The Five Year Plan

A friend and I were recently talking about the problem with the question, “What’s your five year plan?”

See, it sounds like a decent question to ask someone in an interview, but here’s where the question falls short:

What was your plan five years ago?

If you tell me that you’re actually living it, I’ll be surprised and more than a little impressed. Because I, too, thought I had a grasp on what I’d be doing with my life today. But if you had told me five years ago that I would have stopped working at Advancing Native Missions for any reason other than marriage, I would have laughed in your face.

Five year plans aren’t bad in and of themselves. It’s good to have goals. It’s good to have an idea of where you’re going in life.

But when you’re so caught up in those plans you made five years ago that you can’t see how God is reshaping your dream, your plan becomes a problem. Your goal becomes your god.

And that’s where I was a little over a year ago—living the only dream I had ever dreamed. It was all I ever wanted from the time I was eight years old and read a story about Amy Carmichael and her beautiful brown eyes that saved the lives of countless children. I know, I was a rather ambitious eight year old. But those ambitions remained for the next ten years until I could finally touch them. I was there. Doing everything I ever dreamed I would be doing.

And then one day I realized I wasn’t dreaming anymore. Maybe in my heart of hearts I still wanted to be an Amy Carmichael, but somewhere along the line, my idea of ministry had changed.

When you dream one dream for twelve years, it can be absolutely terrifying to let it go.

I wrestled for months with the knowing in my heart. The knowing that it was time to let go and move on. But I was afraid. I was ever so afraid of dreaming a new dream. I was absolutely terrified of giving up the familiar.

This was uncharted territory I was exploring. This was never in the plan. Well, it was in The Plan, just not my plan.

And in the past year I’ve learned that it’s okay to throw my plans out the window. It’s okay to admit that I may have been wrong about the timing. And that maybe my dream wasn’t supposed to last five years after all.

Because I’m not the girl I was five years ago. Nor am I the girl I once imagined I would be.

But I’m finally coming to terms with that. I’m finally deciding that maybe this is where I was meant to be all along. And maybe life has grander adventures in store than the ones I conjured up with my limited imagination.

Today if you ask me my five year plan, I’ll tell you to ask The Man Upstairs. Because I’m done making plans for Him to interrupt. I think maybe it’s best if I just let Him lead me step by step.

Define “Beauty”

Human beings have a really bad habit of comparing ourselves to others. We also have a horrible habit of declaring some people more beautiful than others. As if we have a right to declare one of God’s masterpieces more perfect than the next. And maybe it has everything to do with the fact that I have an extremely vulnerable post going up on the Devotional Diva website tomorrow, but I want to take a moment and talk about beauty.

If you’re like most women, you probably don’t believe that you’re beautiful. You don’t believe you’re valuable. And I’m willing to bet that you have features you hate.

Because someone once told you what beautiful was, and you never quite fit the mold.

Two months ago, I stumbled across a post on Good Women Project that recommended I write my body a love letter. It was more of an apology. For all the years I took it for granted. For all the times I convinced myself not to care about my appearance. For all the years I resented my body because I knew what the genetics said I could have been. But after twenty-one years, I finally penned the words:

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Because we all have our idea of what beautiful is, and you were never mine.”

And I told myself I’m beautiful. I praised the features I love rather than critiqued the ones I hate. It was a healing experience. A powerful experience. An experience I would recommend  to every woman on the planet.

Write your body a love letter. Because you’re beautiful like that.

Because for years and years, you’ve fed yourself lies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and you deserve a little truth in your diet.

You deserve the kind of truth that Hannah Brencher weaves into her blog post about bullying our bodies.
You deserve the kind of love letter that compares you to a breathtaking sunset.
You deserve to know that God made you beautiful.
And you deserve to hear it from yourself.

So write your body a love letter. Be honest. Be kind. And be sure to tell yourself you’re beautiful.

Because you are.

#10 – Wear it on Your Heart

You’ve written my name on the palm of Your hand, but until You revealed it to me, I had no idea it so closely resembled a nail-shaped scar.

I have a slight obsession with names. Seriously. While I love the names Silas and Gideon, I refuse to use both of them because the first means “forest dweller” and the second, “tree cutter.” That’s just asking for World War III to break out in your home.

Names are important. Your name is what defines you. That’s why I’m glad my mom was kind enough to name me “devoted and cherished.” And maybe that’s also why I was so touched when I read this article about Indian girls changing their names.

Here are a group of young women who have known from birth that they were “unwanted.” But on this one glorious day, they decided to make that change. They decided to transform the way they saw themselves and force others to see them in this new light. I wish I could have been there to watch these 285 girls receive the certificates that would restore them with a sense of worth. I wish I could have been there to see their smiles, to cry their happy tears.

But here I am, half a world away, talking to you. And I’m sure you have labels – names – that define you. And I’m sure there are words bouncing around in your mind. Words like: worthless, stupid, failure, unlovable… and God only knows what else. But you know what? You don’t have to go by those names anymore. You don’t have to see yourself as alone and unwanted. You don’t have to believe that your life has no value.

You are:

a child of God. (John 1:12)

chosen by God. (Ephesians 1:4)

valuable. (Matthew 10:31)

beautiful. (Psalm 45:11)

delivered. (Psalm 34:4)

endlessly loved. (Isaiah 54:10)

God knows your name, and He loved it enough to inscribe it on the palm of His hand. (Isaiah 49:16) He wears your name like a tattoo. I’m not really into tattoos, but I love the thought that I’m a permanent part of the Almighty God.

When the world screams that you’re unloved, unwanted, and undesired, God throws a renaming party and totally redefines you. Wear your new name on your heart as God wears it on His hand, and know that you are so much more than the words that define you.

#9 – Mere Existence

How’s this for a New Year’s Resolution?

There’s a big difference, you know, between living and existing. I think that if you were to ask anyone, they would tell you that they want to live. But how easily we fall into that horrible thing called “existence.” How often we simply trudge through the mundane. And how sad it is that we need a reminder to live and not merely exist.

Today I present you with the wake-up call I need on a daily basis. Here’s your reminder to step outside your mere existence and truly start living.

#8 – Letting Hope Out of the Box

I’ve found that the reoccurring theme in my life recently has been about taking risks, trusting the unseen and embracing the unfamiliar. In pondering all these things, I’m brought back to the lesson of Pandora’s Box.

Now, for those of you who haven’t brushed up on your Greek mythology in the past few years, Pandora is the woman who is accredited for releasing evil into the world. See, Pandora was the guardian of a box. A box that was never to be opened. Of course, in this mythological twist on the story of Adam and Eve, Pandora’s curiosity got the best of her and the box didn’t stay closed. The moment it was opened, a myriad of evil creatures rushed out into the world. Pandora struggled to shut the lid and revoke her bad decision, but it was too late. Pandora had been burned. And what’s a girl to do when she’s just released a whole horde of evil into the world?

Then came a tiny voice, begging to be set free. But Pandora was afraid. She had caused so much harm already. What if this made it worse? But for some reason, Pandora decided to take the risk. She decided to trust this thing that she couldn’t see. Tenaciously, she opened the box… and hope floated out on butterfly wings.

Now, I don’t believe for a moment that this is truly how darkness entered the world, but pretend for a moment that it was. What would have happened if Pandora had allowed her original mistake to keep her from trusting the small voice? What if she had been too afraid to risk again? To trust again? What if Pandora had left hope in the box? What kind of world would we live in today?

It’s so easy to become embittered by life. When bad things happen, we harden our hearts. When people hurt us, we close ourselves off. We’re afraid to risk again. To trust again. And so we leave hope in the box.

Today I encourage you to learn from Pandora. Set aside your disappointments, disenchantments and past mistakes. Take the risk, trust the unseen and let hope out of the box.

#7 – Aware

Lord,

I regret many things,

but I do not regret this moment with you.

For it will have been a lifetime well-spent

to have lived this single moment

aware of your presence.

Steven James

Lord,

I waste so many moments caught up in the mundane.

So many hours focused on the trivial.

How much time I spend aware – truly aware – of Your presence

seems so small in the scope of my life.

So I revel in this moment that I too often ignore.

Help me become more aware of Your presence today.

#6 – Life Like a River

I waded down the river of an Indian jungle. Took another unsure step. The rock beneath my foot shifted, causing me to stumble. A hand reached out to steady me. I smiled at Sunil – my friend and my guide. We walked hand-in-hand down the river. Occasionally, he would guide me to the other side, telling me it was safer to walk there. I trusted him. After all, he knew this river better than I did. All the way down and all the way back up, I didn’t fall once. Yes, there were a few times that I stumbled – even a time that I lost my shoe – but Sunil’s firm grip on my hand kept me upright.

When Sunil asked me to think about why God brought me to India and what purpose it would play in my life now, my mind drifted back to the river. That river, much like my life, is unpredictable. I never know if my next step is going to be steady, or if the rocks of life are going to slip out from underneath my feet. But life, much like that river, is so much easier to manage when you don’t have to walk it alone.

I think we lose so much of life’s adventure in the planning. I’m one of those people who loves to know what’s going to happen ahead of time. Taking a step into the unknown can be unnerving. When the water is deeper than we anticipated, it can be downright scary. But sort of like my Indian guide was there for me, God is there to hold our hand, to keep us from falling, and to guide us to safety.

I used to think I had my life all figured out, but I’ve come to a place where I have no idea what God is doing with my life right now. I can barely see the next step, let alone what’s going to happen a few weeks into the future. But for the first time in my life, I feel like it’s okay to not know. For now, I’ll just keep holding onto Jesus as I take an unsteady step into the river that is my life.

#5 – Remembering the Story

It’s simple, really, to dig back into the past and remember what God has done for me. How He stepped down from the heavens and made Himself incredibly, breathtakingly real in my eyes. I should do this more often, for it never fails to fill me with wonder.

I don’t have a dark, ugly past that haunts me. I was born and raised in a Christian home by parents who have done a marvelous job in teaching me what unconditional love is, and more importantly, Who unconditional love is. But while I knew all sorts of things about Jesus, I never really knew Him. I knew the Sunday School answers like I knew the answers on my history tests. Although I had given my heart to Jesus when I was a small child, I didn’t fully grasp the idea of what a relationship with Him should look like.

Then, in God’s providence, I opened a book and read the words: “In a busy, noisy world, a little girl walks onto a dark stage and begins to perform.” As her story unfolded before my eyes, I found that it was my own. And when God showed up and invited that little girl to dance with Him, I found myself accepting the invitation.

In that moment, God became so real and alive and vibrant to me. Since that day, I’ve found myself captivated by the thrill of God’s Divine Dance. There’s such a joyous freedom in knowing that I don’t have to perform or pretend any longer. God accepts me just as I am. He loves me in spite of my flaws.

God has given me a story that is completely my own, but so closely resembles what He wants to do for every other person on the planet. If your story hasn’t yet been written, check out the invitation God offers you today. And if you know exactly what story I’m talking about, I invite you to once again lose yourself in the wonder of what God has done for you.

#4 – Back to the Basics

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I scoff at the basic truths of Christianity. Not that I don’t believe them, but it can seem that I’ve heard them a hundred million bazillion times. Sometimes when I hear the words, “Jesus loves you,” I just want to shout, “Okay, I get it already! Do you really have to remind me again and again?”

As a matter of fact, yes, I do need to be reminded. Because, while I know the truth in my head, sometimes I forget to let it sink into my heart. Sometimes I don’t really believe it. Sometimes I don’t let it reach into the depths of my soul and transform me from the inside out. Sometimes I move to the rhythm of faith completely out of habit rather than passion.

But think about it. Those three seemingly simple words carry a lot of weight. Jesus loves me. Me. The God who created the universe, set the stars in the sky, and keeps the world in motion truly cares about the tiniest details of my life. That’s huge. No other religion in the world boasts a God who loves His creation. No followers of other faiths can revel in that fact. And sadly, most Christians (myself included) don’t really revel in it either. We accept it as a basic truth, a simple rule. It’s as routine as “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’.” We don’t even consciously think about it anymore; we just write.

But the Bible isn’t meant to be a rulebook; it’s God’s love letter to His children. The words “Jesus loves you” aren’t merely lyrics to that first song you learned in Sunday school; they are a reality with the potential to turn your world upside down. It’s time to go back to the basics of Christianity and allow the marvelous truth of God’s love to break through our religious routine.

#3 – Confident Humility

“Those who are sure of themselves are humble.”

The words that my missionary friend shared with me seemed almost contradictory, and yet that statement was the most accurate explanation I’d ever heard of humility. Those who are sure of themselves are humble.

When we think of one who is sure of himself, we automatically think cocky, but a cocky person isn’t truly confident in his abilities. If he was, he wouldn’t find the need to perform.

Those who are sure of themselves are humble because they’ve no need to one-up another person. They find no purpose in exalting themselves over others. Insecurity is what rears its ugly head at the sign of competition, but those who are sure of themselves are humble.

I think most people have a skewed vision of humility. We’ve somehow gotten the idea that being humble is doubting our abilities, but it’s really quite the opposite. True humility is expressed when we are confident and secure in the way God has gifted us, knowing that we have no need to impress anyone.

Check out the following passage from John 13:

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (vs. 3-5)

As my friend pointed out to me the other night, Jesus knew that He had all the power in the universe. This passage doesn’t say, “Even though Jesus knew, He did this.” It doesn’t even say “Jesus knew, but He still chose to wash the feet of His disciples.” No. It says, “Jesus knew…so.” He washed their feet because He knew that all power was His under God. So you see, those who are sure of themselves are humble.

God wants you to embrace the talents He has given to you. He wants you to be confident of your ability in Him. And He wants you to walk in the humility that only comes when you are secure in the person He created you to be.