Alabaster Flasks

Okay, I am going to be completely honest. The first time I heard this phrase, I had NO idea what it meant. What in the world is an ‘alabaster’? Well, never free dearest reader! Google definitions has come to the rescue! It is stated that alabaster is “a fine-grained, translucent form of gypsum, typically white, often carved into ornaments.”

Alright, now that we have that all cleared up, please grab your Bible and turn to Matthew 26 (or you can read below, but you can’t underline, highlight, and journal on this like you can in your OWN personal Bible!).

I want to look at one little section in this chapter: Matthew 26.6-13

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.  And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

To give this section some context, this little get together is taking place right before the Passover. Jesus decides He wants to visit with some old pals and his faithful servant Mary joins in on this little hoo-rah. She even brings Jesus a little gift. Consider the same passage in John 12.1-8:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

And Mark 14.3-9:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

They all sound pretty similar don’t they?

So let’s talk about this little gift that Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, chooses to give Jesus. It’s an alabaster flask of oil (or nard, whichever is best for you to picture). She takes it and she shatters it at the feet of Jesus and blesses Him. Jesus says “this is a agriculture-blur-close-up-33783beautiful thing she has done for me”. So cool, this lady whose brother was raised from the dead by this Amazing, Miracle working Jesus makes this effort to anoint Jesus. We will talk more about the anointing part in a minute, but first, let’s hit pause on the scene of Mary and Jesus and discuss this alabaster flask…

So, a little bit of cultural history here… in these times, most people stored their expensive oils in these little flasks to protect them. However, if anyone wants to access the oils inside, the best way is to just break the flask. First, the flasks are super breakable as it is. Second, the flasks were sealed very tightly in order to keep the expensive oils from evaporating. This just proves how important and expensive these oils are!

It is also known and reported by many Biblical and theological scholars that these flasks of oils sometimes serve as a woman’s dowry or an inheritance from her father, or husband. They are typically saved for anointing deceased loved ones at funerals.

Okay, back to this scene of Mary and Jesus. Picture it in the moment. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus lavishing this expensive oil on Him. And of course, these disciples decide to pipe up and show how compassionate they really are in that Mary could have sold the oil and given the money to the poor, not “waste” the oil on Jesus.

WOAH WOAH WOAH there disciples, do you really think she is “wasting” this oil on Jesus?

Obviously, because they made such a big deal over this, this alabaster flask of oil had some meaning to it. Clearly, it was expensive. It must have been a possession of Mary’s that was of great value. In fact, it could have been Mary’s only chance at getting married. It could have been saved for her dear brother’s funeral, but when Jesus performed the healing miracle and raised him from the dead, she didn’t need it anymore. Heck, she could have just been saving it in case she needed the finances from it later in life. But instead, she breaks it open and anoints Jesus with it. She gives up this “inheritance” or this “dowry”. She sacrifices this greatly valued treasure, all to show Jesus how much she truly loved Him. And, let’s be honest here, it showed how much she trusts Him too.

The Greek word for “anoint” is Chrio. It means to consecrate by anointing; especially to present someone as divinely-authorized. This meant that Mary got it. She understood who Jesus was/is. She found Him to be worthy enough of the most valuable thing she owned. Wow. That is just incredible.

And Jesus, He defended her. He loved every minute of it. He saw her true, genuine heart of adoration towards Him. Unlike the disciples, who let’s be honest, didn’t really care for the poor. They just wanted Jesus to be impressed.

What is also very interesting about this scene throughout the Gospels is that normally these oils are used for anointing loved ones at funerals. Well, Jesus, Himself, even states, “she has prepared me for my burial”.

Another crazy thing, a little blessing that Jesus gave her because of her large sacrifice and recognition of the worthiness of Jesus, is that Jesus said that “wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the whole world what she has done will also be told in memory of her”. Wow. Jesus wants the whole world to know of her actions in preparing Him for burial. Personally, I believe that Jesus wanted her to be an example of how we should respond in rendering our hearts to Him, completely.

I mean, this oil in this flask might have been everything to her. It may have been her future, her marriage, etc. But she didn’t care. She recognized that Jesus is so worthy He deserves her very best, even if it meant she would be without financial security or a spouse. Those things were nothing to her compared to what Christ meant to her.

Now here is where it gets personal. Here is where I am just praying that the Holy Spirit will pull a few cords in your own heart. What do you value the most? Is it your career? Your education? Family? Car? Relationship? Dreams, hopes, goals, and desires? What is it that you place so high on your list of importance that when it is messed with you feel like your life is spiraling downward?

Let me give you a personal example. Mine is education. I have always been told to get the college degree to make the big bucks and get a nice job with a rich husband to support my family and be happily ever after. So, I started my college career while I was still a junior in high school. I graduated with my associates degree before I got my high school diploma. Then, I completed a double major bachelors degree in just three years. Now, of course, I am taking the next step of higher education and pursuing a masters degree.

I love learning. I love writing papers. But in a sense, it is my security. It i my excuse to avoid being an “adult” and truly figuring out what I want to do with my life. But you know what? I never really handed this over to the Lord to allow Him to do with it as He pleases. I always planned it out. I always said “okay Lord, I will agree to be a missionary one day, but just after I finish my education”. Yet, the passion and desire to go to the nations burns within me like no other.

Now, is when Jesus is summoning me to sit at the bottom of His throne. He is inviting me to allow Him to have complete control over this area of my life. He is asking me to render my heart in a position of trust and assurance that He will bring my education to be when He desires and it will be good.

Friends, these things that you value the most, are you letting Jesus hold them completely? Are you allowing the Lord to direct your steps? Are you ready to trust Him with this area of your life? What are you willing to “waste” for the Lord?

Take a step forward and shatter the alabaster flask at His feet. Anoint Him in recognizing that He is worthy. He is worthy to have control over it all. He is worth breaking it for! He is worth the sacrifice. Just as Mary gave up this very valuable and expensive oil to worship Jesus, we can give up the things we place at high value and worship Him as well.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be called to drop out of college and go to the nations as a full-time missionary. You will never know until you break that flask for Jesus.

What is your alabaster flask that you are willing to break at Jesus’ feet?

Servant Leadership

Similar to my last post, this post is going to be for a specific school assignment. Although it is for an assignment, I think it is a great discussion among not only the social work community, but also the Christian community. So, here we go!

board-game-business-challenge-277052

When I say the word “leadership” what do you think of? What are the traits and characteristics that immediately pop into your mind? I usually think of the president of student council, the church board members, the principle of a school, the captains of sports teams, etc. The list could go on and on and on. Personally, I feel like leadership is an opportunity to show people you care. It is an opportunity to utilize your own giftings and skills to serve. Yes, that’s right, I said the “s” word.

I know the word “serve” is not the first thing that comes to mind when we hear leadership. Some of us might get the picture of a huge army being led by one single person. How could that one single person “serve” an army? It sounds impossible doesn’t it? But think about the concept of servant leadership… what does that look like to you?

To me, it looks like a leader stepping off of the stage for a moment to help a follower. It means having compassion for the people under you and being passionate about your leadership role. I mean, c’mon, who wants to be a “follower” under someone who is not really passionate about what they are doing? I had an experience with this once.

It was my second year of college and I was the action officer of our missions club on campus. My specific role was to plan events to do missions work on our campus and in the city surrounding the campus. I was under a particular leader, whom I adored, don’t get me wrong, but she was not as passionate about the club as a few other leaders and myself. It was very difficult to work with someone like this. There were a lot of tensions. And honestly, the club is no longer in existence (there are more factors to that).

As a student studying a subject I am extremely passionate about, I often think about how I want to be a leader in my future career. In my undergraduate studies I always thought being a leader in social work meant being the absolute best, all the time. I was the student that got assignments done when everyone else asked for a deadline. I was the student that made sure I understood my theories and aced every test I took. I met all the page count and source count requirements. I even participated in social work club as much as I could. I thought of myself as a leader.

But now that I am in graduate classes and even working in the field of social work, I am learning that leadership is so much more than that. Leadership is an opportunity to facilitate empowerment and encouragement among colleagues to help them do their best (that was such a “social worky” statement wasn’t it?!). Yes, being a leader is a chance to “shine” and show what you can do, but it’s not to be done in a selfish fashion.

One thing that we do not always realize is that there are different types of leadership. Peters (2018) shares a few of these different types of leadership: organizational, relational, and individual. I’ll let you use your imagination on how each are different. Personally, in the field of social work (as a student and looking towards my future career) my role is to be a competent leader, with empathy and passion, that works to serve not only my future clients, but also my colleagues.

It is crucial that if you are going to be a leader, you need to be an effective leader. Otherwise, your efforts are just wasted. Being an effective leader may mean accepting constructive criticism from those around you, taking on projects/tasks that aren’t so thrilling, and recognizing when it is your time to step down. In this profession (and in the Christian community) we are working with other professions (other religions). We encounter them on a day-to-day basis (i.e. medical staff, counselors, psychiatrists, police officers, lawyers, etc.). The actions we take as leaders in our community make impressions on those we interact with.

Just as we are “judging” the other professions to make sure they are doing their jobs right, other professions are doing the same of us. We are always being watched and critically analyzed. That is just another reason why it is important to make our leadership sound and effective.

Personally, I believe that to be an effective leader, the leader must make sure they are taking care of themselves. Effective leaders, desiring to serve, cannot truly be effective if they have no energy, motivational, or will to serve. Simply put, you cannot pour from an empty cup. This is a field where compassion fatigue is easier to accomplish then self-care. Do you practice self-care? Wait, do you know what self-care is?

I would describe self-care as caring for yourself. Yes, it’s that simply. So much of our time as professionals and leaders in this chaotic life is dedicated to meeting the needs of others. We deal with messy, fragile situations that take a lot of energy out of us in order to be effective. So, how do we fix our decrease in energy? By doing something for ourselves. I like to go for a walk, play tennis, play my guitars, nap, read, eat, nap in a hammock, etc. I have a never-ending list… Now, it’s time for you to make your list of self-care practices. It’s important to have these tricks in a bag so when you need to pull them out they are right there. I may not always have time to take a nap, but I can sit in my car waiting to see my next client and read a chapter of my favorite book. Here is a self-care starter kit to help you build your list of tricks! Feel free to comment your results!

Almost coupled with self-care is the ability to assume positive intent and recognize where you are on the mood elevator. This is crucial to being a good leader for several reasons. First, have you ever received a text message from someone and immediately thought the sender was being rude? Me too. Almost everyday. Now, texting is not the best form of communication, however in this developing world, some clients may not even want to talk on the phone, thus scheduling with them is done via text. Email is similar to this. We cannot assume that the senders meaning behind the message was to be rude. This would be assuming negative intent. In other words, their intentions were not to come off like a stone-cold, hot-headed, ungrateful individual. This article explains a little more about positive intent.

Assuming positive intent is also important because as a leader we never want to come 6a00d8341d883653ef0162fbd046b7970d-600wiacross as being offended. We never want to open the door for us to respond negatively either. Thus, recognizing where we fall on the mood elevator during these times is important. Check out the picture to the side. Let’s say you are a supervisor and you open up an email on a Monday morning from your newly hired social worker. You specifically hired this worker because you loved their positive attitude and how they always used exclamation points in their emails. This one did not. It also asked if you could privately meet with them. How do you respond?

You could get anxious because you don’t know what they want to talk to you about. You may even assume it is bad because of how the email was written. OR you can be optimistic and respond by saying, “Sure! Let me know when you are available this week!”

In my Professional Development class, we read an article about the five components of emotional intelligence. They are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Basically, having these five pieces put together will help you to be an effective leader in social work practice. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. We will not be able to “master” all of these components. And that’s okay!

Personally, I feel like I will struggle the most with self-awareness. It is not that I am self-aware, it’s that sometimes I am overly self-aware. I mean, to the point of being afraid I might offend someone if I make one little mistake. However, I know that as I continue on in my education I will learn how to cope with this challenge and be the best I can be for myself, clients, and colleagues.

So now you are probably thinking, okay so why are you sharing this on your faith-based blog? Because while this is for a social-work specific class, the implications can be applied to any profession. They are also very important to examine in our own faith walks. I purposefully made an effort to not mention Christianity, Biblical context, or Jesus as much as I could throughout the article because I wanted to challenge you to make those connections. If you want to have a discussion about it, I encourage you to comment!

It is important for MSW students (and anyone else) to be introduced to what leadership is because this is the point in our education where we really dive into the field of social work. It is no more generalist practice like we had in UG. The stakes are raised, more expectations are expected, and we are all being challenged into our own little unique leader-selves that will eventually go out and serve out communities and the world. Learning this now instead of during our first job after graduation will most likely get us the best first job after graduation because we will stand out in already being effective leaders.

While I enjoyed this class I took very much, just like anything else, improvements can be made. Throughout this course I was able to do a lot of self-assessments that helped me become more self-aware (hey, there’s that word again!). I was challenged in unique ways and inspired to be a better, effective leader. This course also touched on a variety of topics. However, it would have been really interesting to go more in-depth with all levels of social work (micro, mezzo, and macro) as well as spend more time looking at how to be a leader when working with other cultures.

The last thing I would like to share is a specific leadership model. This model is called the social change model of social work. Iachini, Cross, and Freedman (2015) find several values in three different categories that help social workers promote change. Individual values consist of consciousness of self (being aware of beliefs and strengths), congruence (aligning forms of communication), and commitment. In a group setting values are collaboration (working together to complete a task), common purpose, and controversy with civility (handling conflict well). Lastly, the one social value discussed is citizenship.

The things discussed in this post are specific things to help us better ourselves as leaders. Everyone every now and then needs to do a self-check. This is a great time to do that if you are already in a leadership position. If you are not in a leadership position but would like to be, this is a great way to start!

 

Iachini, A. L., Cross, T. P., & Freedman, D. A. (2015). Leadership in Social Work Education and the Social Change Model of Leadership. Social Work Education34(6), 650-665. doi:10.1080/02615479.2015.1025738

Peters, S. C. (2018). Defining social work leadership: a theoretical and conceptual review and analysis. Journal Of Social Work Practice32(1), 31-44. doi:10.1080/02650533.2017.1300877

Wide-Awake

It was about 11:30PM on a Thursday night when I realized my eyes were actually open and I was staring into the dark abyss of my bedroom. The whole time I thought my eyes were closed and I was trying to sleep. Instead, I was literally wide-awake with my mind racing a million miles a minute.

Apparently, my mind thought (no pun intended) it was a good time for me to go through every detail of my day, the next day, and the next 5 years of my life. Thus being so, worrisome thoughts crept into my mind. Will I ever finish school? Will I find my dream job? Will I ever find a spouse? Can I really accomplish these goals?

And of course, if you’re anything like me you can relate to being the “midnight goal setter”. Personally, I set high goals for myself late at night that I am supposed to attempt to achieve the next day. Things such as going to the gym in the morning, eating a healthy, well-balanced breakfast, or even just doing something different with my hair. Of course, by then I have so much motivation (on top of worry) streaming through my veins that I most definitely will not be sleeping anytime soon.

Eventually, however, my intuition kicked in and I realized I wasn’t super exhausted because I was out of my allergy medicine that put me to sleep. However, even though I did not have to set my alarm to intrude on my beauty sleep the next day, I realized if I wanted to even be remotely productive, than I really needed my beauty sleep! So, I chose the natural approach of coaxing myself to sleep by slapping a dab of lavender under my nostrils. I can still hear my mom saying, “a little dab will do ya!”

While laying in bed and awaiting the lavender’s natural powers to kick in, I considered the following:

When we declare ourselves to be followers of Jesus, we are hyped during that moment. We are so ready for this new lifestyle; ready to be transformed and begin living this new, amazing Christian life. We are on high alert, applying scripture left and right, praying our little hearts out, and even sharing this new experience with some co-workers.

Eventually, Sunday after Sunday goes by. Years upon years of volunteering at VBS fade into distant memories. Reading the Bible seems pointless because you have no time to actually delve into what it means and how to apply it. We become tired and drowsy in our walks with the Lord.

When we sleep, we are technically unconscious. We can’t really hear anything. We aren’t really in control of what is running through our minds (dreams, that is). And in all honesty. We are more prone to being attacked (whether it be by your cat that thinks you’re playing when you move your feet, or something else).

The same is true when we are spiritually asleep, with minor exceptions. When we are spiritually asleep, we are more prone to being attacked by the enemy because we are not on high alert, pouring into our relationship with Christ. Though we technically have the power to control our thoughts, we don’t even realize that they are even toxic and need to be taken captive.

My point is this: we have fallen into a deep spiritual slumber. So deep that it’s like we have neon signs strapped to us inviting the Devil to come and take his place in our lives. We have put our weapons down and left ourselves open and visible for an attack.

But I don’t believe that is what Christ has called us to be. I believe that we are to be alert, praying in the Spirit constantly, fervently. We are to be taking captive our thoughts to the obedience of Christ. Worshiping Jesus in every moment. And spreading the Good News just as much as we complain to our neighbors of how tired we are!

So my question for you is… are you sleeping? Or are you wide-awake in your spiritual life?

It is time to stop hitting snooze and to arise from our slumbers!

The End All

It was a warm Monday afternoon with a slight breeze shifting the sun’s rays from beating directly down on my already sun-kissed skin. I was trying to figure out what I did to deserve the blessing of getting off work early on a Monday afternoon. I had two and a half hours to spend doing whatever I wanted. After stopping at the LifeWay store to check out good deals on books, selling a pair of old jeans to Plato’s Closet, and using my buy-one-get-one coupon at CoreLife Eatery on two healthy-as-all-get-out salads, I had a decision to make.

I could either go to my grandmother’s house and accompany her in her scorching living room and do nothing, or go to the Starbucks that I basically live at to finish, yet another, assignment for my graduate classes. I chose neither. Instead, I went to a park with a river. I wanted to just rest. I wanted to spend time with myself. I wanted to just breathe for one moment before I had to go to yet another commitment.

I got to the park, grabbed one of the books I just bought (and the free journaling notebook with my purchase!), a pen, and my aqua blue water bottle and headed for the shaded bench along the riverside. There were several dads walking along the river with their young children. It was so precious watching the little ones laugh and giggle while walking in the smooth river.

As I sat there, I breathed in and thought this is it. This is what I need. A moment for me. I opened my book and began to read, but only made it through the introduction before the wind sent goosebumps up and down my spine. I got up and walked to another bench in the sun. Perfect.

I continued reading and sipping my cool water. I was in such unbelief that on a Monday afternoon I could actually take time to just be. This was a moment I longed for more of. No rushing. No cell phone. No worrying. A moment of pure bliss, I would say.

I kept reading and observing the beautiful wildlife around me. God had such an imagination when He created. I had enough time to read through four chapters of this new book I just got (the chapters were less than 10 pages!). The book seemed to be exactly what I needed. It was like the words sprang right off the page and into my heart.

The book, An Intentional Life by Karen Stott began by talking about passion and pursing the things that God has called us to. Karen shares her own personal testimony to help readers relate. And boy, could I relate! The words that she probably put her heart and soul into were some of the most empowering words I have ever read.

Eventually, I put the book down because I needed to process what I had just read. You see, we all have so many hopes and dreams, so many desires, so much passion. She described this one moment where she was doing something she absolutely loved and she could tell it was what she was called to do because she was thriving and just at complete peace. Have you ever felt that?

I felt that once, when I was in India. I loved the work I was doing. I loved the people that I was surrounded by. Sure, I missed home, but this was it! This is what I was passionate AOAM0562 (1)about! Someone even captured a candid of my pure joy of me doing what I felt called to do. But now, now I am home. I am back in the States, living with my parents while I finish (hopefully) the rest of my education in my masters program.

There is not a day that goes by where I do not think about India or my time there. I miss it. Even though there were so many times when I was so frustrated and did not understand anything, I miss it. Because that was clearly where God had called me to. I feel like one day, hopefully sooner than later, I will be traveling back to those not-so-foreign grounds that I fell in love with.

Eventually, it was time for me to leave the peaceful moment and head to my church to serve at our summer sports camp outreach for children. As I walked to the car I had only one thought: this is not the end-all.

After getting home from India, an experience that changed my life and that could never be topped, I graduated college and did what any other college graduate does, I got a job (and started my masters program). I started working full-time, getting re-engaged in my church, catching up with friends, going to school full-time, heck, I even picked up Tennis as a hobby! But something was just not right. I was not happy. I was not happy with where I was career-wise, or several other areas of my life.

I had this aching and passion to do other things. I wanted to move to Washington D.C. and work for the International Justice Mission or move to New York and work for the United Nations (I still do!). But I couldn’t. Not yet. It wasn’t “my time” to do that. Even though those are my dreams and passions and goals for myself, they were not what God had in mind for me fresh out of college. God had something else in store for me. He wanted me to work and get this other college education and focus on bettering myself (maybe I should say “becoming” myself?)

This meant, once again, putting my dreams on hold. I even had to recognize that I had to put a really important relationship on hold, trusting that if it were meant to be, God would make a way. This is a time where God wants to transform me. God wants to lead me to still waters. God wants to plant a yearning so strong in my heart for the things that I am already so passionate about that I will not ever be able to give up on my dreams.

This is my season of growing.

I was talking to my best friend (my best friend for over half of our lives now). She is also in a season of growing. We talked about how difficult it is. We are both in places where we don’t want to be, but where God has ordained us to be. It comforts me to know that my closest friend is in this with me.

Before recognizing this (and even after), I realized that at some point along the lines I lost my fear of God. I lost my reverence and awe for the one who created me, the very thing that connected me with God on a level I couldn’t even begin to describe. My heart hardened. My well was dry. I was in a desert. I was so stubborn, that I did not even recognize this.

I was angry with God. I was confused at why I had just experienced something so incredible and so life-giving that I loved doing, but was brought home to something I was not passionate about. I was upset with him that I met an amazing man, but the relationship was put to a halt. I asked God if He was punishing me, but He did not answer. He was silent. All of this warped my thoughts and made me question if I should even continue pursing the dreams I have. Should I even trust God that if it is His will, He will make a way with this relationship?

I felt like I would be stuck in this rut for the rest of my life.

But after this moment at this park, I felt renewed. After reading a few words of encouragement from another sister in Christ, I felt that it is possible to get through this. Even though right now, in this day, I feel like I am getting no where, or achieving any of the goals I have set for myself, God is taking me everywhere and I am achieving the goals He has set for me.

So while I am not living the “perfect life” I thought I would be right after I graduated from college, I am living the life that God has called me to live at such a time as this. And in this time, come hell or high water, I want to be so immersed in what God has for me that I will never be distracted. I want God to mold me, transform me, prune me, make me new. I know it will be painful, but it will be worth it. He is preparing me for something mighty ahead. He is answering my prayers in His own way, in His own timing.

This is not the end all and the best is yet to come.

Now, it is time for me to allow the Holy Spirit to soften my heart and to submit to what He has placed before me. Are you ready to join me on this journey?

A Beautiful One

I have not blogged in a very long time- obviously. But there’s a reason for that. If you look at my past blogs, they are all about my time studying abroad in India. Around the time when I stopped blogging, is around the time when I had about one month left in the amazing country. Now, it has been a little over a month since I have been home, and I still have not blogged.

It’s not that I don’t have time. It’s not that I don’t want to. You see, the thing is, I don’t know what to write. I didn’t want to write an “ending” to my time in India. I didn’t want to write about all the goodbyes I had to say, my airport stories, or how excited my family was to see me when they picked me up from the airport. Honestly, there are just not enough words in the English (or any other) dictionary for me to describe the experiences I had.

Now that it has been a little over a month, I have had time to reflect more on my time abroad. I have re-integrated into my complex American life and now it is time to share a little bit about what is going on in my heart and head.

If you read my first few blogs while I was in India, you know that I had a rough time. I was sick, I was missing home and my family, I was not very fond of the bugs, and overall, the culture shock got the best of me. Fortunately, as I spent more time there, I develop amazing relationships with locals that love Jesus and have compassion for community. These were the people I clung to.

I started being more intentional about my relationship with Jesus and allowing Him into my everyday life to cleanse me and heal me of past issues. When I started doing this, I was filled with so much joy and I became so content with myself and where I was at in life. I began to fall in love with the land that I had convinced myself previously I hated.

One of my closest friends began tutoring me in Hindi. We would have “tutoring” sessions at the Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) down the road. We had a deal. She would tutor me and I would buy her coffee. Sometimes, we just got so caught up in talking about life that we never got to Hindi. Either way, this was one of the sweetest friendships I have ever made in my entire life. I learned so much from this girl and cannot wait until our paths cross again.

When I hopped on my flight from Cleveland Hopkins Airport with the intention of landing in Chennai, India three days later, I had no idea what to expect. I knew I would learn, but I didn’t know what I would unlearn. I knew I would struggle, but I didn’t know how I would succeed. I knew I would grow, but I didn’t know how I would learn so much about myself. You see, I learned more about myself in these 3 1/2 glorious months than I have in my entire life.

Being in another country stretched me thin and pushed me to my limits at times. But ya know what? I think we all need to experience that in our lives. We all need to be tested and put on trial in a land we are not familiar with. That, my friends, is how we grow. I want to share a few more things…

In India, I became another person. I gained more confidence in myself than I ever thought possible. I learned to accept who I am and who Jesus wants me to be. And through that, came a wonderful fullness of joy.

I learned patience. I learned that you do not always have to be doing something crazy and adventurous. Want to know why? Because being a foreigner in such a “hectic” culture is adventurous enough… I mean, getting on the right train and bus is crazy enough!

Lastly, one of the most important things I learned is that it is okay to not know what is happening next. From day one of walking around nearly unconscious due to the horrid affects of jet lag, to the very last day trying to say goodbye to newly found lifelong friends, I was always in a state of not knowing. Now, if you know me, you know this is completely against what I stand for. Everyone knows that I have my life planned out 5-years in advance. But that was nearly impossible for me to do in India.

Indians are very flexible people. They are people that are adapted to change wherever, whenever. This grew on me. The whole time I was so scared of going home because I didn’t know what to expect. My parent’s house had caught on fire and they moved to a new one while I was away. I was graduating college, trying to find a job, trying to figure out if and how I would go to graduate school. At times, it spoiled my attitude and left me bankrupt of the contentness and joy I had just found.

Now that I am home, I have found that I’m actually okay when I just go with the flow. I CAN find contentment. I CAN adjust. I CAN succeed. And you know what? I actually kind of like it. There is something adventurous about being spontaneous that reminds me of my life in India.

Folks, in no way, shape, or form, does this blog post shed the slightest light on my time in what has become my most favorite country on Earth. But, I can tell you this, my life has been forever changed and until the day comes when I venture to that land again, I will do what I can to get my “India” fill. (Yes that means every time I see a person from India in public I will say “Namaste” and attempt to speak in the little bit of Hindi that I know).

To sum it up, my time in India was “a beautiful one”.

You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16.11

The Whole Heart

I stepped out of my air-conditioned room and into the kitchen area. Perfect. The counter was clean, free of any green peppers or grains of rice that may have escaped from the pan when someone was cooking on the hot plate. I set my devotional, Bible, notebook, and novel on the counter in front of the toaster and sat down on the plastic sandstone grey chair. Double checking that the counter was clean, I put my arms down on the counter and slowly closed my eyes and put my head in my arms.

Peace, at last.

It had been a long few days where I had chosen to try to go to bed early instead of spend time with the Lord. From a long day trip learning about Indian music and eating Indian cuisine on Sunday to a Monday filled with an important meeting, a two hour Hindi class, and dinner at my supervisors house. Instead of fighting the exhaustion and trying to keep my eyes open, I chose to lay my head down and try to sleep.

Despite my efforts to go to bed, I laid awake until 3 a.m., two nights in a row, tossing and turning, contemplating my future, what I would have for dinner the next day, and what kind of shoes I would wear to my future big-kid job. Of course, I have woken up the past two mornings feeling even more exhausted and still unsure of what to do with my future.

As soon as I put my head on my arms I hear these words: What does it look like to follow me with your whole heart? 

I began to list out things such as spending time in the Word daily, trusting God with my future, leaning on God for strength, praying, using the gifts He has given me to glorify Him, etc. Soon enough, I realized these were not the answers God wanted from me. Sure, these things are good and Godly, and obviously the Sunday School response, but God wanted something deeper that was personal for me.

God wanted me to answer according to my nitty-gritty, day-to-day life. He wanted to know what specific things I could do to follow Christ with my whole heart. This is what God wants from us. He wants all of us.

Growing up (and still to this day), I remember something my mom used to always say. Whenever we would jokingly fight I would say “you want a piece of me!?” and she would always respond with, “no! I want the whole thing!” That’s the key right there. God doesn’t just want a piece of our hearts, He wants the whole thing. He doesn’t want just half of our attention, He wants all of it.

I am going to do something a little differently in this blog. I am going to start a list of things I feel I can do to live my life with my heart completely rendered to God and I want you (yes you, the reader) to comment and add things you can do as well. Please do not feel compelled to share anything too personal. I have learned that when we voice things, it helps them become more realistic in our lives. It is also important for us to remain in unity, supporting each other, as the body of Christ! So. . .

Following Christ with my whole heart:

–  Think before I speak, as to respond with love, not an attitude 

– Thank God more often (even for the not-so-good things)

– Limit expectations on my days, conversations, and relationships

– Put my phone away and be “present” with the Lord and those around me 

These are just a few things God is speaking to me about to draw closer to Him. What is He speaking to you about?

Thirst

I did not know how thirsty I was until I took the first sip.

Last night, I had a great opportunity to ride the metro for the first time with some friends. In order to do this, however, I had to skip dinner in the mess hall of where I am staying. I was perfectly okay with this because I was not a fan of the meal being served. By the time the metro fun was over, my group was very hungry. So, we did what any group of friends would do, we stopped for food.

We went to a place that was famous for its biriyani. However, I ordered a parotta because I get biriyani quite often in my mess hall. The parotta came with a reddish-looking sauce that had a whole chili pepper floating in it. I have been a little more gutsy with the spices lately, so I took a bit of my parotta and dunked it like an Oreo in a glass of milk. To my surprise, it was not as spicy as I expected, but it was still higher on the spice chart than what I was used to.

I continued to eat it with no problem. As I enjoyed my meal, I utilized the cup and pitcher of water that was sitting in front of me on the table. after every few bites I would take a sip of the cold refreshing water to help balance out the spice. I did not know how thirsty I was until I took the first sip. It almost became addicting to drink (not that that is a bad thing, right?).

Throughout the meal, I am pretty sure I refilled my cup at least five times. Living in a country where it is almost 100 degrees each day and where the humidity is unbearable, I am encouraged to drink a lot of water. There is much fear that with the heat and the amount of walking I do, that I will fall ill from dehydration. This concept of drinking a lot of water is so hard for me to grasp.

It’s only a struggle for me because of my surroundings. Sure, the heat makes me thirsty and want water more… but what happens when you drink a lot of water? You tend to need a restroom more often than not. At home, in the U.S., I admit, I probably would not have this problem. Then again, when I am there I am not as concerned about my H2O intake either.

The problem lies in the fact that I do not always have a restroom readily available to me. I spend at least two days out of my week in hamlets and villages where most homes do not even have a toilet. Once we are in the main city area, many public places do not have public restrooms. In fact, if they do, such as at the train station, you will have to pay in order to use- and that’s if the bathroom is even working!

On the other days, I have access to a a very nice, and usually very clean, Indian style toilet. If you do not know what an Indian style toilet looks like, please click here. The problem with this is that on those days I am inside and typically under a fan. I’m not usually quenched for thirst and do not think to drink a lot of water. Take heart, I have not yet fallen ill from not drinking enough water.

As I sat in this air-conditioned restaurant, chowing down on my parotta and basically inhaling the pitcher of water in front of me, I became aware of something else. When we go for days on end without spending time with God, we do not realize how thirsty we actually are until we drink from His living well again. 

There are times when we may do a really great job of spending amount of time reading amounts of scripture and saying amounts of prayers. We also have times where x, y, and all equal 0. In these times, we think we are okay spiritually. We say: there is nothing inherently wrong with my life right now and I am trusting God with my future, or, I know He’s with me. Then, we may fall into the thought process that skipping just one day of quiet time with the Lord isn’t going to hurt anything.

Before I go any further, let me ask you something, when you neglect to spend time with someone you love and care about, does that hurt the relationship you have with them?

Exactly.

When we “opt-out” of spending quiet time with God daily, we are hindering our relationship with God. Now, I am not saying that God is forsaking us and is not with us. I am saying that we are choosing to spend time with other things besides God. We are prioritizing other things above God. And that, hurts God.

He longs to spend time with us. He longs to reveal things to us in scripture.

So, back to the concept of water… even though I did not realize how thirsty I was when I was eating, I figured it out when I took the first sip. For too long I had let the environment influence my actions of drinking water. And I suffered from that because I did not get to enjoy the satisfaction that drinking cold water on a warm day gives.

Are you allowing your environment to influence your decision to daily drink from the living well? Are you choosing to “opt-out” of the daily satisfaction you can get from spending time with God each day?

Dear friend, I want to encourage you that even if you have, God is still there waiting for you. He is longing to spend some time with you, waiting to take your relationship with Him further! Render your heart to Him and let Him be your priority.

“‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'”

|John 4.13-14|