Lent 2019: What I’m Giving Up & Why

     As an Episcopalian, growing up Lent was something that my family regularly talked about around this time of year.  As I continued to give things up and became a little more vocal about it in high school, I often got funny looks even from friends who were just of different Christian denominations.  Today, on the eve of Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), I’m sharing a little about the purpose of Lent, what I’m giving up, and why!  I’m hoping this post will help you to understand Lent a little better if you’re unfamiliar with it, and maybe even inspire you to give up or take on something this Lenten season.

     Lent is the observance of Jesus’ forty days and forty nights of fasting in the desert shortly before he was crucified.  Today, many Christians observe this time by giving up something they use or eat a lot that may serve as a distraction from God, or by taking on something new, like reading the Bible more, donating to a charity, or praying more every day, for the forty days leading up to Easter.  Technically, the forty days doesn’t include Sundays (because the time span from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday including Sundays is actually forty-six days), so many choose to break from their Lenten commitments on Sunday (I’ve personally always been too stubborn to do so).  The idea behind continuing to observe Lent today is that we recognize that if it is difficult for us to give up something like dessert, it must have been much more difficult for Jesus to withstand temptation in the desert.  When we crave the thing we gave up or struggle to continue doing the thing we took on, we can be reminded of Jesus and take the moment of temptation as a time to pray.

     This year, I’m giving up a few things that I see as large distractions from the progression of my relationship with Christ.  I am able to step back and recognize that these things are ultimately a waste of time and tend to consume me more than I’d like to admit.  The first thing I’m giving up is chocolate, which including this year I’ve given up three times.  I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic (seriously, I have chocolate at every meal at the very least), so giving up chocolate is not only a healthy break for me, but also the cravings are a reminder to pray.  Second, I’m giving up online shopping.  For me, online shopping is one of the first things I do when I’m bored and clearly this isn’t good for my bank account or my attempt to distance myself from materialistic thinking.  When I catch myself typing in the URL of a store for purposes other than linking things for the blog, I want to begin reaching for Scripture instead.  Lastly, I’m giving up Snapchat, another major pointless time consumer.  In the last several months I’ve been able to recognize Snapchat as pretty toxic for me; in that it creates wishy-washy relationships, gives me ample opportunities to view stories as breeding grounds for feelings of rejection, exclusion, and comparison, and wastes so. much. time.

     Even if you aren’t from a more traditional denomination to whom Lent is customary, I encourage you to give up something or take on a good deed during Lent.  I’ve found it to be a great reminder of Jesus in my daily life and I feel like it fosters a stronger sense of connection with God.  If you’d like to learn more about Jesus’ forty days and forty nights in the desert, I recommend reading Matthew 4:1-11 (here’s a link to the verses in ESV).

Thanks for reading!  If you’re giving up or taking something on for Lent leave a comment and let me know what it is!

Thanks for reading!

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Scripture Sunday Vol. 41

     Good morning and happy Sunday!  I feel like it’s been ages since my last “Scripture Sunday” post, and for that I’m so sorry.  Writing these posts is truly my favorite thing about this blog, I love having a platform to share the things God is teaching me.  Today I’m finally sharing a new installment in this Scripture study series and I’m excited for you to read it!  This verse has been so significant for me lately as I hold myself to a standard that I often fall short of.  Enjoy!

Today’s Verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9; For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

     Growing up in two households of families that go to church every Sunday, attending the 10:00am service each week feels like more than a routine, it’s part of who I am.  Even when we’re out of town, we often go to a relative’s church.  Missing a service, while this has never been explicitly said by anyone in my family, makes me feel as though I’m falling short in my faith.  Just last week I spent the night at a friend’s house with plans of going to church in the morning, but I overslept.  I beat myself up over missing church all day, even though I attended a Bible study that evening.  When I miss church, wake up late and don’t have time to read my Bible in the morning before school, or even skip weeks of writing these “Scripture Sunday” posts, I feel like a failure.

     The truth is, I’m falling short in more ways than just missing religious activities, we all are.  Whether it’s a white lie, falling into temptation in a high school relationship, or stealing something at the grocery store, sin invades our lives constantly.  We’re affected by sin every day, and if it’s not our own sin it’s the sin of someone around us.  We can easily see the brokenness in the world, from divorce to mass shootings.  So if we’re all constantly missing the mark, how are we ever supposed to be deserving of heaven?

     We aren’t.  The cool thing about Christianity is that our God isn’t tallying our good and bad actions to determine whether or not we’ve won the game of life and earned a spot in heaven, He’s wrapped up the gift and has His arm outstretched towards us.  All we have to do is accept it and begin to live a life affected by that choice, believing that it makes a difference.  Recently I’ve been loving Ephesians 2:8-9, which says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

     Grace was defined to me by a YoungLife leader at camp a few years ago as “something the giver knows we don’t deserve, but gives us anyways.”  This definition was followed by the example of baking someone a cake after they punch you.  The “cake,” or gift of eternal life, is given to us by God even though we “punch Him,” or lie and skip church and cheat every day.  All of our sinful acts are like a slap in the face, but His hand never flinches, still outstretched for us.  No one, not Mother Theresa or your saint of a childhood Sunday school teacher, really deserves what He gives us, but that’s kind of the point.

    How crazy is it to think of baking someone a cake after they hit you?  No, not one of those cakes with something sarcastic and vicious iced on top, but the best cake you’ve ever baked.  Imagining receiving that from God is such a vivid picture to me of how recklessly He loves us.  I’m so reassured knowing that there’s nothing in my life I’ve done or will do to earn His love and the eternal life He gives.  What’s important is that I’m trying.  What’s more important is that He still gives eternal love and life to the full regardless of how many times I mess up.  Remember this when you’re beating yourself up for a comment that came out ruder than you meant for it to or when you sleep through your church service.

Thanks for reading!  Have a blessed week!

Scripture Sunday Vol. 40

     I’m back.  I feel like I haven’t posted in decades (yes I know it’s just been ten days), but life lately has been crazy in all the best, and worst, ways.  I have a lot of exciting events and decisions taking place within the next few months and I can’t wait to be in a place that I can share that with you.  I’m planning on posting another “Fill In on Faith” soon so you can get a better idea of what’s been happening in my life lately!  Today I’m sharing a new “Scripture Sunday” which features a verse that has been really special to me lately.  Enjoy!

Today’s Verse:

1 Corinthians 13:12; For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

     I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of “it’s hard to see the big picture when you’re in the frame” at some point in your life.  Maybe this was while you were dwelling over a rough breakup or receiving a college rejection letter (irrelevant side note: isn’t it funny to think we’re never reminded of this when we’re experiencing a high point?).  It’s often hard to see how something difficult that isn’t part of my own plan is going to weave its way into my life story in such a way that could be anything near good. In my last “Scripture Sunday” I talked about Proverbs 3:5 and how we need to trust in God in times of doubt, but this week I want to remind you that we might just see a little bit of His plan right now.

     Something significant in my life happened the summer before my seventh-grade year.  This event led to my sister and I’s relocation to South Carolina with my father, and at the time it was really difficult.  In those first weeks in the city I now call home, I questioned the way God cared for me and my family.  I wondered what kind of loving God would allow terrible things to happen to a (divided) family full of people that loved Him.  Now, I look back at that move and see the way my life would be completely different without it, and not necessarily in the positive way my seventh-grade self would have thought.  Without that move, I wouldn’t have the best friends I love so dearly now.  I wouldn’t be so close to my father, step-mother, and half brother.  I wouldn’t have had access to YoungLife (my previous town was insanely small and I hadn’t even heard of YoungLife before moving here), and therefore wouldn’t have met my leaders that are some of the best friends and role models I could have asked for.  I would’ve never had the opportunity to serve on Work Crew, a month that taught me what it looks like to be a servant, gave me countless incredible memories, and introduced me to some of the most amazing friends I’ll ever know.  I wouldn’t know God the way I do now, I might not even believe in Him at all.

     I don’t know if everyone can pinpoint life changes like that, but I’m really grateful I can.  Seeing just this part of the way He’s worked in my life, 1 Corinthians 13:12 has become really important for me lately.  The verse says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  What I know in part now is just a dim image in a mirror, but when I meet God, who knows me fully, in heaven and look back on my life, I’ll understand everything He’s done in my life.  I completely believe that the “big pictures” each of us see from above one day are going to be masterpieces, so carefully crafted with immense thought in every brushstroke.

     Believe me, I know there are moments when it won’t make sense, but just hold on.  He’s doing crazy big things in your life that you can’t even begin to understand right now — but I hope someday soon you’ll get a glimpse in that dim mirror.  This week, remember that God is sovereign in our lives and that we should trust that the artist who paints each sunset and sunrise knows how to make our lives just as beautiful.

Thanks for reading!  Have a blessed week!

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Scripture Sunday Vol. 39

     Happy Sunday!  As you might have noticed, I haven’t been posting as much as usual over the past few weeks.  The stress of starting a new school year paired with college applications isn’t leaving much time for blogging, but I promise the end of college applications and submission of my first major assignment are in sight!  I’m excited to have more time for blogging within the next month or so.  Anyways, today I’m sharing my thirty-ninth volume of “Scripture Sunday.”  I’m talking a little about the comfort God’s giving me in this weird season of life.  Enjoy!

Today’s Verse:

Proverbs 3:5; Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

     Deciding where to go to college is a big decision.  I have a list of schools I’m applying to where I could definitely see myself being happy, but that list is accompanied with so much fear that I won’t get into my top choice, or that when I get to tour I won’t even like my top choice.  The concept of college is tricky because you want to pick a school where you’ll be happy, get a good education, and meet people you genuinely want to be friends with forever.  This season of my life where I’m not sure where I’m going or exactly what I’m doing isn’t my favorite, I like order and plans.

     I’ve been reading Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence devotional every day for almost two months now, and recently Proverbs 3:5 was one of the Scriptures included in the reading.  This verse says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”  Right now, I really have no choice.  I can submit all of my applications and lay awake at night anxiously wondering where I’ll get in, but that brings no hope.  Remembering the ways God revealed Himself to me while on Work Crew and realizing that God frequently does things in my life that I couldn’t have planned for or wanted but always somehow turn out better than what I had planned, that brings hope.  I’ve memorized this verse as a reminder for all the little times when it doesn’t look like He’s working in my favor, like when I get a bad grade on a test or I can’t go to an event I’d been hoping for, because He’s most definitely doing something bigger and better for me than what I thought I needed.

     Instead of anxiously anticipating a decision from what I imagine to be the best place for me, I’m handing it over to God.  One thing I know for certain is that I’ll get in wherever God wants me to go, and I know the things He has planned for me there will be far better than the earthly and materialistic things I imagine accompanying where I want to attend.  I definitely still struggle with doubt and my own desires for my college path, but I can always find comfort in Scripture that God’s plan is bigger than my dreams.

     This week, remember that you can’t see the big picture.  Remember that God knows what He’s doing and why, and maybe one day you’ll look back and realize you’re glad nothing was any different.  He has a purpose for every perfect moment and every flaw in our lives.  He has a plan for you.

Thanks for reading!  Have a blessed week!

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Scripture Sunday Vol. 38

     Happy Sunday!  I hope you’re having an awesome Labor Day Weekend.  I’ve spent my weekend working, booking college tours, and spending lots of time in the Bible!  Today I’m sharing a verse that I’ve been really loving lately in another volume of my ongoing “Scripture Sunday” series.  Enjoy!

Today’s Verse:

Psalm 119:50; This is my comfort in my affliction; that Your promise gives me life.

     You know that feeling that you’re all alone?  That no one sees your struggles or that they don’t understand the innocence of your intentions when things turn out badly?  I have no doubt that we all have days where we feel broken with heavy levels of disappointment, sadness, frustration, or just general darkness.  When thinking about the word “affliction,” my mind flies pretty quickly to the minor yet frequent afflictions of the midwinter days of my junior year.  In the midst of lacrosse season and a heavy course load, I felt like nothing in my life was where it should be.  I didn’t get much playing time in lacrosse games, my grades weren’t up to my expectations, and my social life wasn’t necessarily thriving either considering I rarely had weekend plans.  When I looked around at worldly things and searched for a place where I was really doing well and could find my identity, there wasn’t one.

     My biggest piece of advice to any teenage girl (or anyone for that matter) in this day and age is to stop seeking your identity here on earth.  If you find your value in the attention you get from guys or your class rank, you’ll hit the ground hard when you break up with your boyfriend or perform poorly on a test.  So, where are you supposed to find your worth?  The answer is in being His child.  As I mentioned in my previous “Scripture Sunday” and I’m sure in countless volumes before, Scripture constantly points to the fact that our identity and the source of our value in God’s eyes is simply that we belong to Him.

     I came across Psalm 119:50 while reading my devotional yesterday and it hit me hard.  The verse reads “This is my comfort in my affliction; that Your promise gives me life.”  In our darkest days, we can find comfort in the fact that His promise, which is honest and eternal, gives us real life.  You read that right; full life doesn’t come from your soccer stats or GPA, but from His promise of eternal life and unconditional love.  On days when I feel down or worthless, I turn to Scripture where I find constant reminders that I am who He says I am and that He gives me life.  I can’t think of any better remedy for emotional pain than a promise of everlasting love taller and wider than we could ever comprehend.

     This week, remember where your comfort should be coming from – not from temporary worldly things, but from His promise.  Remember that His love is the greatest you’ll ever know and that it’s more than worth holding onto!  He meets you where you are, even in your life’s valleys.  You don’t have to earn His love and that’s one of His greatest gifts to us.

Thanks for reading!  Have a blessed week!

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Scripture Sunday Vol. 37

     Good morning and happy Sunday!  I go back to school tomorrow for my senior year and I’m honestly really excited.  After spending a month on Work Crew at a YoungLife camp this summer (read the post on my experience here), I feel so inspired and I can’t wait to implement some of the things I learned about loving others in my community at home!  Today I’m sharing a little of this in another volume of “Scripture Sunday.”  Enjoy!

Today’s Verse:

1 John 3:1a; See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!

     In everyday life it’s so easy to hear all the negatives and nothing positive about yourself between your peers, the media, and your own thoughts.  You hear that you’re annoying, not thin enough, not pretty enough, and so on.  These criticisms weigh on us like backpacks full of stones.  We become convinced that our flaws define us and in that insecurity it’s easy for us to define others with their flaws as well, even if we don’t vocalize that.

     In my time on Work Crew with approximately forty other teenagers from across the country, I got to know some people that are really similar to my friends at home but also some who aren’t.  The people that I didn’t think I’d talk to much at all in the first few days ended up becoming some of the sweetest friendships I had at Saranac.  We hear “don’t judge a book by its cover” all the time, but maybe we should start judging by a cover; that cover being that the person is a child of God whether they look and act like you or seem perfect from the outside or not.

     The verse that we’re memorizing for Wyldlife leader training this week is 1 John 3:1a.  This verse says “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  In memorizing this piece of Scripture, I’ve started to think about how it means more than just “God loves me.”  The verse means that He has given us a really incredible, unconditional, eternal love that we couldn’t ever deserve, but the key word there is “us.”  This reminder of the love that God has for me should comfort me in the reminder that my identity is found in being His child, but it should also remind me that this goes for everyone.  Something big that I took home from Work Crew is what I like to call my “God lens,” or the intention of seeing others the way that God sees them.  Now, when I catch myself thinking something negative about someone else or see a distance between me and someone else just because speaking to them isn’t “comfortable,” I fill my mind with positive thoughts about the way God sees them and pray for the boldness to be kind and loving towards them.

     This week, remember what truly defines us.  We are children of God!  I am and you are, but that girl that’s rude to you and the boy that sits alone at lunch are too.  Treat those around you with even a fraction of that reckless love that God treats us with.  Remember that He loves us more than we’ll ever be able to comprehend, and we should let our hearts overflow into love for others.

Thanks for reading!  Have a blessed week!

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