Tag Archives: blessed

Musings

It is hard for those who have lived a life of saying “yes” to learn how to say “no.” For those of us who have been consistently referred to as leaders, who have consistently overcommitted ourselves and always, always been there for others, it can be nearly impossible to learn how to be there for ourselves. It can be strange, even terrifying, to ask someone else to be there for us.

Removing a mask is a scary process. It leaves us raw and vulnerable, at a point where there’s nothing else with which to hide. This is me. Here I am. I can change nothing else. We attend seminars, take notes, read our Bibles. We teach ourselves, piece by scary piece, how to be vulnerable. Maybe the guard comes down late one night with a roommate or friend. Maybe someone taught us, without us even realizing it, through walks in cornfields and late night hugs.

Slowly, we find our identities beginning to change a little. No longer are we “a leader in my home church,” or “mentoring several middle school girls.” Instead, we’re searching for a church as different as possible from the one where we grew up. We’re the mentored instead of the mentor, crying into coffee and eventually signing up for counseling. We’re trying to figure out who we are, apart from those things that defined us.

We learn how to be weak. We get lots of practice telling people we aren’t okay. We buy new clothes and learn how to blowdry our hair. Journals, once gathering dust on the bookshelves, are filled with scribbles of this new thing called feelings. Some of our stubborn corners begin to wear off, and black and white start to fade to grey.

Questions that were once deemed controversial or scary now fill our conversations. We push back on the theological boundaries of our upbringing. We lie awake at night, begging God to prove Himself and crumpling into tears of awe and gratitude because He always does. Every time.

It’s such a process, that we don’t wake up one day completely different. Little by little things change, until we realize that we would no longer define ourselves with words like “leader,” or “strong,” or “role model,” but rather with words like “learning,” and “trusting,” and “receiving grace.”

Always grace. So much grace.

We’re still there for others. But now, others are here for us. We still like to lead – after all, it’s a spiritual gift. But now, we are learning how to be led. The process hasn’t ended. We are still being transformed. Grace is still being defined in every moment of our lives. We’re learning when to say yes and who we should be vulnerable with. The process isn’t perfect.

Yet we can feel Him. He is working in us, transforming us to be more like Him. Breaking our hearts, piece by piece, for the things that break His. He is molding us into something we have been all along: His precious children.

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Comm[unity]

In a world of fake, forced community, where “hihowyoudoing” has become one single word, spit out by a person who hasn’t even stopped walking; where any admittance of failure, hurt, or vulnerability is met with befuddled stares and uncomfortable, awkward exits…
In this world,

I am so thankful for the community God has allowed me to be a part of.

This season of life is stressful, and sometimes “hihowyoudoing”  is most honestly be met with

You know what, today sucks.
or-
I’m actually not okay, and I’m not sure when I will be.
-or-
I’m rejoicing from the deepest part of my soul.
-or-
I’m carrying so many burdens for other people and I’m so grateful I can do that but I’m about to crumble from the pressure.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” and that is truly what I have been taught to do here at Moody. Never before have I realized the depth of this verse, the feeling of rejoicing with and being rejoiced with, mourning with and being mourned with.

Never before have I felt so acutely that I am not alone.

My friends get excited with me over things that would ordinarily not excite them in the least. We stop in late at night, after work or meetings, to see how the interview was, if she got the job, if she passed the test, how teaching went. Bare feet pad down the halls at 11:30 pm to jump up and down and muffle screams with pillows. Six or seven girls sat through Handel’s Messiah because our dear friend had a solo… at the very end. We eat way too late at night, go for walks in the pouring rain, and close our computers to turn around and be present.

There are girls on the floor who invite me in to talk and let me ramble for an hour and a half. One girl came and read in my room on Saturday… nearly two hours in total silence, working on our respective homework, just being together. Sharing life.

It goes both ways. We don’t just share each other’s joys, we share each other’s sorrows. “She’s hurting” becomes “we are hurting,” So many times we’ve sat on the floor in a tangle of arms and legs, physically and tangibly surrounding the one who has been hurt. In my room, the mantra is “never apologize for your tears.” We stroke hair, scratch backs, give hugs, and hold our tongues in favor of comforting. We share. We share meals, we share emotions, we share life.

This season I’m in is uniquely blessed. Right now, I have a support net of people who help carry each other when life gets hard, and that same support group will walk a mile or two in the rain to celebrate a victory with Chinese food. I can’t do this “life” thing alone, and for these four years – I don’t have to. I just have to walk down the hall, or go to work, or look across my room.

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A Weird Fall

This has been a weird fall, if I’m being honest. It has been a weird fall in so many ways, for so many people, that to even begin to try to explain the intricacies of the pain and joy interwoven in this tapestry called “life” would take pages and hours. My heart, the hearts of my friends and family, ripped and torn and bruised and beaten and healed and helped and dropped and kicked and restored – sometimes switching from ripped, beaten, bruised; to healed, helped, restored; and back again; within the span of a day or two. Faith, relationships, friendships, boys, girls, dogs, Alzheimers, school, pride, homesickness, in-laws, abuse, inadequacy – it seems everyone close to me is dealing with one of those in some big way, whether positively or negatively.

It’s been a fall of learning. Learning to love, learning to let go of love. Learning to embrace doubt without a ceiling, knowing that God is bigger than any doubt. Learning to step out and initiate new friendships, to invite the new girl to dinner or coffee, to stop being judgmental. Learning how to put up the necessary walls to get through a day of work or class. Learning when and with whom to take down those walls.

It’s been a fall of 8 page text messages, fingers tapping the screens of cell phones rapidly, urgently, as if typing fast enough can make the pain go away. It’s been a fall of honesty and confrontation, of putting the cell phone down and meeting in the plaza or at the beach or at Union Station to discuss in person. It’s been a fall of learning to admit feelings, to admit wrong, to admit to being hurt. Learning to stop sweeping everything under the rug. Learning to stop BEING the rug, letting everyone walk all over me.

It’s been a fall of ups and downs, rapidly, sometimes three or four in a day. Rejoicing with one friend then sobbing with another, in the same hour. Calling in to work because I just can’t get out of bed this morning, I’ll be in this afternoonThe kind of hysterical laughter that only comes when it’s been way too long since happiness from deep in the gut. Like a roller coaster, climbing and climbing then plummeting with no warning whatsoever.

Up, up, up, cornfields and new church and family reunions and journaling and long walks in the city lights and making up and new friends and late night nachos and perspective and surprise visits from Jocie. Down, down, down, endless headaches and misguided conversations and trying to make my own plans and crying in the car again and maybe not going back to Peru and things changing and Lady dying and nursing home conversation and doubt. Up, down, up, up, up, down, down, down, down, down, up, up, up, up, up.

{Have there been more ups than downs? Of course. Is God still faithful and in control? He is, has been, and forever will be.}

It’s been a fall of long-sleeve-covered hands wrapped around mugs of Peruvian mate de coca. It’s been a fall of new coffee shops, popcorn every night, How I Met Your Mother, apples, considering tattoos, and appreciating my roommate more than ever before. It’s been a fall of trips back to the Mitten almost every weekend, of avoiding journaling because I just can’t right now, of new musical tastes, boots and scarves, of solving other people’s problems alongside my own.

It’s been a fall of realizing how stinking blessed I am. A fall filled with moments where all I can do is whisper, “thank You,” because I don’t come anywhere near deserving the abundance of blessings God has heaped on my head. It’s been a fall of being selfish, forgetting how blessed I am just moments after my awe-filled “thank You,” demanding, “more, Daddy, more,” like a child. It’s been a fall of grace, of Him giving me more and more and more even though I ask for it selfishly. A fall of Him prying open my tightly closed fists, then wrapping His hands firmly around my now empty palms, showing me I’m not alone.

It’s been a weird and difficult fall, yes. But when I look back on my life, the seasons that were the “weirdest,” or “hardest,” are the seasons where God has taught me the most. The seasons where I’ve cried the most have been the seasons where I’ve also grown the most. It’s been a fall of leaves changing colors, falling to the ground, and being trampled on. The trees will freeze soon, but that won’t be the end. Soon enough it will be spring.

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I Ran Away to the Cornfields this Weekend

Sometimes, I just need to escape the city

Visit my Papa Baker, drive into the driveway on Cole Rd.

Let Eugene the Cow lick my arm a couple of times,

crunch the leaves under my feet as I walk back in from the pasture.

Sometimes, I need to look at my childhood memories through fresh eyes

Remember how much I appreciate the open, quiet, rolling cornfields

Eat toast with fresh freezer jam, followed by a glass of fresh cow’s milk

Let the country air soothe my soul and calm my nerves.

Sometimes, it takes a three or four hour drive

The smell of the house on Cole Rd

A good cry with my grandpa by the grave of his loyal dog

A late night trip back from town, under the blazing country stars

A hug from Nana even though she’s not sure who I am

To remind me to relax, to breathe, to remember how great I’ve got it.

Sometimes, I just need to scream-laugh for hours at Jocie’s house

While ingesting half a can of spray whip cream

And watching people wrestle over cell phones

Before falling asleep whispering secrets with Maggie.

Sometimes, it’s just time to go

To drive back down M-49 just because I want to see the Student Center

To point out every significant place to the friends that came with me

Every family member’s house, every church and field and restaurant that bear some meaning

To watch my worlds collide in the most bizarre, beautiful manner

And remember that everything is gonna be okay

That God is sovereign

and good

No matter what.

Sometimes, I just need to go to the cornfields.

And so I do.

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Not Tomorrow Yet

“We’re going to play in the rain, do you want to come?”

I had my night planned out. Classes start tomorrow and I needed to look over my syllabi, pack my backpack, put my schedule on my wall. I was going to heat up my leftover Chinese food and make a sign listing the books I’m trying to sell. But as my roommate begged, pleaded, and listed the million and five reasons why I absolutely HAD to come outside and leap around in the torrential downpour, I realized something: classes may start TOMORROW, but it’s still today.

And so, fresh out of the annual Vespers service, and with “Oh Happy Day,” still stuck in our heads, seven or eight of us crammed into the elevator in gym shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flops. We giggled in giddy anticipation as the floors ticked off on the display above our heads. 5,4,3,2,1, and we were in the lobby, huddled together staring at the deluge which had produced flash flood warnings in the greater Chicago area.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” screamed Grace, and we sprinted through the doors of Houghton Hall into the already flooded plaza . The deepest puddle reached the middle of my calf, and I was drenched to the bone in an instant. Like elementary schoolgirls we squealed and giggled, kicking plumes of water at each other as we ran around and around.

Shouts of, “HOLY CRAP, that’s COLD,” and “I can’t see anything!” and “Oh my gooooosh, this is so fun!” and “There’s still a dry spot on your back!” rang through the plaza. Upperclassmen carrying umbrellas gave skeptical looks, total strangers joined in the fun, and laughter tears mingled with the rain on our faces.

After ten or so minutes of stomping as hard as we could while screaming at unnatural pitches, we headed back into the dorms. On the way up, we drenched the floor of the lobby and the elevator. And seven college girls (no, really! We are! I swear!) tumbled out of the elevators onto Houghton Five, still gasping and giggling, dripping wet, shivering, and smiling.

Tomorrow will bring its challenges. Tomorrow I’ll drag myself out of bed before 6 am. Tomorrow classes start, tomorrow my job begins again. Tomorrow I have to eat in the SDR, have to decide what to wear, have to get back into a routine.

But it’s not tomorrow yet. It’s still today. And today, I walked over 3 miles in the rain to and from my home church. I listened to a message that cut me to the core. I ate Chinese food with my best friends. A lot of Chinese food. And ice cream. I painted my toenails. I made commitments, promises, and plans. I worshipped. I sang “Oh Happy Day,” and did the motions even though no one else around me was doing them.

It’s still today. And today, we played in the rain.

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Major Changes

They say the average undergrad student changes their major about five times.  I’ve always regarded this statistic slightly pridefully, with the air of smugness that comes from “having it all planned out.”  I’ll graduate from Moody in 3.5 years with a degree in TESOL (and Bible, of course), and move to Central/South America. (Hopefully getting married somewhere in there.) There, I’ll teach English fulltime as a missionary and, on the side, work with teenage/young adult girls who have been abused or involved in the sex trade.  Sounds like a good plan, right?

Let me back up about four years.  I was reading the book “Zealous Love” by Mike and Danae Yankoski, and came to the chapter on human trafficking.  Tears poured down my cheeks and my stomach turned as I read the accounts of girls, often as young as 5 or 6 years old, who were sold into the sex trade.  An overwhelming feeling came over me as my heart broke for these women.  As a 14 or 15 year old, I didn’t really know what to do with that feeling, but I bookmarked a few blogs and vowed to pray for the women and children caught up in that sickening industry.

Last year, on a whim, I picked up a $5 CD at Family Christian Bookstore.  It was called “Freedom: Artists United for the International Justice Mission,” and it featured several bands I like.  As I looked over the packaging, I realized it was a fundraiser for IJM and included a DVD.  I watched the DVD one night and cried again as the stories of women who had been rescued from prostitution and slavery… but all I did was cry.  After all, I already had my plan (see above).

My plan started out really well.  I came to Moody.  I declared TESOL as my major.  I started Intro to TESOL.  I observed some classes, wrote some lesson plans… and… little by little, realized I don’t really want to spend every day of the rest of my life in a classroom/writing lesson plans.  Rather than being super excited for my upcoming classes, teaching for PCM, and my internship, I would kind of slump my shoulders and resign myself to the coming realities.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about feeling convicted and not knowing what to do about it.  After I wrote that, I started to pray a lot about where I was going with my life.  The books I’ve been reading, things I’ve been studying, and discussions we’ve been having at Gospel Community have made me realize I need to do something different.  I’ve been slapped in the face a lot lately with the reality that, while it is an incredible door into lives, English is not a basic need.  Those who are starving, being sold, without homes, or in desperate need of true love do not need to learn English.  They need food, freedom, shelter, or love.

As I prayed, I began to realize something.  When I think about my true dream – the thing I’m the most excited about when I tell people “my plan,” – it’s not standing in front of a class or writing lesson plans.  It’s the part I always refer to as “on the side.”  It’s the reason I attempted to interdisciplinary (basically a minor, for those of you who don’t go to Moody) in pre-counseling.  I want to work with girls who have been wounded, sold, and stolen.  Girls who had their innocence ripped away from them, who were so desperate for money that they sold their right to themselves.  I want to teach them that they have worth, that they are beautiful.  To LOVE them.  To show them the One who will never, ever abuse them.  From the first time I read about the issue of sexual exploitation, I have had a burden in my heart for those girls.

Yesterday, in chapel, one of our professors stood at the podium and said she had a “very exciting announcement.”  She announced that Moody was beginning a new major: Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation.  As she explained the details, tears pooled in my eyes and my mind began scrambling.  The first conscious thought I had was, “I have to do this,” followed shortly by about six reasons why there was no possible way I could do this.

One at a time, throughout the day yesterday, God countered each of those points.  In fact, He didn’t just counter them, He gave me even more reasons why I needed to lace up my shoes and run.  I called my mom, who had been sitting in a chapel at Bo’s school while I was in chapel.  Their speaker was a missionary from Peru (of all places!) who runs a shelter for battered women… many of whom have been rescued from sexual exploitation.  The first class for this major fit PERFECTLY into an hour and fifteen minute hole that just happened to be in my fall schedule. 9-12 more credits from Mott would transfer in with the switch.

I got my change of major form this afternoon and filled it out.  When I went to the Missions Department to have it signed, the hallway seemed deserted.  “Okay, God,” I whispered.  “I’m 99% sure this is what I’m supposed to do… but if it REALLY is… just give me one more sign?” (Oh, me of little faith…)  I walked to the end of the hall, towards what I was certain would be a deserted office, and there was Dr. Sisk.  He signed off on my major change as chair of the Missions Department, and I was gone in about 30 seconds.

I could easily write another 900+ words about all of the tiny details, “coincidences,” and neon signs shouting that I should go ahead with this that have happened in the last 48 hours… but I’ll spare you the extra reading.  As of next week, everything should be approved, and my major will be officially changed from TESOL to Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation.  Do I have a 5 or 10 year plan?  Nope.  But He does, and I know that there’s nothing better for me than His plan.

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Convicted

“That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell their possessions gives comfort only to the kinds of people to whom he would issue that command.” – David Platt, Radical

Tears sprang to my eyes as I read these words last night.  There I was, lounging on my bed in my dorm room, eating popcorn, and reading a chapter of Radical about global poverty and the church.  For me, it was nothing out of the ordinary.  But to a child whose parents are struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day? I was lounging on my bed complete with four pillows, a down comforter, and a fleece blanket.  I was in my dorm room, which implies not only a roof over my head, but that I am participating in higher education.  I was eating popcorn… not for dinner, even, but just because I was a little hungry and had a craving.  And I was reading, an activity which is unfathomable for children and adults in many parts of the world.

I’m so blessed, and I know I am called to share those blessings with the less fortunate.  More than called, in fact, I know I am commanded multiple times in Scripture to give to the poor, to care for the orphans and widows, and to make less of myself.  I generally think I’m doing okay.  After all, I tithe, I go to Peru, I give my old clothes to Salvation Army, and I’ve never cared about brand names or big spending.  In fact, I think of myself as a fairly frugal person most of the time.  The lifestyle of the rich has never been appealing to me.

Then I decide to “treat myself” to a milkshake “just because.” I walk back from Chick-Fil-A, sipping on my creamy, cold $3.49, right past at least 15 people who will have no dinner tonight.  I buy a new shirt “because it’s on sale,” when the children I have loved and held in the villages of Pucallpa are overjoyed to receive the shirt I wore for two years then decided to throw to them.  I send two suitcases of winter clothes home with my parents because there’s not room in my dresser for two seasons’ worth of clothing, as refugees a few Brown Line stops away lack even one pair of gloves.  I throw away an entire plate of food in the SDR because I don’t like it, then read stories of brothers and sisters in Africa who eat a half a cup of rice A DAY.

How? How is this possible? How can I continue to read those Scriptures, to read chapters in books like this, and remain unmoved?  Sure, my eyes filled with tears when I read that quote.  Yes, I looked through my pictures from the orphanage in Pucallpa and prayed for those children.  But I looked through those pictures on my Macbook Pro while painting my freaking fingernails.  Kids are starving, dying, impoverished, and I was painting my nails while crying over them.

There is something wrong with me.

What is wrong with me?

I’m no monster.  I don’t sit stoically in the face of these statistics.  I can readily admit that it is my Christian responsibility to do something about it.  I cry, okay? I CRY OVER THEM.  But the truth is, these tears don’t matter if they don’t lead to action.  I can cry all I want.  I can feel guilty for years.  Until I am moved to actually do something, I might as well be laughing in the face of the dying children.

I don’t know what this means.  I’m comfortable in my Middle Class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant lifestyle, complete with an iPhone, a meal plan, and a 2007 Ford Taurus.  I like having clothing and entertainment options at my fingertips.  I enjoy the luxury of having study Bibles in multiple versions, books for fun, and the occasional midnight snack.

It’s not bad to live a content, comfortable life, thankful for the blessings God has showered upon me.

But where is the line?

I truly don’t have the answer to this question.  All I know is for the last couple years, God has very steadily been making my uncomfortable with my level of comfort.  He has been placing books, speakers, sermons, and documentaries in my path to shake up my way of thinking.  He has used my trips to Peru and experiences with rescue missions to begin breaking my heart for those less fortunate.

As I stand here, teetering somewhere between terrified that He’ll call me to literally give up everything and hopeful that I’ll have the chance to prove my faith in such a tangible way, I am convicted.  Where this conviction will lead, I don’t know.

But Jesus is worth it.

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