Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas (plus a few days)

A few weeks ago, I remembered how He came like the winter snow. I love this song by Audrey Assad- she says all these ways our Savior could have come: like a fire, a hurricane, a mighty storm... but instead, He came like the snow- it perfectly depicts the peace Jesus brought to the chaos and muck of humanity when He came as a child.

As one of my favorites, J. Vernon McGee, put it: "Here comes God out of eternity, already the Ancient of Days; but He also came to Bethlehem, a little baby thing that made a woman cry." The least expected thing in the most needed way.

I can't help but remember waking up in the wee hours of the morning that February day, in the yellow guest bedroom at 14 Oakleigh Crescent in a London suburb. I was one of millions of Londoners who slept as the snow blanketed our houses and streets and sidewalks and cars, quiet and soft and slow. Something happened to wake me up, though, and I crept to the frosty window and peeked out into street and saw snow- SNOW!- everywhere. Inches and inches of snow, more than I'd ever seen fall at once, lit by the yellowed streetlights. Joy bubbled around within me, and I began tearing up.



IT CAME!- my one thought.
They had said it would, but I was skeptical.
Then it did. While I was sleeping, unaware. But something woke me up and all the sudden, there it was: five (or more) glorious inches of white, fluffy, frozen water making me cry.

Isn't that just how you imagine Christ coming? I'm not saying that night in the stable was quiet or soft or slow in the least-- I think it was probably the opposite. But I think about those hours after He had come, when He had finally stopped crying and finally fell asleep like the rest of the people in the Town of David. 
Maybe some young girl, who like me felt as though this town she was visiting was meant to be her hometown, awoke in the middle of the night and heard the word. 
He came. Maybe she always wondered whether He would or not; and then He did. 
"Already the Ancient of Days", but here in this tiny town in a tiny baby's helpless body, He just came and made another young girl, one who had no idea what she (or He) was doing with her life, cry. 

It turns out, this Jesus guy chose to come as something vulnerable and weak because He knew that was the only thing we could truly relate to: being helpless and desperate and reliant. 

For some reason, as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing says, this Savior-child was "pleased, as man, with men to dwell- JESUS, Our Emmanuel." He came to live with us so that we could live in Him and through Him.
I always get convicted by Christmas carol lyrics; it seems to be a different carol that strikes me each year. It seems like I'm continually hating O Come All Ye Faithful (because let's be real: if the invitation to 'come' is only to the 'joyful, faithful, and triumphant', then 90% of days I would not be invited). 
This year it was It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (specifically the third verse) that brought me to tears:

O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;

Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.


Now THIS one... this one gets me. 
"O YE BENEATH LIFE'S CRUSHING LOAD", it starts, and there I want to raise both my arms. 
ME ME ME, THAT IS ME, HELLO YES PLEASE PICK ME BECAUSE I AM WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO.
then it starts qualifying it, like those ads for COPD drugs ("do you struggle breathing? do you find yourself wheezing after walking?") and continues: 
"HEY YOU! YOUR FORM EVER BEND LOW?
YOU TOIL ALONG THE CLIMBING WAY SOMETIMES?
STEPS EVER FEEL PAINFUL? SLOW?" 
Yes, yes, yes. All of the above.
Have we got a cure for you!

Hannah Brencher  has kind of changed how I think about golden things. She mentions it a lot and it made me start thinking about it and noticing those gilded, glittering things, and realize that they're everywhere. God's Word talks about gold A LOT. 
Apparently it's a condition (not a thing) to be sought after. To be golden! What a thing to seek. 
And here, 'upon a midnight clear' we are offered it as the cure for our troubles: glad and golden hours.
They're coming swiftly! Get ready! Come rest with us and hear the angels sing so you don't miss the glad and golden hours we'll experience when we rest in Him together!
(I literally cried at this point in the song)

I'm convinced that I'm not the only one 2014 has been rough to. I'm sure that at least a few other people experienced bittersweet moments on Christmas week or cried on Christmas Eve or wished things were different. 
There have to be others of you who have toiled along some this year, who have climbed until you thought you couldn't climb any more, who have walked and walked and walked until there were blisters and scrapes and all you could do was drag yourself forward one small step at a time. 

But if you've been with Jesus for a while, or maybe if you've read Hinds' Feet on High Places, then you know that when He plants the Seed of Love in you and asks you to follow Him, the journey is far from easy. 
So many times you deviate and have to find your way back, or wish to turn around, or just cry your little eyeballs out because you're so tired of trying. But then once you become His and that Seed of Love blooms in you, one day you'll realize He's led you to the High Places. He's made your tired, dusty feet "like the deer's" so that you can "tread on high places."  (Habakkuk 3:17-19
And it's not so hard any more, and it's easier to see the golden sun, and it's more peaceful there beside His road. 

It makes me so very very glad He came. He became Emmanuel. God. WITH. Us.
To breathe with us
To live with us
To love with us
To cry with us
To walk with us
To see with us
To sing with us
To run with us
To fight with us
To talk with us
To rest with us.
Like snow. Not requiring or expecting anything but reverence. Making all our muck and chaos disappear and suddenly grow still under his weight and mercy and presence. Giving us a way to find our way to His High Places, so we could live those glad and golden hours with Him.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Holy is He, Blessed am I.

For some reason, I have come to really love all those quirky, never-heard-of chick flicks on Netflix that are somewhat deep and depressing and not really chick flicks at all (E.g. The Diary of Preston Plummer, Liberal Arts, Like Crazy, Girl Most Likely, One Day, The Giant Mechanical Man, The Pallbearer, etc.) I've watched an abundance of them over the past month; don't ask me why because I couldn't give a reason. They just appeal to me, probably because I don't know what my life is and the characters in the movies don't seem to either.
Today as I was watching Liberal Arts, the female lead, Zibby, said something that resonated with me.

"I sometimes feel like I'm looking down on myself. Like there's this older, wiser me watching over this 19-year-old rough draft, who's full of all this potential, but has to live more to catch up with that other self somehow. And, uh, I know I'll get there. It's just sometimes I think I want to rush the process, you know? "

And though I am quickly approaching 22 years, I still feel like a rough draft. I, too, feel like I have loads of potential that I don't know what to do with and don't know how to catch up to the older, wiser, finished-product Me. 
Maybe I never will. Maybe I'm not supposed to. 
Maybe I will always feel like Taylor Swift did at 22 years old: happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. Miserable and magical. 
I don't know for sure, but I'm hoping with everything I've got that "fake it till you make it" is an acceptable mantra for an adult to sing repeatedly, and that it's ok for me to always be the emotional basketcase that I am.

Yesterday I went to my church's Christmas program. There were several times where I was brought to tears by the sheer beauty of it all- the music and instrumentalists combined with the drama and the dancers just cut right to my soul, right to the spot that recognizes beauty and alerts the rest of your self. I was overwhelmed with it all. 
Then the girl playing Mary sang this song.
And it kind of wrecked me. I was one big blubbery mess of tears and streaking eyeliner and it was like my soul was singing, desperately, back to God as I cried along with the song- "Be Born in Me" by Francesca Battistelli
The music video depicts Mary's heart through everything. 
Not that I am in any way to be compared with the mother of Jesus, but this song resonated with me so much.
God has been using Mary to teach me an abundance of things, over the long stretch of road that has been Our Journey since January 2012 (and if you want to hear about that I'd be glad to ramble to ya). But one thing that has been truly cemented this year is that He wraps himself in the unexpected. The song says:

"All this time we've waited for the promise
All this time You've waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?

Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me
I'll hold You in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart Your Bethlehem
Be born in me."



and, really, how perfect is that? How fitting is that to my life?! 
"It's INCREDIBLY FITTING, Becca!" is the correct answer.


don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I feel like I have so much in common with Mary. I feel like I have this unexplainable favor from the Lord resting on me and I have no idea why (Luke 1:30). All I know is that "I am not brave, I'll never be- the only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy. I'm just a girl, nothing more, but I am willing, I am Yours."

That's kind of the theme of my life these past few years. Realizing I am not fully His yet, but I am on my way- I am becoming fully His (John 1:12). Realizing my feet are mangled and misshapen from the sin I have trod in time and time again, and that He offers to make my feet like hinds' feet and take me up on the High Places (Habakkuk 3:19). Realizing that He calls us to lay down so many things in the grave, that better things may be resurrected (Luke 9:23, John 10:17).


This year has been the Year of Death (I'll write more about that come New Years' Eve) and it has, quite literally (spiritually) killed me. It has been the Death of Becca and it has been so incredibly, painfully glorious. And as I cried along to that beautiful song and really paid attention to the lyrics, I realized what may be the final realization of this series/journey: I HAVE DIED THAT HE MAY LIVE IN ME. 
I know, I know; I'm slow to realize this point that probably EVERY other Christian has gotten to by now. Whatever. He teaches us different things at different times. 

BUT GUYS.
This year, He killed me.
So that I would be empty.
So that I wouldn't have to be the innkeeper that said, "No room."
So that I could say, "Well... I don't have much, but I DO have vacancy."
So that He could be born, here. In me.

So that my clinging to Him now and holding Him so very dear could eventually become Him holding me when I have not the strength to cling any more (I look forward to that day).
So that in between now and then, my heart could literally be His hometown.

He is making me His.
He is making me His home.

And knowing that makes me realize: it's ok to be a rough draft. I am His rough draft. I am being hewn and sharpened and purified and shaped and smoothed out, among my moments and years of seeming not to know anything but tears.
It's ok to watch a lot of sad movies because I don't know what my life is yet; He does.

"Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide
Is this shadow of an angel or a warrior?
If God is pleased with me, why am I so terrified?
Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven's eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees
Holy is He;
blessed am I."

can I say that once more for my own heart's sake?
If you know nothing else, weary heart, know this:
Holy is He.
Blessed am I.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

I want to die on a day like today.

today is perfect and exactly the sort of day on which I want to die.

It's flawlessly rainy, and gray, and cold, and lovely. It requires finding the softest blanket, wrapping yourself in it to traipse down the stairs and make a pot of coffee, carrying that cup of life-giving juice with both your hands (it seems to warm your soul at the same time), and snuggling back under the covers with only your head peeking out to watch a Christmas movie on netflix- emerging only to guzzle down another mouthful of coffee.

Doesn't that sound like the best sort of day on which one might die? Not that I'm sitting around planning my death, but I'd be incredibly happy if I got to die on a day as glorious as this one.

It's the type of day my anglophile heart loves best- the type of day that reminds you of be-puddled London streets and heads ducked down as pedestrians walk across the zebra crossing (crosswalk with stripes painted on the road, for all you Americans that think that actually refers to a place zebras can cross the road. hint: it isn't for zebras).
The kind of day you don't mind driving slower and walking slower and breathing slower because something about life just seems more peaceful and manageable. Something makes you feel like you should be taking long, melancholy walks through the rain and writing blatantly honest love letters (the general kind to humans you love un-romantically) and jumping in puddles and laying in your bed clutching your old memories so tight they're suffocating you and feeling a plethora of emotions all at once.

I guess that's why it's my favorite kind of day, because I'm really good at feeling things. (insert reference to her own emotional basketcase-ness HERE).

Messiness. It's a day of messiness. The pinpoint of that description for this day settles it all down and clarifies even the foggiest of thoughts that drift like misty rain my windshield wipers can't quite keep up with.
Most people use these days as excuses to stay inside and not go out for anything. "It's too messy", my dad always says. The messy rain makes the roads incredibly slick and the possibility of hydroplaning gets obnoxiously high, even for people who are very different from me and like to go the speed limit (or slower) when it's raining. Not to mention the getting in and out of your car in the rain- that is the only thing I cannot stand about rain. You try so hard to stay dry, you figure out these little umbrella maneuvers to keep you as dry as possible when opening and closing the car door... but you always get sprinkled on. The messiness is unavoidable.

Other people don't like the messiness. Especially not messiness in life and relationships and events.
Well, I thrive off of it.
I, like the aforementioned well-missed London, am a city of constantly changing chaos and ever-present messiness that somehow finds consistent order within that.

And today in my chaos and messiness, and in the messy perfection of the day, He (my Jesus) found order. Maybe he created it, I don't know. But I looked in my heart and all the sudden I saw consistency of mind and spirit that has been absent for so very long. It came on the wings of His whisper: "I have not forgotten you."
That was really all I needed, but He kept going.
"My promises are still unfulfilled but still living, and here I hold them up for you to see and remember. I have not forgotten you. I have not forgotten your heart and its longings. I will not abandon you."

Within me, it was like that scene in Mary Poppins where they start snapping and all the toys just start going back to their places.
God's whispers were the snaps. And all my doubts and fears were going back to their places (somewhere outside of my mind, I don't really know where they go) and letting the Tetris pieces fall into their place perfectly to leave an ordered, sound mind, clinging with faith to His promises and whispers.
I was driving, as I am when most of God's most obvious whispers come to my little ear.

He replayed my day for me:
this weather.
sleeping in.
coffee (three cups of it, and with peppermint mocha creamer to boot!)
a weird semi-english breakfast
a day-long conversation about Doctor Who
a British Christmas movie (that turned out to be rather awful, but HEY, London at Christmastime)
Wellies

it was like my own little day in London.
I remembered how when I first stepped outside this morning, I stood on my doorstep under my holey little awning with the rain pattering all around and my breath making white steamy swirls around me, and I cried. I just stood there and slowly surveyed what was in front of me and I cried. He had given me London, for a day.
Just to remind me that He's not done with it.
Just to remind me that though that dream is dead, it is soon to come back to life.
Just to remind me that after the winter comes the spring.

Just to say, "Hey. I love you. Here's a little something I made you, just because."
On this day that would be one so perfect to die on, He reminded me that He's given me life, abundant life, and that He's giving His promises life- that in Him they find their Yes and Amen- eventually.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

the 1 Timothy 4:12 challenge

Back in August, when I had first moved into the apartment and was just doing my own thing trying to spend my days as best I could and still didn't have class, God started this thing. It was, in typical God-Thing fashion, completely out of the blue and something I could never have thought up on my own. I had been listening to an old audio CD of the 2010 TeenPact National Convention sessions for a week or so, slowly listening to bits of each session when I was driving hither and yonder. And of course, over the course of the past four years, I had completely forgotten the things God had whispered to my heart during NC, so He was busy re-wrecking me with those truths.

One day I was driving down I-220, after having treated myself to some Target shopping for teacher things, and listening to Zach Hunter's session about his organization Loose Change to Loosen Chains. It had nothing directly to do with what God had been teaching me; there was nothing in it that I would have pulled out and said "THIS RELATES TO MY LIFE SO PERFECTLY RIGHT NOW."

BUT GOD.

Honestly, I can't even recall what Zach was talking about when he brought up 1 Timothy 4:12. It just hit me suddenly and I zoned out from what He was saying and was caught up in these God-thing thoughts. That verse was what I once claimed to be my "life verse". It was the one I had memorized and felt called by as a 9-year-old at my first summer camp (at MC, no less).

"Do not let others look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity."

then WHAM.

God was all, "Hello, Becca. It is August. that means there are five months left in 2014. And would you look at that! There are five areas in which you should set an example that are listed here. Not a coincidence. Also not a coincidence that you have been struggling with unsure speech lately and that happens to be the first thing I'm going to work on you with."

So then and there, on the wavy I-220 whose foundation of Yazoo Clay seems to be having loyalty issues, He challenged me. and we made a pact.

SPEECH= August was rough. I was not very faithful to hold up my end of the "setting an example" deal. I gossiped and I cursed and I used slang words too often and I spoke a lot of words of death, instead of life, especially into myself. It was really hard and I felt like I had failed big-time by the end of the month. But, I had mentioned to two or three friends the work that God had started and all of them said, "Oh gosh, Becca. He's been telling me to work on that, too. Can I join you?" and it was so wonderful to have them there to confess my failings to and to find encouragement and words of life from them.

LIFE= this one befuddled me, and I spent a good 12 days of September trying to figure out how to "set an example... in life." It seemed so vague and broad that I hardly knew what to do with it. Then one evening I had dinner with one of my fabulous KT breaux, Myles, and he spoke & prayed words of truth and life and Jesus that made everything become clear. He reminded me that we have already conquered death and sin and darkness by the blood of Jesus, and to live in any mindset but one of LIFE and VICTORY and LIGHT is to make small the sacrifice of Christ. So I spent the month being reminded of His victory in my life and in the world, and learning what it meant to SPEAK LIFE.

(I love that He didn't just teach me these things individually and separately, but used them to build on top of each other little by little.)

LOVE= October seems like anything but the month for love, so being the rebel that I am, I decided to make it the most loving month I could. I started with trying to love myself better, love others deeper, love Christ more fully, and love life more freely. and wouldn't you know God brought so much love to my heart that I could barely handle it. I spent my last two weeks at GMS loving those students as hard as I could and hoping they would feel it, see it, or remember it (and realize it later). My literal dead mums were brought back to life, and students that I didn't know even cared about me displayed obvious respect and affection and "I'm going to miss you so much!"s during my last week with them. I found a litter of kittens, and spent weekends with beloved friends having LIFE and LOVE SPOKEN into me (yes, He just keeps building), and I realized how much I loved and admired my cooperating teacher. I crashed a KT meeting and an old active friend made my night by freaking out when she saw me and exclaiming how glad she was that I was there. I realized I'm actually a pretty good teacher and that I love it, I decided to stop wallowing in self-pity and choose to love and appreciate suffering because it produces perseverance and character in me, and I started my teaching at the new placement and didn't like it at first but started learning to love it. I learned Love really does require self-sacrifice and that the sacrifice of self leads to brokenness and then miracles and multiplication on His end of things (see previous blog post for more on that). There was just a lot of odd kinds of love I experienced in this odd month that seems like it shouldn't be one full of love (mostly because it isn't February), but was anyway. Because Jesus seems to be a fan of oxymorons and the like.

FAITH= this one I find hilarious. November is only 8 days deep, so far, and already He has given me so many opportunities to let my faith take deeper root in my heart and soul. I'm remembering what it means when He says that "without faith, it is impossible to please God." I'm recalling what faith really looks like when it's played out in my life, and that it really is as simple (but ?) as being assured of things I hope for and being certain of what I cannot see. There is a peace that comes with knowing that God will do what He said He would do, even when those promises seem to have drifted far away with no hope of returning; there is a joy that comes with waiting on Him to find you and bring His promises full circle, because there is comfort and assurance and expectancy in the blind waiting. Stepping out of the boat I'm in, out of the city founded half on pride and half on fear, that I have built myself, and onto a future and promises as uncertain as a choppy lake, is not fun or easy but there is exhilaration in stepping out and finding the surface tension can hold me up and I can run on this illogical track. He has led me and kept me here for a reason, and I can hold tight to the lifeline in front of me that I can't really even see, and I can trust His unfulfilled promises will be filled to overflowing. and I really look forward to all the other things He will show me regarding faith over the rest of this month.

PURITY= I don't understand this one yet. Pray that God will prepare my heart for it and wreak havoc in me all over again, as He has each month throughout this challenge of His.

the end.

Monday, October 27, 2014

easier

a while back, I had a conversation that's stayed with me. I honestly don't remember a whole lot of what was said, except that we talked about that little phrase that so often pops into our heads, "Wouldn't it be easier?".
Life has seemed incredibly difficult lately. I know that's super first-world-probs of me to say, but it's the truth. It's a season of nitty-gritty discipline and daily picking-up-of-cross, and it's just not easy and rarely fun. I've been really whiny about it, too.
Then on my drive home God gave me this lovely little wake-up call that revolutionized my mind (and was probably the first time {at least in a while} I consciously had my mind renewed by the Lord).

About a year ago, my old voice teacher sent me an encouraging text with some scripture, and I, being a typical white girl, instagrammed it. Then it appeared on TimeHop on Friday and God used that old picture in a huge way.

As I was mulling it over on my drive, God did His weird God-things and stirred His little pinky finger around and whispered. 

I've been so busy complaining that God took my five little loaves and two little fish. 

I was the one the offered them, I was the one that brought them to Him, but I held them out hoping he would say, "No, that isn't enough, you can keep it and I'll take miracle-worthy matter from someone else."
He didn't say that.
Come to find out, He never does.
He will always, always, always accept the widow's mite. I should have known.

Anyway, He took my five loaves and two fish of all the good little things that I wanted to keep in my life- my plans & hopes of: returning to London; graduating into a stable, promising job; having a boyfriend; being able to keep working with the best teacher ever at GMS; keeping my safe little circle of friends and not moving outside of it; maintaining my self-protective covering and not being this continually, obnoxiously transparent person.
I held these things out innocently, because it's what you're supposed to do, and assumed He wouldn't want them.

But He took them. He took them, and there made me realize that I had chosen the hard route, accidentally.
I had been whispering to myself all along, "wouldn't it be easier if....?" and setting those choices to the side (I thought) for later, for the day I would have the bravery to choose either the hard choice or the equally brave choice of the easy way. 
But in reality, I had been choosing the hard way as I went, by simply saying over and over again, "OK, GOD."

I didn't even know. THAT'S WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU ARE IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE FOR 12 YEARS; GEEZ GOD, WAY TO CHOOSE SOMETHING FOR ME. (total sarcasm. I'm glad for it.)

Once He took those five loaves and two fishes of my life, lifted them from my hands, I immediately realized I was lunch-less (metaphorically). I had not much else to give. I immediately regretted my offer. 
But He comforted me with that look He gives your spirit sometimes, when you start reconsidering an offering you gave Him; the one that reminds you that He is so good and trustworthy, especially with living sacrifices. So I stood there by Him and watched Him give thanks for it-- HE GAVE THANKS FOR *MY* TINY OFFERING!?!? The one that couldn't go around to feed everyone no matter how small I cut the pieces up?

As I drove and saw this little picture sketching itself in my head, it all clicked.

Matthew 14:17-21 and John 6:11-13 tell the story:
"They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children."

 "Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten."

He reminded me that after Jesus gave thanks for the food, He broke it. There was no way it could be spread out to feed all the people that needed to be fed if the five loaves and two fish stayed as they were. They had to be broken.
This season of 'I don't know' and 'everything hurts' are my broken bread and split up fish.
They are broken that they may be multiplied.
They are broken that they may feed.
They are broken that others may eat their fill.
They are broken and promised to bring leftovers, and that 'nothing may be lost'.

"Becca," He said,"you brought me your little bit. I took it, I gave thanks, we gave thanks, and I broke it. Wait to see what I do with it. Wait to see how far I will multiply it.
'Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the 
windows of heaven for you and pour down for you
a blessing until there is no more need."

"Wouldn't it be easier" if I didn't trust Him in this? "Wouldn't it be easier" if He were just some figment of my imagination that I could discard from consideration? "Wouldn't it be easier" if I could go about life on my own merry way and not have to give Him my little loaves and fishes?

Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn't.
I really don't want to know.
It's hard, but knowing that my small sacrifice is broken that it may be multiplied and used to provide sustenance is enough.
Knowing that God is inviting me to test Him and see if He will not throw open the windows of Heaven and bless me abundantly (I'm not Prosperity-Gospel-ing, chill out) until there is no more need.
Not no more want.
But no more need.

choosing joy

Most days choosing joy is a chore. It's hard work and no one talks about that, and you feel wimpy for being worn out by choosing joy over and over again when it hurt and was inconvenient and tough. Most days your love tank doesn't get filled back up the way it used to when you were six and all the world was good and agreeable. Most days you're a pathetic mixture of hopeful and doubting, just waiting to be told that everything WILL be ok. Most days it's easier to lay there and watch Netflix and pretend your hurts and worries are nonexistent. Most days you try to get by with the least amount of effort and pain and the most amount of shallow "I'm good, how are you?"s. Most days you want to be the prettiest and the smartest and the wittiest and the best-known and the most-loved and the One That Everyone Knows Will Be Someone.
No one else talks about the little electrons of life, the tiny negative things that feel like they shouldn't make a difference at all, when they ultimately change everything.
Most days it's hard to find people who will talk about the electrons with you and listen to your electrons and tell you I FEEL THE SAME WAY.
But "we are all the same, really. When you close the curtain, I see me in you, I see you in me. Struggling and stressed, reaching for the best. You remind me of me."
Most days it's hard and it takes a lot of effort and a lot of choosing joy and a lot of rejecting the electrons. And let me tell you: all days, that is worth it. All days, the warmth in your heart at the end of a day that exhausted you with all the love you poured out is worth every tiny electron. All days, when the sun shines on your face, remind yourself that choosing the tough option is always the best. The ache and the struggle and the tears and the grunt work are producing beauty in you. Hold on to your hope and scare people with how much you love them and tell the negativity it can't come 'round here no more.
You beautiful things, choose the tough joy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I have no life dreams, can I interest you in tears?

As you might expect if you know me much at all, I have been an emotional basketcase lately. typical, I know. However, it seems much more obvious to me now that it ever has before. I cry so much, and at the weirdest things, you'd think I was pregnant (but that's impossible; no worries, y'all). I EVEN LITERALLY CRAVED PICKLES AND ICE CREAM TODAY. so that was weird and I probably shouldn't publicly admit that, but there it is in the WWW.

Just a few minutes ago, I was reading a HelloGiggles article entitled "How to Feel Better When Everything is Just the Worst", and it made me cry. They say there's a first time for everything, and today was my first time to cry at a HelloGiggles article, so there's that. Anyway, I was reading it and attempting to take some of its advice and I got down to #8 and I almost lost it. It looks like this:


A while back, I was talking with a friend and we were discussing our "crazy stupid huge dreams"- those things you envisioned for your life when you were younger, or things you consider when you daydream, that you would love to see happen in your life in some weird ideal version of adulthood. And he told me all these grand ideas and hopes that he had, some of which were quite possible, and we discussed them for a while.
Then he asked to hear mine. and I conveniently changed the subject and avoided the topic because I realized this one devastating fact:

I have none.

literally, my "crazy stupid huge dreams" note on my phone looks like this:
and has since September 14, obviously. isn't that depressing? I thought so too.
I re-realized it tonight upon reading the article and got super depressed all over again.

I feel like I should know what I'm doing with my life and where I'm going and what my goals and dreams are, but all I really know is the general direction I'm headed and that I, in fact, do NOT know what my goals and dreams are.

I want to be astonishing and live a bright, vivacious life. I want to do things that matter and love people and see things and think and cry and love and dream and scream and hope and fly and listen. 
and that's all I've got. 

Vague, cliche hopes of being someone important and doing things that count. Every human has that.

Somewhere I long the way, I think, I certainly must have had big, specific dreams. I remember praying detailed prayers and begging for His desires to become mine, and to be granted. But I really don't know what those desires are. And I'm not entirely sure that they belong to me yet.
And, gosh, the LAST thing I want to be is The Girl Who Had No Dreams. 
one thing I want to never have to be said at my funeral is, "she lived a small life."
and it scares me that I currently am.
with no specific hopes or intentions or ideas for changing that.

A big heart and a big life and big love and big hopes and big dreams and big adventures and big words and big, fulfilled promises: that's what I want for my life. 

and I don't know how to get there or what to hope for or what to pray or what to dream of.
because really, honestly, the only 'big' things in my life right now are big weird plans I don't understand and big buckets full of my tears. 

on the real, y'all, I have full-out wept three times in the last three days, and teared up 8 times in the last three days. 

last night I read my favorite author's most recent blog post: Stop Sleeping with Liars (and it facilitated one of the weeping moments). At one point, she said:

"you’re human. That’s it. You’re not super human. You’re not subhuman. You’re just plain human. You make mistakes. You don’t scale walls. You hurt people without ever intending to. You get your heart ripped out of your chest. Some days the only language you can endure is tears and you’re like, “I’M SO FLUENTTT IN TEARSSSS. WHATTT ISSSS WRONNGGG WITHHH MEEE???” Like I said, you’re human. Go with it." -Hannah Brencher 

and that got me good. I'm INCREDIBLY fluent in tears, especially these days. I have no dreams for my life and that terrifies me and all I know to do is just keep plodding along through each day. 

when all that I can sing is a broken 'Hallelujah',
when my only offering is shattered praise,
still a song of adoration will rise up
from these ruins,
and I will worship You and
give You thanks... 
even when my only praise 
is a broken 'Hallelujah.'
-Mandisa

Saturday, October 11, 2014

THE FAIR

Thursday night, I went to the State Fair for the first time ever. Since I'd never been before, when we first arrived, I was FLIPPING OUT. I'm talking exclamations of wonder and jumping up and down and pointing like a three-year-old who thinks she's in a wonderland. Overall, I was in disbelief at how cool this place was and how I had never been before, and I wished I had come sooner. For dinner, I ate chicken on a stick for the first time and loved it.
I marveled at everything and laughed at things that probably weren't funny, and I just had a ball. Then we bought our tickets for the rides. It was $2 Thursday, so $20 got me 10 tickets (so I could go on 10 rides!), and that was FAB. But after I purchased the tickets, I realized how quickly my money was flowing from my hands and I started wishing that I didn't have to give up so much to get so little in return.
We went on the giant slide and it was super. Then we made our way down to the Ferris Wheel, and it was my first time on a Ferris Wheel, and it was terrifying but wonderful. Mostly all the rides were just too short, though, and you'd think, "OK WOW, This is going to be awesome!" when you were getting on. Then a few blinks later, it was over, and you are just left there like, "...really? That's all?"
So you go on another ride.
View from the top of the Ferris Wheel
We went on "Freak Out", and it was horrific. My friends tried to convince me it wouldn't be that bad, but as we stood in line and I watched the people before me being flung around at an obscene height and parallel to the ground, I started regretting my decision. When we got on, I tried to convince myself it was going to be ok, but within ten seconds of the ride starting, I had decided to just brave my way through it. I held my breath and scrunched my face up and tensed my whole body and never opened my eyes the whole time, just wishing it to be over. I kept thinking, "I didn't want to go on this! Why did I let them talk me into it?!" But they had said it was "breezy" and fun. {it wasn't. they remembered incorrectly.} I thought I was going to faint or throw up or die and I was kinda mad that they had talked me into it, and that I had wasted a ticket on that terrible thing. But I was also glad that at least I could now say I had done it, I had ridden the awful ride and people would think I was cool for having braved it and come out on top.
We continued on several rides such as the Tilt-a-Whirl, Crazy Mouse, some spinny thing, and then the slide again-- all much less terrifying than the Freak Out.
I started realizing that we were the only ones screaming and laughing on the rides. Everyone else had straight faces during and after the ride, like they were numb to the exhilaration and adrenaline. The more I looked around, the more I saw unhappy people trudging around a fair, eating too much and riding these stupid rides, and getting absolutely no joy out of it. I, the Fair Virgin, was having the TIME OF MY LIFE (with a couple exceptions) looking at all the stuffed animal prizes, and bonding with the animals in the Petting Zoo, and screaming at the top of my lungs when the Tilt-a-Whirl flung me around unexpectedly. They, the ones who had obviously been there before, seemed to be doing everything aimlessly. And it was terrifying and depressing.
These guys came up to us asking us to kiss them for a scavenger hunt (we didn't). Creepy ride worker dudes hit on us. We almost stepped in puke. The majority of the fairgrounds smelled like fecal matter, beer, and fried things, all mingled together. People were doing everything they could to get you to try THEIR game or eat THEIR food and it was just exhausting being constantly pulled in four directions.
At the end, we went on this water ride. And it was disgusting. We got SOAKED in this nasty brow water that smelled like wet wallpaper. And we proceeded to walk around dripping wet.
Feeling nasty after the water ride
We bought overpriced cotton candy and sno-cones and funnel cake and suddenly the $50 I had brought with me (just in case I needed money for other things later in the week) was gone. I WASTED FIFTY DOLLARS.
And it was terribly disheartening and I can't help but overanalyze it all and think about it as a metaphor for the life of sin. Not that I am sin-free or perfect, but I live my life trying to run away from sin and seek the Lord, not embrace sin and live in its tangles.
It made me sad for people who live like that, who give away too much in exchange for nothing at all, and it reminded me of the Pleasure Island scene in Pinocchio.
Can we just praise God that He gives us a way out of that?! Because that is incredible and hope-inducing.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

the season of death

It's October.
I have shamelessly had potted purple mums sitting by my front door for a solid two weeks now-- even though the majority of those two weeks was 20 degrees too hot for mums.
I've been impatiently waiting until the day I could light my 'Autumn Leaves' scented candle that smells precisely like every good thing about fall. in wax form. And just so you know, I lit it the day before the calendar claims it's the "First Day of Fall".
I had my first cup of Hot Apple Cider three weeks ago.
And I of course have celebrated the start of football season, my first night 'needing' a hoodie, and the first few crunchy leaves to step on.
Fall isn't even my favorite season, and yet I'm ecstatic.

As I mentioned earlier, I have mums. And it's been too hot outside for mums.
Also, I'm a plant killer. Add these things together and what do you get?
Dead mums. Very dead mums.
HOWEVER, since I am a broke college student and could not let those $10 go to waste, I began watering that little mum plant like mad once I finally realized it was dying.
Assuming this act was "too little too late", I had internally given up hope of ever seeing green or blooms on the plant again, but I was too lazy to throw the plant away or stop watering it. Maybe there was a sliver of hope somewhere within me, too, that kept me watering it.
Either way, it came back to life, and, in so doing, shocked me.
the aforementioned semi-dead mums
After a week or so of watering it carefully and seeing it slowly come back to life, yet not rid itself of the dead brown bits, I sat down today with a pair of kitchen scissors. Pushing aside the green bits while I cut and tenderly pulling the blooms out from the tangle of the brittle, dead bits, I couldn't help but be reminded of the promise spoken in John 15, that God will be our vinedresser.

Those big kitchen scissors were probably not the best tool for the job, but they cut the tiny brown branches adequately so I stuck with them. I was careful not to let the big scissors open too far so they wouldn't accidentally snip off a green branch in the process of my pruning, but wouldn't you know that there was one little green branch with a perfectly lavender-colored mum bloom on the end of it that was too intertwined with the dead brown bits and too thin of its own accord to survive when freed from the dried twigs. I would have loved to save it, but even some things that live must die early when you know the outcome will be death anyway, I suppose. So I snipped it away, too.

I sat there, indian style, as the water droplets from where I'd just watered the plant, dripped onto the sidewalk. I sat there, scissors in hand, and I gingerly reached into the plant and cut away the parts that were only hindering it. I sat there, mind racing, as I saw so much of myself in that little purple mum plant.

This season has been one of dying. Some because of my own lack of discipline in watering that area of my life and seeking to help it flourish. Some because God touched the tip of his finger onto a branch and called it dead. Either way, he's been using his big kitchen scissors to cut away these dead parts of me-- some of which I'm not ready for Him to cut away, some of which aren't fully dead yet.

But He knows that very branch in me that does not bear fruit needs to be taken away. So He takes it away. And every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. He calls me then to abide in Him. Which I'm attempting. But I still don't really know what that looks like or feels like or is. So I'm just giving it my best shot right now (which is somewhat ironic, because the baseline fact of 'abiding' is that there is no 'going' or 'trying' in abiding. You just do it. It just happens. You just exist in it.) "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." 

He goes on to command us to live in this lifestyle, "that your joy may be full", then He commands us to love abundantly and overwhelmingly.
The simple fact that these tales of being pruned while abiding in The Vine come right alongside the commandments to live in joy and love seem to make the abiding that much more imperative. If one is to be able to live joyfully and lovingly, one must first abide in the Vine. 

Abiding gives the implication of living in. The simple fact that we ABIDE in the Vine says that we are alive. Though He may be killing things, we still live. Though He may be cutting off parts of us, we still live. Though He may be freeing us from dead parts that have entangled us by getting His scissors scary close to us, we still live. Though the autumn may be fast approaching, He is caring for us so closely and so tenderly and so purposefully that He will not allow any part of us to die that does not need to die. 
And sometimes, the branches in us that are already producing fruit, He cuts off and re-plants so that it may produce more and better fruit.

I cannot honestly say that I am settled in my spirit with all the death in my heart lately. I can't tell you that I'm absolutely positive of all the exquisite fruit these deaths and prunings will eventually bring forth. I wish I could.

But right now, all I have to give is, "Ok, God. Ok. Do it. Ok. Ok. Ok. I am weak. I want to be happy at this. I want to have joy in this. But I'm not there. All I can give you is 'ok, do it.' And hope that's enough. Make me Yours. Make me alive in You as I abide in You."

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll: whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say "It is well, it is well with my soul."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

my pile of "I DON'T KNOW"s

How do I begin a blog post about my life after so many days full of change since my last one? I don't know where to start to catch you all up. It's been almost a month since I last posted and God has done so very much in that short time span.

Having my heart stolen by 154 6th through 8th graders was not something I would have predicted.
Having my heart broken by a man full of good intentions and operating on God's whispers was not what I thought was coming.
Having my heart stretched to its limits by a God who somehow thinks this is the best time for me to grow exponentially was really not on my radar.
Having my faith muscle over-exercised every day to the point that it is now simply a wobbly, sore mass of Something Bigger Than Me wasn't something I would have signed up for.
Having all my seemingly perfect little plans evaporate into thin air was something I thought would never happen.

I thought my plans were His plans that I had warmly accepted. I thought my faith muscle was strong enough already and suitable for where I am in life and where I'm headed. I thought my heart had been stretched too much over the past four years and that this was finally the time that it got to adjust to its current large stretchiness. I thought being heart-broken over a boy was something I'd never experience. I thought that that multitude of stinky, snarky adolescents would never come to be a group of people I truly cared about, that they would only ever be Those Kids I Teach.

And hey, look at that. All my thoughts were wrong.
At my school, we do this thing every morning called WAR Time-- it stands for We're All Reading-- where everyone sits in silence and reads a book for 10 minutes. It's the most glorious, refreshing invention ever and I hope the rest of the world soon adopts it. Well during WARTime this week, I read a booklet called Be a Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. In it, he talks about Isaiah 55:8-9 and the fact that God's ways and thoughts are not only different from and higher than ours, they are UNFATHOMABLY different from and higher than ours. He brings up the concept of a lightyear and that it itself is pretty hard to grasp, let alone the concept of 15 BILLION lightyears-- then he goes on to say that that's how different God's ways are from ours. They are 15 billion lightyears higher and better than any human plans we could make for ourselves. And while that's a terrifying thing to think about, it's also comforting. The God who invented lightyears and keeps the universe in order thinks about me, cares about me, and listens to my prayers. He orders my steps in His Word and in His way because HE KNOWS they're that much better and He loves His children too much to let us live without them.

So while it's disconcerting and uncomfortable for me to suddenly realize that all my thoughts and plans and hopes are all being remodeled right now, it's comforting to know they will eventually resemble and reflect Him in a much better way than they ever would have if He had let me continue with my own plans.

In addition to that, I've been kinda freaking out over it lately. Crazy, right? ME, freak out? I never would. (smirk) I keep having this realization that I DON'T KNOW.
I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm going when I graduate.
I don't know if I'm ever going back to London.
I don't know what or where I want to teach.
I don't know what the rest of my semester will look like.
I don't know if I will continue loving teaching and will actually want to teach once I graduate.
I don't know what God has in store for me and Casey.
I don't know if I'm able to be friends with him and bury all my emotions about him.
I don't know if once I bury those emotions they will eventually be resurrected or they're just lay there, dead.
I don't know if I should move on from him or not.
I don't how to love my friends at MC when I never see them and feel so disconnected from their lives.
I don't know how to talk to people about hard things that may ruin friendships.
I don't know how to live at peace with literally EVERYONE.
I don't know how to live with constant peace in my soul.
I don't know what it really means to "set an example for the believers" in those 5 ways that 1 Tim. 4:12 lists (though that is my God-given discipline area for the remainder of the year).
I don't know if I should pretend I'm ok all the time or be openly broken.
I don't know how to pretend to be a young professional when I still like to wear bows in my hair and watch Sofia the First.
I don't know where the line is between pleasing my professors/higher-ups and being falsely happy/respectful/agreeable.
I don't know how to be loving towards my friends who are living in sin, while not supporting their sinful lifestyles, but also not being judgmental or holier-than-thou.
I don't know what I should know.

and a lot more.
as I've said, I'm just a big pile of "I don't know" lately.

HOWEVER.
I keep hearing God remind me that He DOES know.
A friend recently send me an excerpt from a devotional she was reading. It said:
in the middle of reading this, I burst into tears. There I was, sitting on my bedroom floor having just applied mascara for the day. And there it went, streaming down my cheeks. "I KNOW", he said. He just kept repeating it and singing it over me. 
In the midst of my many "I don't know"s, He is THE "I KNOW". 

Last week alone, there were two more instances where friends who had no idea about my heart's whispers lately, who were oblivious to my "I DON'T KNOW", simply said to me, "HE KNOWS."
It made me cry and laugh. Here I am freaking out over these things that really are tiny in the light of Eternity, but He cares enough to look into my "brimming ache", and sing over me the "I know" that is absent from my life right now. 

Then, this morning at church, the biggest "I know" was spoken. The message was on 1 Samuel 16:7- that ever-famous passage about not looking at the outward appearance because God looks at the heart. In high school you hear it billions of times related to popularity and not judging weird kids just because they look different from you. I have heard so many shallow messages on this passage that I gagged a little when I saw that it was our main scripture focus today. 
THEN.
God did his funny God-things and blew my mind and giggled a little with me when it was all over.
Bro. David started the sermon by teaching us about the original wording used in this passage. Where it says, "Man looks ON the outward appearance, but God looks ON the heart," the ON actually has three translations that each tell us something different about seeing with spiritual vision, as God does.
It can mean WITH or ACCORDING TO, it can mean REGARDING, or it can mean INTO.
So here were his three conclusions:
1. The Lord sees WITH His heart || PURPOSING
He is not bound by time or really anything that humans are bound by, so God is able to KNOW everything. Just as we KNOW what happened yesterday because we have past knowledge, God KNOWS what happens tomorrow because he has eternal knowledge. He is unbound by time and tense. It is in that sense that He PURPOSES for us to hope in His power and "glorious inheritance" (Eph. 1:17-19). He also literally laughs at our stupid human efforts to be smarter or more powerful than Him (Psalm 2:1-6). HA. Thanks for realizing how stupid we can be, God.
2. The Lord sees REGARDING our heart || PURSUING
Just as He KNOWS the past, present, and future, He KNOWS our hearts. He searches them and tries them and replaces them when the need arises. He is slow to anger, abounding in love, always merciful and gracious-- the perfect combination of attributes for One who pursues His Beloved. He gives out hearts of flesh when He sees that our hearts have become stony (Ez. 36:26). And when our seasons of disciplining are toughest, He is still in control, still fully knowing what His plans for us are-- that they are good, hopeful, and offer us a prosperous future {by His definition. not ours.}, especially when we are seeking Him (Jeremiah 29:11-13). HIS PLANS ARE TO GIVE US HOPE FOR OUR HEARTS, because He knows we can't run to Him in our natural, wicked, human heart-condition unless He pursues us first.
3. The Lord sees INTO our heart || PEERING
He uses His Word (Hebrews 4:12) and our words (Matthew 15:10-11, 19-20) to see into our hearts, to examine them, and find the places that don't yet look like Him. He knows our hearts are desperately wicked, and like Jeremiah asked: Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)... well, He can. He knows they ARE desperately wicked, and He knows the desperate wickedness inside. 

As I have been doing, we humans like to make our own plans and justify our ways-- they seem good enough for us!-- and just go along with it until something stops us. And that's not how God functions. He calls us to COMMIT our ways to Him, to give them over fully and obediently, immediately and with a cheerful heart. Proverbs 16 is killer convicting. We can plan our lives, but THE LORD ESTABLISHES OUR STEPS. He grounds us and holds onto us when we don't even know we need to be held onto.

The passage in Malachi 3 regarding tithes keeps coming to my mind. I've realized that maybe this loss of my own plans is a sort of tithe. "Tithe" doesn't just mean giving God a check, it actually refers to the process of God TESTING His children by asking them to GIVE. So here I am, being tested and having given up a lot of my own plans and 'knowing'... sounds a lot like a tithe to me. 
And do you know what God's opinion on tithing is?
"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need."
He can, will, and DOES bless His children when we obey Him.
So as I walk around feeling like I pile of "I don't know"s, I'm clinging to His promise that HE KNOWS and that when I bring in my small tithe, my widow's mite, all the little things I have to bring that are nowhere near enough for Him, THEN He will pour down on me until there is no more need. I don't know what the "blessing" is there, but honestly I hope it's just Him. Because though knowledge and money and happy little things would surely feel good, what my heart yearns for is to be filled to overflowing with Him, until I need no more and lack no part of His heart. 

welcome to midnight.

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