grief [pt. 2]

i wrote a post a few weeks back about unpredictability. it was about how one of the greatest blessings of Christianity is its unpredictability. i re-read that post this morning and was struck by something. over the past few days since my mom died, days that have felt like a moment and eternity simultaneously, i have said over and over again that one of the greatest horrors of grief is its unpredictability.

unpredictability. a blessing. and a horror. that seems like some kind of paradox to me. and that paradox seems to be my only way of describing what has been almost two weeks (certainly the longest two weeks of my life) since my mom passed away.

you see, i could go on and on about the sadness. the loss is overwhelming and crippling at times. it puts me in bed too early most nights because i have not the strength to keep going. at other times it leaves tears streaming down my cheeks at some show on tv or character in a book i’m reading or when i check my phone to find no text messages, when i used to always have text messages from her.

i still can’t get over the reality that i will never hear my mom tell me that she loves me again. and my mom, she was one of those moms who told me every single day.

but for every moment, which seem endless, that i could spend talking about the sadness and the horror of this grief and loss and whatever else this is, i could also spend that many moments, which seem endless, talking about the blessings of the love of the Lord through every second that has rolled over me since i walked out of the last room in which i will ever sit with her.

and maybe that’s how i know i am going to make it. because God has been loving me so perfectly through this. He has held me close to Him when most people would have gone running in the other direction. He has made me desire His word every morning and crave it every evening. He has helped me praise Him although sometimes proclaiming truths about Him feels a bit like walking down the beach against 20 mile per hour wind. and He has surrounded me with the richest community – the kind of community that has helped me hold up my hands and the kind of community that has walked into the darkness so bravely with me.

the grief is unpredictable. and in so many ways it is indescribable. but so is the love of God. and i am grateful for that love today.

today’s margin note: believe that God is loving, even in the darkest of times. i promise you He is.

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Grief [Pt. 1]

i put one foot in front of the other today. and i will keep doing that. i will keep doing that. but let me clarify — i am moving, but i am not moving on. the grief is suffocating and overwhelming and at times that one foot in front of the other seems impossible.

it has been a week since she apologized for having to leave me through the first tears i ever saw her cry. it has been a week since the last time i will ever hear her say she loves me.

it has only been a week and i miss mom indescribably.

today’s margin note: “circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins.”

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He’d choose me any day

i normally have ideas for these posts brewing in my mind for a day or more before i put my fingers to the keyboard. i’m such an internal processor that i don’t keep this blog to process things like maybe some people would. instead, i keep this thing to share all the processing that goes on in my mind all the time. it’s for you in that i share it. it’s for me in that i can’t contain it otherwise. but tonight…

tonight i read this other blog post, and i was struck by the final words in it. so struck that i had to get on here and write about it. because those words moved me in a special way tonight. in a very special way. well, i haven’t had time to think this through and i’ll be long since sleeping by the time i’d have it all internally processed anyway. so tonight, just this once, you get the raw product.

i enjoy you.
if you weren’t mine, i’d adopt you.
i’d choose you any day.”

it was a blog a mom wrote about her three year old son. she spent her space of white writing about all these things that make him him, and all these things she doesn’t want to forget about him as he grows up. it was a sweet read about the love of a parent for her sweet little boy. but those words, those final words, they overwhelmed me.

it was a love running deeper than a mom loving her son just because he was hers. let me explain…

if you haven’t gathered already, i’m a words person. i believe in words. i believe they are powerful. i believe they can make dark things light. i believe they can make inanimate things come to life. i believe in words.

consequently, there are few things i respect more in a person than the ability to use words wisely and to use words well. that mom, she used those words well.

and i’m starting to believe that there’s just something about having a child. i’ve thought that ever since i started going to church regularly because pastors always have a way of connecting some story with their kids to something they are trying to teach us about God. i think there must be all kinds of new things you learn about God when you have a kid of your own. actually, i know that’s true because i learn all kinds of new things about God from parents.

like those words in that post.

i enjoy you | if you weren’t mine, i’d adopt you | i’d choose you any day

you see, life’s been hard lately. and i mean really, really hard. i may have just come out of the hardest week of my life, and i don’t have any promise that this week won’t be just as hard. and in the midst of this, i have experienced God richly. but what i have been struck by about Him the most is how far above me He is. i don’t mean a matter of distance, because you better believe i have felt Him near through every second of all of this. what i mean is that it’s been one of those weeks that i really just don’t understand. and when i don’t understand i am always reminded that God’s ways are simply so far above mine. they are higher, and they are better. and that all leaves me in awe of Him.

but there’s more to Him than His supremacy in that. there’s also something supremely intimate about Him. it’s more than that He knows more than me and that He knows better than me. it’s that He loves me more and He loves me better. He loves me more and He loves me better than this mom loves her sweet little boy. He loves me more and He loves me better than my own parents love me. He loves me more and He loves me better. He loves me infinitely and unfailingly and unconditionally.

and isn’t that just the thing about those words that mom wrote?

i mean, God enjoys me. when i wasn’t with Him, He adopted me. He chose me.
and He chooses me over and over again every morning.

that’s why those words overwhelmed me. they overwhelmed me because they were more than some description of the way a mom loves her son. they were this small little glimpse at the way God loves us.

i think i read that post today because He wanted to tell me just that – that He loves me.
and i scarce can take that in.

today’s margin note: think on God’s love for you until it overwhelms you. i promise you it will.

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the good fight

there’s something about a good fight that’s alluring to me. it’s why in school, whenever i had the choice, i always picked to research rosa parks. she fought a good fight. it’s why when i go on runs in this city i always try to run by the lincoln memorial. he fought a good fight. it’s probably part of the reason why i want to give my life to fighting to end human trafficking. i know i’ll be fighting a good fight.

and just maybe that’s why i always choose to journal about 1 timothy 6:12 when it comes up on my bible reading plan.

fight the good fight of the faith. take hold of the eternal life to which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

because there’s another good fight i’m supposed to be fighting. the good fight of faith. and now that i’ve been in this city for two weeks, i think it’s time to take inventory on all that God has been teaching me in my time here. and well, taking that inventory led me back to this verse. because in it is the truth that i feel God is reminding me of over and over again in my time here. and i think that truth will be essential to any other good fight i ever fight.

you see, i listened to this sermon once about this verse. i don’t remember the whole thing, but the premise with it has stuck with me. that premise is that faith involves finding all my joy and satisfaction in Jesus. faith is believing on Him as the source of all that i will ever need, as the source of everlasting joy, as the source of eternal satisfaction. all that to say, the good fight of faith that i am supposed to be fighting is in fact a fight for finding joy in Jesus.

when i stumbled upon this verse a week ago, i thought i was in a season of life where this good fight of faith wasn’t all that difficult. i mean, i feel joyful, right? i love my job. i can’t wait to go in on monday to keep on working on what i’m working on. i’m doing what i feel like i was called to do. and on top of that i live in this really neat city where there is always something fun happening. and on top of that i got accepted to be part of this organization that i was really hoping i’d get to be a part of next year. and i guess things are just going pretty well right now.

and as i was recounting all the ways that God has spoiled me lately, it occurred to me that the good fight isn’t just a fight for joy. it’s a fight for joy in Jesus. and thus, even in this season of abundant blessing the fight is hard. in fact, it may be even harder than in those seasons of drought. because in those seasons of drought there simply is no where else to get joy. when your soul craves it, you are forced into the arms of Jesus. but here, in this city, in this job, that fight to not be satisfied with a happiness tied up in my circumstances instead of feasting on that eternal, unshakeable joy in Jesus is real.

and it is hard. and it is a fight in every sense of the word. it’s a fight i have to fight today. and it’s a fight i’ll have to fight again tomorrow. but let it never be said that it isn’t a fight worth fighting with everything that i am.

today’s margin note: fight for joy in Jesus. fight for it with everything that you are, and fight for it in the seasons of abundance as well as the seasons of suffering.

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try to love again

i had one of the strangest mornings i’ve ever had. to be honest, as i sit here in this trendy little coffee shop i still feel a bit put off by the whole thing. i’m not sure what to make of it, but i want to make something of it. so here i sit in this coffee shop.

i read my bible on the back porch before walking to church. as i read i was struck by this verse that says “they profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works” (titus 1:16). in the margin next to that verse i have written hypocrisy. so i thought on that verse awhile, and i thought about how i never want that kind of thing to be said about me — that i claim to know God, but deny Him by my works. and sorrowfully, yet humbly i began to think through the areas in my life where that verse is unfortunately true of me.

the area where i feel like it applies the most is in loving others well. and although i feel that this is one of the areas in which i have grown the most this year, i think it is also the area that holds the most room for improvement. so i took off to church on foot, and as i walked i prayed for God to discipline me and sanctify me for the purpose of loving others well.

because i want to know Him and glorify Him with my works. that’s all i want.

so i prayed as i walked, and then up she walked. she asked me for $5 to buy a sandwich. “not today,” i immediately replied, more out of habit than in response to the question she asked me. as i said the words it occurred to me that i just might be being that one thing i had just been praying not to be — a hypocrite. so instead of just pressing on toward church i replied, “i’ll walk with you and buy you a sandwich.” she persisted in her plea for the $5, but told me there was a place around the corner. naturally it was in the opposite direction i was walking. “is there any place this way,” i asked and pointed, before explaining that i was on my way to church. but she kept insisting on that place around the other corner. i hesitantly turned on my heels, knowing that i would be late to church as a result of this walk and subsequent sandwich purchase. yet i took a few steps back in the direction of that sandwich shop around the corner.

she turned and looked at me with utter disgust as she scoffed, “you know what? you’re a stinking ugly ho.”

i was shocked. literally shocked. and i was hurt, i mean really hurt, not because i thought what she said was true, but because of the way she looked at me as she said those words, and the way it felt like such a failure on my journey to understand love and give it away. she stormed off obviously not interested in that sandwich after all. so i put my head down and headed on to church. and as i walked i couldn’t help but feel confused. i thought she was my chance to love someone well today. and yet it went so completely terribly.

sometimes it lasts in love
and sometimes it hurts instead

hours later as i sit in this coffee shop as that adele song plays in the background, i can’t help but think of moses before pharaoh in those early chapters of exodus. specifically, that part where he storms in to tell pharaoh to let his people go, to which pharaoh responds that not only will they not be let go, but their slavery will be made much worse, nearly impossible in fact.

it’s in those early chapters of exodus that i am reminded that sometimes as we seek to follow the call of God things get a lot worse before they get better.

maybe that’s what happened today. maybe today i felt strongly that call of God to love others in a radical way in light of my knowing Him and the way He loves me. and as a result i tried to love someone well and it went a lot worse than any of my other attempts this year. and just maybe i’ll try to love someone well really soon and it will get a whole lot better. i hope i try to love someone well really soon and that it gets a whole lot better.

today’s margin note: strive to love others well because to do differently may just make you one of those people about whom it may be said “they profess to know God, but deny Him by their works.” do whatever you can so that kind of thing can never be said about you, even if you fail miserably along the way.

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i woke up today in a new city, and i’ll be waking up again here for the next six weeks. it’s a pretty cool place i must confess. i say that because after i woke up i went for a walk. and about two minutes later i was standing behind the supreme court of the united states.

but, i’m getting ahead of myself. because before i walked around the city like a kid in a candy store i went outside to a porch to embrace the quiet and rainy weather. it was nice to not be surrounded by people for the first time in two weeks. so i sat outside and read. i read this passage in 2 kings where elisha prays that this guy’s eyes would be opened and they are. and when they are opened he sees all these horses and chariots of fire that he couldn’t see before. and the passage got me thinking about courage.

i prayed a simple prayer from the airport before i came to this new city. it was something along the lines of “Jesus, grant me courage and excellence and friendship and adventure.” first on the list: courage. so as i read this passage this morning i started to wonder why i even prayed for courage before coming here. maybe i wanted the courage to meet new people (yes, it actually requires courage for me to do that). maybe i wanted the courage to pursue my dream of fighting human trafficking. maybe i wanted the courage to represent more than a resume in a city where everyone is just trying to make it to the top.

or maybe as i prayed for courage what i meant was like what the book i’m reading says:
“we believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

and as i assessed that list of possibilities, the commonality i found was that i wanted courage in order to act. and as i read this passage about how there are these horses and chariots of fire around us that we don’t even see, i couldn’t help but wonder why i would ever need  courage to act. i mean with these angel armies and heavenly forces on my side there doesn’t seem to be a big need for courage. because it all makes me feel a little invincible when i really get to thinking about that kind of thing.

well, it would if only i had eyes to see it, right?

and that’s when it hit me — what i need courage for is not to act. what i need courage for is to believe. it’s a courageous thing to walk by faith and not by sight. and i want nothing more than to walk by faith here in this new city as i start this next stage of my adventure this summer.

and so my prayer on that porch in the rain became “Jesus, grant me courage to walk by faith.” and i’ll pray it again tomorrow. and the day after that.

today’s margin note: it’s a courageous thing to walk by faith. pray for the courage and keep on walking.

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i listened to this speaker a few evenings back. it was one of the most incredible pleas for humility i have ever heard. but he said something else that struck me – more than all his eloquence and urgings. he said this:

one of the greatest blessings of Christianity is unpredictability.

i couldn’t help but smile as those words came out of his mouth. and i couldn’t help but then think about all the unpredictability i have experienced in my life since i started following Jesus. i mean i started following Him as a finance major in college, and i later changed to english. i spent a summer in paris sharing the gospel when everyone thought i should get some kind of internship or career experience. i always imagined going to graduate school immediately following college, and i took a year off and did vocational ministry. and some how, after all of that, i ended up in law school.

and law school led me here. listening to this speaker talking about unpredictability.

it’s funny now really because even after all of that unpredictability i still try and plan. i’ve got this long term goal of this nonprofit i want to start. and i want to get married and start a family of my own. i want to work here and also there. and i think if things continue on as they are, well all of that just might happen in the timing that i want it to.

but therein lies the problem. none of this is about me and what i want. it’s about God and this plan that He drew out for me before i ever even was. and His plan is just so much better than anything i could dream up for myself. so i look at those napkins from coffee shops on which i jotted all these dreams. and i can’t help but feel blessed, not because i’ll get them, but because whatever i get will be best.

because God loves me with the best kind of love, and He planned things out for me with my best in mind.

consequently i can smile as i hear the words that one of the greatest blessings in Christianity is unpredictability. i can smile because it will all be worked together for my good and God’s glory.

and as for now, and today, i’m just trying to be obedient along every step of the process. and part of that obedience is trusting God with all of the unpredictable. and what an adventure it has been.

today’s margin note: unpredictability really is a blessing. trust God in it and learn to embrace the adventure. because i promise you it is better than any plan or dream you could create for yourself.

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in the business of worship

i’m at some training in preparation for my summer and a future career as a lawyer. i woke up early to get ready and spend time in the Word before everything got started on our first full day here. at the end of our first lecture, to my surprise, we all stood for some praise and worship. and as we all stood there in our business casual attire i was struck by a particular thought:

i want to live the rest of my life like this.

and i don’t mean standing in a group of 154 law students, dressed up, singing songs in a hotel conference room. what i mean is that i want to spend the rest of my life, even all the hours i’ll spend working, with a posture of worship towards Jesus. i want to live a life of worship even in my business clothes.

the thing is that a lot has happened lately that has opened a lot of doors for my future. i don’t know what the road will look like or where it will take me. but i’m hopeful that it will be something great. and with that greatness comes a lot of temptation.

there’s the temptation to be prideful. there’s the temptation to think that the greatness is somehow  solely the result of my own efforts. there’s the temptation to forget to say thanks. because the truth is that all good and perfect gifts come from above. what i mean to say is that greatness, all greatness, comes from God.

so i feel here, at this training, that God is doing something in me. i feel that He is preparing me in ways that i didn’t expect.

i kind of get the feeling that i’ll be spending a lot of time in the future dressed up in business casual clothing. and i kind of get the urge to spend every moment of that displaying Jesus.

today’s margin note: wherever you are and wherever you going are, remember that Jesus is worthy of our worship. not just on sunday mornings. not just when we are feeding the homeless or leading small groups. but even when we are dressed up and working. and as you remember that He’s worthy, remember to give thanks.

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i’ve been thinking a lot about blessings lately. i guess i’ve been doing that kind of thinking because God blessed me a lot at the close of this past semester of school.

i remember checking to see if grades were posted multiple times every hour on the day they were rumored to be released. and each time i would check and they weren’t there, i would scroll down to my grades from last semester. i’d look them over; i’d smile; and i’d wish my gpa adieu. you see, last semester God really carried me through. it was my first semester of law school, i had no idea what i was doing, and life was particularly hard. so i was shocked with the grades i got. i had planned to coast through law school with average grades, and God had a different plan.

i figured then that He gave me those grades just to encourage me to stay faithful and steadfast. i figured then that He gave me those grades just so i wouldn’t give up because on a lot of days that semester i felt like giving up.

this past semester was also hard. i was really clueless about most of my classes. and life was still hard, but just in different ways than the previous few months. so i started to talk myself up for the release of those grades. i told myself that God’s view of success doesn’t have to do with results, it has to do with obedience in the process. so i convinced myself that i had been obedient to all He asked of me last semester. and i braced myself for the worst.

consequently i just had to laugh a little when i saw the grades that God gave me this semester. honestly, i was in shock for a few hours.

i went for a run later that day. i wanted to spend some time thanking God outdoors because that is my favorite place to meet with Him. and as i was running i couldn’t shake one particular question:

what would my grades have looked like had God given me the grades i expected Him to give me?

because i wasn’t expecting what i got. i was expecting the worst. and the thing with it all is that it wasn’t that i was doubting that God could give me good grades. i knew that He could. i know He is powerful. i guess my doubt came down to the fact that i didn’t think He would — i didn’t think He would do that kind of thing for me.

i guess it kind of made me sad as i ran along. do i doubt that God loves me? do i doubt how much He loves me?

why is it so hard to believe that God really does give good gifts to His children?

i think maybe it all boils down to this grace thing — the whole idea of God giving us things that we don’t deserve. it’s so easy, especially in school, to live in the mentality that i need to earn my grades. i need to perform in a certain way to get certain results. and i didn’t leave the semester feeling like i earned what i got. and i didn’t leave the semester feeling like i had performed in the kind of way that could get me the kind of results i got.

and maybe the worst part is that a few days later i was faced with the same kind of situation as i awaited the list of people who got awards for getting the highest grade in a class. i got one last semester, and i doubted this semester until the moment i got an email saying i got two.

i’m not saying all this to boast. i’m, in humility, saying that i still doubt. and i guess all i really want is to live the kind of life that shows i trust God — that i trust Him to give me good things, not because i deserve them, but because He really does love me more than i can even begin to imagine.

today’s margin note: live a life that shows people that God is trustworthy because He is, and He gets glory when we trust in Him fully.

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a living house

one of my favorite things about coming home after being gone for a few months is the drive into my neighborhood. i turn the corner and drive down by the lake. i drive down by the lake because usually when i am coming into town the sun is about to set, and the sunset over the lake never disappoints. i also drive down by the lake because without fail there is always a new house being built. i love that kind of thing because when i left town the lot was flat and empty, and on my return there is the frame of some huge house that will inevitably look incredible when it’s all said and done. the thing is, there was a house there before, and the people just chose to tear it down and start anew.

and i guess i just love watching something come from nothing.

this time into town there were two new houses coming up. they are both at similar stages in construction – they have a solid enough frame to where i can let my mind wander to what i think the finished product will look like. and they are new enough to remember what small, old house was there before. and i guess all that looking and wondering got me thinking about this c.s. lewis quote:

“imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. at first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. but presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. what on earth is He up to? the explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. you thought you were being made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

this summer so far has been a lot like those houses and a lot like that quote. maybe i’m just arriving at the stage of my christian walk where things become a lot less predictable. when i first started following Jesus the changes that needed to happen were pretty obvious. i needed to stop doing that and start doing this. i needed to be a better friend and sister and daughter. i needed to give up a lot of things that were temporarily satisfying and start gazing at the eternal. in a lot of ways i could see the next move coming before it happened, and so when it did it was a joy to watch the sin fall off of me.

well, at the end of last semester i felt this nearly overwhelming awareness of my capacity to sin. it was a hard place to be and i hated it. and then i came home for summer and i started reading this book for my fellowship. and i was so deeply convicted about all kinds of sin i didn’t even know i struggled with. and areas of my life where i thought i had arrived i realized i was just getting started. all i know is that i did not see any of this coming.

i thought i was being made into a decent little cottage…

and then there’s this thing that is happening next year. i’m not one to make a big deal out of it, but it’s a pretty big deal i guess. i was chosen to be the president of this christian organization at school. and at the end of the semester things happened that really discouraged me. a lot of things happened that made me think that i just am not good enough for the position, and that no one really thinks i am. and the thing is that it was all so discouraging that it stole some of the excitement of the opportunity and the possibility of being a part of all that God is going to do on our campus next year. to be honest, i just stopped thinking about it. and i didn’t make big plans to start thinking about it, not yet at least. it all felt too…raw.

on my way out of town my friend, the previous president of this organization, stopped by to say goodbye. in her hand she held a letter that was full of advice about being president, and all kinds of encouragement. and then i came home and God started showing me all this sin and started helping me through it. and then He started filling me with all kinds of vision for what next year can look like leading this organization. i wasn’t even asking for it. i guess i just didn’t really know i needed it. i guess i just didn’t really know how much i needed to be excited about all of this. and i guess i just didn’t really know how much i needed any of this.

when i went back to school to watch that same friend graduate a week later she did something special. after she had crossed the stage and taken all kinds of pictures, she gave me something. she had this graduation cord that the school gave her for being president. and she took it off and put it on me. even though the school will probably give me one too, she wanted me to have hers. and right then and there i knew i was the person for the job. and right then and there i knew that that was what God has been up to in me – preparing me for that.

but He is building a palace

there’s a lot i still don’t know. and there’s a long and hard journey ahead. but for the first time in a long time i am excited to be walking it, and i am expectant of all i will have the privilege of seeing God do along the way.

i drive by the those houses by the lake almost every time i come or go from the neighborhood.
and every time i can’t help but smile a little bit.

today’s margin note: don’t make little of what God is doing in your life because i guarantee He is doing something bigger and wilder than our imaginations could ever muster up. knowing that makes the journey more enjoyable, so embrace it because what you thought was going to be a decent little cottage is going to be a palace instead.

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