Now That I’m Older: An MLK Reflection

“You’ll understand when you’re older,” feels like one of the most overstated, yet underestimated phrases of a young person’s time. I don’t dare to count how many times such a phrase, or one similar, was told to me as I was growing up. I remember that this phrase was used when I didn’t understand why I couldn’t participate in or have something my childish heart desired. I don’t, however, remember hearing it when my parents heavily encouraged me to study or read Black History and I begrudgingly complied. I’m thankful for their prudence in not using words of shame to force an understanding I simply would not grasp for several years, but now that I am older, I’m beginning to get it.

Today we celebrate what would’ve been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 88th birthday. Today we honor a man who fought boldly for a deserved justice withheld from people of color. Today we remember the sacrifice Dr. King, and the many people that supported him, made in an effort to secure a long awaited freedom. Today I get it.

When Dr. King orated his infamous “I Have A Dream Speech,” my father was 7 years old. Too young to understand the full gravity of the time in which he lived, but old enough to be sincerely affected by his surroundings, my father experienced the regulation of integration firsthand. He was one of the little black boys that Dr. King hoped would be able to join hands with one of the little white boys and stand as brothers.

I re-watched Dr. King’s speech this morning. I sat at my kitchen table, at the house I can rightfully live in and cried. I sat, wiping my face, shortly after my white roommates had left for work and cried. My tears, I realized, were shed for several reasons. My watermarked cheeks were due to the passion in Dr. King’s voice. His diction was powerful, precise, and penetrating.  I shook my head because some of Dr. King’s dreams haven’t come true. Sometimes people choose to see my skin color only and ignore the content of my character. I continued to cry because some of Dr. King’s dreams have come true. I live with two white girls and not because I’m their maid! I wept because for the first time, I realized Dr. King wasn’t talking entirely about having dreams of freedom on earth. Due to his strong foundation as a believer in Christ, I believe the fullness of freedom Dr. King dreamt of is the fullness of freedom that awaits us in Heaven.
A fullness he is now joyfully experiencing…

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream

Maybe this is far too obvious. Probably. But I don’t think I had a category to understand this when I was younger. When I first learned about Dr. King, I was probably around the same age my father was when Dr. King first gave his speech. At 7, I didn’t have a space in my mind to contemplate injustice, death, or racism. Now, at 23, I’ve grown to understand these three evils; however, I’ve also grown in my understanding of the gospel and the hope I have in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

What Jesus did on the cross, mediating between God the Father and man, has secured a way to the Promised Land, full of freedom and love and a peace unimaginable. It is in this truth that I resolve to put my hope. In light of unwarranted gun violence, in light of hostile riots, in light of hateful speech, in light of gross misunderstanding, I wait for the freedom of Heaven. This truth holds for opposing situations as well. In light of integration, in light of protective laws, in light of upheld constitutional rights, in light of moves toward racial reconciliation, I long for the freedom of Heaven.

Dr. King, you paved the way. You paved the way for a movement that swept the nation and had a ripple effect. You lead by example and showed our country that boldness is nothing without love. You demonstrated the necessity of action and the grace needed to withstand stupidity. You taught the Word that reads “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24). At 7, I didn’t understand the gravity or importance of your movement, I didn’t understand how deeply your dependence upon the Lord was, I didn’t understand that the hope you inspired was the same hope you also clung to. I didn’t understand…

But now at 23, I do. At least, I’m beginning to. You fought fearlessly because you recognized that your identity was one of dignity. You marched mercifully because that’s exactly what your Savior did. Our country has come a long way since the 28th of August in 1963, and it has a long way to go. I hope, Dr. King, that as I grow older I can fearlessly participate in the fight you started, armed with the faith that kept you grounded.

 

Thank you.

Finding Contentment in my Fear

Duck #97

“You don’t have to do everything right now, Sweet Pea.  Lord willing, you have your whole life ahead of you.” I haven’t forgotten this encouragement my dad gave me sometime in undergrad. His words helped me take advantage of my college years, and now that I’m finished, not look back at them with regret. However, now that I have indeed finished college and can see the end of my RUF internship, I’ve asked myself, shaking, “What do I do?”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really begun to lust after this idea of “desiring permanence.” I’ve begun to daydream about what my life would look like if I moved to a state indefinitely, took a job that wasn’t a two year program, or met someone and fell in love.  If your 2016 social media feed was anything like mine, approximately 2/3 of your friends and followers fit into one of the above three categories. On a macro scale, my heart is full and excited and emphatically celebrating; however, when I zoom in and look at the microcosms of my heart, I’ve discovered something big: fear. This fear, I’ve come to understand, is a two sided coin. I’m afraid of both stepping into something permanent, and simultaneously afraid not to. Quite frankly, it’s paralyzing, and because of this blog series’ title, I must admit that I haven’t necessarily found contentment in it.

While I’m thankful I’m not content in my fear, I’ve realized that I’m scared of my fear. I don’t want to remain this way, but I do want the Lord to meet me where I am. Over the past few months, I’ve been reading through the Psalms and a phrase that is littered throughout this poetic book is, “steadfast love.” Referring to the depth of the Father’s love for us, “steadfast”describes a devoted and permanent affection that is everlasting, enduring and without a foreseeable end. It’s everywhere and I haven’t been able to escape it, although I’ve tried. Repeatedly, the steadfast love of the Lord strikes holes in my fear and doesn’t stop ruining it despite my best efforts.

The false sense of security fear gives me is replaced with actual security in the arms of my Father. You see, the permanence I so desperately want is a permanence I already have–“for as high as the heaves are above the earth, so great is [the Lord’s] steadfast love towards those who fear him” (Ps 103:11). Finding contentment in my fear means letting go of trying to control the reality that I am actually afraid and allowing Jesus to be “merciful and gracious…abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8).

This internship has allowed me to see my fear, and equipped me to run to the One who can absolve it. It’s allowed me to admit shortcomings to my students, and model what repentance looks like. I have a lot to learn, and a long way to go, but like my dad said, “You don’t have to do everything right now, Sweet Pea.”

Finding Contentment Among my Students

Duck #96

“Oh my gosh, you’re gonna be great. Everyone will love you!”
Maybe, if you’re an extrovert, you’ve heard sentiments like these before. Maybe you’ve been encouraged not to be nervous about entering unfamiliar situations. Personally, I feel like these are words I hear a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful–they’re assuring , kind and remind me to be confident–but I am flawed. Over the past year and a half, I’ve had to learn to be okay with both living up to this phrase and falling short of it.

The first time I met my current Penn State students was May of 2015, at RUF’s annual Summer Conference. I was awkward and stiff and far less friendly than I usually am. I was considering not moving to Pennsylvania and didn’t want my students to like me, or I them, because I wasn’t going to see them again. It’s easy to look back at this time and laugh considering where I am now. My students beamed with excitement, were genuinely interested in getting to know me, and greeted me with the most genuine of spirits. I didn’t deserve it then.

Upon deciding officially to move, I let myself get excited about working on Penn State’s campus. I told myself that I would fit right in and that everyone would like me…
It’s true, I have found kindred spirits among many of my students, but that has taken time. You see, when I first got to campus I did not fit right in. Several of my students are studying engineering or something in the sciences; I graduated with a BA in English. A lot of my students have type A personalities; I very much live in a B type mindset. I spent the majority of my time in undergrad hanging out with friends; my students spend their time studying for exams weeks in advance.

I think I spent the first few months in Pennsylvania intentionally reminding myself of how different I was from my students as some form of justification for why we weren’t deeply connecting. I remember one conversation I was having about Pennsylvania versus North Carolina mountains and one of my students (jokingly) said, “Okay, Jayna. Get off your Blue Ridge high horse!” She said it in jest, but she was right. If I wanted my students to trust me, I needed to show them that they could. I needed to meet them in ways that interested them. I, like Jesus does with us continually, needed to meet them where they were instead of forcing them to find me.

So although we’re very different, I love my students. I wouldn’t trade them if I had the option and so appreciate their kindness toward me. I’m humbled by how welcome and at home they’ve made me feel in their northern world. My students have helped me to appreciate the beauty that exists in difference and have shown me characteristics of Jesus that I hadn’t noticed before. I’m truly content and truly thankful.

Finding Contentment in Traveling

Duck #95

There’s a common theme in the guilty pleasure, romantic, dramedy movies that I love to watch: travel. The Yellow Handkerchief, Tallulah,  and The Fundamentals of Caring all share (at some point in the film) an adventure of getting from point A to point B. And you guessed it, the magic isn’t in the destination, it’s in the “in-between.” How does that cheese fest of a quote go? “Life’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey?” As I fight against my gag reflexes, I shudder because over the past year and a half I’ve realized that this quote holds more truth than I want to admit. I’m not ready to be there yet and have grown to be okay with the traveling in between.


Rather than detailing all of my highway and sky high experiences, I’ll just say that for an extended period of time, living out of a suitcase felt all too normal. It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes I found my self accidentally half packed for my next trip which was nice because packing and I have a strong hate-hate relationship. I was a nomad. I had places to be, people to see, and nothing stopping me…

…it got old after a while, though. Rather, it became routine. There is an independence I’ve found in my ability and freedom to travel without needing to consult other people–I’m not married and without children, so my life is mine. This makes deciding to travel simple, but it’s forced me to remember to be intentional about experiencing my journey, to think. I’m not always thrilled about it, but there’s not much I can do to change my circumstances. This means I have two options: gripe, complain and argue with myself about not thinking because I’m angry, or make the most of my solitude.

Admittedly, making the most of my solitude is difficult because I’m often scared of what I’ll discover about myself. But the funny thing is, some of the sweetest moments I’ve shared with my Savior have been in solitude on the highway or in the sky. I don’t say that because I’ve mastered the art of traveling alone and talking to Jesus, I say that because I think the opposite holds true. I say that because I know the Lord knows my difficulty in being alone for too long. I say that because He has not left me by myself. I say that because I need reminding.

Without other people in the car or with unchatty strangers on the plane, I’ve had time to think, even reluctantly.  I’ve thought about myself, my job, friends, who Jesus is, who I am because of Him, this weird season of life I’m in, music, stories I want to write, the future… I’m sure that I could think about these things at any time, but for some reason traveling is my consistent time to do it. So, as my grandma used to say, I’ll “keep on keepin’ on” this journey until I’m there.

Finding Contentment in State College, PA

Duck #94

“Jayna, you’re not able to go to VCU anymore. It looks like you’ll be at Penn State.” These are the words that my campus minister at App told me after large group one night in the middle of February 2015. These are the words that derailed the picture perfect vision of what I thought my life was going to be like after graduation. These are the words that I didn’t want to hear, but ended up needing more than I could’ve known.

I didn’t want to move to State College, but I couldn’t be more thankful that I did. You see, State College is a place that begs you to be apart of it. Whether you’re a student, a faculty member, or someone that owns a shop downtown, it’s kind of impossible not to…notice where you are and be a part of the town’s rhythm. Upon moving, I didn’t like this. I thought to myself, okay, Jayna. Two years and you’re out. Do what you’ve gotta do, but keep yourself at arms length. This town is weird and there’s no point in getting attached. Suffice it so say, I moved with the wrong attitude, but slowly (reluctantly) began to find myself changing.

I loved leaving both high school and college feeling like I was on top of the world. I am a small fish in a big pond in State College; it’s humbling. I love knowing people well and having them know me. It was not until about 2 months ago that I really felt like the relationships I’d built in State College had fully settled; I’ve had to be patient. I enjoy being in control and understanding what I’m doing without asking for too much help. I’ve gotten lost, said the wrong things on the job, and been blindsided by life too many times to count in the past year and a half; I’ve had to give myself grace.

I am where I am and life is happening the way that it is. In this, I have two choices: cling to dissatisfaction, or find contentment. Psalm 34:10 says, “the young lion suffers want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Seeking the Lord in State College doesn’t mean that I am promised everything that I could have had while in Richmond on VCU’s campus. Seeking the Lord in State College means that I won’t lack any good thing. Period. What I’ve found in State College–humility, patience, grace–has helped me to be content with where I am because what I’ve found is what I needed. No, I don’t have what I wanted originally, but what I have now is good. So, so good. The Lord has used this quirky little town to teach me what it looks like to be present where I am and to seek Him regardless of circumstances. I’ve fallen in love with what I have in State College and I’m continually grateful for how Christ has met me there; I’m home.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Duck #93

I think one of my favorite questions to ask is “why?” I’ve always been a naturally curious person and so the whys of life have plagued me for as long as I can remember. Why do I have to go to bed so early? Why is it so important to use manners? Why do nice things have to be so expensive? Why this? Why that? Over the years, I’ve gotten the answers to many of my whys, but there are some that remain unanswered.

Right now, my big Why Question has been “why do bad things keep happening?” During the second half of 2016, loss has been an adjective that I, and several people close to me, have become far too acquainted with. The tears I’ve shed hold the weight of lead. Mothers have lost babies, grandchildren have lost grandparents, and most recently, friends have lost parents. Amidst all this, the only word I can seem to mutter is “why?”

I want to know why because there’s often security in answers, is there not? Our human nature begs us to move toward understanding. We’re driven to satiate this thirst we have to get to the root of “things.” But what do we do when it feels like we, along with those around us, have been wandering in the desert for days? I think that’s what John Legend’s newest album, DARKNESS AND LIGHT, asks its listeners. In the midst of darkness, how do we find light? In the depths of woe, where can we find love?

As a believer and follower of Christ, my knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Jesus.” No more, no less. That answer is easy and simple and allows me to often remove myself from the heartache around me, for it is too great. But even Jesus, knowing full well that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, wept over the death of his dear friend in John 11. Even still, what happens when you don’t feel like Jesus is enough? Life can often be devastating and sometimes sadness exists so deep in circumstances that succumbing to grief is often easier than fighting for joy. I get that. I am learning more than ever that “everything happens for a reason,” and “let go and let God” among the other myriad of hallmark, well-meaning phrases just don’t cut it. We need more than a phrase, we need a Savior.

I mentioned earlier that a friend recently lost her parents. The situation is unbelievable and harrowing. In the aftermath of this news, among my question of why, I’ve added another question–God, where are you? I believe that you are good, but these recent events are anything but good, so where are you? As I ask this, watching the snow fall outside my living room window in the flurry of the Christmas season, I am struck with what I can only imagine Israel was feeling as they waited for the arrival of the Messiah. They were a people enslaved and slaughtered, yet promised deliverance. They were growing weary in the waiting. Why are we here, God? Aren’t we your people? Where are you? Are you coming? Are your promises true? I imagine that their string of questions was endless.

It is for this reason that my favorite Christmas hymn is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In this advent season, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” admits to the sorrow in anticipation, but acknowledges the joy in the coming of a Savior.  Centuries later, the waiting is what makes Christmas so beautiful. The Israelites waited and Christ came. God with us, Emmanuel, came to redeem the brokenness we suffer from and live in. That is worth celebrating! But the story isn’t over.

He came once, he died, and rose again. Now we’re left waiting for him to return. So, like the Israelites, I keep asking myself these questions–God, where are you? Am I not your child?–but I ask with hope because Christ came once and he has promised to come again. I don’t know when, but I am excited for the day when everything sad will come untrue. I am excited for the day when “whys” won’t be the heartbeat of humanity. Waiting isn’t easy and I don’t have answers for this time in between. The hope I have, though often feeble, isn’t for now. The hope I have is for something to come, something so beautiful I can hardly think of it for long. There is a reason that all four gospels end with the Resurrection of Christ.

I don’t know why bad things keep happening and I don’t know why waiting is often unbearable, but Christmas is a promise that won’t return to us void. It’s a promise meant to seep into the very sadness we can’t understand. Jesus has come to dwell among us in our sadness and will return one day to take it all away. Until then, O come, thou Dayspring from on high and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

 

[Come thou long expected Jesus…]
<3Amen

winter

Duck #92

It’s finally starting to get cold. There grass wakes up to a blanket of frost and warm beverages are in high demand. The air feels thin and sharp and sets out to pierce your lungs as you inhale, forcing you to pay attention to the quiet and listen to what it’s saying. This is my favorite part about winter, when the wind is hushed and traffic slows, the cold seems almost bearable and listening feels like the most important task you can do.

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately. To music, books on tape, voices of characters on Netflix, friends, family, more music, more characters on Netflix. I’ve been doing so much listening that I can barely hear anything, and so I’ve asked myself…where is the voice of the Lord in all of this?  Why am I not listening to it? It’s there, I’m sure– still, constant, steadfast, kind. It’s so, so kind. Kind and tender. It’s everything I need and nothing I want. I don’t want to ponder or respond, I want to fly and react. I want loud and distracting and exciting and summer, but the Lord is offering soft and gentle and calm and winter.

The winter’s quiet makes me think and forces me to listen, yet for some reason, right now, I’m afraid of what I’ll hear. Do you ever feel that way? Have you ever been so curious that you’re practically paralyzed, incapable of finding the answer? I heard in a sermon once that we operate out of what we believe, not what what we know. I think that what I believe and what I know will converge in winter’s silence. I think they will have an all out brawl and that I’ll be forced to watch. It won’t be loud or messy, that would be far too easy. It will be intentional and deep. I think I’ll have to acknowledge their misalignment and I don’t want to. I think that fear offers a false sense of security and worry tricks you into thinking it’s a cheaper, knock off brand of freedom.

God has not given you a spirit of fear…

Fear not, for I am with you…
Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing…
His steadfast love endures forever…

Enter the stillness.
Sit in the quite.
Remind yourself of the truth.
Listen for His voice.
Let it sink in.

 
Winter comes every year.