… Because I’m Thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I love this holiday, and not just because we finally get a (far too short) break from school.  I have so much to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for my family, for my friends, for Skype and Facebook, for music, for the amazing camp that I’ve been able to volunteer with for six years now, for my school and all of the opportunities it offers, for RUF, for hugs, for love, for second chances, for hope, and so much more.

In fact, I’m a Christian because I’m thankful.

I can’t believe that all of these things came my way accidentally, or that it’s a coincidence that things just “work out” perfectly.  Even being at the school that I’m at now is a testament to that- I did not at all want to go to this particular school.  I had had my heart set on someplace else since freshman year.  But the door to the school I’m at now was essentially flung open through a generous scholarship and the door to the school I wanted to go to slowly started closing.  I trudged to orientation and grumbled through a good portion of my freshman year, but walking around campus the other day, I suddenly thought, “I love this school.”

At the other school, I never would have gotten the prestigious internships that I have, gotten to work in multiple psychology labs, and been able to prepare for grad school the way that I have at my current university.

And even more than God’s willingness to jump in and help me with my sometimes miniscule problems, He was willing to help me in terms of what’s happening with my eternal life.  He was willing to die for me when I was ignoring His existence.

The pastor at the church I’m currently attending used to always say that our lives should be telling God “I love you too.”  I’m grateful to You, Lord, for all that You have done for me and for all that You have promised, and even for all that is yet to come.  And I want to live like it.  I know that I am dearly loved, and I want to in turn live a life of love and be a representation of Christ’s love to the rest of the world- a mini-Christ, as it were.  And that’s actually the literal definition of “Christian.”

What are you thankful for?  I hope you have some good time to reflect on all of your blessings and I pray that you have a wonderful, relaxing day!

❤ Marissa

Why I’m a Christian

I am an absolute pain to play Apples to Apples with.  I think about things a lot and make sometimes bizarre connections to things.  There was a running joke at the camp that I work at where I had some adjective and was deeply debated between which noun to choose.  Everyone was starting to get irritated, so finally I said, “The Pentagon!”  “The Pentagon?!”  came the response.  Apparently that was wrong.  So I explained some ridiculous list of connections that I thought brought the words together.  No one agreed.

Anyway.  Just as a forewarning, the next couple of sentences might not make a lot of sense.

Here goes: My friend walked with me to one of my classes the other week.  My class was in a different location for the day because we were in the studio- a wide, fairly plain room with a mirror stretching across one side of it.  We got to the door, and I was peering in nervously because I couldn’t see any of my classmates or the professor.  I was wandering in warily when my friend said, “Have fun!  Play nice with the other kids!”  He was joking, but somehow those familiar words gave me the extra boost of confidence to walk forward.  I was in the right place. =)

And here comes the non-sequitur thought: “Why am I a Christian?

Random. I know.  But here’s how they’re connected: Christianity is something that’s very familiar to me- I grew up in a Christian family and attended church, and the same church at that, from ages 2 to 18 or so.  So it might be said that I’m a Christian because I’m comfortable with it- because it’s familiar like that daycare send-off phrase.

I think that anytime you grow up in the church, there comes a time when you need to make your faith your own.  It’s not something that you can just bum off of the people around you- it’s a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe.  I think my process of making my faith my own picked up a lot of speed once I got to college.  My family wasn’t taking me to church anymore.  I didn’t have to go to any Bible studies or fellowship groups if I didn’t want to.  And in fact, I’ve been told that a lot of young Christians fall away from their faith once they start college.

I’ve been blessed in that God has used this college experience to draw me ever closer to Him.  Being a Christian isn’t just another descriptor for me- it’s who I am.

I’m not a college-aged, Christian, female, blog-writing, musical person.

I’m a college-aged, blog-writing, musical, female Christian.  That’s what’s at the core.

But being reminded of that question of “Why Christianity?” made me think that you might be wondering as well.  One of my friends, after seeing a Facebook status that I’d written thanking God for something, asked me why I never gave myself credit for anything (note: As I’ve mentioned before, I certainly do not never give myself credit for anything, which is actually something that I need to work on.  May the glory be to God.).  The same friend had expressed frustration years ago that Christians were largely brainwashed by the church- just blindly believing everything that they’re told.

So I want you to know a little bit more about Christianity means to me, and I’ll be talking about different aspects of that over the next few weeks.  I’m also planning on asking some friends and mentors if they wouldn’t mind writing about why they’re Christians, and then I’ll hopefully be able to sprinkle those in my blog throughout the year.

So here’s my first thought: I am a Christian… because of God’s initiative and His love for me.

I realize this is probably the least satisfying answer for some of you, but it’s true.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” says Romans 8:28.

One of my most favorite quotes right now comes from a radio interview with Carolyn McCulley and Candice Watters.  I’m pretty sure that McCulley said the quote, but since it was radio, I’m not sure.  Either way, this is what the speaker said:

“I know my God is good and He has carved out a path for me that’s different than what I would have chosen, but on the other hand, I would not have chosen Him, either, and He came and He sought me.  I would not have been a Christian apart from His initiative.  So I can trust Him… if He gave me the good gift of salvation, I can trust Him for the rest of my life.”

I’ve found that I can trust Him- He has shown me over and over again.  I’ve referenced some of the ways that He has in my blog already, and many more are likely to come.  Even in small things like it “working out” for me to not take 20 credits this semester (I know you think I’m crazy), He shows me. (Basically I totally thought I could handle that credit load while taking two 4-credit labs, and He knew I couldn’t. The school randomly last-minute switched a class time so I wasn’t able to take the final three credits.  I clearly see now that there’s no way I could have handled all of that and not fallen into depression and overwhelming stress.  Interesting, hmm? You’d think I’d have learned my lesson.)

So there’s reason one.  I’m a Christian because God wants me to be- He has a particular purpose for my life and I’m really excited to see what all He has in store for this little soul that He called to be His child.

Stay tuned!

Sometimes paper due dates push my blog post releases back by a couple of hours, but it will be out today- no worries!

Come back in a bit to read about a new series that I’m starting.  I’m really excited about it!

Ants vs. Armed Men

I’m currently in the process of trying to break this dreadful habit I have of visiting the vending machine in the building where I work a little too frequently.  I don’t drink coffee, so when I’m in the building for hours on end and am feeling a little tired, a trip to the vending machine usually does the trick.  I get to skip down the hall and swing my arms around and then wake myself up further with a sugary snack.

The second part isn’t really the best for my health.  The other day I skipped to the machine and, finding that they were out of my favorite snack, settled for a jumbo honey bun.  (I’m growing more disgusted with this eating habit as I write this all down.)  About halfway through the honey bun, I realized that I was feeling much more awake and not all that hungry.  But I finished it anyway, largely just because it was there.

Similarly, one of my roommates turned the television off a while ago to help create a more studious atmosphere, saying that there wasn’t anything good on anyway.

How is that similar?  In both instances, we started with a purpose; waking up/satisfying hunger and seeking entertainment.  In both instances, the purpose passed and we continued on with the activity anyway, rather unnecessarily.

This made me notice that I have (another) bad habit- one of mindlessly going about things and letting precious opportunities and experiences pass us by.

One of my favorite bands, Relient K, references “the cycle of the double-edged sword of being lazy and being bored” in one of their songs.  I agree- it’s so easy to just fall into something that might not always be beneficial.  I remember one extremely lazy day freshman year where I literally just sat and watched T.V. and ate all day.  At the end, it felt like such a waste!  The only thing I’d accomplished was doing a load of laundry.  Not particularly impressive.

We’re called to rest- that’s the what the Sabbath is for.  But the Bible also warns us against taking “rest” too far.  “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander no overseer or ruler, yet it stores it provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.  How long will you lie there[?]… A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man,” says Proverbs 6.

I’m no Bible scholar, but I think that the part that reads “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,” (emphasis added) is spoken much as the phrase “I’m resting my eyes” is when the speaker is actually taking a nap, and not just resting their eyes.  (I maintain that there is a difference!).  I’m fairly certain the lesson here is not that we should stop sleeping or resting, because as I mentioned before, the Sabbath is something we’re commanded to observe.

I think it really comes down to asking yourself if what you’re doing right now is beneficial.  Is it making the most of what you have?  It’s tough to remember to think of constantly, but you can pray that God would bring to your attention times that could be better spent with Him or serving Him.

I gave YouTube up very randomly during my freshman year because I realized that it was sucking up my time.  Interestingly enough, I realized that the day that I’m writing this is exactly two years after the last day of my YouTube ban.  The effects have been lasting, and even though I’m still definitely a visitor to YouTube, I spend less time watching videos and wasting time there.

“Be very careful then, how you live- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil,” Ephesians 5:15-16 says.  Making the most of every opportunity is quite an undertaking, but we are working and hoping towards a goal that makes it easier. =)

I know about a couple videos that showcase this excellently, but sadly I don’t want to link to on my blog.  One features city filled with people that are stuck repeating certain motions.  Some are laughing, some are listening to music, some are hanging out- but they’re just doing the same thing over and over again and can’t break free.  It’s like when a video freezes and you just have to watch the same jerky motions repeatedly.  Thankfully, the artists and some breakdancing robots show up to help.  They’re all carrying these guns whose shots break the people free of their confinement, and free them into dance!

What sucks you in?  Are you stuck in the same mindless motion?  I think that most of the time, it’s the small things as opposed to spending months of our lives like I spent that one Saturday freshman year.  It’s that we spend six hours a day watching T.V. or surfing Facebook, or we’re too wrapped up in something else.  I definitely think it’s okay to own a television and chat with friends on Facebook, but we have to draw a line somewhere.  Jesus freed us from being slaves to our idols and to sin and rededicated us to righteousness.  The dance-inducing shock wave of the artists’ guns is nothing compared to the death, resurrection and love of Christ.  May He transform and renew us even more every day- we’ve got a whole new life ahead of us.

This is something that I need to work on.  It’s so easy to get distracted and avoid living purposefully.  But if faith and my relationship with the Creator of the universe is being reduced to a quick, meaningless prayer before meals and that half-conscious Bible reading, or I’m missing opportunities to serve or form relationships because I have to catch my favorite show or spend unnecessary time browsing Facebook, then something is wrong.

If you want to challenge yourself, try keeping track of how much time you spend doing different activities.  I’m not saying that you should be reading the Bible for the same amount of time that you’re on Facebook (if that’s something you want to try, let me know how it goes!), because just “reading the Bible” isn’t having a full out relationship with God.  Actions play a huge role, too.  Just see where your time is going.  You might be surprised!

p.s. I thought of another great video that showcases an effect much like the video mentioned earlier does.  It’s Ms. Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” video.  Everyone’s stuck in this boring monotony until Willow starts, of course, whipping her hair (and getting paint everywhere).  Just don’t spend too much time watching all of the remixes and parodies! ;P

Back to the Heart of Worship

The other day, I walked into the research lab where I work and made a confession to one of the researchers, who was sitting at her desk.

“I got caught singing in the hall twice today,” I admitted.  Maybe I sing excessively, and maybe I sing sometimes when I’m somehow alone walking to class or lab.  But sometimes people just pop out from around a corner and catch you singing.  I’m pretty good at keeping this from happening, or so I thought, but that day was just not a good one for surreptitious singing.

“Marissa,” she said, laughing, “knowing you at all, that is not surprising.”

In conclusion, I like to sing a lot.  It’s something I enjoy (and have enjoyed for literally my entire life) and that I’m told I’m good at, so I look for opportunities to use it purposefully and not just to annoy my family.

The most obvious opportunity to use my love for music for God’s glory was helping to lead worship, so I sang with the church choir for four or so years and have been blessed to get to help out with two other worship teams at different times.  Doing all of this has given me more than an opportunity to serve- it’s given me a lesson or two.

One such lesson arose quite recently.

I become something of a perfectionist a lot of the time when I sing.  I enjoy pushing myself to be better.  It works- my vocal range is wider than it was before because I would listen to a song and keep practicing it until I could hit the notes almost as well as the singer.  That said, the majority of the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack still has me pretty stumped and I pretty much squawk my way through some of it.

But sometimes I bring that sense of perfectionism to worship.  I was practicing with the music team that I help out with now and was growing increasingly displeased.  I wasn’t hitting one of the notes that I usually can exactly the way I wanted to, and I could hear myself going flat on one sustained note.  If all of that wasn’t bad enough, I instinctively make these awful faces when I create dissonance.  So there I was, singing slightly off key, contorting my face, and complaining.

“Why am I even up here?” I asked myself.  “The other girls are so much better [insert further whining here].  Everyone else might be cringing, but at least God thinks I’m doing okay.”

That’s where I was stopped.  I was suddenly aware of this terrible attitude that I was having.  And even more, I was aware that I had entered God into this discourse in an entirely wrong way.

What’s the difference between singing Selena Gomez songs in the hallway of the psychology building and worshipping?

In my case, it’s that the latter was meant for praising and glorifying my God.  When I’m ignoring the lyrics of the hymns in favor of the music, comparing myself to others, and filling my head with negativity and self-criticism, I am definitely not worshipping my heavenly Father.

The same principle applies outside of what we typically identify as “worship,” which I think has been stereotyped as gathering with a congregation to sing worship songs.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Godthis is your true and proper worship,” Romans 12:1 says.

Worship isn’t about me and my voice or my talents, or whether I raise my hands during worship or stay mostly still, whether I harmonize during “Holy, Holy, Holy,” or whether the person standing next me thinks I sound awful.  Worship is between us and God!  It is a gift directly to Him, and it is pleasing to Him!

One of my dear friends rushed out and bought me “High School Musical 3” months before my birthday because she knew that a number of people would think of it as a present.  She called dibs, and she gave me a gift that I would love!  I wouldn’t have liked it better if she had bought it from one store over the other, and I’ve been repeatedly informed that it would not be considered an acceptable gift for someone else.  But it didn’t matter, it was a gift from her to me.

In the same way, God has told us that He loves our worship (though it is obviously a gift that can come from all of His children individually- no need to call dibs)!  He has called us to be dearly loved children who live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Try to keep that in mind the next time you’re standing next to a Julie Andrews equivalent in church, or when you’re feeling inadequate.

Your life is an offering to God.  Is what you’re doing pleasing to Him?  Is it bringing Him glory?  Take a look at Romans 12- it has really encouraged me while thinking and working at living my life as an gift to my Savior.

And check out this adorable video of Christian music artist TobyMac’s son “getting his worship on,” as his dad says. =)