[godly] grief & 13 reasons why

Duck #101

By nature, I’m a writer. It’s one of the best ways for me to express my thoughts, but I’ve been avoiding it lately. With so much transition coming up in my life, I’ve felt like my emotions are on the edge of a precipice and it’s seemed as though writing, would be the gust of wind that sends everything tumbling down. I’ve been afraid to know what I think by reading what I write, to paraphrase Flannery O’ Connor, but I’ve become to curious…

Last week, I started and finished the beautiful and broken Original Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” If you’re unfamiliar, it’s based off of a young adult novel written by Jay Asher. The story follows a junior in high school, Clay Jensen, as he uncovers the reasons why his friend, classmate, and crush, Hannah Baker, committed suicide. Before her death, Hannah recorded 13 stories on cassette tapes—each story is “dedicated” to someone who played a part in her eventual life taking incident. I read the book a few years ago and thought it was powerful then, but to see that story be brought to life on a screen almost felt surreal. Since finishing the series, I’m not sure if a day has gone by (so far) that I haven’t thought about the show.*But there is something that almost all of the characters feel that I think is worth noting—grief.

After Hannah’s death, the wake that her friends are left to swim in is one of sorrow and anguish. Once her friends learn of the role they effectively played in Hannah’s suicide, these teens have to navigate how to deal with their misery. They feel guilty for what they’ve done (and to some degree guilt is an appropriate response), but guilt without the gospel leads to shame. And when it’s stripped down, shame really is just pride that is weeping; there is often a selfishness to our sadness. When this is the case, we unfortunately think that we’re the exception to hope, forgiveness, grace, and repentance. 

Please don’t read what I haven’t typed. I don’t mean to communicate that the intense pain and loneliness that Hannah and her friends feel is wrong. It’s not. (What happens to Hannah is deplorable and is inexcusable. The way in which she communicates her feelings to her friends is not constructive. At all. Whatsoever.)  From this, what I think is important to see is that when we don’t have a place to take those feelings of pain and loneliness, when our eyes stay focused on the nastiness of our circumstances, our loneliness can quickly turn into saddened pride. Both Hannah and her friends acted in ways that rightfully caused feelings of guilt and grief. Unfortunately, the grief they all felt is the very kind that Paul says leads to death in 2 Corinthians 7. 

In verses 8-10, Paul addresses the words and tone of his last letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians). He says, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

More often than not, I think we tend to feel worldly grief. We forget the gospel and the forgiveness that Christ so willingly offers us through repentance and the freedom from shame that is ours to hold. Like Hannah and her friends, we tend to sit in our shame and allow it to overtake us. We become paralyzed by fear and don’t ask for help. We neglect to express the parts of our hearts that beg to be shared. 

The story of “13 Reasons Why” is a very acute type of story, but several of its themes are universal. We all struggle, we all deal with pain, we have all done regrettable things—but there is hope! There is a Savior who came, died, and was resurrected for every pain we feel. There is a Savior who seeks to invite us into his presence of ceaseless joy, new mercy, and everlasting love. When this Savior calls us to repent, He doesn’t do so because He desires to make us feel worse, He does so to set us free and welcome us back to life. 

I wish that I could tell Hannah and her friends about the good news of the gospel. I wish I could tell them how Jesus desires to free them from their sadness. I wish I could tell them of the beauty and blessed assurance offered in repentance. I wish I could tell them that grace abounds. 

 I wish that I would tell myself this more often…

[Dear Jesus, thank You for the freedom from shame you offer us. Thank you for your willingness to always forgive. Thank you for the hope of the gospel. May we see that and repent.]
❤ Amen

——

*”13 Reasons Why” is a very heavy show.  I’m not necessarily recommending the show, nor am I not recommending the show. There are pretty graphic scenes of sexual assault, rape, and suicide. It depicts a harsh and undesired reality of (what could be) several high schools across the country. For more context, (if you decide to watch the show) I suggest watching a 30 minute video entitled “Beyond The Reasons.” (also on Netflix) In this video author of the book, director and produces of the show, characters, and a few other people affiliated with the production discuss the show, why they added the scenes they did, and why they filmed them it the way they did.

Advertisements

sustenance

 Duck #100

It seems that in our culture following certain principles of Christianity are more than acceptable, as long as Christ remains in the background. We want unrestricted freedom, but our very nature is restricted–we have limitations. Consider the Lord’s prayer in Matthew chapter 6, “…give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” 

Give us. Forgive us. Lead us. Deliver us. We need the Father to sustain us. We need him to keep us alive, keep us healthy, take away our sins, and keep us out of harms way. The beauty of the gospel is that what we need has already been bought for us. What we can’t do on our own, Jesus has done. All he’s asking is that we honor and love him in return. But we’re deceived into thinking that we don’t actually need what Jesus has done on the cross, so we tend to take his principals, but don’t take him…

For example: I will be kind (if the person I’m being kind to can help me climb a social latter). I will love (those who love  me first). I will forgive (if it’s convenient and doesn’t cost me too much). I will go to church (as long as I don’t have (school) work to catch up on or I’m not too tired). I will pursue holiness (as long as that means I can still date who I want and do what I want with my body). I will pray (as long as God gives me what I ask for). All of these things are good, but going about them conditionally is just morality, which by itself is not the gospel. Morality points to our ability, it doesn’t point to Christ. We are more sinful than we realize and are therefore incapable to do anything good apart from Jesus. Without Jesus we cannot honor the Father. 

This is no easy task. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given into particular sins because I genuinely felt like following Jesus or pursuing holiness wasn’t worth it. But then I read Psalm 34:10- “The young lions suffers want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” 

I firmly believe that my generation loves authenticity. We love the idea of pursuing (seeking) something so true to oneself that nothing can stand in the way of going after our goal. We love it when what we’re doing or pursuing gives us a sense of fulfillment and is ultimately satisfying. So what do I do with this truth: Jesus is the most satisfying. 

Initially, that’s a little scary because there A LOT of really satisfying things out there and sometimes Jesus feels so far away, so wispy, so tertiary. But in fact, He is central, sustaining everything good we could ever experience. You see, I think a lot of the reason we want Christianity and not Christ, the reason we want good things, and not the one who gives us good things, is because we don’t know how to properly look at Jesus. Further, we don’t know how to look at the Father, the giver of the beautiful gift we have in Jesus. We are afraid of what we may see, and even more so, we are afraid of what will happen if we give up “control” of our lives. 

Even though I know it’s not true,  I too often tend to believe that Father is out to get me, seeking to punish me. As His daughter, the opposite holds true. Luke chapter 12, verse 32 tells me that I don’t have to fear because “it is [my] Father’s good pleasure to give me [His] kingdom.” Ephesians chapter 2 tells me that even when I was dead in my sins completely ignoring God, He saved me and made me alive with him because he is RICH in mercy and loves me with a GREAT love. Romans chapter, verse 4 tells me that  “God’s kindness is meant to lead me to repentance.” So you see, the Father isn’t out to get me at all, He’s not out to get any of us. He wants us. 

We can’t have Christianity and leave Christ in the background because Christ is the very gift the Father has given us as a means to live out the principles of Christianity. Jesus is our example of how to love, how to pray, how to forgive, how to worship,  and how to depend fully on the sustaining power of the Father. We need Jesus in order to have access to the Father. We need Jesus because we are too sinful to stand before the Father on our own. We need Jesus because with Him,  we have something we cannot lose; we have something that is strong enough to gratify our deepest of longings: to be loved.  We need Jesus because with Him, the Father looks at us in delight and says, “My beloved child. You are mine. I love you…”

[Father, thank You for the gift of your Son. Thank you for loving me enough to send your Son so that I might forever be united to You. It was a costly gift that has brought me to life. I don’t deserve it, but you are a good, good Father. Jesus, thank You for being everything I could ever need or ever want.]
<3Amen

I didn’t wanna write this, but I’m glad I did.

Duck #99

If you’ve spent nearly any amount of time with me, you’ll know that I get excited about things very quickly. It doesn’t take much for me to elicit an overly exuberant response or find something humorous enough to literally knock me over. Laughter is genuinely my number one favorite thing to do. I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve realized recently why it is that I love laughing so much. It’s because of how deeply I am “feeling the funny.” When I’m especially tickled by something, it’s common for me to be “taken” by my laughter, and usually will be rendered speechless for a bit too long. Admittedly, it’s quite a site and a ridiculous one at that, but I can’t help it. I just feel the funny in my bones and succumb to its vibrancy. It’s nirvanic. (That’s not a word, but let’s pretend nirvana can be an adjective, cool?)

I wish, though, that “the funny” was the only thing I felt deeply… The weather in Pennsylvania, while not extremely winterous (again, not a word. but let’s keep pretending), has been predominantly cloudy. Now, if you haven’t lived in a place where sunshine severely lacks in the winter, consider yourself fortunate. Sporadic gray days are fine, I think we all need them–they remind us to slow down and be still–but too many in a row can really take a toll on your mental health. Because the sun and I haven’t hung out as much as we did in the fall, I’ve had more time to think than I’d probably like. It’s okay, though. Thinking is inevitable and feeling your thoughts is important, sometimes. But man! It sure does feel like these clouds are just wringing me and my feelings dry.   Consequently, it is through this drying process  that I’ve begun to learn a thing or two…about my self, about the Lord…

Fear is familiar and it’s an easy camping ground. 
There is a false sense of security that being afraid gives. It tells you to worry because then you’ll have control. It tells you to hide because then you can’t be seen. It’s comfortable. But the gospel is bigger than that. The gospel says, “I see that you’re afraid, but you don’t have to be. I’ll take your fear.” In Luke  5, Jesus calls his first disciples. After Jesus finishes preaching to a large crowd, he tells Simon (a fisherman) to put his net back into the water.” Mind you, Simon and his fellow fishermen had been trying to catch fish for HOURS and even after fishing through the night, they’d come up short. Immediately, Simon says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (v5). I love Simon’s response because it’s shown me that in the midst of my fear, there is still a call for obedience. Leaving my fear is uncomfortable, because it requires me to trust someone other than my self, Jesus.

The Lord’s faithfulness is both self existing and self sustaining.
One of RUF’s presuppositions is “God is at work.” At first glance, it seems so simple and operates as obvious. However, in ministry, it’s really easy to doubt this truth. When I say the wrong thing, when girls don’t come back to RUF, when students have really hard stories, I too often blame myself for the “catastrophe.” But God is at work. He’s always at work. His love is steadfast and all his work is done in faithfulness (Psalm 33:4). The beauty of this reality is that my fear, doubt, confusion, worry, and lack of trust cannot thwart or alter this aspect of God’s character. And yet…this faithfulness is for me, with mercy that is new every morning. God’s faithfulness isn’t contingent upon me or my understanding of it. (Praise Him for that!!)
“Give yourself permission to be where you are.”
My counselor has been telling me this for months. I don’t do this well. I love to analyze and figure out why I am the way I am or why I am feeling the way I’m feeling. But If I try to always figure everything out, I don’t leave any room to be still and know that He is God (Ps 46:11). Breathe. This too shall pass, but if I don’t acknowledge that my “thing” needs to pass, it won’t.  I won’t give it undeserved credit, but I need to let it know that I see it and hear it. But it also needs to know that I don’t have time to be overwhelmed by it.

Fight like h*ll.
Daily, my flesh is out for blood. My mind is hungry to give into unhealthy behavior. I have to pray. In this incredibly individualistic society it’s far too easy to be threatened and offended when my comfort level is in danger. The gospel calls me out of comfortableness into the arms of Jesus. I have to pray. I really, really don’t like big change but I can’t give into the fear and anxiety change brings. Giving myself permission to be where I am doesn’t mean that I won’t have to move eventually. I have to pray.  After Simon put his nets into the water again, he “left everything and followed [Jesus] (Luke 5:11). He fought the urge to remain a fisherman and instead became a disciple of Christ. I have to pray.

Gratitude is a beautiful antidote, say “Thank You.”
It’s really difficult to be angry and thankful. It’s also really hard to complain when you’re making a list of blessings. For some reason, I find it really easy to keep thanksgiving to myself, but such an attitude isn’t like pride–it should be proclaimed. Gratitude should be shared and celebrated. It produces humility and I’ve found that it’s begun to open the caverns of my heart that are closed off to trusting my Savior.

So, I think that’s where I’m at. Somewhere between inevitably “feeling the funny” and also feeling everything else. But I’m learning and the Lord hasn’t left me. So I’m okay… 🙂

[Dear Jesus,
Thank You for your patience, for you love, for you understanding. Help me to trust You…]
❤ Amen

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.