Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Promises and What I Learned From Mr. Scrooge

All year long I love the idea of Christmas. Gift-giving and serving people are two of the big ways I love on people, and Christmas is all about love and sharing and giving! I love Christmas lights, so much that I leave them up in my room all year long. Red seems like such a cheerful color, I love the thought of freshly-baked gingerbread cookies filling the house, and dressing up in 90's Christmas sweaters an socializing with friends at parties. I love Christmas carols and the Christmas Eve service at church. I love lighting the Advent wreath with my family and singing together.

But then Christmas comes around, and it never seems to feel like Christmas. The anticipation I've built up all year doesn't seem to be met, and Christmas never seems as big and exciting and filled with joy and sweet smells and huge gifts and loudly sung carols. Each Christmas I find myself already wishing for the next one so I can do it better, because I feel as though I've somehow failed this one. And then the next year I feel as though I've failed to live out the Christmas spirit again.

This year doesn't seem to have been much different. I approached the Christmas season with such glowing anticipation and a long list of ways to celebrate the season (watch Christmas movies, bake lots of cookies, read the Christmas Story over and over, go through the Advent readings, drive around to see Christmas lights, play games, make crafts, and so on and so forth). Suddenly it was the middle of December and it barely felt like Christmas, and then the next thing I knew it was only a few days until Christmas and I still don't know where the time went.

Prior to Christmas I remember really wanting this Christmas to be different. It's so easy to get wrapped up (literally) in the gift-giving, the baking and singing and decorating, card-making and every-other-day runs to the store to pick up another present for someone you forgot to add to the list.

In all honesty, I don't seem to focus on Christ so much at Christmas time. I think about His gift of love, His sacrifice, Him coming to earth and being born as a baby in a humble stable far more throughout the year than I do during the Christmas season.

I so desperately want Christmas to be all about Christ, to be celebrating Him even more during this season, constantly remembering His most beautiful gift of Himself to us, and it just doesn't seem to happen. This year I thought so much and so greatly intended for my Christmas to be far more Christ-centered than it is in the past, yet I find it so much harder to focus intently on Christ with so much else going on and an ever-lengthening To-Do list. 

I feel as though Christmas should be a really special time of celebrating Christ's birth, feel like I should be thinking about His gift constantly. As I have spent the month thinking about what it means to truly be in the "Christmas spirit," to truly anticipate the celebration of His first coming and live with that hope, I've started thinking about how really we should be living with the "Christmas spirit" all the time.

What does Christmas really mean? What is this Christmas spirit?

Every year on Christmas Eve we watch my mom's favorite Christmas movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol. Having seen the movie so many times, I often tune it out a bit, not paying as much attention since I can practically quote the whole thing (not really, so don't ask me to).

And this year as I watched it, a few lines stuck out to me, reverberating with the thoughts I'd been mulling over about how to live out a life of rejoicing over Christ's birth and living in the hope of His coming all the year.

Towards the end of the movie a now joyful and filled with life Scrooge walks singing through the streets. Some of his words are, "I will remember Christmas and live it all the year."

That line stuck out to me, and I began to listen more closely to the other words from his song. He sings about how it feels like Christmas, and the things that make it feel like Christmas, sharing and giving, hot cups of tea with friends and sharing mittens made by your mother.

But what I loved the most was when he said that it's in the places you find love that it feels like Christmas, and when he sings that now each day he will start with a grateful prayer, love, and a thankful heart.

Because Christmas is about just that, love and thankfulness and deep, fulfilling joy. It is about peace, and hope, and beautiful promises.

And these things, this peace and love, joy and hope, promise and fulfillment, these are things we can and should hold on to all year long. They are not merely catch-phrases we can throw about amongst our green and red sparkling ornaments and multi-colored lights strung up on the tree. They aren't just warm fuzzy things to fill us up for a short time like homemade gingerbread cookies and hot cocoa by the fire. They aren't wrapping paper to look pretty for awhile under the tree during the Christmas season and then ripped open on the morning of December 25 to be forgotten until next year when we recycle them.

No, these promises, this hope and joy and love and peace are the gift, to be opened every day when we awake, lived out each moment as we live, and fallen asleep with as the most comforting blanket and bedtime story. They are beautiful and more than just Christmas, because Christmas isn't just about December and red and green and Santa and nativity scenes.

Christmas is about a baby boy who is also God who was born in a stable because He loved you and me so much that even though there was no room in the inn He still came. Even though we so often don't want Him, He came. Even though we reject Him, even though we think we can do everything ourselves, even though we fail Him and get more excited Christmas presents than His birthday celebration, He came. Even though He knew we would kill Him, He came.

He came. And that is what Christmas is about, and the promises that His birth fulfilled and the hope that it gave us, the joy that it brings, the love that it demonstrates, the peace that will come to this earth. And so Christmas is remembered on December 25, but Christmas should be lived "all the year."

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Fear-Monster Lives In My Closet

When I go back and read old journal entries, old blog posts, I feel like my life is just one big cycle of repeated lessons, struggles, and re-discoveries. 

For all the times I have written about surrendering, all the times I have prayed about learning to trust, all the realizations that my stresses, fears, worries, and freak-outs are rooted in my need to let go and trust Jesus, I still can't seem to learn that lesson. 

I have watched God provide for me and others So. Many. Times. I have seen so many friends raise support for mission trips and watch the money pour in the day before their flights leave. I've heard so many stories of God's provision, whether it be meeting monetary needs, relationship needs, food, clothes, you name it. 

And I've seen God provide for me time and time again, in big and little ways! The biggest example of His provision was with my student loans. I received far more financial aid from my college than I'd expected, and was actually refunded money each quarter for the last four quarters of my time in college. Because of this I was able to pay off a portion of my student loans, allowing me to apply to be on staff with Cru, something I had previously thought I would have to wait years for until I'd worked and paid off loans. Even on a smaller scale, as I've been back in St. Louis for winter break, I wanted to work out at a gym. I was able to get free passes to a local gym for a whole month! Even in little things like me wanting to work out, I've been able to see God provide for my needs (and wants). 

Yet I still worry, I still get stressed out, and honestly I'm still afraid. With my new job with Cru, I have to raise support, which means that for awhile, until I've raised sufficient funds, I'm not sure where money will come from to pay rent, and that scares the crap out of me. 

I sit there and tell myself over and over all the ways I've seen God provide for me and so many others around the world. I try to use that knowledge to blast away the fears, but instead of dissipating, that scared little part of me that is so worried about not having money to pay rent just retreats into a corner and stays afraid, waiting to creep back up in a moment of vulnerability and reduce me to tears in the bathroom (no that didn't happen this afternoon. Nope, definitely not). 

But I know who God is. I know His love, grace, and provision. I know that He is a kind, loving Father who provides for the needs of His children. I trust Him completely with my entire life. I know God is good, and that everything He does is for His glory, which is our good, out of His deep, unfathomable love. I know that despite my brokenness and failures, He has never loved me more or less than he does at this moment.I trust and know these things, and I honestly cannot wait to see how God provides. 

I know that my journey of raising support is something that will bring me closer to Him and allow me to trust Him more deeply, and I am beyond pumped to grow stronger in my faith, to see His strength cover my weakness. But in spite of all that, it would be a lie for me to say the fear is gone. I trust God, I love Him and know His love for me, but I'm still afraid. 

At the end of the day, I suppose all I can do is, like the father in Mark, say to Jesus, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lucky To Be Here

More and more I realize how very lucky I am, how very many blessings I have in my life, how many things I have never wanted for or felt lacking in.

I've never really considered myself to be a "privileged" person. I have always grown up lower-middle class, knowing many people who fit more in the upper-middle class range, so I always felt a little more on the "poor" side. I have a big family, so money has always been tight and going out to eat reserved for very special occasions. I got a job as soon as I was old enough and worked two jobs for a lot of high school, paying for my own gas, clothes, and movie tickets. I always knew college would be my responsibility to pay for and when it came around, I took out the necessary loans.

Because of these things I've always thought of myself as pretty average, at least by US standards. I know compared to much of the world I'm wealthy beyond compare, but I never really considered myself to be privileged, until recently.

But here's what I'm starting to realize, beginning to understand. Yes, I had to pay my own way through college. Yes, I've always had to work and no, my parents do not cover my gas and give me a monthly allowance for food. But whether or not I would go to college wasn't the question, it was just how I'd pay for it. I always assumed I'd go to college, I've pretty much always had a car to drive and a warm bed to sleep in. I have enough shoes to wear a different pair every day of the week...for at least two weeks, if not longer (weather dependent).

And I've never wondered where my next meal was coming from. I've never known what it was like to go hungry. My budget decisions more restrict my desire to buy all organic food, rather than whether or not I can buy food at all. I am privileged to be able to even make the choice between organic and not, I am privileged to choose to eat healthy, and thus more expensive (the injustice of that is an entirely different topic I can gladly rant about).

I never really realized all of that before. How many things I'm privileged to be able to even have a choice about. Whether or not I'll take the bus, my bike, walk, or drive. Where I want to go to school, if I want to get coffee at Starbucks or brew it at home. The fact that I've never gone hungry, and I've been able to see the mountains and oceans.

That I've been on vacation, even! Having gone to a college that has many students who are pretty well off, many people are able to vacation in Europe. Measuring myself on that scale I thought how I have never been able to have that luxury, never (as shocking as this has been to many at my school), been to the museums in London or Paris or seen these cities great sites. But I realized, the fact that I've even been on vacations is a luxury many have never experienced.

It's so easy to stay focused on myself. To think how many more things others have than me, how many riches and luxuries I could have, how I'm not "rich" or even "well off." But putting my life into perspective, I'm so wealthy compared to so many around the world. I have the freedom to make choices about where I live, what I do, going to school, what I eat, what I talk about and believe. Freedom and blessings in the physical and spiritual realms. I don't worry about being punished for my opinion. The list could go on and on.

I suppose the purpose of these ramblings and realizations is that I am so, so blessed. And honestly, so privileged. And it would be far more beneficial for me to realize this, be incredibly grateful, and then see how I can use the resources I have been given to help those who have less, whatever they lack, if I can help in any way, I should.

I have not been given much so I can hoard it and gain more, like the evil dragons in so many tales. Rather I have been given much so I can use it wisely to help, love, and serve others. Freely I have received, and so freely I must give.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Unworthy and Wayward Children

I have read or heard the story of the Prodigal Son more times than I can count. It's one of those Bible stories I feel so familiar with that I'm often tempted to skim it. Yet every time I hear a sermon or talk on this parable, I always seem to learn or notice something new. 

Tonight as I read through the story I was again tempted to read quickly through the story I think I know so well. Instead I prayed for God to help me focus and learn. 

As I read through Luke 15, my attention was drawn to verses 21-24,

"The son said to him, 
'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 
I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 

But the father said to his servants, 
'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. 
Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet...
for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; 
he was lost and is found.'"

The son's words, "I am no longer worthy to be called your son," really stood out to me as I read through the verses. 

I see two parts to what the son is saying. He speaks of his unworthiness, and he speaks of becoming unworthy, falling out of worthiness. Which reminded me of two truths of our humanity, we are unworthy, and we have never been worthy. 

We are not worthy of Christ's unconditional love, we are not worthy of the beautiful sacrifice He made by dying for us on the cross. No matter how hard we try to be "good" or reach some measure of "perfection," not only will we fail miserably, but such action will not make us worthy of love, acceptance, or sonship. The beauty of being a child of God is that it isn't something we earn, it is a free gift of grace, made out of infinite love. It's not just that we have lost worthiness by acting or not acting a certain way. We have never been worthy because being a child of God is not linked to anything we could possibly do or abstain from doing. 

Despite this, we still try to operate on a "do good things and get good rewards," sort of barter system. We are trying to earn favor, trying to earn acceptance and love, even though these are things that can only be given. The son's admittance that he is not worthy is a humble statement in which the son really realizes his own brokenness and need for salvation. He realizes that in his broken state of humanity, he does not deserve to call his father his own any longer, and so he asks to simply be a servant, to earn his keep. 

But we can't earn our keep. We can't earn love. And I love how beautifully the father's response in this parable speaks to the truth of how God interacts with us, how God reminds us that it is by grace we have been saved, not by works, so that no man can boast. 

The father doesn't use words to respond to the son, he uses actions. He puts a rob around his son's shoulders, and a ring upon his finger. He clothes his dirty, worn-out son and prepares a banquet for him. He demonstrates with action a truth that has never changed. He loved his son the same before, during, and after the betrayal. He never stopped loving his son, and the level at which he loved his son never changed. Because this love was not dependent upon the actions of the wayward son. The love was depended on an unchanging, beautiful God. 

I imagine the father saying, "Of course you aren't worthy! You never were. Your choice to leave did not render you less worthy than you were before. Your sins have not made you less worthy, rather they have displayed your brokenness, which was always present, in a more visible manner. It's not about what you have done or where you have been, my child. It's about who you are. And you are my son, and I love you." 

Last week I wrote this poem, based on this story as I was randomly thinking about it. Pretty neat how I read it again today and learned so much from it. Gotta love God's timing! 

(Now) Home
Blurred boundaries whisper,
"Welcome home, son."

Been gone so long, forgot
What words felt like
Softly spoken with tongue so
Gentle and sweet

"Welcome home, son, you
Been gone so long, forgot
What it felt like to
Wrap you up in my arms."

Path was so long,
With each step grew more afraid
Walking up, covered
In muddied shame

Been gone so long, forgot
What your beard felt like against
My tearful face
Arms wrapped around me so strong

No boundaries,
Wrongs are righted
Regrets replaced by a robe and a ring
Fully forgiven, now forget

"You've been gone so long,
Welcome home, son."

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I got on Facebook today to post the obligatory "Thanksgiving" Facebook post, expressing the typical gratitude for family, friends, and food. I started typing, the words flowing from my fingers with barely a thought,

"Today I'm thankful for so many incredible friends and an amazing, supportive family, for a God who loves me far more than I deserve or can ever imagine, and for the amazing things He has done in my life."

Pretty decent words of gratitude, right? I mean I listed thanks for the wonderful people in my life and then gave the glory to God! What more could you want? Sure to get plenty of Likes (I'm at 18 right now...if anyone would like to make me a little more popular feel free. Just kidding). But then I realized something, I don't just have amazing family and friends and an indescribably incredible God one turkey-infested-Thursday a year. I have those people, and far more, every single day.

Feeling rather convicted, but still obligated to post a Thanksgiving-thanks status (which is probably a whole 'nother issue of how much I look for validation from social media), I added this to the end of my thankful post,
"I'm also reminded that I don't give thanks enough, because these are things I should be joyful for every day!"

But I realized. I don't want to stop at at fifty-nine silly words posted on a social media site that a few people will see and (probably) no one will remember, because it's Facebook and it doesn't shouldn't matter. 

I want to be giving thanks everyday, and more than once a day. 

But not only do I want to be doing this, I should be doing this. The fact that I fail to give thanks frequently is a massive problem. Everyone has something to be thankful for, and I especially know I have much for which to be grateful. I have been so blessed in my life, God has done so much for me, and He has used my family and friends to bless me incredibly as well. 

Me not observing and giving thanks and praise for the blessings and wonders in my life points to a greater problem: my own concern with and focus on myself. Such selfishness will only bring me to even more focus on myself, and even less wonder in the glorious world surrounding me. I aim to wonder at the world and the gifts of God more often, thus taking the focus off myself and putting it back on God, where it should never have left. 

Because the world is beautiful, full of breathtaking, incredulous sights and moments. People are fascinating, full of quirks and stories and love. And God is indescribable in His mercy, justice, power, and love. And when these are the things of which I think and speak, life will be so much sweeter.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Peter Doubted and I'm Afraid

Irrational, adj: illogical, senseless.

A few synonyms include preposterous, unreasonable, unsound, invalid, silly, brainless, unwise, disconnected, and disjointed. Though I feel as though "illogical" and "senseless" pretty efficiently sum up the meaning of the word.

Recently I've been struck by a bout of highly irrational stress and fear, which has taught me quite a great deal.

In the course of my life I've watched God move and act in my own life and in the lives of others. I've seen Him provide for friends, family, and myself in incredible ways. I've truly seen Him act in line with Ephesians 3:20, doing "immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine." Yet somehow I'm still afraid.

I trust God. I know He can do incredible, miraculous things. I know this truth so fully, I believe it with all my heart.

But when I'm really honest, when I truly look past the facades and walls, I'm still afraid. Despite knowing that God is our Provider and Protector, that He is loving, just, and merciful, I'm afraid He won't act, I'm afraid He won't provide. Not that He can't, that He won't. Like I'm so afraid He will choose not to provide that I can't fully trust Him to provide. Preposterous, unreasonable, unsound.

I have watched God work to bring me to the places in life I am now. I have watched Him provide finances, housing, support, love, care, through Himself and through others. Yet I'm still afraid He won't provide. But at the same time I process these fears, I recognize how irrational and illogical they are! I know in my heart and mind that God provides, that He will provide, yet there's this other part of me that's so afraid He won't that I'm still trying to work it all out on my own. And I'm frustrated with myself because I know how senseless and silly these thoughts are. I know they're illogical, I know they're invalid, I know they're brainless and unwise. But my mind still goes there, I still run along the trail of "what if?" and the "what if" is, "What if God doesn't work, what if God doesn't provide?"

The result of this frustration is that I have been so angry with myself. I can lay out all the facts and feelings and know full well that I am being irrational. Yet the feelings of fear don't subside and the facts of who God truly is, a Provider and Protector, don't diminish, and I'm still left in this place of confusion.

Because here's what I've begun to teach myself, a teaching I must unlearn. Somehow I've convinced myself it isn't okay to have fears or doubts. That if I'm struggling or fearful, I'm doing "badly," and when life is unicorns and rainbows and I'm dancing through the streets with stars strapped to my ankles I'm doing "well" and everything is fine and dandy. And so I start to feel guilty. I feel like I'm unworthy of approaching God because I'm doubting His goodness and that He'll provide. And when I'm feeling guilty and unworthy I retreat. And so I draw farther from God by my own doing, not His (because He doesn't change how He feels about us, we change how we feel about Him), and then I start not having as close of a relationship with Him, because I've pulled away. But instead of recognizing this I start to tell myself the untruth that He's stepping away from me because of my doubt and fear and doing "badly," when in reality, it's of my own creation.

And so I'm slowly learning that it is okay for me to fear. It is okay for me to question. It is even okay for me to doubt. And when these things happen it does not mean I am doing "badly." Faith isn't a straight track up to Heaven with no stops, turns, bumps, or bends. It's actually a roller-coaster, full of ups and downs and round-abouts and that is okay.

The "greats" in the Bible all doubted. Peter denied Christ three times. Paul was murdering Christians before He saw the light on the road to Damascus. We all doubt, deny, fear, and question. These ups and downs do not define our faith or how "well" we are doing in our Christian walk. They mean we are living, we are not stagnant and complacent, we are seeking and searching and so sometimes fear and doubt are okay. The key, however, is to not remain in these places of questioning, but to take those fears and questions to God and place them before His throne. Because His throne is one of beauty and grace. This grace means my relationship with God, how "well" I am doing is not determined by what I do, but by what Christ has done! Ups and downs do not change the way God sees me. I may be pulling away from Him because of my own fear of unworthiness. He does not pull away from me, because I am completely worthy I His eyes, no matter what. Not because of who I am or anything I have or have not done, but because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

When Peter thrice denied Jesus, Jesus did not see Peter any differently. This huge low for Peter did not change the love Christ felt for him. Jesus still looked him in the eye and said, "I love you, more than you can ever imagine or comprehend. I'm dying for you. That's how much I love you." And the beauty is that He says that to each and every one of us. When I am afraid, He doesn't look at me with disdain or disappointment, regardless of how irrational or illogical these fears may be. He gently reminds me of all He has done, and invites me to watch Him provide again, to make more memories with Him.

And so, once more, I learn about grace, and experience it's beauty as Jesus walks beside me as I face my fears.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fighting My Fearful Fist

I think as human beings we want closure. We like to know what's going on, we enjoy answered and questions without open-ended answers. We want problems to be solved and broken things to be fixed. We desire wholeness and sense.

There's a kid in my writing class who loves to write stories with frustratingly open endings that leave the reader wondering, questioning, unsure and desperately wishing to be provided with more details and a neat gift-wrapped box of closure. His writing is full of unanswered questions and vague information, yet when he reads other writing he always wants more closure, more cohesion, more information, more detail. His writing lends itself to chaos and ambiguity, yet he still seems to want finality and answers.

And I find that to be a fascinating indication of the human nature. We want answers, and we want closure, and most of all we want control. We want to write the story and keep the story and determine who reads it, how they read it, what they think, and maintain the power to change the ending and main characters as we please. We want to be the puppetmasters, yet we're insanely terrified of being our own puppetmaster because then what if we mess it up and the strings get all tangled and there's no one to fix the mess we've created.

So we write plays without answers yet we keep a tight grip on our desire for control and conclusion.

And I am the greatest culprit of this.

If I could pick one underlying theme for the narrative of my life I think it would be my constant pursuit of freedom. I so long to just be free, to spread wings and fly without a care, soaring on the breath of the Wind. To just be free in the knowledge that I am deeply loved. But here's the conflict to this desperate desire. I also like to be in control. I tether myself with my lack of surrender because I'm so afraid of falling I don't trust the wings I've been given. So I can't live with the joyous abandon I'm meant to embrace.

That is my other narrative, a need to trust and surrender. Which is actually tied up in the desire for freedom because I can only have freedom when I trust and my fear of surrender keeps me from freedom. It's a mess, really.

My whole life I've been learning about these things, but especially intensely in the past six months or so. I have learned so much about trusting God, and so much about His love for me and the freedom that it brings. And I've learned how much I like to be in control of my life, and how greatly that inhibits my ability to surrender to God. Because when I surrender to God I must relinquish control of my life and hand my story to Him, ask Him to write it for me, because I trust that His ending is far better than any ending I could ever imagine for myself.

And honestly I've begun to learn to do this. I truly believe God has worked in my heart to bring to a place of greater trust than I've ever experienced before. I've had an immense amount of doubt and uncertainty about what my future would look like, where God wanted me, what He wanted me doing, why things weren't working out, why He didn't seem to want me where I thought He wanted me, it was intense. And I spent months being in this place of saying, "God, I'll do whatever you want me to do, go wherever you want me to go, be whoever you want me to be...just tell me what you want, just tell me please, please, please." I was so willing to do anything, as long as I knew what it was.

And God did not tell me. Finally, after months of praying and learning and hearing God brought me to a place of being able to say, "God I'll do whatever you want me to do, go wherever you want me to go, be whoever you want me to be." And end it with that. No "but just tell me," or "I just need to know," and so on. I had to actually be willing to not know and trust that He would work and provide as necessary and my job was just to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and moment by moment sacrifice and surrender.

God brought me to a place that the song Oceans describes perfectly, "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders...take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, that my faith could be made stronger."

And when I was finally legitimately completely okay with a completely unknown and fully surrendered future, I saw God work in incredible ways. And at pretty much the last minute, I watched Him provide and work in ways I'd barely even imagined but never thought I'd actually see happen.

Ephesians talks about God as one who can do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine. Habakkuk talks about God doing things we wouldn't believe even if we were told. I saw God do more than I could ask or imagine, I saw God do works I never expected.

But the minute I finally surrendered and then saw God work and was handed an answer and a "plan" and some sort of hazy picture of my future...I decided the best thing to do would be take control again. I mean God's insanely powerful and all, but obviously I'm the one who should be in control, right?

And so my fingers started to curl in, my hands no longer open and holding out my surrendered life.

So here's what I'm realizing is the problem with just having open hands - I can still close them. What I am beginning to understand (and will absolutely have to be re-taught again, and again, and again) is that I cannot simply hold my hands out, fingers spread wide, palms open, and let my life rest there held up to Christ. I have to let go.

I have to turn my hands over, unclench my fingers, and let my life fall.

Because when I hold my hands up, my hands are still the ones fighting gravity. So I haven't surrendered because I'm still the one doing the work, I'm still in the way, I'm still keeping control. And I'm allowing for a backup, for a Plan B, because if I don't like where God is taking my life or I don't think He's moving quickly enough, I can close my fingers and grasp my life in my own two hands again.

But letting go, actually releasing my life and seeing it fall - that is actually surrendering. At that point I've actually given up and let go. I have to trust that something will happen. God may stick out His own hand and catch my life in His, or He may let it fall to the floor. Either way, I have to trust that whatever He does with my life - flying or falling - it is good, because God is good, and all He does is good and for His glory.

It's not about where my life goes, it's about who my life belongs to. If I'm actually letting to and truly surrendering, then I have to be okay with my life going any direction with the knowledge that whatever God does with it is the absolutely best way my life could ever have possibly gone.

So now I'm faced yet again with uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, fear, and the overwhelming haze of the unknown. And to be honest part of me just wants to clench my fists, because I haven't yet fully let go. I keep holding on to something so I can maintain some control. But deeper than that desire is my longing to truly surrender.

I want to let go. Turn my fists over, uncurl my fingers.

I want to be free of the cage of my controlling fist and fall free.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Emotions and Psychological States

forlorn. fury.

(Kinsey, Katie, Hannah, Kinsey)

distressed. loneliness.

(Laura, Kinsey, Ali, Pete)

peaceful. surrendered.

(Ali, Arik, Laura, Hannah)

joyous. content.

(Laura, Hanna, Kinsey, Arik)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Healing Scars and Surrendering Stories

"Keeping score of old scores and scars, getting even and one-upping, always makes you less than you are."

Robert Frost said that. He's said a few good things, wrote a few cool poems and such. Anyways...

Forgiveness is hard. It may actually be one of the hardest things a human being can do, whether that's forgiving others or forgiving yourself. Forgiveness means letting go, and surrendering control is another one of the hardest things we can do.

See, forgiveness means we surrender our "right" for vengeance, we give up our "right" to get even, we give up making sure the individual knows what they did to us and somehow makes it right or at least apologizes.

And I'm not gonna lie, that is really hard for me. I like to say I've forgiven people, let go and moved on and all that beautiful, loving, Jesus-like stuff. Nope. Let's be real, when people have hurt me it's hard to let go. Because letting go feels like I'm saying what they did was okay. "Yeah, go ahead and emotionally beat me again and again, make me feel worthless, tell people I suck, yeah please just keep that up. It feels great." I don't want to say that, I won't say that, but forgiving and letting go feels like an affirmation that destroying me is perfectly acceptable, so please keep it up.

But the Bible says to turn the other cheek.

So what does it mean to stop defending ourselves, what's the difference between allowing ourselves to be destructively beaten to a pulp with words or actions or hurts, and humbly letting go and walking away without fighting back?

Because holding on to anger, hurt, bitterness, or desire for revenge doesn't truly make you feel better past those initial moments of metaphorically or physically punching someone in the face for what they've done. In fact, keeping a fist tightly grasped around those emotions is just as destructive as whatever has happened to you, if not more.

They say forgiving is forgetting. Not necessarily so. But forgiveness is freedom, this I know for sure.

What I've learned is that forgiveness does not mean saying what the other person did was okay. It doesn't mean giving them a free pass to do it again. But it does mean giving them a free pass from whatever (probably brilliant) revenge you had planned. It means giving (probably undeserved) grace. But that sounds familiar now, doesn't it?

What I'm learning is that it is okay to be hurt. But it is not okay to be angry. It is not okay to be bitter.

Coffee Shop Conversations puts it this way,

Forgiveness begins when we admit our pain to ourselves and to God, 
but not necessarily to the offender."

Let's just mull over those words for a moment....

Here's my thing. I like to say I've forgiven people, I begin to honestly believe I've forgiven people, except I still desperately want them to know how much they harmed me. Not even so I can have revenge, and not even so I can get an apology (although, those are quite nice), but just so they know how very much they hurt me, and what a great big person I am for forgiving them! How nice of me. Not. There's no grace in that. When I read that quote, it really hit me hard. I realized how much I've been living in a state of almost-forgiveness. But I wasn't willing to actually let go, to surrender my desire for some sort of vengeance, even if it wasn't brilliant and well-planned out. I wasn't willing for them to never know what they had done. 

It sounds crazy, this turning the other cheek business. But it's so true, so freeing and life-giving. Without letting go and walking away, not defending yourself or fighting back, without doing those things you can never move on, never really heal, never truly be free. 

When we hold on to anger, bitterness, or hurt with the desire for revenge, we are giving an immense amount of power to the person who has hurt us. I don't want to give power to the people who have broken my heart, tried to put out my light, made me cry until the wee hours of the night. Those are the last people I want to have power in my life! 

But if I could look them in the eye and say that I've forgiven them, and truly mean that, without any slaps or punches or rebuttals or accusations, then I've taken away the power they once had, I'm free. 

I've seen this in my own life, both sides of the coin. There have been people it has taken me literally years and years to truly forgive, to stop wanting them to know how much they'd hurt me. And there are people God has given me the grace to forgive quickly. Those people I spent years resenting and thinking about what they'd done - they had so much power over me still. I was still hurt, I was still broken, and honestly I was still bitter. The people God has helped me forgive quickly, the things they have done and said have been immensely hurtful, but I haven't been broken by them, I've been able to rest in who God says I am instead of who man says I am and they have no power. I can look at those people and honestly love them (even if I don't want to be friends with them), because I've forgiven them and I've let go. And seeing the difference between those situations, where God has helped me so much, I would so rather forgive and be free. 

But here's the other thing I'm slowly learning. It is okay to be hurt. Being hurt does not equal unforgiveness, however being hurt with a desire for vengeance is not okay. In recent times I've felt very hurt, but I've also forgiven, so why is the hurt still there? I've wrestled with this a lot, because I didn't think it was "allowed" to be hurt if I had forgiven. But like Coffee Shop Conversations so wisely says, "forgiveness begins when we admit our pain to ourselves and to God." It's okay to be hurt, it's not okay to let that pain rule you. As you forgive and let go, the pain will be healed, but that is sometimes a very long process. There is a difference between having a wound that slowly heals and letting the person keep the knife and keep digging it into your skin. Forgiveness takes the knife away. 

Forgiveness, letting go and surrendering the "right" to avenge oneself is so, so hard. But forgiving is freeing. Keeping records and holding on to hurts gets you nowhere. As Robert Frost said, it makes you a lesser person. 

But true forgiveness makes you oh so much stronger and beautiful and free.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Make-Believe and Flying Free

When I was a little kid my favorite make-believe story was Peter Pan. I remember my dad reading me the J.M. Barrie novel over and over, laying side by side on the floor, heads resting on big pillows as his deep fatherly voice read me my favorite story of the boy who never grew old, the boy who could fly.

My siblings and I loved to play make-believe games, our afternoons full of adventures on the seas and high up in trees, never leaving our front porch. My dreams were filled with fantasy, with flight.

As I've gotten older I have outgrown make-believe swordfights and dressing up like Peter Pan, but I've never stopped loving this idea of flight, this beautiful freedom, high above and beyond and away from everything. Flying free.

I love birds, I love feathers. In every questionnaire or get-to-know-you game asking what your superpower would be, I say flying. Wings or no, I don't care, I just want to fly.

A few weeks ago I was talking to God about this. My soul felt so heavy, I felt weighed down by the stress, drama, and unknown of life. I told God I just wanted to be free, just wanted to live and love and not worry and stress, but I didn't even know where to start.

He told me He wanted that too, for me to be free. He told me he wanted that for me even more than I wanted it for myself. And He told me what I already knew, but had never fully heard or accepted...

That the only way I could ever be fully free was to know His love.

Just know it.

Just be loved.

I know God's love is the most important thing, the driving force to my life. I know that. But I also tend to more use God's love as a means to an end. I know that God's love provides freedom.

By knowing God's love and accepting myself as loved by Him, I am free to unconditionally love others, because what they think, how they perceive me, whether they like or love me in response, ceases to matter. I'm loved for who I am, not because of anything I've done to deserve it, simply because of God's great grace, and so I am free to love others in return, whether they deserve it or not. But I often see accepting God's love as a means to do this. I have to know I'm loved so I can love others better, so I can serve better, so I can be more selfless. It's not about God, it's about me and what I do.

So God tells me, "Katy, you just need to know I love you!"

And I say, "Yeah! So I can love and serve and be a better person, right?"

God told me no. No, I don't need to know I'm loved so I can do things, so I can be a certain person, so I can accomplish goals. I need to know I am loved to know I am loved.

Here is what I know now.

It's not about accepting love so we can become something or someone. Yes, God cares about what we do and who and how we love, but that isn't the ultimate thing He cares about.

Quite simply, He loves us. And He wants us to know we are loved. Fully, unconditionally.

I believe our greatest desire as humans is to be fully known, and completely loved by someone who knows us fully. But I also believe that is our greatest fear. It is terrifying to be fully known because that means someone sees and knows every single flaw, every bad moment or tendency.

But when we have that love, we are really free. There's nothing you can say or do that will change the outpouring of love you have received because that person knows you can loves you all the same, all the more.

When we know we are freely and fully loved, we are free to be loved. And that's the point. That's what it's all about, being loved by Someone who knows every flaw, every weakness, every imperfection, and says, "I love you. You are beautiful, you are precious, you are Mine. And I died for you to know that, that I love you."

And so we live to be loved. And in that love, we are free.

I'm flying.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hole Reinforcements

I had a few of
those notebook paper fixers
Hole Reinforcements
five-hundred and
forty-four in count
if only hearts were
so easy to mend
but beneath that self-adhesive white hole reinforcement
still a tear

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Blood poured from head, hands, lacerated skin

Water flowed from stabbed side

Love filled eyes instead of tears

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Realizations and Reflections from Thursday August 22

I journaled this a few weeks ago, rediscovered it as I was flipping through old pages. Thought I'd share...

"I've been realizing a lot about me recently. I've been feeling so aware of my inadequacy in the bad, self-centered way.

And God showed me that I'm afraid. 

I'm afraid of letting go, of not looking at the waves and just clinging to His hand. Like I think so poorly of myself that I don't think He'd want to hold me if I actually fully let go. But then I know in my head He loves me so much, I so deeply believe in His unconditional love...but I'm still afraid. 

Like if I stop looking at the waves and reach out to grab His hand, I'm so broken and heavy I'd pull us both down. Which is so silly and I know it's not true...but I'm still afraid. 

I'm so afraid of not being enough I can't accept that I am enough

I want that gone. I want to accept, know and fully believe in my heart that I am enough, not for what I have done, but because of who He is

I will sink no more. 

My prayer is for God to reveal to me who I am in Him. Loved, redeemed, forgiven, beloved, His."

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Poem For Some(Every)one

dear friend,

it's not just me

everyone says
you're beautiful

the way you are

makeup removed
mask slips off
falls plunk to the ground

the way you are

a joy,
a glorious sight

outside merely reflecting
deepest beauty within

true love's eyes
are open and they see

you just
the way you are

true love's desire
that one day you'll
too see

you are beautiful

the way you are

loving arms reaching,
to hold you tight

spin you, twirling
a dance

because you
were made to dance with love

for you are beautiful

the way you are


Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Humble Road

I've found myself especially enjoying exploring words recently. Humility is the one on my mind at the moment. 

a modest or low view of one's own importance; humbleness.
synonyms: modesty, humbleness, meekness, diffidence, unassertiveness;
lack of pride, lack of vanity;
servility, submissiveness
But we'll get back to that...
A few weeks ago I watched The Passion of Christ for the first time. 
On a short (but probably at least mildly related) tangent, I told myself I would never watch this movie. I decided I couldn't handle the violence, and was pretty sure I didn't need to see what Christ went through on that intense and bloody of a level, I had read my Bible, I knew what He went through. Wrong. I was so wrong. Honestly I got to a point where I just felt so convicted that I needed to see this movie, and I couldn't reason my way out of it any longer. It was so prideful of me to think I knew, to not need to be reminded on a constant basis in numerous manners that I am broken, messy, desperately in need of grace and love, and that I've done nothing and can do nothing to earn redemption. Suffice to say, in conclusion to my tangent, I'm glad I watched the film. It rocked my world and taught me. 

I didn't learn it all right away, however. I needed a little reflection time, and gentle prodding from the Spirit. 

A few things stood out to me as I watched The Passion. The film documents the last hours of Jesus' life, from His betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane to His resurrection three days later, with a few flashbacks to His childhood and time of ministry thrown in. 

From the get-go, Jesus is being beaten, harassed, spit upon, judged, insulted, and betrayed. He is being treated as less than human, yet just as the prophet Isaiah prophesied, "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth."
I was struck by Christ's incredible humility throughout the film. I couldn't quite put my finger on precisely what made Him humble, but the humility shone from the character's portrayal of Jesus. Humility is something often difficult to pin down and understand, and thus a concept difficult to portray. But it was there, so clearly radiating from Jesus. He didn't just do something with humility, He was humble, everything about Him, His actions and His words. 

Another thing about Jesus in the film that stuck out to me was how Jesus didn't defend Himself. He was given so many chances to speak up against the lies spewed about Him. He had numerous opportunities to set the records straight, to explain who He really was, to get out of the situation, but He didn't. He didn't defend Himself, He allowed the Pharisees and Sadducee and people of the community to walk all over Him, to whip Him almost to death, to hurl insults, to kill Him. 

Now you might have put these two things together already, realized the connection between my perception of Christ's humility and His lack of defensiveness. I, however, can be on the slower side at times and failed to recognize the connection. 

Then I went running. I talk with God a lot when I run, and during this particular run I had quite a great deal on my mind. One of these was humility, and a few ways I had recently been challenged to respond with humility rather than defensiveness. 

When confronted, rather than explaining my side of the story or putting forth my point of view, the humble response would simply be to say, "I'm sorry," if that was the proper response, or simply listen and not fight back. 

See my desire to fight back, to defend myself, is rooted in pride. I want people to know my side of the story so that I look better, so I am heard. Maybe the stories being told are lies, or not complete truths, maybe it does feel unjust to not have my perspective out there, to hear me out. But it's prideful to be so defensive. Because why does it matter that people know the best about me? Why does that matter so much? Because I care far too much what others think of me, and if I allow that to rule me, then I am living in a pool of my own pride, into which I will sink deeper and deeper until it swallows me whole. 

The only hope is humility. In humility I can choose to not defend myself, because it doesn't matter what others think or say or do, what matters is that I am a child of the One True King. What matters is that I serve Him. What matters is that I am so confident and sure in Christ's love that what others think ceases to matter. 

As I ran and thought and prayed God helped me see, often humility is taking the road less traveled, the road of being trampled on, the road of not defending yourself, the road of letting people attack and not attacking back, sometimes not even putting up a wall or defensive shield. 

It's such a counter-cultural concept. We're told to stand up for ourselves. Letting someone take advantage of you, that's unheard of, that's weak. But maybe weakness is strength, and defensiveness-less is humility, and surrender is victorious. 

Because that's what Jesus did!
He was oppressed. He was afflicted. He was led to the slaughter and He did not open His mouth. He did not defend Himself, and when He cried out, it was to say, "Father, forgiven them, they know not what they do." 
Forgive the ones who were mocking, beating, torturing, and killing. Forgive them, turn the other cheek, surrender. Walk along the road less traveled, because it is the road to freedom.