Taking Flight, Writing

A long way from God

Tears streaked down my face as I sat cross-legged on my couch and at attention to the Lord. Please, God, just take control. I don’t want control anymore, I prayed. That’s what I wrote in my prayer journal as I sat at a crossroads with the next step I should take. I remembered all the conversations I had had with God to make his plan for me abundantly clear. At this moment, I was sure he was shouting at me. Not in the way you would when team USA is lagging behind in speed skating because they keep making mistake after mistake. Come on! Can’t you see him! He’s right there! He was more so screaming it the way your coach would if you made a devastating fall in the short performance. Come one! Get back up! You can do this! This is what you have trained for! Just jump right back into the routine!

It was in that moment that I resigned control over to God to do what he must to bring me back to where I needed to be. And it would be the very next day that I would be met with a crushing blow of reality – that in my gradual shifting away from God, I had traveled a million miles away from Him.

Because that’s generally how it works. While some people make the dramatic flight from God, most people stumble and crumble to their lowest because they made a series of baby steps away from the smooth path he lays for us.

For a brief point in my life, I began to surround myself with not the best people. Actually, I had welcomed a wolf garnished in sheep’s wool into my life. The disguise was convincing. That much I’ll admit. So I let the beast stay longer than I should have, even after I started to see the menacing fangs and hungry eyes beneath a sweet grandmother’s cap. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I saw the big hungry eyes behind the wire frame glasses and the menacing fangs that dripped drool in anticipation for the kill.

Briefly, I accompanied the wolf thinking it was just a sheep on the edge. Nothing much to worry about. But with each passing day, I only became more critical, more pompous, more like the wolf with whom I kept company. I was hateful. I was judgmental. I thought of myself as more than my brothers and sisters. I do little out of love and most things out of selfish ambition.

Thankfully, the Good Shepherd saw what I couldn’t. He saw what I didn’t until the wolf had run off and a trail of wool was left in its wake.

Sadly, I still see remnants of how the wolf effected who I am, how I see people, and how I see the world. It is in the moments when my pride starts to rear it’s ugly, pompous head or that I say something so biting and bitter that I realize how many baby steps I took away from God and how they eventually amounted to thousands of miles.

When I first surrendered my future to God, I felt like a rug had been ripped out from underneath me. For that moment, it seemed like God was the incompetent magician who whips a table cloth out from under a fully set table only to fling every piece of precious China and polished silver to the ground leaving what was once beautiful and precious scattered on the floor. This wasn’t what I asked for, God, I thought.

But God is anything but incompetent.

And nothing He does is a simple illusion.

Though the state of my faith and my focus on God was the China and silver atop the fancy table cloth, the problem with my perspective was that everything wasn’t as beautifully set as I thought it was. In fact, it would have been better for Him to decimate everything on its surface than to mask the chips in the China and the scratches on the silver and pretend like the tablecloth hadn’t been tarnished by my own arrogance, my own pride in my plan, the plan I was certain had to be God’s, too.

But the moments where we are miles away from God are the moments we accuse Him of leaving us and leaving us for dead.

God wasn’t destroying order. What I thought was order ended up being chaos, and when I thought he had only created chaos, He was actually restoring order. He was clearing the table so he could make my heart orderly and full of love again.

 

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Taking Flight

Thoughts on the book of Matthew | Part I

Just a few days after the new year rolled around, I made the startling realization that I had not made one single resolution. Not a one. Sure, I had pondered things in my mind that I wanted to work on in the new year, but it probably wasn’t a solid week after the impetus of 2018 until I put my goals down in words.

For anyone who is a follower of Jesus, it is so essential to our walk as disciples to immerse ourselves in the word daily, to really dig down deep and take root in the fertile, solid, holy ground that is the Word of God. It doesn’t matter what plan you use! Just find a plan or make one yourself. Through prayer and reflection, decide what you want and need out of scripture to grow in your walk with Christ and go from there.

When I made my resolution, I wanted and needed more Gospel, more of the life of Jesus, more of the early church. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Old Testament with all of it’s beauty and history. It’s absolutely fascinating to read the retelling of this tapestry God is continually weaving even to this day. However, I was not willing to wait until what might be August at the earliest before I got to the life of Jesus.

In my head, I can already hear the very wise and knowledgeable Bible teachers that I’ve been blessed to receive guidance and instruction from. Yes, Jesus was there from the very beginning. Yes, Jesus is woven throughout the Old Testament portion of the most amazing masterpiece to ever be crafted. But I craved to see the very life of Jesus – how he walked, how he talked, how he treated people. Not to be cheesy (but why not!), but I wanted to know what Love is…the very Love, perfect and true, that would walk the dusty decay of this earth in the flesh. I wanted to refresh myself and breathe in the sweet details of his story because we all have an amazing story created by God, but for me and any other Christ follower, that story always comes back to Jesus.

Now, without further ado here are some of my thoughts on Matthew. In the college Bible class last summer, we were studying how to read the Bible. Throughout the whole series, the main theme was to obviously read the Bible but to look for details you didn’t notice before. Part of me was like “duh! Why didn’t I think of that?” But it can be so arduous to refrain from slipping into mindless reading so we can tick daily Bible reading off the never ending To Do list. I’ll admit there were times in reading Matthew where I would zone out, exhausted from a day full of grad school and GA-ing or running to and fro trying to complete all of those other things on the never ending To Do list. Nonetheless, I wanted to share some moments from Matthew (where I wasn’t zoned out) that really stood out to me and some thoughts about those moments from the life of our Savior.

King Herod didn’t want baby Jesus killed because he denied that Jesus was the Christ.

Before reading Matthew this time, I’m not sure what I believed Herod’s motives were for wanting to kill Jesus. I suppose I never thought about it and just categorized him with everyone else who wanted to kill Jesus. But now as I think about it…their reasons were all the same.

Matthew 2:3-4 tell a different story than I thought. Let’s look at those verses.

When Herod the king heard this [of the birth of the King of the Jews…aka Jesus], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Does anything peculiar stand out to you? A few things do to me.

First, I think it is fascinating that Herod was concerned that the prophesied King of the Jews had finally come. It says he was “troubled” that the Christ was here. This was something that had been prophesied long ago. It should have been no surprise. In fact, it should have come as a great surprise that the messiah was coming at this time, that the season for salvation had come upon them. This was what the Jews had been waiting for for hundreds of years. This was something that should have brought King Herod great joy, that his people would have their redeemer.

Second, not only was Herod troubled at the news of the three wise men, but so was all of Jerusalem with him. In my head I’m thinking that while it is feasible that one person who grew up knowing the prophesies and the holy scriptures could have the wrong reaction to what should be a joyous occasion, could a whole nation that had the same instruction really be so far off with their reaction, too?

Third, Herod got all of the people who knew the scriptures best to go straight to the scriptures themselves to figure out where Jesus would be born so that they could find and kill him.

My mind is all over the place as I try to piece together these observations. I reeled when I read these passages last month. Because it wasn’t that Herod or the religious leaders didn’t believe the validity of the prophesies. The thing is that Herod didn’t want to give up his power to a new King.

This reminds me of the parables about the bridegroom, how we’re waiting for him to return and how He will be returning very soon. And while some of us won’t be prepared to persevere through the long, dark nights that will come before the dawn of eternal life, there is a whole other group of us who will be unwilling to lay down our own crowns so that He can take His throne in our lives just like Herod.

I write that as if that time should come in the distant future, as if it’s an event that is coming an not yet here. But that moment is here and is in every day of our lives. It’s in how we rigidly cling to our own 10 year plan for our lives. It’s in how we demand that the church service should go this order and this order only. It’s in how we believe with our whole being that our way is the only way instead of remembering that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Often times we think of the New Testament as the more relaxed covenant. Instead, Jesus ups the ante and calls us to higher standards.

When I got to chapter 5, I noticed that the phrase “But I say to you…” is riddled throughout this chapter, scattered like rainbow-colored sprinkles on top of chocolatey brownies. Jesus kicks off this portion of the Sermon on the Mount by telling the crowd that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it.

And then he comes down hard with this hammer in verse 19:

“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” 

Wait, what?!?! I think we like to focus so much on the grace and mercy that God gives us that we forget that maybe he is giving us that grace and mercy because of the higher standard he as calling us to. Yes, God gives us abundant grace and mercy and I am so thankful that he does, but take a look at every time the phrase “but I say to you” comes up. In fact, go ahead and take a few minutes to underline each one in your Bible right now. Jesus uses this phrase SIX times in one whole chapter.

Honestly, when I read this passage, it kind of reminded me of when I was a child and I wanted to do something that my friends were doing. Of course, I used the usual child rationale for why I should be able to do this thing when trying to convince my mom that I should.

“But so-and-so’s parents let her do that.”

You can probably guess that my mom retorted, “I’m not so-and-so’s mom. I’m your mom.” In many situations where that dialogue ensued, my mom was usually calling me to a higher standard. And as adopted heirs with Christ, God calls us to live to a higher standard, a standard worthy of our adoption as heirs with Christ.

Some sun andvitamin sea

Chapter 8 establishes Jesus as the one with great authority.

By the end of chapter 7, the crowds he spoke to recognized his authority through his teachings, but chapter 8 shows us his authority through action as he heals lepers, casts out demons, and calms storms. If you do a close analysis here, you’ll probably see that Jesus has been granted the ultimate authority to do one major thing: heal.

With close analysis, we learn that Jesus has authority to heal…

The body. From verse 1-17, Jesus is healing lepers, paralyzed servants, Peter’s mother-in-law and many more. Jesus had the authority to heal afflictions then and to this day. This is a little harder for us to comprehend since we aren’t physically taking ourselves to Jesus for various ailments, but this passage serves as a reminder that even our physical sufferings should be laid at the feet of Jesus for him to heal. Because on the day of the resurrection they certainly will be.

Situations. When it feels like we can’t hold out any more and like we’ve done all we can and the troubles of life are still barking at our door like a pack of ferocious wolves, Jesus is there for us to turn to for calm and peace. Not only that but he has the power to assuage the trials of life just as he did with the storm.

The Spirit. Jesus has the power to cast aside the demons that haunt us, the sins and struggles we can’t seem to shake. Walking with Christ in Word and prayer and allowing him to carry us through the storms of life will bring healing to our spirit caused by the situations we did not let him into before.

This part of Matthew speaks to Jesus’s sole purpose for making himself a little lower than the angels to walk with us in the flesh for just a short time. He is the balm to a broken world, the assurance of new earth. In Jesus, everything is made new once more. The healing we need to renew our decaying flesh, our broken relationships and circumstances, and our downcast spirit can all be found if we follow Jesus wherever he leads us (verses 18-22). There is no earthly home where this healing is found, but there will be healing nonetheless.

So, I’m going to cap this post off here – not because I’m done and this is all that I gleaned from this round of reading Matthew. Believe me! I would already love to dive deeper into all the nuggets of gold Jesus gave to us through the Word. But this blog post is starting to become obnoxiously long. There is so much more I want to share with you from Matthew’s account of Jesus’s life and ministry and I don’t want to wear y’all out. For now, stay tuned for scenes from our next episode!

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Taking Flight, Writing

A Letter to the Woman Who is 19-going-on-20

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(photo by Kathryn Patterson Photography)

It’s been almost a year since I turned twenty. A lot of people said to get ready. That it would be hard and that the struggle would be so very real. People told me that this would be the hardest time in my life. But despite all the warnings and ill-tidings people would proffer, I looked at twenty and I saw hope. I saw joy. I saw new beginnings and unlimited possibility. I saw a chance to reevaluate the direction my life was going and reinvent who I was. So here is a heart to heart I offer to the woman who is about to leave her teenage years behind because ready or not, here twenty comes:

Sweet child,

You’re no longer a child anymore and I’m sure you’ve felt that way for quite some time. All of a sudden the number 20 is thrust upon you. You’ve longed for freedom and for independence. You’ve wrestled with this idea of womanhood – wondering what that exactly means and when exactly you entered that season. You’ve grappled with what a woman lives her life like and how you will live the life before you with strength and dignity and determination, but now you have to live it.

Twenty. It’s a very confusing number with so many implications, so many expectations. Your twenties are scary and ominous. There is so much uncertainty. For what might be the first time in your life you see the things in which you once put your hope for what they are. Meaningless. A vapor in the wind. Up until now you’ve had dreams – big dreams – but in the context of twenty they seem far off and unlikely.

I wish I could tell you all that there is to living out your twenties and living them fully, but I’m still learning just like you. But let me start here.

I hope that you will not lose hope.

I pray that you love life. I pray that you will seek adventure. I pray that you will not lose faith but instead find God in the most amazing and unlikely places simply because you took the time to look. I pray that you will not get caught up in the rat race of life, but that you will charge full speed ahead in the race God has called you to run.

I pray that you know that everything in this next decade of life and in every other decade is very much a choice. I pray that you choose joy even when that seems like the hard thing, the awkward thing. I pray that you choose love even when you don’t have a man in your life to love. I pray that you choose peace when the storm seems too big for you to weather. I pray that you choose kindness. I pray that you choose compassion. I pray that you choose grace. I pray that you choose beauty because, yes, even beauty is a choice. And I’m not talking about the beauty that comes from powder and paint.

I pray that you see the future as opportunity for God to be glorified and to make much of Jesus. I pray that you see the coming years as a blank canvas for Him to create a beautiful masterpiece. I pray that you look past the uncertainty and the unknowns and see all that the Master Artist could do in the coming years – that He can and will make beautiful things from nothing or even bad and horrible things.

I hope you take a chance. I hope you travel all over the world and leave worry behind because He is bigger than your worry. He is bigger than your fears because turning twenty is kind of scary.

But more than anything.

I hope you dream wildly and live adventurously.

In Him,

Candace

(Originally published to my former site, thetakingflightblog.com, on March 11, 2016.)

 

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