The Years of My Sojourning

Happy New Year!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really one for resolutions, but I understand their value. Culturally we measure things in years, so the beginning of a new calendar year seems as good a time as any to evaluate how we’re doing and what we can improve going forward. People may also do this at the beginning of a new school year or year of life (yay birthdays!). Some of my friends ask for advice on their birthday or reflections from others as part of this evaluation process. But in any case, we’re pretty good at measuring how much time has passed and trying to consider how much or what we have done in that time. The questions and answers are fairly simple:

What year is it now?

Well, it’s 2014!

What grade are you starting?

Oh, tenth!*

How old are you today?

Yeah, I’m turning 26!*’

(*Please note that these answers are not intended to bear any resemblance to particular persons, living or dead, and there are indeed no 26-year-old tenth graders running around as far as I am aware.)

Apparently on at least one occasion, and perhaps more, a similar question was posed differently:

How many are the days of the years of your life?

Okay, that’s a little odd, but it seems you’re asking how old I am. [Simple answer.]

However, on at least one occasion, someone answered very differently than I may have. His name was Jacob. Here’s what he said:

“The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.”

He then blessed the highly regarded person to whom he was speaking. Suddenly “I’m feeling 22” seems wildly inadequate. Factual, in some cases, but maybe not as informative as this response. There are a few things that jump out at me about this.

Firstly, Jacob is 130 here. He is also what some might call “a Bible hero.” At the very least he is referenced in the Bible and part of Jesus’ genealogy. This said, he describes his 130 as “few” and “evil.” That’s a very interesting perspective and basis for comparison for a 20-something struggling regularly with a bevy of things described on this blog and many, many more. Then again, his basis for comparison may very well be his perfect Creator and the ancestors that he references. These are people who were cited in Hebrews for their outstanding faith and walking in righteousness. In those cases (particularly the former), “few and evil” sounds about right.

Secondly, Jacob uses “sojourning” and “life” interchangeably. Life is a journey, some canvas on Pinterest tells us, but what does that actually mean? Is it even true? I’m not quite sure of the answer myself, but the fact that Jacob describes his life as “sojourning” gives me the idea that it’s not a time for being stagnant. All the more so when we don’t have a lot of time to get there (the days are few) and we’re constantly tripping over our own faults and those of others (the days are evil).

Well, this is a great New Year’s message so far, Marissa. We’re going to die soon and we’re evil disasters. Thanks. Sorry, sorry! But let me explain why this is actually making my new year happy.

1.) We have examples.

Another reason that I don’t really do resolutions is that I take commitments very seriously and I have trouble coming up with resolutions that aren’t too extremist. In response to an end-of-year questionnaire asking about what I might like to let go of in 2014, I thought of the single versus married people blog war (Don’t get married yet! You’re young! You’ll throw your life away! versus If you haven’t gotten married by X years of age, you’re doing something horribly wrong! Meanwhile, everyone’s insulted.). I thought of the times I flipped through someone’s pictures and lamented my own perceived lack of beauty. If I wasn’t doing so well at repressing school thoughts during my holiday time, I probably would have considered the times that I felt so unintelligent there. So I wrote “comparing myself to others.” Seconds later, I erased it.

In a sense, comparing myself to others is good. Paul offered his behavior as an example to the church in his letters (“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about here things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”) as a point of comparison. I am constantly comparing myself to Christ and those who are striving to be like him. What about their faith encourages me? How can I be more like them, and ultimately, more like Christ?

2.) We have time.

I know, I know, I just said that the days are few. But there are days. The days are not zero; they are few. We are a vapor, but typically a breath is not indicative of death. This just means we need to “make the best use of the time” that we do have (Ephesians 5). This is why I’m a Christian. I don’t have a whole lot of time, but I have some. I look to the One who gave me that time, to the One who is good, and I am awed by what I see. I am in awe that He not only made me, but loves me, and loves me sacrificially- with the greatest love. Not only that- He loves everyone with that kind of love. So I seek what it is He wants out of the time He has given me because whatever it is, it is good and it is based in love.

So Happy New Year, everyone! I am thankful for the days given and those yet to come; I am thankful for the sojourning and praying that it follows the steps of Christ’s time on earth as closely as possible. His days were few, in a sense, but they were good. May this brief but new year be a time of growth, blessing, gratitude, and mirroring Christ all the more as He makes us new.

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Preach It, Again!

These have been somewhat busy couple of weeks for me, and it’s times like this that I almost need to stop more and remember what’s really important.

That’s why this week, I’m stealing from another tab on this site- “Good News!” I sometimes glaze over the story of how it came to be that I have this relationship with my loving and forgiving, but just Savior. Then keeping that in mind can make a difference during these potentially stressful and snappy times.

~

‘Well, first there’s some bad news. But the good news transcends the bad news by far, so try to hear me out. =)

As you’ve probably noticed, we live in a world in which something has gone terribly wrong. We struggle with so much, we feel so much pain, and we see so much hurt. And every bit of pain we feel is the result of sin- of wrong- in this world.

BUT sin is not the victor. God is still there (He always has been), and He is still working through all the pain and and the tears, and we know that in the end, He will have won and sin will no longer have any hold on us.

You see, God loves us very, very much. We ignore Him, we mock Him, we disobey Him, and we doubt Him. But still, He loves us.

He loves us even to the point of sending His Son, Jesus, to die a horrible death for us so that we wouldn’t have to endure the burden of sin forever. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, but He rose again, and now He offers us the chance to serve Him and to tell Him that we love Him too.

When we take that opportunity- when we tell Him that we believe in Him and that we want to follow Him and love Him forever, we make a 180 turn so that we are facing the Lord of creation and walking toward Him, pressing on to take hold of that for which He called us.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

Being a Christian does NOT mean

– that you are perfect
– that you won’t ever hurt again
– that you are better than everyone else
– that you understand everything or have all the answers

What being a Christian does mean is that

– you know you are sinful and that you need a Savior
– you believe that Jesus is real, and that He is the One who has saved you from your sin
– you are part of a worldwide family of believers
– you have a Best Friend who has died for you, and who loves you more than you can fully grasp
– you are willing to trust this Best Friend with your life.

It is my sincere prayer that you get to know this King who has become my Best Friend, and that you may know unspeakable joy and overwhelming love in the midst of this world’s temporary painful state, and that you and I will be able to spend eternity together, with all of our brothers and sisters, singing praise to our glorious God.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure with the fullness of God.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”’

~

Amen! Readers, how do you preach the Gospel to yourself? I’d love to hear if you have particular verses or stories that lift you up and remind you of the gift we have in Christ! Or, if you’re not a Christian, please don’t hesitate to ask a Christian you trust open and honest questions about why we believe what we do, or to email me at sumparakaleo@gmail.com.

In Christ Alone

I love going camping.  I love the quiet.  I love when I’m up late studying or finishing something, and there’s only one light on, and it’s just quiet. If I disturb the silence, it’s with a very soft prayer or an equally soft song.  I have a little list of songs that I play for such situations- soft, slow ones like Mika’s “Over My Shoulder.”

But I this one of my favorite peaceful additions to silence is a cappella.  I always lobby for a cappella whenever we’re singing around a campfire or something like that.  There’s something beautiful about the purity of just our voices.

Today I had one of those little quiet moments.  I was sitting in my bed, fiddling with something, and thinking about my “Why I’m a Christian” series.  And then I was singing.

“In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song.
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace!
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease-
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh;
Fullness of God in helpless Babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.

‘Til on that cross, as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied,
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay;
Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again.

And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me.
From a life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.”

I think that song beautifully sums up what my faith really is about.  It’s amazing to know that God heard me singing every word to Him. =)

I hope you enjoyed my little series- let me know if you have any questions or comments!  For those of you making your way through finals week, I’m praying for you!  Try to take a little quiet time in the midst of your studying and paper writing and just remember and praise.  So much has been done for you . You are so loved.  Have a wonderful end of the semester!  And for everyone else, have a wonderful end of the week!

p.s. Adam Young (the musician and the adorable behind “Owl City”) is also quite taken with this song.  Check out his blog post about it- he did a late-night recording of the song and posted it along with a beautiful post.  His blog is an amazingly inspiring and an encouraging one to read!

… Because I Want to Be Made New

“When I made up my mind, and my heart along with that

To live not for myself, but yet for God, somebody said,

‘Do you know what you are getting yourself into?’”

–  Relient K

I majored in psychology because I want to help people.  And I really enjoyed AP Psychology and found it fascinating.  That is why I became a psych major.  Two simple reasons.

Today I gave a presentation to a group from the lab that I work in detailing a study that I have been working on with a graduate student researcher for the past four months.  I had to write a literature review explaining what research had already been done on the topic, describe the study in detail, and then explain the results of our statistical analysis and other things we gleaned from the study.  The months leading up to this presentation were filled with data coding, presenting for the study, calling potential participants, reviewing tapes, and running statistical analyses.

Next year, I’m going to have to do something similar, except that the research will be from an idea that I developed and will culminate in a thesis, which may or may not be 50 pages long.  Then I’m going to go to grad school and write a master’s thesis and a dissertation, and do a clinical internship.

When I said that I wanted to be a psych major, I did not know what I was getting myself into.

I became a Christian when I was four.  Life was pretty simple then, and once more, I did not know what I was getting myself into.  I knew that God loved me, and that only He could truly forgive my sins.  I knew that I wanted Him to be a part of my life.  But I suppose you can’t truly see all that He’s going to do until He does it.

It would be one thing if being a Christian were just judging everybody and acting like you’re better than everyone when you’re actually extremely hypocritical, which is how many Christians are portrayed on television.

But being a Christian is actually hard work.  It’s challenging.  But it’s effective.  As you probably know if you frequently read my blog, one of my most favorite Bible verses comes from Philippians 3 and reads, “Not that I have already obtained all this or already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

I’m a work in progress.

The Relient K song that I quoted at the beginning of this post continues, “When I finally ironed out all of my priorities, and asked God to remove the doubt that makes me so unsure of these things I ask myself, I asked myself: do you know what you are getting yourself into?”

I still haven’t ironed out all of my priorities- there are definitely times when God should be at the forefront of a decision I’m making and He isn’t.  But like I said, I’m learning and I’m growing.  I can see the effects of His work in my life- I’m less sarcastic, I’m more forgiving, I’m not crippled with fear whenever I think of my future.  And it seems like the more I accomplish, the more I realize is left to be done.

It’s daunting to think that I’ll never be perfect the entire time that I’m on this earth.  It’s frightening to think of all of the things that are wrong with me.  I always say that it’s a good thing that God doesn’t show us all of our flaws at once, because that would be incredibly overwhelming and depressing.  But it’s encouraging to think that the Creator of the universe is invested enough in little me to not only make me better, but to use me for His perfect plan even while I’m still incredibly messed up.

Sometimes it helps to try to look at it from God’s perspective.  Suppose you write a book and you fill it with amazing illustrations and the most beautiful story of all time.  Then someone breaks in, changes a bunch of the words around, rather corrupting the story, and scribbles all over the pictures and hovers the book over the fire, threatening to drop it in and destroy it forever.  You jump into the fire, saving the book from a terrible fate.  You survive what the book would not have, but the book itself is still in a very sorry state.

At face value, it isn’t worth much.  But over time, you fix bits of the story back to the way they were supposed to be.  You smooth out the crumpled corners of the fragile pages.  You perfectly erase the deep marks across the illustrations.  It’s a trying process, for you and the book.  (Let’s suppose it’s terribly painful to have words moved around.  It’s like dragging a splinter from one part of your body to another to move a word.)

The book can still share the fixed part of its story, even as you work out the rest of its flaws.  Its useful, and as you work, more and more of it becomes clear, as you intended, and useful.  But it’s not easy.

At one point in their song, Relient K switches from the perspective of the Christian to the perspective of God, singing: “I love you, and that’s what you are getting yourself into.”

I’m a Christian because someone, namely Christ, loved me enough to save me and work to make me new, even when it hurts and even when I resist.  I can see it happening, as I mentioned before.  And I know it can’t be me.  As much as I sometimes want to say that I powered through something or that I could probably handle everything on my own, I know that I can’t. God does things that are blatantly out of my control, and they’re things that make me better.

What have I gotten myself into with this refining fire?  The unending love of a forgiving and loving Savior who is making everything new.  And as it says in Revelation 21, “these words are trustworthy and true.”

… Because I am Weak

I am a Christian because… I am weak.

One of the many criticisms that I’ve heard of Christianity is that it is a “crutch” for people who just can’t handle the world on their own.  But I’d like to suggest that we all can’t handle the world on our own.

I’m posting this a little later than usual today because I have had a ridiculous amount of tests and papers and projects due- they’ve had me running all over campus and not sleeping enough, but also been rather thought-provoking.  (Then again, this is me that we’re talking about.  I find pretty much everything to be thought-provoking).

But let me give you some examples.  I’m taking Anatomy and Physiology right now, and we study each of the body systems and discuss how they work.  The last slide of the lecture notes is usually the same- it’s about the development of the system.  My professor discusses how the system develops prenatally and in infancy, and then includes some information about how the system changes throughout the lifespan.  I’ve grown to almost dread these last few slides because they always end with a description of how the system falls apart as we get older.  Our senses weaken… our muscles shrink… we essentially gradually fall apart, which would be incredibly depressing if that was all that we had- if there was nothing else to live for.

So physically, we are weak.

My other example comes from the paper that I wrote for my dance seminar.  (Do you like how random the classes I’m taking are, compared to one another?  I’m a girl of many interests that don’t always obviously go together.)  We had to write about what aspects of our culture, society, and heritage influence our dance.  I brought up how prevalent technology seems to be, but then pointed out that a good part of the world’s population doesn’t have access to iPods and Facebook accounts.  Even though we’re not connected with them through the Internet, all of us that are healthily functioning have the joint human experience of emotion.  (I went on to talk about how the effects of emotion on dance.)

We’re not invincible.  We get hurt emotionally just as we do physically, and experience emotional pain just as we do physical pain.  We’re weak.

One popular artist wrote a song called “Forever,” in which he says in the chorus, “It may not mean nothin’ to ya’ll, but understand nothing was done for me.  And I don’t plan on stopping at all, I want this [stuff] forever.”

I, of course, change a whole bunch of the words, but in particular change part of the chorus to “understand much has been done for me.”  I didn’t control what family I was born into or how intelligent I am or who my friends are.  When you think about it, we have control over very little.  I work in an infant studies lab where one of our studies involves children choosing between one of two toys.

We always tell the toddlers that they’ve made “a lot of hard decisions!”  For them, it just might have been.  They had to come and sit and watch a perhaps boring presentation and then make a bunch of choices!  Yes, they got to choose the toy, but the researcher set the toy in front of them.  Their parents brought them into the lab.  They couldn’t have made their “hard decision” if they hadn’t been helped.

The same goes for us.  We think we’ve got it together- we think we worked things out just because God didn’t appear in a dramatic puff of smoke and switch things around in a physical form right before our eyes.

It’s definitely reassuring to know that someone who loves me is in control and is carrying out a plan that is good.  It’s actually reassuring to acknowledge that I am weak.  But being a Christian isn’t just about weakness; it’s about finding strength in Christ.  His strength is so much more than our own, regardless of how strong we think we are.

As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9, “[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

… 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.