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.

This Black Body: Unlearning the Lies

Duck #122

I remember when I first became aware of my body. I was probably about seven or eight years old. I was standing in line waiting for my mom to come pick me up after school. Knowing what I was like as a child, I was probably dancing around for no reason. Honestly, knowing myself now, I was definitely dancing around for no reason. Regardless, I remember overhearing comments from two teachers. Both female. Both white. They were commenting on my skin. They made comments about how pretty it was. I was a child. I had no real reason to know whether or not my skin was pretty. It didn’t really matter. 

I don’t remember the entire conversation, but I do remember one teacher saying “Yeah, you should see her in a bathing suit.”  



I remember awkwardly smiling. If my memory actually serves me correctly, the teacher that said this was also my “sometimes after school babysitter.” When the weather was warm, it made sense that the other children she watched and I would play outside in the sprinklers. She certainly would’ve seen me in a bathing suit. At seven or eight I didn’t think too much about the comment, but now at 26 I can’t help but wonder what those words did to the little girl in me.

________

Being aware of your body at an early age can be dangerous. I remember the first time I cognitively became aware of my breasts. I was in 8th grade. I was wearing a long purple sweater that had a collar with buttons. I loved this sweater so much that I also had it in a shade of gray. I walked into the bathroom before the school day started and a friend of mine was also wearing the same sweater. She looked better in it. That is to say, it was more flattering on her body. At least, that’s what I remember thinking. I was in 8th grade and already comparing my body to hers. Like apples against oranges, I wished her fair skin and green eyes didn’t seem more beautiful than my dark skin and brown eyes. 

She turned to me and said, “Jayna…are you wearing a bra?” I was super embarrassed for a number of reasons, but mostly because there were other girls in the bathroom at the time. I immediately said that I was, because I was. And she said, “Are you sure? Let me see.” I pulled down the thick collar of my purple sweater and showed her my bra strap. “Oh, okay good.” she said. “It just kinda doesn’t look like you’re wearing one.” 

I went home and begged my mom to get me new/better bras because of what happened in the bathroom. I don’t remember if I ever wore that purple sweater again. 

For the next few years I was able to ignore my body. I wasn’t actively trying to neglect it, but I had other things that filled my mind. My love of English began to flourish, my interest in theatre started to form, I dabbled in sports, I was daydreaming all the time. Life was so interesting, why would I spend my precious moments focused on my body when there were people to talk to, books to read, and Disney Channel Original movies to watch?!

But eventually, I entered high school and the space in my mind that was occupied by the choreography for “We’re All in This Together” from High School Musical, was replaced with the reality of boys also becoming aware of my body. I knew this not because they would comment on my physical features, but because of the way they would comment on the bodies of the other girls in my grade. I knew who was at the top of the “hot list,”–the well endowed, long blonde-haired, American Eagle wearing white girls. The girls that I was good friends with but would never look like. The girls whose houses I would sleep over, but whose clothes I could never borrow. The girls whose make up, mannerisms, and music tastes I tried to mimic because I wanted to be anything but a minority. And who did all of the judging? A gaggle of white boys.

________

Thinking back to the mindset I had as I was coming of age makes me sad. There are several pictures that I vividly remember taking at the beach or at a friend’s house that ended up on facebook I wish hadn’t. I stared at my body and critiqued it until the only thoughts I could think were “I’m so fat,” and “I don’t look pretty.” When I look at those pictures now, I cry over that young girl that didn’t have eyes to see just how beautiful she was. I also cry because that young girl wasn’t surrounded by other girls that looked like her. She wasn’t surrounded by skin that soaked up the sun just like hers. She wasn’t surrounded by thighs that were just thick because that’s the way the good Lord and biology set up her body. She wasn’t surrounded by hair textures that didn’t lose shape in the wind.

As I’ve entered into adulthood, I have a newfound appreciation for my body and for my melanated skin. Thick thighs save fries, y’all! (It is a blessing not to lose some Chick-Fil-A crispies because of my lack of a “thigh gap.”) For this new vision, I am grateful. The ways my hips curve evidence the strength that so many women before me had to bear and birth children in horrid circumstances. The shape of my legs proves the tenacity my ancestors had to literally run for their freedom. The gravity defying nature of my hair is just…fun! All of this is good and true and lovely without the endorsement of white people.

I love this growing confidence I have in my appearance. I’m proud of the clothes I wear that aren’t used to hide the creativity of my God. But let me be very clear–my self confidence is not your license. Whether you are a bystander, a best friend, or my boyfriend, there isn’t anything that grants you permission to place your hands or your sexually charged comments on my body.

___________

Last year, I had my first true experience with a form of objectification that was masked as appreciation. When my memory drifts in retrospect, my stomach begins to turn. Details aren’t necessarily important; sharing them doesn’t validate the experience, the fact that it happened does. And while the events certainly blurred my vision of the beauty in my body, that (to me) isn’t the worst part. The part that I have yet to fully reconcile and have such strong feelings about is this: what happened was between a white man and a black woman. He and I. Him and Me.

At one time or another…

His feelings were fetishizations. 

His touch was traumatizing.

His words were weapons.

His compliments were corrupt

His expectations were erroneous.

His “love” was a lie. 

And there’s something about it all, as a black woman, that is silencing. There’s something that makes me feel small and stupid and full of shame. There’s something that screams, You should have seen this coming!” There’s something that sings, “This was your fault!” There’s something, though MUCH quieter now (shout out to therapy!!) that whispers, “You deserved it.”

I think back to the Hannah Montana loving teenager that was aware of her body. She was displeased with it, but also desperately wanting a boy to notice it. And not just any boy, a white boy. To gain the prolonged gaze of a white boy somehow meant I’d have reached the pinnacle of beauty; or at least, I would have been breathing the same air. So, as an adult,  when the prolonged gaze (and then some) came my way, there was a part of me that thought “I did it. It finally happened. I made it.” 

And at that admission, I crumble. With tear filled eyes, I struggle for breath at the misguided notion that unloving, inappropriate, harmful speech and touch said something about me as a whole person. “This is it,” I would think. “I’m worthy and loved…so, why do I feel gross and dirty?”

When I was younger, I didn’t know that attention and affirmation were different. I didn’t have a category for being objectified and overly sexualized. Flattery and fetishization were synonymous with unfortunately positive connotations. And without proper correction in my younger years, I’m having to do the correcting as an adult. 


I’m having to correct the lie that there is authentic value in my appearance.
I’m having to correct the lie that care is shown through promiscuous prose.
I’m having to correct the lie that my body isn’t fully mine.
I’m having to correct the lie that my black beauty is validated by white verification.

I’m not done, I have much work to do. Much of the truth is yet to be uncovered.

But I can confidently type these words more sure of my value and worth as a woman, and specifically as a black woman. I can confidently share some of my story knowing that it’s true.

Even so, I don’t have a winsome way to wrap up these thoughts. I only share them because in light of Black History Month, I think of the other black women that feel the way that I do, but perhaps don’t really talk about it. I think of those of us that grew up thinking attention from a white boy/teen/man was ultimate. I think of those of us that have been deeply wounded by white men. I think of those of us who have beautiful, safe, healthy, and redemptive relationships with white men, yet are terrified to trust them. I think of those of us who are internally conflicted because of the environments in which we grew up. I think of those of us that feel “less black” or “too black” because of the way we think, because of what we’ve been told, or because of what has happened to us.

I think and I think and I think…

I also tremble, but like Hagar in Genesis 16, this I declare–“You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (v. 13).

Seen. Known. Safe.

Duck #120

Psalm 139 1-6 says this, “O LORD, you have searched and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

I remember being younger and avoiding this passage like the plague. With younger eyes, and sometimes still even through my current lenses, the encouraging words of the Psalmist felt threatening. To be seen and known and deeply understood meant to be shamed and abandoned and hurt. The unconditional love of God was actually not so. In fact, it was very conditional—contingent upon not only my behavior, but what sat behind my behavior, my heart, my mind, my dreams, me.

I’m not shy about my mental health. I’ve written and spoken about it often. I struggle pretty heavily with anxiety. It is not the ruler of my life, but it’s a monster that lurks in corners at night and attempts to have tea with me in the afternoon sun. It’s a royal pain in the ass and the practical means by which I cope with this monster are ones that I owe deep gratitude (lookin’ at your therapy and medicine!)

Over the past several months, the attacks of anxiety that have harassed my mind and heart have been some of the worst of my life. And simultaneously, I have never been more sure of the Lord’s love for me. Still, I have previously remembered that truth better. You see, the thing about growing up and being in your twenties is that it’s hard. No one knows what they’re doing. Everyone is faking it until the make it (and even then, faking it often seems like the best option). Sexy vulnerability is running rampant. CVS and Walgreens have a steady flow of Millennials picking up prescriptions. Bars are always busy. Offices have tear soaked bathroom floors. And we all realize that this is a part of life and that we need not take ourselves so seriously, that we need to breathe, that working hard is a good thing, that community is essential, that we’re not alone…

And yet…I sit and wonder, “Am I worth it?” “Am I lovable?” “Am I too much?” “Will anxiety get the last word?”

The answers to those questions are yes, yes, no, and no, respectively. I know this. I believe this. I repeat this. I forget this.

So in comes Psalm 139. My God, he has searched me. Not only that, he knows me. He knows the thoughts of excitement and joy I feel are too silly to share with anyone. The irrational worries I believe are safer kept inside. He sees and he sets up camp. Preparing a meal and setting the table, my God makes me feel at home in my messy, sinful heart.
As I lay my head down and ask, “Daddy, will you stay until I fall asleep?” He says, Of course,” watching over me and calming the thoughts that would otherwise keep me up at night. While I toss and turn, he is there. When I awake, before I speak, the Lord has met and answered every need I could bring up. Before me, behind me, beside me—my God, my defender, my protector, my friend—He is there and he isn’t running away.

Indeed, like the Psalmist, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me…” To be so seen and simultaneously so loved. I was made for my God. I was made to love and be loved by Him. I was made to be utterly dependent.

And while I can rest in this assurance, I must also be active. Yes, I must be an active participant in my sanctification. Right now, that looks like letting myself fall apart. Right now that looks like, again, taking down the mask that I have re-structured around my face. It looks like practicing humility in asking for help. It looks like being wrong. It looks like letting people in. It looks like allowing myself to disappoint people. It looks like prayer and praise.

I am seen.

I am known.

I am safe.

I am okay.

I am okay.

I am okay.

“As I grow
And as I change
May I love You more deeply
I will lean upon Your grace
I will weep because Your goodness is unending
You are my vision
My reason for living
Your kindness leads me to repentance
I can’t explain it
This sweet assurance
But I’ve never known this kind of friend”
Hidden || United Pursuit
[Dear Lord,
I love you. Hold me. See me. Know you.
May I be more like you.]
<3Amen

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.

This Place

Duck #115

Growing up is a funny thing. I’ve never really wanted to do it. My childhood was lovely. Any time I spend looking back over it brings nothing but a smile to my face. It was filled with adventure, dancing, laughter, imagination, color, love…
This all took place in a home that I loved, in a neighborhood that felt like something made of magic. Moving away from that childhood home was harder than I ever anticipated. I was eleven and I remember crying for a good portion of the drive from New York to North Carolina. Since then, I think little Jayna has been in search of another place to call home. Not one to replace the former, but one where I can settle and rest and let my roots establish themselves in the earth.

I thought, as I got older, that perhaps I would create this home. That it would be the place where I lived that felt the most safe. The Lord is funny and kind, though. Sometimes he gives you what you need in a way you didn’t know you needed it, in a form you weren’t expecting. A soul sister of mine lives in a house she’s created to be a home. Not just for me, but for all who enter. It feels like a fairytale, but it’s so much better because it’s real. I thank the Lord for this place and the friendship that sustains it.

Sadly, the writing of poems is not my forte. However, the way I know how to best describe the way this place makes me feel is through poetry. So, here it is…

——
This Place

near the end of the street clad with age
it sits
light blue, candle lit
quiet
unassuming
robed in welcome
a screen door that whispers the secret of hospitality
yes, You may enter
“please, sit. stay a while,” the walls hum
light rushing in to meet a scent familiar and sweet
cool air
wood floors
opened windows

a crooked chimney makes its debut
an invitation for crooked hearts
(masks removed. it’s okay.)
even the backyard’s greenery beckons to be inside
it longs to be a part of the magic
there’s a rhythm in the baseboards
“won’t You dance with me?”
of course
one, two, three
hours pass
island time vacations here
water & wine play together
hurt & hope converse
mirth & misery swap stories
together…
this place is meant for Us
together
papa in a frame
ink stained on glass
fresh fruit
coffee poured over and over and over

the sun!

oh, how the sun warms this place
oh, how the sun warms this heart
oh, how the sun warms
“look up, Love.”
“how?”
“just as You were always meant to.”

this place
drenched in a thousand exhales
flooded with a New Song

near the end of the street, safely clad
it sits
“You’re home.
breathe, Dear.
You’re home.”

 

The Night We Met

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

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

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

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

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

“B, this is my friend, Elena.”

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

“Nice to meet you too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You nodded. You smiled. You agreed. Safe.

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

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

“Do you think opposites attract?” you finished.

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

“Let me think about it.”

“Okay.”

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

“Yes and no.” I concluded.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I want to.

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

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

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

trying not to flee

Duck #104

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”