Monday afternoon God showed up.

Since I was a sophomore in college I’ve had some plan to go for a higher degree. For a long time that meant a PhD in history to be a professor. Somewhere along the way that changed to a Master of Theological Studies.

I narrowed my options from six programs to two schools in town. They had already been my top two, but I needed to stay in town for financial and personal reasons, at least for the next year. So I sent in all transcripts, got all the recommendation letters, and submitted the applications. It was just a matter of waiting to see where I would be attending in the fall.

Then one night as I browsed the website of my top choice school (where I happened to be eligible for more money), I quickly realized I had missed a form.
The form was separate from the online application, and I had missed it. This form was the red X on the admissions status I had emailed the school about on multiple occasions.

This meant my application was a month and a half late…and I was no longer eligible for scholarship.

Without scholarship I was not attending grad school.
Without grad school I had no plan.
My backup plan was a gap year of work to save money, but this school requires two years between applications…

Cue panic attack in the parking lot of my favorite coffee shop while a group of sorority girls looked on.
Cue disconnect from friends who couldn’t meet me where I was emotionally.
Cue the shame of going back to professors and pastors who had written my recommendation letters.

I gained some peace in the time after. I turned in the form, and someone said they would put it through. It was out of my hands, and I figured I’d spend some time floating for a while.
Then crunch time came as friends got jobs and my future seemed increasingly bleak. As I prayed and prayed, things only seemed to get worse. I saw a long year (or two) ahead.
A shrinking, fading light on the horizon.

I’ve spent the past month looking into gap year programs, internships, volunteer coordinator positions, entrepreneurship options, and other barista/service jobs to pursue. Every option I liked fell through. I was left only with options I either hated, wouldn’t pay the bills, or both.

I’ve dealt with serious stress and feelings of a lacking purpose. It was hard to not feel numb toward the future, and if I felt anything at all it was anger (toward myself and God).

I made a meeting with my advisor for Tuesday morning to talk about other options now that divinity school and other jobs were off the table.

Monday afternoon God showed up.

I got into the dream school. I received a scholarship that put it within my reach.

After making alternate plans and resigning myself to a bleak couple of years, it still does not feel real days later.

It is not set in stone, as I have to figure out some financial details. But it is doable. It is within sight and real.

In prayer recently I asked God “to do something good here today.”
I immediately felt Him saying, “I am good. I am present. Of course, the result will be good.”

He is incredibly faithful even when I am not.
He is so good even when I am not.
He shows up in the midst of my doubt and anger and loneliness.
He may seem hidden or absent, but He is moving and working all the time.

Advertisements

The Tree of the Cross

“Do you see how the devil is defeated by the very weapons of his prior victory? The devil had vanquished Adam by means of a tree. Christ vanquished the devil by means of the tree of the Cross. The tree sent Adam to hell. The tree of the Cross brought thin back from there. The tree revealed Adam in his weakness, laying prostrate, naked, and low. The tree of the Cross manifested to the world the victorious Christ, naked and nailed on high. Adam’s death sentence passed on to all who came after him. Christ’s death gave life to all His children.”
-John Chrysostom, fourth-century bishop and preacher in Constantinople

What I am listening to today:

To be alone with me you went up on a tree…

Crucified by hands and hearts and voices He had made
Sacrificed by those He came to rescue, came to save
Forgiveness trampled over sin
Now and forever it is finished

I will glory in the Cross of Jesus Christ

Thanks to Sufjan for being the real (and most vulnerable) MVP

I have no words in the face of death.

In the past this has meant a lot of frustration, anger, bitterness, and, most of all, isolation.
For many reasons, I can’t express how I’m feeling. I often don’t even understand what I’m feeling. I can’t reach out.
With a recent death in my family, I still feel these, but for different and varying reasons. I find myself reflecting on the loss of other loved ones in the past couple of years and reflecting on the changes and similarities in grief as I age.

Unable to articulate my own emotions or existence in grief, I have tended to turn to books, poems, songs, old prayers, psalms in attempts to find the words.

This time many of these have come up empty. I review those books without effect. I don’t feel connected to those prayers. Occasional lines of a psalm will hit me in a moment, but does not resonate within me. Poems seem distant.

Carrie & Lowell has been good for me, though. Sufjan has helped in verbalizing things I feel (and don’t) and have had no way to express.

He mentioned in an interview that grief didn’t come in stages but more as a condition with flare ups.
While I’m not fooled into believing I understand the depth or pain of someone’s loss, grief, or condition, this description feels very accurate of my own experience. It is as if life keeps moving. I keep moving. Things feel fine… Suddenly I’m hit by a train, and I don’t want to keep going with the day. I don’t want to go to class or do homework or pray or move or talk or eat.
Sometimes I handle this well, slowing down, canceling some plans, checking in with how I’m feeling, and do the productive things I can handle to do. Other times I’ll lie in bed for hours in the morning, forget to eat, put on a face for the world, and isolate myself from my communities in an unhealthy way.

Sufjan does not only hurt, lament, and write of self-destruction with brazen honesty. There are glimmers of hope and messages abounding of forgiveness and love. He on the complexities and realities of grief, loss, and life with both recklessness and grace.

This album has come at a painfully appropriate time in my life. Some days that means it pulls me out of the hole grief and others it meets me there. It has continued to break my heart, but also heal it.

Spirit of my silence I can hear you
But I’m afraid to be near you
And I don’t know where to begin

///

Frightened by my feelings
I only want to be a relief

///

Now I’m drunk and afraid, wishing the world would go away
What’s the point of singing songs if they’ll never even hear you?

///

Shall we look at the moon, my little loon
Why do you cry?
Make the most of your life, while it is rife
While it is light

2015

I suppose I’m about 11 days late with this post, but here is a list of some goals for the year that I made for myself on the first day of January anyway:

  • Pray more often, with intention. Less of the drowsy prayers as I fall asleep. Less getting distracted by some commercial on tv or pop song in my head. Setting aside intentional time to talk with God, you know, creator of the universe and you and me.
  • Meditate. Learn to enjoy solitude and silence. Find God in them. Be still, listen for Him. Listen for the physical things I can’t hear among the noise. My breathing. Cars passing on the street. Bugs outside. My neighbor’s dog running in the yard. The hum of my roommates tv through the wall.
  • Drink more wine.  Not in an alcoholic way. All I currently know is that I hate whites and love reds. I’d like to actually learn to differentiate more and know what goes well with certain meals. And maybe have some good conversations over a glass or two.
  • Have more dinner parties. Or at least friends in my home. This is tricky with a roommate who doesn’t share any of the same friends, but that shouldn’t stop us from sometimes have pizza/movie nights, girls’ nights, or even a carefully planned, seated at the table with place cards dinner. (Maybe I’ll have some good wine…!)
  • Be more intentional in my relationships. This year many things that have previously held relationships together are fading away. I’m quitting the job. Graduating from the school. Growing out of student ministries/organizations. I don’t want my relationships with coworkers and peers to simply be based on work or classes or that club.  Invite someone to coffee and get to know  as a person. Their passions, dreams, worries, pets, sense of humor. I will also continue to deepen friendships, not simply falling into routine and comfort with relationships.
  • Sleeping in. Only did this about twice in 2014, but started 1 January 2015 with this one! When I have a full day off from work or class or timely commitments… enjoy it! Sleep in and don’t force myself to get up at 7 to do homework. Don’t set the alarm!
  • Take time to enjoy mornings. Perhaps counterintuitive to the last, waking up a few minutes early to take care of myself. Not more waking late, rushing to get ready, and setting a stressed tone to my day. Create a space in my schedule to meditate, eat sitting down, make my own pour over, spend a few minutes having fun with my makeup, iron my shirt, dance to Walk the Moon.
  • Keep a devotional. Don’t just forget it or give up a few months in like usual. See it through the year and actually give each day’s writing some thought and prayer and perhaps some journaling about it.
  • Make home home. Decorate the walls, burn candles, hang the clothes draped over the back of my desk chair. Clean some of the junk out to move around a bit. It’s not just a place for sleeping. Bake, talk, dance, paint, sing, read, work, live in it.
  • Visit somewhere outside of my general region with friends. A day trip to Birmingham or a weekend to NOLA. Let’s go!

I’ll be honest, I’ve already failed pretty hard at some of these (ahem, I lost my devotional for 5 days and have only even tried meditating for a minute twice….). But I’m not looking at these are hard “resolutions” to check off and be done with. Most of these are things I will hopefully continue with long after 2015 has past and will continue working on long after. I’m not going to be some master meditator (what is the name for this person….?!) by March and will surely fall asleep midway through a chat with God. That’s okay because it means I’m trying and will keep trying the next minute, day, week.

It’s not about mastering or conquering. It’s about development. Not giving up when I fail (repeatedly).

Jumping Out in Faith

Finally seeing Divergent.

Just watched the scene (at the very beginning, hardly a spoiler) where she jumps from the top of the building down into a dark hole. For those who haven’t seen the film or read the book, the basic context is that she has to do this or she doesn’t have a people or a home. The pressure’s on. People are watching. It’s a test of her bravery. She doesn’t know what’s at the bottom. One kid suggested water, but it could just as easily be hungry dogs for her to fight off to prove herself. Tris takes forever building the courage to jump because the unknown is scary enough, much less when you’re jumping from the top of a building into it with people watching. She jumps and falls several stories down, through a hole, and continues falling.
Then Tris reaches the bottom, and it’s a net. Her new faction/family is waiting for her. The jump wouldn’t have been so scary if she had known the net was waiting to catch her at the bottom. It actually looked like a pretty nice net, bouncy like a trampoline. From the bottom it looks fun and welcoming.

So often these days I feel like I’m right there with her at the edge, waiting to jump. I don’t know much. Specifically, I don’t know much about my future. I don’t know what I’m eating for dinner. I don’t know what my new internship will look like next week. I don’t know what life will be like when i leave my job soon. I don’t know what divinity school I’ll be attending after I graduate in May. I don’t know that I’ll even get into divinity school at all!
The pressure is on, and people are watching. People are asking what I’ll be doing. How my career plan is looking or if I’ll be getting a serious boyfriend soon.

I’m on the edge of the unknown, staring down at the frightening dark hole from the top of a building and God keeps gently nudging, “Go on. Don’t just step out in faith, jump out in faith because I’ll have that net there to catch you, even if you can’t see it now. Just trust me, child. There’s community, waiting to welcome you, even if you can’t see it now. There is goodness and joy waiting. Don’t just timidly step out and fall. Seek it. Jump into it.”

God repeatedly tells us not to be afraid. His character is goodness and love and strength and His promises are true.
So this year may I allow Him to teach me to be bold, fearless in His name for His purposes.
May I jump out in faith.
Also. I literally paused the movie to write this, so I mean, who knows where this likening breaks down. Maybe immediately after this scene? It’s dystopian, so maybe her new faction is made up of awful people or something, but this scene really stood out to me and where I’m at in my life.

Gifts…more than superficial trinkets?

For so long these were my main source of happiness during the Christmas season. There was no real Advent. Any anticipation had literally nothing to do with celebrating the “true light coming into the world” and everything to do with presents under the tree (John 1:9).
Then I kind of went the other way, skeptical of gifts as merely superficial. I mocked all the “Jesus is the Reason!” ornaments hung only inches above the piles and piles of materialism below. A “rush through church to get home to the presents!” attitude made me resent anything given to me, no matter how well intentioned the gift. I could only imagine dollars that would have been better spent elsewhere (aka not on me).

Although I sometimes feel a twinges of frustration against the commercialization of the season (and seeming disregard for Advent), I do appreciate gifts.

I recently discovered I’m a “gifts” person. I love giving gifts all year long, in the ways that I can. I love to celebrate the people around me with notes, music, coffee, foods, books, and other little reminders they are loved.
Gifts (material or otherwise) are just that: a way of showing/reminding people how much we love and value them. It takes time to choose or find just the right gift. We choose to spend money on a gift that could be spent on our own wants or needs. It may take even more time to create one or set aside time in our schedules to spend time with those dear to us.**
Likewise, we also know how it feels to not receive the gift. There is a loneliness of a birthday forgotten. A heartache as only one in the group to not get a present. (Or if you are fortunate enough to not know this feeling, maybe you have seen it). This often leads to feeling less valued, less loved, or on the “outside.” The person did not think of us. Or, perhaps worse, if they did, they chose not to give to us.

How thankful I am this is never our situation or relationship with God. We are never forgotten. No one is left on the outside. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” the angel told the shepherds (Luke 2:10). Christ is for each and every person. And God chose to give the ultimate gift of salvation, in the form of an infant in a manger, a man on a Cross, God with us. Why did He choose those? Because we have a Father who loves and values us so much (John 3:16, also the whole Bible). And I believe He continues to place gifts in our lives. He is a good Father, and He is not limited. We should come to these with hope and joy and expectation of His love, grace, and goodness.

While gifts can receive much backlash for their materialistic focus, I believe they can also be a small reflection of the love our Father has toward us when we thoughtfully choose/make gifts. And we should receive these gifts, from God and from each other, with thankfulness and joy. Do not attempt shame someone for giving out of a pure intention or shame yourself for not being enough. Allow yourself to give and receive freely, joyfully, and wholeheartedly this Christmas season. (And always!)

**Sidenote!!! If you are finding yourself mindlessly buying presents, I would suggest offering your time. In a busy world it is too easy to push plans with friends to “later” or pick up a gift card as an afterthought. If you know someone would enjoy a gift card, go for it! But consider taking them out to see their favorite team or for a meal they don’t get often! Spend your time together. Whatever you think would make someone feel appreciated!

Accept Your Identity as a Child of God

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Your true identity is as a child of God. This is the identity you have to accept. Once you have exclaimed it and settled in it, you can live in a world that gives you much joy as well as pain. You can receive the praise as well as the blame that comes to you as an opportunity for strengthening your basic identity, because the identity that makes you free is anchored beyond all human praise and blame. You belong to God, and it is as a child of God that you are sent into the world.

You need spiritual guidance; you need people who can keep you anchored to your true identity. The temptation to disconnect from that deep place in you where God dwells and to let yourself be drowned in praise or blame of the world always remains.

Since that deep place in you where your identity as a child of God is rooted has been unknown to you for a long time, those who were able to touch you there had a sudden and often overwhelming power over you. The became part of your identity. You could no longer live without them. But they could not fulfill that divine role, so they left you, and you felt abandoned. But it is precisely that experience of abandonment that called you back to your true identity as a child of God.

Only God can fully dwell in that deepest place in you and give you a sense of safety. But the danger remains that you will let other people run away with your sacred center, thus throwing you into anguish.

It might take a great deal of time and discipline to fully reconnect your deep, hidden self and your public self, which is known, loved, and accepted but also criticized by the world. Gradually though, you will begin feeling more connected and become more fully who you truly are-a child of God. There lies your true freedom.

(The Inner Voice of Love)