Monday, May 2, 2016

Chips, computer time, and Absolute Surrender

All my life, I have tried to completely surrender to Jesus. Every time I would sing, “I Surrender All,” I hoped it would finally be the time when I really, really meant it. I would pray and ask God to help me to really surrender this time, really just give up all of who I was and everything I had to Jesus. But I never seemed to be able to do it, or at least be sure that I had actually done it. It got to the point where after years of trying and failing to surrender, sometimes I wouldn't even join in the song because of this, in case I were actually lying and not truly surrendering everything. I would go to camp and someone would get up and speak about how they were miserable until the day they finally surrendered everything to Jesus, and then peace and joy reigned and everything turned around. I repeatedly declared my intentions to surrender, made attempts to surrender, tried to “yield my members” tried to “give up” and “depend on God,” and it all just seemed so abstract, so nebulous, so unconnected to any tangible action. 

Somehow, just by changing to use the word “submit,” it has translated all of this vagueness into something concrete, actionable, and understandable. 

What does it mean to submit? It means that if God asks me to get up at 5:00 in the morning, instead of allowing my sleep-dazed brain to hit snooze and roll over, I submit to God’s agenda. Submitting looks like putting my feet on the floor, turning on the light, and taking measures to prevent myself from falling immediately back to sleep. Submitting is a real thing that I either do or don’t do. It’s recognizing a higher authority and conforming myself to the wishes of that authority. It’s a thing that plays out at the micro level, the individual decision and task level. It is easy to know how to submit.

Submitting is the thing that I am bucking when a scenario like this one plays out:
  • I’m sitting at my computer, it’s 7:30 PM, and I’ve decided to go to bed at 8:00 PM so that I can get up at 5:00 AM and still get 9 hours of sleep. Brilliant. Then I will be obeying God AND not being sleep deprived. Absolutely brilliant. I'm on board with this plan for sure. Well, I should start wrapping things up now so that I’ll actually be in bed turning the light out by 8:00.
  • An hour later: Oops—whoa, how’d that happen? It’s 8:30 already. Goodness, don’t even know what I got so absorbed in there. Now it’s past my bedtime, but no worries, I probably couldn’t have fallen asleep that fast anyway since it’s so much earlier than I usually go to bed. Now I’ll do just this one last thing and then go to bed.
  • An hour later. Gracious, now it’s 9:30. Great. Now I’m going to be cutting into my sleep to get up at 5:00. At this point, I probably won’t find the wherewithal at 5:00 in the morning to actually choose to get up. But I really am serious that I need to go to bed now. 
  • An hour later: What in the world? How is it 10:30? You know what though? I was doing something that I’ve been putting off for a long time, and it was good that I got it done, and besides, it was ministry-related, so yeah, I might be acting foolishly and cutting into my sleep, but sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do, right?
  • An hour later: OK, seriously this is ridiculous. If I don’t go to bed now, I will be sick. It’s 11:30. Goodness, I’m exhausted. Why do I do this to myself? (Finally went to bed.)

Now, in that scenario (which is just one real example out of many), I was given 5 opportunities to submit, and each time, I refused to submit. The final time, I did take the action of going to bed, but it can’t really be called “submission” because it was me going to bed on my terms, in my timing, not me going against my own inclinations to actually submit to God’s contrary (and higher) plan for me. I can look at that scenario and say to myself, “Oh, me submitting would have actually looked like me shutting my computer at 7:30 and immediately and cheerfully going to get ready for bed.” It would have been me going lower, subduing my own plans, ideas, and actions to be subject to God’s. 

Submitting requires humility. And when I started to see everything in life in those terms, I suddenly discovered a mounting pile of evidence that showed me just how unsubmitted I really was.

Here’s another case in point:

  • It’s lunch time, and I open a bag of chips. It’s a bag that has 5 servings, so technically it should last me 5 days. I absent-mindedly munch away until I look and suddenly discover that I have definitely eaten more than half the bag of chips. OK, that means I have had probably at least 3 servings. Time to stop. This is the voice of my conscience, which is in alignment with the nature and principles of God (e.g. moderation & self control). 

This is my opportunity to submit.

  • “Just one more chip, though.” 

The act of reaching my hand into the bag one time to get one chip is a refusal to submit, which (if we call a spade a spade) is an act of rebellion, an act that will distance me from God, an act that involves turning off my brain and shutting my ears to the conscience, resulting in me being a little more deaf and a little harder of heart for subsequent occasions. But I do it, not just once, but again, and again, every 5 or 10 seconds or so, reaching in the bag, pulling out “just one more” chip, crunching it between my teeth, telling myself it’s not that bad because I’m actually not full yet, and going on to do it again, and again, and again.

This is not a conscious willfulness or deliberate stiff-necked rebellion. It’s something I’m doing without analyzing it at all, because my mind is engaged elsewhere, reading a book or taking a class or typing in between bites. I’m not thinking about the chips at all. I’m just eating them.

  • My hand dives into the bag, fishes to the bottom, and comes up empty. “What? Gone already?” Well, now I must stop, because there aren’t any more. 

I have indeed consumed 5 whole servings of chips, which at 150 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving turns out to be a nice load of 750 calories and 45 grams of fat. Good going. 

Notice that the end of the story was still that “I stopped eating the chips.” But even though the ending is the same, it's a completely different story to stop out of submission to my authority than it is to stop out of simple disappearance of the chips. “There weren’t any more, so I stopped” doesn’t require submission to anything but cause and effect. “There was half a bag left, and I stopped, even though the thought of having another chip still appetized me” requires submission, going low, yielding, surrender. To submit is to surrender my will, my way, my idea, and give God His way. 

Surrender, submitting. It’s the same thing—I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

When I began to see all the little daily choices of my life in this light, I came to realize how very little I was ever even remotely submitted to God. Do I ever do anything but precisely what I want to do? I wondered. And by focusing on the little tiny steps of submission (like leaving the last few chips in the bag, or closing my computer down), I was also led to the bigger principle.

“What if I was so completely submitted that my default response in every situation would be to submit rather than to buck that thought and go my own way?”

I think this is what I would now see as the “Absolute Surrender” that up until now has just been this nebulous Christianese phrase in my head that I didn't know how to tie down to any tangible action (except for the fervent request that it would happen to me).

Fortunately, submitting to God is within the reach of both the smallest child and the oldest philosopher (though it tends to be far easier for the little child than for the philosopher). One doesn’t need any special equipment to do it. It doesn’t require special skills or years of theology or deep secrets of hidden knowledge. I know exactly how to refuse to eat a chip. I know exactly what I need to do to turn off my computer and get ready for bed. I know exactly how to get up in the morning when the alarm rings rather than put my head back on the pillow and pull the covers over my head. So what I am being asked to do is technically easy.

And this thought that it is easy has brought me much-needed perspective and pulled me up short when I was tempted to protest that “I just don’t know how to do it! I’ll be this way forever.” No—the deepest, most entrenched sins in my life can go, just the same way that I stop eating a chip.

I can submit. I can make myself low. I can humble myself and give God the place of authority He deserves. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2015: Year in Review

"2015 is a year for getting strong," my sister said towards the end of 2014, and I feel like that statement encapsulates the theme of this past year for me.

I embarked on a journey in January to bring to fruition a vision I had had ever since I moved to Colorado: begin a women's Bible study in the local jail. It took a decent amount of effort to just find who I needed to talk to to get the ball rolling, but after 6 phone calls to the jail, I finally got in touch with the chaplain and started the application process.

The plan that I had to buy a house was put on hold when I was asked to go to Vietnam and help start a Montessori kindergarten. This threw me for a loop and I agonized for weeks about what I should choose before finally (in the dark, not knowing if I did right) deciding against it. But through it, the Lord stopped me from going forward with buying a house, which looking back was God's good hand of protection from a step I was not ready for yet.

Several other people also applied to do the jail ministry with me, and the Lord built a team of 4. We started meeting together to plan and brainstorm about our Bible study.

I went home for Easter and had a lovely time with my family. Then I got back and got my wisdom teeth taken out. While that was healing, I drove down to Texas and got to stay with a dear family and attend a women's conference where the main speaker was a lady named Pamela Rosewell Moore. Her story was incredibly interesting and inspiring. She worked with Brother Andrew and with Corrie Ten Boom, and she had a powerful testimony of living a surrendered life to Jesus Christ. Part of the unique aspect of her story was that she was single until she was 42, and her love story was a beautiful picture of God's faithfulness. (See her book, Safer than a Known Way--I highly recommend it! )

The team finally jumped through all the jail's hoops and we began our Bible study. The first night only one woman came, and gradually it grew, and we began to grow in our skills of presenting the gospel and leading women to know and walk in the truth.

On June 1, I moved into the most darling little rental house, and about two weeks later I hosted my first house guests--my mom and sister came for a little over a week, and we did some lovely hikes together. Living in my dear little house was the best, most fabulous gift that I could imagine,  and I could not help exulting in the goodness of God in my behalf. I am still in awe over this.

July brought more house guests (my uncle and cousin) and it was a really sweet month of tending my garden, bike rides, and having my jail team over every Wednesday night. I think it was also then that we started up a second study in the jail on Friday mornings.

My youngest sister got married on August 1, and at the last minute I got to have the day off work and fly home for the wedding, surprising almost all the family members (two were in on the secret so that I would have someone to pick me up from the airport). Back in Colorado, I had the incomparable experience of summiting Long's Peak with 3 friends, which was exhausting but totally worth it. At the end of the month, I also got to go visit my newest little baby nephew, who is the joy of my heart and truly the happiest baby I have ever seen, which is not too surprising considering that my sister has always been the baby whisperer.

This month was mostly life as usual (work and so forth), except for a family reunion in Ohio where all my dad's side of the family got together. We all enjoyed each other's company tremendously and also got to see the darling bitsy munchkin nephew again. Also my newly-married sister and her husband came, and I heard about a book my cousin had written that would be coming out soon.

My favorite month of the year, work-wise, because I was given a number of awesome projects to do (such as creating tutorial videos for our customers) and my company also sent me to Mexico for a week for a UX study, which was super fascinating. While I was in Mexico, our jail Bible study team experienced some growing pains with a situation that arose that threatened our unity, which I look back on as a team-building exercise created by God especially for us. Also, we added 3 new team members to the Bible study, with the intention of opening up a men's study that the chaplain had offered to us.

I flew to Washington for Thanksgiving, which was a lovely time of getting 4 of the 6 siblings together. We went up to Mt. Ranier and drove out to the coast and enjoyed happy fun times with my brother and his family. I dropped my brand new phone in the ocean and that was sad.

My cousin came out to stay with me for her Christmas break, and we had some fabulous times together, going up to Vail village, spending a couple days in Utah, and then coaxing my sister and two more cousins to drive out and join us. We did a snowshoe trek the day after they got here, and then we decided to drive up to Idaho, where we joined up with my brother and another cousin and her husband. It was quite the cousin-sibling reunion, and we brought in the new year with skiing and a visit to a hot spring (quite the novelty!) I lost my phone again. 2 phone mishaps in a month. I also read my cousin's new book, Overtaken by Destiny, which I found to be addicting and fabulously creative.

Reviewing back over this year, I see the Lord's hand of strengthening and blessing me with beautiful gifts beyond what I could have imagined. The year before (2014) was a difficult year where I was being stripped and broken, and it was in many ways the most difficult year of my life. This year (2015) was about God building me back up and restoring what had been broken, and not only that, but abundantly bestowing upon me many things I never thought I would have in my whole life (like a house all to myself).

I look forward to what the future brings, knowing full well that the beauty and glory that I have exulted in this year may be changed completely tomorrow. Things can't always be THIS GOOD, and the fact that things have been so good, so sweet, even for a moment, is more than I deserve. If an unforseen twist in life should bring pain and suffering in the coming year in the same proportion that I have had joy and blessing this year, let me be found to be faithful, giving thanks in all things, valiant in faith, unshaken in my love to the Beloved, and unswerving in my declaration that He doeth all things well. May I not grow soft in the enjoyments of the comforts I have been granted, and may I not cling so tightly to the benefits and luxuries of this American way of living that I become unable to let it all go and leave it all behind the instant I am called upon to go to the front lines of the battle. May the Lord be glorified through my life in this season, and may my love and affection and adoration be poured unceasingly at His feet. May He find in me a willing servant and humble vessel who is quick to do His bidding. May the coming year see less of the flesh, more of the spirit; less self indulgence, more poured out sacrifice; less Martha, more Mary; less self-reliance, more dependence; less wringing my hands at areas that are out of control, more peaceful resting with all areas under His control. May I be consumed with Jesus, reflecting Jesus, putting Jesus on display, making Jesus known, and knowing him more.

Doxa en upsistis Theo!