“If you’re not done working, God, I’m not done waiting”

Duck #112

When I was in high school, the idea of allowing myself to cry over just about anything seemed ridiculous. I allowed myself to play into the ideology that tears made you weak and being perceived as weak was a fate worse than death; therefore, no crying. Granted, in high school I didn’t feel like I had much to cry about. I remember sometime during my junior or senior year standing in the kitchen with my mom. She was making dinner and I was standing behind her, probably dancing, as that is the primary purpose for kitchens (cooking is a very, very close and immediate second, though). With a smile on my face, I looked at my mother and said “Hey,  Mom…do you have have those moments where you just stop and think, ‘man, I just love my life!’?” I’m not entirely sure what I assumed her answer would be, but I remember being disappointed with what she said. At sixteen or seventeen, everything in my life felt…good. I loved my friends, I loved my church, I might have even had a boyfriend at the time. I was playing sports, I was involved in the arts, I was well liked. My understanding of how I related to Jesus (while tender and earnest and beautiful) was a bit naive, but it was good. I had no category for suffering.

Now, six to seven years later, I find myself asking the same question, only this time I’m not in the kitchen. My mom isn’t standing in front of me cooking. I’m not dancing. I’ve gotten over the idea that tears equal weakness and I’m laying on a yoga mat in the middle of the floor in child’s pose. Sobbing. “Jayna…” I think to myself, “Do you have those moments where you just stop and think, ‘man, I just love my life!’?” My answer furthers my tears and aches for the bliss of my high school optimism. This is not to say I am unthankful or unhappy with my life. Quite the opposite holds true. However, there is something that happens as you begin to settle into the bones of adulthood. You see things you might not have been privy to as a teenager.

Suffering moves from this fictional monster to a tangible beast. You can’t prepare for the attack. You’ve never doubted his coming, but each time it feels like an unexpected blow to the gut. He shape-shifts. He sets up camp and stays for a few weeks, maybe even a few years. Sometimes he just passes through and leaves you with a minor scratch. Other times his wounds are so deep it seems like that’s all people notice when they look at you.

Romans 5:1-5 says this:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that but we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Last week at my church’s Sunday gathering we sang a song with these lyrics–“the only words my soul can find to sing are ‘hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah my King.'” As I stood among the body of believers, my church family, the people with whom I’m one in Christ, I wept. I wept because I couldn’t find the strength to believe the words on the screen. As the voices around me swelled with earnestness, doubt washed over me.

Lord, I’ve been battling with anxiety for the past four years and it seems like it’s getting worse. I am scared all the time. I worry constantly. My friends have been raped. Family members have died. People I love have lost children. I’m exhausted. I feel like I constantly have to prove my worthiness to you. Your word says that I am justified and free and so loved, but I can’t seem to remember that long enough to believe it for myself. Why do I feel like you’re not who you say you are? Why can’t my faith be strong enough to trust that you are good and kind? HOW THE HELL CAN “HALLELUJAH (PRAISE THE LORD) be the ONLY song my soul finds to sing?

And then the Holy Spirit whispered, “because it is…”
For a moment, it felt like my soul and my flesh separated. It was like my soul said to the rest of my body, “it’s okay, little one, I believe these words. You are okay. Let me sing for you. Let the body of believers around you sing and believe for you.” Tears stained my face and laughter filled my lungs. It was weird and lovely.

So here’s the thing: I don’t know a thing, but I believe that God is good and that even if I struggle to love my life, I know that He loves it. Suffering in its various forms are not a waste. A promised monster, though it may be, a victorious one it will never become.

 

[Dear Lord,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, my King.]
<3Amen

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SOS! All of My Friends Are White!

Duck #111

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. . . . Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” – Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve gotten compliments on my skin for as long as I can remember. It’s not abnormal for strangers in grocery stores or coffee shops to comment on its clarity. My mother would tell me how much it reminds her of her mother’s skin. “You have such a pretty pecan color–just like my mom,” she would say.  When I was a teenager this lead to me freaking out if I noticed a pimple on my face. I’ve never struggled with acne, per se, but I’m not immune to biology. Blemishes don’t play favorites.

As a young adult, my blemishes are probably the worst they’ve ever been. My pigmentation is even, but there are some marks and a few scars on my face. Sure, they’re small, and I’m thankful for that. But because my skin was so complimented (and often still is) I learned to wrap up much of who I was in my skin tone. Not too dark, not too light, but a “pretty pecan color.”

My identity as a Black person became wrapped up in my melanin level. This, of course, led to the sin of colorism. A sin to which I thought I was immune, but was lovingly shown that I, in fact, am not. That is hard to admit. I don’t want to admit it. Even after repentance, I still struggle to own up to a way of thinking that labels me as “sinful,” or more currently, “un-woke.”

When I was 11, my parents and I moved from New York to North Carolina. It was then that that the conversation really started. If you’re also Black, you know exactly which conversation I’m talking about. The, “you have to work twice as hard for half the credit”, and “be sure to always use your manners when speaking to adults,” and “your friends might be able to do things, but you can’t,” and “if people say the N-word to you, don’t fight back, ignore them and tell a teacher,” conversation. I don’t remember all the details of this particular conversation, but I do remember being shocked by it. Up until that point in my life, I had absolutely no category for racism. I’d grown up in a beautiful and ethnically diverse neighborhood. In fact, in elementary school I could count the white friends I had one one hand. Never once did I look in the mirror and feel shame because my skin wasn’t white.

But in the same way that I freaked out about blemishes in high school, I freaked out about coming across as “too Black.” On the first day of school in North Carolina, I was hit with the harsh reality of being the only black girl in 7th grade. There was one other Black boy whom I avoided like the plague because I was afraid that everyone would assume we liked each other (which they did). The idea of liking boys, while appealing, was not something I wanted thrown onto me. However, part of being Black in America is learning that so much of what you don’t want is thrown on you for no other reason than that you exist.

One day, in math class, a boy stood up on his chair and proceeded to make a declaration to everyone in the room. He said, “Jayna, I know who you like! You like ______ because you’re both black!” The class erupted with laughter and I was mortified. My teacher told my classmate to sit down and I awkwardly smiled, not because his accusation was true, but because I was uncomfortable and didn’t have anyone else in the classroom that looked like me to back me up or at least empathize with how I was feeling.

*Side note: Sometimes women smile in awkward  and uncomfortable situations. This doesn’t mean that we are necessarily enjoying the current situation we’re in. If you’re unsure, ask. We’re certainly happy to clarify if you give us the chance.
**Another side note: the only other Black kid that everyone thought I liked and I avoided like the plague throughout most of middle school is now one of my best friends.  Naturally, we were voted “Cutest Should Be Couple” our senior year. We loved it though, because of how close we’d gotten. Now that we’re older, we can laugh about the silliness of our adolescence. This summer I get to watch him marry the love of his life and I couldn’t be more excited.

Throughout middle and high school I became obsessed with fitting in. Sometimes that looked like going along with racial pejoratives thrown my way. I wore a baggy jersey to a friend’s 13th birthday party. It was a costume party and there was  going to be a prize for the winner. I went claiming to be a “gangsta” instead of wearing my 70s hippie costume. My mom suggested I wear the tie-die shirt and pant combo, but I made a fuss about how I didn’t want to. I never told her why. I let a friend borrow the costume and she ended up winning the contest that night. Other times that looked like researching bands my friends liked and trying to know their music so I could talk about it at school the next day. I don’t want to thank assimilation for my deep, deep love of pop music–because I probably would’ve fallen in love regardless– but the thrill I got when listening to America’s Top 40 on Sunday mornings before church was not a passion my parents fostered, I can tell ya that much!

Regardless, as I navigated the waters of junior and senior high I swam mostly alone doing whatever tricks necessary to make sure people liked me. (I say mostly because in 8th grade another black girl joined the school and by senior year there was a grand total of 6 Black students in my class!! Alert the media!!) And so began my overwhelmingly white-washed friendships. These relationships, at the time, felt normal and good. I realize now that they were good, but not normal. In college, I would brag about how wonderful my friends were…are. Some of the bonds I made during my time at Appalachian State University are ones that I am confident will last a lifetime. (I’m the Maid of Honor in my best friend’s wedding this spring. I met her during my first week on campus.)

I didn’t understand my need for black friendship until I found it. The summer after my sophomore year, I became a Student Orientation Undergraduate Leader and quickly bonded with the two other black SOULs. We’d all grown up in similar environments and been told similar things by our white peers. These common experiences led to conversations of empathy, nostalgia over common black childhood memories (a personal favorite being seeing the movie Set It Off at far too early an age), and endless nights of watching Kevin Hart’s stand up comedy on Netflix. I loved it! I had found a group of people that got me without me having to explain myself. They understood a part of me I didn’t realize was begging for someone to listen.

But we each had our already established friend groups. While the three of us did hang out outside of Orientation, our home bases were amid our predominantly white relationships. Often times, that’s where I felt the most comfortable. I had been navigating having mostly white friends since I was 11, I knew how to do it.

I’m 24 now, living in the city affectionately called “The Black Mecca,” and I have two Black friends. When I moved to Atlanta, I had all these expectations of finally being able to be in consistent community with people that look like me. Since graduation I’ve learned so much and I need my people to help me process through all of this. In college, I wafted between wanting to join the Black Student Association but thinking I wasn’t Black enough and thinking that BSA was altogether stupid.  Now I wish there was an all Black organization I could join.

I attend a trans-cultural church under the pastorship of a Black man, and yet the majority of people I’ve connected with since attending are white. My roommates are white, all of my co-workers are white, and most of my seminary classmates are white, too. Are white people just drawn to me? Do I have a scent that attracts them? Is there some invisible beacon I posses that repels Black people? Why do I have to work so hard to find community amongst people that understand the hesitancy I had in wearing a head wrap to work the first time without me having to explain it? Am I not Black enough to have Black friends?

These are questions I ask regularly, to myself, and to the Lord. I wouldn’t trade my friends for anything. Please don’t hear me shame them. They are beautiful and wonderful and have been with me through some of my best and absolutely worst times. And I don’t wish they were Black. I think I more so wish that I felt confident to be who I am in the spaces I frequent. In middle and high school I ran from anything that would make me too Black, but at 24 I find myself running towards those things. The changes I’ve made have been minimal, but to me they feel life altering. I love being Black and I want people to know that, but sometimes I fear that because I’m rarely seen with other Black people, my love is illegitimate.  So to counteract my lack of melanin filled friends, I feel like I constantly have to prove my blackness.

The thing about trying to prove yourself, though, is that eventually you will grow tired. I’ve realized recently that I’m not trying to prove my blackness to other people, I’m trying to prove it to myself. It’s not that other people don’t believe I’m black enough…I don’t…and I’m exhausted.

A good friend asked me what I thought it meant to be Black. I haven’t come up with an answer I’d be willing to die for just yet, but here’s what I have so far:

Maybe being Black doesn’t have to do with the friends that I have. Maybe being Black has nothing to do with the way I dress or talk or what music I listen to. Maybe being Black isn’t something that must be achieved. Maybe being Black is just being me…because I am Black. No questions asked.

 

But if ya know of any Black people in ATL that are lookin’ for a fellow, Black gal pal (who’s young and fun) , let a sista know! 😉

[Dear Lord,
Thanks for making me Black. Thanks for choosing my specific skin tone to be one that reflects a part of your nature. That’s pretty cool and kind. I love you.]
❤ Amen

The Greatest Showman: A Celebration of Humanity

Duck #110

If you know me, you know that one of my favorite pastimes is going to the movies, preferably alone. I often refer to the theatre as “my happy place.” It’s a place where, yes, I can escape my reality momentarily, but more so live in the juxtaposition of my world and the one I’m watching on the screen. Art imitates life and life imitates art and there’s something magical about experiencing the marriage of the two. I go to the movies often because I want to to laugh, I want to cry, I want to think, I want to dream… If I could bottle up the feeling I get as I settle into my seat, the lights dim, and the first preview starts, I would. I would bottle it and drink it every morning like a doctor ordered prescription. To me, the movies hold a magic that remind me of how exciting it is to be alive, to be human. I love it.

Recently, my parents and I went to see Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the film, TGS is a bio-musical that somewhat details the life and early career of P.T. Barnum, the man we know and love as the “founder” of the American Circus. Barnum was a lover of the arts, entertainment, hoaxes, the peculiar, and certainly a lover of money. Born a poor boy, Barnum worked hard to build a life for himself and his family, most notably via a show starring men and women that were considered community pariahs.

With music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, The Greatest Showman, elevates the exciting and highlights the hideous. A movie released at the end of a polarizing political year, the messages it communicates are ones of inclusion, family, love, and friendship. In many ways, TGS drips with a classic rags to riches plot, akin to the Cinderella story our country loves to rally behind. The scenes pull at your heartstrings. As an audience member your heart soars when Barnum marries his childhood sweetheart, when he creatively builds a present for his daughter’s birthday after he loses his job, when patrons attend his show and give a standing ovation. And how would you not? Hope lives in our core and we believe a little more that maybe—just maybe—we can make it through this thing called life if there’s evidence of someone else’s hope coming to fruition, even if it’s just on a movie screen. We all want a hero we can root for, someone we can cheer on, someone we want to do good. Early on in the film, Hugh Jackman (Barnum), slips into this role. With vocals and acting, that I think surpass his last Christmas blockbuster, Les Miserables, Jackman convinces the audience that “…the world becomes a fantasy/ and you’re more than you could ever be/ ‘cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open/ so, come alive!” per the pivotal fourth number in the film, “Come Alive.”

However, while the spotlight obviously shines and Jackman’s portrayal of P.T. Barnum, I believe the real heroes lie in the characters that star in the circus—The Fattest Man, The Tallest Man on Earth, Dog Boy, an African American brother and sister trapeze artist pair, The Bearded Lady, among others. Without them, Barnum’s show falls flat. When trying to get a loan from the bank to open his show he says, “people are fascinated by the unusual and the macabre.” Of course, watching this, I’m torn. The saying is trustworthy, people are fascinated by the unusual, but these “unusuals” are people, people being put on display for the entertainment of others. Barnum’s character puts it this way, “…people are going to be laughing anyway, so you might as well get paid, right?” It’s a fascinating scenario, to exploit the odd and yet simultaneously give them a place to belong.

What is so beautiful about these “unusuals” though is that while Barnum gives them a platform, they take that platform and make it home all on their own. It’s almost as if they take back what it means to be exploited. Together they form a family and accept one another. Each night they come together and put on a show that brings joy to an audience of curious, skeptical people. How? By celebrating exactly who they are, no apologies. There is a particular moment in the film when this theme shines brilliantly. As not to spoil the build up or it’s impact (because you should most certainly go see this film for yourself), I won’t go into detail, but I will quote the second verse and chorus of This Is Me, the song that director Michael Gracey considers the movies’ anthem:

[Verse 2]
Another round of bullets hits my skin /Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in / We are bursting through the barricades / And reaching for the sun (we are warriors) /Yeah, that’s what we’ve become

[Pre- Chorus}
Won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

[Chorus]
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down/ Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out/ I am brave, I am bruised/ I am who I’m meant to be, this is me/ Look out ’cause here I come/ And I’m marching on to the beat I drum/ I’m not scared to be seen/ I make no apologies, this is me

The first time I saw the film (yes, I saw it twice within a 3 day period. It’s fine.), I cried. I cried the second time, too, actually. If I’m being honest, it’s hard for me to listen to the song and not get emotional. I couldn’t help it. This anthem wasn’t just for the characters in the movie, it was for the viewers as well. It was for the teen that’s long been ashamed of his/her body image, it was for the kid that would rather sing than shoot hoops, it was for the person that’s been picked incessantly, it was for those that have never felt like they fit in anywhere. It was for me, a young, black, Christian woman learning what it means to be proud of who she is. This song, as well as the film itself, is truly “a celebration of humanity” as stated by one of the theatre critics in the movie.

In its essence, what TGS communicates, isn’t a message of fitting in, per se. It’s message is more about finding a place in the world to call your own, a place where you feel safe to unashamedly be who you are—human, uniqueness and all. I left the theatre proud and inspired. Proud to be human and inspired not to hide that.

Entering the theatre human, but leaving proud to be so is a great feeling. As I took to social media to sing The Greatest Praises, I commented to a friend about how timely it was for the movie to be released at Christmas. Sure, the aforementioned themes of acceptance and family fit in well with the holiday season, but as Christian I couldn’t help but whisper a silent prayer of thanks. Christmas is the day that we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the day we marvel at the dual nature of our Savior–God and man. He is a Savior that empathizes with our human condition not only because he created it, but because he lived it. He understands what it means to be human and celebrates that our humanity reflects his nature. Together, we are broken fragments of his glory, created for his good pleasure.

It was both empowering and convicting to watch a spectacular joining of peoples of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds coming together to create something beautiful. Sometimes it takes a dark room, popcorn, and a spectacular movie with lively music and striking colors to remind us of who we are. We are brave. We are bruised. We are loved. We are human.

The Need for People with Sight–Part 1

Duck #109

“If you were like that, I’d be very interested in how you live your life…”

This was the response to a comment I made at a party on Saturday night. I don’t really remember what we were talking about. Party banter tends to vary.  At first everyone’s a little nervous, scanning the room for familiar faces, searching conversation for subjects that feel like the shoes you decided to wear that night. You know the ones. The ones you slipped on as you told yourself, “Well, if I don’t end up having a good time at least I’ll be comfortable and relatively stylish.” We all have a pair. Mine are pair of black booties. Attractive, yet basic, but not boring enough to be completely overlooked. They’re somewhere in the middle, depending upon the rest of my outfit.

I wear them often in the fall/winter because they’re in. And I want to be in. I want to be seen. We all do. We all have a desire to be noticed, cared for, loved…

Remember the first time someone noticed you after you’d been silently begging and praying to be acknowledged? Maybe it was during lunch on your first day of middle school, or maybe it was by the guy or girl you’d been crushing on, maybe it was by a teacher or coach you’d been trying to impress. Regardless of where, regardless of the person that did the noticing, being noticed felt good. That moment told you, “Hey. You matter.” It’s empowering and dignifying.

Because I know what it’s like to be seen, I continually feel convicted about ignoring other people. So when the news of another senseless, hateful, mass shooting took place on American soil, I cried. I couldn’t help it. The most recent slaughters via a gunman happened at two of my favorite places to attend–a concert venue and a place of worship. (I hate everything about that sentence. *sigh*). In a matter of minutes stories broke and social media was flooded with news about what had happened. Amid the carcasses of paragraphs wet with words like, “opened fire,” “death toll,” “loud screaming,” “music,” “church,” was this repeated phrase: my thoughts and prayers…

I scrolled Twitter. I lost count of how many times I was reading those same 20 letters over and over again. . We say it all the time. It’s a sweet, hallmark-like sentiment. It rests on the cusp of empathy and apathy. It often translates as, “I recognize you, but not enough to really do anything about it.” Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that phrase inherently. There isn’t. I’ve said it myself. What I’m saying is that I don’t think that phrase is…enough.

But what if I actually mean that phrase? What if I really am thinking and praying about the victims and these horrible situations? What if I don’t have anything better to say? What can I actually do?

I hear you. 

However, if you would consider yourself a follower of Jesus, let me urge you to consider two things:
1) Prayer shouldn’t always stop at prayer; often it must move us to a decided action.
2) The Church should be the primary place where people not only feel noticed, but are actually seen. (To be explored in a subsequent blog post.)

I’m a huge fan of the Gospels. I love what they so intimately tell us about the character and person of Jesus. Take the first chapter of Mark for example. At the beginning of his ministry (a crucial time of action) after performing several miracles, Jesus “rises very early in the morning, while it was still dark…[departing]…to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (v 35). Understandably so, the disciples frantically search for their leader letting him know that everyone has been looking for him. Jesus’ reply? “Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (v 37).

I don’t know what the disciples were thinking, but if I were them, I’m sure I would’ve been thinking something like Why on earth did Jesus take this time to pray? Doesn’t he know that we have so much work to do, so many people to meet? He called us to follow him and become fishers of men. We can’t do that if He’s off by himself praying all morning. We have to act!! I think what the disciples failed to understand is the beautiful partnership that prayer and action have. Prayer re-centers, re-grounds, reshapes, reorients, and realigns our actions. To act on behalf of the kingdom of God without prayer is pointless. We are too weak to move towards people, and see them with dignity aside from Lord’s help.

What we see Jesus doing in Mark 1 is carrying out an understanding of prayer and action. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t know what’s at stake–the literal souls of his beloved. To save them, he must act. He knows that. Jesus takes the time to pray so that he might act well.  And what happens next? Jesus’ heals a leper. One of the most dirty, outcast members of society comes to Jesus and asks to be made clean–“moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched [the man with leprosy] and said to him…’be clean'” (v. 41).

Jesus noticed him. Jesus saw this man–broken, unwanted, dejected–and touched him.

We are not Jesus. We were not sent by the Father to save the world; but we have been commissioned to see people–to care for the sick, feed the poor, love the widow and orphan. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always want to do those things. I wish I did, but I’m usually “too busy.” Prayer changes that. Genuine prayer for the world around me won’t let me ignore the needs of others. I can’t always just think and pray about the tragedy that just happened, I won’t ever see anyone if that’s all I’m doing. I must pray because I must know how to act.

I don’t know what this means, exactly. What does prayerful, wise action look like in the case of senseless gunfire and death? I’m not sure. But I do know that it looks like far more than a pithy post from behind a computer screen.  There are people, created in the image of God, that are begging to be seen. Will we see them?

 

[picture found at nbcnews.com]

Here’s to you

Duck #108

In the back room of my Atlanta home, there are two walls that are made almost entirely of windows. It’s my absolute favorite room in the house (even if it is the coldest). My backyard is composed of trees big and tall, small and thin. Their branches create big shapes in the sky that canopy over the grass beneath my deck. During the summer, as the sun would set, streaks of yellow and pink would squirm their way through the leafy shapes. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait for winter, when the trees are bare and I can see the sun setting through their limbs.” I have a front row seat to one of the best shows nature has to offer, and I get to watch every evening from the comfort of my own home.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently. And the past. And the present. I’ve spent moments dreaming of what I hope my life will look like in years to come, I’ve used moments dwelling on circumstances of the past that I cannot change, I’ve enjoyed moments of trying to soak up each day as it happens. There’s something about the beginning of a new year that does that to you, I think. Tomorrow I turn 24.

A piece of me begs to hang on to 23, to hang on to an age I won’t ever get back, a youthful bliss that only comes with being exactly 23, but tomorrow I will be 24. I don’t suppose that suddenly aged wisdom will descend upon me at the stroke of midnight, but something will change on November 30th. All year, I have been like the trees in my backyard. I have been going through seasons. Budding, then blooming, and finally laid bare. Bones exposed, through the shapes that my lungs create over my heart. I can feel the beating in my chest.

I like to think that sunsets tell stories. The brighter the colors, the more adventurous the day, perhaps. An invitation to laugh. Duller hues, a call to be quiet. To be thankful, to pray. These days my heartbeat is telling me a story, too. For so long I’ve been afraid to listen–it’s been loud, but I’ve chosen earplugs.

No longer.

Twenty -four, here’s to you. Here’s to my heart. Here’s to being comfortable bare. Here’s to listening. Here’s to praying more and laughing louder. Here’s to dancing in the kitchen. Here’s to tattoos. Here’s to memorizing Scripture. Here’s to the inevitable tears. Here’s to the sleepless nights. Here’s to long naps. Here’s to corporate worship.  Here’s to bold coffee. Here’s to loud concerts. Here’s to waffles.  Here’s to red wine. Here’s to crosswalks and cityscapes. Here’s to commuting to work. Here’s to friendship–new and old. Here’s to family. Here’s to you. Here’s to me. Here’s to hope. Here’s to love. Here’s to freedom.

[Dear Jesus,
Thank you for sunsets, for you love, and for my life.]
<3Amen

God is good. Period.

Duck #107

My sophomore year of college, I decided to get a minor in Social Work. My reason for doing so was ambitious (and a little spur of the moment). Nearly five years later I still grapple with whether or not I should’ve chosen a different subject. When I start peer down that thought spiral, I’m reminded of a skill I learned–one for which I will forever be thankful–active listening. I learned what it looked like to actually hear what people were saying, affirm their thoughts, and respond based upon what they said. It’s a skill that has served me well in all of the jobs I’ve had since then.  And like I said, I’m grateful. It’s funny though, when it comes to actively listening to the Lord, my skill set feels terribly unrefined.

In my last post, I wrote about freedom and how I’m essentially journeying to find it. My quest is far from finished (and praise God for that, honestly), but I had a realization last week that’s rocked me. It has genuinely shaken me to my core and I can’t be unshook. Here it is: God is good. Period. And He’s worthy to be praised. 

Uhm….Jayna? Duh. Where have you been?!
I know, I know. It’s obvious, but it really clicked last week.

Since moving to Atlanta, I’ve been talking to the Lord…a lot. If you know me well, you’ll know that change is really hard for me, as it is for most people. I have a bent towards anxiety and transition triggers everything I’ve ever been afraid of ever. Needless to say moving to a city where I didn’t really know anyone, starting a new job, and being financially independent of my parents has been a DoOoOoZy. So much of what I’ve said to the Lord has been said through tears, confusion, and worry. I’ve done a lot of talking and less listening because I’ve been (and often still am) so afraid of what He’s going to say. I have been in a posture of assuming things about Jesus in lieu of spending time getting to know him better.  Overwhelmingly, I have assumed the following: The Lord is out to get me. It’s only a matter of time before He realizes I’m a failure and ruins my life. Overwhelmingly, I have been wrong. Over and over and over again. You know what they say about assuming…

For years my M.O. has been to praise God because of what He’s done for me. Functionally, I understood that His character stays the same, but I believed that insomuch as what I could point back to in my life that’s benefitted me. If I couldn’t find something to be thankful for, I couldn’t truly praise Jesus. I didn’t have a right to do so.

Last week at church, I realized that an attractive guy I’d seen a handful of times was married. For whatever reason, this really upset me. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t even know his name, but I was oddly disappointed. As the congregation worshiped, we sang songs about the matchless worth of Christ, about how good He is, about how He is worthy to be praised and a thought crossed my mind: I can’t sing these things. I’m sad  and would feel like a hypocrite for praising Jesus right now. Nevertheless, the songs continued and the Truth began to unpack and rip a part the lie I was believing.

I repented. I began to say out loud “Lord, you are good because you are good. You are good. You are good. You are good.” In that moment, something shifted. I realized that my circumstances didn’t dictate His goodness. The goodness of the Lord is self sufficient.
Believe me, I realize how silly this sounds. It’s a little embarrassing, honestly. I feel like a 16 year old girl who claims that “Daddy doesn’t love me because he didn’t buy me a convertible for my birthday.”  I mean, I more deeply believed in the goodness of God when two family members that I love dearly died. But when my “Crush From Afar” is married? God’s goodness = absent. Hahaha. Being human is funny.

As I repeatedly declared the goodness of the Lord to myself, and to Him, I started to believe what I was saying. I chose, in that moment, to listen to what He might be telling me instead of assuming. “Yes, I am good. Always. I love you.” is what I heard.

Yesterday morning on the way to church I prayed that Jesus would speak, that I would listen, and that I would have a deep encounter with Him. I tried to enter into worship mindful of the fact that Jesus is good. And in the middle of one of the songs, the Lord brought Colossians 1:19 to mind, “For in him the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.”

Jesus is holding the universe together and all of who God is is pleased to dwell within Him. Love. Mercy. Grace. Power. Kindness. Gentleness. Justice. Patience. The list goes on. He is worthy of praise, so so worthy. I was overwhelmed, and still am, honestly. It doesn’t matter how I feel; I can and get to praise the Lord because He’s worthy to be praised. There is rich, humbling freedom in that.

I can actively listen to Jesus, regardless of my circumstances (and how I feel about them), because my circumstances don’t mitigate the Truth that He will never, ever stop sharing with me: “Yes, I am good. Always. I love you.”

 

[Thank you, Jesus.]
<3Amen

My Battle for Freedom

Duck #106

“May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you…”

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The temperature is beginning to change, I think. Well, today, as I walked from my house to my car, and then later from my car into my office, I said, “it’s getting chilly.” Initially, I was a little frustrated because I’d chosen to wear sandals to work–it’s been so warm that I didn’t even consider checking the temperature before I left the house. But then I smiled. 60 degree mornings are my favorite mornings; the air feels…free. In turn, so do I…

I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things recently. Nothing new. The issue is that for the past few months, I haven’t been able to write about what I’m thinking. I have draft after draft saved on my phone, my work computer, my personal computer, my journal, random scrap pieces of paper. As someone who is an external processor by nature, It has been endlessly frustrating to have my thoughts beg to escape my brain and be held captive by fear? Perhaps. I’m unsure, but it would seem that fear is an antithesis to freedom, so probably. And freedom is something I want, I’m wary of it, but I want it.

A few weeks ago I was driving home from work and decided to call my best friend. As I reached my destination she asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling. My emotions have chosen to create their own constellation with such varying directions, heights, and depths, brightly pointing out a picture of how much I hate change. So, her question was warranted. “I’m okay…”  is how I believe I started to respond. But I kept talking. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my monologue culminated with this, “I’m afraid to fully trust the Lord because I feel like if I do, then He’s going to see me and think, “Oh, Jayna. Why did I choose her as my daughter?!” I’m afraid that if I let Him see me (even though I know He sees all of me) He’s going to run away like so many other people have once I reached a certain level of vulnerability…” And then I started to cry. My heart started to race. My vision blurred a bit, and for a brief moment it felt like my skin and bones separated from my heart. It was like a chasm was created in my chest, one that allowed me to breathe. So, I did. I took a deep breath in and slowly let it out. Yes, Jayna. That’s it. You’re a little bit closer. That was my next thought, but I also felt the thought? It’s hard to explain, but I’m pretty sure it was the Holy Spirit’s way of letting me know that He saw me, He heard me, He was there with me. Amidst my irrational fear.

Since then, I’ve been in this battle of sorts. I’m deciding to call it “My Battle for Freedom.” On the phone with my best friend, though I was admitting to a deep fear, I’d won a small victory in this battle. I knew I had. I shared this with a new friend I’ve made since moving to Atlanta and she said, “It’s sounds like you’re on the road to freedom. It’s a tough one, but you know where it leads? To more freedom.” I agreed. She was right and I knew that was the truth. But here’s the thing I’m learning, the road to freedom isn’t flat. It’s rugged and hot and hilly. Sometimes it’s grassy and cool and straight, but it’s mostly not. Of course, I want this road to only require a leisurely walk from me. Actually, I don’t want to walk at all. I want to be driven in a car with a sunroof and windows rolled down revealing mountains and sunsets and changing leaves.

I’m tired. I’m lethargic. And most days I don’t feel like fighting for freedom. “Is it worth it?” I often ask myself. “I’m comfortable here. I mean, it’s not ideal, but it’s familiar and I can sort of control things. Sort of.” I’ll say. But then I’ll think, “This isn’t what the Lord has for me. He doesn’t want me to be bound by fear and worry and lethargy.” My Battle for Freedom is just that, a battle. But I’m not battling alone, nor do I have to be afraid of the One who goes before me to prepare the way. Yes, Jayna. That’s it. You’re a little bit closer. 

Okay, then. Lord, give the energy me to fight for freedom. Okay, then. Lord, give me the courage to receive the joy that’s already mine. Okay, then. Lord, remind me of your perfect love that casts out fear. Okay, then. Lord, help me.

The temperature is changing, I think. It’s changing in my heart. It’s cooling and relaxing an exhausted soul that has worried itself warm. The smoke I’ve been struggling to breathe through is clearing. Oh, my lungs ache from coughing! And there He is. Jesus. King of Glory. My healer. My redeemer. My Savior. My love. He says, “Jayna, I delight in you. You are mine. I have chosen you and I am so glad I did. Come, dine with me. Taste the freedom that awaits you in my presence. I have so much to show you…”
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“…He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” -Colossians 1:11-13