To Begin Our Holy Week

I find myself at the beginning of another busy week where assignments always take longer than anticipated and sleep is shorter than would be desired.  Yet this isn’t just the Tuesday of an average week, it is Holy Week, a time of reflection and preparation to remember Christ’s death.  To mourn in his death and celebrate the victory of his resurrection.

With school work and the unexpected demands that life brings, my observance of Holy Week so often goes into the back of my mind without true focus on its importance.  As I often do, I find myself turning to music in this moment, letting the well crafted words of others speak much needed truths into the inner blocked off parts of my soul.

Music may not be your medium, but this Holy Week, I invite you to to join me in using our passions and interests to bring us to the feet of the cross.  Our Jesus, He is mighty to save.

“Anchor of my Soul” || Josh Garrels

I have seen enough to know that your love’s the only anchor for my soul

So please don’t ever let me go, if you do I would be lost forever, Lord

Swept away by the waves of the storm

 

Oh Lord of the wind and the waves, if you’re with us we will not be afraid

No storm can ever separate us from Jesus, you’re mighty to save

All those who call on your name

 

Hallelujah Jesus Lord of all

Hallelujah Jesus lead us on, and on

 

When I thought that all was lost, I cried to the Lord, rescue me

And like a ghost you appeared walking on the turbulent sea,

And you said oh my child follow me

 

Oh Lord of the wind and the waves, if your with us we will not be afraid

No storm can ever separate us from Jesus, you’re mighty to save

All those who call on your name

 

Hallelujah Jesus Lord of all

Hallelujah Jesus lead us on

When Our World is Hurting

Two posts in one day? What is this crazy thing? Well it’s the result of a lot of thoughts.  As I alluded in my earlier post, recently the never ending issues that our world is facing have just been pressing deeply on my  heart. Yesterday I wrote out some thoughts as a way to process the intercession of our earthly hurt with a loving God. I don’t solve any issues for the world or for myself. But sometimes to find comfort we must remind ourselves of deep truths that get buried in everyday life.

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It feels to me that more and more each day I am reminded that this world is hurting.  It is afflicted, it’s people are in pain.

Planes are crashing, and people mourn for the loss of their loved ones.  Disease takes the lives of those seeking to know life’s great and full reaches.

Not only that but there are constant problems of injustice happening in all reaches of world. For my Anthropology course, we have been reading a book which details the life of a refugee family whose daughter is diagnosed with severe epilepsy, which lead to many frustrating miscommunications and problems between doctors and the non-English speaking parents.

The issues that this family face reminds me that there are people living in this country who are constantly being treated wrongly, and much of this stems from cultural differences and a lack of reconciliation between the differing cultures. Now, yes, this is simplistic view of a huge issue, but my point is that our world is consumed in injustice. It’s full of misunderstandings that lead marginalization.

And out of the hurt, when we feel creation groaning from its core, my heart twists and the words from my mouth are “Come Lord Jesus come.”  Come bind up the wounds, come bring peace to the lonely and brokenhearted.

Today my heart has been heavy and its not for myself.  Rather its for these problems of our world that we’re so deeply entrenched in, so much so that it seems like there really can’t be a solution.  It’s hard for me to trust that God is sovereign, present, and working when love is being broken.

But because He is a loving God, He gave us freewill many years ago and we chose the dark path, the wide path that diverts farther from light.

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” | Exodus 34:6 |

In the Old Testament, God was faithful and His people were not.  Free will had a price, the kingdom was divided and Israel fell to Assyria.  The God of the Old Testament often seemed wrathful and angry to me, but a semester in a course studying the Old Testament has shown me that throughout all time his character has always been gracious, loving, and compassionate.  It will never change. He will never fail us.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” | 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 |

So when my heart is heavy because the world is hurting, I must remember to focus on the eternal narrative of redemption that God is in the process of writing.  He has sent us His Son to be the sacrificial lamb for the sins that we could never make right on our own.  He also promises that He will come again.

We must take heart, for our Jesus came and then overcame the world.  God’s redemptive story is greater than what our eyes can see, but I think He longs for us to pour our longing hearts out to Him.

We are broken.  He’s in the business of binding things up.

We like to focus on details.  He’s in the business of writing larger narratives. 

We have trust issues.  He’s in the business of keeping promises.

When Mornings Become Blessings

I have never thought myself to be a morning person, and really I still wouldn’t call myself one.  But this morning I had the privilege of going with some other wonderful fellow leaders to have a bible study with a group of middle school girls that we have been getting to know through Campus Life.

As homework made last night a later evening than expected, I originally groaned at the idea of waking up in 5 hours. But excitement got me out of bed, and I really feel that the Lord sent me there to show me a message of His continuing faithfulness.

Recently, I have really been feeling the weight that our world is hurting, and it’s been hurting for awhile but many circumstances have made this even more real to me now.

But God is one who takes broken things and makes them beautiful.  He fills up our cracks with hope.

“Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.” | Hosea 6:3 |

Through the distracted stories, many laughs, and a cold walk through the snow to take them to school, I saw hope for our world in a small group of girls who also got up early to meet.  Maybe it was just for a chance to get Starbucks, but they came and talked to us.  It reminded me that our days are about so much more than just making it from start to finish.

On an average Tuesday, I sleep in later than normal, make coffee, get breakfast, do homework… the normal things.  But when your morning starts at 6:00, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.  I often focus inwardly on my problems and my own schedule, but our days really should have so much more purpose.  Perhaps this purpose is simply pouring into others.

The giving of ourselves to others often requires a sacrifice, and this morning it was sleep, but such a small sacrifice was met with a great return.  My return was a reminder of the beautiful potential God has given these girl that we’re getting to know.

God also doesn’t just leave us hanging to give of ourselves without promising that His presence will go with us.  As Hosea says, His presence is as sure as the rising sun.  In my moments of exhaustion, yet also my moments of joy, I find myself often relying on my own efforts that got me there.  But as Hosea says, the Lord is with us in everything that we do.  As surely as the sun rises every morning, God is there.

So in the moments when life just feels heavy, we press on to know our God of hope.

When the night falls, the sun rises again to bring light and in this promise I found God’s hope.

When God wakes us up to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, He never fails to show up too.

This Closely Held Secret

My time in this new home is reaching a point where the stories of the beginning weeks of college are coming out.  Real first impressions have been shared, and we all laugh wondering how we could have been so intimidated by each other as we now know how crazy we all are.

As the halfway mark of second semester is quickly approaching, I can now look at this place as a home that is familiar.  I no longer feel like a bewildered freshman confused at how this whole college thing actually works.  No, I’m independent and often determined, so of course I know the ropes of what I’m up too now (or at least this is what I tell myself on a regular basis).

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Everyone anticipates that the first weeks and perhaps months of school will be an uncomfortable adjustment.  No matter how well you get along with your roommate, the first night of getting into bed and turning off the lights in a new kind of stillness is just plain uncomfortable.  Now I sit here with my sweet roommate peacefully sleeping with my bedside lamp shining and todays laundry sitting unfolded and piled into a basket.  Life here in this room is far from perfect, but it’s a sweet place to call home.

So although, I knew that the coming to Wheaton would be a difficult adjustment, I was well prepared for it.  But something no one tells you about college is life after move in week, life after the first week of classes and first month of new friendships.  No one told me what it would be like to suddenly be given the responsibility and the privilege to share life with 2,500 people around my own age.

No one told me that most Saturday nights start with a quest for some big adventure but often ends with a movie and popcorn with friends.  And that’s okay, I appreciate movies now more that I think I ever have, and I love the ever continuing process of learning how to care for people and receive care from these people.

But no one ever told me that those kind of nights where you tuck in and just have girl time is okay.  What is often told though is how fun college can be and all of the “big events” of college are the moments displayed across the pages of social media.  I feel as though this has caused a skewed misconception for many people, especially me, because it fosters the expectation that every moment must be spectacular because if it isn’t I must not be doing this “college experience” thing right.

Now I certainly have been a part of many of the essential “college experiences” and gone on many unlikely adventures. But on the nights where nothing was going on, I struggled with discontentment. It took me an entire semester of inwardly feeling slightly embarrassed when my weekends were uneventful to realize that the standards I was holding myself too had no real backing or enforcement behind them.  I wallowed in the woes of being a freshman thinking to myself, “if only one of us had a car here then we would be doing something of worth tonight.” Talking to myself in such a way fostered this deceptively subtle enemy of discontentment. The slippery slope of “what ifs” dampened my ability to simply enjoy the moments happening before me.

Now, I have a car up here and that “what if” has been eliminated, but ironically, this semester’s weekends look a lot like last semester’s weekends did.  The difference lies in the fact that I no longer have to wonder if I could be doing something bigger and better because we have the option to go somewhere if we wanted.

One semester removed, I can see how those nights helped me to develop deep bonds of friendship with the girls on my hall.  Those moments of boredom and a lack of creativity when we wanted an adventure turned out to be a great gift, but it took a long twelve hour roadtrip from North Carolina to Illinois to peel back my stubbornness.  When I was in the middle of the situation, my expectations blinded me from the reality of the situation, that true friendships were being formed and that some of the best moments are made from frustration.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” | Romans 12:2|

This verse is a familiar one for anyone who grew up in church or perhaps was a part of Awana, but for me, it reminds so much of the way I approach much of life.  I face situations with expectations set from some ambiguous source that tells us all how we should act in order to be cool, likeable, or successful.  We see the carefully compiled profiles of others which share their best experiences and best faces and convince ourselves that we need to do more to measure up. But this is a purely evil lie being fed into our willing beings.  The sneaky mister of discontentment slides in so subtly until we’re infected and don’t realize even it.

What I love about most verses in the Bible is that the hopeless beginning always has a hopeful ending.  Here God promises that our infected minds are going to have to be transformed and renewed in order to counteract the work that discontentment and false expectations has done.  The result though is the work of God, it’s the aftermath of His will and care, which is goodacceptable, and perfect.

So no one ever told me that it’s okay to just take a personal evening in college.  It’s also okay to do homework on a Saturday night (who is this girl saying this?).  There is no ultimate source that can be found in a google search that gives a full view of what the “collge experience” will be like, and that is because we all are so different.  But in the end, we have to give ourselves grace and cut ourselves slack because playing the game where we try to live up to false expectations will always be a losing game.  Conforming to these false expectations will ultimately leave us exhausted, but the grace of God can give us renewal into a living hope that is good, acceptable, and perfect.

Where God and I Come Face to Face

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWould I consider myself an artist? Unfortunately, no. Do I often dream of being a painter that can sit down and whip up a masterpiece? Of course. I am amazed with the work artists can create in the form of painting, photography, and music, and I often find myself lost in the twisted glory of my favorite melodies and the story their lyrics tell.

It’s in this place where beauty seeps from human fingers and notes echo from the strings of a guitar that God and I meet. The gathering is gentle, and it’s casual. But it’s genuine and affectionate.

I see beauty not only in what God has formed but also through the creations that His beloved make. When words and an acoustic guitar meet, my soul finds rest. And God and I meet there as two friends delighting in testimonies of creativity and imagination.

Music has always impacted me in this way, and I’ve rarely been able to understand why. But I have always known, like the peace that surpasses understanding, that God sits with me in the moments when I just close my eyes and choose to sit for a moment.

I’ve learned since coming to college that time to just sit and listen is a rare gift, and the box of art supplies that I brought to school with ambitious hopes of how I would spend my time still sits there collecting dust.  My set of watercolors decorates a shelf, but their colors never decorate paper.  And through the busyness, I crave art and the enjoyment found in music.  So I force myself to stop and open up the Word, put in headphones, and sit with God in the peace that He brings.  And I don’t always know how I understand it, but I know He is with me.

He is with me when I am in awe of the little seen beauty of an imperfectly hung strand of lights.

He is with me when I pick up my camera for the first time in months and get lost behind the lens.

He is with me when I simply close my eyes and listen, just listen, to a song carefully crafted.

He is with me when I pick up a paintbrush and let it clumsily streak across the page.

I continue to be amazed in these encounters because He never reveals profound truths to me about His nature or proclaims bold statements of His rich love for me…but rather it is an experience of unfathomable peace and joy that comes from a close encounter with the one who calls me His beloved.

Hope-filled Wandering

Sunday nights are my night for settling.  It’s a night to put away lose ends from one week and prepare for another.  It’s a night where lingering thoughts from one week either chose to stick around for another or be resolved at this precipice.

Now I linger in the tingling aftermath of an evening worshipping at All-School Communion with so many of my classmates.  Even after this many months, it’s still incredible to look around and see the intertwining of academics, community living, and genuine adoration of the Lord.  At All-School, no one is rushed coming from a previous class or worried about a test right afterwards.  It’s an open time to come and sing to the Lord- to pray, to sit, to come, to experience.  The person who sits next to you in class may be a few rows over, and here we are worshipping the same true God.  Man, it’s amazing.

Since coming back to school God has been showing me how important it is to keep my heart facing towards Him.  He never fails to be a strong enough to turn my vision during the moments when I convince myself that I am strong enough to face life on my own.

And it makes me smile because God knows everyone one of us so well, in fact He knows us so well that He expects me to wander because I can be stubborn and independent.  And in His expansive love, He reigns me in each time teaching me one lesson after another to write down in my mental notes of the times that I’ve failed myself but His love has won my wars.

Grace on grace teaching lessons upon lessons.

These quiet Sunday evenings remind me that I am prone to wander.  I am prone to pull on my snowboots, zip up my coat, and walk out of the door relying on my own strength.  I tend to make big decisions and consult my Guardian after my decision has been made.

Out of our wandering, God calls us into the stillness.  No amount of busyness can go without moments of rest.  At some point, we all have to stop to catch our breath.  And God meets us there in the breaks.  In the Sunday evening stillness, God meets my wandering heart.

The words of the hymn Come Thou Fount reach me in such an honest place as they exclaim:

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”

Prone to wander. Prone to leave the God I love.  It’s so honest, and I see myself so much in those words.  But I believe that although we are prone to wander, we are prone to come back.  Because despite our independence something in our wiring shows us that we need strength greater than our physical beings can give us.

The coming back is a steady acknowledging of weakness and a need for dependence, yet there is desire to follow wrapped within a return.  A true lasting relationship with the Lord is bound to have seasons of wanderings. But the returns are what makes God’s narrative even greater in our stories.

It’s constant, it is daily.  God gives us grace for the long roads, and a gentle hand to take in order to return.

This week I am acknowledging that I’m a wanderer, and I invite you to recognize it to so that together we can be all the more delighted in the returns.

For Your Friday.

afterlight

“We’re invited to eat body that’s broken for us and drink the blood that’s spilled for us, to enter into suffering so that we can receive something that is way beyond us and be healed.”  -Josh Garrels, on his song Bread and Wine.

Yesterday, I heard this beautiful quote about communion.  It was so simple, but was the much needed reminder that the bread and wine symbolizes something so much greater than us, but we have been invited into the communion simply and without expectations required of us.  This act was, and remains, much greater than us, yet He has invited us into the suffering to be healed, to be cleansed, and to find rest.

The perfectionist in me wants to say more, and wants to keep explaining and working through this quote, but instead let’s just sit and read it again and then again.

My prayer for this weekend for us all is that the we allow God’s truth to permeate our saturated culture.  To enter into the suffering, to receive and be healed.

Sanity Hour

Isn’t it funny how the most intentional plans are the ones that are most easily messed up?

Last night right before bed I was reading about our need to disconnect more from the social connection in which we constantly participate. It had some great practical tips that I would recommend for everyone to read, even if the tips just provide a starting point towards minimal distraction.  One point that I especially resonated with was the importance of establishing a morning routine that is centered around on the silence and the peace that comes with a new morning.

So this morning instead of laying in bed and scrolling through leftover notifications or reading the latest posts on Twitter or Facebook, I joyously rolled out of bed with the exciting plan of drinking my morning coffee in the stillness and the peace of a quiet room.  …but then the fire alarm sounded, and caught me completely unprepared to face the day, and this threw me into the next three hours of classes in a state completely opposite of what I’d hoped for.  Rushed, disorganized, and slightly disheveled.

Walking back to the dorm after class, the to do lists run like endless credits in my mind and a half empty mug of cold coffee sat on my desk, waiting for a companion.  There were flashcards that needed to be made and books to be read.  But now it’s 4:30 and none of that has happened.

Instead it looked like conversation with sweet friends on the phone and the sound of Josh Garrels filling the room.  Yeah I should have done many things, but sometimes you just need to stop for an hour or two and let your soul rest.  It’s hump day. That’s an awesome accomplishment, we made it halfway through another week!  And it should be recognized and celebrated in some small way.

I think we all forget to stop and recognize our humanism.  With never ending school work and other commitments, I tell myself “I just don’t have the time to stop and take a break.”  But we need to protect our sanity and stop intentionally for a moment to rest.  Rest in stillness. Rest in a truth from the Lord.

This song by Josh Garrels has been my break for rest and I invite you to let its truths reach you like they have reached me today.

Fear Not.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” |Isaiah 41:10|

I am logical. I am practical.  Things come my way, and it may sting or bruise, but stings stop hurting and bruises go away, so I live knowing that they will go away.

In a more concrete sense, I also always take way too long after a trip to unpack.  My suitcase sits on my floor and clothing slowly finds its way over the sides and onto my floor.  And I find myself living out of a suitcase in the midst of home.

I am late to unpack my thoughts as well.  The quiet moments, seemingly too rare to be found, are when I finally allow myself to feel the sting.  And before that I truly was okay with the sting because as I said before, it happens and it goes away.  For me, stopping and speaking truths and facts into experiences shows me things that I’ve chosen to leave packed in the suitcase. It shows me that it’s time to take them out.

The first semester that I spent at Wheaton truly was so much better than anything I had expected.  Experiences, friendships, and the warmth of the community gave me a new home that I now miss dearly.  But sometime in there, a sneaky process was working in me. The sneaky thing inside of me was fear.

You see, introductions have never been my thing, but I’ve lived in the same city and gone to the same church and school for my entire.  Introductions happened, but they were never central to my experiences.  I had a spot, an identity, and it was comfortable.

At school, introductions were everything for a long time, and so were first impressions.  Eventually, I found a place with people where I felt at home.  In these places where I knew I was accepted, I questioned my welcome on off weeks where school work piled thickly and everyone’s stress was high.  Why? Because of fear.  In classes where my bold peers shared their thoughts, I became comfortable as a listener and shared my opinions later in smaller contained settings.  Why?  Because of fear.

Fear of identity. Fear of losing acceptance. Fear of failure.

Now it’s 2014, a fresh new year, and I have been challenged by the idea of choosing one word to focus on for the year.

But this year for me, it’s two words.

Fear not.

On the very day when I had finally shared with close friends about how I lost some of my courage this semester, the theme to not fear kept appearing – among my search for a new study, in a random blog post I clicked on, in a picture a favorite artist of mine posted.

I got it, Lord, thank You for being obvious that night for my wandering heart.

The courage that sometimes seems hard to find or the worries that creep into joyful moments that seem too good to be true are overturned by the words fear not. I find them so perfect because it doesn’t require increasing performance from us.  The idea behind not being fearful isn’t to push through by our own strength and rely on some new boost of self confidence.

Rather, God’s command is to stop fearing and start trusting.  He has written a narrative of faithfulness for us to see.  He invites us to fear not for He is the one to be trusted who binds broken things together and brings life to places that have been starved of fresh water.

These words aren’t a commitment to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but rather to yoke myself with the one equipped to carry burdens and make them light.

Fear not for I am with you.  It seems so simple, but it’s a commandment for trust and it changes everything.

Facing the Dragon

For my Creative Writing class, we’re in the process of writing a non-fiction essay of our choosing.  An account of an experience, place, or person that has impacted us.  This assignment has been outlined for us long enough that the ideas seem to be taking form for everyone, and to end the class we spent a few minutes writing about why we chose the subject of our writing.  What is the deeper meaning beyond the stories on these pages?

After writing like good students, we all packed up our books, slung them onto our back and walked on our way in the rhythm of an average Wednesday.  I too participated in this conveyor belt behavior, yet left feeling unsettled and slightly shaky.  See my non-fiction piece focuses on the process of becoming an introvert.  I have thought about this, brainstormed stories, and even began a concrete outline of how to go about translating a process into a paper.

But there has not been time to sit in silence and to write why I am choosing to voice this experience.  For me, this was the facing of a dragon, one that had been hovering near me, or perhaps maybe we have bumped into one another before.  But we have never been friends.

In those last five minutes of Creative Writing, I shook the hand of a dragon and it left me feeling shaky yet liberated.

For me, this wasn’t me looking at a stranger’s life or even a close friend, this personality was mine.  I look at where I feel the most at peace and find the most freedom, and I see that listening is often a more comfortable place to sit than twirling in the center of conversation.  I see that when I tell my long and involved stories, I want them to be heard by someone.

I hear this and I also hear the words of Psalm 139: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

I praise you, Lord, for this is how I have been made. You say it is wonderful and there my heart finds rest.

To realize at the age of 19 that you are much quieter than you thought, and much happier being independent than you had realized is a challenging and testing experience.  But it is liberating, in fact, it is a work of the Creator inside of me. It is a step in the process of becoming whole.

Today, I realized that I’m fascinated with writing about the process of gradual introversion because I’m scared of it.  It’s humbling to see that the blueprints that I have drawn for myself are being gently erased and re-directed by the One who’s knowledge is more vast than any college education or 100 years of living could ever bring.

Blueprinted Elizabeth sees another one, an Elizabeth with little outline and little form, but with a hand outstretched.   My eyes see her as a dragon, but the true image is gentle and inviting and has been intricately woven by a gentle and caring God.

You may be finding yourself in my place or maybe eventually you will. Facing dragons takes courage.  But the One who is the giver of great courage also calls you fearfully and wonderfully made.  He promises to be the cloud by day and the fire by night.  In these earlier moments of unsettledness, freedom can be found in taking the gently outstretched hand of a beautiful formation in process.