Hi Friends! This week I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for the Epiphany Station blog. Check it out here.
Tag Archives: God
I think the hundreds and hundreds of pages I’ve been journaling over the years have become my biggest asset. I can learn a lot about myself and about what the Lord is doing in my life (or has already done!) I’m glad I have a record of it all. Sometimes I will read something I wrote a few years back and think to myself, wow, who the heck wrote that! She sounds really smart. Other times I think, wow, who the heck wrote that? She sounds like a total idiot.
Luckily today, when I read a journal entry from exactly five years ago, I was impressed and not mortified:
“Sometimes we act as though we’re going to earn God’s favor, or prove our faithfulness by depriving ourselves, or making bigger sacrifices, or praying, fasting, being healthier, giving more of my time, being more studious, etc. What I’ve come to realize though is that we can become a slave to those things, even though they are good on their own…and that’s a sin.
The Lord Loves us and has favor over us, and approves of us out of grace…because of Jesus, not because of anything we have done (or don’t do!)
Does that mean we should cease to seek wisdom and a contrite spirit, and right intention, and humility, and knowledge? Of course NOT! By doing these things we are living out our faith. But us becoming a slave to those things; us serving those things, is just as sinful as not doing them at all.
That’s why there needs to be a healthy balance between focusing so much on works that we push out grace, and becoming so comfortable with grace that no one can tell any difference between us and someone who has no concern for God at all.
And that is why James reminds us that our faith without any works is dead, while Paul reminds us that we cannot be saved by our works but only through grace”.
*See James 2: 19-26 and Ephesians 2:8-10
A couple of years ago I was in West Virginia doing a concert at a homeless shelter, and there was a young guy there about 21 years old I think, we’ll call him Marshall. After the concert we were just hanging out, visiting with people, and Marshall starts telling us about a dream that he’s been having. He said he has had the same dream every night for the past few months and he doesn’t know why.
In the dream I’m always sitting in my living room, and I’m not doing anything, but this guy (I think it’s Jesus) is walking around the outside of the house. And he keeps looking into the windows but never coming inside. I keep waiting for him to come in but he just keeps looking in the windows.
Now, I’m no prophet or interpreter or anything, but the meaning of this particular dream seemed so clear to me, I had to say something.
Not that you asked for my opinion, but I think God is just waiting for you to invite Him in.
I think about Marshall and his dream from time to time because I think it has some great reminders in it. Here are just a few:
God is a gentleman. He will not force His way into our lives. If He forced us to love Him it wouldn’t really be love, it would be coercion.
God is not a watchdog. Sometimes we treat God as if He’s merely there for our protection. You stay outside and protect me from bad things, we say, but don’t come in here, I don’t want you messing up my house.
The Safe Zone is not the Satisfying Zone. Sure it seems like the best of both worlds to have God on the parameter, in case we need Him, while we get to have our own personal space. But just like Marshall, if God is not on the inside, we aren’t really doing anything. Things might seem to be going really well and you might just be minding your own business, being a “good” person, but if God is not allowed into our lives…into every crevice of our being, nothing we do is going to fully satisfy, so we might as well be sitting doing nothing.
I could keep going, and talk about how God isn’t interested in a lukewarm relationship with us, or how we tend to think we should clean up our house before we invite Him in to stay, but I’ll save that for another post.
Giving into the Lord by giving into Nolan was the best decision I could have made. From the first moment I told Nolan about my change of heart the Lord began to open my eyes to the perfectly intricate love-story He had been writing all along. For months I was ceaselessly bombarded with the details of God’s creativity. I would be reminded of prayers I had prayed in high school that the Lord was fulfilling through Nolan. Nolan would say things to me that I had only heard in movies, he made me feel like I was a gift to him, but the more time I spent with Nolan the more I realized he was the real gift. Suddenly I couldn’t believe I had gone so long without noticing how wonderful he was, and the days of not having romantic feelings for him were long gone. Just sixteen months after we started dating, Nolan and I were engaged, and in May of 2013 we started the most exciting adventure of our lives: marriage. I thought my twenties were the most thrilling years of my life, and like many people I dreaded turning 30. I became a wife only three months after my 30th birthday though, so I’m quite confident the years ahead of me will be just as exciting as the years behind.
It has only been four months since our wedding, but God has shown me a lot since then. For starters, just because I am no longer part of CTI Music Ministries doesn’t mean my life of ministry has ended. Our whole lives are meant to be ministry. If we call ourselves Christians, we are called to minister to people around us, whether we’re a banker, or a pastor, or a stay-at-home mom, the calling is the same. I don’t need to be traveling the world and playing concerts every day to be part of the same kind of ministry I was doing with CTI. I can be part of the worship team at our home-church, I can visit the prison right here in my own county, I can mentor younger women in this very community, and I can even share my testimony every once in a while. Probably more importantly though, I have learned that my relationship with Christ does not diminish because I’m married, it flourishes. I am being challenged in new ways, and my eyes are being opened to so much more of the character of God. In all honesty, I would not go back to my old life even if I could.
The thing that is most exciting in this entire story is the evidence that I will never reach the end of God. There will never be a moment when I will have experienced everything there is to be had in Christ, because He is a never-ending. I will spend my entire life on earth, and the rest of eternity, being baffled and standing in awe of Him. That’s amazing!
Affects on Counseling
Being married to Nolan will affect my counseling simply because he is supportive. His goal is to love me the way Christ loves His church. Sometimes that looks like listening to me vent, sometimes it means helping around the house so I can spend more time with clients, and it means challenging and praying for me. The client may never see those things, but they will directly affect my confidence as a counselor, and the attention I’m able to give to each client, not to mention the impact prayer from a supportive husband can have.
Overall, the thing I will take with me into counseling is the attitude that I will never stop learning. Just as I will never have God all figured out, so will I never arrive at perfection when it comes to counseling. I anticipate just as many humbling moments, moments of weakness, and moments of total surprise as I have experienced in my life thus far. I look forward to the challenge and joy that will bring.
I tried hard not to let people know how bad my health really was. I was afraid I would be forced to stop doing all the things I loved. There came a point though, that I had to be realistic about my situation and come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t live this way forever; very few could. It was no longer a matter of faith, I already knew the Lord could use me and sustain me through any health status. This was about being responsible; being a good steward of the life God had given me. So in 2011 I told the ministry I had worked for the past six years that this year of touring would be my final one; my “retirement tour” if you will.
In addition to coming to terms with the fact that my life was about to change drastically in just a few months, I also started to give into the possibility that I may be called to singleness…forever. Now, even after the whole Nick debacle, I was a serious romantic. But I was also a 28 year old realist who hadn’t dated anyone in nearly a decade. Besides that, I could not picture a scenario where I could marry someone and still maintain the kind of relationship I currently had with the Lord. I thought for sure my time would be divided, and somehow I would end up putting more energy into a marriage than I did into pursuing Christ. I simply wasn’t ok with that. I wanted a husband, but I wanted Christ more, so I decided to choose Him, and if He wanted to change things up and take my life in a completely different direction then He had full authority to do that. For now though, I was going to focus on figuring out what in the world I was going to do once my retirement tour was over.
It wasn’t long before the Lord began to show me that, once again, I had everything all wrong. About a month into my team’s year-long tour with CTI one of my male team members started to make it painfully clear that he had a romantic interest in me. Right away I tried to put an end to his emotional attachment and gently let him know that I had no interest in a romantic relationship, (with him or with anyone else) and that we both just needed to focus on the ministry before us. At first Nolan accepted the fact that I did not reciprocate his feelings and it seemed as though this subject would be put to bed for good. But by the end of the year Nolan was telling me his feelings had only gotten stronger over the months, and that he was prepared to simply be friends with me for as long as it would take for me to realize I wanted to be with him too.
Again I told him that wasn’t going to happen.
The only thing I could do was go to the Lord in prayer over this. Even though I had told Nolan no, I was still emotionally distraught over this. The struggle I was having was twofold. First of all, I had very recently reconciled myself to being single, so I could only assume that this was a testing from the enemy to make me prove that I would really choose Christ over the prospect of marriage. Secondly, I did not feel any romantic feelings for Nolan, and being the romantic that I was, this point was really important to me. These struggles were compounded by the fact that everyone around me seemed to be on Nolan’s side. My friends, mentors, family members, and team members were telling me that I needed to give Nolan a chance. Somehow they were seeing things that I could not yet see: that he genuinely cared for me, looked out for me, listened to me, spoke well of me, and held me in the highest esteem. Furthermore, there wasn’t a single person that knew Nolan who had anything negative to say about him. He was an upstanding man. One who desired to honor God, and it showed in his day-to-day living.
Still, I did not want to give into people. I wanted to give into God. I just couldn’t discern what He wanted in this situation. And then it happened: one day during my quiet time, I heard that old familiar voice, just as I had almost ten years earlier.
Do you trust me Gretchen?
I want to give you a gift here, but you’re not letting me. What I have for you is good.
What else could I do? Suddenly my heart was softened and I felt relief. So a month after Nolan had poured out his heart to me, I went to him and told him I wanted to see where the Lord would take us…if he would still have me.
Affects on Counseling
This is another one of those things that I truly do not know how it will affect my counseling. Maybe it is too close to the time of the event. I do know that this is something that has inspired other single Christian women. It gives them hope in the Lord’s creativity and in the reward there is in chasing after Him at every chance we get. So maybe it will be one of those things that I end up sharing with client here and there, and maybe it will bring hope to them too.
If there is one thing I learned from the Nick situation it’s that there is an actual cost to following Christ. To live a life completely alive in Him requires sacrifice on some level, from all of us. It took me a while to come to terms with this but I realized that I was only willing to give my relationship with Nick over to God because I believed He’d give it back to me. I didn’t think God was calling me to follow Him and really give up everything I wanted for myself (mainly a love life). I thought my story would be like Abraham’s! The Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his son and then when He saw Abraham was willing to really do it He provided a sacrifice instead, and gave Abraham his son back. How was my story any different? I was baffled. In hindsight I can see the difference quite clearly: Abraham didn’t know the ending of his own story. He didn’t know whether Isaac would die that day or not, but Abraham trusted God and obeyed anyway. It is hard to say whether I would have been as faithful as Abraham in my situation if I had not assumed I knew the ending of my story. All I know is that if I were faced with the same decision again, I would make all the same choices.
My realization about the cost to following Christ combined with my dad’s death ushered me into this Cease the Day mentality. Life is short and I wanted to live a life that would be an honorable legacy behind my father. I also wanted to serve Christ with my entire being no matter the cost, and I didn’t want to wait around to do it. So, in January of 2008, just before my 25th birthday, I took an internship with CTI Music Ministries and moved from my hometown in sunny California to the icy lake-land of Minnesota.
I was really doing it this time! I was handing over every comfort and every expectation I had for my life in order to chase after the Lord. I left everything I knew, my doctors, my family, my friends, and my job, without expecting anything in return from the Lord except His glory. I didn’t know what He was going to do in or around me when I left home. All I knew was that I was reeling with excitement.
Affects on Counseling
I think this event will have a pretty positive impact on my counseling. I will be able to sympathize with those clients who are coming to therapy but have no idea why or what they expect to get out of it. In my case, I knew I needed to take this internship but I knew nothing about what it would be like or why I needed to be there. I just needed to go! Likewise, clients may realize they need help, and coming to counseling is the one and only step they could think to take. It will be my joy to help them figure out their goals and their expectations for our time together.
Three years later, in the summer of 2007, I completed my third mission trip with CTI. I was 24 years old and had already spent a month in Australia, a month in Singapore, and another month in Mexico; I was officially a missionary (at least according to the missions board at my church). By this time it had also been four whole years since I surrendered my relationship with Nick to the Lord. I thought for sure now that I had given my life to Him in missions, He would fulfill that longing inside me to move forward with Nick and start a life with him. After all, I had been so faithful. For four years I had done nothing but pray, wait, and serve the Lord. Surely I would be rewarded.
In actuality things turned out much different than I expected them to. Nick had stopped waiting for me a long time ago and by 2008 he was engaged to someone else. It was the death of a dream. I felt almost slighted by God, as if I trusted Him and He betrayed me. That wasn’t the only death that year. Just a couple months before I found out about Nick’s engagement my stepfather died suddenly of a brain aneurism.
Death is always tragic, because we weren’t meant for it. We were meant to live a life of eternal perfection. I couldn’t be angry because I found love and then lost it, or because I finally knew what it was like to have a loving father only to have that torn from me too. This was all part of living in a fallen world. I was crushed, but the Lord could repair even this brokenness; He could carry the weight of my heaviest burden. And in time He would use the ashes from these deaths to bring new life; one that I could enjoy fully.
Affects on Counseling
This is one of those instances that remind me of the Lord’s faithfulness and mighty power. In my counseling I can trust Him to show that same power. Of my own will I cannot counsel anyone through trials as big as death or despair, but I will faithfully trust Him and watch as the Holy Spirit brings beauty out of ashes.