Why I Continually Choose Gratefulness

Today’s blog post was inspired by a sermon my uncle gave this past Sunday. Remember, our thoughts shape our lives.  

Proverbs 4:23 Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.”

 

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After graduating from college, nearly three years ago, I found myself in a pattern that was really unusual for me. I would complain a lot. Nothing in life seemed to go as I would have liked. Ugh, why do my days start so early? Why don’t I get paid enough? There was always something wrong, even in the most ideal of circumstances. I started to complain more and more until my mom spoke to me. Do you realize how much you’ve been complaining? I was unaware. Do you realize how complaining hurt the Israelites? That too, I was unaware of.

Growing up in a Christian home, the story of Moses and the Israelites was one of the first stories I ever learned. Moses, an Israelite man, was chosen by God to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt into a promise land. Great idea, right? Except almost all of the original people who left Egypt never did actually make it to that promise land. On their journey from Egypt, after being given victory over Pharoh, the Israelites began to complain. Though they hated their lives in Egypt they began to say that their life was better before they left. They complained of the food God gave them and never trusted that God would provide enough for each day.

In my own personal life, like the Israelites, the complaining didn’t stop. It didn’t stop after my mom chastised me. But, luckily, despite my incessant complaints at the time, I consider myself a positive person. At my very core I hope and dream big dreams. I realize that the moments I choose gratefulness over criticism fill my life with such incredible joy as I look to everything God has given me, rather than what he has not.

I realize that gratefulness gives me hope and joy, while discontentment leads to sadness and pain in my own life.

We see what we expect to see.

 

 

There are some a couple reasons why gratefulness really works, why even research supports the idea that it works. Have you heard of the law of attraction? It sounds like a bunch of hippy love stories until you see it work in your own life. We attract the energy that we send out.

How many times do you see a Prius out on the road? Now that I’ve mentioned this, you’re likely to see them all over. When we focus on something, whether good or bad, we see it more and more.

We can practice contentment in living within God’s provisions for us 

 

 

I remember reading a book on personal finance and God entitled Free. The ideas were revolutionary to me. In a world that praises sacrificing everything in an effort to make more money, the book offers a countercultural idea. Buy that smaller more expensive house closer to work if that means you have more time with your family. Spend less so that you can work less and use your time differently as as you would like. And the biggest of all takeaways for me was the idea of living within the provision God has given me. For me that meant to stop trying to buy clothes and brands that I couldn’t afford and would leave my budget extremely tight. I could feel myself breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t need to buy that $500 wallet if that $50 one looks just as cute. Granted, you can choose the $500 one if you would like, but I realize that there was incredible freedom in living well within our own means. Keep in mind, for a person making millions of dollars, a $500 purse isn’t that expensive. I, on the other hand, don’t make that kind of money. 

So many times we can question the things God has given us. Why were we born into certain families or why are we from a certain country? Why were we inclined to work in a certain field and not another? Our bank accounts and salaries may change, but that doesn’t mean that our joy and contentment in whatever it is God has given us should change as well.  

Gratitude changes the way you think and even feel

 

 

We constantly build habits in our lives, both good and bad. Whichever habits were are used to become easier to repeat again and again. When we train our brains to think positively and to think gratefully we can in turn change how we feel.

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As a Special Education teacher I’ve learned a lot about de-escalating potentially volatile situations. We learn to nip problems in the bud. Cognitive behaviour therapy also follows a similar idea. Our thoughts can lead us to feel unnecessarily anxious or even depressed. In the midst of a spiral of negative thoughts, it’s hard to stop. But instead of allowing thoughts to escalate so fast, we can try to stop negative thinking right when we start to feel it beginning.

One of my favorite ways to practice gratitude is by using the ideas behind The Five Minute Journal. I try to stop and thank God for different things in my life, even things that may seem stupid. I affirm myself and think of what I long to accomplish for the day.

Thank you, whoever you are, for taking the time to read this blog post.

Thank you Lord for giving me fingers to type and a mind to think.

Praise God for another beautiful day.

Have you intentionally tried to practice gratitude in your day to day life?

 

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Should I go on Missions? (My Story-Urbana 2015)

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Urbana 2015 challenged participants to answer the question -what story wIll you tell? This is my story.

During one of the plenary sessions, David Platt illustrated the problem I was facing in my life without realizing it “There are students who are trying to manufacture a heart for missions but do not have a heart for Jesus”.

I was a student leader within my InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter and had served on the Leadership team for 2 years, at one point I got so caught up in the logistics, goals, deadlines and expectations artificially placed in front of me that that I forgot the one thing that mattered- did I love God? Not, did I fear God, did I acknowledge him, did I do my quiet time with him, did I serve him, but instead- did I love him?

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In the prayer room I prayed with a woman about my confusion and fear and she reminded me that confusion and fear are not from God, but from the enemy. I had received so many prophecies about doing missions work that I felt confused about how my current path of teaching intersected with missions- or if it did at all. .

The woman leading me in prayer asked me- “What do you hear God saying?”. I realized that my confusion stopped me from listening. In tears, I felt the condemnation of forgetting my first love but it was only in the prayer room that I felt God say my work had not been in vain- that he loved and forgave me. I was ready for my punishment but was met instead by my father God’s forgiveness.

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At the end of Urbana I signed up for short, mid and long-term missions. I’m not sure what that will look like in the near future but I know God is using my journey as a Special Education teacher to glorify him. At Urbana I was shocked to see the need for Special Education teachers overseas, I never imagined how perfectly God could use my gifts for his glory. I now realize God is going to use me, but before any of that begins I need to remember that everything is meaningless without my love for him.

Too often I expect to see my big story now. But I forget that we are all on a journey. Joseph saw a vision of his brothers bowing down and worshipping him as a king but his call from God didn’t come to fruition for years later and the years of toil and hardship were all in preparation for a greater calling. This was something  I learned after listening to a sermon from Pastor Felix Chivandire back when I first made the decision to be a teacher.

What I learned at Urbana doesn’t stop here, my work means nothing if it all ends here. This isn’t a mountain top experience- Urbana was my launching pad. As my friends, my readers, my family- hold me accountable. More than my plan for missions, I never want to forget my love for God.

Julie

 

Her name is Julie, or that’s what she tells people anyway.  Julie is her American name.  Her real name is Yinjuan.  That’s her Chinese name.  I asked her if I could share her story because I thought it was incredible.  She told me she didn’t think it was interesting but to feel free to write about her.

“There is no such thing as genius; it is nothing by labor and diligence.”

The above quote is what fuels her drive.  That small sentence.  That.  It’s funny how powerful words can be.  How the smallest sentences can mean more than words resting on sentences sitting on paragraphs squeezing through the margins of your page.  The smallest sentences are sometimes the most powerful.  And the smallest words hold the most meaning.  It’s kind of like how you can tell someone over and over again that they’re beautiful.  But if just once you call them ugly- that’s all they’ll remember.  Words are eternally powerful.

English is Julie’s second language, her first being Chinese.  She has been struggling with learning English and communicating for the past 10 years.  She came from China leaving everything and everyone she ever knew back in high school.  She didn’t know America would be the way it is.  Apparently they didn’t really tell her how it would really be like.  She stepped into this country, not knowing a word of the language.

I’m a communications tutor and I was helping her with her personal speech.  She had everything written out and wanted to see if her structure and format was correct.  If her tone, rate and voice sounded good to me.  But as I listened to her give her speech, I could feel my eyes filling.  I was so happy but my eyes were filled because this girl had such a drive to succeed, even when circumstances seemed unlikely.

We take it for granted every single day but the ability to communicate is one of the most important things we can do as a human being.  And when that ability is taken away from us the results are debilitating.  Imagine being tossed into a completely new place without even being able to communicate the simplest of thoughts or desires.  That’s what Julie has to struggle with, but she knows that hard work pays off.

After our session was over, I asked Julie if she wanted to fill out a raffle for my club, InterVarsity Christian fellowship.  She then told me that she was Christian, in fact she converted a year ago, in America.  Someone took her to church and she became a Christian.  Someone did that for her in her life.  Someone was willing enough to do that.

She filled out the raffle and checked off every box requesting information for everything.  She told me she was busy with work but would try.

Julie understood how valuable her life was.  She realized how valuable it was and for this reason she wanted to keep fighting.  Please realize how incredibly valuable you are.  How precious and important you.  If not to anyone on this earth- to God.  And when God loves you, the opinion and faltering opinions of others are irrelevant.

I believe Julie will succeed in her quest to really know English.  I believe it because she believe it too.

 

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through him who strengthens me

 

the Big Event: Sophomore year

For those of you who have never heard of “Big Event” its basically a yearly InterVarsity retreat in which college students have the opportunity to register for different tracks to learn about God with people from different colleges in small groups.  Small groups are normally…small groups of people, I know who would have thought that’s what it meant?  Please bear with me as I write this post, I realize that for those of you who have never heard of Big Event everything I’m saying will sound really odd to you.

Well this was my second year in InterVarsity and because I got involved from the get go, it was my second time at Big Event.  The previous year I had the opportunity to go to both Big Event and Basielia (InterVarsity’s second retreat which is longer and holds less schools).  Before going I remember everyone telling me I would love it so much that I would have so much fun and that it would change everything.  In all honesty leaving both Big Event and Basielia my freshman year I definitely did change a lot but those retreats felt bland for me.  I was watching everyone else doing all these amazing things and even though I did benefit, I wasn’t enjoying things on the same level as other people.  In fact there were times during Baseila that I just felt sad and confused because I wasn’t sure why I was feeling the way I felt.  I never shared this with anyone in my chapter because I didn’t want to be the person to bring other people down.  So I plastered a smile on my face and focused on everything that was actually good that was going in during the retreat.

My mentality was so off for those two retreats.  I literally walked into Big Event knowing everything everyone had said about it in the past and felt entitled to an amazing experience because I payed money.  I wasn’t excited and I expected other people to make me excited.  It was because I knew something was wrong that I refused to approach Big Event this year the same way I approached Big Event all other times in the past.

Before registering for Big Event I was asked along with some other people in my chapter to register for the leadership track.  That was something I really didn’t want to do, I wish I could explain just how much I didn’t want to do it.  In fact I guess I can explain it to you right now.  Registering for that track scared me and intimidated me because I didn’t feel as though I was good enough for it.  So I told my exec team I would register for it and purposely waited until the track was closed to beg my mom for permission to register for Big Event.  I had technically asked her back when leadership was open but because I didn’t want to go for that track I asked in a way that I knew she wouldn’t be happy or say yes.  It was only when I really needed to register that she said yes.  And by then I looked at the mess I made for myself and was actually kind of sad but at the same time incredibly happy.  Happy because I made a promise in my mind that I would get the most out of my track this year.  The track I registered for was Transformation or Foundations and mistakenly registering for it may have been the best decision I ever made for so many reasons.

Growing up in church I felt as though I knew God because I gave him my 3 hours once a week.  I had my idea in my head of what God was to me and I was satisfied putting him into a box.  For so long I felt as though I was trying to build a roof to this house while my foundations were crumbling beneath me.  I needed to be sure that I knew exactly who the God I was serving actually was.   Being honest with you again, I had it all so wrong.

During my retreat I realized that I wasn’t the only person who felt the same way about retreats in the past.  I wasn’t the only person who felt like I was really missing something important.  But somehow it took me going to Baseilia and feeling so sad to know that I couldn’t keep going on my walk with God the same way I had always done so.  I really needed to change the way I approached God in my life and I needed to learn to put him first.  I realized that if I had opened up earlier I would have saved so much heartache and even sympathized and grown with someone else who was going through what I was going through.  We eventually did get to sympathize with one another but only at this year’s Big Event!  Funny how things work out right?

I was also struggling with vulnerability.  Most of the time I feel like people are afraid to open up and that this is why they cannot grow.  My problem was that I felt as though I was being too vulnerable with too many people.  I grew up in a house where my mom would sit down with me everyday and ask me to open up to her about my feelings, that was the way I was raised to act.  And I felt like there was something wrong with me because it seemed like no one else felt the same way about opening up as me.  What I realized for myself this was past weekend was that I needed to be vulnerable.  I really needed to be open and honest about my feelings with the people in my life.  Because I’d rather have a bunch of people know this mangled, messed up and growing mess of a person that I am that is not perfect than to have a bunch of people know me on such a superficial level that they don’t actually know who I am.  But that’s just me.  Maybe I’ll change my mind about this 10 years from now but if I ever did I would need to stop blogging.  I would need to stop blogging because my soul is kind of sprawled out on all of these posts that literally anyone could pick up and read.  I’m okay with that though.  Because I know I am not the only person who feels the way that I feel.

Big Event this year was amazing.  It was absolutely amazing and so much more than I thought it would be.  But it also wasn’t easy.  I left Big Event feeling great but also knowing that the real work starts now with my relationship with God and even my relationships with people. I realized somehow that I didn’t understand what it meant to love people the way God loves us, or even how to love God the way he loves me.  I know that I am so flawed and I know that I have so much to learn but now I am ready to learn more about God than ever before.

 

Practicing what you preach

I’m a prayer group leader at my InterVarsity chapter and just now I have been handed a figurative smack in the face.  I had a really dull moment and realized that I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching.  Not just that, I wasn’t even close to where I was saying others should be in their walks with christ.  And I felt like such a hypocrite.  I think that when I took up this position I imagined I would have to be perfect, infallible, and be at this peak with my walk with God.  But I started writing this post right before my prayer group this past thursday.  I ended up sharing how I was feeling and realized I didn’t have to be perfect.  I was met by so much support from people who said they have all been where I felt like I was at the moment.

Earlier this week as a team (small group team) we looked at the passage in which Jesus calms the storm.  What I found so ironic was the fact that here I was stressing and worrying about my own problems and forgetting what I had just learned.  One of my team members pointed it out to another member but someone it just hit me so hard.  How could I miss out on such an amazing message?

In this passage the disciples almost accuse Jesus crying out “Teacher don’t you care if we drown” when they are met by this massive storm that almost overfills the boat.  The funny thing is Jesus was sleeping on a CUSHION right before.  And before they could say anything else Jesus pulls a Chuck Norris move and calms the sea just by speaking.

How many times have we felt like that before in our life?  Like the waters are overwhelming and we can’t stay afloat any longer?  But the thing is God was always in control from the start.  He has always been in control, will be in control and is in control right now.  We never have to worry.  For the opposite of love is not hate but fear because perfect love casts out al fear.  We create this divide between us and God when we allow ourselves to be afraid like this.  We are created to do so much more and be so much more in our lives.

I wrote this post feeling like a hypocrite but I realize now that I am just growing.  I am not at a “peak” with my relationship with God, you cannot reach a peak and you can always know more and grow closer.  I want to draw closer now and remember everything I learn.  Because Jesus calms the storm and he can calm your storm too.  Just give him full control.

Day 30: a picture of yourself this day and 5 good things that happened since you started the challenge

I literally just took this picture in the middle of the tutoring center at my college.  I tried to act like a ninja when I was taking it- did it work?  I find it so crazy that 30 days have already gone by, I feel like I started this challenge yesterday and now I’m done.  I think it feels a little bitter sweet to be typing up my last post.  On one hand I’m happy that I don’t have to blog everyday, but on the other hand, I don’t have to blog everyday!  And I feel like being forced to blog helped me in a million different ways.  Now unto 5 good things that happened to me since I started this 30 day challenge.

1.  InterVarsity used one of my blog posts.

I wrote about InterVarsity and strangely enough, InterVarsity found my blog and not only asked to use it, but have me write for them this summer.  I’ve only written one other post for them so far but I find this such an incredibly humbling experience.  And I’m so grateful to be used by God in this capacity.  I never considered myself a writer, but I did believe I had something interesting to say.  And the amazing thing about God is that he calls you just to be called, he’ll qualify you and do the rest.

2. I turned nineteen

I know that sounds stupid, but not a lot of people can say they lived to be nineteen years old.  So many people die young or tragically and I was blessed to live yet another year of my life.  I’m thankful for that.

3.  I had the most productive summer of my life

I’m not even halfway through but regardless of whether of not I pass this seemingly impossible math class, I’ve learned and done so much this summer.  Most times during the summer I bum around each day and do nothing but right now I can’t remember a time I’ve worked harder really.  And the the thing is I don’t even do that much, which speaks to my work ethic.  Or lack there of.  But I’m learning that it’s okay to take breaks sometimes.  As well as the fact that one cannot be working all day long.  I think its ingrained in our brains that something is wrong if we’re not always working.  That we’re procrastinating and wasting our precious lives away!  But most people procrastinate.  Maybe we should stop spending so much time complaining about doing nothing and just work hard whenever we do work.

4. I stopped caring a little more.

Again this sounds so counter intuitive, but not caring about the small stuff really changed my outlook on life.  I stopped letting myself engage in petty drama that’s around me.  I stopped caring about whether or not I was coming off a certain way.  And in turn I started caring about just being a good person and relying less on these superficial things like the name of the brands that I wear.  Learning to let go and not care is revealing and ultimately releasing.

5.  I’m going on a mission trip to Guyana.

I think normally I would have been too afraid of being unqualified to go.  But I’m going because I feel like God has called me to do this!  I plan on blogging about experiences when I get the chance, so check back if you want to hear from me.

Day 14: A picture of you last year – how have you changed?

This picture was taken of me on June 17th, almost exactly one year ago.  (Give or take a week?)  How do I know this?  This was the day I went for my college orientation.  I apologize if this picture is distorted, it’s much more flattering on a smaller scale!  This is actually one of the only ID pictures I really like of myself which I find funny because I remember how horrible I felt that day.

I was not ready for commuting to my college.  I ended up staying at the dorms my first year but now this is something that I will have to deal with!  I left my house at 5AM to reach school disastrously early at 7-ish.  I got off at the six train with a set of cute instructions from a friend of mine who graduated from my college a little while ago.  But being that the six train is so close to school my instructions ended there- I mean how could I get lost a block a way?

I got lost.  And I was petrified.  My college is in the city and I literally have little to no sense of direction.  I can go the same route everyday for a year and still need a GPS or navigation.

I eventually made it to school really sweaty and really exhausted.  It was then that I was told to smile for my ID picture.  My friends always yell at me for not smiling with my teeth but at that point I was so tired I’m lucky I didn’t blink.  I actually I did blink the first time this picture was taken, but I got a redo.  Aren’t we so lucky to have those sometimes?  I’ve had my fair share already.

I let my situation dictate my emotions.  A year ago, I did that ALL the time.  I remember a little later on our orientations leaders told us, “Don’t be sad in your ID pictures, you have them for 4 years!!” After hearing that I so desperately wanted to retake mine but was too scared to ask.  I just got really lucky that I still ended up liking it.

One year ago at this time I really didn’t want anything to do with InterVarsity, a christian fellowship at my school.  I didn’t want to be known as this crazy Jesus girl like I’ve been known for most of my life to my non-religious friends.  I was planning on joining a sorority and maybe a few other clubs like newspaper.  I thought being part of a church was enough, at that was the extent of my dedication to God.

A year ago I think I didn’t really even want to go to the college I now I go to.  I wasn’t secure in the person I now know I am.  And I was really scared of going to a college that everyone close to me told me not to go to.  My uncle and my mom wanted me to go to a small private college nearby.  And the idea of being in the city alone really scared them.  Some people told me going far away to upstate New York was the way to go.

Honestly, I can’t help but think about how Jeremiah 29:11 was in action all along,

“‘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 a hope and a future.'”

I look back at this journal entry the day I wrote I decided to go to college in the city.  And this was a decision I made 100% on my own, or so I thought.  God was really in control even from the start.

A year ago I was mostly the person I am today, just not fully there yet, something was missing.  And a year from now I’ll be pretty much the same as today, just a little bit better.