Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hope deferred and restored

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

At the beginning of 2015, this verse really resonated with me. There were days when my heart just felt sick. It was an odd feeling, to be honest. I had never wanted to move to Los Angeles. It was never a dream for me to be in the industry, to make it in Hollywood, to live a glamorous life. In reality, all I really wanted out of life was simple: to love my job, to travel the world for God, to have good friends who I could encourage in life, and to be married with kids. Yes, having a fun-filled life of adventure is awesome, but the deepest desire of my heart has always been to be married. I saw the awesome relationship my parents had and I wanted that for myself. Someone to encourage. Some one to love and be loved by. Some one to travel with and do missions with and have fun with.
Being heart sick was odd for multiple reasons. There was nothing I could complain about in life. I LOVE LOS ANGELES! I never wanted to move here, but once I got out here I fell head over heels for this crazy town. With the people. With the unusual contrast between lush ocean landscapes and barren dessert beauty. With the community and network of friends that adopted me I have a job that pays the bills with extreme flexibility to continue traveling for missions and coworkers that I love to hang out with outside of work. In a transient city where the average length of stay is less than 16 months because of high expenses and a grinding psychology to try to make it, I found myself thriving socially. Some of the most creative people I've ever met are rooted here. I was living in a great location with the most wonderful roommates ever (FELICIA AND SARAH!!!!) We would have girls nights, family dinners, and Bible studies out of our apartment on a weekly basis. And yet me heart was sick. I couldn't complain because life was too amazing. God has been so gracious to me over the past few years. But the one thing that I had always hoped for hadn't happened yet.
Some time in the winter of 2015, I really don't know when, God had to start talking to my heart about hope. Some where along the way I had lost hope that I would actually meet the right guy for me. I had put myself out there in the dating world of LA and it came up lacking. Hollywood glamorizes the dating scene out here. In pretty much any chick flick about dating, which is like every chick flick ever made, and especially in movies that actually take place in LA, they make dating look like this super fun activity full of interesting conversations over lattés, cocktails at exclusive clubs, and men buying you drinks whenever you go out. Let me tell you what; Hollywood lies. About itself. While that may be the case for slender models who like to stay out part my bedtime and frequent the Sunset strip, for us normal, hard working girls the dating scene is LA is just exhausting. Each time you have a first date or a dating event to go to, social etiquette dictates that you get all glammed up, heart open to possibilities, are on your best most cutest behavior, only to be disappointed by not even finding a flake of glitter let alone a spark with someone. Many of the men I met were interesting, but not at all what I was looking for.  Finally one night, after yet another first date that left me deflated, with my two closest girlfriend over to comfort me, I reached a breaking point. I literally laid face down on the carpet of my apartment and wept. God my hope has been deferred for too many years. My heart is sick. God I'm gonna need some Miracle Grow to revive this withered tree in my heart. Hope had died.
And yet the Lord is faithful. I have seen Him pull through over and over and over again. He has provided for me in every season of my life. So I decided to start focusing on the second half of the verse. A longing fulfilled is a tree of life. I asked God to revive my heart. He asked me to start dreaming again. Really? I need to do what? He literally asked me to dream with Him again. To dream about what I wanted in my marriage, what characteristics I wanted in a man, to really search my heart and see what my heart wanted. Anybody can pray for a man, but what kind of man would resonate with my heart? Who am I as a person and what do I have to offer to a man? What kind of man would want to be with the kind of woman that I am? This was all sounding familiar. A few years back when I moved home from the mission field, God taught me a lot about being specific in prayer. This was another area where I needed to be specific. But I needed to know what I wanted to begin with.

Here's what I came up with: loves Jesus above all, tall enough that I can wear heels and not feel self conscious, an adventurous and fun-loving MacGyver type with what I like to call the 3 M's: Music, Missions, and Ministry. These were the things that were most important to me in a relationship and things I felt I could give in return. Things that I felt would compliment me in what I felt my calling in life was. Plus it was more specific than just, "is a decent human being who pays his bills on time and isn't a psycho."

Now here's something I've been pondering for a long time. Why do we feel like in the church we can't ask God for specific things, or to ask for the dreams in our hearts? Do we feel it is selfish? Too much to ask? Will we irritate God with our petty petitions? Or are we so afraid that God doesn't want to give us the things that we desire we would rather not ask and risk it "not being His will for our life"? Where did we pick up this theology? This is the same God who heard Hannah's prayer and gave her a baby, heard Jabez's petition for more land and expanded his territory, heard Elijah's prayer that there would be no rain for years and then to start the rain again, heard Gideon's weird request for a sign of confirmation that God was on his side, and heard Moses' death-wish request to see His face. Were these requests selfish? Were they too big for God? Were they only answered because they were in God's will? This is the God of the impossible that says all things are possible and that He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, willing to do immeasurably more than we could ever hope or imagine.

I started thinking more about the Psalm 37:4: Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of YOUR heart. The crazy emphasis is all mine. As we delight ourselves in the Lord, we start to see how good and faithful He is. However, this is a mutual relationship. In turn, He begins to give us the desires of our hearts. He cares about what is in our hearts and loves to fulfill those desires, mostly because He probably put them there in the first place. He wants more good for us than we could ever hope for or imagine could be possible.

Hebrews 11:1 is a very common and popular verse in the Christian faith. "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." I started to focus on this verse a little differently, on the hope part instead of the faith part. By definition, Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one's life or the world at large. As a verb, its definitions include: "expect with confidence" and "to cherish a desire with anticipation". So in essence you have to have hope before you can have faith. To take it a step further, I'm starting to believe that you have to dream first. A dream is a wish your heart makes, something that you long for or desire. Hope comes along and gives you the optimistic belief that those dreams can become a reality. Only then can faith gives us the confidence to keep pressing in until he tangibly have what we're hoping for.  I felt like God was asking me to dream about the man I wanted to be with to give me something concrete for hope to land on. To be specific with what was in my heart and have hope revived that God actually had someone like that out there for me. And to have faith that some where out there a man was dreaming about a woman like me and having hope that I also existed.

So what dream have you lost hope for? What dreams do you need revived so you can have hope again? It's time to start dreaming with God again.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The man that found my Cinderella Shoe

"Wow, your settings are really narrow and you only have 8 matches with your search criteria. You could totally triple your matches if you expand your search." "But I don't want more matches that aren't what I'm looking for, I'm only looking for one man." The woman across the table from me stared at me incredulous from behind a camera.  I was sitting in the headquarters for Christian Mingle, one of the more serious online dating websites.

Two years ago when I moved to LA, I had such hope for finding the love of my life. I figured I was moving from small town USA to a sea of at least 5 million men. I mean, even if you're a one-in-a-million kinda guy, there are five others out there just like you. I did what most single girls do: hit the dating scene. I tried online dating, speed dating, and blind dating. You name it, I tried it. And it was exhausting. Finding guys for first dates was not a problem, but finding a quality guy for a second date was definitely a challenge. The stories I have will either make you laugh our guts out or cry from pity....or both. After a year and a half of disappointing online dating experiences, (ask me some time about the guy that didn't bring his wallet on our date or the one that literally followed me to another country) I swore off dating. I had just about lost hope that the man of my dreams could be a reality.

2015 seemed like a year of possibilities and dreams. On Valentine's Day of this year, I went with a group of my closest single girlfriends to a beach in Malibu at sunrise to pray for our future husbands. We are all successful, beautiful, intelligent women with a strong desire to be married but no men in sight. We declared as a group that God did have men for us and we committed to praying for them. After reading the book of Ruth, we each took a shoe as a prophetic declaration that we wanted to have dedicated, godly marriages in Los Angeles and we wouldn't settle for mediocre lives or dating relationships.  My hope was starting to be restored. I started dreaming again of the possibility of that my prince charming was out there.

In March, after almost a year of being off online dating, I decided to give it one more shot. I subscribed to Christian Mingle, because apparently that's the site that God uses to make heavenly matches. I told God I would get on for one month and if I didn't meet anyone spectacular, I would give up online dating and wait patiently for the right man to come to church, or step into the line behind me at the grocery store, or approach me at the gym or something old fashioned like that. I told Jesus that if he wanted me to stay online, though, He would have to pay for my subscription.

About a week into my new subscription, a pop up survey came onto my screen while surfing profiles. Basically it said if I filled out the survey and they interviewed me, Christian Mingle would give me a six month free subscription. Cool. I filled it out and wouldn't you know two days later they called me. They asked if I would come into their corporate headquarters on the westside of Los Angeles and go through a 90 minute interview and after the interview they would give me 6 more months on the website for free. Sure! I'm always up for a good story. Hence the beginning of this blog. When I was interviewed, the woman was shocked at how specific I was in my search. But I knew what I was looking for. I had decided to be very intentional with what was in my heart. For too long I had been willing to settle on things like height, education, and life goals. I was done with that. How many of us girls do that? Thinking we will never meet the gold standard of our hearts. Nope. I want the highest and best for my life. No more compromise. Plus, Jesus just paid for a six month subscription, so I knew the dating scene was looking up. There had to be a promise in there!!

Next came my birthday in April. In continuing with the shoe theme, my friends took me to see the Broadway version of Cinderella. It was a day all about the shoes. We wore little black dresses and wore high heeled shoes. Mine were a sparkly pair of 4 inch, silver and gold stilettos. Yes, 4 inches of glorious lift. The best part of the show was that the whole cast sings a song about the prince. And get this, he has about 15 names and his last name is HERMAN! It was like God was saying, "See? I have a prince for you and I know him by name already." After the show, I again took my shoe off and took a picture: "Who will find my shoe?"

April was a monumental month not only because it was my birthday month. I decided to fly back to Costa Rica for one last hurrah with Rodney and Cindy before they moved home to the states. Their home was my home for two years of my life, and the community is still my family. It was so good to be back even for a small visit. On the plane ride down I had a heart to heart with God. Why haven't I met my prince yet? I know there has to be some one out there for me. It is the greatest desire of my heart. God, you said delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. OK, God, I have delighted in You for YEARS. Where is he? But God, if it's not your love story for me, I don't want it. I have hope that there is a right guy out there. I won't settle for less, so if he's not from You, no thank you. I would rather be single and do missions and life alone than be with the wrong man. God restore my hope that there is an amazing man out there who will love me for who I am and compliment me in the dreams and goals I know you have placed in my heart.

About a week before I had left for The Rica, I decided to expand my search criteria on Christian Mingle. The lady was right, I could have more matches if I wasn't so specific, but when you know what you want...A tall, Jesus-loving, fun-filled, adventurous, world traveling, missions-going, thrill-seeking musician who loved LA but also felt called to the world who lived within 25 miles of me. Is that really too much to ask? Right? I didn't think so, either. So for one day I decided to go all wild and crazy and change my search. To include men up to 50 miles from me. I know, right? Of all the standards to lower I figured that was the safest one. Well, up popped 1 new match. A Mr. Surfilms, whose profile eerily read almost identical to mine. He claimed he was also a missionary in Costa Rica for two years, that he loved fun and adventure and was looking for a traveling buddy to go on missions with around the world within 25 miles of where he lived. Hmmmm....I had to know more. I sent an email asking about his time on the mission field. While I was in Costa Rica, I actually got a message back from Mr. Surfilms, also known as "Dave". And come to find out he actually lived right across town from me at the same time that I lived in Costa Rica. We even had several mutual friends from the mission field. Of course get this, we both were involved in different ministries (I was in the church Vineyard church plant in Los Anonos while he was in YWAM) but we both went TO THE SAME VINEYARD CHURCH IN ESCAZU when we had the chance to be away from our respective communities. Creepy. Yet the creepiest has to be when after we had been dating about a month, we were looking through facebook pictures together, talking about different places we had been to and adventures we had gone on. We were scrolling through Dave's facebook page when all of a sudden I yelled, "WAIT!! STOP!!! That's ME??" There was actually a picture on me on Dave's facebook wall from three years ago at a skateboarding competition in the national park in the center of downtown San Jose. I had been translating for the skateboarders and Dave was volunteering for the event. I was the dead center of his picture.
This picture of me was taken by Dave three years before we met.

When I got back to the states in May, he asked me out and to be honest it was love at first sight. There are so many details I would love to share, but it would fill way too many pages. I do have another blog post in mind that I need to write for all the women out there who have lost hope that they will find the right man for them. See, I had lost hope at the end of 2014 that there was a man out there that would fit what I was looking for. Someone to compliment me in my journey and someone I could encourage in his journey. God had many lessons he needed to teach me about hope and faith, but I'll save that for the next post.

On a really big fast forward, Dave and I have been dating for several months now, and last weekend he proposed. Of course I said YES! We are set to get married later this year :) I will say this before I go. It is worth it to say YES to God first. It is worth it to delight yourself in the Lord, because the desires in your heart are from Him. And the desires that He has for you are so much better and fuller and more wonderful than you could ever even begin to hope or imagine. And it is worth it to dream and have hope again. Because you may have to wait patiently (or not so patiently) for those desires to be fulfilled, but it is so worth it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Spirit of the Law

Nothing is more stressful than LA traffic in the morning. And there is no greater place to learn spiritual lessons such as patience and grace than the 134 or the 5 at 8 a.m. This week was no exception. I pulled onto the second of six lanes on the 405 going north bound to the hospital the other morning, ramped up my speed to a cruising 72 miles per hour. Other work travelers whizzed by me on the left and right, happily flying on clear lanes. All of a sudden, I started seeing break lights and lane changes in front of me. Up ahead, a police officer had pulled into traffic. The morning commuters quickly changed their frantic 80 mile and hour road rage into a law abiding 65 mile and hour parade...A parade that obediently followed at a cautious distance behind the police officer. It was obviously that the cop wasn't patrolling, just trying to get to work. He had his foot on the gas, going from 68-75...and so did his little duckling group of cars. It was fascinating to watch, really. All the cars around were matching his speed, never going faster or attempting to pass. And then the one came on the road. A white pick up truck. He was on a mission and didn't care who was on the road. He played the game for a while, eyeballing the cop and determining what he was up to. And then he did what no one else had the courage to do. He passed the patrol car on the left going at least 76.

I started thinking about it. How often do we as Christians play this same game in the church? We think God is out there like a great cop, with these rules and laws that are meant to impede us from getting where we're going. We follow behind them out of fear and obligation, thinking if we break the rules and laws he is going to punish us or spoil our fun, or worse give us a ticket that well have to pay for.

God is not a great punisher. Yes, He disciplines us, but like a father disciplines a child, for protection and growth and good. But discipline and punishment are not the same thing. The rules in His book are not to steal our joy or keep us from getting where we're going. He sent his son to give us freedom and life abundantly. Some times we just need to shift gears our mindset.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Holy Sh*ft

This post is a long time coming. I realize so much has happened in my life since my last blog post. I really need to get back into blogging. So here goes.  For those of you who need the social update, a little over a year ago I had a massive life shift. When I moved back from the mission field, I couldn't find work in the Midwest, so I took a job in sunny California where the weather was more agreeable and the lifestyle still very much missional. I went back to work full time at a child development center as a speech therapist. But I soon realized this was not the area of the field that I wanted to be in. My heart was still in the hospital setting and especially with neonatal babies. I was having a grand old time socially and spiritually. I was making new friends and getting very involved in ad outside of church. But I was not happy in my career.

In January of 2014 I decided to start looking for work in the hospital acute care setting. I talked to my own boss about it and there was still no availability at my current hospital (when I had originally interviewed they were going to let me work a few hours a week in their acute care setting, but as time went on they told me there wasn't any work over there and I was needed full time in the outpatient pediatric clinic). I ended up with an interview in Ventura County, about an hour away from LA, that a former co-worker had told me about. When they offered me the position it was the highest salary bid I knew I could possibly see in my career in LA. I was elated and told them I would sign a contract that week. And devastated. The hospital would be an hour commute from where I was living in Simi Valley and if I were to move closer to work, it would be over an hour and a half or more from where my community and church were. I decided to pray and I told God that if this was the right opportunity I would take it, but if He didn't want me to work there I would need another job interview STAT. I had been applying to job but hadn't heard so much as a "Thank you, no thank you" in weeks. The very next day I got a call from the Children's Hospital of LA where I had put in an application almost a month before. They wanted to interview me. WHAT?!?! Coincidence? I think not. I went in and it was the most intense interview I had ever been on. A nine person panel interview where they basically threw out challenging case studies and asked what I would do in each scenario. I felt I did well and they said they I was a high contender due to my experience, but they would let me know the following week after several other interviews: the week AFTER I had told Ventura I would sign a contract with them. Crap! What was I to do? Sign a contract at a hospital where I could potentially make the most money I would ever make in my career but be really far away from my new friends and community, or throw it all to the wind on a much lower paying job that I had no idea if I would actually get it or not but would be in the area of the city I actually wanted to live in. I went back to my prayer chair, this time in pure supplication: WHAT THE HECK DO I DO?!?!??! I felt God smile warmly at me and ask one simple question: "What does your heart want?" WHAT? God, that sounds so Disney. What does my heart want? What does that even mean? Aren't you supposed to have this big master plan where you have my whole life mapped out and I just connect the dots? And He just smiled at me again and asked again, "What does your heart want?"

Now this was blowing my theological box a bit. There are two very opposing theories in the Christian world: predestination and free will. I remember learning lots of theories and theologies back in my good old Calvin College days. For centuries people have built camps around one verse or another about whether or not God has every single day of your life preordained and if you mess it up you're screwed versus you have complete freedom of choice to do whatever you want and God just wants to come along for the ride (exaggerated, but you get the point.) I had always been more in the camp that God had a perfect plan, Jeremiah 29:11 and all that stuff, and I just had to seek His face long enough and he would reveal the next steps on the yellow brick road. But here was God asking ME what I wanted. So as DHT sings so perfectly, I Listened To My Heart and it told me that I didn't want to be in Ventura at all. It was not at all where my heart was (which is in Los Angeles). So I turned down the sure fire job and put all my chips on a high stakes gamble. I decided in my heart that if I got the job, Praise be to God and if I didn't get the job, Praise be to God.

A painfully slow week went by when I finally got the call: "You were such a great candidate with many qualities we're looking for, but we decided to hire internally" Crap. Really? This isn't playing out how I thought it would. Ok, Praise be to God. Then something strange happened. Every time I would go into the bathroom at work and look in the mirror, I would hear this voice in my head that would say, "Just quit your job." I know that voice. It's the voice that also told me to follow my heart. "Really?!?" I would say back. "But you haven't given me another job yet. I'm applying and putting myself out there and interviewing and nothing is coming up" "Just quit your job" is all I would hear back. For three months I kept hearing "Just quit your job" and for three months I would say back "But you haven't given me another job yet. At least let some one call me back!".

To make a long story short, I lead a missions trip back to Costa Rica with my Simi Valley Vineyard that March and it tipped me over the edge. It reminded me about my goals in life and pieces of myself that I was putting on the back burner. So when I got back from the trip, I literally just went into work one day and did what the voice in the bathroom was encouraging me to do. I quit my job. With no back up plan but big faith that everything would be ok. Because I knew who the voice belonged to. And then something cool happened. My boss came to me the very next day and told me they actually did need me in the acute care. As an on call therapist. Would I be willing to work there when they needed a therapist? WHAT?!?! That's the job I've been wanting! Of course! There would be no guarantee in how many hours I would get each week, but I could start right away. Sign me up.

So that began a crazy journey over the past year. I moved in with my best friend in North Hollywood to be closer to church and my new community of friends.  I started working on call at Simi Valley and was set up by my boss to work on call at our sister hospital in Glendale. A few months later I got a third on call job at another local hospital only 15 minutes from my house. Every day is different. I schedule with the hospitals up to three months in advance to cover vacations, but some weeks I still never know what days I'll work or at which facility. I could be scheduled and called off if the patient census is low, or I could be called in that morning to come in for a few hours. It's unpredictable and varied. I'm actually at two acute care hospitals working with medically fragile adults and at one outpatient pediatric clinic acting as their primary evaluator and fill-in therapist. While it's unpredictable, between the three facilities I have always had enough work each month to pay my bills and the schedule has given me the flexibility to continue doing missions work both here in the Valley and overseas. 

This whole experience has taught me several important lessons. The first is that I should not put God  in a box. This is an obvious one, but I some times forget it. My constructed theology that I create based on prior experiences and the reality of the season I am in may clash. This is a faith journey and not a faith paint by numbers. I really believe God is calling us to listen to His voice daily and be obedient in the moment instead of trying to hold on to what He told us ten years ago. I also learned that I need to know what's in my heart because my desires actually matter to God. God wants the BEST for me and every good and perfect thing in life comes from HIM any way. When we have the desires of our hearts fulfilled, He actually gets the glory from it. The testimony of how awesome He is and how He is working in our lives is such an encouragement, not only in our own lives but to other people as well.  Finally, taking a leap of faith into the unknown is scary. There is always a risk of falling flat on your face. But some times taking that leap means flying into fun and adventure. I will chose the risk every time. #worthit