Monday, April 25, 2016

On Humility.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at the church my great grandparents, my grandparents, and my dad and his siblings grew up in. I attended Bible School in the summers of my childhood at this church; I recall distinctly lining up in the yard of the church to play the relay game where you have to put a thousand layers of clothing on, run to one end and back, and then remove those layers for the next person to slip on. I hated that game. And, honestly, in my dislike for it, I've misplaced just what it was I was supposed to glean from it.

The yard is still there. And the stained glass windows depicting different Biblical passages still allow the sun to share space on the pews with the red cushions.

I have shared meals with the people who have raised me and loved me the hardest in the basement of this church. Far too many of my people have been laid to rest in my 28 years, and we always gather at Cove Springs Church for a meal after each of us has thought, or said aloud, that we simply cannot cry anymore hot, sodium riddled tears. This church has pieces of my history in it.

But as children often do, I grew up and I began making decisions for myself and so that little church with the basement for teaching and eating and the red-cushioned pews with the stained-glass windows letting in the light became something of my past. I stopped attending Bible school and then I stopped attending church; I went to college and thought I knew Jesus and then I got a real job, moved out, and realized I'd had no clue, but He was a man I wanted to fight to know deeply. And in that time, I returned to that church for one, two, three gatherings for my family after three of the greatest men I knew were called home.

But yesterday I got to go - not because of a death, but because of life. I returned to this little church - that still has Hymnals in the pew backs and where they list joys and prayer requests out loud to the pastor before the sermon - and I was given the opportunity to share about the life I've been given because I said yes.

How often do you say yes? I'm currently a teacher, so I often say no more  than yes -- to the bathroom requests and the urgent need for water from the drinking fountain two halls over and to the occasional request for one million dollars in exchange for a uni-browed Turkish boy to complete his verb sort.

No comes easily to me. It slips off the tongue sweet and quick because I am of the human variety.

If I can't imagine the outcome, I'll say no. If I can't guarantee I won't look like a blooming fool, I'll say no. If there's a chance I'll be embarrassed or left behind, no is a sure bet from my mouth.

But what happens when we say yes?

I could turn this into a litany of ways my life would've been easier if I wouldn't have said yes, but it is simply because I wasn't saying yes to the right person.

What happens when you say yes to the nudge on your heart that makes little to no sense? When you can't see the ending, don't even have the capacity to imagine the ending, but nod your head up and down, anyway?

What could occur when you finally relent under the twist in your stomach that occurs anytime you think about a certain place, or person, or event?

What might alter in your life if you agree to traverse a plot twist in the narrative you'd been so hell-bent on writing yourself, but could just never get right?

For me, it was everything.

I said yes to India - and my entire worldview expanded and my heart tried to break right out of my chest.

I said yes to Goutham - and my heart willingly split itself in two so that I could remain with him and still return to where I needed to be.

I said yes to a job change - and humility rolled over me; it drenched me in the cleanest, purest rain; it watered pieces of my soul I had no idea were in need of hydration.

Because each time I sit down to talk about India, or I share a new picture of Goutham, or I ask someone to prayerfully consider making this journey with me, I am laying my heart on the table. My pumping, over-feeling, fractured, aching heart is laid bare. And it absolutely cannot be about me.

Yesterday I got to share about pieces of this story. I cried over Goutham in front of former teachers and strangers alike. I briefly got the chance to talk about God knowing our hearts, our dreams and visions for our little lives, in a more intricate way than we are capable of understanding. I got to talk about saying yes. And, not for the first time, I thought about that 14 year old boy and all those other beautiful young boys and girls and I recognized that it was never my choice to love them and see them and know them. It is my privilege. It has been gifted to me by a King.

Here's what I realized yesterday, about saying yes. . .

It is the most humbling experience of my life. Saying yes to India, to Goutham, to Back2Back Ministries - it all has absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with Jesus. He is the star. He is the big deal. He is, and must continue to be, the biggest event of my life.

I thought about those dreams of my name in bold print on the cover of a hardback book and had to laugh out loud.

Because of Jesus I got to talk to an 11 year old boy yesterday who leaned over to his mom as I was talking and said, "mom, I think I know what I'm supposed to do with my life now."

Ya'll. That is what this is about. Not me. Not you. It's about movement. It is all swirling and rotating and dancing around movement for the Kingdom.

He gives me the words. He allows me to step into the story. He gives me the strength to say yes and He gives me the wisdom to admit I cannot do it without Him.

Life is a series of seasons. Most of mine in the last three years have been dark. They've hurt and they've hallowed me out. They've left me feeling like the shell of the green-eyed girl I am.

But this season? This season of yes and okay and I have no idea what You're doing, but I'll follow You into the dark? This season is about humility.

This whole story and this job and loving that boy thousands of miles from me has absolutely nothing to do with me.

And for once in my life, I want to rest and rejoice in that. Hallelujah.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

On Loneliness

I don't know how to stop thinking.

I know how to wander. I know how to assume things. I know how to settle into the darkness and make a cup of coffee.

But I've never known how to stop the thinking.

I stood in my kitchen not too long ago, chopping an onion, and my eyes began to water; those red onions are always making me tear up. But after I finished and washed my hands and bagged the remaining onion, the tears were still present.

So, not the onion, after all.

And I began to wonder why, on this Sunday where the sun is welcoming and comfortable and filled with the promise of heat not far down the road, why am I crying in my kitchen?

I can't stop thinking.

I think about the week ahead and the laundry that should be getting done on this one day that I've made no plans (and it wasn't even a full day, if you wanna call me on my transparency.) I think about the grass in my back yard and how it looks like I might've planted it blindfolded because it is, literally, three different heights. I think about that journal that hasn't been cracked in a couple days and the way words cut and don't just go away, even when everyone is saying you just need to ignore them. I think about the way the pit of your stomach can feel like it's folding in on itself just to feel a little less like you're the only person in the world who can feel a sense of loneliness so deep that your bones hurt.

And then I think about running and sitting in the darkness and putting my feet up. Because those things I can be rather spectacular at.

Here's the thing. Sometimes my overthinking becomes so suffocating that I can't do anything but write about it. Tonight, it happens here. I don't know that I have any wisdom to tack on to the end of this post -- I don't know that encouragement will leak through the musings I'm laying out tonight for people to skim or read or absorb.

Because, bottom line, guys? I am not qualified to hand out advice. I am much more qualified to recognize someone else in the darkness and pray like hell that my eyes relay the message that they are seen. People recognize their people, right?

Perhaps you're reading this and you are feeling full and cup-runneth-over joy. And, truly, I am undeniably happy for you.

Ironically enough, a lot of things are going incredibly well for me. Like, never would I dream that this is what I would be doing with my life, well. And there are days I cry about the insane grace that has been given me in this part of my story.

But loneliness has become the proverbial backpack I am afraid to leave home without. Some days I slap it on my back and then am able to leave it in the car and forget about it for a while. Other days it weighs me down and feels as if it is pulling on the very marrow of my bones.

Some days it feels like it's sucking some of the sunshine from the center of my soul.

Today, my cartilage feels the loneliness. It feels the weight of friendships that have been lost because an evening of vodka sodas with friends can turn into a bit of a blood bath on a heart that was fractured to begin with.

People draw lines - whether they intend to or not. And I can pretend to play hardball and say "there's no looking back," but I don't have the energy to suggest that it hasn't taken everything within me not to reach out and attempt to mend things that might never have been alive and breathing in the first place.

And I know people say words all the time. But listen, words are my heart beat. They are my love language. And I'm realizing just how many people might not grasp that. And it's okay. But I can't act as if words from people, or the lack of them, won't stay with me long after they might have forgotten they even uttered them.

I'll replay things and think them through with a fine-toothed comb. And eventually I'll shatter them and I will be done. I am learning my patterns as a human in this world. But it felt like I needed to free up some space in my head and in my heart about how the darkness and the loneliness is real and it can be crippling.

It can be crippling and blinding and today it is choking the airways.

I'm not sure where you are. Or where you're reading this from. I don't know what you want or what you have or what you're trying to wash clean from.

But if you know this place - of painful replays and wondering what's to come next - then we are kindred, you and me.

You are seen.

Monday, April 11, 2016

On the Labels that Bind and the Shaking Off

How often do you think about labels? Too fat, too thin, weak, strong, taken, married, single, childless. Wanting. Waiting.

Because we are all wanting and waiting, simultaneously, for something, aren't we?

How often do you take a label - self-given or slapped on from a bystander to your life, and slide into it as if it's a second skin?

We live in a world, in a culture, that wants nothing more than to hand out labels like lollipops to young children in the candy store. People often have a visceral desire to inform you of all the ways you can improve and grow and lose and gain; there is a perpetual well that is seemingly endless - full to the brim of advice waiting to be given, handed out, laid down.

I've spent a lot of my life trying to adjust under the weight of labels. Some of them I, admittedly, have given myself. They're not often kind and they tend to have quite localized pressure points. I've met these labels head on, nestled into their breast, and awaited the coddling that will never come from slipping into a skin I wasn't ever supposed to carry around.

And then there are the ones that have been given. And these really seem to be the ones with the sharpest edges, the most devastating with their pitch perfect aim. These labels can become like bondage. We hear them, we hear how we should go about changing them, and then we hold out our wrists and wait for the shackles to be locked and the proverbial key thrown to the bottom of a well that once housed our self-esteem.

Here's what my heart tends to hear when labels come up: change. Change who you are. Change how you look. Change your levels of willingness. Alter. Alter your size. Alter your ego. Alter the amount of things you feel for people. Succumb. Succumb to what this world says is best. Succumb to saying yes, always. Succumb to being an object to be noticed. Give up. Give up your ideas of what you thought were best. Give up believing what you bring to the table is enough. Give up thinking you are enough.

Hear me out. Change is good. Change, in my story, started out like that step sibling I never had, nor did I want, that I just longed to stomp into the ground and never be heard from again. And then I realized how much they might actually add to my life. My step sibling change ended up scraping off all the crud I had let build up in the crevices from staying put. I think change is beautiful and revolutionary; it has the propensity to create growth you never knew you were capable of.

Change has become a character I consider to be a leading role in my story.

But the changes I've made, the times I've said yes when I wanted to say no, the space I've allowed for growth and learning, is because I wanted it.

Not because someone else told me it would be best.

Not because it would garner more attention for myself.

Not because it would allow me to slip into a better label.

I am not perfect. Neither is anyone else. But for the better part of the last 48 hours I've tried slipping into a label because I started to believe it was true of me; I held out my wrists, that I've always been really hard on because they're not thin or delicate, and awaited the clank of the shackle to be locked -- because someone compared this me to what I could be.

Truth? I could be a lot of things. I could be thinner and quieter and less likely to cry over music. I could be less sensitive and more unwilling to let people know how much I love them and I could definitely eat less dairy and think less about bread.

But those things make me, me. And if I'm going to go about altering any of those things, I want it to be as a result of believing it's what's best for my own life, not anyone else's.

And I've spent the last year trying to remind myself to be softer to my own reflection. I've actively not thrown hate filled words at my jeans before I put them on in the morning. I'm trying to learn to give myself some of the love I easily give out to others.

I don't know what labels you're carrying around. I don't know if they've become freeing and enlightening or if they are holding you stiff and immobile. But I have to believe that we need not stuff ourselves inside them in order to survive.

How many years have I been existing because I bound myself in lies and claimed them as my definers?

I don't want to exist in a life when I can actually be living it.

Shake off the labels. If change is healthy for you, then welcome it. But do it for you.

Because, I don't know about you, but it's high time I stop fighting for people that only make me feel worse and start going to battle against those that make me feel that worth is lacking.

And y'all, more than I'd like to admit, I'm at the front of that charge, carrying the weapons that scar and desecrate.

And it's time to stop.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

On Being Reached

I don't know how God is reaching you these days.

I don't know if you're tuned in to Him or wrestling with Him or fighting to run from Him.

But here's what I know. He catches up. In fact, we're most likely never ahead of Him, no matter how slick or speedy we think we are.

And He's always listening. He is there on the mornings we rise early to spend time with Him and He's there on the mornings we hit snooze three times because the day already feels too heavy and we actively don't talk to Him about it. He hears our little messy, siren, heart songs then, too.

He can handle the wrestling and the questioning and, most certainly, He can outrun our running.

But I don't know where you are.

I know that for every 24 hour day I am alive and participating in this life, I am spending a significant amount of time trying to shove Him in a box -- whether I am aware of it or not. I doubt His capabilities. I question His motives. I yell at Him about the poor timing He has set for the trajectory of my life.

I know that for a long time I never thought I needed to leave my comfort zone to know Him or feel Him better. It wasn't necessary. Passports and Visas and plane rides were not necessary components for my heart to be opened.

For an even longer amount of time, in what I refer to as the driest wilderness of a season, I tried to - hourly - take the control and rewrite what He was writing. And I failed. Every single time, I hit a brick wall and instead of it falling under the sheer power of my stubbornness, I crumbled.

These may not be pieces of your story. Or maybe they are.

But here's what I'm learning. My King reaches me best, is the loudest voice in my head and strongest force in my heart, when I am not home. He moves in Dayton - through the kids I am blessed to work with and the community that is more like family and in the evenings that I get alone in my own space. He's moving. And He's working in Casstown - over the cornfields I grew up watching and debating on leaving for so many years and in the living room where my family gathered the most together and in the eyes of the people I trust the most. He's at work.

But most of the time, I don't hear Him. Most of the time, I don't even know that I should be looking to Him. Because I am caught up in what I might be missing out on. Or what my relationship status is. Or making sure I can be at everything I am invited to, even if I have no business being around people because my body  and heart just need to rest. So I am not wired in to what He wants to do with me and through me and for me.

I just returned from Mexico. I spent a week in a new place, with familiar people I love intensely, and God was louder than He's been for a while.

Because I was listening.

One afternoon I got to go to the beach and we sat our towels down and walked out into the water and waited for it to rush up to tickle our feet. I looked out over the rolling water - blue and rich - and I got tears in my eyes.

The cornfields I grew up near - with the sorbet colored sunsets that'll knock you off your feet - had been enough for so long that I had begun to believe that this was all He was capable of. But as I looked out over the water that seemed to go on forever, I thought about this King that I had tried to box in so many times, and I realized that if He can make the waves and the mountains, if He can rustle the corn on a summer night gummy with humidity, if He creates the unparalleled heat of a June night in India, then He could most certainly handle the reckless, wandering human that is me. What is more, if He can create all of those things and continue to inspire awe, then He, without question, knows what's best for our stories.

Last week I went to a new country. And the Captain of my story met me there - unchanged and unwavering - and I slowed down and opened up my heart and He set to repairing the knicks and chunks of myself I had broken off or allowed to be punctured.

I don't know how you're being reached in these days. I don't know if you need to travel or leave home or simply stay just right where you are. But I hope you open up yourself to coming to understand where you are at your best to be healed by Him.

Maybe it's the water. Maybe it's your kitchen, in front of a pot of steaming water, with olive oil on hand. Maybe it's sipping lemonade on a friend's porch or getting lost in the back corner of a bookstore with creaky floorboards. I just hope you find it.

I am learning, in these days inching closer to 30, that if I am getting on a plane, I'm likely going to feel Him moving magnificently within my heart. But before I came to that understanding, I had to be willing to say yes to His asking to get on the plane. I had to stop putting God in a box and assuming I knew what was best for my future.

I had to cease and desist with putting my life in a box and preparing to ship it into my version of forever.

I don't know where you are. But it is my deep desire that we all learn to let go significantly more. Because He's got this.