30 Days of Celebration: Riding the Waves

30 Days of Celebration: Riding the Waves

It’s not easy to change basically everything about your life, but it’s also not all bad.

It’s interesting, I’ve seen in myself, what happens when outer change gives permission for inner change. Sometimes, when you’re always in the same place with the same people, your heart and mind desire changes but you stay the same because everything around you stays the same. Maybe you don’t feel like you have permission to change, that the people who have known you forever won’t understand. And so, you fight the change inside of you because you don’t know how to become a new person walking the same old streets.

But when your circumstances change, and the faces you see every day change, suddenly you change. You don’t even mean to, it just happens naturally, probably because your heart has been begging for reforms for so long but you just didn’t let it.

But last night, I sat around a small table in a Mexican restaurant downtown in my new city with three new friends, beautiful ladies with hearts of gold. And I thought about how crazy it was that these girls didn’t know me from Adam three months ago, and I didn’t know them. We all have vastly different stories, and only by God’s perfect plan are we even in each other’s lives, did we end up eating tacos together on a Wednesday night in November.

And I found myself saying things that I never thought I would be allowed to say, like a prisoner finally set free. Saying things about my doubts and my fears and my vast imperfections that have always been there but been afraid to show their faces. But I said these things because I knew that I was allowed to, and I marveled because I was loved in the eyes of those around me.

I was accepted, not for who I’ve always pretended to be, but for who I actually am. This move did something to me, and I no longer could put on a face. I literally have not had the energy. The first month I was here, I just cried. All. The. Time. And I desperately wanted these new people in my life to understand me, to know the “real” me, to see who I was in college.

But now I see that they know the most real version of me, and what I usually give people is a fake. I don’t actually have my life together, I can’t actually find humor in everything. Some things just break my heart, and make me doubt a good God, and send me reeling, lost. Sometimes I forget my own name and lack confidence in every single way. I doubt my worth, and my value, and believe lies.

But I have a good Shepherd, and this sheep leans into that and follows His voice among the darkness and confusion. And some days, that’s all I have.

 

So today I celebrate the change, and the person it is making me. It’s terrifying. Overwhelming. But I know it’s good.

I read once that change is kind of like waves in the ocean, that if you try to stand up to them, you’ll be knocked down in an instant. But if you ride them, if you go with the flow, you’ll be OK. In fact, it’s kind of fun. But it takes trust. I have to trust that there really is a good God who really does have the best in store for me. I have to trust that the faith I had when I moved to South Carolina three months ago still applies today, that this really is where I’m supposed to be.

That these changes really are for my good. That these waves really will bring me to the right place.

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

30 Days of Celebration: Heart Medicine

It’s not even a little bit hard to celebrate today.

My heart still sings as I think back to the last couple of days. I visited my favorite little town in Ohio, and my heart was filled to the brim just being there.

It’s odd, visiting your alma mater just months after graduating, feeling like you’ve been gone for ages and yet everything seems exactly the same. But I needed it.

I needed the late night boy talks in the dorm, laughing hysterically on the air mattress splayed across the floor. I needed the Christmas decorations in the student center. I needed the hugs (ALL the hugs), and to be reminded how precious it is to invest in the lives of others. I needed the familiarity of it all, and I breathed it in like it was medicine.

I love that campus. I love the cafeteria – the cereal dispensers, the soggy breadsticks, the chocolate milk nozzle. I love the stiff furniture in the dorm lounges. I love the lake, and the walks around the lake and the reflection of the sunset in the lake. I love the classrooms where I learned about myself and God and random things about biology and stuff that I’ll surely forget.

I love the fact that suddenly I can think, and breathe, and laugh in a way I haven’t been able to for a while.

But more than anything I love the people. I love the people who I would see in the cafeteria, the conversations had over chocolate milk and sub-par Italian. I love the laughter shared atop uncomfortable couches. I love laps and laps and laps around the lake during long talks about boys and faith and boys and classes and boys.

I love it, and therefore I celebrate it. And this weekend, even though my status as a student is in the past, I was reminded that the people aren’t. I was assured that the relationships are alive and pick up right where they were left off, and that the lessons I’m learning in South Carolina my lovely friends are still learning in the cornfields of Ohio.

So my heart is full. And I take it with me back to the land I was called to, and I anticipate what the Lord has up His sleeve in the next chapter.

And I shed a few tears on the plane, smiling at pictures taken and memories made while I was there.

 

30 Days of Celebration: Wait, Don’t I Deserve This?

30 Days of Celebration: Wait, Don’t I Deserve This?

Ok, honesty hour: I haven’t given very much thought into this endeavor. 30 days of celebration.

Every day of November will bring thoughts on the topic, but I haven’t thought out each post or planned an order. Instead, my fingers type these words as my clouded mind tries to keep up. I write today for me, and although I hope you read my words this next month, most of them will be written for completely selfish reasons.

I need celebration. I need gratitude. I need it all so badly. And so I write.

I don’t sit down today out of any sort of abundance. My cupeth does not overflow. Instead, my head hurts. It’s hard to keep up with the life around me. Anxiety and doubt have been my response to pretty much everything for months. I feel like a sojourner through a harsh desert, desperate for water.

Celebration is that water.

It’s crazy how a critical heart seeps its way into my life. I am often described as a “happy” person, always positive and cheerful. My whole life people have used those words to describe me, but there are so many days that those very words eat me alive. “What if they really knew what was in my mind?” Because I’m tellin you, folks, it is often not a pretty place.

And so today I take my very first sip of water, in what I pray will be a refreshing month.

I think I’ve always viewed celebration as optional in the life of a Christian. Some Christians celebrate things, some don’t. But I am learning that lack of celebration and gratitude is actually a deep form of hideous pride. Who am I? Who am I to tell God that He created a single thing wrong? Who am I to critique the world I was given, the life I was given?

I used to have this idea that I deserved what I had. I think we all do, growing up. Entitlement: the thief of gratitude. This last summer, my sense of entitlement became a beast that began to eat me alive. I distinctly remember the moment I pleaded with God to be free from it. After graduating college, I faced some rejection, had some setbacks, and I got mad at God. How dare He? Isn’t this my life?

And I let it just sit there for months, waiting for God to give me what I surely deserved. Until one day I woke up and realized that I was miserable as all get-out. Nothing would be good enough for me. Nothing would satisfy me. Nothing. I walked around like ticking time bomb, and it took very little to set me off, to make me mad at God for the life I had.

But there came a moment what it hit me like a sack of flour, doubled me over. On my knees. “Jesus, what is wrong with me? Why is everything a disappointment? People expect me to be this optimistic person, but if they could only see my heart for one moment. I don’t know what to say but change me. Change my mind. Take away my entitlement.” 

I thought I could keep criticism as a pet. I thought I could keep it under control. I mean, surely I am entitled to my own opinions, aren’t I? Everyone seems to say so. Everywhere you look, that’s all you see: people and their opinions. And I had a few of my own: I should have gotten that job. He should like me back. I should have been made different. I deserve a more clean-cut world to live in.

And I know I don’t have to tell you this, but that kind of thinking eats a person alive. Bob Goff, in his book “Love Does”, describes lack of gratitude as “seeing something really beautiful as just normal”. What a delightfully plain statement for such a deep reality.

I don’t want to pass over beauty as though I deserve it, as though the intricacies of this gorgeous world should be regarded as nothing. Or not enough. I am learning that celebration springs forth from an earthy, solid realization that nothing we have is earned. What single thing did you or I do to deserve our gift of life? Anyone who doesn’t see life as a gift doesn’t look very closely at its humble beginnings. Every breath, every blink of the eye, every headache, every heartbreak, every trauma. None of it deserved, all of it given.

The world tells us daily that we own our lives, and that way of thinking has held me captive for so many seasons. What a change it is when we realize that our lives are not our own, that we don’t have to flounder around trying to make something of them! When I realize that I deserve the worst of deaths, that I did nothing to give myself life, suddenly celebration is the only logical response. I would be nothing without the God who gave it all to me.

And that’s what this month is about, reminding myself of these things. The Bible says to think about what is lovely and admirable and worthy of praise. I use to read those words as nice advice, but now I know that they are a slap in the face of my pride. A reality check. Who am I to spend a single moment critiquing the God who made it all?

So let’s lay down our pride for a change, yeah? I’m ready for some refreshment, for some healing to my bones. Settle down with me this month. Let’s see it all differently.

I know I need to.

 

Trading Religion for Relationship

Trading Religion for Relationship

I’ve heard it said that noise is the enemy of our generation.

Maybe every generation. Probably. But I know that it’s a prison guard in my life.

As I type this, I sit alone. And it’s quiet. And I have spent the entire day in solitude. And I am extremely,

deeply

uncomfortable.

I don’t know exactly when I lost the art of solitude and silence with God. Maybe I never really had it. All I know is that my relationship with God has always functioned more like athlete-coach than father-daughter. I approach God like a soccer player on the sidelines. My “quiet” times are like drills and pep talks, and then I hit the field as I drive to work and go through my day.

Which works fine. Until I’m sick. Or injured. Benched.

And when God the Father wants only for me to come to Him, curl up with Him, I don’t because I see Him as God the Coach. I’ve failed Him. I’m weak.

I think this is why I fear solitude. I see it as myself on the end of the bench, my coach a million miles away, focused on the other players. So solitude is a dreaded time, a punishment, a time for me to focus on how to get back in the game.

A lonely time.

A time when I realize how much of my value I put into being an athlete. Because if God is a Coach, then that’s what I am to Him: an athlete. My injuries symbolize a loss of identity. No space for weakness, no room for rest. No value in stillness. Life becomes a game I can’t keep up with, and God becomes a Coach I don’t talk to. Because I don’t want Him to see me like this.

 

I came to South Carolina 2 months ago injured.

Not with a broken leg necessarily, or an open wound. More like unable to hit the field due to utter exhaustion. My mind was exhausted, my spirit was exhausted. The season after graduation had run me dry because every morning I woke up expecting to be an athlete and every morning I saw a weary face in the mirror. Dreams were dashed, loneliness was real, anxiety was present. The pressure of knowing where to go bore down on me as I got rejected from internships and confused about what to do.

I couldn’t be an athlete. I just didn’t have it in me. So who was I? My whole life I have focused, full of energy, on what I did for my Coach. But I never spent time learning who I was to my Father, off the field, off the bench. Who am I when I’m not accomplishing anything? Who am I when all things familiar are stripped from me, and I find myself forced to learn solitude?

 

I’m a daughter. That’s who I am. I’m a child of God.

Jesus did not call me here to South Carolina to train me up for the field. He called me here to give me Himself. He doesn’t base our relationship off of what I can do for Him. He just loves me for who I am because He made me who I am. Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

Let me say that one more time, if even just for myself.

Performance anxiety has no place in the Christian life.

I have spent my whole life being a stage Christian, and I am weary for it. I am a Pharisee, but I scream for relationship. Religion leads to burnout, but intimacy leads to vibrancy, because there is no performance needed.

Today I did nothing of value. I saw no one, influenced no one. Accomplished nothing. Walked around deeply uncomfortable being only with my Heavenly Father. But what do you expect? I can only be who I am made to be. That is, a daughter. A child.

I don’t want to be religious anymore. I don’t want to come to God as an obligation, and I don’t want to view Him as a drill sergeant. I don’t want to place my identity into what I do or what team I’m on, because those things can be ripped from me in an instant.

I think that is why God is great to show us our weaknesses, to bench us. Because He knows we can’t keep up the athleticism forever. God isn’t the coach who drills us but the Father who scoops us up and takes us home in His minivan, buying us ice cream on the way home because He is so proud of all that we are, even when we fall. Especially when we fall.

And that is why solitude is vital. Because all God wants is to know me, and to know you. But we fill our lives with so much noise. He wants our severe honesty. He wants our love, and has poured out His love by the bucketload. I feel today as if I know very little about being in a relationship with God, but I’m learning.

I’m getting a taste of daughterhood, little by little.

 

It’s Time To See The Good

It’s Time To See The Good

I have a confession. This isn’t what I was going to post. I already had something else written, spell checked, tagged and ready to go, but I woke up this morning and realized I couldn’t post it.

Because it was 1,000 words about what was wrong with my life, what was wrong with the church, what is wrong about what is happening around me right now. And I’m tired of focusing on everything that doesn’t fit where I want it to.

You see, I’m the problem. I have blamed a million things for my negative attitude, but nothing is to blame but the brain between my ears and the crooked heart in my chest. And it’s oddly liberating to know this, because for so long I couldn’t understand how the world we live in could be so paradoxical. It had my head spinning, for it would seem so dark to me, as I awoke on an aimless Saturday morning, or wrote another paper, or gazed at the unknown days ahead. The world seemed menacing and dark to me, and yet I would go for an evening run to Walmart, and as I drove past an open lot the ground would glitter with lightening bugs and the sky would be seven shades of red and I couldn’t understand how a world so beautiful could seem so dark to me.

And now I know: the lightning bugs have it right. They are beautiful because they can’t help it – they were programmed and designed to spread glitter across green landscape. They were simply created beautifully and so was I, and any day I refuse to believe that is a sad waste of precious time.

I’m only 22, but I have lost entire seasons of my life worrying myself to panic or, worse, sleep. I couldn’t figure out how I could be so tired by 11 am until I realized that I had created an exhausting world in my own head. I was torturing myself with my negative thoughts, and it wore me out. I was literally making myself sick with worry. And it was all my fault, in the best of ways.

I’m glad it was my fault, because I don’t want to blame the world or God or anyone else.

Sometimes, when I am sick and in my mind, I just step outside and allow this world to be all that it is to me. And the sun’s heat, the mismatched clouds, the sounds of lawns being mowed, they heal me. I recently spent two weeks beneath Italian mountains, and the way they rose from the forest blanket, staring at the sky and daring to be grander than anything else around them… I was small in the best way. I really am allowed to let go and give my worries to the mountains and the God who fashioned them perfectly.

I can lean into friendships. The people who make me laugh without trying. The eyes I can stare straight into without fearing what they see. The people who validate my fears, cry through memories of boys I shouldn’t have liked, and still view me as a whole, capable woman through it all. The people who instill confidence in me, who build me up, who let me dare to be more than who I am today. Who told me I could be more in the first place.

And Jesus. Jesus. My shepherd who died to give me life I don’t appreciate, days I worry out of existence. Why do I think so small when I have a Father who made everything?

So today I choose. As one who chooses to lose weight from their body, I choose to lose weight from my mind and soul. It doesn’t happen all at once, but change begins with a choice. For me, it’s a pledge to gratitude. It’s a decision to fight the stress headaches and negative perception by Truth and new foundations. It’s a promise to have fun. To think of nothing sometimes. To dream again. A new way of living that I used to be good at, until I thought I had to play God in my life.

And that’s why I couldn’t publish that other post. It can’t be me anymore. I don’t need to tell you what’s wrong in this world, and I surely don’t have to tell myself.

But I do need a reminder of what is beautiful and worth my musings. I need to remember who God is in this world and who God is in mine.

And maybe you need that reminder, too.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

You Gave Your Life To God. Don’t Expect It Back.

I never got a boyfriend in college. Or high school.

And I don’t say that to evoke some sort of pity from you. Really. It’s more of a fact, and one that I’ve found peace for.

But I do say it to be real, because even though I’ve never met the right guy, hardly a day goes by that I wish I will. You know… you turn a corner one day and see him and suddenly everything changes. (Maybe I’ve read too many pre-teen novels for my own good..)

Overly fantasized or not, the reality is that so many people find that person, and their lives are changed forever, and they get to live the rest of their lives with their very best friend. And for many people, this adventure happens in college, and I would be lying to say I didn’t hope it would also happen for me.

But it didn’t.

Not that I didn’t try, of course, and my close friends could tell you story after story of ridiculous things I did to try and make Boy A or Boy B notice me. (Don’t even ask about the unicorn onesie incident…) But after the first boy I liked married my roommate, and the second boy stuck me straight in the friend zone and asked me for advice on the girl he actually did like… things started to get a little discouraging.

I distinctly remember thinking that there was absolutely no way I would get through four years of a christian college without at least one guy falling in love with me. Right? I expected the world to at least give me that. (And maybe it did. But if so, I was painfully unaware.)

I would speak to juniors and seniors and learn that they were still single, and I would gawk at the romantic black hole I had walked in to. How were those people still single?! They were beautiful and wise and dedicated to the Lord. Who wouldn’t want that?

But I have learned that I put way too much stock into romance and dating and sappy Instagram posts. It embarrasses me to even think about it now, but I was indoctrinated by the culture that surrounded me. Even at a christian college, and a good one, far too much time and energy was spent on who liked who, and way too little time on the God who made us all.

 

It’s a little unsettling how much my mindset has changed since graduation a month ago. I think I was changing for years during college, but it’s like I never actually had a chance to see what it all meant for me. I was stuck – in a good way, at the time – in a decision I made as a 17 year old to attend the school I did. And I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but part of me now thinks I may have loved it too much.

Let me explain.

I was comfortable there. I cared about getting a boyfriend far more than bearing my cross. Following Jesus was a hobby for most of my college career – something I would do when I had free time but nothing worth giving my life up for. I would come for Him when I had something to gain, like comfort or proof for my beliefs.

And how sick is that? He died for me. A bloody, humiliating event. God turned away and He took it all.

I think, my whole life, I have been indirectly taught that you can have Jesus and everything else too. But can you? This post feels jumbled, but maybe that’s because I am. I feel like I just stepped off the Tilt-A-Whirl at the fair, like my head hurts and what I thought was gravity just dropped out from under me.

The reality is, I gave my life to Christ when I was 5 years old. And I had absolutely no way of knowing what that would mean for me, but God did. He took my little heart, and He began to mold it and form it and I will never forget the Saturday night my 7th grade year when I realized I wanted to live for God. I knew that night that my heart burned for Jesus, but I will admit I thought nothing of sacrifice.

I thought I could have it all and Jesus too.

And now I’m trying to figure out how I justified it all.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked for life, for a place in His kingdom. And Jesus didn’t tell him to go to a comfortable christian school, marry a christian woman, have cute little christian kids and find a comfortable job to support it all. He tells him to “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me”.

I want to be careful here. I am not, in any way, insulting those who met their spouse at a christian college, had kids, and now work to support the family they have built. That is incredible and beautiful. What I am questioning, however, is the word comfortable.

And I’m questioning it because I see it in myself. I never dreamed of sacrifice, and consequently didn’t partake in it much. I don’t spend my life loving orphans and widows, as scripture clearly commands. I can’t even remember the last time I told somebody about Jesus who had never heard. I am sickened, sickened by what I have considered important.

Why did I never consider that I didn’t find somebody to be with at college because Jesus didn’t plan for me to find someone there? I gave my life to Jesus long ago, why do I keep expecting it back? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

I think back to all the heartache of the past year. I think it was me losing my soul. Vain desires were rotting me. Jesus took away – withheld – so that I would face sacrifice with a hungry knowledge that this world ain’t gonna cut it. Sacrifice is the only obvious choice if I am to gain Christ.

And I must gain Christ. My soul needs Him. I don’t want to gain this world, for I die a little every time I do.

Jesus is so different than I imagined. He expects me to give it all up, everything He has given me. And yet I know – I know – that if I do, life will be there. He kept me from falling in love because He has love waiting for me – buckets and buckets of love.

But I must follow Him to find it.

 

 

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

You’re Not Gonna Get What You Want.

I’m at a wedding this weekend.

My oldest brother is getting married to the sweetest, most genuine southern beauty, and my whole family is in the wedding party. There are a million things to get done, of course. Weeks ago things started popping up around the house: chalkboard signs and table arrangements and taupe colored bridesmaid dresses.

Essentially, throwing a wedding is like throwing an incredible huge party, and it’s kind of the best. Granted, there’s a ton to get done, but the reason for it all is arguably the most beautiful ceremony that can occur under the sun.

And so, in a way, I’m engrossed by the most beautiful thing on planet earth right now.

Something strikes me every time I’m a part of something inherently and exponentially beautiful, though. It’s funny, but it’s like all of my problems in life are amplified in a way. Watching others happiness reminds me of my own unhappiness. Meals with family make me think of the moments I am completely alone. It feels like I’m cheating on the more realistic, down to earth sides of my life, like I’m not honoring them in the way they deserve.

This weekend has nothing to do with me. I didn’t choose the color scheme or pick out the dress I’m going to wear. If all goes well, I will go completely unnoticed, entirely overshadowed by the bride and groom. That would be right, that would be good.

And then I will go home, and although a thousand things just changed for the better in their life, everything in mine will stay the same. I will still be recently graduated, unemployed, proud resident of the average sized bedroom in my parent’s upstairs. I don’t need reminding that my life starkly juxtaposes that of the happy couple.

It could be so easy for me to let bitterness win. Because that’s all we want as humans, isn’t it: to get everything we want.

There are a million things the Lord has not handed me as I wished Him to. Or, to put it another way, if I could write my life, I would possess so many things I don’t currently have.

Life, for instance, a plan for my future. A ring on my finger. A straighter nose. A spotless past. An unbreakable heart.

A party, just for me. A husband who vows that he will never leave me. Always be mine.

It’s not hard to think of what I don’t have, especially on weekends like this.

It’s funny, but I thought that the hardest thing about being single would be the loneliness, the forced-independence, the unmet desires, the tumultuous world of dating. I never imagined that the hardest part would be none of those things, but would lie in the party itself.

That the hardest part is rejoicing with those who have what you want.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

Oh, how hard it can be. The Lord asks us to throw our selfish hearts out the window and be more, to harness the Peace of the Spirit in a way we never have before.

Because, you see, the Lord may be one who takes away, but He is also a God of giving, and one who gives abundantly, more than we can ever ask for.

He has withheld so many things I want, and yet has given a million things I never even thought to ask for:

the ability to walk someone through a panic attack

an internship working with underprivileged kids

an incredible, humongous, loving family

sister in laws

a vibrant, living, consistent group of girls to live with during college

a story, one that is more broken than I wanted

and an ability to weep with those who weep, though I still have work to do with the other half of the verse.

 

Because our God might take away what we think we wanted, but He will surely give us what we need. More than that, what we never could have imagined needing.

But He knows.

And this weekend, there is no room for wishing, for if only I would open my eyes I would see, that I have never been in want. Not truly.

Not ever.

 

So I can go downstairs and play card games with my family, and I can laugh, and I can let it be all that it is supposed to be for me. Because it’s a gift, all of it. And if I let the blessings grow to size, there won’t be any room for anything else.

And that’s right. That’s true. That’s today, exactly as it’s meant to be.