Excited. Expectant. Unafraid.

Duck #113

Have you ever re-fallen in love? With a person, a thing, a season, a song? I feel like that’s where I am right now. I find myself re-falling in love with charms and treasures of this life that had seemed to lose their…shine. Truth be told, they were still just as shiny, I was just scared. And when looking at anything through the lens of fear, all you see is dark and gray. It’s quite miserable.

But the thing about the human body is that it is capable of far more than you think–even when it comes to the unpleasant. For nearly two and a half years, fear and I had become good pals. The glasses it shoved on my face, while heavy and uncomfortable, just became a part of my normal routine. Every where that Jayna went, fear was sure to follow. Much of this fear took shape as my unwanted partner in crime–anxiety. In fact, my last blog post (written over 6 months ago) was the aftermath of a panic attack. It has been so hard for me to blog since then because there’s been so much swirling around in my head. I wasn’t much able to get a grasp on my thoughts. My counselor has since told me that it’s called obsessive thinking. I just called it the loop. And I thought it was normal. It just happened. A lot. But like I said, the human body is capable of far more than we think. So I would just obsessively think myself into a panic. Often.

Shortly after I had written that last post, I got tacos (my favorite) with a friend. I was trying to explain to her how I was feeling and what was going on in my head. I kept saying, “I can’t tell what’s the Lord’s voice and what’s the enemy’s. They sound so similar.” It was unbelievably isolating. The friend I was sharing with has become a safe haven for me in Atlanta. I can’t thank the Lord enough for her. As I cried and spilled my fears to her and explained how absolutely horrible I had been feeling (for the past 2 years), she met me where I was. With kindness and love. What a gift it was to let a bit of my burden go.

….and after that everything got better. I never had another panic attack. And all my fear dissipated!!!!

 

 

 

 

FALSE.

I had a panic attack two weeks ago. On my birthday.

And that brings me to the meat of this post. My birthday. Number twenty-five. For the first time, in a while, I have great anticipation and expectation for this upcoming year. I’m looking forward to what’s next, not because I need the previous year to be over, but because I’m excited and I’m not…afraid. Like I said, i’m re-falling in love.

On the eve of my 24th birthday, the Lord clearly told me that I was going to be entering a year without fear. This absolutely terrified me. Fear and I were basically best pals, remember? I didn’t really believe God. My argument? I wasn’t worth the time. It was too much to remove fear from me. I was convinced that if God was going to remove fear from me, the way he was going to do it wouldn’t be kind and it wouldn’t be loving. It would be full of suffering and surprises and “see, I told you so’s.”

So for about 11 months of my 24th year, fear gripped the mess out of me. My anxiety was manifesting in new ways (yeah, apparently that can happen) and I was overwhelmed.  Throughout these 11 months, I would kind of snidely bring up to God that promise He’d made me. Where’s this year without fear, huh? I’m almost 25, Lord? Where you at? 

His response. “Right here. As I have been all along.”

Over the summer during a worship night that a friend invited me to, I prayed a prayer. A bold one. Why? I don’t really know. Call it desperation, call it the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But I prayed. Lord, I need you to show me who I think you are, who you really are, and how the two are different.  Almost immediately, my prayer was answered. If we meet for coffee, I’ll be happy to share with you the specific answer.  (It’s intimate, so I’d rather save it for a face to face convo. Plus, I’d love to get coffee with you!) In sharing this with my counselor, she said, “…I don’t even know what to say. That feels too holy to step on.” I wept. The answer the Lord had given me was completely uprooting my categories for him. It was rearranging “truths” about his character.

Part of what he told me was, “I’m so proud of you. You’re safe with me.” I wept. Again.
What I hadn’t realized is that so much of my fear and anxiety stemmed from a belief that God is not safe, that he couldn’t be trusted. I had no idea how far down this belief went.

Since that moment of clarity over the summer, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been in cahoots to capture my heart. I know, I know how cheesy that sounds. I just honestly don’t know how else to describe it. Purposefully, passionately, and persistently I am becoming more of who the Lord is calling me to be. I have stood up for myself, I have stayed quiet when I would normally feel the need to speak, I chased a BIG dream and published a book, I let myself be seen by my friends and let them know it means the world to me that they see me, I have apologized, I have repented, I ran a 5k (lol. I consider this a big deal), I started to believe that God is who he says he is and not who I had formerly thought him to be. And oh, am I so thankful. He’s good, y’all. And kind. And BIG. And loving. And hilarious. And adventurous. And faithful. And EXACTLY who Scripture says he is.

Never before had the lyrics of “I asked the Lord” made so much sense to me. In my begging and pleading with the Lord during my deep fits of anxiety and fear, I didn’t realize that what needed to happen was that I needed to see the depths of my heart. I needed to see what I was projecting on the Lord. I needed to see my need to find my all in Him, not who I thought of Him to be.

…I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

I’m still learning. I’m still processing. But I am so excited. I am expectant. I am re-falling in love with Jesus and with myself and with this life that He’s given me. I’m no longer a slave to fear. Sure, I know that I will again be afraid, but I also know that fear is not my God. Hallelujah for that!

All right year 25, let’s get it!

 

[THANK YOU, JESUS!]
❤ Amen

“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

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]

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…”

___
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…”
___
“…He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” -Colossians 1:11-13

 

trying not to flee

Duck #104

The thing about cities is that there are a lot of people. Mmmm, let me rephrase that. The thing about cities is that there are a lot of lonely people. Yup, I said it. Lonely People. Maybe saying that isn’t politically correct or maybe it’s just too honest. But that’s the point. No matter how many articles and books we read, no matter how many seminars we attend, no matter how many conversations we have, there is something about the word “loneliness” that makes us want to avert our eyes. There’s something about it that makes us want to nervously play with our hands, shift positions in our chairs, and say sentences that start with phrases like “Well, I think it’s because…” or “I mean, it’s just a matter of remembering…” Loneliness makes us nervous. We treat it like a plague that we hope we won’t catch, but it’s slowly taking our energy and leaving us bed ridden.  We’re all susceptible, from Manhattan socialites to your mom’s cousin’s best friend’s boss’s brother Billy. Loneliness is not akin to favoritism.

As pointed out by a friend, Jean Vanier puts it this way,

“We all carry our own deep wound, which is the wound of our loneliness. We find it hard to be alone, and we try to flee from this in hyperactivity, through television, and in a million other ways. Some people think their wound of loneliness will be healed if they come into community. But they will be disappointed. While they are young, they can hide their disappointment behind the dynamic of generosity, they can flee from the present by projecting themselves into the future, into a hope that things will be better tomorrow. But towards the age of forty, the future is past and there are no more great projects; the wound is still there and we can become depressed, especially as we are now carrying all the guilt and apathy of the past. Then we have to realise that this wound is inherent in the human condition…”

I was watching Gossip Girl the other day, because television (Netflix) is an easy way to temporarily escape loneliness. I’ve seen the series before, but I wanted to dive into something familiar. Loneliness will do that to you, make you ache for familiarity. Anyway, I was watching the episode where Dan realizes that he loves Serena. He tells her and she says “Okay.” Shocked, they both stand there and eventually Dan walks away, admittedly embarrassed. Later, we learn that the reason Serena didn’t know how to respond is because she has trust issues and is struggling to believe that Dan actually feels that way about her. Fast forward to the last few scenes of the episode and Serena shows up at Dan’s home. She asks him to explain to her why he loves her–and he does. He explains in detail all of the quirks and mannerisms and personality traits that make Serena who she is. Her countenance changes. Her face softens and her eyes relax. She laughs. Dan stands there confidently, like he has for the whole interaction and Serena’s movements become airy and giddy and light–almost as if her insides are suddenly made of cotton candy. She begins to take take on Dan’s confidence because she now understands that he really does love her. The understanding even compels her to leave the moment and go help her friend Blair. She can leave because she knows Dan’s love isn’t contingent upon what she does next–saying the right thing, kissing him the right way, looking at him perfectly. Dan loves Serena, no strings attached.

tr

As I sat on my bed, wrapped up in the scene, I had a thought. “Man, I want a love like that…one where I’m secure and safe and confident and unafraid to be me because I’m so sure that I’m loved.” And then I immediately had another thought. “Wait, I already have that love. I have it and more.” I have that love in an irreversible, couldn’t lose it if I wanted to, stay up all night with you, plead for me to be safe, die a horrible death in my place kind of way.” I’m not sure if I started crying or not, but there’s a chance I did.  Regardless or whether or not I shed a few tears over what I realized, whether or not I actively believe that I am loved beyond compare, that GREAT love still exists. It exists and is going to keep on doing what it’s been doing since before time began: love. That’s just who God is.

The end of that quote by Jean Vanier goes like this,

“… and that what we have to do is walk with it (our loneliness) instead of fleeing from it. We cannot accept it until we discover that we are loved by God just as we are, and that the Holy Spirit, in a mysterious way, is living at the centre of the wound.”

So, here I am: wounded, so loved by God , and trying not to flee.

[Heavenly Father,
thank You for sending your son Jesus to dive for me, to love me so tangibly.
Grant me the understanding of that love. May I be confident in it and accordingly.
Thanks for being patient and loving me even when I ignore You. You’re really kind.]
<3Amen

scripture and a good meal

Duck #103

Why is it so easy to be afraid? What is it about life that fuels us with an insatiable lack of trust? Will I ever be able to quiet my mind from the doubts that seem ceaseless?

Maybe not this explicitly, but somewhat implicitly, these questions have been swirling around in my head for longer than I’d like to admit. I’m a thinker, I’m an analyzer, I’m creative, I desire understanding. But sometimes life doesn’t have the answers I seek. And this, my friends, is endlessly frustrating for a 23 year old that doesn’t do well with “being where you’re planted,” as the cliche (but wise) quote from someone goes. Sure, I’ll be where I’m planted, but can you tell me why I’m planted here and how long it’s gonna take for my flowers to grow? My anxiety wants to grab lunch at noon and I told my fear that we could meet for coffee beforehand. Also, I’m exhausted. So….

A few days ago, I was talking to my best friend and I told her that the only thing that has remained constant in my life this past year has been been Scripture and the Lord’s character. As soon as I said those words out loud, I sort of laughed to myself. As a believer, I felt like I should be comforted by the fact that I’d inadvertently come to the conclusion that the “the rock” upon which I’m hanging my salvation has proved itself to be tried and true in my life–and in many ways I was comforted—but I still felt unsatisfied. Why? Well, I’ve been trying to figure that out, but I think it all has something to do with pride. (I know the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil, but I’m in ministry, so I don’t make enough money to love it that much, but I have a surplus of pride and it’s put me through the ringer. Maybe “the love of money” is a metaphor for pride, or maybe pride is just assumed to be in everything that’s evil in some fashion? Idk. *makes mental note to look into that and blog about it later*). I’ve digressed…

Pride is so dangerous because it provides a false sense of what reality actually is. (Self) Shame does the same thing. I have this thing that I’ve been saying for a while now: “Shame is just pride that weeps.” The shame we often live in is just our pride, so devastated and overcome with grief, telling us that we’re worthless. Reality is distorted and we believe that we’re the exception to grace, to love, to forgiveness, to mercy, to good gifts. Lately, my pride has been sobbing and I’ve been letting it cry and cry and I’ve allowed myself to trust the lies my tears are holding onto. It’s easy to do that, to focus so heavily on my self that I won’t allow myself see Jesus standing boldly, brilliantly, lovingly before me saying, “It is I, do not fear. Follow Me.” 

I both delight in and struggle with the truth of Scripture because of how offensive it is. My pride takes continual blows to the chest every time I open my Bible. In Luke Chapter 24 we read that Jesus has just defeated death, risen from the grave, and is walking through Jerusalem heading to a city named Emmaus. As he is walking, he runs into two men, distraught over the fact that the supposed Messiah had been crucified. It’s quite a funny and convicting passage to read because Jesus (the man who they watched die 3 days prior) is literally walking beside them and talking with them about his own death–but the men’s “eyes were kept from recognizing him” (v 16). The men ask Jesus silly questions like, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened here in these days?” (v18). But Jesus is patient, he listens to these men and continues to walk with them in their confusion, shame, and sadness. And then, Jesus does the unexpected: he quotes Scripture and breaks bread with these men (v25-31). Jesus uses the Word of God and a loaf of bread to reveal himself to doubting souls. Jesus, the Living Word and Bread of Heaven, meets these men exactly where they are to offend their doubts and comfort them with His presence. 

Through this passage, I have found that the antidote to my weeping pride is Scripture and a good meal shared with friends. But my (self) shame doesn’t want to be comforted because comfort to self shame is offensive. Intimacy with other people exposes the pity party of loneliness I’ve been desperately trying to perfect. Dried tears in this case lead to repentance and salvation—a work that I have no place participating in, and that hurts when I want everything to revolve around me. But, through this passage I have also found that Jesus loves me too much to not offend me, walk with me, show himself in Scripture, and reveal himself through the community found in sharing a meal. I must grow where I’m planted, but the Lord has not left me to grow alone. He has planted the seed, He is doing the watering, He is providing sunlight. 

So as I walk with my questions of fear, I walk with Jesus. As I walk with my shameful thoughts, I walk with Jesus. As I walk with my lack of trust, I walk with Jesus. We walk together, through Scripture, sit down at a table and break bread together. He brings me away from myself, into His presence and says, “It is I, do not fear. Follow Me.”

[Dear Lord,
Thank you for the ways in which you have proven yourself to be faithful. Thank you for the assurance of Scripture. May I continue to walk with you and eat with you always, seeing you for the beautiful Savior you are.]

❤ Amen

My Dearest Aunt T,

My Dearest Aunt T,

Let me start by saying that I love you so so much. I wish that the reason for me writing this letter was because you were about to win an award or something and I had the privilege to watch you receive a great honor. You deserve all the honors. However, the reason for this letter is because you finally got to meet Jesus face to face (what feels like) far too early.

On the one hand, I am thrilled that you are now dancing in the presence of our Savior. What’s He like? I mean, up close. Does He have a beard? Are His eyes warm? What does He sound like? What does He smell like? I like to think He smells like roses or lavender…at least a little bit.  I can only imagine how healed and whole you feel. I know you were in so much pain. Do you remember the pain? Probably not. That’s good. 

Is it bright there? In Heaven, that is. Is it warm? How does the grass feel on your toes? I bet the food smells and tastes amazing. Oh, and the music! I’m sure you’ve already joined in with the singing, haven’t you? Your glorified voice is probably bringing so much joy to the heart of the Father. Your earthly voice did the same…it brought joy to all of us. 

I’m so happy for you, Aunt T, but I’m also really, really sad. 

I’m sad because I won’t receive one of your hugs again. You know, how you would just squeeeeeze so tightly?. Those hugs had the power to make anyone feel simultaneously safe and loved. I’m sad because I won’t get to hear your laugh anymore. Oh man, Aunt T, your laugh could fill a cathedral. What joy you had simply because you were alive and because you believed that God was good. I always admired that about you. I’m sad because I won’t get to see the way you relaxed, yet lit up whenever you got to spend time with your siblings. Being present for a Duckenfield reunion is by far one of the best things I’ve witnessed—what a privilege it is to be a part of this family, isn’t it? Quirks and all, we’re a great bunch. I’m sad because I won’t get to hear you speak anymore. I’ll miss just the regular way you talked or the hilarious inflections you’d put on words, just because. I can hear our conversation now:  “Aunt T, may I have some of the juice in the fridge?” “Why yes, of course dahhhling.” You loved to perform and put on a show. Did you know I’ve wanted to be just like you since I was a kid?  I’m sad because I won’t get to see that beautiful smiles of yours. You’re so radiant. I’m sad because so many people won’t get to experience the sheer pleasure of meeting you, talking to you, laughing with you, sharing a meal with you. To know you, Aunt T, is to love you. 

But while I am sad, like I said earlier, I’m also happy. Aunt T, you’re with Jesus now! You heard him say to you, “Well done, Thy good and faithful servant.” You are free from sadness and sorrow and pain and hurt and grief. You are filled to the brim with joy and love and peace. Your faith has been turned to sight. What you’ve hoped for is now your reality. Hallelujah!

Aunt T, we love you deeply and we all miss you terribly. Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real. It’s so weird—peace and pain aren’t mutually exclusive. The last time I saw you, something you couldn’t stop sharing with Leila and me was “Just trust Him. Girls, just trust Him.” You were adamant about the way the Lord provides for His children and How much love He has to lavish on us and all we needed to do was trust Him…

I’m trying Aunt T, but it’s hard…but I know you’re right and I know you’d want us all to run to Jesus now. I know He understands our sorrow and I know that He is delighted to have you back. 

So, until we meet again. Auntie Cortina, I dance, I laugh, I sing, I eat, I wear bright colors in your honor because you loved life; and I love you…so so much, 

Jayna

P.S. Remember that time when I was about 9 or 10 and you told me that I’d look cute with a nose ring and then remember when I graduated high school I got my nose pierced and I told my mom that the reason I had to get one was because you said I’d look cute with one and then when I finally showed it to you years later you told me that your comment about my cuteness wasn’t necessarily permission to get a piercing. And we both laughed and then you said…”I mean, you do look really cute though,” and then we laughed some more? Yeah, me too. 🙂