Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On the Vision

I have spent most of my adult life having a love affair with words.

In the middle of my junior year of high school a creative writing class was offered as an elective and I remember thinking, "okay, I'll give this a go." and there was really no looking back after that. I wanted all the prompts. I wanted to litter every single journal page in every single journal I owned with formulated words and sentences laced together with passion and heat. Up until that point the only writing I had done was to honor hearts that had ceased their beating much too soon for my liking. And it was therapeutic. It was therapeutic in a way I'd never experienced before. Prior to the writing you could have found me sitting firmly at the top of the stairs leading to my bedroom, the landline cradled between my jawbone and shoulder, coiled phone chord stretched to its capacity, crying or laughing to the girlfriend I had chosen as my therapist for that week.

But with this creative writing class it was as if I had found the proverbial buried treasure I never knew I was really looking for in the first place. With my brightly colored pens and the same three lines of a song, I could create an entire world of my own. I could be the girl that looked just right and had it all, and always got what she wanted. I held power when I had the pen in my hand. I read and wrote about anything and everything I could get my hands on, whatever popped into my head. So, after realizing that writing came increasingly easier to me than math or science or anything, really, it seemed like a natural step to declare Creative Writing as my major in college.

I spent entire quarters falling in love with crafting fiction and characters and work-shopping pieces that had come to be like delicate, tiny newborns to me. All the while, I was proud to claim that I would be a writer one day. I will be a writer. I was wholly convinced I could, and would, do it.

And then I graduated. And I got a job that had nothing to do with my degree. And I ended up really loving that job. And my heart - that had beat and pulsed most vividly when I was writing, started to shut down over the idea that I would, one day, be a writer and make a dent in the world with my words. And I was mostly okay with it. I was a grown up. Grown ups don't spend time wishing over these things when they have bills to pay. I would be remembered some other way. I'd figure it out somehow.

Because, in transparency, THAT is what I was concerned about. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be heard. The desire to be remembered sat at the core of my chest and was reiterated in everything I did. I wanted to be seen. Period. And so I did just about anything I needed to in order to feel seen and heard. I was reckless and senseless and dangerous. It wasn't attractive or endearing. I look back on those days and my throat threatens to constrict with gasped thanks that I am here to even look back on it in the first place.

And then I got on a plane and flew to India. And everything changed. Jesus stepped into the cyclone of my existence and single handedly calmed the storm. Because that's what He does, guys. He knows the storm will come, how long it will last, and the damage that will result from it. And then He commands it to stop.

He silenced the winds that were roaring and lying and wreaking havoc and He used a 13 year old boy to crumble down the walls I'd managed to build in the midst of the storm.

And my life never looked the same.

I have spent most of my adult life having a love affair with words. And then I closed the door on ever getting to write them full time. And then the unthinkable happened.

I got a job as a writer.

I could try to put words to this, but I'm going to let someone much more brilliant and seasoned do the work for me:

I feel, in the best moments, in spite of the uncertainty, in spite of the fear, like Lily Brisco in To the Lighthouse. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.  . . . I have had my vision, and I thought it would come in a flash, a bright beam of knowing. But it has come in the same way that all things come to me. It has come to me with a fight. It has come to me the hard way, through tears and fog and fear and chaos, and now has landed in the palm of my hand like a firefly. There now, I have had my vision. --Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

I have had my vision. And I am seeing it literally come to life before me. I was given my first assignment for the ministry I am going to be working for and I cried when I read it; the 13 year old boy that God worked through to flip my entire life upside down? Well, I am being asked to write a story about him.

I received the necessary backstory on his life before I met him for this assignment. I will confess here that I am terrified by this piece. I am simultaneously humbled and absolutely wrecked that this is my first assignment for my new job. That sweet boy, his story has known darkness. And I found myself wholly distracted today in Dayton . . . I found myself desperately wanting to be with him. To hug him. I find myself wanting to whisper flurried, hushed proclamations of love in his ear -- Jesus loves you. So do I. Over and over again.

I feel like, up until India, I spent all of my time wanting to be known and seen. And, as I mentioned before, that led me to put myself in horrible situations . . . because it didn't matter if they loved me or not - if they were taking time, I was seen.

And now, post India, all I want to do is spend my time making sure HE feels known and seen.

Perhaps that is what having had one's vision is about. You see, for yourself, something that you've spent an expansive amount of time wishing for and hoping for and when it comes to fruition, it's nothing like what you expected it to be. Mostly because you simply aren't who you started out as. I have come to not be wholly occupied by being seen. Generally, I yearn to simply see him, this little boy who changed the wiring of my heart.

I've spent most of my adult life having a love affair with words. And being seen. And being known. And it wasn't until I left the familiar, said yes to the unknown, that I came to find that I am wholly seen, fully known, and that my dreams - my vision - they are placed delicately by Him, nurtured by Him, and brought into the light by Him.

If your dreams, your hopes, your vision are from Him, He delights to bring them to life. He delights in being the One who fully knows and sees us.

And that's what I'm learning my having had my vision -- I need not perform extravagantly or behave foolishly to be seen. He simply asks me to say yes.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

On Valentine's Day

Another Valentine's Day is upon us. It is always an interesting day of the year for me; we live in a culture, in a society, that likes to try to make us feel lacking if we are without a significant other. Singles have the propensity to feel on Valentine's Day what I might imagine a woman deeply desiring children might feel on Mother's Day; I could be wrong. I am not a woman who has wanted a family since the days of playing with dolls, but I can imagine that it is a hurt that nestles in deep under the collar bone and these days of the year - single days earmarked for celebration in some capacity - have an intrusive way about them that can quite blatantly sucker punch someone with the reality of what they don't have, but want. Or, at the very least, are consistently being asked when they will obtain said thing by well meaning family members and friends.

I've had quite a few Valentine's Days with no significant plans or significant other. And I used to feel alarmingly bad about this. What must it say about me that in the days leading up to this one day of pink and red and white, I have been found spending too much money on supplies to make handmade valentine's so that I wouldn't feel so bad about not having one person to shop for. What does it say about me that I found myself getting pissy over the many posts of flowers and chocolate and jewelry that my friends were receiving, all in the name of love? I was finding myself becoming one of those people that shouted obscenely about Hallmark and it's attempt to raise their sales on the 14th of February every year -- I was white hot mad because each year they were missing the sale of one card - the one that I should have been receiving; the one I so desperately wanted.

This day, ya'll. This day has a way about it that will allow you to feel either chronically happy or acutely aware of what you're missing.

But I've been thinking . . . As I sit here typing this out, there is a beautiful spray of yellow roses, daisies, and lilies on my coffee table from two people that took the time to surprise me. And last night, way too late, I made a not so wise decision, as a bit of a glutard, to eat a donut that two other people had dropped off at my house as a surprise. And last night I shared a meal with one of my dearest friends.

And who is Hallmark, or the media, or this culture to tell me that that's not big love?

I don't know where you're at today. Maybe you woke up and you knew exactly what your plans were because someone took the time to plan a whole day for you - to celebrate  the love they have for you. Maybe you woke up, next to your husband or wife, and you don't have plans, but you smiled knowing that you have a valentine year round - and I am convinced that is one of the best feelings. But maybe you woke up like me -- in a bed with no bones lying next to you. And guys? That's okay. There are certainly mornings I wake up and I feel the emptiness more than anything. I can feel the ache of wanting what is not yet here. And that's okay. But one of my people is always quick to say a particular set of words to me in instances where I'm prepared to blow the kazoo to begin my pity party of one: "feel this, but know I won't let you sit in it."

If you feel sad today, or mad today, or broken because it's another "day of love" that you don't have a date for, feel that. But don't pull the blankets over your head and make a fort in it.
This is something I'm always having to work at. Consistently, I am having to allow myself to feel what I need to feel but reminding myself that this is not a life lived - holing up in my house with junk food and milk and sappy episodes of Grey's Anatomy or the exact same plot line with a different title written by Nicholas Sparks; it is not a life lived to sit and list all of the things I do not have and feel cheated for. It is not a life lived if I am not celebrating the people, the moments, the things I do have.

Feel your feelings. My God knows I definitely do that. But know that, wherever you are, however you woke up, a girl in Dayton is cheering for you - whether you have a Valentine or not.

Because you are more supremely loved than you can even imagine - and you have a tribe that will be quick to remind you. And, hey, if you don't have a tribe, find one. Name them. Make each of them a part of your life and piece of your heart.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was find my "persons" and name them and call them my tribe. I let them see the grime and grit and they still choose to stay. To stay is to love out loud.

It's another Valentine's Day. But it's also a Sunday. So I may not have a date that I need to get fancy for, but this has been a week of me realizing I am wildly loved and fiercely protected and I do absolutely nothing to deserve either of those things. But He chose to die for me and fight for me, even when He knows I'm going to try to run from both of those gifts.

I will save you the cheesiness of claiming that Jesus is my Valentine. I won't say it. But I might say this.

He loved me first. Before my babe parents held me in their arms. Before they argued over what to name me. He loved me. He saw me. He created me and knew that I would be stubborn and reckless with my heart and body; He knew I would run from Him, and often; He knew I would hit brick wall after brick wall before finally realizing He was the one who built it up for me. He loved me first.

So today, on Valentine's Day, that is also a Sunday, I'm going to choose Him first back. And I'm going to keep choosing Him first.

So, holler at a girl, Hallmark, when you wanna make a card for that.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

On True North

I've been thinking a lot about direction lately. Where am I going? Where have I come from? From where have I risen and where, next, will the falls occur? I think, as someone who has claimed storytelling as the heartbeat of her life, I am learning more and more that direction is a key component in any story. It is, without a doubt, intrinsic to my little life.

I've been quite clear on where I came from; raised in the midst of cornfields and wearing Carhartt isn't something that escapes a girl's mind easily. I never felt quite right in the middle of all the jacked up trucks and driving behind farm machinery on those back roads, but I willingly admit that I began a love affair with my roots in the country the moment I left them for space of my own.

The where I'm going seems to change from season to season; I can recall my mom very lovingly nudging me, saying, "You will change what you want, coco. What you desire at 21 won't be the same at 25. And rest assured they will change again before 30." I finally was able to admit to her recently that she couldn't have been more right about this point -- along with about a million other points, but let's not stray from the subject at hand . . .

Where I am headed - the direction, the location, the heart state from here forward is not wholly known. I can tell you simple things. I live in Dayton; shortly I will work in Mason; in August I get to put my heart back together when I am reunited with Goutham in India; tomorrow, I will go to work and probably make funny faces to get my students to laugh.

Two years ago, if you would've told me that on the cusp of 29 I would be entering into my dream job I wouldn't have believed you.

Two years ago, if you had told me I would have traveled to India, fallen crazy wild for a 13 year old boy, and met Jesus in a whole new way I would have laughed in your face.

Two years ago, I would have entered into a relationship with a man who was kind to me, regardless of his beliefs or who he claimed King over his life.

So here I am - on the cusp of 29; I am raising support for my dream job. I visited India last summer, came to love a little boy named Goutham, and am counting down the days until I get to be with him, again. And I stopped a relationship from starting because, although this man was kind, Jesus was not his first love.

If we are to stay on theme with direction, folks, you must know that, on the subject of my heart and falling in love, I was prone to allow the compass needle to spiral heedlessly in efforts of finding someone.

But something has altered my course.

Here's the thing . . . when you accept a job that is ministry based, when you sponsor a child because Jesus asked you to, when you leave the comfort of a job you've been at for more than two years -- it's because something, someONE, bigger than you is saying go, say yes, follow Me. So then you start to consider that Someone over every area of your life - it's not just about a job, it's about building accountability with people so they can ask the hard questions; it's about confessing past sins to your support mentor so she knows to pray and ask in the future; it's about recognizing that I cannot claim to live my life for Jesus and only allow Him into the parts of my heart that I have "mostly" together.

It's about being able to look myself in the mirror every morning and know that, while I'm never going to get it right or perfect or stop struggling, I can lay it all at His feet and He will make things come together the way they need to.

I know where I have come from -- and I am thankful for anytime I get to talk about the dips He's allowed me to fall in to - because He gets the fame over carrying me out.

I know where I've been.

And every now and then I am able to see glimpses of where I'm going - the way there is paved with roads littered with whispered prayers and journaled desires of a life I so desperately wanted. And I can see into the panes of the windows of what it will look like when I get there . . . And ya'll. It's dreamier and richer and more delicious than anything my human imagination could wish to muster.

So here's what I've come to learn about direction. . . I'll always choose the wrong way. Nearly every starting point will go South of where I need to be going, if I allow myself to make all the decisions. Jesus will always step in to redirect my wild, wandering, flight-risked steps. And because of that, because He never stops stepping up and swooping in, He needs to be my first choice every time. Every moment needs to be insulated with the knowledge that He created me - He formed me - and He knows how this all ends before I get to the starting line of any plot.

I will not choose kindness from someone I barely know over relationship with my King. I will not, I cannot, choose anyone over my Father.

I know where I come from. I can celebrate the valleys because I have been rescued from their clawing depths. And I may not have all the answers for where I'm headed, or what may happen along the way, but I am more sure of this than anything else . . .

 Jesus is my true North.