey throughout the book.

For more information about Evans’ memoir, click here. Or check out her new release of this book under the title Faith Unraveled here.

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Butter or Margarine?: Nonfiction from Paula Carter

Freelance writer Paula Carter‘s nonfiction piece “Margarine: A Public and Personal History” delves into the classic condiment controversy between butter and margarine. The piece is written in short vignettes weaving together margarine history with her personal experience.

Ultimately what her piece gets at is the idea of desiring good health in the foods we eat and our often distorted perspective as the opinions of food critics constantly changes. Carter writes, “…whatever we choose to eat, it feels like we do so on faith. Guidelines seem tenuous. Rules are broken. We decide for ourselves what is good and what is not, and then defend our choice with a serrated barbecue spatula if needed.”

Her piece ends with a nice image of her mother, hand on hip cooking dinner, thinking she is doing what is best for her family, with “the margarine already on the table.”

To read Paula Carter’s nonfiction piece, click here.

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