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Wow, have I had an intense month, dear Readers and Friends!

I participated in a post-baccalaureate program to help me prepare to do graduate research. It was like an intellectual boot camp—complete with the requisite emotional melt-down right before the end, followed by the triumphant come-from-behind, well-presented, oral defense-of-research. And, of course, God was right there with me the entire time.

He crossed my path with people who lifted me up at just the times I needed. I think He also positioned me to be able to lift up others.

Romans 1:12
When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

The fellowship of Christians is a powerful phenomenon. It encourages us to display our faith in times when we might otherwise feel more comfortable concealing, but I am most concerned about the ways in which I still fail to represent Christ in the world. How many times did my words, wrapped up as they were in my own struggles and in my own perception, cause discouragement?

I’ve come a long way as a Christian. Even though foul language and teasing jokes are taken as commonplace and generally harmless in our culture, I don’t use them anymore. What once fell easily from my tongue now feels desolate and injurious. Even if others may not feel that language can ever be truly harmful, I believe that if my words are not being used to lift others up, they are not being used for God’s will.

Ephesians 4:29
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Likewise, I also don’t really struggle with rage or bitterness anymore, as I did when I was young. I used to feel bitter that other people seemed to move so effortlessly through life while my own journey was rough and subject to external forces. Other women were pretty and slender without trying; I could gain a pound just thinking of carbohydrates. Other people were born to money; I had to work hard for my own. Other people were popular and desirable; my own “genius” was unrecognized and unappreciated.

Ephesians 4:31
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

By the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling me for the past four years, though, I no longer compare myself to others to find validation for my existence. My only competition is with myself and that competition is only to be able to rise to the challenges God leads me through so that I can grow stronger as a Christian and as a force for His good in the world. Now I know that my spirit, my smile, and my encouragement are beautiful. I love to get outside to hike, swim, and bicycle while enjoying the wonderful world God has made. I work for God now, and my work makes a difference in the lives of people. Popularity, greed, vanity are in the domain of the fallen. They have no place in God’s kingdom.

But, still, I find far too many situations in which I inadvertently discourage rather than encourage.

Ephesians 6:19
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.

I understand that I am human, and that humanness implies imperfection; I will make mistakes. I will say the absolute wrong thing at the very worst time. I will apologize for it afterward, and usually the other person will laugh it off or urge me not to worry about it with the ubiquitous, “we all make mistakes.” I know that they are sincere because when others make mistakes, I say that to them, and believe it. I feel a yearning to be more like Christ, though, so every mistake of my own feels like a glaring declaration of my inability to do so. That declaration is nothing but the truth, though. I am fully incapable of attaining anything close to Christ-like behavior; I am a human creature.

My humanness, though, in its fallibility and coarse understanding, does grant me one benefit. It allows me to try to be more like Christ. There, in the attempt, is where the growth happens. Just wanting to grow closer to God is a holy undertaking, and worth the discomfort over my mistakes that sends me searching in His word for ways to become more like Him.

Ephesians 4:15
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

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