Monday, March 31, 2014

Fragile Strength


It's another Monday, and yet again, I have no hymn study for you. I only have a few left to do, and I'm trying to make the best of them ... and that sometimes means not tackling them when I don't feel up to them.
Honestly, I don't feel up to anything today. My current health state leaves me feeling deflated some days. When you add that to several restless nights, you get what I was like today.
I went to church feeling all right, then found myself spent after thirty minutes. How did I exert myself, you ask? I took notes. It's as pathetic as it sounds.
I am in this constant battle to be okay with my condition. If you can even call it that. It gets tiring having a nameless enemy.
I stayed home after church ended. My family visited an injured relative. I was asked to babysit for a small group. I sat in my room watching reality tv and putting off this blog post. I tell myself I could cope if my health prevented me from the big, normal things. No long runs. No heavy weights. No {fill in the blank with something you don't usually do on a regular basis}. It is easy to say we could do without something until we are called to do without it. I get caught up in what I can't do. Or what I struggle to do. Fall asleep easily. Open cans. Climb stairs often. Write several pages. Even type on the worst days. Stir thick batter or dough. Focus. Think clearly. Wear jewelry on my hands. These things are so simple. So taken for granted sometimes.
Not this time.
I sit here in this vulnerable state, my scars in the open for all to see, and I long to be able to wear this mask of having it all together. But didn't I once say that this was no place for masks? So I leave mine in the closet--psh, I throw it in the trash. It always looked a little too photo-shopped to me.
How do I get through this, then? What am I supposed to do?
I go back to my foundation. I trace each brick of my salvation. I caress the mortar of my life that is Christ. I lean on my walls made of His faithfulness. On those walls hang portraits of His promises, and I finger their frames, I speak their names.
"Your power is made perfect in weakness, so Lord, dare I say it has never been more perfect, for I've never felt so weak. Use my flaws to further Your kingdom. You said You would never leave me or forsake me, so don't You let me believe You've walked away. You are right. here. I'll talk right to You. There is no condemnation in You, so I take hold of that and with it, I fight back the darkness, the lies, the "look at what you've done"s, and I'll look at what You've done instead, yes. I won't just look, I'll remember. I won't stop there, I'll proclaim it. You say that You keep me ... that You do not slumber, so hold me as I sleep. You're here, You're constant, You care for me, You bear my burdens and my sins, You won't leave, You won't sleep ... so cradle me, Lord, I beg. The night is oppressive, but the light overcomes it and You. are. light. And I've decided to trust You. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The End? {Coffee for Your Heart}


So many things are coming to a close. I'm trying to learn to be okay with that. When you spend so much of your time planning events, I guess you can feel a little empty when they're over. Or you can feel bored when you got so caught up in one thing, and it too comes to an end. I have this problem. I'm watching as all these things end, and instead of feeling happy that they happened, and that more is to come, I'm getting sad because it'll all end eventually.
I got baptized last weekend ... and the anticipation was exhilarating, and nerve-wracking. I at the same time wanted it to be over, and to happen over and over again, please and thank you. I felt so calm and subdued when it had ended. And that in itself was a miracle.
The road trip ended, too. I missed my bed too much to be overly broken up about that one. And the cold weather, my floor heater, wifi, friends, family that didn't come ... I wasn't home. And now I am. So I think about when that will end, also. I can't stay here forever. I don't want to. Greater things are yet to come ... but why does that always mean that the good things have to end? Like Frozen. That movie was way shorter than I wanted it to be.
Time with friends always is too little as well. They leave, I leave, we all leave. And I'm left. Left to think of all the things I forgot to say, all the things I shouldn't have said ... how I wish for a do-over, or a repeat. But I'm just left. Friendships end, too. I used to refuse to believe that. And I admit it was hard to hear the truth from the one friend whom I above all couldn't bear to see the end of. Letting go isn't my strong suit. Hopeless dreaming is.
I wish some things could last forever. But that would only be fair if I took the good with the bad. Would it be truly worth it to have more time with those I love, longer moments of magnitude ... if the storms raged for hours longer; if evil prevailed for days more because of it? I am so narrow-minded. Yes, I must say "All good things must come to an end," but by saying that, I am also able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and say, "This too shall pass."
Hindsight is 20/20. And I've always felt that my perspective is best put on paper. Literally, as I write here, everything is black and white.
Endings often bring beginnings, I've noticed, and could it be that these are well worth their cost? Do we exchange our painful goodbyes for new hellos? Do I tell my story and have to move on, in exchange for someone to hear it and find their own story? Do I risk leaving home for the hope of a new one? Does the end of this chapter of my life simply prepare me for my great climax? Do I take the chance and finish that project, knowing that the effect it will have on the person it is for will be greater than the effect it had on its maker? "Yes. Yes, a thousand times yes."
The best is yet to come. That is what I want to tell to the grandbabies. Not, "Those were the good days." I wanna tell them that they're all good days, whether they feel like it or not.


(Join us over at Holley Gerth's for a link up?)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Content


(photo by Tara Gourley)

Contentment could be called the never-reached goal of every human being. Well, everyone that knows contentment is at least more realistic of an ideal than constant happiness, however lovely that might sound. Content is what I feel now … and I wish I felt it more often. By the time this post is posted, I'll be headed home, and neither the thought of staying for now or the thought of leaving then are bringing pain or dread. I will leave, knowing that I have made many new friends, but also that I will keep in touch and not immediately lose them. Their numbers will be a light burden in my pocket. I will leave, knowing that waiting for me are new challenges, but also new delights. New milestones, but also new little moments that the world will not soon recall. So much changes, but some things never change, and I am content. Can you believe it? Me, who used to slip into a panic attack at the very mention of change, sitting at a table in a near-empty cafe, with a laptop battery also near-empty … content. This could be a long post, a short one, or something in between, and really, I'm okay with anything. In this moment, I am aware of the fact that God is in His heaven, “all's right with the world.” So excuse me if contentment brings no painfully relevant moral … I think it's a simpler notion than that. I dare you to try and find out what that looks like in your life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Home

(Photo by Tara Gourley, edited by moi)
I've been thinking a lot about home, probably because I still am, in fact, not there. I brought pieces of home with me, and I suppose that helped a little, but my books, blanket, pillow, and stuffed bunny do not my bedroom make. So this leads me to wonder, what does make a place home? I know the answer to this question differs for every individual, but I want to know what it means for me. Couples will say that their spouse is their home; that as long as their special someone is with them, they don't care where they are. But what if they are gone? When business trips are taken, when duty calls, or when something much worse occurs, what is left? Will that woman be left in a house that suddenly seems unfamiliar, foreign, oppressive, and lacking the light that it once had? Or say maybe her house truly feels like a home. What if the nooks and crannies are bits of her soul? Would she sink into depression if uprooted from that place? I would not put something so drastic past myself, but that's just me. I get attached to the familiar; wrapped up in the substance of what is, but what will not last. I honestly tremble when I think of the idea of marriage. One mortal man stuck with the most flawed, emotional, broken woman in all of history, for forever and always. Could I really do that to someone? Could I ever come to the point where I am willing to risk that, because I am so in love? Where I let him say 'I do,' when really I think it is the stupidest choice he could of made, and really, so-and-so would be so much better for him? If I loved someone enough to do that, then I promise, I would be hopelessly attached. If I lost him … I would never recover. (This is part of the reason I'm waiting instead of dating. I have a loooooong way to go before I am ready. Obviously.)
So. I should return to my original point. Home. This is what it is to me, currently:
A place where I can be without makeup and still feel like I have value. A place where I can sleep soundly (sadly, this is nowhere at present). Somewhere that I can be as loud or as quiet as I like, and not be embarrassed of either. Where I can do something of value, and lazing around on my bum is not condoned. Where there is wifi, please and thank you. Where I feel like my needs are not a hassle or a waste of time. Where I can sing. Where there are at least pictures of the faces I love most. Where there are journals, and time to fill them.
It's a lot to ask for, and an incomplete list. I'm sentimental and selfish, and there are certain things that I cling to. I don't think anything on that list is a bad thing, but I think my priorities are askew.
Did anyone else notice that nothing on that list directly involved God? Have I become so messed up that a house without the Lord as the focus could ever feel like a home to me; like safe place? That's the scariest thing imaginable. Separated from God, and not even caring; barely even noticing. Get me out of this place.
If I am in a dirty shack in Uganda, but I'm praising the Lord, I am home. If I am a millionaire in a mansion, striving to serve God daily, I am home. If I am crammed in a small house with seven other girls, tired, worn out, and sickly, but God is my focus, then I am home. Our home shouldn't change when our address does. It shouldn't make a difference in our hearts whether we have all our furniture with us or not. We should still be at peace, even when far away from our husbands, wives, children, and loved ones. If all we have is Him, we have all we need.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Aches and Excuses

I'm currently in the backseat of a vehicle as I type this. I am on an adventure. Some would call it a road trip. Is this commitment, or what? I'm not sure when I'll be able to post this – I don't exactly have wifi always available on this trip. Another thing I'm lacking is good health. The bouncing of this car, and something I keep eating (because I don't know which thing it is) are leaving me with sore everything … and then there's the strange positions I keep on falling asleep in. My sister can verify that there's been many questionable ones. Anyway … this girl is in pain. That's never been my favorite pastime, but you know, whatever floats your boat, right?
I've been using my pain as an excuse, though. Sometimes, it's an accurate one, like in this instance: “I didn't sleep well last night, because I wasn't feeling well at all.” Other times, it's been less than a favorable complaint. “I didn't spend much time with You last night, God. I was just sick. You understand, right?” Shouldn't these things make one more productive; more proactive? Pain should draw one to realize that nothing is promised in this life … except Jesus; except grace. I roll those last words around on my tongue, changing them ever so slightly … “accept Jesus; accept grace.” Because the funny thing is, yesterday, when I was so ridiculous and avoiding of love, that doesn't mean that God wasn't giving grace still. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) Pay attention to the location of those verses. Lamentations. A collection of brokenhearted cries from one of the darkest times in history for God's people. And still, they said this. This was their hope, and so this is what they wrote down. In this history book, they wrote for their descendants of the woe and trials that they faced … but they didn't leave it at that, no. They did not go even three chapters without breaking out in praise. I think that there are beautiful lessons such as these that the Lord saves for the afflicted. Things that those with happy, 'perfect' lives have no notion of … this fact causes me to almost pity them. They don't know the depths of God's grace, because they haven't been in a pit deep enough for it to completely cover them. Yes, that is what I am suggesting, that God's grace is sufficient for our exact needs. If you think you can handle this life on your own, and that yes, God is good, then dare I state that you've barely gotten your feet wet in the flood of God's grace.
I will not claim that I am the greatest sufferer – I know I am more blessed and less afflicted than many. But I have experienced the stunning grace of my Lord and Savior, because I need Him so desperately. When we are acutely aware of our need for Him, He gives Himself to us even more. “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
Going back to yesterday … He knew exactly what I needed, even though I did not. In retrospect, I can see the evidence of His grace. Unexpected texts from someone dear, holding a relative's miracle baby close for the first time, a sister who let me sleep on her shoulder (talk about grace), an aunt who spoiled us silly … the Lord heard my excuses, my complaints, my cries of pain, and He flat-out pampered me. And I couldn't give you a logical reason why on this side of heaven. I'll never fully understand why He so loves us flops and failures. But He does. He so does. And I am overwhelmed; sheer grateful. I don't know what troubles this day may hold, but this day and my heart have been trustingly placed in the hands of my Creator who somehow knows exactly what I need.

So take this day, Lord. Take my life. You're gently teaching me to trust, and I'm recklessly giving You my all. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Let Us Be ...

(Photo by Tara Gourley)
An open letter to my future husband ... whoever he may be. 

Let us be poor. There are many things I can learn to do without … I don't want you to become one of them. Let's go to the library instead of the movies. You won't have to tolerate my chick flicks, I won't have to endure your action movies – we'll each grab a thick book and enjoy each other. I swear to you, I don't need a dishwasher. Let me wash them, you can dry. I cannot promise there won't be soap bubble fights, but something tells me that would be a sad thing to promise. Let's stay up late to watch the stars and the meteors. I'll borrow your jacket and hold you close.
You'll have to teach me to understand sports. The upside of this is that I'll like whatever teams you like. We'll cheer for the same touchdowns and home runs. I don't mind, so long as you let me sit next to you. And when we turn off the television, turn down the radio, or leave the cheering bleachers … talk to me about God, about life, about beauty. Let us not waste our car rides being silent. Let our conversations be real, genuine, thought-provoking, challenging, and godly. May we never spend an evening vegetating in front of a glaring screen, simply because we had nothing better to do with our time. Boredom is a disease, not an occurrence.
Take me on long walks. If we have a pet, let's take them too. I understand this might mean I'll find myself walking through a park carrying a goldfish, but that actually sounds fun to me. I'll take pictures of you, of the fish, of the nature. Let's take Polaroids, yes? And some digital ones, too. I'll save your smile as my background, my lock screen, my wallpaper – all of it. Let's always smile with our teeth showing. We'll show the world what happiness looks like.
I'll wake you up before dawn. Feel free to yawn groggily as I drag you outside. We'll watch the sunrise together, you and I. Then we'll go inside – I'll grab the coffee (and hot tea for me), you'll bring the Bibles, and we'll head back out, to seek our Maker in the morning light. Please say you'll let me rest my head on your shoulder. I'll let you touch my face. I usually don't let people do that, but I think I wouldn't mind if it was you.
Let's bring up babies. Lots of them. I want to have an aching heart for all the right reasons. I'll homeschool them, maybe. Teach them how to live, by living right alongside them. I hope you're good at math and science … if not, we could pick up books at that library, and we'll learn together. Then we'll teach them. We'll show them what love looks like, too. Let's promise forever; that no matter what happens, we'll stay together through good times and bad. Let's teach those littles about Narnia, teach them about Twister, about art, stars, priorities, dreams, hopes, Nutella, and whatever they ask and we know. And let's hug after the hard days. I'll mess up for sure, and I'll need you.
Let's plant a garden. Let's fill our yard with all things lovely, delicious, and useful. Do you know how to make daisy crowns? I don't, but I want to learn. I would rather be adorned with flowers than with jewels. I'll put them in vases as well, and each windowsill will be cheery.
Let's go places together. Like the world is a scavenger hunt and the prizes are adventure and memories. I want to hear an orchestra play, walk through a museum, visit unknown pizza places, thrift shop, watch a play, go to our friends' houses … with you. Let's bake cookies. Let's give up and eat at McDonald's. Let's play with each other's hair until we both nigh go mad. Let's blow bubbles. Let's have snowball fights. Let's hold hands.
Let us be poor, so that we can be rich. I'd rather see more of you and less of a paycheck. If it's hard to make ends meet, I promise I will love you no less. We'll read books aloud to each other over the sound of babies playing. If we find ourselves with money to spare, let's trust God, and do without it. Let's feed the hungry, free the slave, adopt the orphan. Maybe two. Foster care? Sign me up. Let's fight to make a difference together; to make sure one more (or 100 more – who knows?) child knows they are wanted. Let us live in such a manner that no one who knows us feels unloved. If there are no electronic screens in our house, and we have love, we are rich. If we don't have the latest fashions in our closets, but we have a house full of babies that love the Lord, we are the wealthiest of people.
Let us be still in our pajamas at dinnertime, let us have no chores done yet, let us be dirty, let us be poor … but let us have love.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Insecurities {an original poem}

(Photo by Anna Hart)

How many days until the photo shoot?
I counted to ten then I paused.
How many blemishes clutter my brow?
I counted to ten then I stopped.

What number of hairs have slipped from my bun?
I guessed one hundred then was done.
So many insecurities fill my heart,
I might as well count them by light-years.

How red my skin turns when I am embarrassed.
How my voice sounds when recorded.
Or any bit of me captured on cam'ra.
The list could go on for forever.

in-se-cu-ri-ties: (plural noun)

Things we despise about ourselves,
Yet wouldn't be ourselves without. 

The things we cringe at in mirrors,
And our friends smile at in pictures.

We wonder what they see in us;
Why such nice people stick around

And watch us, the misfits, stumble.
Which one of us is truly blind?

Better yet, who can truly see?
Whose vision dare we rely on?

Our selves, who see us ev'ry day,
And always verbally wounds us?

The friends who see us at our best,
And are, frankly, quite biased?

Or our Maker who sees our all;
Our flops, failures, and bruises,

Yet loves us, somehow, through all that,
And died for us - recall that?

I dare you to look through His eyes,
Next time you look at yourself.

His embrace alone is secure,
Despite the fact that you aren't.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Small {Coffee for Your Heart}



This week's prompt from Holley is "A small thing that makes a big difference is ... "

Her name is Analiz. When I first saw her picture, she was small indeed. Barely a toddler, her eyes were pleading. Oh, how I wish I could say I have met her. I have not. But she has changed me, and all this without being even old enough to write me a letter. I receive updates from her many relatives, translated by World Vision. I write her long letters, in words I hope are simple enough for her to understand ... but the meaning behind them, I know she will probably not comprehend for several more years. I tell her of the day I received this, my latest photograph of her, how on that morning, I danced around my house, squealing, "Just look at my beautiful baby!" Isn't she gorgeous, though?
Analiz has shown me the mama side of my heart. Sure, I dote on the children I watch, and on my loved ones' littles, but this baby girl, I am somehow responsible for. She counts on us for the fulfillment of her needs through sponsorship, yes, but there is something else. I have no idea what kind of atmosphere she lives in. Are her parents openly affectionate? Does she have many friends? Is someone showing her Jesus' love daily? I honestly have no idea. So I love her. It isn't hard to do, I mean, look at that picture. However, I must do more than feel love for her, I must show love to her ... and this is what makes me feel like a mama. Because every day, I look at her picture. I have memorized every wrinkle in her jeans. I pray for her. I worry a little. I think about what she must be doing and learning. I write letters to her that I hope and pray show that I care. She's my baby, and she has changed my heart. I wonder if I've changed hers.
Sponsorship is such a beautiful thing. You make a commitment, thinking that you're changing the life of one child forever, but even that is an understatement. You find that your expectations were too low. Her family is changed. Her village is changed .... You are changed. Those around you are changed. And all because you said yes to one little face.
It always baffles me, how simple it is to do this. To sponsor a child, it takes about $30 per month, depending on what organization you choose to sponsor through. That's around a dollar a day. One dollar. We spend more than that on a soft drink. If we all were to daily sacrifice just one dollar per day? Do you have any idea what a difference we could make? To sacrifice one dollar's worth of junk food, so one child is fed. To sacrifice that trip to the mall, so one child gets to go to school. To sacrifice one more accessory, so that child has a uniform to wear. To sacrifice one hour, so the child hears about Jesus. Is it just me, or does that sound completely worth it? That little thing that just might change the world. That little child that just might decide to be the change, all because you told them they were enough.
I am not the one that pays the bills for Analiz. But I am the one who carries her in my heart. It may not be possible for you to sponsor a child today, financially, but that doesn't mean you can't pray for one. I promise you it will make a difference.
There are thousands of faces and names within the following links ... I challenge you to choose one. It just might change the world.




Monday, March 3, 2014

07. 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus -- More Desired

(Photo by Anna Hart)

"'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word,
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, 'Thus saith the Lord.'"
Today, again, writing is a struggle. It's not that the topic bothers me. I have a general idea of what I should be writing about. I've been convicted, just by the hymn's title, but it's not a conviction I am ashamed of, no. So what is stopping me? I opted out of writing this piece last week. My schedule was full on the weekend, and I had the choice either to write this out, or have a deep conversation with my siblings. I chose them. I love that I have the freedom to do that, but, there is a fine line between my freedom and my laziness ... so here I am, writing. Every one of these hymn studies, I write out with pen and paper, originally, and will usually type them up the next day. It is my way of staying true to the fact that this was meant to be just a journaling experience in the first place. I wanted to share, though, because I have found so many truths in these lyrics. Each stanza, really. It is difficult, on days like these, when my hands are my foes, to utilize a pen for an hour or so. This is me being responsible, on schedule, and whatnot. I'm rarely those two things, and I wanted to try it for a change. Sounded fun.
So, let's get to it then, shall we?
7) Does He desire more from me? (click here for the story behind the study)
I could simply answer a resounding "YES," but then this wouldn't be a very long post, would it? God asks for (among other things, of course) this sweet sacrifice; this laying down of my worries, doubts, and fears, and taking up trust in their stead. It's a beautiful thing, and you would probably agree that it is a pretty nice trade-off. We let go of all these things that weigh us down, and simply exchange them for this light burden (Matthew 11:30); this thing called hoping and trusting in Him. Oh, how I wish it were that simple to live out, though.
You see, when we lay down all our worries and other burdens, we are laying down our will simultaneously. Our instinct is to look out for ourselves and others, so when something goes wrong, or looks like it will, and it is not within our power to fix it, we panic. At least I do. It is not my first instinct to trust God in a crisis. I want to do whatever I can possibly do to make things better, and when I can do no more, I panic, I worry, I stress - big time. I stay awake at night and all around pretty much torture myself. Who wouldn't want to give that up? My flesh, for one. It is sort of pathetically amusing to me, how the easiest, most appealing road to take, is at the same time the most painful one. And the unattractive, difficult road that Christ calls us to, is where we find freedom, joy, rest, peace.
Read over the rest of these lyrics. How I long for the following words to be the song of my heart.
"How I love to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood,
Just in simple faith to plunge me
'Neath the healing, cleansing flood!
Yes, I've learned to trust in Jesus,
And from sin and self to cease,
Now from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest and joy and peace.
I'm so glad I learned to trust Him,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that He is with me,
He'll be with me to the end.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I've proved Him o'er and o'er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!"
These words. They floor me. Looking over them all at once, I can see clearly the key to this. Trust isn't something that you just get. It's a habit that must be learned. The last line of the chorus shows the full truth: "O for grace to trust Him more!" This is by no means something I can do in my own strength, or by my own merit. I need Him. I need grace. This isn't something to be learned like one learns math, just to be used when the occasion rises and you need it. If I have not trust, I am akin to a baby that has suddenly forgotten how to breathe. He is my oxygen; His grace is like air. "O for grace to trust Him more!" He desires me to desire this of Him.