Monthly Archives: February 2017

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.