How Am I Handling This? A Few Quarantined Thoughts

Duck #124

I groggily drag my feet from bed and make my way to the bathroom. As a chronic over sleeper, mornings have never really been a time of slow or stillness for me. There is something about the morning sun that beckons me to move at a glacial pace, to notice the way the light reflect off of apartment surfaces through a dirty window. It’s lovely.

And yet, morning by morning, I turn from one side to the next and ignore the call that asks me to rise, to come play, to sit, to begin. Later and Tomorrow are friendly foes I know well. They found me at a young age and have been faithful to stay close. As I grow, however, I Right Now and Today are strangers with whom I hope to become better acquainted.

Time, the precious and precarious little pest seems to be irrelevant these days. In the wake of the ever changing reality that is living through a global pandemic, so much of the ticking against the clock feels both everlasting and rapid. There seems to be a tacit pressure in the air–one that urges me to become more productive than before, one that pulls me to practice downward facing dog until I’m blue in the face.

Admittedly, as someone who struggles with what is technically diagnosable as an anxiety disorder, this time has been weird. Surprisingly, the beasts of panic attacks and heart racing haven’t come to visit much during this period of quarantine. I would be a fool to say that there were not times when “this all” felt like too much. That is to say, whatever “this all” is, in its unprecendence, has caused me to feel more sad and angry than I would like to admit.

I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with my chosen family here in Atlanta in the ways and regularity I was used to. I was angry at the ways President Trump was generally answering questions during his press conferences. I was sad that there are so many of my friends that are worried about family members with compromised immune systems. I was angry that I was being told that I effectively wasn’t allowed to leave my home. I was sad that arguably one of the best events that my job puts on was being cancelled. Sad and angry, angry and sad. Over and over again these emotions slap against each other as the morning sun playfully sings my name and my bed sheets seductively whisper for me not to move.

How am I handling all of this? It’s hard to tell. I’m afraid I won’t know until “living through a global pandemic” is a phrase of the past, and touch isn’t illegal. I like to dream of what that will be like, the time to come, the what’s next of it all. As a follower of Jesus, my heart and my hope thinks of The New Heavens and The New Earth.

I think of the words sung by Phill Wickham–“when we arrive at Eternity’s shore/ where death is just a memory and tears are no more / we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring / Your bride will come together and We’ll sing, “you’re beautiful.”

I think of the father–dancing and running towards his prodigal son–eagerly awaiting the feast that will soon be prepared to celebrate his love’s return.

I think of Jesus boldly and joyfully saying, “Let the little children come to me.”

Shifting in position as I sit on the carpet, I let the blood circulate in my legs. I stare out the window and watch the trees converse in the wind. I wonder what Later and Tomorrow are up to. I remember to pay attention to Today and Right Now.
Everything has shifted at such a rapid pace. So much is relative. Perspective feels just out of grasp. How do we get used to the different?

I’m not sure.

But God.
But God.
But God.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Has has been kind and will continue to be. His character is immutable. His mercy is new every morning. His love is everlasting. He is working to make everything sad come untrue. His promises never fail. He sees. He hasn’t forgotten. He is sure, we don’t have to be.

The Most Vulnerable Emotion

Duck #123

“Jayna, what do you think is the most vulnerable emotion we can have?”
I paused, shrugging my shoulders.
“Would you believe me if I told you that it was joy?”

I paused again, looking at my therapist trying to understand why she would ask me that. I asked her to explain.

“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion because we’re afraid to lose it. Think about it, we’re not worried that fear will go away or that anger will go away, or sadness—but joy…we’re afraid that once we get it, it won’t last.”

Loose wires started to connect and unscrewed bolts began to tighten.

I nodded.

She continued, “Jayna, for some reason, you have this inner narrative that keeps you afraid of joy. It’s like your shame is trying to protect you from the devastation of losing joy. Once it comes, you struggle to enjoy it, not wanting to get attached, because you ‘know’ it’s going to leave.”

My inner child felt both seen and also extremely sad.
I don’t remember if I cried at this point, but it is very likely. Therapy does that too ya. It just hurts so good, ya know?

_________

That was a few weeks ago.

Earlier this week, at my appointment, my therapist said, “Jayna, can you take note of the times that you’re laughing? Can you take a few seconds to realize how that feels, to realize that you’re safe?”

I nodded. “Yes, I can do that. I love laughing!”

“I know you do! Pay attention to your body when you’re laughing, like really laughing.”

What I’ve realized through this counseling process is that the body really does keep the score. Apparently, there’s a fire alarm in my brain that’s been going off for months now. Essentially, my body has felt like it’s under threat and so my brain is sending off signals alerting me of danger and is doing everything it can to keep me safe. This is all happening in my amygdyla. Brains are bananas, y’all.

As I’ve continued to work through past trauma and experiences, the fire alarm doesn’t go off as much, but it’s still fairly sensitive.  Making toast in my mind is precarious work. But I’m not in danger anymore. I know that, I really do…there’s just still a part of me that’s trying to catch up to that fact.

I’m safe.

And whether I realize it or not, I feel the safest when I laugh. If you’ve ever seen me laugh you’ve noticed at least these 2 things—

1)It doesn’t take much to get me going

2)Once I start, my knees “give out” shortly thereafter

It’s quite the sight to behold. People whom I’ve just met are always concerned, but my friends are faithful to immediately say, “She’s fine. She just does this.” If there aren’t any “new” people in the mix, my friends will just say, “Oh! There she goes!”

I can’t help it. I’ve seen video of myself when my laughter “takes me”, as I like to say, and it’s pretty funny. I look ridiculous, but you know what else I look? Safe. Safe and Free.

__________

As I was getting out of my car for work this morning, I dropped an orange I’d brought with me. Immediately, the orange started to roll through the parking lot and like an animal I ran, bent over, after it. Realizing how silly I looked, I started to laugh. In doing so, I remembered another time I was doubled over in laughter outside, near a car. I was with a good friend. He was talking about something, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t. He had slipped and fallen in the wet grass. Where I could once see his head above the car, I saw nothing but black. You truly had to be there (or be me) to find all of this as funny as I did/do.

Anyway, I immediately sent this friend a video of me recalling the story. In the video, I was laughing (who’s surprised, honestly?). I walked into work still giggling to myself and thought about my therapist’s words. I tried to take notice of how my body felt.

Calm. Relaxed. Shoulders down. Jaw unclenched. Mind swimming down a stream instead of its usual race through the rapids. I smiled and thanked Jesus that for my frequent laughing fits.

________

Even though I laugh frequently, I always worry that maybe one day I won’t be able to. Maybe one day I won’t be completely overtaken by my laughter. Maybe one day this joy will be gone. Of course, the Lord is faithful to let me laugh. He lets me laugh big, hearty, loud, and body encompassing laughter. And it’s beautiful. It’s precious. When I laugh with all of who I am I’m not worried about who I am, how I’m perceived or what might happen. I can just be. I can be full of joy.

What I’m realizing now is that true and genuine laughter only comes out when I feel safe. I give the specifications of true and genuine because we all know what it’s like to nervously laugh. (Think: the awkward laugh that happens when unwanted, sexual attention is given. Laughter and consent aren’t the same, people!) But true and genuine laughter—the kind that steals your breath, the kind that puts your stomach in a tight knot, the kind that can’t possibly sound attractive because it doesn’t have the time—is the kind that tells our bodies, “Hey. You’re safe. It’s okay. Lean into this moment.”

_______

The book of Nehemiah says that it’s the Lord’s joy that is our strength. What good news that is! My joy isn’t my strength. It’s His. Sealed by the Spirit, hidden in Christ, my Father holds both my strength and my joy. He is my safe retreat and the gift of laughter is a reminder of that.

And joy, while a vulnerable emotion, can’t ever be lost. It doesn’t be long to me. At least, not entirely. I’m not responsible for it…my Jesus is. And he’s the best keeper of all things sacred and vulnerable. He’s the best at details and intricacies.

So here is this joy, Lord. It belongs to you. You’ve allowed me to hold it and it feels frail. Help me to remember that my hands aren’t strong enough and that I have to let you hold them. You give and take away, yes, but there is a guarantee that you will never leave. And in your presence is fullness of joy. So, my sweet Jesus, abide with me. Abide with me, and let’s laugh.

This Black Body: Unlearning the Lies

Duck #122

I remember when I first became aware of my body. I was probably about seven or eight years old. I was standing in line waiting for my mom to come pick me up after school. Knowing what I was like as a child, I was probably dancing around for no reason. Honestly, knowing myself now, I was definitely dancing around for no reason. Regardless, I remember overhearing comments from two teachers. Both female. Both white. They were commenting on my skin. They made comments about how pretty it was. I was a child. I had no real reason to know whether or not my skin was pretty. It didn’t really matter. 

I don’t remember the entire conversation, but I do remember one teacher saying “Yeah, you should see her in a bathing suit.”  



I remember awkwardly smiling. If my memory actually serves me correctly, the teacher that said this was also my “sometimes after school babysitter.” When the weather was warm, it made sense that the other children she watched and I would play outside in the sprinklers. She certainly would’ve seen me in a bathing suit. At seven or eight I didn’t think too much about the comment, but now at 26 I can’t help but wonder what those words did to the little girl in me.

________

Being aware of your body at an early age can be dangerous. I remember the first time I cognitively became aware of my breasts. I was in 8th grade. I was wearing a long purple sweater that had a collar with buttons. I loved this sweater so much that I also had it in a shade of gray. I walked into the bathroom before the school day started and a friend of mine was also wearing the same sweater. She looked better in it. That is to say, it was more flattering on her body. At least, that’s what I remember thinking. I was in 8th grade and already comparing my body to hers. Like apples against oranges, I wished her fair skin and green eyes didn’t seem more beautiful than my dark skin and brown eyes. 

She turned to me and said, “Jayna…are you wearing a bra?” I was super embarrassed for a number of reasons, but mostly because there were other girls in the bathroom at the time. I immediately said that I was, because I was. And she said, “Are you sure? Let me see.” I pulled down the thick collar of my purple sweater and showed her my bra strap. “Oh, okay good.” she said. “It just kinda doesn’t look like you’re wearing one.” 

I went home and begged my mom to get me new/better bras because of what happened in the bathroom. I don’t remember if I ever wore that purple sweater again. 

For the next few years I was able to ignore my body. I wasn’t actively trying to neglect it, but I had other things that filled my mind. My love of English began to flourish, my interest in theatre started to form, I dabbled in sports, I was daydreaming all the time. Life was so interesting, why would I spend my precious moments focused on my body when there were people to talk to, books to read, and Disney Channel Original movies to watch?!

But eventually, I entered high school and the space in my mind that was occupied by the choreography for “We’re All in This Together” from High School Musical, was replaced with the reality of boys also becoming aware of my body. I knew this not because they would comment on my physical features, but because of the way they would comment on the bodies of the other girls in my grade. I knew who was at the top of the “hot list,”–the well endowed, long blonde-haired, American Eagle wearing white girls. The girls that I was good friends with but would never look like. The girls whose houses I would sleep over, but whose clothes I could never borrow. The girls whose make up, mannerisms, and music tastes I tried to mimic because I wanted to be anything but a minority. And who did all of the judging? A gaggle of white boys.

________

Thinking back to the mindset I had as I was coming of age makes me sad. There are several pictures that I vividly remember taking at the beach or at a friend’s house that ended up on facebook I wish hadn’t. I stared at my body and critiqued it until the only thoughts I could think were “I’m so fat,” and “I don’t look pretty.” When I look at those pictures now, I cry over that young girl that didn’t have eyes to see just how beautiful she was. I also cry because that young girl wasn’t surrounded by other girls that looked like her. She wasn’t surrounded by skin that soaked up the sun just like hers. She wasn’t surrounded by thighs that were just thick because that’s the way the good Lord and biology set up her body. She wasn’t surrounded by hair textures that didn’t lose shape in the wind.

As I’ve entered into adulthood, I have a newfound appreciation for my body and for my melanated skin. Thick thighs save fries, y’all! (It is a blessing not to lose some Chick-Fil-A crispies because of my lack of a “thigh gap.”) For this new vision, I am grateful. The ways my hips curve evidence the strength that so many women before me had to bear and birth children in horrid circumstances. The shape of my legs proves the tenacity my ancestors had to literally run for their freedom. The gravity defying nature of my hair is just…fun! All of this is good and true and lovely without the endorsement of white people.

I love this growing confidence I have in my appearance. I’m proud of the clothes I wear that aren’t used to hide the creativity of my God. But let me be very clear–my self confidence is not your license. Whether you are a bystander, a best friend, or my boyfriend, there isn’t anything that grants you permission to place your hands or your sexually charged comments on my body.

___________

Last year, I had my first true experience with a form of objectification that was masked as appreciation. When my memory drifts in retrospect, my stomach begins to turn. Details aren’t necessarily important; sharing them doesn’t validate the experience, the fact that it happened does. And while the events certainly blurred my vision of the beauty in my body, that (to me) isn’t the worst part. The part that I have yet to fully reconcile and have such strong feelings about is this: what happened was between a white man and a black woman. He and I. Him and Me.

At one time or another…

His feelings were fetishizations. 

His touch was traumatizing.

His words were weapons.

His compliments were corrupt

His expectations were erroneous.

His “love” was a lie. 

And there’s something about it all, as a black woman, that is silencing. There’s something that makes me feel small and stupid and full of shame. There’s something that screams, You should have seen this coming!” There’s something that sings, “This was your fault!” There’s something, though MUCH quieter now (shout out to therapy!!) that whispers, “You deserved it.”

I think back to the Hannah Montana loving teenager that was aware of her body. She was displeased with it, but also desperately wanting a boy to notice it. And not just any boy, a white boy. To gain the prolonged gaze of a white boy somehow meant I’d have reached the pinnacle of beauty; or at least, I would have been breathing the same air. So, as an adult,  when the prolonged gaze (and then some) came my way, there was a part of me that thought “I did it. It finally happened. I made it.” 

And at that admission, I crumble. With tear filled eyes, I struggle for breath at the misguided notion that unloving, inappropriate, harmful speech and touch said something about me as a whole person. “This is it,” I would think. “I’m worthy and loved…so, why do I feel gross and dirty?”

When I was younger, I didn’t know that attention and affirmation were different. I didn’t have a category for being objectified and overly sexualized. Flattery and fetishization were synonymous with unfortunately positive connotations. And without proper correction in my younger years, I’m having to do the correcting as an adult. 


I’m having to correct the lie that there is authentic value in my appearance.
I’m having to correct the lie that care is shown through promiscuous prose.
I’m having to correct the lie that my body isn’t fully mine.
I’m having to correct the lie that my black beauty is validated by white verification.

I’m not done, I have much work to do. Much of the truth is yet to be uncovered.

But I can confidently type these words more sure of my value and worth as a woman, and specifically as a black woman. I can confidently share some of my story knowing that it’s true.

Even so, I don’t have a winsome way to wrap up these thoughts. I only share them because in light of Black History Month, I think of the other black women that feel the way that I do, but perhaps don’t really talk about it. I think of those of us that grew up thinking attention from a white boy/teen/man was ultimate. I think of those of us that have been deeply wounded by white men. I think of those of us who have beautiful, safe, healthy, and redemptive relationships with white men, yet are terrified to trust them. I think of those of us who are internally conflicted because of the environments in which we grew up. I think of those of us that feel “less black” or “too black” because of the way we think, because of what we’ve been told, or because of what has happened to us.

I think and I think and I think…

I also tremble, but like Hagar in Genesis 16, this I declare–“You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (v. 13).

I Hate Guns

Duck #121

I fear to add to the cacophony that’s social media.

Millennials and Boomers banging loud.
With their thoughts and opinions.

Screams for justice.
Cries for reform.
Wails for healing.

There’s someone I love in Atlanta.
Thirteen bullets put in his body.
Thieves in the night.
Answers escape even Solomon.
Bottled tears keep shelves stocked.
Body open for business.
“I’ll come back later for questions”
“There’s no need
People don’t survive this.”
But he did.
Who pays for the damages?
For what was stolen?

There’s someone I’ll never meet in El Paso.
Searching for paper towels…
Found dead.
Clean up on aisle 31.
Suffice it to say supremacy.
Wax racist and call it patriotic.
Antihesis to synonym?
“¡Ayuda! Necesitamos un doctor.”
“¡No! No somos ciudadanos estadounidenses.”

There’s someone I know in Raleigh.
Running. Training. Ready.
A holster attached to the hip.
Concealed.
Carried in secret.
Freedom and Rights, what are your names?
Dancing.
Feet positioned in 2nd.
Amending for comfortability.

 

I fear to add to the cacophony.

Christian and Confused praying and reading.
Wrestling with a promise and growing tired in the waiting.

Screams for justice.
Cries for rest.
Wails for healing.

Innocent blood.
Shortened lives.

My God
My God
My God
…how long?

Seen. Known. Safe.

Duck #120

Psalm 139 1-6 says this, “O LORD, you have searched and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

I remember being younger and avoiding this passage like the plague. With younger eyes, and sometimes still even through my current lenses, the encouraging words of the Psalmist felt threatening. To be seen and known and deeply understood meant to be shamed and abandoned and hurt. The unconditional love of God was actually not so. In fact, it was very conditional—contingent upon not only my behavior, but what sat behind my behavior, my heart, my mind, my dreams, me.

I’m not shy about my mental health. I’ve written and spoken about it often. I struggle pretty heavily with anxiety. It is not the ruler of my life, but it’s a monster that lurks in corners at night and attempts to have tea with me in the afternoon sun. It’s a royal pain in the ass and the practical means by which I cope with this monster are ones that I owe deep gratitude (lookin’ at your therapy and medicine!)

Over the past several months, the attacks of anxiety that have harassed my mind and heart have been some of the worst of my life. And simultaneously, I have never been more sure of the Lord’s love for me. Still, I have previously remembered that truth better. You see, the thing about growing up and being in your twenties is that it’s hard. No one knows what they’re doing. Everyone is faking it until the make it (and even then, faking it often seems like the best option). Sexy vulnerability is running rampant. CVS and Walgreens have a steady flow of Millennials picking up prescriptions. Bars are always busy. Offices have tear soaked bathroom floors. And we all realize that this is a part of life and that we need not take ourselves so seriously, that we need to breathe, that working hard is a good thing, that community is essential, that we’re not alone…

And yet…I sit and wonder, “Am I worth it?” “Am I lovable?” “Am I too much?” “Will anxiety get the last word?”

The answers to those questions are yes, yes, no, and no, respectively. I know this. I believe this. I repeat this. I forget this.

So in comes Psalm 139. My God, he has searched me. Not only that, he knows me. He knows the thoughts of excitement and joy I feel are too silly to share with anyone. The irrational worries I believe are safer kept inside. He sees and he sets up camp. Preparing a meal and setting the table, my God makes me feel at home in my messy, sinful heart.
As I lay my head down and ask, “Daddy, will you stay until I fall asleep?” He says, Of course,” watching over me and calming the thoughts that would otherwise keep me up at night. While I toss and turn, he is there. When I awake, before I speak, the Lord has met and answered every need I could bring up. Before me, behind me, beside me—my God, my defender, my protector, my friend—He is there and he isn’t running away.

Indeed, like the Psalmist, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me…” To be so seen and simultaneously so loved. I was made for my God. I was made to love and be loved by Him. I was made to be utterly dependent.

And while I can rest in this assurance, I must also be active. Yes, I must be an active participant in my sanctification. Right now, that looks like letting myself fall apart. Right now that looks like, again, taking down the mask that I have re-structured around my face. It looks like practicing humility in asking for help. It looks like being wrong. It looks like letting people in. It looks like allowing myself to disappoint people. It looks like prayer and praise.

I am seen.

I am known.

I am safe.

I am okay.

I am okay.

I am okay.

“As I grow
And as I change
May I love You more deeply
I will lean upon Your grace
I will weep because Your goodness is unending
You are my vision
My reason for living
Your kindness leads me to repentance
I can’t explain it
This sweet assurance
But I’ve never known this kind of friend”
Hidden || United Pursuit
[Dear Lord,
I love you. Hold me. See me. Know you.
May I be more like you.]
<3Amen

Worthy of Praise

Duck #119

“The love of God is simple and whole. How funny, that it’s we, the beloved, who make it so complicated. All of who God is, is for us–our good and his glory. Oh, God — you are beautiful, pure, rich, full.
Let me rest there.
Let live there.
Let me grow there.
What?
You choose to dwell within us. With me. In your beauty you choose a broken vessel; battered bones, beaten and bruised. You say, “Mine! Yes. This is where I choose to to dwell. This is where I choose to shine forth my glory.”

As I was flipping through my journal recently, I stumbled upon the entry typed above and paused. What a gift it is to be presently encouraged by past thoughts. If you’re anything like me, then perhaps you find yourself frustrated when you fail to remember the Lord’s promises. When the truths of scripture seem so faint, when the unconditional love you know is yours feels dragon fly wing-thin…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been–as my dear friend likes to call it–heart forward. I’m an ENFP, Ennegram 2, Words of Affirmation/Quality Time/Shepherd-Evangelist that feels all sorts of deeply. Labels and personality tests aside, I’m a daughter of the Most High King that forgets the standing she has before her Father almost daily. I’m a child that acts like a starving orphan sitting outside of the Palace. I’m not alone in this, right? We’ve all been there. Freshly bathed. Dressed in royal garb. Feasting. Elevated to the highest honor. Gifted with a hope and joy that’s eternally secure. And yet…selfishly questioning when the cardboard set is going to blow over; waiting for the director behind the camera to yell “cut!”; assuming that if you use the wrong fork at dinner everything that’s promised to you will be taken away.

Even if my circumstances dictate otherwise, if I don’t feel like Jesus loves me, then I can quickly shift into believing that he doesn’t. But oh “how fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes.” (Thanks for that lyric, Mumford & Sons.) The beauty of my fickle heart and woozy eyes is that they are not the determinant of my salvation, the security of my soul, or my worthiness of good gifts. My wildly running thoughts and humming bird heart beat don’t define who I am. Better yet, they don’t define who my God is.

Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be

Yes. Yes, and amen. Who God has been is who he forever will be. And who exactly has God been?
Kind (Romans 2:14)
Good (1 Chronicles 16:34)
Loving (Romans 5:8)
Faithful (Philippians :6)
Merciful (Ephesians 2:4)
Just (Revelation 15:3)
Holy (Leviticus 19:2)
Miraculous (Hebrews 2:4)
Powerful (Genesis 1)

So, I repent. I return to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. My faith is weak and He is strong. My heart is fooled and He is sure. My love is faint and he is faithful. He is faithful. He is faithful. He is faithful.

And that’s what I’m clinging to. I am clinging to what has been true before time began. I am clinging to what will be true long after my time has ended. I’m clinging to the good news that remains constant when my feelings don’t. I will let the Lord cherish my feelings as I throw and smear them all over the floor of the throne room. I will breathe deep and run to his feet and weep. And as he reminds me of who He is, and thus who I am, I will worship. I will praise. I will dance until my knees refuse to bend and sing until my lungs give out.

Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!

Oh, my God, I can’t believe that you choose to dwell with the mess that I am, but I’m so thankful that you’re molding me more into the beauty of who You are.

 

[Dear Lord,
Thank you]
<3Amen

“So, gird up your loins, Sweetheart!”

Duck #118

You know the phrase, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”? People often forget the rest of it…or at least what I believe the rest of it should be–“without him.” God doesn’t give you more than you can handle without himWith God literally anything is possible. Without him, just about everything feels impossible. It’s a kindness that life doesn’t absolutely crush us, I think. He gives himself to us in so many forms. Recently, I’ve been able to find Jesus in the form of 80 degree weather, ocean waves, conversations with friends, a playlist made for me 6 months ago that I didn’t listen to until this week, Olive Garden alfredo sauce, running, cuddling with a dog on a couch…and my dad. Treasures along this weird and lovely road.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? Life is a weird and lovely road. Sometimes people you love lose their babies. Other times, some of your favorite people get married. Sometimes, your aunt dies of cancer. Other times, thousands of dollars are given to someone in need. Sometimes anxiety attacks in ways that are unexpected and utterly overwhelming. Other times you laugh until you can’t breathe and dance until your knees hurt and you stand in the sun and thank God for just being God. Sometimes a friend of yours is carjacked and shot multiple times. Sometimes that same friend miraculously survives and is getting stronger every day. Sometimes, you simultaneously question and trust Jesus and feel some typa way about it.

The lack of mutual exclusion between emotions is so jarring for me. I love to live in the gray, the purple, the green, the orange. If there’s a mixture of colors where you can be a bit of both/and, sign me up! I want all the colors and I wanna run the line, teetering on an edge what feels full because that’s where the magic is. Deep joy sparkles in the night. Gut wrenching sadness shines in an alley. Dangerous Hope gleams when you tilt your head. Wild Fear is lit, running on a road of unknown and curiosity.

“Feel what you to need feel. God created those feelings.”

I’ve had so many people tell me this over the years. I’ve heard it a lot this week in particular. I’ve said it myself, to other people. And I mean it. Yet sometimes, I don’t want to believe it. The joy and the sadness and the hope and the fear feel like they must be mutually exclusive and I get lost. My anxious loop starts. Turtles all the way down.

My prayer? Jesus, you’re here, but where are you? I believe, help my unbelief. 

The safety I found in the mix of colors suddenly feels incredibly unfamiliar.
What do I…What if I…Why can’t I…When will I…I…I…I..I…. My anxious loop picks up speed. Turtles all the way down.

So I called my dad. My sweet, endearing, kind, sensitive, understanding father. I open my mouth and approximately 3 minutes into the conversation, I burst into tears and start cry-screaming. Are my words intelligible? Who’s to say, really. But how does my sweet Popsicle respond?

“Mhmmm. Mmmhmm.”

He listens. He doesn’t shame me. He doesn’t belittle. He just listens. In the midst of my uncontrollable tears and incessantly repetitive and muddled thoughts, he listens to me and gives me the space and freedom to be completely honest. He mixes the colors and allows me to add in whatever mess of a rainbow I am. He validates my emotions. He encourages me and then lovingly points me back to Jesus. Over and over again. Not in that way that just slaps Romans 8:28 on a Jeremiah 29:11 journal. For nearly two hours, he just shows me who Jesus is. And after having felt heard and seen, my father reminds me that I can’t do anything alone.

I was never meant to. Neither were you. He reminds me that Jesus wants to give me his easy yoke and light burden. He reminds me that the Enemy is real. He kindly calls me to humility and says “So, gird up your loins, Sweetheart!”

We both laugh.

He’s right though. Life is weird. People are a**holes. God is BIG. So, gird up your loins. Run to Jesus. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. If you can’t crawl, just lay there because Jesus was always going to come meet you anyway.

Before we hung up the phone my dad said, “Sweet Pea, the older I get, I mean seriously…the older I get the more I am convinced that God’s word is true. It’s the only truth.”

But let all who take refuge in You, rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may exult in You. For You bless the righteous, O LORD; You cover him with favor as with a shield. -Psalm 5:11-12

Sometimes it’s hard to believe the truths of Scripture. Other times, it’s not. All the time, God is kind and faithful. So, I’m gonna gird up my loins.

[Lord, I don’t really know how to do that. Help me. Hold them up. I’m a mess. I love you.]
<3Amen

Being Human is Hard

Duck #117

A constant phrase that I say among my friends is “being human is hard.” Simultaneously, it is fun and exciting and beautiful. The former does not negate the latter and vice versa.

As of late, the difficulty of being human has felt extra…human.  Have you ever felt this way? It’s not that anything in your life is wrong, you can just feel the weight of your humanity more acutely. It’s like your’e so aware that you’re…alive. Maybe this is dramatic. I don’t mean it to be so. There’s something about the juxtaposition of sun and rain, seeing the moon in the middle of the day, laughing because Atlanta traffic is actually THAT bad, or crying because you have friends that believe the gospel when you can’t that’s so incredible. It’s in all these oppositions where I find myself asking for help.

…but I really don’t like asking for help. For as long as I can remember, I have found pride in being able to figure things out on my own. I love knowing exactly what I’m feeling and expressing clearly why I am feelings those things. The Lord has blessed me with the gift of communication and I so desire to use that gift well. When I can’t…when everything starts to jam as I sift through my thoughts, I get worried. Shame comes knocking, and Fear begins to set the table. Doubt pours everyone a glass of wine and Lies raise a glass, making a toast to Uncertainty.

And there I am, in all my humanity, stuck inside myself.

Jayna, you have friends that love you.
Jayna, you have parents that are for you.
Jayna, you have a job that you’re good at.
Jayna, you have a church that’s safe.
Jayna, you have a God that is holding the universe together and also intimately involved in every detail of your life.
Jayna you have a soul that is secure.

That is the truth.

Yet in the hardness of my humanity, the words that dance in bold somewhere in my heart are “not enough.”

I am not (in shape) enough
I am not (hard working) enough
I am not (diligent) enough
I am not (creative) enough
I am not (responsible) enough
I am not (generous) enough
I am not (kind) enough

Those are the lies.

I sit and I beat myself up because I am sure that I am enough. Not because of what I have to present to the world, to my friends, or to Jesus, but because my King is interceding on my behalf before the Father. What freedom. What a gift.

And so, in the midst of all this human hardness, I say “thank you.” I repeat the antidote that will be a balm to a trembling, overwhelmed, selfish heart. I sing songs of worship to the God that is big enough to handle my rejection and tender enough to hold me as I cry and complain. I look up at the face that smiles back and whispers, “Oh love, you are Mine.”

Psalm 86:4 says, “gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.”

Lord, would you gladden my soul? Would you gently remind me that because YOU are enough, so am I? Would you return to me the joy of your salvation? Forgive me. I love you.

This is a lesson I will be learning until Jesus returns. I kind of hate that, truthfully. But also…isn’t it so kind that the Lord is patient to reteach us? Isn’t it generous that he is faithful to remind his children of truth? If, at the end of these extremely human moments, I become increasingly more dependent on Jesus…well, then….so be it.

The Sound of Joy & Gladness

Duck #116

“I can literally feel the Holy Spirit right now…” 

Those were the words my roommate, Emily,  said to me last night as we relaxed in her bed, watching a video of Cynthia Erivo sing “I’m Here” from The Color Purple on The Late Show. As Cynthia lets the notes leave her body, she shares a part of herself. To hear (and watch) this performance feels like a true gift. As my roommate and I lay horizontal in her bed, smiles crept across our faces and breath returned to our lungs. I looked over to Emily and said, “Isn’t she amazing? Wasn’t that so good?!” She simply nodded, nearly having tears in her eyes. I crawled off the bed, knelt down and with eyes closed said “Ugh! I just…I will say this over and over again until he returns, but I’m just so thankful that God created music. He didn’t have to. It’s for our joy! And the fact that Zephaniah says that he sings over us?! I can’t. I really can’t.”

If you’ve ever hung out with me in person while music was playing, then you’ve heard me say similar sentiments before. You’ve seen my body contort or simply go limp because of particular notes and lyrics in songs. You’ve heard me scream over an unexpected harmony. You’ve seen me immediately get up and dance because the bridge of a song is just so catchy. You’ve seen close my eyes and lip sync the mess out of “Big Girl’s Don’t Cry (Personal).” I can’t help it.

There is something about the experience of listening to music that is truly euphoric. In the same way that poetic diction enhances a story, the notes on the bass and treble clef scales enhance the way we see the world. Music has a way of taking an ordinary sunny day and making it feel like it’s the best day you’ve lived so far. It also has a way of making a break-up feel like you’re drowning in the flood while your ex is sailing away on The Ark. How can it do both?! Maybe even in the same day! Music changes the way we watch movies, get through the work day, recover from trauma, study for finals, pick out an outfit, take a road trip…

As Christians, I think music also changes the way we understand the person and character of Jesus. Psalm 51:8 says this, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” To give some context, this verse comes in the middle of David’s lamenting and repenting after having been exposed in raping Bathsheba. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do after having been exposed in my sin is to beg God for my broken bones to make noise. But he’s a God who will always woo us back. As his children, there’s a melody that’s just for us.

In re-reading verse 8 this week I was struck with the auditory language–hear and rejoice. I started thinking, what exactly does joy and gladness sound like? If broken bones could literally rejoice, what would they scream? I’m no theologian, but I’d like to believe that joy and gladness sound a lot like singing and rejoicing bones sound symphonic. I imagine the harmony of salvation and forgiveness is like that one time Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson sang together on Soul Train.

How kind is it of the Lord to let music be a means to point us back to him. He could call us to himself or back to himself in so many other ways, ways that are far less enjoyable. But God! Throughout Scripture the Lord calls his people to sing together, to shout, to dance, to play the harp, to blow the horn, to beat the drum, to praise the name of Jesus for all that he’s done.  The King gets all the glory and we get drenched in joy.

Gosh. I’m so thankful for music. I’m thankful for the ways it allows me to know Jesus better. I’m thankful for the ways it’s fostered beautiful relationships with friends (and strangers!). I’m thankful that it lets me feel seen. I’m thankful it consistently moves me to tears. I’m thankful that sometimes it communicates what “just words” can’t. I’m thankful that with music,”the LORD [my] God…will rejoice over [me] with gladness…he will exult over [me] with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

[Dear Jesus,
Ugh. You’re so kind.]
<3Amen

This Place

Duck #115

Growing up is a funny thing. I’ve never really wanted to do it. My childhood was lovely. Any time I spend looking back over it brings nothing but a smile to my face. It was filled with adventure, dancing, laughter, imagination, color, love…
This all took place in a home that I loved, in a neighborhood that felt like something made of magic. Moving away from that childhood home was harder than I ever anticipated. I was eleven and I remember crying for a good portion of the drive from New York to North Carolina. Since then, I think little Jayna has been in search of another place to call home. Not one to replace the former, but one where I can settle and rest and let my roots establish themselves in the earth.

I thought, as I got older, that perhaps I would create this home. That it would be the place where I lived that felt the most safe. The Lord is funny and kind, though. Sometimes he gives you what you need in a way you didn’t know you needed it, in a form you weren’t expecting. A soul sister of mine lives in a house she’s created to be a home. Not just for me, but for all who enter. It feels like a fairytale, but it’s so much better because it’s real. I thank the Lord for this place and the friendship that sustains it.

Sadly, the writing of poems is not my forte. However, the way I know how to best describe the way this place makes me feel is through poetry. So, here it is…

——
This Place

near the end of the street clad with age
it sits
light blue, candle lit
quiet
unassuming
robed in welcome
a screen door that whispers the secret of hospitality
yes, You may enter
“please, sit. stay a while,” the walls hum
light rushing in to meet a scent familiar and sweet
cool air
wood floors
opened windows

a crooked chimney makes its debut
an invitation for crooked hearts
(masks removed. it’s okay.)
even the backyard’s greenery beckons to be inside
it longs to be a part of the magic
there’s a rhythm in the baseboards
“won’t You dance with me?”
of course
one, two, three
hours pass
island time vacations here
water & wine play together
hurt & hope converse
mirth & misery swap stories
together…
this place is meant for Us
together
papa in a frame
ink stained on glass
fresh fruit
coffee poured over and over and over

the sun!

oh, how the sun warms this place
oh, how the sun warms this heart
oh, how the sun warms
“look up, Love.”
“how?”
“just as You were always meant to.”

this place
drenched in a thousand exhales
flooded with a New Song

near the end of the street, safely clad
it sits
“You’re home.
breathe, Dear.
You’re home.”