One Hundred

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We are officially moved into our new home and feeling very settled. We are down to those last few boxes filled with random things like pictures and memories and VHS tapes and other items we want to keep but aren’t sure where to put. Our kids are making messes in every square inch of the place and it really feels like home. After months and months (and months!) of feeling unsettled, it’s a really great feeling.

Over the weekend I opened another neglected box and found two folders stuffed with papers. One folder contained my high school and college transcripts, scholarship letters, college acceptance and transfer letters, and seemingly every single awards certificate I received from junior high through college.

The other folder consisted of essays, papers, and exams from my senior AP English class. I really hated that class. My teacher was very tough and hard to please. I’m sure she made sure I was well-prepared for college and I should be grateful, but I’ll sheepishly admit that I’m not. I read through some of my papers and her comments in the margins. They were brutal and honest and (in my humble opinion) nit-picky. Apparently I missed the tone of every poem we analyzed. I failed to grasp the main points of our authors. I neglected to recognize hyperbole.

As I read through the stack of papers written in my bubbly high school script, I sympathized with the girl who wrote them. My feelings were hurt for the girl who surely had worked her hardest and tried her best on each assignment. I also hurt for the 34-year-old woman who read those words and still felt stung by them. I was frustrated for feeling like the words of my teacher made an ounce of difference in my worth, my standing, or my purpose.

I found one last essay from one of the last months of senior year. It had very few notes in the margins and two lovely sentences at the top: “What a fantastic essay. You are so prepared for college.” My chest swelled with pride and my eyes welled with tears. I had done it. I had finally pleased her. I was good enough, I was smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people liked me.

I snapped out of it. I asked myself why on earth this validation meant so much to me. And, as is my tendency, I beat myself up about it. “Seriously, Keely? You’re still struggling with this? Why do you need others to tell you you’ve done a good job? Why do you need to hear you’ve made someone proud? Do the words of Mrs. G really make a difference one way or another for the woman, wife, mother, and person you are today?”

In another breath I was reminded of these words from Scott Sauls’ book, “Regardless of whether [words of affirmation] is your love language, this desire is in us all, and we never outgrow it. We want to be praised and noticed. In its purest form, this is good and even godlike.”

I am so quick to find fault in myself and pretty much each and every natural tendency I have, that I often fail to see the goodness of Christ in me. Does not Genesis tell me that God declared all of his creation good? And am I not his beloved creation?

So yes, while I can and do twist the good things and fall into sin and seek my worth and find my validation in the words of others, I am not a hopeless case. My task is to continually speak the truth of the gospel to my wandering heart. To remember that I do have worth. I have a stamp of approval from the all-powerful creator of the universe. I am my beloved’s and he is mine. I can rest in the finished work of Christ instead of hustling and trying harder.

I threw away all of the papers and all of the awards. There are eternal words for me to cling to.

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Ninety-four (5 Popular Posts from 2015)

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https://keelygsteger.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/eighty-one/

“And so I did the next thing and I repented. And I thanked God for the grace he gives abundantly. The grace to do the next thing.”

 

https://keelygsteger.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/eighty-eight/

“Everyone needs someone to remind them that they’re not alone. Everyone needs to know that everyone’s got their shit.”

https://keelygsteger.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/eighty/

“So while that means I might have to locate our fall/winter clothing in the boxes in the garage, that also means that we still don’t to have to stress, worry, or fret about our situation. Our home will sell. It will. To the right people at the right time. And we have confidence that when it does, the green door house will be ours.”

https://keelygsteger.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/seventy-nine/

“Young moms (by young I mean new to the gig…not necessarily young in age) need one thing more than anything else.
Grace, ladies.”

https://keelygsteger.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/seventy-one/

“As we spent a few precious hours alone together yesterday, my husband and I admitted that we’ve stopped praying diligently for the green door house. We’ve let worry, doubt, fear, stress, anger, sadness, and impatience reign in our hearts.”

Thanks for reading this year, friends.
I look forward to sharing even more with you in 2016!

 

Ninety-two

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Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

It’s all over the Psalms, this call to wait. We wait because there’s something on the horizon. We wait because the answer is unknown. We wait because we have no choice; we are not in control.

Yet there is a difference between waiting and pressing pause.
There’s a difference between waiting in faith and putting your life on hold. 

As I reflect back on 2015, it seems as if that’s exactly what I’ve done for the last half of the year. I pushed pause back in July and I’ve been stuck there ever since. Believing that God is calling us to the city, we put our house on the market. We packed up our home and we entered into a season of rooms off-limits, possessions unavailable, and unexpected showings. We stressed over fingerprints on walls, shoes on carpets, and smudged windows.

We stopped living in our home. We fixed our eyes on what we believed was just ahead and we closed our eyes to where God still had us.

Paused. On hold.

I stopped writing. I used the excuse of needing to keep my desk clear and my office clean. I had packed away most of my books. I thought it was temporary. As time has gone on, it has become easier and easier not to write, not to reflect, not to dive into scripture, not to pray.

Paused. On hold.

We’ve gone the past 4 months without a small group and without real community. We believed we would be moving quickly and didn’t want to invest in a group we would inevitably be leaving soon. As time went on, even though the desire was there, it became easier to not be involved.

Paused. On hold.

I’m not sure when it became sinful, this paused lifestyle, though perhaps it was all long.  I do know it was only yesterday that I was convicted of it. I’ve clenched my teeth, I’ve rolled my eyes, I’ve formed fists, and I’ve lived as though God has forgotten me. Has he been teasing us all along? Has he not called us to move?

“God is at work, even in the silence,” a wise friend said to me yesterday.
“When your Father’s hand isn’t readily apparent, it’s only because He’s readying gifts. Gifts always come out of the unseen and hidden places.”     -Ann Voskamp

Today, I’m clinging to those words. Today, I’m recognizing and repenting. Today, I’m looking back on 2015, and looking ahead to 2016. I’m setting goals and dreaming dreams and praying prayers, including the “impossible” ones.

Today, I’m asking God to help me un-pause, and instead, to live.

Seventy-two

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I sat in the grass with my fellow freshmen and our upper classmen small group leaders. It was fall 2000, and Welcome Week was coming to a close. Our leaders asked us to share what we were most looking forward to in our college experience. I don’t remember what anyone else said, but I remember I said the first thing that popped into my mind.

“I want to figure out what my story is. I want to figure out who I am.”

Typical? Cliche? Perhaps. But for an 18-year-old good girl who was convinced that her life had been boring, nothing special, and nothing that God had used or could use, it was the deepest desire of my heart. Because I lacked a dramatic conversion story, having grown up in the church and never knowing a day without Jesus, I didn’t think I had a story to offer anyone.

It’s been FIFTEEN years since that August night, and I’ve only recently figured it out; it’s not just one story that I have to tell, it’s story after story of rescue. It’s the highs, lows, and everything in between that God faithfully leads me through for His name’s sake. It’s not just my salvation that proves that God has done some great work in my life. That’s what my pastors want us all to realize. We want salvation stories. We love salvation stories. But we also want to hear how God is working today. What idols is he ripping from your heart now? What is he teaching you through your pain, your suffering, your doubt, your success, your joy, your trials, your heartache, your loneliness, your talents and your ordinary, everyday life?

If looking for God at work, looking at your life as a series of rescue missions, looking for grace and the enduring faithfulness of God becomes a habit, you start to see that it’s a pattern. It’s the gospel told over and over again. It’s the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus pictured in you. There’s not a better story out there.

I want to take the pressure off of my 18-year-old self. I want to tell her that her story, her stories, matter. While she’s not the only kid who grew up in church, always followed the rules, and rarely missed a day of church, no one else has her unique perspective on life or God’s world. While she’s not the only one who will lose her mom at an early age, no one else is shaped by that experience in the exact same way.

Our purpose here is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and one of the best ways we can do that is to tell our stories. I do that by writing it out here and sharing it with you. It feels most natural and is one of the things that makes me feel closest to God. For you, it might be meeting a friend for coffee regularly and sharing how God is at work. It will look different for everyone, but I think it’s important that we are all sharing our stories on a regular basis. I’m thankful that my church has adopted this practice from day 1. We regularly hear stories of rescue from the people in our congregation. Some are big and dramatic, others are small and quiet, but each is unique and each one reminds me that God is indeed at work.

Our job is to pay attention.

Sixty-four

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“I always tell my writing students to write what they’d like to come upon. And this is what I need to come upon today…”
I read this on Anne Lamott’s Facebook page recently and it’s been so helpful as I sit down at my desk to write and still don’t know where to begin.

It’s been so helpful to share my story here lately, this story of God rescuing our family and moving us to a new city. I can look back now with a bit more clarity and write it out, thereby gaining even more clarity and insight. I lack that ability except in hindsight. I was just trudging through it while it was happening.

Last week I asked my husband how he was doing. Not just “How ya doin’?” but “Are you reading your bible? Are you praying? Are you doing things that make you feel closer to God?” I felt a bit ridiculous and middle-school girlish in asking him that way, but it’s an important question to ask, especially as life is hectic and crazy right now and he has a lot on his plate. I feared he might be just “trudging through.”

This morning, I sat down and asked myself that last question: “Are you doing things that make you feel closer to God?”
And then I wrote what I needed to come upon today.
I wrote about the Holy Spirit.

I once asked my friend Susanna if it is difficult for her to lead worship at church and not feel like it’s just a performance. Can she worship when she’s onstage, all eyes fixed in her direction, microphone in front of her? I never could. I grew up singing in church and even helped out a bit with RUF, but it was always, always a struggle for me to have a worshipful attitude. Susanna told me that sometimes she’s more focused on the technical side of all the things involved in leading our congregation, but for the most part, she feels closest to God when she’s singing.

Some music helps me feel that way. Some author’s words do, as well. My own writing often helps me feel closer to God. Sunsets serve that purpose for me. And sometimes I feel close to God when I pray, but not often, truthfully.

What struck me this morning is something that I’ve “known” my entire life. God’s presence, through the Holy Spirit, is a reality for me. While there are things and experiences that may help me to be more aware of that fact, it remains- He is with me. He will not leave me or forsake me. I need not discount the things I listed to help me remember his presence. I need only remind myself that what I am seeking I already have. What I want goes with me wherever I go.

John 14 says, “The Father will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…You know him, for he dwells in you and will be in you. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Fifty-eight

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“So, how’s the writing?”
“What have you been writing?”
“Have you been writing?”

My well-intentioned friends have been asking lately and encouraging me in my goal/prayer of writing a book this year. We are officially halfway through the year now and I have officially not been writing for a really long time.

I have let my own doubts and insecurities cripple me. I’ve put pressure on this project, telling myself it has to look a certain way or be a certain thing instead of just doing what I love to do- write.

It hasn’t just been my blog that’s been silent. For the most part, my journals don’t even reflect my own thoughts and words. Instead, I’ve been copying down long passages of scripture that both call God and his people to remembrance. I’ve been writing out lyrics to hymns old and new. I’ve been borrowing the words of others to get me through an unusually hard season. Not hard in the sense that there are physical ailments or a sudden death or really anything huge. Just a lot of little things that seem to be affecting me all at once and have me feeling very out of sorts.

I’ve been doing this walking with Jesus thing for long enough now to know that it’s not a mountain-top experience day in and day out. It seems I’ve been in a valley for a while now. It’s lonely here, and dark, quiet and yet loud and distracting at the same time. This valley season has been especially unusual because I haven’t had my own words to help sort things out. I’ve been empty and quiet. I’ve listened at times, but I’ve mostly distracted myself.
While I’ve struggled to pray, struggled to write, struggled to read the scriptures, struggled to make sense of everything I’m feeling lately, I’ve turned to music to call to mind the truths that I actually do know and believe.
Sandra McCracken’s new album, Psalms, has been on repeat since I heard her in concert a couple of months ago. Knowing a bit about the past year or so of her story, I have been overwhelmed as I listen to her cry out to God using David’s words and then remind herself (and me) of the truth of the Psalms. She mentioned that she didn’t have her own words and couldn’t find her voice for a while, as she went through her own valley.
My car has been my sanctuary as I have listened to her music. Sometimes I just listen. Sometimes I sing along loudly and truly believe what I’m saying. Sometimes I sing and wish I believed.
“All Your works are good.”
“Put your trust in God, I will yet give thanks to Him.”
“Be still and know your Maker. Be satisfied in Him.”
“My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him.”
“We will feast and weep no more.”
“Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart.”

“You hold me in my place–flourishing”

I’m filled with hope. I’m reminded that all of life is seasons and change and highs and lows and valleys and mountains. I’m encouraged and excited about what’s on the horizon for our family. It’s a new chapter in our story, and while part of me wants to wait until its conclusion to share it, I know that it will do more good (for me, and hopefully for you, too) if I share it as it unfolds.
So here’s to the return of my words.
Thanks for reading.

Fifty-two

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“Yet if we would know God and for other’s sake tell what we know, we must try to speak of His love. All Christians have tried, but none has ever done it very well. I can no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme than a child can grasp a star. Still, by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. So, as I stretch my heart toward the high, shining love of God, someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look up and have hope.”  -A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

I have spent the Lenten and now the Easter season working my way through this book. It’s been a tremendous, enlightening experience as I’ve pored over the pages and read scripture and (re?)discovered who God is.

When I read the above passage this morning, I thought to myself, “That’s kind of why I keep writing on this blog. That’s why I’m sharing these thoughts and this mess I’m working through and my story here, instead of just in my journal; so that “someone may be encouraged to look up and have hope.”

As a thank you for reading, I’d like to give away one copy of The Knowledge of the Holy

All you have to do to qualify to win, is answer a couple of questions for my curious brain. 

Where do you live? (I don’t want your address (unless you win!), just curious of your city/state)
How did you come across my blog?
What keeps you coming back to read more? 

I’ll be posting this on my Facebook and Instagram pages and allowing folks to answer the questions there to qualify as well.    I’ll pick a winner at random on Tuesday morning, April 21st. 

Thanks for commenting! Congrats, Rachel! The book is on its way to you!