Friday, January 28, 2011

Where Will You Be?

I normally don't post video in place of a regular blog entry, but when I played at the Opening Bell on Tuesday night there was a super nice guy recording so here are the results of that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ignore the Werewolf- Choosing Faith Over Fear

I remember going to camp in Athens, Texas when I was about six or seven.  Camp was a particularly scary thing for me as a child since I was shy.  Camp meant competitive games and swimming.  I was afraid of both.  This year, though, camp birthed in me an entirely new kind of fear.  This fear was the incapacitating kind.  The kind that leaves you frozen, incapable of movement.  

I don't know who thought the following idea was a good one.  One of the last nights of camp, the campers and sponsors sat around a campfire, and one of the male camp workers decided to tell a story.  The story was about a young boy who had been abandoned at the camp years before.  The man told of how the little boy was raised by wolves and grew into a wild man who grew angry when people visited the camp.  At the most suspenseful point in the story, another camp worker jumped out of the woods behind us and screamed, sending us all into a screaming panic and sending some children running towards the campfire in fear.  This was a very dangerous storytelling tactic.  Thankfully, I was sitting next to my dad when all of this took place, and I remember walking very closely beside him that night as we walked back to our cabins that night.  When I returned home at the end of the week, I was convinced that the werewolf boy had followed me home and lurked underneath my bed.

For months, maybe a year, I lived in fear of this werewolf.  I frequently had nightmares as a child, and I woke up many times in the middle of the night, terrified.  I knew that comfort and security was just across the house in my parents' room, but I could not bring myself to get out of the bed, sure that the werewolf was under my bed and would attack as soon as my little feet hit the floor.  So while my siblings felt the freedom to wander into my parents' room in the middle of the night when they couldn't sleep, I was huddled underneath my blankets, wishing for the courage to move but finding none.  And so it went for months.  Thankfully, I got older and after many nights of feeling fear, I realized that the werewolf boy did not exist and I got over him.

But looking back over the last 33 years of my life, I realize that I have been trading my current fears for new, more grown-up fears.  I happily gave up the werewolf fear for a fear of the rapture taking place and being left behind.  That one stuck with me for a little while.  I can't tell you how many times I got lost in a store, and I was certain that my whole family had been swept up to heaven and that I was stuck in Target, just me and the devil... for eternity.  Then I traded in that fear for believing that my parents were going to die in the middle of the night.  I woke up regularly to check on them and to make sure they were breathing.  And then I got older and traded those childhood fears for teenage fears, which were exchanged for 20-something fears, and now 30-something.  You see how this works.

I no longer have werewolf nightmares.  I occasionally have dreams about my teeth falling out, and let me tell you how thankful I am when I wake up to find that they are all still there in their place.  Being toothless would certainly reduce my chances of marrying well.  But like I said, the 30-something fears still linger.  They do not rule, but they remain.  There are fears of not being fun enough, real enough, skinny enough, pretty enough.  There is a fear that I will always be alone and fears that I will marry and not be successful at it.  Again.  I am afraid of being too afraid to step out and move to Africa.  I am afraid of not doing anything with my life, of getting old and looking back and feeling all I did was shop for new shoes and watch Netflix and that I did not make one single difference in anyone's life.  I am afraid of choosing a life of adventure and faith over a life of security and the American dream.  It is exhausting.  And even though I am not six anymore, fear has a way of incapacitating me.  It causes me to be incapable to moving forward.

Fear is the opposite of faith.  Faith lays fears to rest.  And I have said it before, faith comes from reading God's Word.  It really does.  Romans 10:17 says it does.  If you don't believe me, you just haven't read it and discovered it for yourself.  When I was a child, I didn't know that I could quote Psalm 56:3 and my fear would be swallowed up by faith.  But as an adult, I have learned how to use Scripture as a weapon against my fear.  And so today, I choose faith.  I choose to quote Proverbs 16:9... a friend shared this with me last night and I am quoting it to myself today.  I am choosing to not remain frozen in fear.  I am choosing to allow the Lord to direct my steps.  I am making a phone call to schedule a coffee date with a woman who runs Village of Hope Uganda, even though Uganda scares me.  I am going to do something today.

I don't know what you are afraid of.  I hope nothing.  But if you are like me, you have them... those lingering fears of not being loved, of getting old, of being a less-than-perfect parent, of losing your job and your financial security, of your spouse not finding you attractive or interesting anymore, of losing yourself in your life of diapers, spit-up, and fish sticks.  But whatever you are afraid of, don't let it suck you in.  Don't let it stop you.  Love people, love your babies, make mistakes, ask for forgiveness, do your best, celebrate each birthday, change diapers, serve fish sticks... again.  And bury yourself as far as you can in God's Word.  Ignore the werewolf.  He isn't real.  I promise.          


Friday, January 21, 2011

Text Messages from God

If you fell in love and got married before text messaging became the communication method of the masses, I don't know if I should congratulate you or offer my apologies.  On one hand, you have never been dumped via text message.  I have been.  It is kind of insulting.  On the other hand, you also have never fallen in love via text message.  And that, my friends, is kind of fun.  Actually, it is incredibly fun.

Getting to know someone via text message is interesting.  It allows for almost constant communication, if you have job that allows for intermittent cell phone use.  There is no way you could stay on the phone all day and talk.  But you can text all day.  Pick up the phone every ten minutes or so, type out a witty response within seconds and continue on with your day.  No problem.  Texting also provides an outlet for making random observations.  I wouldn't call you up to tell you about the dream that I had about meeting Kate Gosselin at a book signing.  But I would text you about it.  Neither would I make a special phone call to let you know that the best way to test the freshness of milk is indeed by smelling and not by tasting.  But this I would text.  Text messaging also allows for life to take place in between.  I have to go to a funeral and I will be off the texting map for an hour.  No big deal.  I may or may not give you warning, and then you will hear from me in an hour and we will pick up right where we left off.  Try doing that in a phone conversation.  I have never tried it, but I think it would not go well.

And then there are the flirtatious texts.  When I am right in the middle of the funnest part of the relationship, every time I hear the little text message alert, I have to work to hide my excitement.  I pick up the phone and read the message, and I try to hide the ridiculous smile on my face so that people don't think I am crazy.  And those little messages of affirmation stay with me.  I read them.  I reread them.  I show them to my friends occasionally.  And they make me feel cared about, important, liked.  I meditate on them, memorize them even.  I have gotten messages like that, and I could quote them back to you word for word.  Those little things are what help a relationship to grow. This is the modern day equivalent of the old fashioned love letter.  You can express in writing what you do not always feel comfortable expressing verbally.  And while I still appreciate a hand-written love letter, I am just happy to have visible proof of affection and affirmation.

I received a text from a girlfriend the other day that said "Sometimes, I have days when I just need someone to follow me around, pat me on the head, and tell me I'm okay.  The whole good enough, smart enough thing."  I get that feeling.  Totally and completely.  And when I am not receiving affirmation from people, it's an easy thing to feel.  Whether I am not in a romantic relationship at all or in a romantic relationship where approval and affirmation are not being communicated, it is easy to feel like I need those things. But here is the truth.  The truth I already know and might just forget from time to time.  God never intended for my well being to be wrapped up in other people's approval and affirmation.  True story.  There is no way for me to have healthy, fulfilling relationships when it is wrapped up in them.  God did intend for my well being to be wrapped up in Him.  In Christ, I have endless amounts of approval and affirmation.

Human relationships are tricky.  They are not predictable because people are not predictable.  People are not always trustworthy.  People are not always steadfast.  People are not always reliable.  And to find our value and worth in relationships with people is a scary thing.  It's the fastest way to feel worthless.  But I will tell you it's easier to do than to seek out our worth in Christ.  We see people.  We talk to them.  We spend time with them, tell each other stories, laugh and listen.  And God, well, he is harder to see.  And harder to talk to.  And honestly, He never texts me.  Never.  It requires effort on my part.  I have to get into His Word.  I have to read it, reread it, meditate on it.  I have to memorize it.  But when I do, I feel cared about, important, liked.  That's what I am supposed to feel.  And God is trustworthy.  He is steadfast.  He is reliable.  He is the only way to feel worthwhile.

So during this weird time in my life, I will be intentional in reading God's letter of affirmation and love to me. I will reread it.  I will meditate on it.  I will memorize it.  Not because I am super spiritual and have it all figured out, but because I am not and I don't.  But if anyone wants to start a business of sending daily Scripture text messages of affirmation, let me know.  I am totally in.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hang in there, girly!... A little blog about how I should be married with children

If you are looking for happy, funny, and cheery blog posts today... well, you might want to look elsewhere.  I don't even know where to start.  I do not use my Facebook statuses to tell of my life's problems, mainly because I despise it when others do it.

 Dramatic Facebook Friend is having a horrible day today.  *Sigh*  

Yeah, that makes me kind of crazy.  The resulting comments make me even crazier.

Hang in there, girly!  
Things will get better!  
What's wrong?  CALL ME!!!  

Yeah, it makes me kind of nuts.  So I don't do it.  And I never want to come across as phony or fake, and so I rarely share spiritual thoughts on my Facebook statuses.  Facebook is not where I pray and read my Bible, so I don't feel the need to preach the gospel according to Jesus and Julie there.  And so I stick to the ridiculous.  I post only about nonsense, and I trust that people know there is more to me than what is on my Facebook posts.

But this is my blog.  My world.  You guys have to actually click a button to get here.  The words don't just show up on your newsfeed.  So I assume that if you take the time to click the link, you are willing to read whatever I have written.  And today it's not all prettiness and fun stories.  Today I am struggling.  Over the last few days, several things have happened that caught me off guard.  I wasn't prepared for them, and though seem to be small things, they changed the course of where I thought my life was headed.  That's never easy.  I am a planner, and I love to know what comes next.  And when it doesn't go like I plan, man, I am just a mess.  And that's me today.

I listened to a message by Chip Ingram a few months ago, and I clearly remember him telling a story about a man who came up to him after one of his sermons.  The man explained that he never had a problem believing that God could and did answer prayer in miraculous ways and that God was capable of accomplishing the impossible through prayer.  But the man said something that feels as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror.... he said "I just don't believe that He will do that for me".  And that's where I am.

I have spent my whole life hearing about God and his love for us and his power and his ability to do anything.  And I believe it.  I believe in His plans and that they are good.  I believe that he is a loving Father that wants to give good gifts to His children.  I believe that He came so that we could have an abundant life.  I have never had trouble believing that those things are true.  But sometimes, when I look at my life, and I don't see the things that I think I should see, it's easy to believe that they don't apply to me.

I feel like my life should look different.  I feel like I should be married.  Single people are always afraid to say that out loud, like saying it makes everyone else think that they are desperate.  I don't care.  I am not desperate, otherwise I am sure I could find some weirdo to marry me.  Maybe even someone who is not a weirdo, but is just not the right choice.  But I would like to be married.  I would like to have a permanent date for all Christmas dinners and Valentine's Day dates, someone to pose next to in pictures, someone who asks me how much money I spent at the mall, and someone to take out the trash.  And I would like children.  Babies.  Oh yes I would.  (This is another thing that single women are afraid to talk about for fear of being judged... the dreaded biological clock) But I love babies.  I love their cute little faces and their tiny little feet.  And when I get one, I will love it and sing to it and slather that kid in Baby Magic and just sit and sniff it.  I will be super happy about it.  I am not afraid to tell you that because I do not have these things, sometimes I feel a little bit cheated.  I start to believe that all of God's promises do not apply to me for some reason.  I feel left out.

But I have learned that feelings lie.  They do not tell the truth.  And if I allow the way I feel to take over my mind, then I live a miserable, defeated life.  I refuse to live life based on what I feel.  I always cringe at the phrase "Follow your heart" because the truth is, you can follow your heart right into a marriage with an unbeliever or an extramarital affair or a million other messes.  Scripture says that my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.  I know where my heart leads, and yeah, I refuse to follow it.

I have been here before.  I have been through times of doubt and struggles, and I have lived to tell about it.  I have responded with the wrong things and I have also done the right things.  I know how both turn out.  And so I will do what I know works.  I will surround myself with truth.  I will listen to lots and lots of Christian music.  I will quote Scripture to myself when the untrue thoughts pop into my head, and they will.  I will practice Isaiah 26:3 and I will keep my eyes steadfast on Christ and I will choose to trust him for perfect peace.  I will read my Bible more than I watch Netflix because faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word of God.  I will pray and be honest with God about how I am feeling because He knows it already.  I am not hiding anything by pretending like I am fine.  I will lean on my close friends, and I will accept their encouragement, even though I hate not being the tough one.  I know I will come through this.  I always do.  And I know from experience that God is faithful to show Himself at the right times.  He sends reminders that He has not forgotten me, even when I feel like maybe He has.  So I will wait for those things.  His grace is sufficient, and his strength is made perfect in my weakness.  And right now, I am giving his strength lots of opportunity to be made perfect.  So if you are a pray-er, pray with me.  I don't mind asking for it.  And I will report back to you about how God moves because I know from experience that He will.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Girlfriends and Groceries- a Lesson in Grace

You know when the phone rings, and you look at who is calling and your first reaction is "I wonder what he/she wants"?  And I don't mean that you wonder whether the person is calling you to invite you to a lovely dinner party or maybe to a movie.  You actually wonder what the person wants from you because it always seems like he/she is wanting something.  Some relationships are like that.  One person is established as the giver and one person is the taker.  Sometimes is just a season that relationships go through, but often it is the very thing that defines the relationship.  

On Monday of this week, I got one of those calls from one of those people.  The request was from a girlfriend, and she needed groceries. And I am ashamed to say, I was not happy.  I didn't hear of the need and thank God that I had the extra money to help out.  I didn't instantly jump at the chance to bless her and her family.  I was just annoyed.  I was annoyed because I felt like, once again, she had made bad decisions and needed me to bail her out.  I agreed to help, but my heart was not in the right place.  I certainly was not laying up treasures in heaven with my so-called generosity because God could see that my heart was not in it.  Everything inside of me was kicking and screaming and giving parental lectures as I drove to meet her at the grocery store.  I did have the presence of mind to ask another friend to pray for my bad attitude, and honestly, I believe that her prayers were the one thing that prevented me from throwing a huge, embarrassing fit over the whole thing.  As we shopped for a week's worth of groceries together and as I handed over my debit card to the cashier, I did not feel a sense of peace or fulfillment or whatever it is that you are supposed to feel when you have been obedient to Christ.  I just felt mad, resentful, used, and a little bit superior.  Maybe a lot superior, if I am being honest.

Then came Tuesday.  Weight Watchers day.  After my meeting, I generally have lunch with my mother. She was out of town, and my brother had already had lunch.  So I went out to lunch alone.  I am fearless like that.  It has never bothered me to eat alone.  I never bring books or anything to do.  I generally just sit and think and it's fine.  But Tuesday was different.  Last week I received a book in the mail from a friend, and this book has been so good, I had stuffed it into my already-heavy purse on my way out the door.  I was just hoping for the chance to read another chapter.  And then came lunch.  A good 45-60 minutes of reading time.  I was excited.  As I sat down at P.F. Chang's and placed my order for Almond and Cashew Chicken (which by the way, I don't recommend), I pulled out my book and started reading.  The book is Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist, and I cannot say enough how fantastic it is.  She is a brilliant writer, and she is honest and authentic.  I kind of want to be her best friend.  Anyway, I opened up to a fluffy chapter about a trip she took to Fiji.  It was inspirational and funny and made me want to get a husband and travel.  The next chapter was about a dinner party she had with friends, and I instantly texted my girlfriends and told them we MUST schedule a girls dinner party.  Then came a chapter on grace.  And my feeling of inspiration left me.  The sinking feeling that conviction brings came over me, and I saw myself in her story of grace misunderstood, of believing that we are more than we are.  And on the little movie screen in my head, my actions from the day before played out, except this time I saw where I was wrong.  I didn't see my friend's irresponsibility.  I saw my selfishness.  I didn't see her lack of planning.  I saw my lack of concern for her situation.  I didn't her poverty.  I saw mine.  

And so, I will share with you a little tiny piece of the beautiful book that showed me that doing gracious things does not mean you are being gracious.  And doing good with a bad spirit is always wrong.  And we are all, every last one of us, in need of grace, whether we can pay for our own groceries or not.

"At first, showing people grace makes us feel powerful, like scattering candy from a float in a parade- grace for you, grace for you.  You become almost giddy, thinking of people in generous ways, allowing for their faults, absorbing minor irritations.  You feel great, and then you start to feel ever so slightly superior, because you're so incredibly evolved and gracious.

But then inevitably something happens, and it usually involves you confronting one of your worst selves, often in public, and you realize that you're not throwing candy off a float to a nameless, dirty public, but rather that you are that nameless, dirty public, and that you are starving and on your knees, praying for a little piece of sweetness, just one mouthful of grace."   -Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Who's My Pretty Baby?

I like surprises.  I like them when they are good and happy and fun, like parties or presents or trips.  I don't care for them so much when they are bad.  Especially when they seem bad and life altering.  Sometimes, though, surprises can come in as bad and life altering and then God transforms into something wonderful.  That's the thing about God... only He can do that.

I was at my mom's house the day we found out.  Through a text message conversation with my brother Adam, my mom learned that his ex-girlfriend was pregnant.  An unplanned baby on the way.  It's the news no parent wants to hear.  And though the news that we got was about the existence of a new life, the atmosphere in my parents' house was more like death.  My mother cried.  She grieved the loss of the things a Godly mother wants for her son's life.  With this news, the dreams that she had for Adam were forever changed.  And while she cried, any intelligent thought that I have ever had in my head left me.  I could not think of one single thing to say.  So I cried with her.  We worried about my brother, the ex-girlfriend, the baby that was on the way, and how my dad was going to take the news.  And even though she didn't say it, I know she was wondering what people would think.  

Six months later showed a different picture.  The shock had worn off.  My dad handled the news well.  Adam and his ex-girlfriend Stephanie had gotten back together, and my mom and I were in Houston, Texas at the hospital, waiting on a baby.  On September 21, 2009, an eight pound, one ounce baby came into the world and she was beautiful.  Reagan Page O'Dell was, and still is, the sweetest baby around.  She was happy and pleasant.  And everyone instantly fell in love with her.  

Adam and Stephanie got married January 1, 2010, and their little family has made it through some incredibly difficult things over the last year.  But several weeks ago, my brother Adam went forward in a church service, and said that God had called him to preach.  I was eleven when Adam was born, and though he is a grown man now, he is still my baby brother.  I was so proud of him when I found out.  One week later, I was excited to get to take him and Stephanie to Springfield, Missouri to look into the Bible college where both my dad and I graduated.  Adam loved it, and he and Stephanie made the decision to move to Missouri for the Spring Semester, which means they are going.... now.  And though we have tried to convince them to leave her, they are taking Reagan.  

And so our sweet little surprise is leaving.  Oh, we love Adam and Stephanie, and we will miss them.  I love Stephanie as much as any of my real sisters.  But in four months, Adam and Stephanie will be mostly the same.  But Reagan?  She will have new teeth and will be walking more steadily and will be saying new words and she might not know who I am.  And right now she knows how to take pictures with my iPhone and she loves the Smack Talk app, and she might not remember those things later.  Talk to any family member about the fact that Reagan is leaving, and you will see us cry.  

I look back over the last year and nine months or so, and I think about how much things have changed.  I love how God took a situation that seemed kind of hopeless and dreams that seemed kind of lost, and He redeemed them.  He turned it all into something beautiful and good.  I can look at the whole picture, and it speaks to his goodness and his forgiveness.  And I don't want to forget it.  Because I know that those hard days will come again in a different form, and I need to remember that God is brilliant at redeeming those bad surprises.  If you are in doubt, just watch this and know that I am right.


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