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.

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.”

 

The Night We Met

I wasn’t expecting much when I walked inside. I like making people happy and ensuring that they’re comfortable—I especially felt inclined to do so for Alex. There isn’t anything I can do to bring his mom back, but if accompanying my friend to a party full of strangers would bring him some joy, then I’m happy to oblige.

Talking to people is usually pretty easy for me. I used to meet people for a living, after all.

The door opened and the host greeted us. Kind. Charismatic. An older gentlemen with just a touch of gray. It was as if his hair were the only indication that he was no longer 25.

“Mmm…he seems great,” I thought to myself.

Normal introductions followed. “Hi, this is my friend. She’s visiting from out of town.” I shook a series of hands and heard a number of names I don’t remember. But I remember yours. How could I forget? We met in the kitchen, technically. It was an awkward encounter actually because when it was our turn to shake hands, your eyes darted to the friend behind me. Apparently, you both weren’t expecting to see each other, and so your interaction was a literal pleasant surprise. But I hadn’t been forgotten.

“B, this is my friend, Elena.”

“Hi, Elena. I’m, B. Pleased to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

I don’t remember anything about the handshake. I don’t remember how your hand felt in mine, but I do remember your eyes—dark and warm, framed by glasses that added just the right touch of sophistication. I also remember you hair—styled and silky. “I wonder if it’s as soft as it looks,” I thought. I remember your face, clothed in skin that was familiar with the sun, caressing a smile that invited me to look just a little too long.

But then the moment passed. Everyone started mingling and I got lost in the shuffle. I found myself at a table of women who I didn’t care to necessarily engage. They were nice enough, of course, but our common interests extended as far as the latest Rom-Com that was recently in theaters. I’d seen the movie and was internally begging to connect with someone at this party, so I chimed in. “Yeah, I saw it. It was okay. Funny enough, but a little too raunchy for my taste.” The women agreed, reciprocating my words in a different order. It’s funny that we do that, isn’t it? Repeat what we hear as if we’re saying it for the first time. Everyone just wants to relate and be related to, I suppose.

As I was sitting at the table, my eyes kept darting across the room to find you—first, the kitchen, behind the island, enjoying the buffet of food; next the living room, near the couch, enjoying the company of men that I assumed were your friends, but maybe not? Perhaps you were just being polite and friendly; finally, the space in between the two rooms, across from me. You were holding a goblet of whisky, or maybe it was bourbon. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but I do remember thinking how childish I felt as I sipped on my ginger ale in a styrofoam cup. I wanted to be drinking alcohol. I wanted to join in the fun, but my stomach wouldn’t allow it. There was even a moment where I wished I had indulged before I’d come to the house, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so skittish and aloof in the corner, alone.

But I’m glad I was sober. I’m glad I wasn’t influenced by anything other than you. I’m glad the most intoxicating experience I had that night was our conversation. But maybe I was inebriated. Maybe something had been slipped into my drink. It was all too enchanting; it didn’t feel real. Maybe you meet people in this manner all the time. Maybe having such riveting conversation with strangers is a hobby of yours. I’m sure people try their hardest to talk to you wherever you go. Americans are funny that way. We love foreigners, but only the right kind of foreigners. Your British accent was exactly right. But how cliche, huh? Of course I’m attracted to your accent. How could I not be? It doesn’t matter that I’ve always had an odd affinity for England. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been to London, but have spent several days in Newcastle (a town not known for tourists). It doesn’t matter that my heritage can be traced back to England and that my last name sounds like it could be on the front of a beautiful stone building with the word “Manor” following it. Whittemore. None of it matters because in every other scenario you are the character that all of the girls fawn after. You are the character that is fascinating and intelligent and witty and winsome, but that’s it—you’re just a character.

This wasn’t every other scenario. And I’m writing about it now, because there is a part of me that feels as if I dreamed all of this up in my head. So I have to record it. I’ve been afraid to, though. Usually writing something down is what gives it life, but when life has enough to sustain itself, how can my mere words capture a night that feels too charming to explain?

“But that’s the narrative we’re told, right? As millennials…” I don’t remember the first part of our conversation because I was trying to remind myself to breath. “Yes, Elena. He’s talking to you. Speak to him. You’re fine.” Deep breath. Why were you talking to me? Did you see me staring? “Forgive me, I couldn’t help it. I was just so curious,” I thought.

“I have a theory about our generation, actually…”

“Really?” You paused. Interested? “I’m going to take this seat.” Right next to me.  “Okay, go on.”

I explained my theory. I fumbled over my words a bit. Admittedly, I was nervous. I know what I had to say was of value and merit, I wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise. But I wanted you to remain interested. I wanted to keep talking to you.

You nodded. You smiled. You agreed. Safe.

And so we continued to converse. Back and forth. You would speak and I’d feel the same way you did. I would share my thoughts and you’d enthusiastically respond in agreement. There was a consistent serving and receiving. Surely, our understanding would end. Surely, you’d get bored. Surely, I’d realize that you weren’t actually as intriguing as I’d thought. The hammer never fell. The curtain was never pulled back. Intricately, delicately, intentionally, we pursued a myriad of topics—literature, film, music, politics, psychology, religion, human relationships.

“Elena, let me ask you a question…” The words fell off your tongue and spun around my ears. I was on the edge of my seat. “Ask me anything. Let me in on what’s peaked your curiosity,” I thought.

“Do you think opposites attract?” you finished.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. What answer were you looking for? Surely, you didn’t see us as opposites. We’d found so much common ground. Do I say, “yes” because that’s how the age old adage goes? Do I say “no” as to seem unmarked by what culture tells me is fact?

“Let me think about it.”

“Okay.”

I had to be honest with you. I couldn’t lie. I didn’t want to lie. I’d been honest up until this point, and it had worked in my favor. There was no need to change who I was so that you might find me more attractive, and I wanted you to find my attractive. You seemed to be attracted to my honesty.

“Yes and no.” I concluded.

Your eyes turned toward me and seemed to ask, “What do you mean?”

Before you could audibly inquire, I answered. “Let me explain myself.”

“I think opposites attract to some degree. I mean, they have to. We’re so interested and curious about other people, people that are different than us, right? Its fun. So they attract, yes, but they don’t sustain. Beauty fades and looks don’t always say the same, but companionship, common interests, that lasts. There needs to be some level of common ground in order for a relationship to work.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant.”  You let those three words escape and then you let them escape again.

“I think, you’re absolutely right. You’ve put it brilliantly. Opposites attract, but they don’t sustain. And it’s that sustainability that a relationship needs, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” I said.

I’d hooked you. No traps, no nets, but you were now engaged in our conversation differently than before. I’m glad I was honest. I wanted you to be hooked because you were pulling words and thoughts and ideas and narratives out of my broken barrel of a mind. You were pouring water on a garden that had seen a rough winter. You were tending to my curious flowerbeds with questions of of care and weeding out unnecessary small talk with poignant subject matter. I was growing and changing. There. As we sat in two chairs in between the living room and kitchen I was reminded of what I love, what inspires me.

I wish I could make this sound less dramatic. I wish I could make this sound less poetic. Sort of. I wish these things because I want to be believed, but I’m not lying. There’s no over exaggeration, but I suppose until you have an unexpected encounter such as ours, this will all sound as farce.

I don’t know what you do for a living. I don’t know how old you are. I don’t know the name of your English hometown. I don’t know what kind of car you drive. I don’t know what your favorite sports team is. I asked if you liked sports, and you said yes. I asked what your favorite sport was and you replied with “politics.” I smiled. You’re a fan of mind games—not manipulation, but you enjoy engaging in thought. I do too.

As we continued to talk, I did my best not to look at the clock. But we were at a party for a purpose. There was a big sports match. Pay per view. America vs. Europe. Us. But we weren’t rivals, we weren’t opponents. We weren’t trying to best each other…

It was almost time for the fight to start and I found myself begging for time to turn back. Internally, I was pleading for everything to slow down. All I wanted to do was keep talking to you. I wanted to keep asking you questions and I wanted to keep answering yours. I wanted to know more about your mom—it’s obvious that you care for her deeply. You said she was “your heart.” I wanted to learn more about your brothers—you’re all close, yes? I wanted to understand why you didn’t have the best relationship with your dad—do you want that to change? I wanted to know why you studied engineering in college when your heart rests with psychology and literature. I wanted to know where you personally stood when it comes to matters of God an the Bible—you know much about religions and faith, but what wakes you up in the morning?

I wanted to know why, in the most random of places, in the most spontaneous of manners our moments in time intersected. I wanted to know why talking to you felt like listening to my favorite song and why being near you, while entirely new, was as comfortable as my favorite sweatshirt (the one that’s been with me through a lot, the one that I know is reliable, the one that makes me feel good about myself even if I’ve just rolled out of bed). I had so many questions for you, B, and I still do. I have an aching desire to know you and I’m undone because I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to truly do so.

But I want to.

It’s been five days since we’ve met and you’ve been on my mind for every last one of them. I feel silly. You’re just a boy and I’m just a girl. We met and shared a wonderful evening. That’s it. Then why has my mind begun to create pictures and scenarios and stories that star us as the protagonists? Why do I keep checking my phone to see if you’ve written me a modern day letter, (as you called it)? Why do I want to share and experience my life with you? I hardly know you. Are you even thinking about me? I don’t think I believe in love at first sight, but the last boy that I connected with in this way had a heart big enough for me to fall into and I loved him with everything I had. I never told him, though. He’ll probably never know, actually. But my connection with him wasn’t anything like ours. Ours was better; richer; more thoughtful.

B, I hope I talk to you again. I hope I see you again. But if not, thank you, thank you for a wonderful evening.