How Am I Handling This? A Few Quarantined Thoughts

Duck #124

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not sure.

But God.
But God.
But God.

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

The Most Vulnerable Emotion

Duck #123

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

_________

That was a few weeks ago.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m safe.

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

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

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

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

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

__________

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

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

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

________

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

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

_______

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

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

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

I Hate Guns

Duck #121

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I fear to add to the cacophony.

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

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

Innocent blood.
Shortened lives.

My God
My God
My God
…how long?

Being Human is Hard

Duck #117

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

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

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

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

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

That is the truth.

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

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

Those are the lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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.

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.

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