The In-Between

My life seems like less of a continuum, where each detail holds an equal amount of significance as the last, and more of a timeline- punctuated by the big events that shaped me into who I am. When looking back on my life, and specifically my faith journey, I can point out a few “ah-ha” moments that have created a meaningful change. Those are the moments that I believed really defined me.

However, a few weeks back at church, a question was posed- “how many of you can recall every meal you’ve ever had? Not just the big fancy meals, or the best cheeseburger you’ve ever had. But every single meal.” What a strange question- obviously no one did.

So he continued, “None of us can remember every meal we’ve had. Yet those meals are what sustain us; they’re the reason why we’re hearing. Going to church works the same way… we aren’t going to remember every sermon. Sure, there will be some that really stick out to us. But the act of coming here every week, and listening to His word and being surrounded by our community- that is what sustains us.”

Now, I’m a big fan of metaphors so this really put things into perspective for me. For the past semester, I had been attending discipleship with my dear friend and mentor Taylor on a weekly basis. Each week, she asked me the same question, “how are you feeling spiritually?” At first, this question sent me into a panic because my week hadn’t had some defining moment. There was no monumental realization I had come to. But as the weeks rolled on, I began to pay more attention to the little things that I hadn’t thought twice about before.

This is where I really began to see God working in my life. It wasn’t in the sermons that brought me to my knees, or the worship sets that left tears streaming down my face (although in all fairness, that is pretty much all worship). Those times were meaningful, but it was during the in-between that I found Christ working in everything that I did. I realized that those moments were where I was truly shaped, and the more aware I became of the truths that He was speaking into my life, the more I was able to be purposeful about implementing them.

Deciding on an internship was no longer just about deciding what option was economically feasible; instead, it was about being taught that where God guides, He provides. Listening to others share their testimony was no longer just about feeling momentary happiness for them; it was about realizing the He truly pursues us wherever we are at.

In the back of my journal, I began recording those truths that became so evident in the week-in, week-out, mundane activities I experienced:

Where He guides, He provides.

He is present in everything we do.

He meets us wherever we are.

He is intentional.

He pursues us relentlessly.

He hates our sin, without hating us for causing it.

These were things that I knew logically before- but this semester, they went from abstract concepts to things I was actually experiencing every day. Over time, I’d like to elaborate a little more on each of these (be on the lookout for future posts!).

Right now, I’m incredibly grateful for “the in-between”. I’m grateful for a friend who pushed me to see the beauty in those moments, and helped me to become intentional with my faith. I’m grateful for quick sermons at church that opened my eyes. And above all else, I’m really grateful for a God who is always at work.

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Psalm 13

In our lives, we go through seasons- maybe that is a time of prosperity in our personal and professional lives, or hitting a roadblock on our way to our goals. It is a trademark of humanity that the only consistent thing we may expect, is that nothing will be consistent. As Christians, these seasons of inconsistency will inevitably creep into our relationship with God.

Personally, I find that the most challenging obstacle that I experience is feeling God’s presence. When life is good, it’s easy to praise God as we witness His good works playing out directly in front of us. When I’m in the midst of worship, surrounded by a strong Christian community, I have no doubt that God is present in that moment. But what happens when life isn’t so good?

Psalm 13 is one of my favorite examples of how to handle these dark times. It begins with a strong cry to the Lord from the lips of David:

How long Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

I remember the first time I read the beginning of this verse, and how closely I felt as though I related to it. With my struggles in not always feeling the Lord’s presence, I sometimes felt like I had been abandoned or forgotten. Battling mental illness, I felt overwhelmed by my thoughts, and by my “enemy”- myself. Many nights were spent staring at the ceiling begging God to let me feel him in my life again, and praying for strength so that I could carry on. When I felt so isolated, it was nearly impossible to praise Him or acknowledge the good things He had done in my life.

So how can we maintain our faith in these seasons of feeling far from the Lord? I think that the closing of Psalm 13 answers it best:

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

We have to have TRUST! Trusting in God is the foundation of faith. And what is faith? By definition, it is “the firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. So in order to have faith, we have to not only accept that we will sometimes have no proof (in this case, that proof may be something as simple as feeling the presence of God), but EMBRACE that this is our reality.

There is nothing that happens in our life that is devoid of God’s hand; however, there are times when we cannot see that He is present. So as we encounter these dark seasons in our walk with Christ, remember to take a note from David and continue to trust in God’s character. Trust in His love, His forgiveness, His plan for us. When we remember this character, we can praise Him through every season because we KNOW that He is good.

Serving His Kingdom, Loving His People

Hello all! Recently, I returned home from a service trip to Mississippi along with 50 of my peers from Ohio State. While most of my friends were back home reuniting with family after finals, I had the chance to work with early childhood programs, a women’s shelter, and a variety of environmental groups in Biloxi to kick off my holiday season. While the trip was not faith-based in any way, I truly felt as though my relationship with the Lord, and even more so, His kingdom, was refreshed over the week.

On our 18 hour trek down south, I found a bible verse that stuck out to me and became a sort of mantra for my week:

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them || Hebrews 6:10

We serve a righteous Lord- one who, unlike mankind, will not forget or discredit the good works we do as his followers. Now when this verse mentions that “he will not forget your work”, I found it important to remind myself throughout the week that this was not directly referring to the acts of service that we perform. Instead of just the servitude of others, the state of our heart when we do such things, and our motivation behind it, is just as important. Given the nature of the world we live in, there could be a multitude of reasons as to why people are serving others or volunteering. Maybe some want to add more activities to their resume, or certain programs that they are associated with have a requisite amount of community service hours. While the service is still contributing to improving¬†our world, God wants us to serve His kingdom as an act of love to not only our brothers and sisters, but as a way to show our love for Him. This idea is reiterated in Matthew:

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ || Matthew 25:40

The work we performed on our trip was often rather tedious, and by the end of the day, we were often covered in bug bites, scrapes, sweat, and mud. However after those long hours spent at our service sites, we were able to take a step back and see the work that had been done- whether that was clearing out invasive species at historic sites, painting walls, or just taking the time to play with kiddos who otherwise might not have had any one-on-one interaction that day, my heart was overwhelmed with the knowledge of how much love was poured into those projects.

In Mark 12, Jesus tells us that the greatest of all commandments is to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12: 29-30). When we partner this verse with Hebrews 6:10, it became so evident to me how critical it was to show our love for the Lord and fulfill this greatest commandment by loving and serving his people as well.

When the days got long in Biloxi, I found myself so often reciting the verse from Hebrews in my head and taking a moment to pray that God would provide me with a renewed vigor for the work I was doing. Every time I did so, I felt a wave of enthusiasm come over me right when I needed it most.

When we ask God to renew our minds and give us the vigor we need to serve Him, to love Him, and to show that same servitude and love for His people to fulfill His law, He WILL provide.

{As a sidenote, I highly recommend all Ohio State students consider going on a Buck-I-SERV trip! Applications for the Spring and Summer trips are open now, and are due on January 28th. Go forth and serve His kingdom, y’all!}

Vulnerability in our Struggles

I am, by nature, a realist, straddling the line of a pessimist at most times. While not something I am proud to admit, my immediate reaction to most things is being either very matter-of-fact, or having a “glass half empty, worse case scenario” type of outlook. Being aware of this, I spend a considerable portion of my time refuting these thoughts by telling those around me “it could always be worse”, or looking for the bright side when I face adversity. As a whole, I like to think that this is a positive personality trait… self-correction of negative thinking or emotions.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this. As Christians, how many times have we heard fellow believers quickly shut down conversations about trauma they have experienced/are currently experiencing by using anecdotal phrases such as “but it’s in God’s plan… overall I am still feeling exceedingly blessed… don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine- I have Jesus!”. We sanitize our struggles to make others comfortable, because we have been raised in a society where metaphoric gold-stars are given out to this who seem to get over pain quickly. This outward maintenance of a positive demeanor in the face of our darkest moments is admirable, but where is it stemming from?

So often there is this misinterpretation that claims if our faith is strong, we won’t let our sufferings get to us because at the end of the day, we still have Jesus. Or we feel an obligation to compare our pain to the pain of others, and think that we don’t get to be upset if other people are upset for “better reasons”. Perhaps this comes from feeling as though we’ll be judged, or because it comes across as some type of moral failing to be sad as a believer. Myself, like so many others, are often plagued by the suppression of our feelings in the name of Christianity.

In the moments I feel like my sadness is unjustified, and the desire to masquerade my emotions arises, I have found it important to remember that God does not give us a pain without a purpose; it is out of our broken hearts that God has us serve His kingdom and help others on their own journey toward healing.

One of the greatest beauty’s of the gospel is that power comes out of weakness. I believe Paul put it most eloquently in 2 Corinthians 12 as he spoke of his pleading with the Lord:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. || 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

This ideology is reflected again and again when speaking of the kingdom of God, a realm which often seems upside down compared to the world we have tried to construct based on our limited wisdom. What appeared to be Christ’s weakest moment, his crucifixion, was actually a moment of incomprehensible power. Through his pain and suffering, the power of salvation was released for all those who believed in him. While we may have great trouble accepting it at times, weakness is strength in God’s eyes, because this is where His grace can flow the most abundantly.

This makes me reflect on my own experiences. What stories have I tried to push down because I feared that if only my faith were stronger, I wouldn’t feel the pain? How many times have I bit my tongue feeling unjustified in my turmoil because others had it worse? How many people have I deprived others of a potentially healing experience, because I was too sacred to speak up?

Because of this, I am trying to change my ways- to remain vulnerable in my darkest moments, and to not feel the need to put up a front of being okay. Our pain, our weakness, our insecurities, and our hardships have been placed in our lives to stand testament to the goodness of the Lord. We are not any less of a Christian because we experience these tribulations in fact, we are glorifying his kingdom by sharing our stories. We can heal from these experiences, and we never know who we may help along the way. Let’s commit to living lives of vulnerability in our struggles.

Slaves to Guilt

Guilt – a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc. whether real or imagined. Guilt, often accompanied hand-in-hand with shame, can paralyze us and leave us in deep troughs of depression and resentment (toward others or ourselves).

For as long as I can remember, I have been a slave to guilt and shame. I take a great deal of pride in being “self-aware”- living in a state of constant analysis when it comes to my actions, my life, and the very fiber of my being. In many ways, this has helped me to achieve some success (interview questions consisting of, “what is your biggest weakness?” were always my forte). However, it also left me in a very dark place. I would spend days replaying every conversation, missed opportunity, or wrong doing over and over in my head. I felt like a terrible student, friend, daughter, girlfriend- I would go through cycles of trying to be “perfect” in all of these roles, but then letting one incident send me into a spiral of resentment, anger, and frustration towards myself because I could not keep up that facade at all times. Every relationship in my life began to unravel at the seams because I would rather push people away than deal with the guilt I felt.

When I first began to discover my faith, this feeling only intensified. Now that I was accountable to a power so much greater than anything I had ever experienced, I found myself constantly drowning in the thought of, “How can God still love me when I sin so much?” For the first time in my life, I couldn’t just isolate myself from the person I felt so much shame towards. The Father we serve is omniscient- I could hide from those around me in my guilt, but I knew I could not hide from Him. Yet I still tried to, by trying not to acknowledge any guilt or shame I felt. Even in my most intimate moments of prayer, there were some things I could not bring myself to face.

Then one day, it clicked. I was reading 1 John 1, and verses 9 and 10 felt like they quite literally jumped off of the page at me:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us || 1 John 1:9-10

Whoa. After months of struggling with this overwhelming guilt, I finally realized the idea of conviction. Our God does not expect us to be without sin. He does not expect us to be perfect- in fact, we glorify Him by admitting to our sinful nature and asking for His grace. This guilt that had been weighing my heart down was not there to serve as a reminder of insufficiency, but instead as a way for Him to draw my eyes to where I could humble myself before Him.

To put it in perspective… how much easier would it be for God to write us off for all of our sins? To turn His back when our wayward nature overcomes us? But instead, He gave us His son so that we would be fully forgiven for our iniquities. He has not only granted us grace, but has gone so far as to call our hearts and our eyes to the areas where we can better ourselves by confronting our wickedness. He wants us to come to Him, because He loves us.

Conviction is uncomfortable. Having to fully own up to our wrongdoings, ask for forgiveness, and find the strength to change our ways is uncomfortable. Yet we can rest assured that the Lord will love us no matter how much shame we feel- He will provide us with unrelenting grace and forgiveness when we lay our weaknesses at His feet.

We can be a slave to our guilt, and allow it to paralyze us- let it keep us in the shadows. Or we can hold that same feeling as a sign that we are loved by a God who wants to see us better ourselves, and who is willing to forgive us of any unrighteousness if we are to just confess. To repent. To give it all to Him. Guilt is a catalyst for change- and a feeling I will no longer allow myself to be a slave to.

Welcome to my blog!

While I am wholeheartedly tempted to immediately dive into sharing my story, or recording thoughts from some recent studies I have done, an introduction to me, and the purpose behind this blog, seems like a more appropriate place to kick off from!

My name is Josephine (Josie!) Montoney, and I am a second-year student at The Ohio State University studying Agricultural Communications and Public Affairs. I grew up in a tiny town, where a majority of my time was dedicated to 4-H and FFA – both of which are youth organizations dedicated to the integration of agriculture, and developing leadership skills in their members. This helped to spark my passion for agriculture, and the policy that affects it!

In the past few years, my life has been turned on its head through my walk with Christ. I grew up in a household where God and faith were not important, and found myself to falling into a pit of cynicism throughout high school. This led to being a self-proclaimed atheist… I was angry with this idea of God, of religion, and couldn’t wrap my mind around something that wasn’t tangible. Fast forward a few years, and God showed himself in ways I could never have imagined (that’s a testimony for another time, though).

I hope to center this blog around some of the short Bible studies that I do, as well as a place to journal my thoughts and excitement about the Lord and His goodness. I can’t wait to see where this goes!