Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Before You Walk Into The Desert

Last weekend I participated in missionary training for my 3-month trip to Thailand this summer. For those of you who don't know, I will be a journalism intern with Venture Expeditions working to share the story of their work with the impoverished children at their HOSEA Center and the Karen refugees on the border of Burma.

I have been learning about Thailand for the past six months, mostly due to observing the culture at a Thai Christian church that I started attending to fulfill a service learning project one of my classes required last semester. Besides learning about the language, nonverbals, rituals and other aspects of the culture, I have been exposed to the reality of Buddhism.

One day my group partner and I visited a Buddhist temple and were able to question three Thai monks for an hour-and-half. It was the most surreal experiences I've had, and I was still in America. What would it be like when I was actually in Thailand?

I was starting to get answers to that question at the missionary training weekend. As the youngest person at the training, a 21-year-old college student who had never ventured outside of North America, my worldview was the least tapered with. The eight other individuals had been to Thailand for at least three months. I began soaking in all of their knowledge -- specifically that to do with Buddhism. The following are little nuggets of wisdom I gained.

If you want to know the power Buddhism has over Thailand, ask any Thai person and they will tell you this: "To be Thai is to be Buddhist; to be Buddhist is to be Thai." Right now, almost 94% of Thailand is Buddhist, according to the CIA World Factbook. Only 1% of the country is Christian.

Because of the power Buddhism has over the nation, there are strong spiritual forces of evil that roam the land. One of the ladies training me was sharing a story of her experience growing up in Thailand as a missionary kid. Every night her dad would anoint the doors of their home with oil and pray over them, but there were still nights where her and her siblings experienced nightmares. The woman who had previously owned the home would come back and speak enchantments into the bushes at night, unleashing dark spiritual forces that would frighten the children.

She also shared the story of a Buddhist woman her dad and two other missionaries were trying to drive a demon out of. The demon had such a strong possession of the woman, that it could physical move the missionaries away from the woman's body by force.

I'm not sharing these stories to scare you; I'm telling you these stories to expose you to the reality of the spiritual realm. We live in a world of both good and evil powers, from God and satan accordingly.

In America we tend to purposely ignore the spiritual realm. We water down spirituality to the point that the spiritual world and the physical world are completely separate in our culture. It's even to the point where spirituality has become almost invisible to society. This is uncommon in many other cultures, like the Thai culture I described above. Most cultures integrate religion into their work, family, relationships and other hobbies. In America we have freedom of religion, yet children are not allowed to pray in schools and church is viewed as a building instead of a lifestyle.

What if we were to live as the body of Christ as the early church did? Acts 2:42-47 provides a beautiful model for meshing the spiritual realm with the physical realm.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
What I love about this is that the early Christians met every day together to worship the Lord, and they shared their belongings with one another. They lived life in true COMMUNITY.

So what does this have to do with facing the evil  powers of the spiritual realm? Because the early Christians were daily soaking in the Word, praying, and affirming each other in their identity in Christ, they were able to go out and make disciples of every nation. Abiding translates into fruit. As John 15:5 puts it, “I (Christ) am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

I'm learning how to abide. In fact, I have been for almost an entire year now. One year ago now, the Lord taught me what community is. He brought in five people who would become my second family. Through sharing our testimonies and weaknesses with other, we were able to pray for each other and build each other up in Christ. Each of us overcame something great during this season, and I know we each wouldn't have been able to overcome it if it weren't for the community that was in place.

But now is a different season. I still have my second family, but we aren't as tight-knit as we once were.  School, jobs and other commitments have inched us slowly away from each other.

Honestly, it's been a difficult thing for me to grasp. I love each one of my second family members dearly, and spending time with them all together is my favorite thing in the world. The Lord taught me so much through them, and He still is.

But this time He's teaching me to let go. He's teaching me that I can't always depend on others to build my faith. Yes, community is vital, but there are seasons that come when we walk through deserts and we will need to know how to stand alone. Just like Jesus' 40-day stay in the desert where he encountered temptation from satan.

That's what Thailand is for me this summer. A desert. I will be jumping on a plane and flying over the ocean to a place I've never been before. Alone. Yes, I will have social media and email to communicate with others, but I won't have my second family, my church family, my other friends or my biological family there with me. I will be working with people I've never met before in a spiritual dark country. That is why the importance of ABIDING is so crucial to establish in my life now.

I think Ephesians 6:10-18 is the backbone for our faith as Christians, and includes the discipline of abiding. The famous passage lists the armor of God, including: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and prayer in the Spirit. It is through these weapons that the evil spiritual forces are destroyed.

This summer I will be on the front lines of a battle. The enemy will be ready to attack whenever He gets the chance. If I am not rooted in the Word and prayer, and if I don't put on my spiritual armor every morning when I wake up, then I will stumble and fall.

Because the truth is that the enemy knows our weak points. He knows exactly where to hit us, which is why it's so important to put on EVERY piece of spiritual armor (not just a select few). If we aren't prepared, then the enemy will have his way.

Let us learn how to abide now, in the place of abundance. Because when the desert comes, then we will know how to stand.

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"Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Donating Blood Wasn't About Me

I wasn't planning on donating blood. The clock struck 3:10pm signaling the end of class, and I burst out the door to walk back to my apartment. The homework piled high, and I knew I needed to start right away in order to accomplish it by the end of the night.

As I turned the corner of the hall, my friend Nathan, who was sitting at a Red Cross blood donation registration table, yelled, "Rebekah!"

"Oh, hey, Nathan."

"Do you want to donate blood today?"

My face probably turned pale and my eyes widened. "No..." I hesitated, and I light-heartedly chuckled in hopes of leaving the donation registration table. But he continued. Ugh.

"Why not?"

"I'm afraid of needles."

Assuming that he would nod his head and let me get on with my day, I was stunned by his response. He went on to tell me why I shouldn't be afraid of a little prick in my skin, and that I would be saving lives by donating blood. I hated feeling guilt-tripped, but I kept listening.

I know, I know... went through my mind. I had heard it all before. But he kept pushing it. I swayed back-and-forth waiting for him for him to stop talking. He told me that by donating blood I would overcome one of my fears. A girl earlier in the day had done it, so why couldn't I? What was holding me back?

I had always WANTED to donate blood because I wanted to help save lives, but I was always afraid of the needle. I was afraid of becoming lightheaded and possibly passing out.

Then I realized something. My fears were pathetic. Was my comfort and safety more important than someone getting a blood transfusion that could potentially save his or her life? I couldn't let a little jab into my skin prevent me from giving life to someone else.

Others have suffered much worse for people's lives. Most prominently, Christ was whipped, speared and nailed to a cross to save billions of lives who would chose to follow Him. Isaiah 53:5 says, "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed."

I know, I went from the pain of one little scar on your finger to the Son of God being tortured on the cross. A dramatic jump. But isn't it in the little things too, the little sufferings, that we relate to Christ and show our love for Him? It's not just the "big" sufferings.

By suffering for 6 minutes atop a black leather medical recliner I gave life to save someone's life (and really, I hardly felt any pain during this time). No, I wasn't stoned on the streets like Stephen. And no, I wasn't hung on a cross like Jesus. But it's not the location or severity of pain that matters. It's the raw act of giving of oneself, no matter what the discomfort or loss is, to give life to others that matters. That's what living selflessly looks like.

But I'm afraid to give of myself. That thought floats through my head on a daily basis, as I'm sure it does in your mind as well. Many times our fears can conquer our minds to tell us that we can't do this or that because it will risk our comfort. Yes, we may have the deepest desire to do something, but our fear overrules our desire.

I want to give blood, but I'm afraid that I'll experience too much physical pain.

I want to help the homeless, but I'm afraid that I won't know what to say around them and that I'll feel out of place.

I want to share the Gospel with my co-workers, but I'm afraid that I'll be mocked or challenged in my faith.

Our flesh hates discomfort, so it avoids it at all means possible. We live lives of comfort, waking up every morning to stay in our personal bubble we've created. We know our routine and we aren't willing to leave it, because something could go wrong that would threaten our well-being.

But Christ doesn't call us to live comfortably. He calls us to take risks and go outside of our boundaries into the unknown, trusting Him that He will pave the way through the darkness. He calls us to suffer on behalf of Him and our brothers and sisters so that He may be glorified.

2 Corinthians 4:8-12 says, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."

Our suffering is but a mere reflection of what Jesus suffered on the cross. We suffer for Him so that the message of the cross would be spread. Who else is more worth suffering for?

And we rejoice in our sufferings!

Romans 5:3-5 says, "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

I came to this conclusion. Suffering for Christ is the mark of humility and embodies Christ-like love to the fullest extent. It denies the self and says, "I'm enduring this for something greater than myself -- for the glory of God." And it doesn't have to be profound. You don't have to sell all of your belongings and give the money to an organization that fights poverty. But you can suffer in the everyday moments to bring glory to God. You can give your lunch to the woman who stands on the street everyday during the lunch hour. You can spend your afternoon assisting your roommate with a project instead of using the time for yourself.

I know, my minuscule experience donating blood hardly attests to suffering for Christ. One jab into my arm was hardly anything in the scheme of suffering.

But it is a starting point. And I learned so much through it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Stop Living For Accomplishments

The past two weeks have been odd. Winter Break started, and I found myself bored with no homework to do, my best friends away, and less shifts at work. I fell into a pattern of sleeping in way longer than I'm used to, watching TV (which I never do), and avoiding the tasks on my to-do list. I felt lazy and disengaged. Who was I becoming?

I hardly ever slept in past 8:00 a.m. on days I didn't have work or school, because I didn't want to waste precious time to do homework. I never watched "Adventure Time," or any other TV show for that matter, because I didn't think it added value to life. And I never, ever ignored my responsibilities.

But I'm learning that it's okay to take time for myself. I'm learning that it's okay to rest and have fun, even if it's not productive or makes my day start later. I'm learning to stop living under the rulebook I've created to ensure my life is successful and valuable.

Before this realization, I always assumed that every minute of my time needed to be useful. If I didn't allot it well, I would cower in guilt imagining what I could have done during those precious moments of time that amounted to nothing in the end. I remember several Tuesday and Thursday mornings towards the end of the semester where I slept in until 10:00 a.m. and didn't wake up two hours earlier to read. I would criticize myself and let shame overcome me.

Also, I couldn't just sit and watch a movie, play video games for hours, browse pictures on Pinterest or lay down on the couch and nap. What were these activities accomplishing? I wasn't making money. I wasn't obtaining a degree. I wasn't pursuing my dream. I wasn't becoming closer to Jesus in my relationship with Him.

But what if I wasn't supposed to live for accomplishments? What if I was just supposed to be obedient to what the Lord has called me, live by faith, and be happy? What if I didn't have to wear a mask of perfection anymore?

If I didn't live for accomplishments anymore, I would be able to learn the habit of self-care. I would be able to give my body the rest it needed, and I would be able to take breaks in my day just to do what I wanted to do in that moment -- even if it didn't accomplish anything.

In a note a friend sent me for Christmas, she included a Bible verse. It never struck me how timely it was until this very moment, because it goes along with everything I've been learning.
"So I concluded, there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can." (Ecclesiastes 3:12)
If I didn't live for accomplishments anymore, I would be able to learn the practice of patience. I would be able to focus on and invest fully in the moment, not on what's ahead. I would be able to be at peace, even in the presence of chaos.

When we slow down life and learn to press the pause button, we stop making accomplishments our goal. We take life as it comes, and see our life as one continuous stroke rather than a line made up of little dots.

I'm finding that living for accomplishments only breeds a fear of failure. 

Were my strict guidelines of only get eight hours of sleep to ensure that I be productive with the remainder of my time making my happy, or were they only stringing me along by fear of wasting time?

I'm not saying that waking up early is unhappy or done because of a fear of wasting time. There are many early birds out there who enjoy waking up early.

Also, I am not saying that disciplining yourself to do or not do certain things is wrong. Sometimes we need to discipline ourselves to break a habit, start a new habit, write a 10-page paper or apply for a job.

What I am saying is this: If you are doing something because of fear of failure, then stop doing it. If you are going to college just because your parents want you to, yet you want to work at your local diner the rest of your life, stop going to school and pursue your dream. If you are exercising just because your boyfriend wants you to be skinny, stop exercising (unless you do it for your own health). If you are avoiding media just because you think it will distract you, watch a TV show or a movie. If you are avoiding sleeping in just because it will steal your time away, then sleep in.

We must stop living for the approval of man, and we must also stop living for the approval of our own self. We live for God's approval alone, and God wants us to be happy and get rest. He doesn't want us to be controlled by achievements; he only wants us to be obedient to His Word.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Where Childlike Wonder and Wisdom Meet

Growing up, I always completed my homework exactly the way the teacher wanted it -- not in the slightest bit different, even if it added to the quality of the homework in my mind. I was afraid of not meeting the standards, and my report card needed that "A" scribbled next to each one of my classes.
Besides my striving to excel at everything in school, I've always been afraid of asking the hard questions. I tend to stick in my comfort bubble that shelters itself miles away from the world of government, politics, or anything else controversial for that matter. Even with matters of where I stand on homosexuality or cohabitation in the church, I've shoved them back on the shelf for fear of being hated because, "I was taking the wrong side." For me, grey areas have always posed more comfort for me, because if you're on middle ground, no one hates you, right?
This is the mentality that's been etched into my brain, and it's forced me to shut down any new wave of thought that's sparked in my head. I'm living on neutral ground, with no real tug towards one end or another.
And because of my fear to explore new ideas, I tend to avoid the topic of WISDOM. What is wisdom, anyway?

I think God was prying the lid open on this one a few weeks ago.
One of my friends brought it up initially by quoting Luke 10:27:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind."


Yes, you've probably heard that verse a million times. Or if not a million, 999,999 times. But what my friend emphasized was the part of loving the Lord with all your mind. I guess I had never ventured this route yet -- whenever I think of loving the Lord, I think of loving Him through my praise or through the work of my hands. I didn't realize that we could love the Lord by studying books or engaging in discussion that pulls on the strings of your knowledge. And God actually desires that from us? It scared me a bit.
If that wasn't enough for God to grab my attention about the significance of wisdom, the leadership theme as my school this year is none other than this: A Call To Wisdom.
God is calling us to wisdom. He wants us to grow in knowledge of who He is and how His Kingdom will be established on this earth, and wisdom is the capability of dispersing this knowledge well.

Along with this call to wisdom, however, God wants us to come before Him as little children. You might see that as contradictory -- children aren't wise, so how can we be wise before God while possessing the personality as children?
I think C.S. Lewis says it well:
"[God] wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim." --Mere Christianity


God delights in childlike wonder. He loves to see us laugh, go on adventures, and create new things with our hands. Just like school children playing on a playground during recess or little girls dancing around the house as ballerinas (as my sister and I did when we were young), we can approach God with a child's playful heart.
Yet this doesn't mean we are stupid, inexperienced or clueless. Having the heart of a child does not mean you are a fool.
And to be completely vulnerable, that last statement is something I've believed for many years now. Many times when I'm joking around with my friends, I beat myself up afterwards because I feel like I was such a ditz. I suppose it's an insecurity issue, and a pride issue at the core, but I've swallowed and learn to accept the lie that I am clumsy and awkward.
Yet when I consider the idea that maybe, just maybe, God delights in my loud, obnoxious laughter with a couple snorts every now and then; or that He delights when I play hand-clap games with my friends in public places; or that He delights when I skip across a bridge with a huge smile painted across my face... I am blown away. God really couldn't be that childish, could He?
But the fact is, God created us in His image, and therefore by creating children and instilling such joy and silliness in them, He is showing us a side of Himself. God is bubbly, adventurous and sweet like children, and this does not displace the fact that He is also righteous, just, and holy.
He encompasses all qualities in one. What beauty.

So this is what it boils down to: embracing the child within you, but also deciding to pursue wisdom. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus calls us to be "as wise as serpents AND as innocent as doves." As polar opposite as that may sound, it's where we will find true joy and our place in the Kingdom.
As C.S. Lewis puts it, God "wants [us to have] a child's heart, but a grown-up's head."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I Don't Have To Understand

I lean not on my own understanding,
my life is in the hands of the Maker of heaven.
(from "Nothing I Hold On To" by United Pursuit Band)

These lyrics always shake my human will whenever I hear them. You mean I can't know everything? I can't control everything?
As humans, we suffer from a disease of wanting to control everything and know everything. We are paralyzed when we cannot see the end of the situation before us. We are crippled when we do not know the answer to a friend's question.

The other day I started to freak out over the finances I need to pay for my trip to Thailand: $3,000. At the bare minimum.
That number is not so welcoming to my bank account.
I started scribbling in my journal the reasons why I wouldn't be able to collect that much money before the end of November.
"I can only work so much. I can only bake so much (for the bake sale I'm going to use to fundraise). I can only send out so many support letters. I can only sell so many of my belongings. Am I just making this all up in my head? Someone's going to have to tell me that this is what I'm supposed to be doing."

And then it hit me. The verse dropped in my head like a coin being tossed in a wishing well.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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." (Philippians 4:6-7)


Wow. Just read that again. Especially the second sentence!
We don't have to understand things, because the peace of God is greater than that. We can have peace even in our confusion!
God reminded me that even though I have no idea how I'm going to come up with $3,000 for Thailand, He will make a way. I don't have to be stressed and frazzled. All I need to do is rest in His presence and let His peace cover me.

Because, here's the deal: When we allow confusion or worry to overcome us, we allow the devil to twist our thoughts and pour fear into us. Although it doesn't seem like an attack while it's occurring, it's the devil's way of taking our trust off of God and putting it in ourselves instead -- which isn't much, since we are weak and don't have the ability to see the outcome of things.

God's peace is our shield against these attacks. God's peace repels the daunting questions that pierce our human tendency to understand and control everything.

So instead of trying to understand how I'm going to pay for Thailand, I'm just going to let God do His work. I'm going to abide in His presence every day in order to be protected from attacks from the devil. I'm going to point my ears and my heart towards heaven and listen to God reaffirm in me that I am His daughter being used for His kingdom. And I'm going to work wholeheartedly, yet peacefully, on finding the finances needed to go to Thailand.

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FOR THAILAND, AND GOD'S PEOPLE LIVING THERE. BECAUSE THEY DESERVE JUSTICE.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

When You're Both A Mary And A Martha

Two days ago I found out that I would be a student manager in my college cafeteria this fall. The moment I heard the news, I jumped in the air with excitement! Not only would I have more responsibility, but I was thankful for the increase in pay. I'm going to Thailand this December, and I need as much money as possible to pay for the trip.
But yesterday I felt almost guilty to have the position. What if people see me a power-hungry workaholic? Because not only do I have this student manager position, but I work another job and go to school full-time. That's 25 hours of work and 15 hours of class, not including time for homework. I'm also the editor-in-chief of my college newspaper.
I'm not listing all of this out of pride, I'm just throwing it out there so maybe you'll understand how I feel.
To put it blatantly, I'm becoming worried of what people think of me. I'm scared that because I have achieved two positions of authority in addition to my role as a student, people will see me as some arrogant, busy person that has everything together.
I really don't want to be see as that. And I really don't have everything together.
But is it that horrible to have a schedule that fits everything together so well?
I honestly enjoy all of the roles and tasks that fill my plate. I may not thoroughly enjoy them every moment and I may become frustrated and overwhelmed at times, but I find joy out of having a busy schedule.
And it's not like I never have time to spend time with people and with the Lord.
I really try to maintain strong relationships with people, whether they're close or far away. I make an effort to contact my friends on a weekly effort, because I care for them and want to hear about what's going on in their lives.
And I do spend time with the Lord every day. It may not be an hour-long time in worship just soaking in His presence, but I do try to hear Him and interact with Him on a constant basis. I love His presence, and all I really want is to be led by His Spirit and to know His heart more.
I'm realizing that I have a spirit like Mary's in a schedule like Martha's. But is that even possible? Can my spirit truly be at rest while involved in so much?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bicycle Ride

Today I went on a spontaneous bike ride. I wasn't planning on going anywhere today, but after work I decided that I wanted to get out into the city and explore.
Before leaving, I sat down and attempted to find a map that would help me navigate the bike paths of Minneapolis. Thinking I knew where my bicycle adventure would take me, I burst outside with my white helmet in hand and my backpack stuffed with my journal and Bible, an apple and a water bottle.
I started biking on the road that I thought would intersect with the path I wanted to merge on. Nope, nothing. They really must keep these bike paths hidden. Or I'm just incredibly blind.
Concluding that I wasn't going to get anywhere without asking anyone, I was thankful to run in to another biker at the next stoplight. I asked her how to get to the destination I was hoping to find, and she gave me adequate directions.
I biked forward, and within the next mile I ended up passing by a friend I hadn't seen in three months. It was an unexpected blessing to catch up with him on the side of the road for a few minutes.
Then, I continued onwards. Unsure of where I was (I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere), I biked in unusual patterns around a section of streets I was unfamiliar with.
Instead of freaking out though, I just continued to pedal. My legs pushed me forward on the sidewalks with weeds peeking out between the cracks.
I'm lost. Oh well. I'm going somewhere, and eventually I'll end up at some destination -- whether it's the destination I'm planning on or not. It's all about the journey, anyway.
Those were the thoughts that flashed through my mind at that point, or something along those lines.

And then I realized that these thoughts ran parallel to the way we're supposed to live out our daily lives. They didn't just refer to my bicycle adventure, or traveling in general.
There are a million different paths to choose from in this life, and it can be frustrating and terrifying trying to measure if you're on the right path at the right time. Friends and family pressure you to walk one way, you desire the opposite way, and God's way never seems to be plain and clear in the moment.
Who said there was only one correct path to walk on, anyway?

I think there are multiple paths God lays before us, and He gives us the freedom of choice to pick the one we want to walk on. Whether it's choosing a college to attend, finding someone to marry, or any other decision that could alter your life path, God works everything out in the end.
I'm not saying that we should foolishly choose whichever path we want to take next out of pride or ignorance -- I do believe we should be asking God which path He wants us to take next in prayer. But sometimes He doesn't always give us a black-and-white answer. Sometimes He leaves it up to us to take the next step, and once we step forward, He'll mold our path into His plan for our lives.
Even if you take the wrong turn at one intersection, He'll merge another path into your life that will bring you back on track.

And I do believe that any path we choose leads to the same destination. What is that destination, you ask? God Himself. Whether we choose to be a businessman or pastor, live in the United States or India, run a marathon or play music at local venues, our path will always end up at the feet of Jesus when we are seeking His face every day.
It's not about the path itself; it's about the opportunities on the path you take to bless the people who are on the same path. But it's mostly about learning to glorify God and becoming closer to Him while facing whatever valleys, hills, or curves come your way.

** What path are you treading on, and what opportunities has God placed before you? Are you taking ahold of these, or passing them by? Are you growing closer to God as you continue to walk on the path you're on?