"Slow us down enough."

What is it about growing up that causes us to lose our sense of wonder and delight? Because we do. When was the last time you let yourself be absolutely, giddily delighted?

I think it's really easy for us to get caught up in one of two things:

1. The mundane tread of the everyday, or

2. The busyness of whatever we've deemed the most important, has-to-be-accomplished thing.

Boring and busy. That seems to be the pendulum on which we find ourselves swinging. There is little room to stop and smell the literal roses. And would we even care if we did?

I have a gal pal named Ruth. She's almost three. Ruth is delighted by all kinds of things. Recently, it began to flurry on a Sunday morning as we walked into church. Ruth screeched with joy,

"Rachy IT'S SNOWING! LOOK AT THE SNOW."

Y'all there were literally five and a half snowflakes. But that didn't dampen Ruth's enthusiasm. She was head over heels for those five and half snowflakes. She showed me, she showed her friend Belle, she showed her parents. Everyone needed to know.

Nothing in Ruth's world is mundane. This is probably mostly because she's making new discoveries constantly (having only been around for three years). For those of us who have been around the sun a few more (dozen) times, the world in general can seem a little more...blah.

But my oh my...our little world is anything but blah. Have you ever caught a glimpse of a sunrise so bright pink, it seemed otherworldly? Or stepped out into freshly fallen snow? NOT BLAH.

All too often, though, we miss those things. Because we're not looking or (even worse) because we are looking but we don't care. 

A friend of mine sent me this in a text the other day, and it stopped me in my tracks:

Confession of Sin
Family: Eternal God, your Spirit moved on the waters—and there was light, your first creation. You delight in your creation. You spread your colors of reds and golds, purples and greens for all to see. But we get caught up in speeding through life, looking for quick and easy answers, intent on accomplishing more, yet somehow enjoying less. Open our eyes to the wonder all around. Spin us around to see and appreciate. Let music touch our hearts and laughter fill our souls. Slow us down enough to marvel at the splendor around us and to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. Stir us to be a community of joy, a people of praise, a center of healing, and a gathering committed to your truth. Amen.

Y'all. Those are the kinds of words that make a heart skip a beat. 

What would life be like if we knew how to be THAT delighted, every day? Probably as much fun as Ruth's, honestly. 

I think we were made for delight. All of creation is capable of stirring our affections and pointing us towards the Creator himself, if we will allow ourselves the time to notice it. 

God created this universe meticulously and tenderly. He made it very beautiful just because he could. And he totally delights in it, I am positive. He kept saying over and over again, "Yep, THIS IS GOOD U GUYS." 

Then he gave us the same love for beauty that he has, so we could see his creation and stand in awe of it. So that music could make our eyes get dusty and sunsets could make us laugh with joy. 

I'm saying this to me as much as I'm saying it to you: don't miss it. Don't miss the gift of being delighted. Read the words of that confession over and over: Wonder. Splendor. Joy. It's all right there. When we're paying attention, there is no end of marveling.

Here's to delight. Here's to spinning around (like Julie Andrews on an Austrian hillside) and learning to soak up the splendor of life.

Around the Table: Enchiladas Bring People Together

I made it my goal to cook through Bread and Wine this summer. Well, here we are halfway through September and I’m a whopping 3 recipes in. I attribute this failure to two things:

  1. A lot of the recipes are for wintery things, like soup.

  2. I ate too much Chick-fil-A this summer.

And I got stuck on the enchiladas.

Y’all, I made the freaking enchilada recipe three times in a month. They are so good. I have the recipe memorized. At this point, if there is a need for food for any event and you ask me to fill that need, I will show up with enchiladas. Without question.

The first time I made them was for a friend who had recently had a baby (side note: as I get older and a lot of my friends are popping out infants, I stand more and more in awe of the whole event. They are all my heroes. Babies are hard.)

Incidentally, in Bread and Wine Shauna suggests this recipe as a perfect meal for new mamas. I followed her advice, and also invited myself over for dinner because...duh.

Let me tell you, there is no greater joy in this world than holding a sleeping newborn baby in one arm and eating spicy enchiladas with the other. No.greater.joy.

Enchilada Night No. 2 was one of my favorite nights of the whole summer. My family drove through town on a Thursday night, so I gathered them and seven of my dearest friends in the kitchen and we ate enchiladas and chips and watched the International Space Station fly over our heads at exactly 8:13 p.m.

This is the super high-quality, artfully-posed photograph I took to commemorate the sweetest evening ever.

This is the super high-quality, artfully-posed photograph I took to commemorate the sweetest evening ever.

Add this to the list of No Greater Joys: watching all my people hang together. I don’t want to be overly sappy (yes I do) but I LOVE IT when a bunch of people I really like sit around a table and enjoy each other and their dinner. My feelings explode. All of the heart eyes.

The third enchilada experience was maybe the most magical, though.

A few weeks ago, my mom, my sister, and some of our growing up friends spent the weekend in a beach house in Connecticut. And, yes, it was EVERY SINGLE BIT as lovely as it sounds.

There is something untouchably sweet about being around people who have known you for a long time. Friendships that last through awkward growing up, shared joys, and seasons of disconnection and tragedy shape us in ways that can’t quite be put into words. Know what I mean?

On our last night we all put on our bathing suits and made dinner together in our little beach house while listening to the waves and the soundtrack of “Little Women”. Then we ate chips and guac and enchiladas and margaritas on the beach, basking in the sunset.

I did not make this guacamole, and I did not take this picture. But the enchiladas were in the oven at this point so that has to count for something.

I did not make this guacamole, and I did not take this picture. But the enchiladas were in the oven at this point so that has to count for something.

Enchiladas bring people together. Enchiladas are for celebrating new life, old friends, and family, both blood-related and otherwise.

It's easy to lose sight of in our transient twenties--that despite feeling unstable and topsy-turvy A LOT of the time, there are roots there, holding us down. Community, history, family...whatever those things look like for you, they are a sacred part of who you are.

A month of making enchiladas reminded me that I am not as all by myself as I sometimes feel. And, boy, am I thankful for the people who will eat enchiladas with me.

 

Around the Table: Bowed Heads and Gaia Cookies

Photo by Abbey Sargent

Photo by Abbey Sargent

I love my little church. I love how it functions more like a family than a group of friends. How it is a jumble of twenty-somethings and toddlers and old men and babies, who all know each other by name and laugh together over coffee and donuts and break bread and drink wine. If you were to ask me to describe us in three words, I would say loving, transparent, and boisterous. 

This summer we're taking intentional time to pray and seek Jesus. (Like, duh, I know. But also, sometimes it's good to make a serious point of it, all together). So we gather up our little body and sing good old hymns and pray out loud. 

It feels very holy, and not just for the obvious reasons. 

The other night my friend Meagan read to us from Acts, about how the early church functioned and what that means for us. Sounds like they were pretty much a jumble of twenty-somethings and toddlers and old men and babies, who all knew each other by name and functioned more like a family than friends. 

While we sang, I thought about that. About a group of people hundreds and hundreds of years ago coming together for the exact same purpose--to meet with Jesus--and to sing songs and pray together. I felt a deep, holy connectedness, all the way back to Roman streets and candlelit tables and the very first generation of people who called themselves the body of Christ.

It seems to me nothing short of miraculous that one gospel could bolster and encourage and bring together generation after generation, community after community, heart after heart, so seamlessly and beautifully.

The consistent heartbeat of the Church throughout history is one of the most convincing proofs I can think of for the unshakable truth of the gospel. (You know, besides God Himself.)

We are doing nothing new when we come together to pray. Nothing millions of other before us haven't done, in seasons of joy, or grief, or excruciating pain, or wild celebration. And that feels really good. Really good to be a part of something so old and sacred and special. Something that is not just a routine for the sake of show, but something we know can shake the world to its core.

Walking into the presence of God together is not something we do for kicks and giggles. It is the first and last resort. It is our lifeblood. Just as it was for the first church.

When our hope seems lost, we gather and pray. When our community is broken, we gather and pray. When we want revival, we gather and pray.

And because we are a family, we eat cookies together, too. We pray, we sing, we sit in the presence of our Maker, and we eat the best chocolate coconut oat cookies ever (because sometimes it's my week to help with snacks and I seize the opportunity to try out another recipe from Bread and Wine).

People say that prayer isn't the answer to anything. That it isn't enough. 

I solidly disagree. When the body of Christ gathers together and lifts up a united cry for grace, justice, and revival, God hears. And when God hears, He acts. When God acts, friend, it is BEYOND what we could ever ask or imagine.

So, like our brothers and sisters before us, we will gather our community and lift up holy hands in worship and petition.

And we will be met.

 

Around the Table: Chaos and Curry

Moving is a pain in the butt. It takes weeks to get everything ready, and you begin to wonder if you’re a hoarder and need to nominate yourself for that TLC show before you finally get to the point that you start throwing stuff in the trashcan, just so you don’t have to move it.

I know this because I just moved, and it went about like that. And right in the middle of everything, when the house was maybe in its most chaotic state, I decided life would not be complete unless I threw a dinner party.

Don’t even ask me why. Honestly, I should have been doing about one million other things.

But I needed, deep in my soul, two things:

1. People.

2. Food. (Specifically, mango chicken curry.)

We ate off paper plates and used plastic silverware because half the kitchen was in boxes.

We had to hustle the dining room table onto the deck because, days before, my roommates and I had sold the outside table at a garage sale.

I didn’t plan enough time to make the mango chicken curry so it turned out more like soup.

It was the kind of wild and messy I'm not entirely sure The Barefoot Contessa would approve of, but that dinner party was exactly what needed to happen. 

 I think there is something holy and grounded and filling about sitting around a table and eating together. It's different than grabbing a beer or sitting in the living room. And, even if it's kind of thrown together and the curry doesn't cook all the way, gathering around the table is nourishing for body, mind, and soul.

Around the table feels like family.

Around the table is a place people have been gathering since the beginning of time, to fill up their bellies and their hearts.

Around the table is a place of rest, even in the midst of total upheaval. 

My summer goal is to cook all the way through Shauna Niequist's book Bread and Wine. For two reasons:

1. I want to get better at cooking things besides fried rice.

2. I really, really like feeding people.

I'm gonna blog about it, too, in order to keep myself accountable. We'll call it something cute like, "Around the Table with Rach and Shauna" or "Recipes That I Just Barely Pulled Off".

And if you want to come over for dinner, just let me know. 

(This is not a joke, I am very serious. Holler at me and you can come over for dinner.)

Here's to chaos and curry and God's goodness and gathering around the table to celebrate all of it. 

When Life Feels Like a Handful of Sand

Here's a question: how often do you find yourself hustling hard to keep up with a self-imposed idea of what your life should look like?

It's easy to become dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in our tiny little worlds, isn't it? When the world seems a little off, I spend equal amounts of time assuming everything is my fault, or everyone else's fault.

The list of dissatisfactions can be endless and annoyingly repetitious...

I'm not meeting my potential. I want deeper community. My job isn't fulfilling. I am adulting very poorly today.

Do you ever think those thoughts? 

Do you know the feeling of scrambling to make everything go a certain way because you're so certain you have the right game plan? Then the feeling of being frustrated beyond belief when you don't succeed?

I find myself often trying to hold a bunch of things together on my own strength. But I've noticed that the harder I hold on, the more things seem to slip away. Like when you squeeze a handful of sand and it pours through the cracks between your fingers. Holding on to sand is very tricky business.

Can I encourage you to stop hustling for a minute and just...relax?

I don't mean stop working or doing or anything like that. But if you are scrambling around, trying to chase what you think your life should look like, take a break from that. 

I tend to walk with my head down, concentrating on my steps and getting to my destination. The swifter the better. Often, I treat life the same way. Head down, brow furrowed, just gotta get to the next thing. Hustle, hustle, hustle.

The other day I walked with my head up, figuratively speaking. For the first time in a good while I saw a lot of beauty in my current state of affairs. Instead of focusing on all the things that needed fixing, I realized there are an awful lot of things that are actually pretty sweet.

I have to tell myself constantly there is no checklist for life. I'm not doing it wrong. I don't have to control it all.

I can't control it all.

And the truth is, while my life may not look quite like I think I want it to, it's looks pretty freaking beautiful.

So chill out, pal. Slow down a little bit. Walk with your head up so you can take in the beauty of springtime. 

Stop squeezing that sand quite so tight. As it turns out, sand is a lot easier to hold when you relax your grip and hold it gently, cupped in your hands. 

A Love Letter to the Church

Church, you are a funny gal.

You are equal parts holy and unholy, a joy and a pill. You sometimes cause more damage the you fix.

You are lovely and ugly.

You are messy and gorgeous.

You are the beloved Bride of Jesus, who suffered enormously so he could woo you and call you his own. You are meant to be a physical representation of God's love on earth. A pillar of hope in an otherwise unhopeful place.

Sometimes you do that well.

Sometimes you really, really don't.

But I truly, deeply believe you can. Maybe that's the cock-eyed optimist in me. Or maybe it's a bone-deep belief that Jesus won't leave his bride floundering, no matter how buried in muck she might be.

I've seen you wound people deeply. You have withheld love, judged harshly, set unattainable expectations and created rules out of thin air for the sake of self-righteousness. You have sinned and tried to hide it, only to have it come tumbling into the public eye. You have argued and bullied and broken apart. 

But I've also seen you on fire. I've watched communities gather together, bolstering one another when everything hits the fan. I've seen you show up and love hard, because that's just what you do. I've seen you drop every pretense and raise your arms in humble surrender and adoration. And Jesus has been there. 

I've seen you royally screw up and ask for forgiveness. I've seen you be open and honest and inviting and kind. And Jesus has been there.

I have sat in sanctuaries and hotel event spaces and auditoriums from China to Haiti to England, and seen first hand what the Body looks like in foreign places. And my breath has been taken away at the beauty of unity. There is nothing quite like the intimacy of worshipping with strangers.

This is staggering to me: the orphan in Port-au-Prince worships the same God as the student in Oxford. And that same God loves them both immensely and has knit them together in a family called the Church. 

The Church is a million little voices chanting the same thing: Great is our God, worthy is He of praise. 

Some people say church is pointless, and we can all get on just fine with our own private spirituality in the safety of our homes. Because organized religion is a mess, and people are terrible, and Jesus is just as present in your living room as he is in a sanctuary. Maybe, sometimes, more present in the living room.

And those points are valid. Religion is a mess. People are terrible. Jesus will meet you anywhere.

But to say the Church is irrelevant?

I wholeheartedly disagree. You, Church, are as vital as breathing. You may be a total train wreck, but you are necessary. You are a stronghold for your members, and a safe haven for everyone else.

But that only works if the people in the Church know the point of church. It's not a status symbol, or "just what you do on Sundays", or a social club.

The Church, as it is meant to be, is a collection of people who are walking towards Jesus together. The Church exists to lift high the name of Jesus and shout "HEY. A lot of things are broken, and we know Who can fix it. Come meet Him."

And the thing is, Church, you don't always do that. Because your people (me included) are sinful and broken and very, very messy. 

But, MAN, there is a lot of grace for you, coming straight from the Bridegroom. And if He has grace for you, then so can we all.

That's true on the grand scale of life and the whole earth and people in general. It's also true in my small little world. 

I heard a sermon once, in Oxford, about how important it is to love the Church. Because Jesus loves the Church, and He has such great plans for her. I think he was right.

What does it look like to love the Church? On the small scale of our own communities, and on the large scale of the world? Probably prayer. Lots of it. Prayers for revival, wisdom, love, and grace. And also honesty. Honesty about what's messy. Honesty about what's true. 

Earnest prayers and transparent honesty. And a whole lotta Gospel. I think that's the ticket. 

Church, you are worth fighting for. I love you even when you're messy. I'm for you, big time. Just wanted to let you know.

xoxo,

Rach

Additional Thoughts On Running

I went running with my friend Bethany the other night, because the weather was perfect and she assured me we would only be gone twenty minutes.

I should have know she was lying about that time frame when she said, "We're going to run to the park!" 

I knew how far away the park was. I knew there was no way in the world I was going to make it there and back in twenty minutes. But I believed her, and borrowed a pair of running shorts.

Here's what you should know: Bethany is actually a runner. She runs, and she loves it, and she can literally run circles around me (I know this because she did so).

Very shortly into our run, Bethany was leaps and bounds ahead of me. Meanwhile...my side hurt. My breath was labored. I was well past my two-block running limit and pretty over the whole thing.

But STUPID BETHANY wouldn't let me quit. When it became clear I wasn't going to run the literal whole way, she said, "Let's do interval training!" She picked a distant target and made me sprint there. Walk, run, walk, run. 

All. The. Way. To. The. Park.

Whenever she hit the goal ahead of me (which was literally every time), she would turn around and yell "YOU CAN DO IT. DON'T STOP," until I got to her. 

On the run home, I was every kind of done. EVERY KIND (which I continued to let Bethany know. Loudly). But Bethany was having none of it. She continued to coach me through how to run, and breathe, and wouldn't let me stop doing either one.

So there we were: Bethany running with energy and strength, graceful as a gazelle prancing into the sunset. And me. Wheezing and shuffling along behind her, glasses bouncing on my nose (incredibly disorienting), and arms flapping. Like a little basset hound puppy. But not in a cute way.

If I'd been running by myself, I'd have quit long before that point. But Bethany The Distance Running Olympian kept calling over her shoulder, "You're doing great! Keep going!"

As I heard her far-away voice yelling at me, I had another thought about running: 

When someone else is running with you, and encouraging you, and in the fight with you, it is possible to run a lot farther.

You know what? I am quick to read a sentence like that and say, “Right! My community! That’s whose encouragement I should be listening for!”

And, yes, it's really great to have a tribe of people who (hopefully) love you enough to yell at you to run faster even when you don’t want to. (s/o to Susie, Bethany, Kelby, Keltcey, and Alyssa: y'all were the real MVPs this week.)

But they’re not the ultimate source of encouragement.

In the moments you are too weak to carry on by yourself, and burdens become too much to bear, and you want nothing more than to give up, the greatest encouragement will come from the One who already finished the race.

The beautiful thing is, Jesus isn’t just waiting for you at the finish line, shouting at you to run better.

He will run right to you, then fall in step next to you and whisper encouragement in you ear: 

In me, anything is possible. In me, you can run without getting weary. Keep going, beloved. 

Oh. How. Sweet. You are not running this race alone, friend. I say that as someone who literally just realized yesterday that she was not running her race alone.  It's a game-changer of an epiphany, let me tell you.

(Which maybe means I should keep running. The spiritual analogies are almost worth the pain I am currently feeling in my legs.)

When you're ready to LITERALLY THROW UP from the effort of running your race, there is great encouragement in Hebrews 6: 

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.

He ran ahead of us, to prepare the way. And he runs alongside us, to enable us to finish the race. 

Amen amen amen. Cool cool cool.   

 

The Times, They Are A-Changin'.

Photo by Kelby Wenger

Photo by Kelby Wenger

The shifting of winter to springtime is maybe the most joyful handful of weeks in all of creation. Sharp winds turn into breezes, trees start blooming, the sun stays a little longer each day and people literally can't keep grins off their faces. 

I love this change of season.

Other kinds of changes I don't like so much. In fact, in general, I tend to not like change so much. Especially when I don't choose it.

I don't experiment. I like to find something that works and stick with it, ya know? I've used the same hairspray since high school, and the same brand of peanut butter since the beginning of my time on Earth.

Sometimes, like with hairspray, not changing is fine. Other times, like with life, it's not. 

Often I find myself white-knuckle hanging on to seasons and people and things, unable and unwilling to let one pattern fade into another. When I sense a shift I don't like coming, I begin to scramble in a valiant effort to keep things just the way they are. Even if the way things are is not super great.

The scrambling comes from the intense desire to be comfortable, I think. This is easy, this is nice, this works. It's known. I like known. Sound familiar?

The need to hang on to things we know, when the world around us is so very unknown, can run deep.

But when things maybe need to change, and you don't let them...that's where life gets uncomfy. I find myself in that place often. Do you? Do you ever cling to something out of fear and pride and the need to be comfortable?

Here's something I'm being reminded of today: God's best work doesn't happen when we're comfortable. God's best work, I've noticed, happens when things are topsy turvy. When we are decidedly uncomfortable. He uses change to spur us forward--to shake us and grow us and make us better versions of ourselves.

If nothing ever changed, we wouldn't need His solid unchangingness to steady our hearts in the midst of upheaval. 

Change is not a punishment or a failing, or even a negative. I often think it is. Because some changes are hard. Like when friends begin to pull away, or dynamics shift, or you turn 30. (I've never turned 30, but I've heard.) Change can hurt.

But, maybe, it doesn't have to hurt quite so badly.

One of my favorite authors says that the only way to not get dragged down by waves in the ocean is to relax and just ride them.    

In a world that has seasons and puberty and time, change is inevitable. So, maybe, the best course of action is to ride the wave. To not hang on quite so tight to finite, changeable things and cling instead to the the One who is unchanging, even while everything else is in constant motion.

And, truthfully, the next wave probably won't be all that bad. As one pattern disappears another will begin. And it will be different, but probably also good. Because God is good. 

The goodness can't be appreciated, though, unless you let go of the thing before and choose to ride the wave.

7 Things To Do Instead Of Freaking Out Right Now

Are you freaking out right now? About a boy? Or your job? Or paying bills? Or your friends? Or something wildly out of your control? Your mind is racing, your thoughts are churning, maybe you have a headache and a stomachache and you kind of want to scream. 

Pal, I've been there. It's not the best of times. Here are some things you can do instead:

1. Run around the block

Playlist: jock jams (LET'S GET READY TO RUUUMMBLEEEEEEEEEE)

As we all know from Reese Witherspoon: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy." I am BY NO MEANS the queen of exercise. I pretty much hate it. But there have been at least a few occasions when a swift sprint around the block has cleared my head and helped release a lot of nervous energy. 

2. Make spaghetti

Playlist: Etta James with a side of Louis Armstrong

Get in that kitchen, Donna Reed. Put on an apron and create something. You don't even have to be fancy (spaghetti is by no means gourmet). I have found that spending time in the kitchen is therapeutic because it's equal parts productive and relaxing. You're focused on a project (productive), but taking time to prepare a meal means you have to slow down and go one step at a time (relaxing). Add a glass of wine or a lil brewski  and BA-DING. 

3. Clean the bathroom

Playlist: Original Broadway Casts (Sing along. Obviously.)

I've said it before, and it bears repeating. Cleaning anything, but most especially a grimy bathroom (oh, yours never gets grimy because you clean it so regularly? .....how nice for you.) bathroom, might be the ultimate redirection of stress-energy. You know, when you feel like you need to take immediate action or you might spontaneously combust? Yeah, scrub some tile til it shines like the top of the Chrysler building.

4. Learn this Justin Bieber dance

Playlist: obvious

I realize you think I'm joking. I sincerely am not. My roommates and I once spent a snowy morning doing our top-notch best to recreate this dance from start to finish. We...basically nailed it. And we felt awesome.

5. Read a book

Playlist: the 1994 Little Women movie soundtrack 

Make yourself a cup of tea and snuggle in your armchair. You have two reading options: recreational, or educational. Either will work.

Educational: Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis), The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Tim Keller), The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning), any biography or autobiography under the sun (I like Fred Astaire's and also Julie Andrews')

Recreational: Little Women (Louisa May Alcott), Cold Tangerines (Shauna Niequist), Death by Living (N.D. Wilson), My Life in Paris (Julia Child), Harry Potter in its entirety (J.K. Rowling)

6. Talk about it

Playlist: the soothing sound of someone saying "I hear ya."

For the LOVE OF PETE, get whatever is bugging you off the hamster wheel in your head by talking out what's going on. I am an over sharer, so I say this with great caution, but sometimes you really do just need to talk stuff out. (While I personally appreciate talking to a real human, I think journaling falls in this category and can be equally helpful.) Call your mom, or your sister, or anyone that will let you sound a little crazy (a very real possibility) and still like you afterwards. 

7. Breathe deeply

Playlist: silence

Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Slowly. Maybe with your eyes closed. Maybe in some super zen position, if you're here for that kind of thing. My friend Brittney knows some yoga poses, I'm sure she would hook you up. Or just do it while you're driving down the street. Really any time. Breathing is a wildly underrated calm down technique. 

The thing is, whatever is freaking you out is not actually the end of the world (barring, of course, the end of the world occurring at this moment). I say this as someone who tends to feel like her world is ending a lot. But it isn't.  And this freak out is, more than likely, an emotional reaction that will start to dissipate in a few hours (says me, who has strong emotional reactions that tend to dissipate after a few hours.)

Chill out. Give your mind and body something else to focus on, and remember: you're gonna be okay.

I ran two blocks and had a thought

On Saturday the high was 65 and I woke up with an itch to run a mile, because I get that itch about once a year and Saturday was that day.

(It was a beautifully mild day for late January, especially considering a week before we'd been buried in eight inches of snow. Go figure.)

If you are a runner, or a lover of exercise in any form, I applaud you. I'm wildly jealous of you. I wish I was you. When I say "run a mile" what I really mean is that I have the desire to run, but what I actually did was power walk most of the way and prepared for what ended up being a two-block sprint right at the end.

...And naturally, after block one, I felt a huge cramp coming on. (My body is literally 100 years old--I choose not to think about how out of shape I am most of the time.) 

Ordinarily, that would be my cue to stop running. I am not one to push through pain. (This applies to running and also other things.)

But I looked up, pathetically panting and wheezing, and saw how close the goal was. One more block. And I thought, "Okay, feet. Keep going. Okay, mouth. Breathe." 

And MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, the sharpness of the cramp started to lessen. As I pushed past the discomfort (let's be honest--it was more about discomfort than actual pain), it became easier to go on.

For that brief moment I was a better runner than I had been before.

And, okay, running two blocks is about the most unimpressive thing in the world. I realize that, and maybe we can pretend it was two miles instead, ya know...for the sake of illustration.

But in that three-minute sprint, God did a thing. He did the thing where He says,

This is a snapshot of a bigger truth, my girl. Sometimes you have to push through discomfort and pain. You'll want to stop, but don't. There is freedom and strength and newness to be found if only you are willing to keep going. 

Life feels pretty topsy-turvy right now. To carry on with our exercise illustration: there are a lot of little races I've been running that have started to get uncomfortable and painful. And I want to stop. 

Have you been there? Whether it be a relationship (romantic or otherwise), work, job search, passion-hunting, spiritual journeying...One minute you feel like an Olympic champion and the next, you're doubled over with the mother of all cramps digging into your side.

And you really, really want to stop running.

There's a super popular verse in Hebrews about running with endurance. This isn't that one--this is verses 12 and 13:

Therefore lift your dropping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Endurance is one of those Christian buzzwords that gets talked about to the point that I think we forget what it means. Or at least I do. It sounds cool, but what is the practical application?

To run with endurance means pushing through the hard stuff. The cramps. The discomfort. The moment when you say, "I literally cannot keep going."

But then you find you actually can keep going. And right on the other side of endurance is strength. Not, like, Superman strength or anything, but strength that didn't exist before. Every time you push on you build a little muscle. And next time you'll be able to run a little farther. 

So I sprinted for two blocks today. Well, four, since I did the same thing on the way back home. That's pretty lame by a runner's standard, but it's not bad by mine. 

Next time I'll go further. 

Is there a race you're running that is starting to get the best of you? Pal, I FEEL YA. But keep going. Push on through the cramps and take a few deep breaths. There's good work going on.

New Morning, New Mercies

In January of 2015, I chose intentional as my word for the year. I wanted to live with greater intention in a lot of areas.

Two of those were pursuit and self-centeredness. I wanted to pursue people way better and think about myself way less.

Guess what I struggled with the most in 2015?

IF EVER YOU THINK GOD DOESN’T HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR, THINK AGAIN.

So yes...2015 brought with it a lot of proof that I am super into myself, and also not as good at loving people as maybe I want to be.

And I FREAKED OUT, y'all.

Which means that what I did was spend a ton of time analyzing and over-analyzing and beating myself up for being such a horrible person.

If we’re being honest, I gave God very little room to extend grace.

There was a preoccupation with getting it right. The inner monologue was:

Okay, I didn’t love so-and-so very well in that moment. I'm really screwing this relationship up. Next time I will do WAY BETTER.

Oh, no, I’m so self-centered I MUST STOP THINKING ABOUT MYSELF. STOP, SELF, STOP.

Yeah, okay, like that did any good.

A lot of times, I forgot this very big, very key truth:

We can’t fix the mess ourselves. We are not made to be able to fix the mess ourselves.

In fact, we are made to need God to fix the mess for us.

I would do this really cute (not cute) thing where I mentally ticked off all the things at which I was failing, and made game plans for how to do them better.

My fear skyrocketed when I saw the depth of my depravity, and realized I didn’t actually have the strength to do anything about it.

I saw how messy the mess was, and legitimately thought, "No WAY God is big enough for this. No, no, no way."

(LIKE WHO DO I THINK I AM, HONESTLY.)

Have you ever convinced yourself that your sin is too big for God’s grace?

Have you ever believed the lie that you have to fix yourself by yourself?

I have more than one page in my journal with desperation scrawled across it.

Why can’t I fix it, God? Whyyyy?

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19)

I ran around the mulberry bush of my sin over and over. I oscillated between being hopping mad about it, and dissolving into big ole crocodile tears.

And every time I cried out, I got this gentle answer:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1-2)

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)

Morning by morning, new mercies I see. (Not in the Bible...still accurate though.)

Wait...what? WAIT WHAT. 

1) No matter how big the mess, the record is clean. Straight. Up. Clean.

2) There is no need to live in fear of sin that seemingly can’t be defeated. The Redeemer has promised His help.  

I don't know why those two concepts are so hard to take hold of. Except that maybe it's some weird combination of fear and pride and being a ding-dong of a human being. Bless our hearts.

So all that said, the word for 2016 is grace.

This year, I want to learn how to mess up, repent, receive grace, and carry on.

I want it to be a knee-jerk reaction, not a conclusion I come to after I’m already worn and exhausted from trying to make everything right on my own. 

And I think the first step in real repentance is having a heart that believes grace and mercy wait on the other side. 

A heart that is living in fear of condemnation can't really repent. 

A heart that deeply understands grace has no choice but to repent.

I want 2016 to be filled with new and deep understanding of the Grace that has the power to redeem every atom of creation.

Because I have a feeling that understanding grace way deep down in one's gut changes a lot of things about the way one does life.

A LOT OF THINGS.

So here's to 2016: The Year of Grace. Praise God for His unending faithfulness, and the fact that, really, every year up to this point has been a year of grace already. Even if we didn't know it.

Cheers!

Thoughts from Oxford

Last week I sat at an old wooden table on a wobbly little stool next to my sister, while we wrote and sketched and breathed in the heavy, spicy smell of piping hot mulled wine.

I was in the back room of The Eagle and Child pub, the very room in which Lewis and Tolkein and all their professor friends used to gather to hang out and talk about big things.

(Without being cheesy or whatever, I WAS LITERALLY FREAKING OUT.)

And I got to wondering.

Did any of those men have any inkling of what Divine plans were being hatched as they drank their mulled wine (assuming they were mulled wine guys...because it is the actual greatest) and laughed and chatted?

I wonder how much Tolkein is in Narnia, and how much Lewis is in Middle Earth. And what other voices spoke, consciously or unconsciously, into those worlds.

I had a long chat with a dear friend recently, during which we spent a great deal of time talking about how (realistically) our friendship, and our little tribe of pals at the moment, won’t last forever.

Honestly, we can all get on pretty well without each other. No one’s going to fall apart if so-and-so moves back home or one of us gets married or something. There’s a season for everything, and people come and go, and the older you get the easier it becomes to replace one piece of the puzzle with another. Humans are very resilient.

(I maybe don't need to mention that my emotional and idealistic little heart can hardly handle such a conversation? Regardless of how factual it is.)

But.

I think there’s a but.

Maybe we kind of do need each other, actually. Here's why: There are times when we need to be refined. Or tested. Times we need tangible evidence of a Love we can’t see.

So God, in His infinite grace and mercy, gave us each other. He didn’t throw us together haphazardly—He set us in place on purpose. To love each other. To fight with each other. To rub each other the wrong way and to be reconciled. To lean on each other. And mostly, I think, to intercede for each other.

In his book, Surprised by Joy, Lewis talks a lot about the friends he met in Oxford, both as a student and as a professor. Friends who were very like him, and friends with whom he argued for hours on end. Friends, like Tolkein, who helped point him to Jesus. 

If I love my people like I claim to, it should be forefront in my heart to help see them safely to the gates of Heaven. If that is my focus the relationship becomes way less about how I am being served and far more about how I am serving.

DING DING DING.

What a lesson for a selfish little soul to learn! Building a community isn’t about finding a group of people who fulfill your every need. It’s about nestling into a group of your people and finding out their needs, and meeting them as best you can.

And because of how life works, those relationships won’t last forever. It’s still true that we are each replaceable and there may come a day when the current state of things will be a hazy (if endlessly fond) memory.

But just like Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, Cecil and the others each had a treasured place around the table, so you have a place in your community. And it is purposeful and sacred, no matter the length of time it lasts.

Community is a bunch of people who most definitely need each other. Who are maybe even divinely appointed to need each other, even if for a moment.

I've decided it's a great comfort to know that, while it may not last forever, the community I have now exists for a purpose. And not just the purpose of making me happy. 

In fact, that's not the purpose at all. Thank God.

Community is a group thing. It's about everyone doing life together, and (probably unconsciously) having far more of an effect on each other than any one of them realizes.

Kind of like in that back room at The Eagle and Child.  

Specks of Dust

I'm reading a collection of biographies by Eric Metaxas right now, and it's making me kind of starry-eyed and romantic about history. 

History is no fun unless you're a little starry-eyed and romantic about it. That's why I love touring historical landmarks. Standing on the same ground as, say, Victor Hugo makes old, mundane facts begin to sparkle with life. 

Have you ever been in the room where the Declaration was signed?

It's exhilarating. 

I love stepping into history that way. Being immersed in a world that is so far removed from the current one.

But...is it actually so far removed?

I remember walking through gilded sitting rooms and opulent bedchambers at Versailles, and being awestruck. Not because of the splendor, really. No, I took in the grandeur, then I started thinking about what kind of person might live in such a space.

Male or female? I choose female. Royal? Probably. Did she sit in that chair, in her nightgown, with her legs curled up under her, daydreaming? Did she run down that magnificent hall, all gold and diamonds and mirrors, and dance with her reflection?

I want to assume (totally have to assume) that people back then were as real as people are now. Meaning, no matter how royal and rule-bound a person might have been, there must have been the temptation (and maybe the follow-through) to run and shout in long, almost empty hallways. 

That's what fascinates me about history. Not the facts of it, so much. But the not-facts of it. The idea that some girl in a powdered wig and panniers had a heart that fluttered with the same longings my heart feels.

That a group of friends sat around a spinet and talked about God and the heavens and the future the same way my friends do.

After all, we're all people. We were all created by the same God and in the same Image and although times have changed, maybe we haven't so much.

Black-and-white history books make it easy to forget that people have always been people.

But when I stand in the middle of history, at the foot of a palace or on a Civil War battleground, suddenly history becomes much less black-and-white.

It kind of puts things in perspective.

History is, really, just a million little stories about people. Royal people and not royal people, failures and victories and wars and revivals. All of which happened at the hands of humans who have very similar souls. Because they were all modeled from the same Image.

And those million stories are actually telling one singular, spectacular tale of failure, grace, and redemption. Which, to me, is kind of wild to think about. Because I am so quick to make the whole world about me. My generation. My culture. My now.

It's easy to assume that our generation, our time, is the best and most forward-thinking and has more of the right answers than ever before.

The truth is, our now is as tiny and fragile as a speck of dust. We are not not the pinnacle of anything--just another moment in the very, very big Story.

The same Story was being told at Versailles, when that court was at it's most bustling and magnificent.

The same Story was being told during the Middle Ages, and the American Revolution, and in Napoleon's court.

Some girl in Jerusalem in 2 AD felt the weight of her sin and the hopelessness of seemingly unbreakable patterns and felt utterly defeated.

And her Papa held her in the same way He holds me, and whispered truth in her ear. And she understood the Truth and was better and stronger for it.

And because she knew her Papa, and His whispers, other people came to know Him. And the Story lived on, all the way until that girl in the palace ran down the Hall of Mirrors in stocking feet. All the way until me.

And the Story will keep going far past me. All the way until eternity, then further. 

Would you still love me the same?

Photo by Abbey Sargent

Photo by Abbey Sargent

I listen to Top 40 radio, and have exactly no shame about it.

Adam Levine has a new single out that is as catchy as it is accurate, and the chorus goes like this:

If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?

(YOU GET ME, ADAM LEVINE.)
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?

(YOU KNOW MY SOUL, BLESS YOUR HEART.)

Maybe it’s an oldest child thing, but sometimes I feel as if I live on a tightrope, tottering back and forth and performing for applause and adoration. I’m very afraid that if I fall, if the performance doesn’t live up to expectations or I am found out as a fraud, the audience will throw rotten tomatoes.

Maybe it’s an oldest child thing.

Maybe it’s just a human thing.

The fear of being found unlovable is, I think, one the deepest (if not the deepest) fear in the human experience.

Do you spend a lot of time feeling like you’re performing for affection? Assuming that if you let people in too far, they will see the mess and run. Keeping friends at arm’s length, to protect yourself from what you feel is imminent rejection.

It’s a debilitating way to live, isn’t it? It is for me.

Here’s an even scarier thing: do you ever feel like you’re performing for God, too? That if He REALLY REALLY REALLY knew you, He would take away your salvation and be all, “Dang, homie, you are too much even for me”?

Sure, people go on and on about “Jesus loves me it’s fine”, “blah blah blah I’m made perfect in Christ”, “I’m justified by the cross”, “PTL for sanctification,” etc. etc. etc.

But, like, I’m still scared and walking on that tightrope sooo...help.

Here’s the thing:

The moment Jesus died on the cross, you were justified. The moment you enter heaven, you will be perfect.

The in between, the journey from justification to perfection, is sanctification. And sanctification is the most crucial part of the journey. Why? Because if it weren’t for sanctification, I don’t know that we would believe God actually loves us.

We long for approval and acceptance, and more often than not we assume the key to approval is good behavior.

I know I do. Do you assume the same?

If we were made perfect at the moment of our justification, I think there would be a little part of us that assumed God only loved us because we were perfect.

Ya know?

The fact is you were imperfect before the moment of justification. Jesus didn’t die on the cross because you deserved it. You really, truly, big fat didn’t.

What does that mean? It means He already knows how messy you are. He knew before you did. He knew, and he didn’t turn tail and run the other way. He said, Yep. Still worth it.

So you were imperfect before justification, and you’ll be imperfect after. Even still, you have been given an identity of perfection.

It’s part of the mystery of Christianity—the now-but-not-yet thing. We are justified the moment we accept the gospel, and Jesus’ perfect record covers our messy record and God the Father chooses to forget all of our sin. Boom. Done.

But we are still sinning. And we will go on sinning until we get to heaven and become our perfect selves for real.

That in between part, the now-but-not-yet, is the part where God proves he loves us.

He loves us even in the mess, even as we wallow through sin and silliness and our clunky, corrupt attempts at following Him. He says, at every turn and tumble,

Keep going. I still love you. I’m here for you.

When we finally get to heaven, and those gilded gates open wide to invite us in, we will be able to glance back at a lifetime of mishaps and say, “Wow, if He could love me then, He must really, really love me.”

And if He loves us, then game over. We are lovable. We are lovable because we are loved, not because we are good.

DID YOU HEAR THAT.

You are lovable because you are loved. Not because you are good.

Which means that yes, if you lost it all today and couldn’t be strong and whatever the heck else Adam Levine sings about, yes you would still be loved exactly the same by a God who sees you at your worst and says,

But I would die for you still.

 And if that is true, we can laugh in the face of fear that says, “If only they knew who you really were...”

Your Papa does know. And it doesn’t matter one bit.

From one of my favorite hymns:

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him;

Sinner, will this not suffice?

Squad Goals

I once had a conversation with four of my best friends about whether or not we would take bullets for each other, should we ever be held up at gunpoint. How we got to that conversation I will never know, except that it started with, “Would you go to war for your country?” and ended somewhere around, “If worst comes to worst, I would get shot in the leg to protect you.”

But the in between was heavy. Not heavy in a bad way, but full of weight because of the seriousness with which we were broaching this idea: What exactly are we willing to die for?

Turns out, none of us are willing to die for very much. We landed on the short list of definitely our families, hopefully our faith, and maybe our friends. And most of the willingness to fling ourselves in harm’s way came from guilt rather than hero’s valor, which was a fact we conceded to pretty quickly.

Then Keltcey, ever observant and thoughtful, said, “It seems to me that the thing you’re willing to die for, is also the thing you’d most want to live for.”

Boom. 

To live for something is to love it, and to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of that thing. The ultimate sacrifice is death. Literal death, yes, but living for something, or someone, is a figurative daily death of self.

“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus says to his disciples, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

While he was certainly speaking to his upcoming death on the cross, I think Jesus was also laying out a blueprint for how to love well. Real love is, at its core, sacrificial. Love demands we give up our selfish tendencies—impatience, jealousy, pride, self-centeredness—in an effort to care for another person. To love is to be in the habit of constantly laying down our right to ourselves.

Following that logic to its reasonable conclusion would bring you to this: the thing you are living for is the thing you will die for.

Look at Jesus. He came down from Heaven for a single purpose: to redeem his people. On a grand scale, he had to die on a cross and suffer and all of that because the law demanded fulfillment. But between birth and death, he spent a lifetime simply loving people well. He sacrificed in big and little things, to show his friends how he much he cared about them.

Jesus’ coming to earth and dying on a cross was as big as rescuing all of humanity, but it was as small as his friendship with the twelve disciples. Or even just one of them. If I know Jesus like I think I do, he would have done everything he did on earth just they way he did it, even if it meant saving one single soul. He would have done it for the love of just one friend. 

I have always understood God as Papa, Father. It’s an easy comparison to draw—my dad is the best guy I know, and I was beyond blessed to grow up in a loving, gracious, and safe home. So as a kid, when God was referenced as Father, it clicked without a second thought. And most, if not all, of my interactions with Him happen like a child’s would with her parent. But the familial love of a father is easy to take for granted. I do that with my earthly father, certainly, and probably with my Abba Father, too. After all, your parent pretty much has to love you. It’s hardwired into them. So when I think of God my Father loving me, I (unfortunately) can sometimes dismiss it as a given.

Friends are different. Friends choose to love you and stick out the tough stuff and put up with your worst. The best kinds of friends are willing to dig into the mess of life with you and laugh when everyone would rather be crying. Nothing is tying them to you, except their choice. That is a whole other kind of love. Not better than fatherly love, but a different facet of the same diamond.

God your Friend doesn’t love you because He has to (the way I assume God my Father loves me). He loves me because He wants to. Jesus laid down his life for you because you are his friend. Read that closely. Jesus laid down his life for you because you are his friend. Not an acquaintance, not a nuisance, not a person in the social circle that is kept around to be the butt of the jokes.  

Jesus loves you as a real, go-the-distance, road-trip-until-four-in-the-morning friend. Just as you are certain your best friend in the world would do anything for you, be certain that Jesus would do the same, and exponentially more, for the sake of your friendship. He has already decided to stick through the messiness of life with you, because that’s what best friends do.

If all of creation in some way reflects the character of God, I think friendship is the part of the puzzle that speaks to his fierce loyalty and purposeful pursuit. If God is a coffee drinker (maybe he is), he would definitely want to get coffee with you. But he wouldn’t leave it there. After coffee, he would also probably want to talk at great length about your Meyers-Briggs profile and compare sleep cycle charts. You know, #squadgoals kind of stuff.

And then, if you ever talked about whether or not you would die for each other if worst came to worst, he would lean in close and say,

“Friend, I already have.” 

Who Are You, Part II

Photo by Emma Wilson

Photo by Emma Wilson

In January I asked the question, "Who am I?!" with dramatic fervor. Then a lot of things happened and seven months later I ended up in Kansas City for an *extended vacation* asking the same question.  (You're welcome for condensing most of a year into two sentences. Carry on.)

I went home with a long list of demands for God. Chief among them, “Lord, tell me who I am and what you want me to do with my life, please and thanks.”

Basically, I assumed that if God was asking me to give up something I loved (Nashville) to spend time away and alone, He was probably going to reward me with A PLAN AND ANSWERS FOR EVERYTHING. Because that's how it works, right?

I felt so burdened by the fact that I didn't really know who I was or where I fit in. I was spending hours of brain power trying to uncover my identity and purpose. 

But here is what I learned when I took my sabbatical from life: Identity and purpose are not as complicated as we make them. I for sure do this, and maybe you do to. I assumed my identity was long (long) list of personality traits and quirks and gifts and talents and needs and desires and tastes that needed to be sorted through and organized until I was the best possible version of myself. I assumed my purpose would come, hand-delivered from Jesus, on a piece of fancy parchment paper wrapped up with a snazzy ribbon. I assumed I was the center of the equation.

COULD THAT BE MORE SELF-CENTERED. (Sweet Jesus help me.)

Have you framed the identity question that way, too? In a culture that prizes self-centered soul-searching above all things, it’s hard to do otherwise.

The thing is, God answers us ever ever so graciously. Like He does. Because He is gentle and kind and more than willing to work with our clumsy, clunky attempts at following Him.

Here's what I know, now:

Your identity, at its core, has nothing to do with your personality, gifts, desires or talents. It has everything to do with the gospel.

The fact is you and I are sinners of the highest degree, mercifully saved by grace because Jesus died on a cross. We are not our gifts, our desires, or our personality. Those are things about us, yes, but they are not our core. We are ragamuffins who have been invited to the royal feast and adopted by the King. That is our identity. Plain and simple.

So what of purpose? My fellow millennials understand the bone-deep ache to know what YOUR COOL KINGDOM JOB is supposed to be. Are you kind of just sitting around waiting to be given your marching orders? Or are you, like me, demanding God give you a lighting bolt from heaven? (Bless my diluted little heart.)

Your purpose, at its core, is to love God more and love people well. That's it.

There is a not a treasure map of a rabbit trail that you have to follow in order to fulfill your greatest potential. There is no checklist of things to accomplish. Maybe you’re going to write a book, or have ten kids, or eradicate poverty or start a church. And that’s freaking TIGHT. But you’re not going to get an itinerary from heaven telling you so. Jesus has commanded us to love well and to seek Him. If you’re doing those things, whatever great (or small) job He has for you will be happen without you even thinking of it.

Could it be that in the search for identity and purpose, we have over-complicated something quite simple? The answers to "Who am I?" and "What is my purpose?" won't be found by deep sea diving into the depths of your soul. In case you haven't noticed, the depths of our souls are actually pretty messy. I don't know how much I would trust the information coming out of there, especially as it applies to who I am and what I should be doing with my life. Also, the more time you spend swimming around in the depths, the harder it will be to pull yourself out of total self-obsession.

I thought identity and purpose, the two puzzle pieces that would make me, *me*, were things I had to go looking for. The truth is, friend, we can keep searching for ourselves forever and we'll end up chasing our own tails around in a pointless circle.

The quest is over the minute we come face-to-face with the reality of the gospel. I was a slave, now I am not. He has commanded me to love well, so I will love well. Everything else is icing on the cake. 

Stop looking. You don’t need to find yourself. You have been found already. 

Rory Gilmore Made Lists, Too.

What happens to you when your brain goes into panic mode?

When I’m stressed, I clean. It fulfills a need for control when there is no control, and allows me to tidy up something physical because I can’t tidy the mess in my head. Ya know the feeling?

But sometimes the stressy head-mess gets so overwhelming, even a deep-clean of the bathroom and closet won’t cut it. What then?

I make lists.

THIS IS NOT A JOKE. I freaking love lists. Lists make sense of clutter. Rory Gilmore knew what was up—a good pro-con list can make or break just about any big decision.

A few weeks ago the mess in my head got too big and I thought I was going to lose my ever-loving mind. I mean it was an unpleasant situation, and my over-active anxious imagination was kicked into high gear. Have you been there before? 

So I sat down and had a big list-making extravaganza. It turned out great. It helped so much, in fact, I thought: “BLOG POST BLOG POST BLOG POST. EVERYONE (who deals with the very real thing of **a lot of a lot of feelings about all of the things**) NEEDS THIS.”

So here it is: How to Make a List That Will Make Sense of All the Crazy In Your Head

(or at least some of it.)

Start by making three columns. Label the first one (in all capital letters): ASSUMPTIONS/LIES. Next to it, in the second column, the label FACTS. And the third column should be labeled TRUTH. Now start filling in the lists. Don’t try to do it in order, filling up one column at a time. Go with whatever thought comes to mind first. Take it captive and organize it into one of the three columns. Be very strict about what goes where. (Pro-tip: the Assumptions/Lies column will probably get a lot of action right at first. That’s okay.)

 In that first column goes anything you might be making up, or making assumptions about, or anything that is a straight up lie from the pits of hell. You know when something belongs in that column. It is possible to be completely irrational about the most normal, everyday thing when your mind and emotions are already frazzled. But here's the thing-- even the most convincing lies aren’t actually all that convincing if you shine a bright light on them.

The second column: facts. Things you know to be true. You may be asking, “How is the fact column different from the truth column? Aren’t facts true?” Hold up a minute, let me explain. My roommate Chelsea (a very wise owl of a person) told me once that facts and truth are, in fact, not the same thing. “Facts can change,” she said. “Truth can’t.”

Think about it this way: A fact can be true for a season, maybe. For example, if I were to write in the facts column, “I am a barista”, that would be a true statement. But it may not always be true. I may not always be a barista. Thus, the statement cannot be called an absolute truth. It is subject to change. Only truth that is not subject to change can go in the third column.

The third column is the truth column. Or, if you want to make it more obvious, the Absolute Truth column. The only thing allowed in this column is stuff that could never, under any circumstances, change (do you see where this is going? If you do, you're smarter than I was when I started making my list).

I found that as I started to fill out the third column, everything started with “God is...” or “God knows...” or “God loves...”

  •  God is faithful.
  • God is good.
  • God loves me beyond measure.
  • God knows everything, LITERALLY EVERYTHING, there is to know about this situation.

I was kind of surprised, and then I wasn't. Because duh.

In a world of shifting sand and believable lies and total instability, God is the one constant. Not only is He Himself constant, but His feelings, character, and presence are unchanging as well. As I wrote my list, that third column began to outshine the other two. The assumptions and lies in column one began to pale, and become almost laughable, compared to the Truth. Even the column of facts, for all that it was valid and real information, just didn't seem quite as important after all. Because the freedom of the gospel is freedom from worry and fear.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons (also daughters), by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

BOOM.

One more thing: You’re only allowed to reread and obsess over the last two columns. If you want to be a real stickler, only the third column. Because harping on assumed facts and lies will destroy you. It will. Acknowledge them, yes. Get those lies out in the open. But ONLY for the sake of exposing them to the Truth that will render them obsolete.

So while you aren’t allowed to reread the first column (ever.), read, reread, and read again the third one. Soak up the Truth and it will begin to change everything. It will heal your heart, calm your fear, and give you a peace and joy. Oh, what sweet relief there is in the knowledge that God is bigger than our biggest turmoil, and stronger than the strongest lie.

Here’s to lists. Here’s to organizing the mess and uncovering the truth, and discovering that the real Truth is more powerful than any stress or worry or panic, and sets you blissfully free.

Technicolor Dreamcoats and White Flags

Photo by Abbey Sargent

Photo by Abbey Sargent

I've been reading the story of Joseph this week, and I'm learning more from that guy than I ever thought possible. If we're being real, I associate the story of Joseph with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and that's about it. It's one of those stories I know I know, so what's the point of reading it? 

I'LL TELL YOU THE POINT OF READING IT.

Andrew Lloyd Webber missed some key components of the story. Bless his heart. Joseph is not, in fact, a story about a coat. It's a story about surrender, forgiveness, grace, and growth. It is kind of, I think, a story about growing up.

In his story, Joseph grows from a self-important (kinda bratty) kid, to a fair and kind VVIP (very very important person). It's cool to read between the lines, at the "then two years passed..." parts. God was working some stuff out in those between places. 

SO, A QUICK RUN-DOWN OF JOSEPH'S DEAL: Has visions of being very powerful. Tells his brothers about it. Makes his brothers mad, gets sold as a slave. Ends up in the house of a man named Potiphar. Doesn't sleep with Potiphar's wife, makes her mad. Ends up in jail. Years later, he interprets two dreams for two dudes. One dies, the other gets out of jail, and promptly forgets Joseph's request to help a bro out. Remembers two years later. Joseph ends up at Pharaoh's side being a VVIP.

I'm seeing two different attitudes here.

EXHIBIT A: Joseph was quick to use (and take credit for) his God-given gift for his pals in jail. "Hey, I can interpret your dream for you!" he said to the cup bearer. "OH ALSO don't forget to get me out of here!" When Joseph tried to look out for himself and arrange his ducks just so, it all fell apart and slipped through his fingers. 

EXHIBIT B: Joseph's conversation with Pharaoh went much differently. More like, "Hey, Pharaoh, God can interpret your dream, I'll just be the vessel. Also, you might want to hire a dude to handle this. Whomever you think would be good." When Joseph chilled the heck out and let God handle the situation, he ended up as the vice president of Egypt. WHAT.

At some point during his imprisonment, Joseph learned to surrender to the process. 

Which, honestly, I think was the whole point of everything. 

I can imagine God saying to Joseph at some point, "Hey, dude, we've got some work to do in you. So some stuff's about to go kind of downhill. DOES NOT MEAN I hate you or I forgot you or I'm out to get you. I'm here. But you've got to understand what I'm trying to teach you, so chill out and let's learn about surrendering."

I'm sure Joseph was like WHAT THE HELL I DIDN'T EVEN DO ANYTHING WHAT IS GOING ON  DUDE. True. He didn't. His brothers were just jealous, and Potiphar's wife lied to get revenge. And because of the angry actions of other people, Joseph ended up a slave and then a jailbird.

But God was right there, the whole time. Years later, when Joseph is reconciling his relationship with his brothers, he says, "Bros, you didn't do this to me. God did. And He had a purpose. Look how awesomely cool it turned out! HOORAH GROUP HUG."

Friend, our sweet Lord has created you for a purpose. He loves you and He is for you and He knows what you are capable of (even if you don't yet). And He has not, and will not, abandon you. If you're feeling at all forgotten or at a loss, or you're staring at your circumstances wondering what is the world is happening, read Joseph's story. Watch God move in the life of a punk kid who ended up being one of the most respected leaders of his time. And notice how he got there.

Surrender. Not the begrudging kind that taps its feet impatiently and checks its watch every two seconds. No. The kind of surrender that peacefully says, "This is all You, Lord. Take as much time as You need to get me in shape for the goal."

The minute you stop trying to control your circumstances, God has room to move. And He will. And as He orchestrates and organizes, fruit will appear and peace will abound and all the sudden you'll be looking back at fourteen years in prison from your giant fancy throne and be like, "WOW, Lord, didn't see that coming."

Or something like that. 

So here's to surrendering to the process. Not trying to rush through the hard stuff, but taking it at it comes and giving thanks because, ultimately, you're being molded into exactly who you need to be for exactly what you've been made to do. You are not abandoned. You are loved. And, DANG, it's all gonna be so, so good.

Cheers to Twenty-Five

Snapshot #1: I spent the morning of my twenty-fourth birthday curled up in my roommate's lap, crying. I had just gotten back from Haiti the night before, so we can maybe blame the culture shock? But it was more than that. My life was broken, in shambles, and I was desperately trying to put it all back together. It was the hilarious epitome of rom-com tragic, and it weighed on me with the heaviness of Shakespeare.

Snapshot #2: On Friday I turned twenty-five. My roommates woke me up with coffee and a honey-drizzled pastry, and a way-too-loud-for-7:30-in-the-morning chorus of "Happy Birthday". The day began with peals of laughter and pajama-clad snuggles. A completely different day than the one 365 days prior.

It's safe to say that the difference between snapshots 1 and 2 is this simple: at twenty-four, I thought I had to have everything under control. Emphasis on the part where it was my job for everything to be under control. At twenty-five, I am as footloose and fancy free as a child. Learning, for the first time, that not being in control feels infinitely better than the alternative.

If I could sum up all the lessons of twenty-four (THERE WERE SO MANY), I think it would come down to this: I am not driving the bus. Not because I can't (free will and all that), but because I've learned to surrender to my sweet Savior (*not perfectly and not always, but I'm learning the general gist). And in learning to surrender to Him, I have seen the beauty of His provision, grace, and peace. All of which move my heart to inexplicable joy, and I'm like OH IS THIS WHAT I'VE BEEN MISSING? 

Life is a constant dance between discovery and flourishing. Heartache and happiness. Climbing and resting. Somewhere between all of those things, change happens. I think life is as cyclical as it is linear. Patterns repeat and seasons cycle through, but we're always moving forward. Always growing, either closer to heaven or further away from it. 

When I stopped to get coffee on my way to birthday lunch, my twenty-three year old barista said, "Twenty-five? Oh wow. If I don't have all my shit together by the time I'm twenty-five, I'm just giving up."

I wanted to hug her and laugh. I didn't hug her. I did laugh. Sweet barista friend, if having one's shit together is an indication of success, then I have royally failed. But the last year of life has taught me that success cannot and should not be measured by what looks, to finite eyes, "together". There will never be a moment when all the right eggs are in all the right baskets. Never a lightbulb when you say, "Oh, I am SO TOGETHER." God and time and living don't work like that. You know? And there is nothing sweeter than the moment (or the year) when you realize "togetherness" is a pipe dream. 

I'm thankful for the journey from twenty-four to twenty-five, for all the wildness and pain and joy of it.  In 365 days' worth of daily plodding and decision making and surrendering everything changed. The Lord moved in ways that were obvious, and in ways that were not. And, like He promised, He worked everything together for my good and His glory.

Mountain Climber

Photo by Abbey Sargent

Photo by Abbey Sargent

What is more, I  consider everything a loss for the sake of gaining Christ.

Those, friend, are big words. 

God doesn't joke around about the necessity of giving up what we think we want so that He can reveal what He has in store for us. He desperately wants to be allowed into every corner of our lives, but He can only breathe life in the spaces we have allowed Him to be. My roommate Chelsea is always saying: Our Lord is a gentleman. He will not come in uninvited. But once you invite Him in, He's going to move.

Through the wild roller coaster of the last two and a half years, Nashville has been my constant. Nashville was my greatest accomplishment and biggest joy. I moved here to grow up, to settle down, to prove I could do it. Which I did, and I latched onto that sense of accomplishment with pride and fierce determination to not see it taken away.

What I've learned in the last month in that Nashville has become an idol. It's the one part of my life I haven't been willing to turn over to the Lord (okay I'm sure it's not the only part, but it's the biggest part so roll with me). I have been hanging onto my life in Nashville so hard, my knuckles are turning white. 

But all at once, on a Tuesday morning, I heard the most unmistakable whisper: Go home.

Oh, God, SURELY NOT. Surelysurelysurely not.

Go home.

It took me all of 24 hours to make the decision. The doors are wide open, the request is clear. I'm going back to Kansas City (*for a season). Nashville still feels like home, but I know there is heart-level work that needs doing, and I don't think it can happen here.  

People are asking, BUT WHY THOUGH. I'm going home because He asked. Because a lukewarm life is no life at all and if I say I'm going to follow Jesus I better damn well follow Him. And part of following Him is giving up idols in order to be brought into the fullness of all He is. Idols do nothing but get in the way. It's like my friend Tim says: Often, the things we love the most are thisclose to what God has for us, but we get so focused on what we think we want, we end up totally missing the breathtaking gifts He has waiting.

It's like stopping a hike halfway up the mountain. 

Legs start to become jelly and exhaustion sets in, and, hey, the view is pretty spectacular right where you are and is it really going to be that much different from the top? Let's just take pictures here and call it a day because my legs are freaking killing me.

But, oh, if only you knew! If you work a little harder and make it to the top of the mountain, the view is incomparable. Not only that, but once you make it to the top you know what you didn't before-- you are stronger than you ever believed. You made it, by the grace of God and the discipline of perseverance.  And the reward is wildly beyond what you could have imagined at the bottom of the mountain. Or even at the halfway point where you thought you were satisfied.

That is why I'm leaving Nashville (*for a season). I'm halfway up the mountain, but DANG Y'ALL I want it all. He has whispered so many promises. He is so good and so worthy of possessing every little thing in me. And even if it kills me, I'll give it all up for the sake of gaining Christ (That sounds dramatic, but sometimes that's how it feels, ya know?).

I'm going to keep straining up the mountain, reaching for the fullness of knowing Jesus and becoming more like Him. Moment by moment, mountain by mountain, until Paradise.

This isn't goodbye, I'm pretty sure. Far be it from me to assume I know the plan, but I feel fairly confident I'll be back in this sweet city I love so dearly. But still, to say goodbye even for a minute is hard. I love ya, Nashville. XOXO.

[PSA: if you want to get coffee or confess your deep, undying love before I go, call me.]