We can all agree this summer is going too fast. I’m trying to fully appreciate the long, warm days and all the time I don’t have to spend on homework. It’s been a beautiful season, and for the most part life has felt simple and joyful.
When I look at my relationship with God over the past month, it also feels simple and joyful. Rather than teaching me new, tough lessons, I feel that he’s been reminding me of foundational truths about himself. The main thing I’ve been learning is my dependence on the gospel: how all-sufficient Christ is for all areas of my life. This theme keeps showing up. No matter how high or low I am, God reminds me that I need all of him all the time. Here are a few examples from what I’ve been up to lately:
I’m still working at the Y, and it’s still testing and growing my patience (working with kids will do that to ya). The best parts of the job are when we bring the kids swimming or on field trips, and the moments when I teach them something new or laugh like crazy with them. The worst parts of the job are when all 40 of them are cooped up in the school all day because of rain. Or when we use an attention getter (where a leader yells “YM!” and the kids are supposed to say “CA!” then pay attention) four times and they’re all still talking and goofing off with each other.
I’ve felt my need for God’s purposes and his love during many workdays. He has helped me see how each child is made in his image, no matter how much they get on my nerves. He’s been reminding me that there is a true, good purpose for this job: to show these kids radical love and to take care of them. He’s also been showing me that the gospel should dramatically affect how I act at work and how I treat my coworkers. One morning I finished praying and suddenly realized how crazy it is that I can talk to Jesus every single day. Then I thought, ‘if I get to start my day with prayer, there should be a difference in how I work and speak and act. Am I different?’
I need Jesus for my workdays.
Another thing I’ve done recently is studying for and taking the GRE. This is a huge standardized test for admission into my graduate program, and the scores matter quite a bit. I admittedly procrastinated studying for it, which is out of character for me. Then, the week before test day, I stressed out and studied hard and cried a lot. I do not recommend my method.
During that week of doubts and stresses, I felt close to God in a different way. My relationship with him felt very simple: I needed him obviously and unashamedly, and he met me each morning with the hope of the gospel. I questioned my abilities and future plans, and he reminded me that it would be okay no matter what: he had a plan. The test scores would not define me.
I ended up doing well on the test (which is super fancy and gives you scores right away), and I know it’s a huge blessing. It feels wonderful to not have to do a retake, and I’m relieved. But the moment I saw my scores, something shifted in my thinking. I felt a little more sufficient, like I had proved myself. Pride crept in. The raw, desperate need for Jesus I had felt just earlier that morning seemed to fade: and I hate it! The truth is that I need Jesus, even in the area of academic plans and achievement.
I need Jesus for my future plans.
I could keep writing about scenarios where I’ve felt my need for Jesus and have seen his beauty. But this post has already gotten quite long, and I’m impressed if you’re still scrolling through it :) I just want this to be an encouragement for you: the truth of the gospel is sufficient for all situations and emotions. We always, always need Jesus, and the good news is, he is always there.
It’s his grace to us that he reminds us of himself. Whether it’s something hard like a rough day at work, a stressful decision, or confusing emotions, or something positive like a gorgeous sunset or good news, he is constantly drawing us to himself. Can you see evidences of it?
Brian moved to Moorhead last Monday! You probably already know that, because I’ve been obnoxiously excited about it for months now. The week of moving him into his place was super fun, but also hectic. I didn’t realize how much work it is to move someone across the country! Through the entire process, I’ve been amazed at how generous our friends and family are. Lesson learned: generous people rock.
Brian’s parents rented a U-Haul for us, drove the 11 hours with him, lugged boxes and furniture to his third-floor apartment, stayed here for a week to help out, and payed for a few giant Walmart runs. We got all the free furniture we needed from my friends and family. My grandpa even let us use his pickup for the week, and when it broke down, my lovely roommate let us borrow her car for the day!
We seriously couldn’t have done it alone.
Experiencing all this generosity has been humbling. This last semester, I’ve felt self-sufficient: taking five classes that weren’t too demanding, working a job I’m comfortable with, and enjoying an easy, happy routine in life and friendships. I was confident in my everyday life and didn’t feel that I really needed anyone’s help. That’s why last week was like a wake-up call to me: we need other people! We need each other’s generosity and friendship and advice. My self-sufficiency is just a silly illusion.
It also reminds me of something I heard a few years back: “God answers our prayers through the work of his people.” We prayed for a smooth transition, and God answered those prayers through the wonderful people who helped us out. The whole week didn’t go according to plan, but it worked out in the end because of our friends and family. God doesn’t always answer prayers by orchestrating events to our liking: he often answers them through the work of his people!
All that to say, I want to be a more generous person: generous with my time, resources, and even friendship. Reflecting on times when others have helped you out can spur you on to live more generously too! This is easy to say, but obviously harder to practice. We must go one step at a time: saying yes to a request for help, filling a need you see, giving more than you planned to give. . . it all adds up quickly.
Thank you again to everyone who helped Brian and I last week. Finally living near each other is such a blessing!
Last month, Brian flew to Fargo and proposed! The whole thing was a surprise, and he coordinated with my roommates to make it the most exciting and sweet day ever. I am so giddy about marrying my best friend and starting our lives together! And ever since that day, with a ring on my left hand, I’ve become a wedding-planning maniac.
I’m writing about this for a few reasons: 1) It’s a major part of my life right now and I want to share it with you, 2) I want to show the reality of being engaged, not only the cute pictures that make relationships look flawless, and 3) God has taught me a lot in this season.
Let me start by saying that being engaged is truly awesome. Brian and I have been dating for almost three years and have known for a large chunk of that time that we wanted to get married. There are so many things I respect and love about him, and officially taking a step towards marriage is crazy exciting! I don’t take it lightly that I have an amazing human committed to me for life. Plus, I get to use the fancy word ‘fiancé’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ now!
The daunting task of planning
Over my spring break last week, I really jumped into the wedding-planning process. I made an extensive spreadsheet, sent (what felt like) thousands of emails, calculated prices, talked to my parents, looked at photos for inspiration, worried about money. . . you get it. I was over my head in information and dedicated to making the day look like my Pinterest board. This was my laser focus for the whole week.
And then I stressed out to the point of ugly-crying three times in one evening.
Yep, that’s the real me. Thankfully, getting back into the routine of college has brought me some sanity and time apart from thinking about all there is to be done. But this struggle isn’t really a surprise. I’ve talked lots on this blog about my battle with control and wanting to plan everything to perfection: and my wedding is a huge test in that area!
God has given me so many bits of wisdom that relate directly to this. For example, I recently heard this in a sermon: when you’re trying to make a decision, you should ask “what would bring God the most glory?” I hate to admit it, but that caught me by surprise. Wedding planning is composed of one billion tiny decisions, and so I was like, “Oh yeah! This can be an opportunity to glorify God!”
I had gotten so wrapped up in the surface details and appearance of it all that I forgot about the most important thing. I, in effect, was striving towards my own glory and exhausting myself! I realize that my focus in having a wedding shouldn’t be to impress people or feel fancy, but to celebrate love, thank God, and start a marriage. I’m excited to continue planning with these things in mind!
Look under the surface
I hope this encourages you to look beyond the surface of decisions and happenings, and glimpse God’s purpose. Because really, it doesn’t matter whether my wedding has lavish flowers or folding chairs or a plated meal or a pretty building. What matters is the meaning behind it all: that Brian and I want to start a God-honoring marriage that reflects Christ.
Now, think about your life. What has been consuming your plans and thoughts lately? Look under the surface.
What deeper purpose can you find?
How does the world around you influence how you think? What motivates and inspires you? Why you do what you do? Recently, I read a book called Disruptive Witness. It showed me some surprising stuff about our society and how deeply we’re affected by it.
The first section talks about our current situation, which is what I’ll talk about here. A few of the main points really rocked me, because they are so true yet so subtle! I also love that the author, Alan Noble, explains it all without a condemning tone. It’s an honest assessment of where we’re at. So, here are a few points in a (hopefully) organized list!
1. We’re obsessed with image. Although we may not realize it, our main focus is on finding, crafting, and displaying our personal image. It’s present in every aspect of life: we experience our jobs, leisure activities, relationships, and even small things like food choices through a lens of “what does this say about who I am?” Noble had a great example of taking a hike alone while thinking about what a hipster you are. We may project any number of personas on ourselves subconsciously.
I’ve definitely seen this in myself. There’s a persona that goes like this: a girl who drinks coffee, reads her Bible, wears flannels, styles her hair in a half-bun, and attends a church with loud music. A ‘cool Christian.’ I can barely sit at a coffee shop and blog without thinking about it! (That’s. . . literally what I’m doing as I write this.) I’m sure you can think of a few personas you fit into as well. Our value of image is deeply ingrained.
2. We have a lifestyle of distraction. We’re bombarded with countless messages every day, and we know it. Ads, social media posts, conversations, and the news pull us in many directions. In the time it takes to scroll Instagram, we’re told to eat more spinach, help refugees, buy a new toothbrush, check out our friend's new shoes, fight climate change, and support the building of a wall all at once! These causes butt heads with each other, demanding our immediate attention and allegiance.
“A superficial but constant engagement with media invites us to unreflectively adopt ethical and political positions, creating a hodgepodge worldview. . . causes are as easy to pick up as they are to put down.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 26)
Since we can adopt views so quickly, they often remain surface-level in the back of our minds while we neither take action or understand them fully. This leads to cognitive dissonance, which I have experienced for sure. My brain has felt exhausted from the bombardment of so many causes and images, and the contradictions, questions, proposed actions, and insecurities they bring. The pace is stifling.
When taken together, the combination of these two points brings a shocking conclusion . . .
3. Christianity is seen as just another consumer choice. Essentially this puts faith on the level of ‘fun facts about me:’ on the same level as favorite restaurants, athletes, and vacation spots. It’s a trivial preference. Jesus is seen as a hobby or just another thing to pin onto our identities. Sadly, this makes the gospel feel far less weighty and easier to dismiss.
“The gospel appears thin, superficial, and inconsequential—just another image vying for our time.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 29)
It breaks my heart. Some people call themselves Christians but don’t take it seriously, while other people see faith as just another preference and dismiss the whole thing altogether. We struggle to portray the true depth and importance of our faith and may even accidentally trivialize it by our actions and words.
Here is one more barrier to consider:
The modernity of life makes it hard to sense God. In the past, the consensus was that God existed. People attributed a lot in life to his power and his creation. However, the advancement of science and the ease of modern life has made that far harder to see.
“We struggle to recognize beauty in the natural world because it has been so thoroughly conquered, and wonder is squashed through scientific language and nature-channel explainers. We are masters of our health, our safety, our morality, our time, and our success. Living in this society, it’s hard to sense the transcendent.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 57)
The problem is that the more advanced and automated life becomes, the less we see of life’s magic and wonder. That’s why the moments in which we remember them are beautiful. It’s why fairytales and books like Narnia are so crucial. It’s why we adore a child’s innocent amazement at the world around her. And it’s why a mountain range or the power of the ocean pulls on us in such deep places! But within the confines of our normal lives, wonder is often squashed.
Altogether, these facts of our current situation may seem hopeless. How can we live real, unaffected lives for Christ in this climate?
The second section of Disruptive Witness is all about that! Noble explains how to effectively witness in this climate and gives practical tips about how to break down barriers and show Jesus as who he is. I really enjoyed the read, and highly recommend it! (And if you purchase the book through the link on this page, I will receive a portion of the profit. Isn’t that neat and professional-sounding?!)
Whether you grab a copy of the book or not, I hope these points have helped you understand our culture. I know it’s made me realize shocking things about how I think and has shaped my understanding of witnessing, which is a great place to start!
I’ve been dating Brian long-distance for more than 2 ½ years. Before college, I lived in South Dakota and he lived in Illinois. Now, I live in Minnesota and he lives in Arizona. (Read the story of how we met here). It has been quite the journey and has taught me a lot about him and life. Because he’s moving to my city this May, we get to close the distance soon! It’s actually crazy to think about.
So, as that day approaches, I wanted to reflect on everything that’s happened so far. There are many faces and aspects to long-distance dating, so here are a few: the good, bad, and ugly.
The bad & ugly:
So, there you have it! There are so many highs and lows in a long-distance relationship. If you know someone who’s doing long-distance, show them some love. But if you think it’s impossible, it really isn’t. There are many good things about this season, and it's become a huge part of my story!
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!