Treasures

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I always remove my wedding rings before I bathe or shower. They are still just a tad too big, and it bothers me how they spin around when they get soapy with shampoo and scratch my noggin when I’m scrubbing. When I was 18, my dad brought me back a Bohemian crystal ring holder from Czech on one of his visits (oh yes, we’re fancy like that)(actually, my dad was just involved in a Czech music ministry for about 7 years of my young adulthood), so I always put my rings in that. It sits on the bathroom sink, and the master bathroom in our new house doesn’t have much counter space. It kind of freaks me out. So every day, I gingerly remove my wedding rings, terribly fearful that they’ll fall out of my hands (I still haven’t gotten them soldered together) and into the dreaded sink drain, ne’er to be found again, and so I tenderly place them on the ring holder. Then, when I get out of the shower, I carefully pick them back up again to wear.

Yesterday, as I was doing this for like the 1000th time (what’s up, 6 years of marriage!??!), I asked myself why it would be such a terrible disaster if I dropped them into the sink. Well duh, I thought to myself, because they are irreplaceable – the permanent, unending symbol of the love between us, and because they were the most expensive thing we’ve ever bought for one another besides our education and home (and children – hospital bills, y’all). They are treasures. They represent the absolute best part of my life. And also they are pretty.

Of course, the next thing that popped into my head was “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” and I started to feel that guilt that constantly haunts me because I am a broken sinner and I can’t seem to get much right.

I treat those rings like they are so precious, taking extra good care of them. I’m tender and gentle and careful and kind. I’m treating them like they are my treasures. But really, they are a treasure that represents my actual treasures, and the only kind of treasures that are worth storing up on earth because they can transfer over to heaven: people. Those rings are precious on earth in and of themselves, but they are only real treasures because of what they represent. The actual treasure is my husband.

I don’t treat him so tenderly anymore. 6 years of marriage and 2 years of dating before that lends itself to that, doesn’t it? I snap at him, am sarcastic and a little mean sometimes (and a lot mean sometimes), I openly show how frustrated I am when he doesn’t inherently understand my deepest needs and desires. I’m still kind to him, laugh with him, and love him dearly, but I’m just not quite so careful anymore.

Literally every time I handle those rings, I am so, so careful. Many times I handle the actual treasure, though, I am so, so careless. My carelessness results in hurt and brokenness instead of encouragement and support. How can I think of Hubs as the actual treasure? What would it mean for my marriage if I was gentle, tender, and careful with each interaction with him? I think it would certainly mean growth of my character, and I bet it would result in growth of his, too. And it would be storing up a treasure for heaven – a pale shadow of the truly perfect relationship we’ll share someday, restored by an absence of sin and the presence of God’s face.

I Wish I’d Known…Grace

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So my dad’s a pastor. Anybody who has ever had a pastor daddy knows the special pressure we all feel as PKs – the “you-better-act-perfect-because-if-not-your-dad-will-lose-his-job-because-1-Timothy-3:4-says-so” pressure. I got it extra double amounts because I’m the oldest and a girl. I actually remember someone in our church family once sitting me down and explaining to me that my behavior could directly affect whether my dad kept his job or not because he couldn’t be an overseer in the church if his children didn’t obey him. I also was a normal Sunday school kid, so I learned all the rules of Christianity, like be good and be nice to people and obey and follow the rules. I was a textbook oldest child: perfectionist, over-achiever, bossy, rule-following, judgmental, etc. I found no trouble in being perfectly obedient and always doing the right thing. I didn’t really rebel, although there was that time freshman year I snuck out to go on a date even though the rule was that I had to be 16 to date and I was only 14 and got epically grounded for a full 3 months. No outside of the house time, no cordless phone, no aol instant messenger, nothing! It was horrible – obey your parents! Seriously though.

I guess the point of all this is that I felt the pressure to be good from a young age, and I knew that I wasn’t good. But I felt like if I was good more often than I was bad, or if I was only bad about small little things, then it would balance out and God would be proud of me. Since my parents are wonderful humans, I at least had a good understanding of unconditional love – I totally got the whole “we love you anyway even if you do the wrong thing” thing, but I really thought that the amount God was proud of me that day was based on how I was acting.

I even really knew we were saved by grace. I knew we weren’t possibly ever going to be good enough to get into heaven on our own. Like let’s say somebody said for us to jump to the moon. We all try to jump to the moon, and I’m wearing my air Jordans so I jump the very highest. Did I actually make it to the moon? Of course not. The goal isn’t to get the closest to the moon; the goal is to jump to the moon. I’m doomed from the start – I can’t possibly jump that high. So it really doesn’t matter if I get the closest, because it’s not like closest counts. It’s either that I met the goal or I didn’t. And that’s a goal I can’t possibly meet. I understood that I was saved by grace – God just threw the rules out the window. He just went and got the moon and put it directly in our hands – there’s no contest or even effort. He just did it for us. But the thing was, I was still trying to jump to the moon everyday. I was working super hard for something that I already had. I was wearing myself out trying to reach an impossible goal, and I was forgetting that I already had it.

The problem for me came when I was about 12. I was a bright, inquisitive, nerdy tomboy who also happened to like frilly things. I had a vivid imagination, and I liked to be silly. I was very outgoing, and I loved attention. I read books like there would be no tomorrow. I still played with my American Girl doll or Barbies almost every day. I spent a lot of time pretending/playing that I was an American transfer student to Hogwarts who Ron Weasley fell in love with (mind you, only 3 Harry Potter books and zero movies were out at this time, so I had no idea the direction that was going to go). I was still a child, but my peers were moving into adulthood. The fact that I didn’t care to style my hair or wear makeup began to play into my social status. I still remember with pain in my heart my 7th hour science class in 7th grade. I was in a group of 4 with these two really popular girls and this one really popular boy, and they were so mean to me. Looking back as an adult, it’s almost hilarious, but it hurt so bad back then. They would call my hair a dirty rat’s nest and tell me how ugly my handwriting was. They would tease me that my khaki pants and polo shirts were Walmart brand (we wore uniforms) and that my tennis shoes were out of style. I distinctly remember saying I was going to go to the dance, and them saying that I probably couldn’t dance at all, and I responded that of course I could, because I had been in dance for years, and they rolled their eyes at me and said I was so stupid because this was not like ballet. All of that stuff seems so superficial and dumb to me as an adult, like I want to go back in time and smack myself for caring at all about these people’s opinion of me. But as a 12-year-old, I was crushed. And I would do absolutely anything to have those people like me. Of course, overachiever I was, it wouldn’t suffice to have them simply leave me alone. No, I had to be one of them. I must be a beloved member of their group. So the conclusion I came to was to change literally everything about myself that made them find me repulsive so that they would be my friends.

I started caring a lot about my appearance. I’d get up every morning really early to get all primped and pretty. I begged and cried and whined until I got more acceptable brands of clothing and shoes. I started copying this one popular girl’s handwriting so they’d compliment mine. So it worked! They became my friends, or at least I was getting invited to be around them and I wasn’t getting teased anymore, but was part of their conversations.

The tradeoff was that I forfeited myself to do this. I got rid of everything about myself that made me interesting. I wasn’t silly or childish anymore. I only wanted to blend into the crowd and do what everyone else wanted. Being liked was more important than anything else. I became a shell of myself, blending and twisting to fit perfectly into whatever place I was stuck in. Just as I felt like I was getting my bearings, my dad got a new job and my family moved. Yay for starting high school in a new town! It is literally the worst. I basically just started over with the whole “trying super hard to fit in” and totally changing myself thing, and it really didn’t work that time. I think people have an innate sense when someone is trying too hard to fit in, and that person becomes unlikeable, even if the other people can’t quite pinpoint why they don’t like the person. That was definitely the case for me freshman and sophomore year of high school. I could tell that nobody in particular truly liked me. Instead of resigning to just be my natural self, I sunk deeper into myself and became an even worse shell of nothingness and despair. Anger replaced my innate silliness. My go-to was emptiness and anger and jealousy and resentment. And somehow I kept that self-righteous, I-always-do-the-right-thing attitude, which made me seem bossy and judgmental and even more unlikeable. The sad truth – my number one goal was to be liked, and I was very not liked. I fought with God so much during this time – I begged him to take away the things about my personality that made me difficult. I twisted his words, praying that he would make me more like Him, but really meaning that I wanted to not be the way he made me anymore. My family moved again between sophomore and junior year of high school, and I got another chance to start over. I did just as badly this time, and was very relieved to escape to college. Everywhere I went, I brought my anger at never fitting in, never having a place, always feeling like I needed to change myself for whoever I was around to become likable. It was just exhausting and frustrating and seemed so hopeless.

Bottom line: I spent the years from age 12 to about age 22 hating myself. I hated my strong personality, my bossiness, my need to be the center of attention because it made me seem arrogant and conceited, that I had to soften everything I said so that it wouldn’t come across too mean. I hated that I needed people to feel energized, but people made me feel terrible about myself. I hated that the Church claimed to love one another when really they only loved those who were lovable. And of course I hated the way I looked – what I would have traded for stick straight hair and skinnier legs and blue eyes and straight teeth! And that self-obsession, being totally turned in on myself, filtering everything through the self-deprecation lens, always worrying about whether people wanted me around, seeing that they didn’t but having to be around them anyway, it stopped me from ever even considering that maybe some other people might feel just like I did. I was trying so hard to be good, to be just right, to deny myself, but for all the wrong reasons. And it had the opposite result of what I hoped: I was less liked because of it, and I wasn’t serving the kingdom of God at all by denying what made me “me.” The lack of being able to make a difference in God’s kingdom caused me to fall even deeper into myself. Everything I did – it all stemmed from obligation and guilt and turned me into an even more selfish person.

Sometime in early adulthood, someone talked to me about justice, mercy, and grace. They explained it so well: justice is getting what you deserve. Let’s say you kill someone. Justice would be either the death penalty or a life sentence – getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. So you killed someone. Mercy is that you are pronounced guilty but you don’t have to go to jail for life or have the death penalty. Mercy is unfair. But then there’s grace. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. It’s going one step further. So you kill someone. Grace is that person’s family comes to you and gives you all of the person you murdered’s inheritance and legally adopts you as a member of their family. It is crazy. It’s a totally illogical and completely unfair reaction. You guys, this is what God did for us.

God had this plan that we would be his kids. We were like, “no thanks God, we’d rather do things our way.” This is the ultimate crime: creation rebelling against its Creator, thinking that it has a better idea of what it should be than He does. I should have known: my constant practice of hating myself, of thinking that I knew better than God what kind of person I should be – that’s a perfect example of sin. Our punishment was separation from the Creator, our Dad. Dad loves us, and he can’t stand the idea of being separated from us forever even though we really screwed things up. Instead of forcing our separation, or causing us to be forced to jump to the moon, which he knew we couldn’t do, he brought the moon down to us. He brought himself to us. He put on our messed up skin and walked with our messed up selves and taught us how to love each other the way he loved us. Then we killed him. But he beat death, and then he was like “it’s cool, no worries that you killed me, come be my kids and have my inheritance and be with me forever.” It’s this crazy amazing story because it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with us. It has nothing to do with us because we didn’t do anything to be heroes in the story. We are the bad guys, like the whole way through.

So that’s grace, guys. We get everything, and we deserve the worst. But God doesn’t just stop with grace. He extends a challenge. I love this, because it is all over Scripture. Every time Jesus forgives somebody who doesn’t deserve it, there’s a challenge with it. The challenge isn’t “be good, then I’ll forgive you.” It’s “I forgive you, now walk with me and learn how to be good.” It’s not “look what you did,” but “look what I did.” I always think of John 8: A woman was caught in the act of adultery, which was punishable by death. The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus, so they brought the woman before him. This is the passage where he says that famous line “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” and none of them can throw a stone because they know they are all sinners. We like to leave the story there – Jesus doesn’t want us to condemn one another because we are just as guilty as each other – but there’s more to the story. Jesus asked the woman where everybody went, and she said that no one remained to condemn her. So Jesus says, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” He has grace for her – he gives her another chance at life, but he balances it with a challenge – go and leave your life of sin.

To sum it all up, what I wish I’d known is grace. If I had been able to understand the magnitude of God’s grace (and I still can’t understand this fully), it would have resulted in one big change: I would have turned outside of myself. Instead of literally spending 24/7 trying to change myself so that other people would like me, I would have been spending 24/7 trying to like them. It’s a totally different mindset – how can I love people today? vs how can I make sure other people like me today? When I shifted my mindset and started trying to live by extending to others the grace that God had already extended to me, my entire life changed. People can sense when you truly care about them, and they like you much better for it. It turns out that most people feel the same way I felt – awkward and uncomfortable in their own skin, feeling a great dislike for core things about themselves. When they are extended grace, when we love them unconditionally the way Jesus loved us, we’re like magnets to them. There is an aura about us in those moments that can’t come from anywhere but the Holy Spirit, and people are drawn to Him. I have been able to have meaningful relationships with so many people – people I wouldn’t have even noticed if I’d been trying to spend all my time getting noticed – because of this mind shift. Think of light onto a prism or diamond – light coming in to one place is multiplied and beautifully reflected in many different directions. It’s like the miracle of the loaves and the fish – it looks like there’s only so much to start with, but God can multiply even the smallest things to make plenty for everyone. When we accept God’s grace and extend it to others, there is always going to be plenty to go around.

Here’s the ending to my story: remember how I hate that I’m passionate, and bossy, and I have a vivid imagination, and I love attention? Those exact qualities, when developed and sculpted and pruned and filtered through the Jesus-lens, become some of the greatest strengths I have, particularly when I’m teaching. My passion keeps me interested in doing the same things, day after day. My bossiness keeps my students in line. My vivid imagination keeps my students interested in what we are learning and helps me to be creative with how I teach. My love of attention means that I don’t mind in the slightest when I have to get up and talk to 500 parents at performances. God gave me these qualities on purpose, and he has blessed me so much when I’ve surrendered them to him instead of trying to get rid of them.

Here’s my hope for you: I hope that you will see the incredible grace that God has extended to you, and that you’ll accept it. I pray that you’ll be that diamond or prism, reflecting that incredible grace to as many people as you meet. And I pray that you’ll surrender your own self, both the things you like about yourself and that you don’t like about yourself, and you’ll allow God to use those things in his miracle way to bring glory to Himself to the edify His kingdom on earth. You won’t believe how full your life will get.

I Wish I’d Known…

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I’m a small group leader for the youth group, and we are about to start this series of talks called “I Wish I’d Known.” Basically, some of the small group leaders are going to spend 15 minutes each over several weeks giving a talk to the big group about what they wish they’d have known when they were in high school. I am presenting on February 19, so I’ve been spending a whole lot of time thinking about this topic in preparation.

And honestly, that is impossible. First of all, I wish I had known like everything. I wish I had known I’d get the best husband ever so I could just calm down about that. I mean, seriously, I could give a whole talk to teenagers about dating relationships (couldn’t we all?). I wish I’d known that my hair would end up being controllable. I wish I had enjoyed the lack of effort required at the time to keep myself in shape. I wish I’d known that cheerleading wasn’t everything. I wish I’d known that people are always difficult, and they’re always going to disappoint you, and that doesn’t change the fact that you love them anyway and pray for them anyway and like them anyway. I wish I’d known that some of those things that I hated about myself were actually blessed gifts if I’d use them with God instead of Satan’s twisted methods. I wish I’d known that I’d find the absolutely perfect career and never change my mind once. I wish I’d known I would, in fact, get to stay home with my babies in the midst of that career. I wish I’d known how to budget better then.

And then second of all, I wouldn’t change ANY of that, so I don’t really wish I’d known anything in particular back then. I wouldn’t trade a bit of it. The choices I made were based in what I understood of myself and God at the time, and God blessed me immensely in my obedience and taught me endlessly amazing lessons in my disobedience. Not that I recommend disobeying God, but he truly does work all things for good.

And that’s what I’m going to talk about: He works all things for good. He really, actually, truly does. And I wish I’d have known that at 16.

At 15, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my family went through a very difficult period in which I felt alone and ostracized from my church “family.” I was disgusted at the behavior of many people who I’d previously respected as strong Christians. I was hardened, sad, and lonely. And a little jaded. I didn’t do anything wrong – why was I being treated like a leper? This was NOT what God called Christians to act like – including those church leaders who were treating my family the way they were (and those same church leaders who had taught me for 2 years before that about how God calls us to love each other with grace). I was realizing for the first time just how messed up God’s church is, and it jaded me. The true magic, though, is that God kept me with him. I never wanted to stray from him. I never felt like he suddenly wasn’t real. It’s a miracle, honestly. I was angry and upset and unforgiving and not really Christ-like, but I still desired and believed in Jesus.

My family moved that year, and my dad took a new church job in Alton, Illinois. I should mention that I grew up completely in the south, and Illinois was total and complete culture shock. I did not care for anything about Illinois – the way the people acted, our new church, snow/winter/cold weather, my new schoolmates, the way people made fun of me for my accent and assumed I was stupid and assumed that I thought the South won the “war of northern aggression.” (SO. MANY. EYEROLLS.) After feeling ostracized by people who were my people, I moved into the land of not-my-people and felt ostracized some more. I didn’t fit in at all. So I immediately started looking for a boyfriend (should I mention here that I actually still had a boyfriend in Mississippi? No, I shouldn’t mention that. It makes me look like a jerk. Which I was.) and found a nice new boy to date. I got rid of my accent best I could, although I still stick “y’all” everywhere and even a good “used-to-could” in there every once in a while. I tried out for the top singing group at school and made it. I worked hard on grades. It probably looked from the outside like things were good, but I was incredibly unhappy, which I think was clear to anyone who talked to me. When you are incredibly unhappy, it is obvious to everyone. I literally do not keep in touch with a single person my age from Alton, Illinois, which is a real shame, because as it turns out, a lot of them were fantastic people. I wish I could go back and treat other people better. I wish I could go back and get outside of myself and see the people who needed love around me. I could have made such a difference, and I could have figured out that joy comes when we get outside ourselves and love others instead of wasting away in self-obsession.

The biggest thing, though, is really that God works all things for good. First, I dated that boy I mentioned above for over a year, and he taught me SO MUCH about myself. In Alton, I met the most influential people in my spiritual life besides my immediate family – my youth pastor, Mike, who shared my great passion for musical theatre, and my Sunday School teacher, Sheri Steward, who I still keep in touch with. The Purpose Driven Life came out during that time, and that church I didn’t care for at the time participated in the 40 Days of Purpose, which completely changed my life. That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t about me (which is the first sentence of that book). Casting Crowns, the band who seriously defines my life (someday I’m going to write an entire post about the difference Casting Crowns has made in my life) released their first album and they just spoke my language. I realized how much I loved music and that I couldn’t part from it, thanks to two incredible women, Ann Davis and Laura Plummer, and an incredible man, David Drillinger. I went to Honors All-State Choir my senior year and bawled my eyes out as the boys sang “The Awakening” around me. Ann Davis told me about a school that put out great music teachers called Millikin, which I had never heard of before. The Chamber Chorale came to us on their tour, and they were amazing. I decided I would be in that choir, and I would go to Millikin, and I would become a choir director like Ann Davis. And it probably goes without saying, but I never would have done any of the above listed things if not for God planting my family in the weird little place of Alton, Illinois. (I feel like I should mention that I ended up truly treasuring my little church in Alton that I hadn’t originally cared much for.) The two things that would define my life most strongly – my relationship with God and my relationship with music – were nurtured and developed and grew exponentially while in Alton, and I hated almost every minute during those two years of high school. I wish I’d have known how God would use that, and I wish I had enjoyed it instead of dreading each day.

Fast forward: I did go to Millikin, and I was in Chamber Chorale. I realized quickly that Chamber Chorale was actually the second choir at Millikin (even though it’s better than top choirs at most universities, I’m not biased or anything), and the top choir was University Choir, which I was unfathomably blessed to be part of and was single-handedly the most influential part of my character development in my entire life. I met another boy at Millikin who I dated for 3 years and learned an incredible amount from, most acutely that we weren’t the right match for one another, which helped me to define the characteristics of the right match for me. I did major in music education, and I graduated among the top of my class and immediately got a job teaching music. A week after graduation, I met a really cute boy whose face I get to stare at every day and also get to see in tiny 3.5- and almost-2-year-old form every single day, to my greatest joy. We’ve settled our lives in a church that truly strives to love the way God calls us to and into ministries that give us great pleasure. My life is so good, and it is so full of direct, obvious, amazing blessings. Everything that has happened to me has resulted in such a good life. God pieced together all kinds of nasty sin and brokenness and selfishness and cowardice and rage and bitterness, cleaned it up, and made my life truly beautiful.

I wish I could have known in high school how good it was going to end up, because I would have faced each day so differently. I would have treated others so much better and cultivated better relationships with my peers. I wouldn’t have necessarily made different life choices – I love where I went to college, I would still break up with all the boys I broke up with, and the pain I experienced from being left out of things taught me how to lean on God and turn outside of myself, which I wouldn’t trade for anything. But the thing that would change would be how I treated others. In my selfishness and worry and distrust, I pushed aside so many people who needed Christ’s love. When I made things about myself, I missed incredible opportunities to serve God’s people and make disciples. I would adjust my attitude to one of joy, and hope, and peace, because I should have been confident in the promises of God.

 

The plans he has for you are good. They will help you prosper, and they will not harm you. They will give you hope and a future.

He will work all things together for your good.

He will never leave you or forsake you.

He will lift your burdens and give you his instead, which is easy and light.

He will heal you, and he will teach you how to praise Him in the storms. He will teach you how to love and forgive and let go.

He will give you a really good life. Trust me. Trust him.

A Letter To High School Freshmen Girls

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The first time I fell in love was when I was 14. I met this super cute boy at church who could sing and play guitar and he was charming as heck. I got to hang out with him a lot (thanks, Youth Group) and I got to know him pretty well. Dude, I had it bad. He was a good guy with a good heart who loved Jesus and had a velvety voice. I am an excellent judge of character. To this day, he’s a good guy with a good heart who loves Jesus and has a velvety voice (and a gorgeous wife and two adorable kids). It wasn’t one of those “oh, he’s not that great and you don’t really know him and he’ll treat you terribly and make your life miserable because he’s actually a bad guy and you’re just projecting what you want him to be instead of what he actually is.” He was legit a good guy. I never had that bad boy thing happen. (Okay, I had it once in college.)

But we never dated. He was not interested in me. He only wanted to date the girls who were hot cheerleaders. So I learned right away at 14 that it doesn’t matter if I have a good heart or not or a velvety voice or not. Just because I could see right through someone to his heart, it didn’t mean he could see right through to mine. I tried to hide the fact that I was totally crazy about him, but it was really obvious to everyone (and probably him). And he was kind to me – he didn’t make me feel like crap about it, but he never addressed it either. He was always my good friend.

So I went through major life changes and fought with my personality (because I realized pretty quickly that I could fix the hair issues I had but the personality ones were a little trickier) and felt left out and went through a terrible time with my family and we moved away. And I still thought about him every day. I figured someday he would figure out that I was the right girl for him. I pictured all of these cute little scenarios in which he’d come visit me driving through where I lived now and see how hot I’d become in my new school and at least be like “Aw, man, I should’ve given her a shot when she was around” or even the dream scenarios of the whole “it’s always been you” followed by the romantic kiss. But nothing ever happened.

Ah, the love story that could have been.

I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about it lately, but I think the point is that when you’re 14 (or any age for that matter), you might fall in love with somebody, and he might actually be a good guy. And you might never, ever, ever date him, and your love might be totally unrequited for always and ever. And then you might date 3 or 4 guys who are really good guys with good hearts (I did), but it just doesn’t work out. Actually, I didn’t date any terrible people. I’m still very fond of every person I ever dated. And you’re going to probably break up with those people and doubt yourself with those people and feel horrible pain and heartbreak and sadness. I did.

Guess what? You are awesome. And you are loved. And you are beautiful. And you may never get to date that good church boy with the velvety voice and kind heart. You are more than who you date. And you are going to be okay.

I’m married to the best guy in the entire world. He isn’t that boy I loved when I was fourteen. He is so much better, because he is who God picked for me, not just who I picked for myself (although I did pick him!). He loves Jesus, and he has a good heart, and he has a velvety voice. He loves me so, so much. He has never faltered in commenting how beautiful I am, literally every day. He thinks the annoying things about my personality are cute (for the most part). We have a beautiful home and great jobs close to our extended family. And we have the best kids in the world. We have the best life in the world. My basic requirements that I made as a 14-year-old never changed. And it took almost 10 years to find the right guy after I fell in love the first time. I didn’t even meet him until a week after I graduated college!

But the point isn’t that I got exactly what I wanted times infinity. (I did, and it’s awesome!) That doesn’t even matter. I could have lived my whole life with terrible, lonely heartbreak. That totally could have happened. Would I still be okay? Yes, because being okay can only come from One, to be honest.

Someone knows you better than anyone else. He can see exactly who you are – exactly how nasty your heart can be, exactly the most horrible thoughts that you have in those shameful moments, exactly how much time you spent on your hair and makeup that morning only to find out that it is RAINING OUTSIDE, exactly how much you wish that cute boy would just realize that you are right for him, exactly how selfish you are, exactly how much you ache with passion and love, exactly how silly those 900 selfies with puppy dog ears look. And He desperately loves you. He died for you to live. He died so that you could figure out how great He is and live for Him. He died for you to have a full life, full of love.

He sees just who you are in your absolute worst moment and still loves you no matter what. Please just know that loving Him is all that matters. You matter because He loves you. He thinks you matter. He likes you. And He loves you. Honestly, when I figured out that His love for me was enough, my life started. And interestingly, I met my husband within 3 months of it.

You’re gonna be okay. Really, you’re probably going to be great.

 

Sincerely,

A recovering high school freshman girl

Identity

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Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I’ve been having trouble lately because I keep forgetting who I am. I can only seem to concentrate on the stuff that isn’t so pretty, like failure, less-than, the “nots,” the “never gonna happen”s. I can’t seem to shake that I just suck at everything and that I’ll never be good enough. It’s irritating because as a 29-year-old woman, I thought I was done with this. I spent a large portion of my life stifling myself because I thought I wasn’t good the way I was. And now I’m grown. I used to think like a child – because of this quality, I am unloveable. Love can’t conquer that. Then I grew up, and I thought I put the ways/thoughts/knowledge of childhood behind me. I thought I knew what was really going on back then, but I was wrong. When truth was revealed to me – that I was literally loved to death by the only One who really matters – I started to see the whole picture: who I am. Loved. Forgiven. Beautiful. Covered. Whole. New. Worthy. Pure.

This understanding – this face-to-face-ness, if you will – changed my entire world. Sure, I should always be changing and growing in who I am as Christ cleans me up, and as I start to look more like him. But there are qualities of me that are there on purpose, qualities that I always despised and hated about myself. Some of them were about my looks (hello, thunder thighs and frizzball hair!), but most of them were just me, like core parts of my personality. I just felt like I didn’t fit inside myself, like there was so much of me to go around that it would just explode out of me without control.

You see, I am a totally natural-born leader. I am very gifted in teaching. I LOVE being in front of a crowd – like I can literally talk in front of hundreds of people without the slightest fear, and I actually find talking one-on-one much more terrifying. I am so very good at being bossy. I make very quick and solid decisions. I like pro/con lists. I have a loud voice. I love to make people laugh or bring joy to them in some boisterous, silly way. I don’t like to listen. I don’t like to be alone. There are just truthful things about me. But even re-reading them, they come across wrong – they make me look like I think highly of myself, and that’s not a likable trait. I have just never been a very likable person. Most unlikable people don’t know that they are unlikable, but another one of my fabulous personality traits is discernment, so I have the unfortunate gift of being completely aware of how unlikeable I am to people.

I came to terms with this as I reached adulthood. I learned how to channel my bossy nature into servant leadership. I accepted that listening was super important, and I better learn how to do it. I started teaching and got some of that crazy bossy energy out by working with elementary-aged kids. I chose a life partner who compliments me in every way, who softens me and teaches me compassion and grace, someone who inspires me to both feel loved just how I am and feel challenged to continue making myself better. Together, these things helped me become a much more likable version of that unlikable girl I was for so long. I settled into myself in adulthood, and it was more comfortable.

Then my lifelong dream came true, and I started teaching high school choir. It’s the exact thing I have always wanted more than anything else. Things haven’t gone as well as I imagined. I could blame all kinds of things for it, but the most frustrating part is that I feel like the reputation that I built for myself of being an excellent musician and an excellent educator is getting tossed down the disposal (another one of my wonderful traits – I absolutely can’t stand to be bad at things). I’ve encountered so much hardship that I didn’t expect. I’ve been left out of things that I wish I could be included in. I regularly feel very small.

Interestingly, the flip side of this is incredible, immense joy. I absolutely love my students, even the ones who apparently don’t care for me. They have so much talent, and perhaps I feel like a failure because I wasn’t expecting them to set the bar so high. I feel very supported by my administration, which is a huge gift, since many music teachers never feel that way. I have been approved to do so many fun things already, even though our district’s budget is tight. I feel very small, but there’s so much hope. Plus it’s good for us to feel small – it helps us remember who we really are.

It’s funny how when things come in to clear vision, the ugly parts show, too. When I dreamed of being a choir director, I only could see the good hope – the meat-and-potatoes music, the students who could understand depth and critical thought, seeing the joy as they figure out that new skill that was out of reach before, the emotional and physical thrill of an amazing performance of a spectacular piece of music, the connection of esprit de corps – we are one team, and we all matter – I love it all. I’m surprised that I only saw in part, especially since I did teach in the public schools for 7 years before taking this position. I mean I should have known that it wouldn’t be peachy keen 24/7 in high school land.

I’ve been feeling split into a bunch of different directions because of all my mini identities. I need to be 100% mom, 100% choir director, 100% general music teacher, 100% musical director, 100% curriculum planner, 100% coworker, 100% researcher, 100% disciplinarian, 100% cook and house cleaner, 100% home flipper because hello we just moved and we still haven’t put the baseboards back on because they aren’t painted yet, 100% worship arts team member, 100% choir member, 100% professional development student, 100% better piano player, etc etc etc.

The truth is that I’m 100% Christ’s. Each of these little identities is just one part of the whole picture. The whole picture is that with these gifts, Christ has given me innumerable ways to honor Him with my life, to be with Him in it, to grow closer to Him in it. I keep taking it all on myself and then failing, but how would it change if I asked Him to join me in it? How can I be Christ to an angry parent? How can I be Christ while playing the piano? It seems a bit ridiculous, but bringing Him with me on these crazy adventures could add serious joy.

Someday I’m going to stand literally face to face with my Savior. It’s going to be cray. I can already feel it. I don’t know how I’ll react. But I do know that I will see the whole picture then, and now I can only see in part. I will fully know the deal, even as I am fully known.

I am fully known. God knows exactly who I am. He is more Mely-aware than I am by far. He knit every bit of me. He crazy-stupid-makes-no-sense loves every inch of me. He loves me more than I love my children. I just can’t fathom this. How can there possibly be stronger love than my love for those two? I can only see a part. But He does love me that much! He loves me fully. Because of this, I can turn around and love others fully. I can live a life that exemplifies this crazy-stupid-makes-no-sense love. His fingerprints are all over everything – doesn’t that just make it so beautiful? God’s calling for me isn’t necessarily any of these mini-identities, but it is for sure to point out His fingerprints in every person I encounter. If that’s all I do, I’ve done enough.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them…We love because He first loved us.

Finding Home: A New Job

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Finding Home: A New Job
I’ve had so many sweet people asking me about my new job. Thank you for your love and support! I thought I’d give you all an update:
 
I have started teaching half days at Riverton High School. This semester, I have Concert Choir, Bella Vox (that’s the amazingly awesome name that the girls decided on for our freshman/sophomore girls choir), Music Appreciation, and American Music. I also have a smaller group called Chamber Choir that meets at 7:10am. Oh the things we do for music. It’s awesome that my job is only half days because I’m home the other half to run errands and be with my kiddos. As of now, Husband mostly works evenings, so I actually get home most days before he leaves, which means we don’t have to pay for consistent childcare. We have a wonderful babysitter who comes a couple days a week or when we need her to cover when one of us works a different shift or stays late. It is working out amazingly except that Husband and I don’t see a ton of each other.
 
I know I’m a true music nerd because I absolutely love every bit of my job. My general music classes are full of bright, inquisitive, non-jaded students, which is a true privilege. My choirs are small but mighty – they all love music so much and have great attitudes and work so hard. I’m so proud of the work they are already doing, only three weeks into the year. I am just in love with all these kids. My heart is going to break when my seniors graduate.
 
I realized that I wanted to be a high school choir director when I was 14. I went to the ACDA Southern Division Regional Honor Choir in Charlotte, NC under the direction of Anton Armstrong, and I knew right away that this was it for me. I am one of those weirdos who never really faltered. I always, always knew exactly what I was supposed to do. It has been 15 years since then, and I still always thought it was my calling. I started to doubt this calling or believe it would never happen for me, and I started to try to find joy in whatever I was called to in that moment. This was such an important learning and growing experience for me – as I tried to find joy in my waiting, I learned what contentment really is. I learned that joy is a quiet river. In the meantime, I did so many things I loved, too – like getting my masters, getting married and having babies, finding great love for elementary-aged kids, and learning so much about worship leading and worship arts.
 
But you guys, seriously. There is nothing like the joy that comes when you step into the place where you’ve always wanted to be. Like one of my favorite choir pieces says, “There is no such beauty as where you belong.” It seems even sweeter because I found joy in the waiting. The years weren’t wasted. They were full and beautiful.
One of my students said to me the first week of school: “I hope I can find something I love as much as you love music.” Oh, how I pray that for all of my students. Oh, how I pray that for all the people that I love. There is eternity to start right now on this earth. My eternal home is certainly going to involve singing, but I’m so moved that my earthly home can include it, too. When I’m singing with my kids, and with my own children, and with my church choir, and on my praise team, and with my congregation, I see a glimpse of heaven’s glory. Like in Chariots of Fire, I feel God’s pleasure when I’m teaching people to sing or singing with people. I pray that you can find something that feels like that for you, because “there is no such beauty as where you belong.”
Love you all! Thanks for your encouragement and support during this (amazingly awesome) life change for us. Please continue with your prayers and love. ❤ ❤

Rotting Apples

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Rotting Apples

There is a package of apples in my kitchen that are perfectly good apples. Unfortunately, they got put right next to some nectarines that we didn’t notice were rotting, and the rot juice from the nectarines began to touch the apples before we caught it. We have a few rotting apples now.

This reminds me that I have been noticing this student who is super sweet on her own, and then turns into a meanie when she gets around this particular other student. This other student isn’t really a meanie or anything. But she has a generally negative attitude. Nothing major, just typical high school stuff. But it is interesting how negative attitudes work like rot – for some people, they start from within, like my nectarines. And for others, the rot doesn’t start from the inside, but is instead from proximity to the rot. Unfortunately, both result in the same thing: rotten fruit.

It’s an interesting thing to live in proximity to the rot (or negativity) without actually touching it. It’s definitely a huge challenge for me. Any other apples out there getting touched by rotten nectarines?  
I’m indebted to grace, because it means that whether I’m rotting from the inside or outside, there’s hope to be made completely new again. God doesn’t throw away rotten apples. He restores them. I’m so grateful.

Body Positive

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I’m not a huge fan of the body positive movement. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I don’t love that there are millions of people who hate themselves when they look on the mirror (including me!), and I have several friends who refuse to be in photos or go places requiring swimsuits because others have made them feel so very unacceptable because of how they look. I don’t love that I have friends who feel like just because they are a little bigger around than some other people that they are doing something wrong or they are unworthy (I feel like this, too!). Most importantly, I really don’t like that we define our personal value by how skinny we are, we compare ourselves to totally unrealistic and photoshopped images of women who have millions of dollars to hire personal chefs and time to work out 3 hours a day with a personal trainer. Like, hello. I can’t afford a babysitter right now, much less a personal chef. I have a personal chef, actually. Her name is me.

But I also don’t love the implication that you should be allowed to sit around doing whatever you want and eat whatever you want at all times because it makes you feel good regardless of what it does to your body. I just think we’ve gone too far on the other side of the scale (no pun intended) with this stuff. The implication of the body positive movement is that you should do whatever you want to your body because it is your body and it’s all about you and what makes you feel happy because you are beautiful just the way you are. But I think a better statement would be that you should love your body because of the amazing things that it does for you, and you should respect and care for it.

Of course, from a Christian standpoint, we love our bodies because they are God’s temple. The Holy Spirit lives in there! God dwells within us when we have decided to give our lives to follow Him. Just knowing that God lives in there makes me want to respect my body for entirely different reasons.

I have been so unhappy with my body since having kids. I didn’t gain that much while I was pregnant or anything, maybe 25 pounds or so, but I already weighed 20 pounds more than I’m apparently supposed to when I got pregnant. But my bigger concern is that I’m all squishy in places that used to be firm, to be honest. Which makes me sad. And, of course, there was the situation where I went to Target and cried in the dressing room because I had to go up 5 sizes from what I felt was acceptable in order to even pull the pants the whole way up. So. Depressing. And I’ve always, always thought I had the fattest legs. I’ve just always hated them. I mean, I’m just being honest, here, because I bet some of you readers (or all of you) have something about your bodies that you have spent lots of times hating on and can relate to what I’m saying.

But I’m getting it all wrong – the whole body positive thing. The thing is, caring about my appearance is not supposed to be the motivation for taking care of myself. Like, having someone say to me when I told them the “crying-in-the-dressing-room” story, “Oh, hon, the size you wanted to be is little!” aka in my head  “you aren’t little!!” shouldn’t have totally changed my entire outlook on life, but it did. I’ve always been little. I mean I’m only like 5’2″ or something. Being indirectly told I’m not little was a pretty big slap in the face. And it totally reset me. I started whole30 within days of that “incident” and the next morning after it, I got up and ran 3.5 miles. I’ve run 5 of the last 7 days because I couldn’t allow that implication to be made of me again. But that’s the wrong motivation!

If I’m going to eat whole30 all the time, it should be because those foods are the foods that we’re supposed to eat. They’re the God-made foods the way God intended us to eat them, not these whacky, man-made, totally processed and fake versions of food that we constantly scarf down because they are easier and delicious. I mean I get it, and I live it every day: it is so much easier to grab a burger in a drive-through than cook sweet potato fries again. But our whole lives aren’t supposed to be based in what’s easiest. (Although I will say that easy is definitely necessary sometimes!) And eating that non-processed, whole stuff is a way to honor God with our bodies as long as that’s our heart while we’re doing it. In other words, if I’m eating whole30 because I get skinny, or because it makes me feel superior to others who aren’t doing it, or it makes me proud that I can go 30 days eating this stuff because everybody knows how hard it is so I must be awesome, then I’m idolizing my ability to be awesome instead of praising God for providing healthy food on this earth for me to eat. Just a mind shift.

Or if marathon training is about showing off my ability to run super far, then I’m missing the point. I want to run a marathon for many reasons, some being selfish – it’s a life goal to run one before I’m thirty just to be able to say I did it! – but overall, I have found that running is treasured time spent with God. I feel like I’m running with Him. All of the difficulty and walls and pain are pushed through because He is there with me. He gives me the ability to make it through the tough stuff. This is such a beautiful way to live, and I want it to be the core reason behind my running. It’s a literal representation of an incredible metaphor: God is in this with us. I don’t want to run all the time because I’m hoping to rid myself of my thunder thighs. I want to run with Jesus.

A few thoughts paraphrased from scripture supporting this idea: in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God, the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the Lord made us and we are His, He knit us together in our mother’s womb, we praise Him because we are fearfully and wonderfully made, His works are wonderful, we know that full well, may Christ be exalted in my body, either in life or death, physical training has some value, but godliness has value in all things, do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

The number on the scale doesn’t matter. Health matters. And more importantly, spiritual health matters. But I believe that just like everything else, spiritual health influences physical health. When we love the Lord, we are called to care for our bodies for His glory, just like we are called to avoid sin for His glory and love one another for His glory and spend time in His word and prayer for His glory. Our physical health is part of our spiritual health, and that understanding can change our whole attitude toward taking care of ourselves.

Taking care of myself as an act of worship to the Creator of my body? That’s body positive.

God Is So Big: A Look at Psalm 139

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God Is So Big: A Look at Psalm 139

When I was a little girl, I loved to sing and dance. There are videotapes of me from around 1989-1990 in which I sing and dance to my favorite songs. I am teased, lovingly, by my family for these videos. You know – the cute little version of yourself that you can’t live down? So there’s this one particular video that has been quoted to me ad nauseum in which I go on a spree of theological depth, especially for a 3-year-old. I say something like, “God is so big. He’s so big, that you can’t even see him when you’re reading the bible!” Except that I’m a southern 3-year-old, so it actually sounds something like, “Gawd is sooo bee-ug! Hay’s sooo bee-ug, that yooo caint even say eem when yer readin’ the bah-bull!” But yeah, you get the idea, I’m adorable and three and I totally understand this crazy concept of God’s bigness.

When you’re little, it’s so easy to understand that something is unfathomably big, because everything’s big to you! I even remember the picture I had of God at this age – I would read the bible so I could know God, but I couldn’t see him because his bigness made it impossible. I pictured my little self holding my bible, and my little self only measured up to the ankle of God’s long Dumbledore robes. (Dumbledore didn’t exist yet at the time, but you know Dumbledore is how we all pictured God – tall, skinny, long-bearded, white-haired dude in white robes.) And my little self could look up, and I could see just a tiny bit of God – that portion of the white robes that wasn’t too gargantuan to see, but God himself held the world. I mean it’s actually kind of deep when you think about it, really. I think there’s a reason why Jesus praised the faith of a child.

This idea of a gargantuan God knowing me – it’s amazing, and beautiful, and easy to forget as an adult. I’m a well-educated big girl now, and it’s easy to think of myself as smart, thoughtful, and big. I’ve grown, but I’ve also puffed up. And this is why I love Psalm 139. David takes time in this song to sing about some earthly, poetic comparisons to God’s bigness, the exposure of my sinful puffed-upness, and the wonderful truth that my actual smallness doesn’t stop God from knowing every little thing about me.

Verses 1-6: Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; you understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; you are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.

God can see into the depths of my soul. He knows exactly what I’m doing and thinking. I love “you understand my thoughts from far away.” I think of the best friends I’ve ever had – you know, those friends who just understand me, and I never have to explain myself? And those friends who I can go a long time without talking to, and when we talk again, we just pick up right where we left off as if there hasn’t been any time at all? God just gets me. He knows what I mean when I talk. When I stray from his side and then repent and return, we pick up right where we left off. He knew me wherever I went. I also love “you are aware of all my ways.” I think about my husband in this one – he knows exactly how to load the dishwasher the way I like and that I prefer to run all laundry with cold water. He knows that I like the bed made so that I can slide into the covers every night and that the milk goes on the top shelf of the refrigerator and not the door. He knows that toilet paper goes over, not under (this one isn’t a preference, it’s just the difference between right and wrong, obviously). Ryan knows my ways. How much more does my God! He knows both my funny quirks and the depths of ugly I can reach. He knows. Before I talk, he knows what I’m going to say. He could finish my sentences. He can predict my instinctual responses to things. He knows. He encircles me – he hems me in, in NIV translation. I think of the Israelites being led by God with the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. God is before me and behind me. He’s big enough to completely surround me, yet he can understand the smallest things about me. I can’t fathom this! Like David says, this extraordinary knowledge is above me, too lofty for me to reach. My wee brain just can’t get this. God is so big.

Verses 7-12: Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, Even there your hand will lead me; your right hand will hold on to me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will become night” Even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to you.

This idea of the enormity of God can be comforting, like it was from 3-year-old Mely. But also, it is totally overwhelming. When reading verse 7, I immediately think of Adam and Eve, right after the fall in Genesis 3:

Verses 8-10: Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” 

Upon the exposure of his sinful soul, Adam’s instinct is to hide from God. It’s too much to fathom, and it hurts to think about – we can suddenly see just how “naked” we are, and it’s scary and embarrassing! We think that the darkness can hide us, so we hide. But God is the very light. Darkness flees, shadows fall back, and we are left completely bare, the camera’s exposure setting whacked way up, light seeping into every festering corner. God is light, and light exposes all. He sees into the darkness as if it is as bright as noon. We can’t run away from Him. We can’t hide or escape. This is both awful and wonderful. I’m embarrassed of the darkness in me, of how dirty and gross and dark my sin is, and how very different I am from His light. So I try to hide, which is silly. My darkness isn’t a surprise to God. It’s just like day to Him.

Verses 13-16: For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.

I. Love. This. Part. For so many reasons. For one, I am a mother, so I’ve literally felt a child (two children, actually) as they’ve formed in my womb. It is total magic to feel those fluttery kicks and dream of who that little creature will be. And as those little creatures grew in me, I had no idea, and I still have no idea, who they’ll become. Total magic. But God knows. He’s so big, yet He is intricate enough to form babies from nothing – remarkable, individual, totally unique creatures whose basic existence brings Him glory. Total and complete magic, you guys.

I also love this verse for myself. It’s easy (and natural) to feel insignificant when I begin to come to terms with the great vastness of God. But it’s just the opposite! How can I ever be insignificant if the God of the universe took the time to create me from my very guts? The Hebrew word for “inward parts” is actually the word for kidneys here. In ancient Hebrew culture, the kidneys were believed to be a metaphor for a person’s most inner self – soul, conscience, feelings. Kidneys are not easily accessible organs, or at least they certainly weren’t to ancient Jews, so they are a representation of the parts of us that people cannot easily see, but are innate to our existence and still totally visible to God. God took the time to create me all the way down to my soul. I am totally individual, totally planned, totally thought of. Your works are wonderful, God! I know that full well! 

God is the great Artist. He planned me when I was formless, and He knew already exactly who I would be, like a great sculptor picturing a masterpiece out of a lump of marble. It’s just way cool, like Hagrid playing a mouse-sized game of Operation and somehow executing it perfectly. Magic!

Verses 17-18 God, how difficult your thoughts are for me to comprehend; how vast their sum is! If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand; when I wake up, I am still with you. 

Not only is God vast, but so are His thoughts. This is where my puffed-upness comes to the forefront of my mind. I’m so smart, right? I understand stuff. I’m logical, and I have wisdom, right? This gets real for me, because one of my most sinful areas is my tendency to think I’m always right and I have all the answers. The truth, though, is that I just don’t get it. His thoughts are higher than mine. There is a whole level of truth and God-logic that I’ll never comprehend. I could sit there and count grains of sand. Or I think of Horton searching through 2,999,999 clovers to find the people of Whoville, and I realize that I’m just one tiny Who of thought among that enormous clover field of God-thoughts. How am I so small? And then how am I still important? And then, and then, how is He still with me, still seeking and searching me like Horton, never giving up on he Whos? Unfathomable.

Verses 19-22: God, if only you would kill the wicked – you bloodthirsty men, stay away from me – Who invoke you deceitfully. Your enemies swear by you, falsely. Lord, don’t I hate those who hate you, and detest those who rebel against you? I hate them with extreme hatred; I consider them my enemies.

This is probably the most confusing part of the psalm, as it is seemingly random. All this beautiful and encouraging talk about our worth is suddenly a stark contrast to this obviously hateful speech. But I think the hateful speech is here to make a grander point. David sees characteristics that he hates in his enemies: those who pray to God in deceit, for their own gain, those who swear by God but don’t really believe in Him, those who rebel against God. He acknowledges that these traits are evil, and he doesn’t want any part of them. After all this talk about God seeing him and his inability to escape God, God’s omniscience and omnipresence and omnipotence, David wants to plea with God to remove the parts of himself that mock God and reflect sin. This becomes clear at the conclusion of the chapter:

Verses 23-24: Search me, o God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.

David knows what God finds offensive: it’s our tendency to make ourselves as big as God. We idolize ourselves, pretending to pray to God when we think we know the answers ourselves and instead doing whatever we want, we speak as if we know God but don’t act in a way that reflects the humility that comes from understanding God’s greatness, and we go our own way instead of following God’s. David prays – after praising God and being in awe of His greatness – that he’ll never take God’s greatness for granted. He prays that God will adjust the parts of him that praise himself, so that he can focus his praise on the One who really deserves it.
God, you see me for exactly who I am, wonderfully made from guts to bones to skin to soul, planned and purposed by you for your glory. I’m so small, yet still so significant anyway. I’m worth something to you. Help me to see the things about myself that are sinful, and remove those things from me so that I can walk with you forever.

On Periods of Waiting

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On Periods of Waiting

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. -Proverbs 3:5-6

Have you heard that phrase – that obnoxious phrase – oh I hate it – “When God closes a door, he opens a window?” Man, I hate it.

I hate it because it is untrue and intended to comfort people. Don’t be comforted by stuff that isn’t true!!! That’s false comfort, and it doesn’t come from God. We are comforted by God, but if it is from Him, it has to be true. So here’s the truth:

“Sometimes God closes the doors. And He closes the windows. And you have to wait. And He’s still good.”

This whole concept of waiting is not new to me, and I bet it isn’t new to you either. We’re always waiting for something. One of my best friends has been waiting for almost a whole year for her house to finish being built. She’s made decision after decision after decision, dreaming and hoping and waiting and waiting for them to finish. She was finally able to move in, but they still aren’t done, so she’s still waiting a bit for those finishing touches. I have a very close friend who hasn’t been able to have any children, and she aches for that greatly. She is hoping and dreaming and waiting and waiting. My sister would love the chance to purchase a bigger home so that there is ample room for visitors, but it isn’t time yet, so she’s waiting. I am waiting for something, too, and I honestly just don’t get why it hasn’t happened for me yet. It makes totally logical sense for it to happen, and only good can come of it happening. So why hasn’t it happened yet? Will it ever happen?

This is what trusting God is.

It’s waiting and waiting forever for something you hope for, something exciting, something wonderful, depending on God to give it to you, and being content even though you don’t have it yet.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. -Psalm 13

I think one of the funniest things about the Christian life is patience. It’s this odd thing that we are so good at in some ways and so bad at in others. Like for example, I am so patient with kids, especially obnoxious ones. I can deal with them all day without ever losing it. I’ve had a lot of practice doing this, so I’ve gotten pretty good at it. And also, God has taught me that it is imperative to be patient with those kids, because they learn so much from my example of patience. But then I turn around in the very same day, and I get so frustrated that I don’t have the extra money to get new carpet in my living room right now. I mean, it is horrible, horrible carpet. Anyone will tell you how stained and gross it is. I bet my friends are grossed out to walk on it. It is just the worst. But we don’t have the extra money for it right now, so the answer is no. And I start to act like a baby toward God, like all whiny and obnoxious, and I go, “God! Why? Why can’t I just have new carpet? Why can’t I just have nice things? WHYYYYYYY? GRRRRRR.” This is a silly example, but a totally realistic one. Why is it so easy for me to trust God that my students need my patience but I can’t trust God to provide for me?

Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart.” -Psalm 27:14

Being the ever-loving musician that I am, I always come up with song lyrics first in these situations. I think of “God is God and I am not, I can only see a part of the picture he’s painting, God is God and I am man, I will never understand it all, for only God is God” by Steven Curtis Chapman, “When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing you to move, when you don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through, when you don’t give the answers when I cry out to you, I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you” by Lauren Daigle, “can’t imagine what the future holds, but I’ve already made my choice, and this is where I stand until He moves me on, and I will listen to His voice” by Twila Paris, “thy will be done, thy will be done, thy will be done” by Jesus in the bible and also Hillary Scott’s lyrics (this is an amazing song, oh my word).

I know what is true in these situations. I’m waiting for something because God’s timing is better than mine. He knows what He is doing, and I don’t. I can’t understand it, but I choose to wait for Him to tell me where to go. He has a better reason than I know. He sees the whole picture, but I only see part. So then I try to apply that knowledge, because I’m always the logical one. But God, it doesn’t make any sense that I’m not getting this thing that I want! Everything points to the fact that I should get it. Why isn’t it as clear to everyone else as it is to me? I mean, seriously, I’m a whiny baby. I’m like the two-year-old screaming over fruit snacks in the grocery store (is this anyone else’s normal life right now? Anyone?) because I can’t understand why I can’t immediately rip open all the boxes and have them right this minute!

So I think the key here is that I need to find some contentment. Trusting God is the same thing as contentment. We will never be content on our own, because we will always want more. We will always want to fill ourselves with something else. My heart is unsteady, always flitting and floating to whatever new thing brings it pleasure, always forgetting the greatest pleasure is complete and restful trust. And it seems that with trust comes the waiting. I live in this strange collision of waiting and living. I mean, after all, even Dumbledore knew, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I’m waiting for these things that I’m hoping and praying for, but I’m trying to make sure I’m living the life Jesus wants to me to live at the same time.

I can’t help but think of Harry Potter in this. I mean, y’all know Harry Potter is my boy. But seriously, that Dumbledore quote above is from Philosopher’s Stone (that’s Sorcerer’s Stone for all you fake, half-hearted fan people)(okay, sorry, that was harsh) when Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, which shows him his heart’s desire. The tragedy of Harry’s vision is that he seems himself surrounded by his family, all of whom have died. So Harry’s greatest dream, his absolute heart’s desire, is something that can never be. When I was like 11 and read this, I didn’t think anything of it really, except the normal 11-year-old “oh boy that’s sad, no wonder he wants to sit here and stare at this all the time.” But as an adult, this pierces my soul a whole new way. How many dreams are my heart’s desire than I can never have? Or, more importantly, from a faith standpoint, how many dreams are my heart’s desire that aren’t God’s heart’s desire for me? Am I sitting around waiting for something, staring into my own personal Mirror of Erised, wasting my life away because my dream isn’t something I can have? And then I next think of One Tree Hill (oh yeah, I’m a major fangirl), which doesn’t really teach Christian principles very much, but I remember this episode where Nathan decided to tell everyone that he point shaved in the playoffs even though it was going to cost him his basketball scholarship. He tells Haley something like, “The people I respect the most are those who got up and went on with their lives when their dreams were dead, and went out and found a new dream.” Nathan had accepted that he needed to do the right thing even if it resulted in losing his entire life’s dream. There is great strength in the willingness to do that.

I think about this for me and my life: what if I never get what I want? What if this perfectly logical thing that I greatly desire never happens for me? Will I be okay with that? Will I be able to trust God if He doesn’t move the mountain I want Him to move? Will I be okay if the answer to my fervent prayers is “no?”

My friend Ellie writes a blog, and she posted this meme on hers that said, “And if not, He is still good.” This is the key! While I’m waiting, I need to pray within God’s will.

“Your will be done, God. I want this very much, and it makes perfect sense that I should get it. But if not, You are still good. I trust you. I won’t waste my life hoping for a yes when I’ve gotten a clear no. I won’t harbor bitterness or resentment because of that no. You are good to me.”

I have this absolute favorite album. It’s “Fortunate Fall” by Audrey Assad. That chick can write some music, y’all. Seriously. This album gets me through my day. It is so full of subtle wisdom and amazing lines that I could meditate on all day long. So I’m going to close this gab-fest of semi-random thoughts with the lyrics to one of the songs:

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise
And I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joyBecause You are good to me, good to me

I lift up my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night – raise my head up to hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I will trust in Your promise
cause you’re good. Good to me.