whatever the circumstance

My name is Elizabeth Cluck. I’m nineteen years old. I am from Lebanon, Tennessee (well, technically Possum Town, I guess), and I have lived there most of my life. I have lived in the same house since 5th grade and went to a high school that was 2 miles from my house.  Although I have moved some, the rolling hills of Tennessee have been my home for my entire life. However, I now find myself in a completely new environment. An environment where mountains tower above the clouds (so much so that you can actually see them from the airplane before it starts to land), where the culture and language are new and exciting, and where every single thing I’ve ever known is a few thousand miles a way.

So how is Santiago, Chile different from Possum Town?

The short answer? In pretty much every way imaginable.

Even in the first weeks, I have felt a whole lot of emotions. I have felt the joy that comes from being on a grand adventure. I have felt frustrated by a language that is new and different. I have felt sadness from seeing the pictures and videos from my friends and family, knowing that a part of my heart still resides with them. In some ways, the past few weeks have been some of the most uncomfortable and restless days of my life.

However, in the midst of my many emotions that ebb and flow throughout the course of the day, I think God is teaching me to find peace in the chaos.

And maybe that’s why these verses hit me in a little different way than they ever had before.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.     -Philippians 4:11-12

Content? No matter what? It’s hard for that thought to even make sense in my mind. How could Paul, after every event in his life, still learn to be content no matter the circumstances and live a life filled with the peace that only God could give? If I need peace in order to find contentment, then where do I go to calm the chaos? I think the answer lies a few verses before.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thanksgiving. That’s the answer. When I actively choose to be thankful, I forget about the things that make me discontent. I learn to be content whatever the circumstances when I learn to be thankful whatever the circumstances.  Peace is the confidence that no matter what happens, God is control of my life. Whatever happens in life, I can trust that God’s response will be Good. And because of that, I can respond with thankfulness.

So today, my gratitude journal will begin. The active search to find God in my everyday life will become what I live for. Because no matter where we find ourselves, whether it be in the middle of South America, or at home with the people we love, God is good, He is present, and He is near. And that is something to be thankful for.

Advertisements

13,000 feet

It’s amazing the thoughts that pop into your head when you jump out of a plane.

The experience is unreal. I remember hearing the final snap of the locks that tied me to my instructor (I was really hoping those worked). The rush of air that swept through the tiny little airplane as the door flew open knocked the breath right out of me.

DCIM100GOPRO

I sat on the edge of the plane, my feet dangling outside towards the ground 13,000 feet below, and suddenly, there was no more plane. I was somersaulting through the sky, flying (or well, actually falling) faster than I ever had before. As I fell through cloud after cloud, tiny ice crystals pelted my skin, my goggles began to cloud up, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t taken a breath since I left the airplane. Suddenly, the clouds were gone, and the ground was a whole lot closer than I had imagined. As we hurtled towards the ground, I felt the parachute deploy. The longest and shortest 70 seconds of my life were over, and I was finally about to breathe.

I’m not exactly sure when it hit me, but I have the feeling of ‘free fall’ a whole lot in my life.

There are times in life when I feel like I am rushing through each day, stressed-out and tired, unable to see the blessings of each day because I’m so distracted by the worries that plague my thoughts and mind. Life seems to move fast, people seem to want more, and society’s standards seem to be more and more unattainable. With all of these voices and lies circling in my head, life seems to be in a constant state of free fall.

But even in the midst of it all, we are not alone.

I don’t think you could pay me a million dollars to jump out of an airplane by myself. But surrounded by friends and strapped to a trusted guide? The ride suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

Life can be the same way if we try to do it all on our own.  With all its twist and turns, living life can be the scariest thing we ever choose to do, but it’s an adventure if we choose to take it – an adventure that God invites us to be a part of every single day. This adventure isn’t something to be done alone, it’s something that is meant to be shared. Christ gives us His Spirit in the midst of all of the craziness in life to be our guide, and He gives us the Church, the messy, beautiful Church, to walk beside us during the good and the bad.

In the middle of the stress, the fear, and the unknown, we can rejoice in the freedom that is found in Christ!  Life can be a great adventure because God is good, He is present, and He is in control.

The free fall of life can be overwhelming, but we never have to do it alone.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

fear not

I have this really bad habit of overthinking pretty much every detail of my life. It usually starts with something pretty minor. A stray thought, memory, or event will enter my mind, and then all of a sudden, my mind is taken on the ride of a lifetime, through more twists and turns than I can really handle. This overthinking habit has some consequences. Sometimes, a good and beautiful gift in my life gets twisted in my mind. Other times, blessings that bring me joy leave me feeling alone and anxious. And sadly, I spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince myself that I am not enough. That I’m not enough for my family, my friends, or God. Honestly, I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of living in a constant state of anxiety, preparing for the worst instead of anticipating the best.

I’m sick of wasting unnecessary tears on issues that just aren’t worth it, allowing small things (and even things that I make up in my own mind) to steal my joy.

I’m sick of living with fear at the forefront of my mind, always afraid of the future and of things I simply cannot control.

My mind is a constant battleground: it’s the place where my failures, regrets, and deepest fears reside. And all too often, I let those thoughts capture my attention. They become the only things I can think about. I begin to become cynical, bitter, and afraid of everything.

But this is no way to live. This is not the adventure God has planned for my life.

This is not the way Christ calls me to live.

Christ does not speak of a life of anxiety, but Christ speaks of a life of peace.

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

Christ does not speak of a life that is perfect or free of troubles, but Christ does speak of a life filled with joy.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness. (John 10:10)

Christ does not speak of a life paralyzed and enslaved to fear, but Christ speaks of a Spirit that comforts us and fills us with the knowledge that the sovereign and good Lord is in control and will help us in our times of need.

But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:16-17)

so i’m done.

I’m done living a life filled with anxiety when Christ gives me peace.

I’m done living a life consumed in sorrow when Christ gives me joy.

I’m done living a life filled with fear when Jesus has overcome.

The world can be a scary place, but the war has already been won. We are not alone. We are  loved, and we are more than enough. you are enough, and that is something to celebrate.

 

So when this world stresses you out, fear not.

When people hurt you and are unkind, fear not.

When you don’t know the answers to the tough decisions ahead of you, fear not.

When the darkness seems to be winning, fear not.

 

you aren’t alone.  Jesus has overcome.

 

for I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says, ‘do not fear, I will help you‘” Isaiah 41.13

am i willing to trust?

 

From my journal: November 25, 2014

“‘….but how to learn to trust like that? Can trust be conjured up simply by sheer will or on command? I’ve got to get this thing, what it means to trust, to gut-believe in the good touch of God toward me, because it’s true: I can’t be filled with joy until I learn to trust.  The full life, one spilling with joy and peace, happens only as I come to trust the caress of the Lover, the Lover who never burdens His children with shame or self-condemnation, but keeps stroking the fears with gentle grace.” (An excerpt from Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts)’

Am I ready to trust?”

These five words would become something incredibly important for me in few months that followed. On November 25, I was praying for opportunities to practice trust. On November 26, I was given that opportunity.

November 26, 2014

My family and I were headed up to Sneedville, TN, a city nestled in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. The county where Sneedville was located was one of the poorest in the country, so my family and a host of other people from my high school were driving up to give people meals for Thanksgiving. As we headed up in our van, I scanned the horizon as we dove up the mountains to this little town in the middle of Appalachia. I knew my parents were a little stressed because my mom was waiting for a call from the doctor, but I figured that everything would turn out okay. About as soon as we pulled into Sneedville, my mom got the phone call that would change our family’s life forever.

My mom had cancer.

It’s hard to even come close to describing the feelings I had during that moment. I felt a lot of confusion, unsure why this was happening to my wonderful mother. I felt guilt, remembering all of the times I had argued with my mom over the past week while she had been awaiting this call. I felt scared, wondering what the future would hold for my family. But of all the emotions, the one that I wasn’t expecting to feel was the one I felt the most: anger.

I was angry at this broken world, a world that is so full of sickness and death that it still makes my heart hurt to think about. I was angry at the cancer, if that is even possible, for attacking my mom’s body, an issue that was totally out of my control. And honestly, I was angry at God. I did not understand why this was happening, how it could possibly be a part of the good plan I believed He had for my mom.

But oh, it was a part of His good plan.

The Sunday after I found out, I remember sitting in the middle of our worship service crying my eyes out. I was so overwhelmed with anger and sadness that I couldn’t really think of anything else. I was standing at the back of the room when my mom walked over  and put her arms around me. In the next few moments, my mom said some of the most important words that have ever been spoken to me. She leaned in, grabbed my face in her hands and said, “Elizabeth, don’t miss the gift of community that the Lord is about to provide our family.”

And wow, He did provide.

I remember sitting in the middle of the hospital waiting room, watching as friends and family walked in to sit with my family as we waited for my mom to wake up from surgery.

I remember the countless containers of food that people brought our family for weeks after my mom’s surgery. We had more casseroles and cookies than we knew what to do with for weeks.

I remember watching my dad be my mom’s hands and feet when she couldn’t. I watched him carry her, care for her, and not simply tell her of his love: he showed it.

As I sit and write this almost a year and a half later, I look back on that time and see a lot of brokenness. I see a lot of hurt and of pain. I see a lot of events that could have caused me to lose my ability to trust forever. However, I also see that God was very present during those times. His promise to provide community for those who seek it was incredibly evident in one of the darkest times of my life. During the brokenness, I found out something about trust: you can’t trust if you still believe you’re in control.

So no matter what this life brings, no matter what you might be facing in your life right now, I pray this fact comforts you. None of us are in control, and as soon as we give those feelings of brokenness and control over to the One who is truly in control, we can finally rest in the peace and joy that Jesus talked about. Peace and joy become the catalysts in our lives that cause true change, enabling us to live lives filled with courage and trust, even though we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

“Here is the world, beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” –  Frederick Buchner

 

the scandal of joyful living

The rural Nicaraguan countryside is where I saw the joy of the Lord more clearly than I’ve ever seen it before.

As my feet hit the dusty ground of the small village, I remember being overwhelmed by the poverty I saw. Adults and children were lined up along the rocky path that led to the small well in the center of the town. We arrived in the middle of May, which was right at the end of the dry season, and no rain had come. The people were waiting for the rain, but not one drop had fallen in months. Within a couple of hours of us arriving, someone informed our trip leader the well had dried up.

_________________________________________________________________

When we find ourselves in these places, how in the world are we supposed to live lives filled with joy? How do we find joy when we find ourselves in the valleys of life? How often do I find myself in a dry season of life, staring up at the sky, waiting for God’s mercies to rain down from the sky? I find myself saddened by the world, angry at society, and hurt by the ones I love the most.

How do we live lives of joy when joy becomes hard to find?

I’ve wrestled with this thought over and over again, trying to understand passages of scripture that tell us to consider is pure joy when we face trials. Sometimes, well actually most of the time, I don’t understand this. However, with every trial in my life, I think the lessons I have learned can be summed up into two things:

In trials, I learn who I am (and also, who I am not).

It’s in my nature to try and fix everything. I hate to see people hurting, and I especially hate if I feel like I’ve hurt someone. However, the funny thing about difficult times in life is that God often uses those times to teach us we can’t fix everything.  I cannot make every problem go away, but I don’t think that’s my job. If what I was created to do was to glorify God, then maybe that’s where I find my joy in the middle of the pain. The act of giving up control of my life to One who already is in control is a freeing and joyful thing, and God invites us to do it every single day on our walk with Him.

In trials, true joy comes from finding the presence of the Lord.

There are forces in this world that want us to feel alone. They want us to feel like people would not love us if they knew our struggles, if they knew our secrets or our fears. But this is the presence of the Lord tells us something completely different.

When we stand in His presence, we see our failures and our shortcomings, but we also see His goodness, His grace, and His overwhelming love. We aren’t slaves to shame, guilt, or fear. We know, without a doubt, we are His. He does not call us by our sins, He calls us redeemed. He does not call us ‘damaged’ or ‘not good enough,’ He calls us ‘son’ and ‘daughter.’ In His presence, there is joy in knowing He works through the broken pieces of my life. God invites us to live in His presence because in His presence, we find joy. 

_________________________________________________________________

As soon as we got the news the well had dried up, we immediately began to work. Different people from our team began digging holes to pipe water down to the new well. Other people took huge tin sheets to different houses to prepare the roofs for the rain. We didn’t know when the rain would come, but we chose to believe it would. After two days of working and still not a drop of rain, we woke up on the last day of our time in the small village ready to finish the job. The people on our team worked tirelessly to fix roofs on the houses even though they weren’t sure when the rain would come again. They finished the last roof and headed back to the church building. Within the next couple of hours after completing all the roofs, dark clouds moved in, thunder started to rumble, and I witnessed one of the largest rainstorms I’ve ever seen. The rain began to pour, and in that moment, I saw the joy of the Lord in the eyes of everyone who watched the storm with me.

In the midst of the drought, the valley, and the unknown, God always will rain down his mercies. If that isn’t something to be joyful about, I don’t know what is.

“In His Presence is the fullness of Joy.”  -A.W. Tozier