Surgeon General’s Warning

As I pulled into a parking lot in my apartment complex, I saw a girl my age smoking a cigarette.

A few thoughts crossed my mind, but in the end, I’m sure she is already aware of the health risks. Perhaps she thinks they don’t really apply to her, or maybe she is only focused on the here-and-now, or maybe she would vehemently argue that it’s none of my business. Either way, she made a decision, because she was very happily smoking her cigarette.

But then I had to stop myself, because while I was pondering the physical health of this stranger, I realized that I was doing exactly what she was doing.

I have this really sweet, loving, beyond-words Savior who knows me quite intimately and cares about all of the intricate details of my life. He has warned me of what will happen when I choose not to obey him; of what happens when I only think about the hear-and-now or my selfish needs or, honestly, anything outside of His glorious gifts (and, sometimes struggles).

Yet we all have a choice to make. And I, like that girl, ignore the “you should”s or “you’re supposed to”s or “it’s not good”, and I follow my own rules. My own path. After all, it’s my life, right? I shouldn’t have to answer to anyone!

Foolish, foolish of me.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  – James 1:17

Forget Me Not

Faith and trust are often overlooked.

We assume that because we believe in a supreme being, we’ve covered all of our bases. God, faith, hope, trust…all of it, nailed. But we’ve missed the point.

He wants a relationship. He wants intimacy. And He wants the moments when you don’t trust Him.

He wants you to call out and say, “I don’t believe you, but I want to. Help me. Have mercy on me.” (Mark 9:24).

He wants you to acknowledge the icky parts of your life that would threaten to disarm, discourage you, dismantle you. The things you’re thinking about right now… The ones that keep your lips sealed shut in the presence of friends and your heart mindlessly numbed in your loneliness. He wants all of that.

For me, those moments took the form of overarching statements – things I proclaimed to be true, simply because investigating the foundations of my claims would be too painful.

  1. “God has left me in a season of wanting for too long. I suppose this is the life He has chosen for me. I think He wants me to remain in a place where I do not receive my deepest desires.”
  2. “Okay, I know He is good. He can rescue me from X and Y, but I really don’t see how He can do Z. I’m not in any circumstance where that could be possible right now.”

Readers, understand that these are lies and that they do not reflect the character of my God. Here was His answer:

Last night, I caught up on long-overdue readings by starting in my favorite book: Psalms. I flipped to the center and began with Psalm 77. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was not alone in my frail trust!

When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted… You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray! I think of the good old days…when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Wow. I can’t count the amount of times I have prayed almost the exact words expressed in this Psalm. All of the hurt and waiting and longing leads to one very human conclusion: this is my life now. Sadness and dejection are what God is pleased to see me live.

No. No, friends, if you have ever said these words – as I have – I beg you to continue reading this passage.

BUT THEN I recall all you have done, O Lord. I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works…

And the writer goes on to describe God’s extraordinary intervention. My favorite is verse 19: “Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters – a pathway no one knew was there!”

Hmph. Isn’t that an answer to my unbelief which stemmed from not being able to see how He would do something? I don’t need to see the details; I just need to know and trust that they are there. The plan is there. More importantly, He is there.

And in response to only trusting “half” of God’s power (which isn’t possible, by the way. He’s an all-or-nothing kind of God), Psalm 78 described Israel’s relationship with Him as they were led through the desert.

They stubbornly tested God in their hearts… “God can’t give us food in the wilderness. yes, he can strike a rock so water gushes out, but he can’t give his people bread and meat.”

And that grieved Him. It must grieve Him when I do it, too. I’ll acknowledge some of His greatness and wonder, but undermine the grand implications of such an undeserved gift by saying, “but He didn’t do this for me, so He probably can’t.”

Ouch.

God did give Israel the things they needed, by the way. He even gave them the things they wanted, causing birds to fall from the sky and into their camps so they could have the meat they so desired. But they forgot Him again, and He corrected them.

Forgive me, Abba. Forgive me for all the times I have forgotten you, or have been too lazy to learn who You are.

And for you, friends, I deeply hope that you will learn His character today. He is not one to abandon you or throw you into misery. Follow Him and take His hand, dear friends. He knows the way.

What I Mean When I Say “I Love You”

We were given language to use it for beauty.

We congregated at Babel and were struck with this gift, this curse… we were struck with a miracle:

because suddenly, we were given a basis on which to build new cultures. We were given semantics and pragmatics, sounds and cues, meanings and emphases, all of which could provide effective communication, expression…

we could give tangible entities and audible form. We could paint landscapes and stories in the crooks of an ear. We could give some kind of definition to the feelings and thoughts that swirled within our chest.

Beautiful. That curse, that gift, was beautiful.

Yet we’ve failed at its usage,

for at its core, the gift was not for the glorification of self, but for the audible and cultural display of One untouched. We were to become the water on the Earth that reflected His character: namely, when all else is summarized,

Love.

We were to use the diversity and colors to express the meaning of Love.

You could read all of His letters and know that love is not a simple concept. It is messy, uncomfortable, awe-inspiring and all-consuming. It amazes and transforms. It is, for lack of better word, incredible.

Yet we “love” everything now.

“I love pizza.” “I love that chair!” “I love my car.” “I love you.”

When it is convenient.

An unlimited array of words and potential for words, yet the best we could do to define it was:

“An intense feeling of deep affection.”

A stronger form of fondness.

But Love was not meant to be reduced to the description of the hormones and desires that swirl inside of us. It was not meant to describe the temporary things that bring smiles to our faces and warmth to our hearts. It was not meant to describe us, but what we are willing to do. 

“I love you.”

It means:

I present God to you.

It means that you have nothing of your own capability that can express the worth, value, and significance of your sister or brother human being. It means that no matter what you do, you could never do enough or think enough good thoughts to treat them the way they deserve to be treated. It means that there is only One who can be everything…

and when you find a person for whom you would like to give everything….

when you run into a stranger who feels a deep sense of lack, and you wish to supplement and overwhelm their gaps with abundance, goodness, grace, and mercy,

when you realize that this world is not enough for someone, and wish to offer them more, you can say: “I love you.”

I present God to you.

“Here! Have this river of satisfying water, this fountain that will never run dry.” (Isaiah 58:11, John 4:14)

“Here! Take everything I can never give you. Take something that goes beyond the emotions, the feelings, the arguments, the disappointments. Take this constant source, for I can never be constant for you.” 

And this statement means sacrifice. It means that only through God, and only with His will and mindset can you learn how to give of yourself for another’s benefit. It means that the thoughts and ideas He contrives will be bigger than you, harder to enact than you can promise, grander and more satisfying than anything you can give.

I present God to you, friend.

I present God to you, my love.

I want to follow His example and lay down my life for you.

I have nothing greater to offer you than He who is everything to me.

How would that change the way we use the word “Love”?


Joy Comes in the Morning…

I’m writing to you right now because I can, and that’s a blessing in and of itself.

I’m writing to you because Abba is a healer and the restorer of all things.

This morning I woke with pain, confusion, anger, sadness,

feelings of lack, feelings of incompetence, feelings of hopelessness.

I sat up, (breathe), contemplated the day ahead:

“You have to go to class. You have to go to class.”

“No, you don’t. Lie down here. Rest.”

Five times the battle, then I did as I was told. I “rested…”

Except this was no rest; this was talking, dissuading, feeling all things wrong…

There was no joy this morning.

(Freeze). I froze. 

and then I knew I needed help.

But Abba already knew…

To sleep He put me. Then rest I did, and dream I did, and I woke with a motivation to move –

one I did not prompt of my own accord.

>> That voice threatened to claim my accord. It would’ve had me  lie there forever, curtains closed, stomach growling, mind dreaming of things it claimed I’d never be able to have. The voice would’ve liked me to waste away, aiming to spite those who’d hurt me. This, then, was the battle for my accord.

But Abba has all might.

He intervened, and today He brought me friends. He taught me to dial their numbers, to reach out for help, to give up my pride, and to let Him guide me.

So thank you to Alexis, who flew by my side and sat with me once Abba had told me to rise. Thank you to Martha, whose sweet words were as near to my heart as our friendship has become. Thank you to Anna, who spoke truth and life into me with consistency, power, and tenderness. Thank you to my friends for obeying my Father’s voice.

Now through my veins courses the Spirit of redemption; the Spirit of the Helper, who snatches me from the pits without my consent…who grabs my hand like a parent does a child’s, and leads me from the strangers who promise fulfillment and a smile.

It is as if He is the cure, and His immediate exposure – though I never specifically asked – caused a joy and peace (neither being my own) to become part of my existence and part of today’s events. I walked, I smiled, I ate, I felt the things good; and I have no explanation other than the presence and all-pervading power of Jesus Christ.

I’ll take my moments one day at a time. As of right now I am happy, because He has never left me nor forsaken me. He is with me here, still, hearing me and creating me. He has a plan and a purpose, and regardless of my occasional discomfort with His timing, I know beyond all doubt that “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). And I seek to follow Him; therefore, I assume that my posture is one that mirrors His.

So I cling to my verse – the one that is the anthem through my darkness – and recite it over and over again (in my head and spirit, where the battle is fought) when I cannot think of words of my own to speak to Him:

I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you…

-Psalm 139:11-12

Another Truth

I wasn’t the only one.

My first semester of freshman year was difficult. In my mind, the most analogous illustration I can conjure is simple and frightening: darkness. There was no hope as would have accompanied being in the depths of the ocean…no dream of a current to lift me up and wash me ashore. It was just pure darkness with the illusion of peace, and the disbelief that any condition contrary to mine had a form or existence. Or, in other terms, “light:” There was none.

But something happened in December. I can describe it only as the emergence of that which I had known to be false, as sure as we know that we are not made of cats and dogs. Abba peered into my disbelief, reached into my darkness, and saved me. He taught me not to hate Him, not to believe that He desired only my sorrow and grief – which is what I had foolishly claimed to be my own truth. He taught me of love, of light, of liberation. And by January, with one leap into His outstretched hands on an ocean of faith, I walked. I walked, and my darkness became light.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

And so began the initiation of my new, fragile existence. I no longer trusted in myself to bring joy to a dreary day, for each moment of happiness was a treasure, a deliciously miraculous moment that I knew I had no power to conjure of my own accord; first semester had taught me that. I was weak. But second semester taught me that He was strong.

He reintroduced me to joy, and joy in its fullness. Joy: I wasn’t happy because I had no fear or pain. Instead, I enjoyed a peace that passed all understanding despite my consistent fears. Despite my worries. And the “despite” is what, to me, made the smiles of second semester joy, and the grins of its predecessor mere fleeting whims.

But, as I first told you, I was not alone. In that darkness, when the less-than-glamorous thoughts of death and destruction seemed to beckon me with chilling invitation, I was surrounded by bodies who endured the same tormenting voices of “You’re not good enough,” “You are alone,” “No one loves you,” “You cannot be loved,” “You. Are. Alone.”

Her name is Martha, and she is my new friend. She is gloriously beautiful and has a laugh that is as infectious as her charm. She, to me, is a radiation of light and beauty. She is the inner spirit that mean and women alike envy to possess.

And somewhere across campus in that first year of college, she was experiencing the same things I was. I learned this as we discussed our lives in a dormitory kitchen while the rest of the world cheered on the Seahawks and Broncos. She was vulnerable there, and revealed the same wound that I’d born. “Here’s my scar,” it was as if she was saying. As if she rolled down her sleeve to reveal a heart that had been slashed in half and had somehow healed. It matched mine.

We were not alone, either, for at that same kitchen table, our friend Anna revealed an equal distress. What is it about ripping away company that seems to suck the life out of people, knocking them to the ground and revealing the idols they’d held so dearly for so long? Relationships. The worst idols to those whom they affect, for they can be both a necessity and a handicap; a delirious gift and a wretched knife.

With piercing blue eyes and the dancing grace of the passing wind, Anna is a symbol of strength. In my mind, she is power and a fortress that is not to be overtaken. She is the confidence for which young women strive, and the ginger sensitivity that constitutes love and emotion. But somehow, the darkness had gotten her, too.

And somehow, we’d all been rescued in the same way: by His timely answers to our prayers.

I wish I could have shaken myself unconscious until I rejected the concept that I was the only one. I wish that my eyes had been opened in that first semester, and I’d seen the other sisters standing blankly next to me in the soul-gripping dark, their limbs frozen in shock and fear and wonder. I wish that the “Whys? Whys?” – the molecules that clustered together into a black nothingness – had been torn and sin had been broken and truth had been restored amidst the hopelessness that was The Dark.

I wish no one would ever have to feel fear in its tangible form.

There is no beauty in sorrow and, at the time, no thanks in the upheaving. But today, I am thankful for the conversation in the dormitory kitchen that revealed one everlasting truth:

He never leaves us, nor does He forsake us. 

Complacency, the Beast

Complacency is not my friend.

She’s quite unassuming. She appears with a nonthreatening demeanor; her face is blank and her eyes piercing. Curious thing. She wants no harm: no good, no evil. She just wants to impact your life, like any person would. She wants a grip on your soul. I’ve learned that Complacency is not my friend.

But here she is, once again, knocking meekly on my door like a stranger standing out on the cold. “Let me in,” she says. “Keep me warm. I won’t harm you.” Bah. I really shouldn’t. But it’s so easy… So easy to embrace defeat and begin the slow sinking into the murkiness of compassion-less living. Forgiveless living. Actionless living. No leaning to the right; no edging to the left. Carelessness.

Man, how did it get to this?

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What Does Worship Look Like?

I’ve not written in a while; I apologize for that 🙂

I’ve been living, breathing, enjoying, seeing… Autumn is my favorite season of the year, so I’ve tried to indulge in all of its colorful whims as often as possible. I must say, I am not disappointed. Since my college campus is nestled into the rolling hills and lush foliage of northern Georgia, it is especially beautiful during the chilling months. I have plenty of stories to tell, and yet not nearly as ample of a vocabulary as is necessary to describe them. Very well, I’ll move on.

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Meet My Friends: Matt Reeves

I mentioned in the first post of this series, “Meet My Friends,” that I wanted to give you a glimpse into the lives of the men and women who have impacted my life over the past year or so.  Today, I want you to meet Matt Reeves. 

And if you’re wondering about the Sweet Tea in the featured photo, it serves no symbolic purpose. He just really likes sweet tea 🙂

_______

Matt Reeves is one of the most shockingly uncomplicated people on this earth.

Why? Because he makes it that way.

But for some reason, I’ve spent my life learning new ways to make the present time a blended smoothie of the past, the future, and the highly improbable. It has been exceedingly difficult for me to slow down, take a breath, and enjoy the moment at hand without planning what my next step will be.

However, on the second day of classes in January, I met Matt for the first time and didn’t realize that my point of view was about to change.

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