The GF Diet

Ten years ago you would be hard-pressed to find someone who claimed to be gluten-free unless you were in the midst of a crunchy granola hippie camp. (“That wheat has some totally bad vibes, man.”) It simply wasn’t a concern for the majority. Food bloggers and Internet “nutritionists” hadn’t picked up on it yet as a diet. Celiac sufferers and others of the gluten-intolerant variety simply had to find their own way and suck it up.

Fast forward to present day and gluten-free is everywhere. Restaurants have gluten-free menus. Store brands carry all sorts of gluten replacements made with nut or rice flour; everything from brownies to pancakes to chicken nuggets. It is uplifted as the new diet, the modern way to lose weight and feel good. The same principle applies to sugar-free, dairy-free, vegan, Paleo, etc. They’re always coming up with alternatives.

One could almost say they’re in the business of it, because they’ve been trying to think of an alternative to God for an awfully long time.

Whether it’s through another belief, a self-help class, spending time with your family, focusing on your career, YOLO-ing your way through life, studying scientific theories, or diving headfirst into your own ribcage because “life is all about YOU being happy”, the world is constantly throwing puzzle pieces at you. “Did that one fix the hole in your heart? What about this one? I swear, this one will fix it.”

No matter how long we sit around a table covered in temporary conveniences and religious building blocks in an attempt to make our own meaning or our own legacy, it will never fill you up. A God-free diet is a failure. The world does not give as the Lord gives. It has no alternative to the peace and love God lavishes on you, and God will never give the same pain or emptiness that the world has in abundance.

That is His promise to you.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Now, go forth and enjoy your almond-flour cookies.

PASD (Post-Africa Stress Disorder)

Ever since returning, I’ve been restless at best, downright miserable at worst. I’ve been feeling this tug on my heart, like I’m homesick as I sit in the safety and comfort of my own room. Things that previously interested me seem unimportant and boring. The streets are empty. No one gives me thumbs up as I walk by, not that I’ve done much walking anyway. Everybody shows a shocking amount of skin. Kids look healthy and well-fed. I can talk to people without the fear that I’m viciously murdering their language by mispronouncing “nda” for the forty-sixth time, which is a strange thing to feel homesick about, but I do.

Simply put, I’m missing Africa, or at least what Africa represented. I had a job in Africa, and it was a fairly straightforward one: teach the kids. That was the one thing. That was all I had. When I woke up in the morning, that was my job. Yet in the return process that job number went up. Now, I’m a big sister who does school, practices music, finishes Confirmation homework, memorizes lines for the two plays I’m in, cleans the kitchen, renews library books, etc. All deeply enjoyable things, and I can’t complain about their difficulty because there is none. It’s a wonderful life to be sure.

But it’s not for me. If there’s one thing that Africa has helped me realize, it is that living my life out in the United States is not what God has planned for my life.

What frustrates me is that dropping your life isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve already ruled out pulling a Sherlock and faking my death or hiding myself in a suitcase en route to Malawi. Unfortunately, that’d be more likely to get me arrested than start me off on a mission. And, per usual, there’s that pesky Satan, who every darn time you attempt to launch yourself into action decides to be like the blankets in that one Calvin and Hobbes strip.

“You want to leave your comfy life? NICE TRY, SUCKER.”

Popping out of peace, financial security, and cheap pleasure is the path less traveled for a reason: getting on it (and staying on it) isn’t particularly easy. I know for a fact that I will struggle with it for the rest of my life, seeing as I haven’t even gotten on it yet. How does one go about something like this?

My first response is to look at the technical details. The immense cost of traveling, the organizations I would want to affiliate with, finding where my assistance would be most needed, what I can even do in situations I’m unfamiliar with, yadda yadda yadda. But my second response is to look in the Bible and ask God for what he wants me to do. The technicalities are a small fraction of a far bigger picture.

I worry and cry and beat myself over the head with questions and accusations and fear fervently wishing for the things that could be and stressing myself out over what to do, and all the while I’m forgetting that there’s a God by my side and a Bible in my hands that can answer everything.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

I have overcome the world.

Why am I stressing about a battle when the war has been won from the start? Why does my heart tremble in fear of my enemies when they have already been defeated? Why does the world frighten me when my God has overcome it?

Normally at the end of these posts I like to give some kind of closing sentence. A conclusion. An end to the rambling madness that happened above. But you can’t do that when the story isn’t finished. I still don’t know what I’m going to do. God isn’t finished with me and he won’t be until I’m dead. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to make a part two of this post. Something celebratory, even if it’s the minuscule victory of spending my Saturday morning helping people rather than sleeping in.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Prayer would be much appreciated.

We Do Not Lose Heart

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:1-18

At the end of each VBS day we hand out these snacks to the kids. They really aren’t anything at all, just fifty calories of junk food that couldn’t do much except whet their appetite. But as soon as you bring out those snacks, it is absolute chaos. You could see them shoving each other to the ground and stealing from the little children all to the end of getting just one more bag of these tiny treats.

Yesterday the action of distributing snacks brought some to tears and everyone to the brink of complete emotional ground zero. We felt weary, dirty, and dead in the water. Tomorrow shadowed a bleak future and no one was looking forward to the morning. All we could think of was the bitter fact that over twenty of the children we had seen would be dead in a year with more to follow and we felt helpless in such a situation where there appeared to be no hope. Their fragile bodies are constantly wasting away and running on limited time, as we all are.

Then we checked the verses we were supposed to read on that day.

Just the first words were enough to restore breath back into us. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” One of the situations where it is most tempting to lose heart is when you are trying to bring a lost sheep to Christ, whether it is a return journey or the first time they have ever heard his name. It can be discouraging and can leave you balancing precariously on the point of breakdown. But what does God remind us? Through his mercy, we do not lose heart. We do not have to distort the word of God to speak. God will use us as his jars of clay to bring Jesus to his children, and no matter how much you love the people you are trying to reach, God will always love them more. You can trust him because even though it is easy to forget, he has a plan for everyone and everything. There are no loose ends or forgotten details. God’s got you. As long as you stay in the word, there is no use worrying in the effectiveness of your own words or actions because God’s got it.

It is painfully obvious that death is at work in our bodies and in our world. There are wars and diseases and dreadful accidents and murders in back alleys and one could go on. Death saturates humanity. For many, “the end” is when their bones crumble away in a graveyard. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. But we as Christians may know that that is not “the end”. For us, there is no end. There is only life with God in Heaven. And we may be confident that this is not our home, that what we see now is just a short second compared to what we have waiting for us, which is new life in the love and forgiveness of Christ Jesus.

So therefore we do not lose heart. We have renounced our secret and shameful ways. We are the darkness to show God’s light and the jars of clay that may be used as God’s tools. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We may be wasting away. Our bodies are decaying and our time is short. But we do not lose heart because we fix our eyes on the next life, not on this one, because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:13-14

Voice for the Voiceless

Murder is wrong.

You know, that’s not something you ever envision yourself having to say. You take it as one of the unspoken (well, not now that I’ve said it) truths of humanity: You don’t touch people’s butts, you don’t pick your friend’s nose, and you don’t murder.

Yet it just so happens that 22% of babies have been legally murdered since 1973. This probably brings up emotions of shock, horror, and revulsion. You wonder who on earth would ever kill a baby, those wonderful miracles of life that have an infinite pool of potential and so clearly show what love and care has been lavished on every single one of us. But as soon as you slap the name “abortion” on the murder of human beings, it is legal and can be done without fear of serious repercussion.

Because there is no doubt about it: the babies that are being aborted are alive. They are not just cells. At just a month old, they are an embryo that is forming organs and body parts that distinguish them as human. At two months, they are the size of a kidney bean and are moving around constantly with little distinct webby fingers. Do not try and convince me for a second that these are not beautiful creations that must be protected, respected, and taken care of. According to the Planned Parenthood website, the latest you can legally get an abortion is 24 weeks. Do you know what the baby looks like when they are 24 weeks old? They have lungs and skin and tastebuds and eyelids and even teensy tiny eyebrows.

And they are beimg murdered. In fact, the number of babies that are killed each year is roughly equal to the amount of American military deaths that have happened in all of the wars that the United States have ever been involved in. If that doesn’t shoot ice through your veins, I don’t know what to say to you.

Actually, I do. Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Or Psalm 139:13-14; “For you formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it full well.” There are many other verses I could bring up that display the sanctity of life and just how precious it is. It is not something to be thrown around and mistreated. God, the ultimate inventor and creator, carefully put together every single one of us with a purpose, a plan, and a heart full of love. Do not destroy His works.

All this begs the question, Why should I care? We’re considered official human beings. If someone were to intentionally kill us, it would be called murder, unlike other individuals I could and have mentioned.

Well, these babies have one way to communicate: A heartbeat. That heartbeat is enough to give us something to rebel against. Throughout history we see great men and women rise up whenever a great injustice is being committed and they, by the grace of God, overthrow the system to make things right. As people with a voice, it is our duty and our privilege to exist exactly at this time and in this place to stand up for the heartbeats that are being stifled every day.
I’m not sugarcoating this, as I assume has become apparent throughout. First, I’m not that kind of person. Like, at all. Second, this is something that cannot be shoved down into a nice tidy package with a red bow. These are raw facts that demand action from everyone.

For those who would like to get involved that are of my own age, there is a fantastic group of people called Voices for the Voiceless. They are based in Arizona and offer multiple options for high school and college-age people to help out by using their specific talents. You’re a writer? Painter? Photographer? Public speaker? Just a weirdo with a passion? Whatever it is, the movement could always use you. [Link: https://www.voicesforthevoiceless.org/]

22%, ladies and gentlemen. That is a battle worth waging, fighting, and winning.

Click Away

Has anyone else noticed that Facebook is slowly taking over all the websites on the entire Internet? Everywhere you go, whether you’re looking for a zucchini bread recipe or videos on how to perform open-heart surgery at home, you will find a little Facebook icon somewhere on the page. “Sign in with Facebook!” “Do you want to share your top score on ‘Life Waster 3000’ on Facebook?” “Invite Facebook friends?” The World Wide Web is saturated with Facebook. You can’t run away from it! It’s like the McDonalds of online media: Everywhere you turn, there it is.

Now imagine that for a whole week you cannot see anything about Facebook in your daily Internet explorations. No icons, no share buttons, and especially not visiting the Facebook website itself. This would be ridiculously difficult in this modern age! If you were to continue the online intake you currently have, there is a 99% chance that you are going to see something about Facebook. It’s unavoidable unless you take the greatest, most meticulous care in what websites you visit and how you act.

I’ve used Facebook as an illustration for the impurity that exists on the Internet. It is so easy to take a wrong turn and drop smack in the middle of something you never wanted to see. And if you go looking for it on purpose, it is assured that you will find it. And what with the inventions of incognito mode and the “delete history” button, no one has to know, right?

Being a Christian in the world we live in is full of temptations all on its own, but the Internet has opened up so many more opportunities for sin right inside of our homes. This is something to be aware of. Amazing things can be done through this unbelievable gift that God has given us. We can connect with people who are on the other side of the world. We can make Christian resources easily available to the general public by putting it up on a website. It is a tool to be taken advantage of.

Yet it is dangerous. We have become very comfortable with its existence and I believe that some of the rules we young people used to be held to before they could even touch the keys of the keyboard have been dismissed and faded. Keeping clear eyes, pure hearts, and retaining the ability to shut the computer down and walk away is a skill that needs to be called back. As children of God we cannot throw away grace for fleeting seconds of pleasure that a laptop can give us because it is simply not worth an eternity in hell.

So next time? Click away.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8 NIVUK

 

Those Young Whippersnappers!

My nine-year-old brother has a rather jaded impression of what teenagers are. In his mind, they are lazy bums who text and Snapchat their friends every waking moment with a disinterested expression on their face for 99% of the average 24-hour day. They have an appalling taste in music and in the end their overall appearance is of nothing. No appeal, no work output, nothing.

Unfortunately I think there are many that would agree with him. Many who were teenagers often forget the unsteady feeling of that age and those who have yet to achieve the “terrible teens” either bow down in blind hero worship or, like my brother, are completely disgusted of the entire concept.

My goal is to change that. Yes, it’s an awkward phase. Yes, the majority of teens are still discovering what the the world around them is and means. Yes, rarely ever do these halfway humans know what they’re doing. Am I still going for this? Definitely.

The Bible clearly showcases that such a thing can happen. A little girl in 2 Kings 5:2-3 essentially saves a guy named Naaman from the horrors of leprosy. David was a young shepherd boy when he slayed the crap out of Goliath. Jesus was merely twelve years old when He completely blew the minds of the learned teachers in the temple. It’s not impossible.

When it comes to God, there is no “not old enough”. As He has stated again and again, He doesn’t just use people who feel ready or the ones who are well adjusted to their bodies and characters. There is no discrimination in who can spread the love of God. My mom read a book recently about a nineteen-year-old woman who went to Uganda and taught kindergarten there to 100-something kids and ended up adopting thirteen orphans as a single unmarried girl. If that isn’t a prime example of how little effect age has on the way God can use you in your life I don’t know what is. Age is not and never will be a factor.

A phrase that I have heard many times in various different ways is “That’s astonishing for your age”. I want to strike that from everyone’s vocabulary. Make those acts of showing Christ so commonplace in today’s teenagers that it becomes a cultural norm. The term “teenager” has come to mean someone who doesn’t do anything extraordinary. That shouldn’t be. We are the representatives of the Lord of the Universe. Whether we be thirteen or thirty, it’s time we do Him justice.

Youth aren’t the future of the church. We’re the present.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12 NIV

 

That’s the Power of Prayer

“How many times a day do you pray?”

Oh, the awkwardness of that question. It’s like when the dentist asks if you’ve been flossing. You know the answer doesn’t give you a favorable report and makes you look bad. So you give the uncomfortable side grimace and shrug, hoping that if you avoid the truth and change the subject, the whole thing will eventually be forgotten and you can shove that icky feeling under a rug for the time being.

Sure, I pray. When I’m sitting around the dinner table with my 100% Christian family or in other socially obligated situations, I can bow my head and murmur a few “faith words” as well as anyone. But when I’m alone or with religiously ambiguous people, I give God the cold shoulder. I have yet to fully realize the power of prayer.

Because first of all, nothing happens without prayer. Trying to pull something off without prayer is like attempting to direct small children without talking: a whole lot of mess happens and productivity ceases to exist. It doesn’t work. We don’t live in the Old Testament when we had to speak through a priest. We have the amazing luxury of being able to talk to our Lord and Savior directly without any fanfare, yet we don’t take advantage of this gift.

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” – James 5:16b-18

And how many times do we simply thank God? Not necessarily when something good happens either. We should be praising God for His gifts no matter what, because we have the constant comfort of His love and mercy waiting for us.

“I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.” – Psalm 86:12

If you are in want, ask. God hears everything and no matter how inconsequential or small it may seem, you can ask him for anything. Nothing is too big or too small for God. He knows you and He knows your wants, but He also wants to hear you, His dearly beloved child.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

And sometimes it feels like you have nothing to say, and that’s fine! Just start talking. Unlike humans, God will never tire of hearing you talk to Him. Speak to Him as you would your best friend and Father. You are His favorite creation, and whatever happens you may trust that His love will always be extended to you without fail and that your prayer will never fall on deaf ears.

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” – Psalm 17:6