You Gave Me Life [Worth Dying For]

I began to write these things because I didn’t know how to help someone. I understood exactly where she was at, but didn’t know how to help her move forward from that spot. Experience produces empathy, not answers. So in those moments when people I love are looking for change, but looking in the wrong places, what am I to do?

What can I say that I haven’t said a thousand times before? Words don’t work if someone doesn’t truly want to change. Words don’t work if they’re only empty solutions. And you could say I just wanted to point out that there comes a time when we all must face the harsh truth that even wanting to change is not always enough to save us. Actions inevitably have equal and opposite reactions. Choices inevitably have unintended consequences and at some point we have to wake up and understand that this isn’t a game anymore. Eventually we all have to take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror and realize this is not just our life. Yes, we own it, our lungs breathe in and out. But the tiny threads of ourselves that we’ve distributed and entangled and woven throughout the stories of other people are no longer ours to control. We can’t just cut off the oxygen and expect things to continue on as normal. Life isn’t like that. People aren’t like that. And in my head that seems so obvious, but I know it wasn’t always obvious.

And then I thought, perhaps, what she needs is grace as well. After all, I’m just repeating things she knows, and even claims to believe. After all, I know firsthand there is a marked difference in rationally knowing something and letting it radically change you. That doesn’t devalue repetition. We need reminders all the time. But while I’m not here to be a Savior, I should have the same level of compassion, understanding, and mercy, that my Savior so quickly offers me. Grace to know there is no time span after which I can call someone a lost cause. Nobody is ever a lost cause, my human nature just makes me give up too easily. So I remind myself to remind her that I love her. Even if it’s completely obvious, to remind her over and over again.

While I was thinking all these things, I all at once realized: these feelings are not unique to how I relate to her. Do I not do this to my savior every day and wonder why nothing changes? Do I not scream to him “show me you love me, because I don’t believe it in this moment!” Do I not deny the grace He’s provided for me, thinking I need to change my actions first, not my heart? Do I not endlessly compare and contrast, excusing myself if there’s someone worse; condemning myself if there’s someone better? Do I not spit in the face of the only thing and the everything that I need, day after wretched day, because I think I’ve arrived, or think I’ve fallen too far?

Am I not every bit that weak and wounded sinner, constantly pursuing, as Paul describes, a form of so called Godliness, but denying the power found in it?

Suddenly I was acutely aware of the fact that perhaps, she is not the only one who needs her eyes opened.

Praise God, the story needn’t end there. Not for her, not for me. Today does not have to end in self-righteousness or self-destruction. Today is not over, and this story isn’t over, and the ending can still be Jesus. The ending should always be Jesus. Even when I hopelessly misconstrue Him, He doesn’t stop pursuing me either. And these days, these moments, yes we inevitably fall into them, but He has never failed to bring us out of them. When day after day, my own legs fall out from underneath me, His everlasting arms have yet to let me hit the floor. Life is a struggle, and we are sinners who can’t seem to stop sinning, but He is forgiveness. He is mercy. He is endless second chances. And never once has He made me walk alone.

And that’s when I realized, what she needs to know, is not how her self-concept is flawed. What she needs to know is how God is not. Maybe what she needs to find is not my reassurance; but a better picture of who God is. And maybe I need to fix myself before I try to fix her.

I think I had somehow got a picture in my head that wasn’t quite an accurate representation of God. So I’ll remind myself, and remind her, that He is relentless. He is not shaking under the weight of her mistakes or mine. He’s using them, every single time, to teach and sanctify our hearts.

Let me repeat until my own heart is calmed, then let me use those same words to help calm hers: My flesh and my heart may fail, but You are the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. (Psalm 73)

[[I was chasing healing when I’d been made well. / I was fighting battles when you
conquered hell. / 
Living free, but from a prison cell. / Lord, I lay that down today.]]

From One Scarred Hand [To The Other]

[[In times past, I have been overcome with doubt and questions regarding what I believe. Because God requires faith, but faith isn’t simply intellectual assent to a list of facts and it cannot be forced. I wrote this during one such time. I am sharing it now, because I know I am not the only one who has been paralyzed by unanswered questions. If you are doubting, this is for you.]] 

“As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed your sins from you.”

Well God”, I would ask, in words of that popular christian tune, “Can you show me just how far the east is from the west?” Because in moments I felt sure it couldn’t be a very large distance. “If You’ve really cast my sin away from me,” I’d wonder, “why am I still so close to it? Why do I still wallow around in it?”

Silence. So often such prayers would end in silence. And I’d grow tired. Tired of crying out to a metaphysical something or other in the sky who wasn’t listening. Tired of trying to live my life the right way with the right intentions even though my mind, my desperate mind, always found itself in the dirt.

Internally I’d tell myself to stop pretending. To stop kidding myself, as if God wanted anything to do with me. Sure, He might reward those who desire him, those who seek him. But my desire is selfish. And I do things because I’m afraid not to. I believe things because I’m afraid not to. That isn’t the kind of faith I signed up for. In fact, it’s not even faith at all. It’s just fear.

“God,” I always ended up trying again, “perfect love is supposed to cast out fear. If you are perfect love, and I am still afraid, do I even know you?” Doubt. Crippling, ravenous doubt. Did I ever know Him at all? Or did I just feel a little guilt and say a prayer to ease my conscience? He requires my life, and I’ve thus far failed at giving it. I am constantly coming up empty. Screaming “GOD, SEE ME. FILL ME. SHOW ME THAT I AM NOT JUST ANOTHER PURPOSELESS LIFE.”

I would plead mercy, shout accusations, beg forgiveness, and hurl insults into that dark, endless void. Waiting, begging, demanding, dying for a better answer than the meaningless one liners about “just needing to believe.” Belief is not intellectual assent to some lists of facts. I could agree with a list of facts and principles, but what I need is a relationship. I need presence. I need to know it’s even possible to have those things in the first place. I wasn’t trying to be like Thomas, and I knew You said “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But I needed to see. I needed You to explain to me how my failing attempts at serving You could possibly translate into salvation. Because I was exhausted.

And when I fell to depths I thought I’d long ago escaped from, you whispered “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. And I will build you up again.”

In those blinding moments of doubt, I have clung to that promise. “I will build you up again.” Because though I felt l like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling, He did hear them. And He promises that despite where I am, despite where I will go, despite how far I fall back into who I used to be, He will build me up again. I have nothing to hold onto except that promise. “I will forgive [your] wickedness, and will remember [your] sins no more.”

When my doubt was like an ocean, that promise became my saving grace. Perhaps you are in a similar place. The ending will come. Until it does, remember, remember, remember: The east never touches the west. He has removed your former self from you. Saying, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… I blot out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remember your sins no more.” When you’re questioning everything you ever thought you believed, remember His love for you is everlasting. When you fall to the pit, He promises to draw you back; forgetting your sins, and summoning you by name.

I was screaming, “God, I’m falling apart.” And He was there in those moments, whispering “Yes, and I will build you up again.”

~~~~~

[[I don’t have to see the man I’ve been, / Come rising up in me again. /

In the arms of your mercy, I find rest. / Because you know just how far

the east is from the west: / From one scarred hand to the other.]]

All That’s In My Head [Is In Your Hands]

Our conversation was marked with frustration that night
and punctuated with complications and self realizations.
We weren’t trying to lie to ourselves,
in fact we were doing the opposite:
keeping ourselves intact by prying the cracked
but crippling weights off our backs.

That night you told me you wanted to die,
that you were haunted by bad memories and early goodbyes.
Your words hung in the air with the smoke from that drivers cigarette.
And I’m willing to bet the words that slipped off my tongue weren’t
any more healthy for your mind than that smoke was for your lungs.
But we were both young and we strung thoughts and fears together
till they turned into knots in our heads we couldn’t get undone.

I want to save you. But I know nothing I could say,
would help numb your cravings.
You ask me, “How does a beautiful life
end up dead on a bathroom floor?”
I’m sorry, but I don’t have the answers you’re looking for.
I still don’t even know myself.
Maybe I never will. And learning to be ok with that
is a skill I’m still acquiring.

A poet named Levi, wrote “some people love [my work] because it’s honest.
And [some people] hate it because it’s crude.”
Well I’ve concluded you can’t have the former without the latter.
But you’re so obsessed with keeping up your
pointless chatter so people don’t see you that
you spend your whole life chasing things that don’t even matter,
while the important things, fall in tatters to the wayside.
You clean the home where you reside before people visit, and
you clean your heart so you can hide when people take an interest.
You don’t want them to see how you look inside,
because it’s crude,
and you think that’s offensive.

Look, I know you’re apprehensive about the future.
So am I.
But trying to suture your wounds alone
isn’t going to work.
Look me in the eye and tell me why you’re so opposed
to the one reliable thing in life?
You say your mind is too depraved.
I’m saying your depravity has been engraved
in the palms of a man who paved the way for your rescue.
You say you’re enslaved,
that you’ve got a grave waiting for you
to join the ones you’ve lost but I am not buying that.

Everything has an end.
The feelings you penned in your journal tonight
won’t be how you’re feeling tomorrow.
That doesn’t mean your emotions aren’t real. It just
means they’re not permanent.
And if they’re not permanent, they shouldn’t
be the determining factor in how you live
or who you forgive.
It may have been years ago but I know
that cross you and I took up to follow Christ,
isn’t dead.
You bleed red in your bedroom,
but he bled on that cross so you could
be home instead of lost.

I need you to understand that I understand.
I know firsthand that the journey to freedom isn’t smooth sailing,
it’s more like an unplanned crash landing on quick sand.
But even though it’s hard to figure out and hard to stand,
“I’ve seen people made of ashes, shine like Chrome”
when they take hold of the one
hand that can guide them home.

Smoke still wafts in the car, like a cruel joke,
trying to kill you before you’re provoked enough to do it yourself.
I think all of this without knowing how to say any of it.
My words would be cliche. And there’s no real way
to convey the things I prayed for you in that moment.
Maybe one day you’ll see this poem and know.

For right now, let me just remind you:
It’s said that everyone is broken but if you
continue to wear that label, it’s all you’ll ever be.

But you are not unfixable.
You are not unforgivable.

I need you to try.

~~~~~

[[It’s a longer way from yesterday / to where I am today. /
It’s a long way from my thoughts / to what I’ll say. /
But all that’s in my head / is in your hands.]]

This Little Light of Mine [I’m Gonna Let it Shine.]

[Today I graduated high school. It’s so crazy to think I started this blog right before my freshman year and now I’m finished. This is the speech I gave today. I wanted to share it with you as well.]

One of my favorite authors is Ralph Waldo Emerson. I actually wasn’t a huge fan until I decided to enroll in a poetry class that almost took both my sanity and my GPA. After spending the majority of that semester slaving over and overanalyzing his and many other poets work, I became rather attached.

In one of his essays, Emerson wrote “Never lose an opportunity for seeing anything that is beautiful; For beauty is God’s handwriting-a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in ever fair sky, in every fair flower. And Thank God for it as a cup of his blessing.”

I think it’s beautiful that I had the chance to stand up today with some of my close friends and be able to say “we’re graduating high school!” That sounds cliche but there are so many ways my life could have played out differently and yet God saw fit to give me an amazing family who taught me to love learning, and more important taught me to love Jesus. But If I were to pick the most important lesson or the one thing I learned in high school that I believe has shaped the person I am and will continue to help shape the person I become, it’s Emerson’s thoughts on Beauty.

There is beauty to be found in everything. Beauty in the good and happy parts of life, but perhaps more importantly beauty in the harder and more difficult parts of life. I think I’m pretty safe assuming everyone has experienced at some level, both happy and sad things. I certainly have, even just in the 18 years I’ve lived so far. I’ve made some great and amazing friends, I’ve had some incredible opportunities. And I’ve lost friends, and been let down and disappointed. And through those things, I’ve learned that everything we go through in life has a deeper meaning than we may not at first see, usually involves a valuable lesson for us to learn. And we have the ability to make even the difficult things, beautiful additions to our individual stories.

We can use our experiences to come along side and encourage other people in the same situations. That’s perhaps one of the most beautiful things I’ve figured out in high school: I’m not alone in the things I’m going through. There is always someone out there who has walked a road before me and can help me along my journey. And I’ve come through things that perhaps other people are currently walking through and I can come along side them and help them in their journey. And all those dark times I wasn’t always sure I’d come through: friends leaving, friends dying, being let down by people I trust, questioning my faith, I don’t know, AP calculus. There is beauty to be found in all of those things because I can use them to help other people.

Now, with all that said. One of the first things that would come to mind if I heard a speech like this, is “well, that’s all well and good but HOW do I make my life experiences beautiful?” And I’d say one of the main ways is simply to share with other people and be transparent. And how do you do that? Well. My friend Rachel [who graduated with me] is in love with this actor Richard Armitage and the two of us were looking up things he’d said a few nights ago and surprisingly enough, even actors can say smart things. One of his quotes was “Confidence isn’t manufactured, but comes through experience.” Being open with other people, especially about personal things can be scary but practice makes perfect. That’s not to say you should go shouting in the streets everything you’ve been through because someone might relate to it, but do be open and don’t be ashamed.

Beauty can come out of dark and ugly things. During the night there can be storms, but the sun always rises in the morning. Beautiful things still grow up, alive, out of ashes. So to go back to what Emerson wrote: “Never lose an opportunity to see anything that is beautiful.” In high-school I learned that my story is beautiful and I shouldn’t waste opportunities to view it as such. I learned that, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its own time… and no one can fathom what God has done from the beginning to end.

I hope you realize the same thing.

[[There’s a little flame inside us all / and some shine bright, some shine small. / The rains will come, /
and the waters will rise. / But don’t you ever lose your light.]]

You Alone [Can Lift Us Up Out Of The Grave]

I wrote the first paragraph of this poem in 2009, towards the start of my Freshman year. And I kept it because I loved the wording but I couldn’t figure out where to go with it. Four years, just a few weeks away from my high school graduation, and an unquantifiable amount of Gods grace and mercy later, I figured out what story I wanted to tell with it. And I finally finished it. 

There has to be more than just behaviors and belief.
Because your beliefs, gave me no relief.
And your behaviors were cheap copies of the real thing.
My wounds may have been deep,
but your words were shallow.
In fact, they were offending.
And I can’t keep pretending this is where
God intended me to be.

You told me to change my behavior
like that would be the cure,
but I didn’t need answers,
I needed a savior.

I needed hands that would hold me, not,
chains that would bind me, and,
when you finally find me, you’ll assign me some penance,
As if trying to be good, could blind Gods eyes to my
fragile state of mind.
I’m not that ignorant, so forgive me if I decline your
man made signs and wonders.

But that was then. And here we are now.
Our impending judgement looming a few steps ahead, and,
I’m not ready.

I like to point fingers.
I like to put the blame on everyone but me;
He yelled. She lied.
He left. She died.
But at the end of the day, the decisions were mine.
And I made the wrong ones.
I can try all I want to deny my guilt,
extend my case,
and blame everything on them.
But eventually I have to stop pretending.
I have to stop defending myself.
So here is my confession:

I needed something to cover my own indiscretions,
numb my depression, and remove my transgression.
But I looked in the wrong direction.
I put my faith in things and people.
I hid beneath the steeple of my church and acted holy,
but I was wholly fake.
Cause on Sunday mornings I’d praise God,
and by Sunday night I’d hate Him.
So I’d berate Him, debate him,
and try to bait Him into being wrong.

When it didn’t work, I’d hate myself,
sedate myself, negate myself.
But I couldn’t recreate myself.
So I ended up self destructing.
I’d shut myself away,
and try to punish myself while I prayed,
Asking, “God, if I just went deep enough,
would you be less dismayed with my betrayal?”
I was a sorry display, decayed and afraid.

Then one night, I guess God finally heard me.
Or maybe I finally heard him.
It took me realizing I didn’t care, and
thinking no one else did either
but I sure figured out what rock bottom looks like.
It wasn’t the thrill I was expecting.

And when I woke up the next morning, most certainly alive
I was so angry that God
would force me to survive.

I can’t explained what happened next.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I swear, God asked me,
if I was done yet.

And I was ashamed.

I read Isaiah fifty three.
I don’t really know why,
other than that’s what came to mind.
I knew the reference from some song I’d heard,
sung out of key, in a church
by people who thought they knew me.

“He was pierced for our,
for my, transgression.”
Pierced for my obsession with sin.
My questions, aggression, and false impression of Him.

“He was crushed for my sin.”
Crushed for my wrong doing.
Crushed for the secrets, and lies I kept pursuing,
for the battles I kept losing,
and the things that became my undoing.

“The punishment that brings me peace,
is placed on Him.”
He takes the pieces I’ve broken,
my deceased hopes, and words left unspoken,
He takes them and defeats them.
Releasing me to freedom.

“By His wounds I am healed.”
By His scars, my own are healed.
By His marks, I am sealed.
He appealed my case,
and become my shield.

I guess I realized the pride I’d hidden in my heart.
I’d spent the last few years lying to myself,
and trying to guide myself to a life worth living.
I thought I could find myself,
I couldn’t.

When Jesus found me that night,
I was tight rope walking off a cliff.
And He gave me a reason to exist.
My identity was “sinner.”
He changed it to “redeemed.”

And sometimes it seems like God couldn’t possibly
esteem us.
He couldn’t possibly
deem us to be more than worthless.

And yet He saved us.
Paid for us, and remade us.
And whether I see it or not, He
has taken the scars I thought would always mar me;
and healed them.
Taken the chains for which,
I couldn’t find the key,
and freed me.
Maybe I’m out of my mind,
and that wouldn’t surprise me
but I’m believing His promise that He’ll never leave me

So when you come into the fire,
and you’re trying but nothing’s changing,
and you’re losing your desire to go on.
Remember you were not created to
merely fill up space in this world.
If you feel fake, remember you can make
the choice to embrace God or
run from Him.

And should you run from Him,
realize even then, He isn’t done with you.
And He will finish the work He’s
begun in you.
None are good enough to earn forgiveness,
but none at too badly undone to receive it.

If you’re lost, He can find you.
He can remind you until your eyes see it,
and your mind retains it:
You were not designed to live a life defined by
how many times you’ve chosen to die or live on.

This life has much less to do with mistakes,
and more to do with grace.
The breaks in your heart can’t be healed with
ace bandages or be quietly erased.
But they can be replaced by something greater.

If God would let His own son die,
so He could keep me alive,
even when I defied, decried, and misapplied His mercy.
Then surely, surely, He will not deny you
a second chance. A third chance. A millionth chance.

And though your shame – though my shame – be deeper than the ocean.
Gods grace is deeper still.

[[You, oh Lord, have made a way / The great divide You heal
For when our hearts were far away / Your love went further still.]]

Drop Your Chains [And Sing.]

I have 30+ journals. Filled journals. That cover a span of about five and a half years. They contain literally everything. Prayers, thoughts, conversations, poetry, rants that are so emotionally charged they could probably power the whole country for several days, etc. Freshman year, I wrote about a friend who had told me, after a really bad day, that falling is not the same thing as failing. You know those conversations that stick in your head for years after the fact? Yeah, that was one of those conversations.

Sanctification is a process. I have never and will never wake up and think “Today I will be sanctified and then it’s easy living from here on out.” Change simply does not work like that. We all know this intrinsically: we know nothing happens overnight. Maybe some people have lightening moments, but for most of us, change is more of a marathon. A journey that ends only in Heaven. And because we are human, we will make mistakes during that journey.

Another journal entry I found from freshman year stated simply: “God, you. are. [blank]. wrong.”

As messed up as that statement may be, it’s honest. It’s an admission of something most Christians have, at some point, felt, but few express. So, in that sense, I don’t think it was wrong of me to write the sentence down. Yes, the statement itself is false; God was not wrong. But it wasn’t wrong for me to express the fact that I felt He was. Why? Because God can handle my honesty.

My whole perception of God was so screwed up back then, but maybe the only thing I did right was tell God exactly what I thought of Him and the things that were happening. That’s something, as Christians, we tend to shy away from once our pasts become the past. Not necessarily because we feel it less, but because it’s less acceptable to make mistakes and question things. Raw emotion, when it comes to God, is not wrong. We do not have to be stable and rational when we approach God. He is not going to break down under the weight of our questions and confusion. And He will not abandon us when our sin nature causes us to [gasp] sin.

The idea of this is, once we are redeemed, our redemption becomes our identity. We are still carrying around our sin nature, and we still screw up, but our sin no longer has the power to define who we are. Post-redemption, making mistakes is no longer the same thing as being a mistake. And falling down is no longer failure.

The point? I believe that though we don’t have the power to say “from this moment on I will never sin.” Or, “From today forward, I am fully sanctified.” We do have the power to choose what mindset we live in and whose power we’re fighting with.  To quote one of my favorite books, “We don’t get to choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there.” That means each day we have the power to start new. We have the power to wake up and choose where we will go and what path we will take to get there. And when we end up on the wrong path, we can choose to turn around and walk on a different one.

I often make the mistake of assuming freedom and perfection are synonymous. They’re not. Freedom does not mean I never slip up. Freedom means I have discarded the idea that I am defined by my sin, and adopted the idea that Christ defines me and in Him I can never be enslaved by sin again. Affected by it, and at times living in it, but never defined by it. To quote Romans 7, “if I do what I do not want to do [IE: sin] it is no longer I who does it, but sin which dwells in me.” Being set free, means that no matter how many times I find myself elsewhere, I have a home and a Father who does not run out of second chances.

I am free because, though I am unable in my own strength, in Jesus I have the power to not to live in the places I feel stuck.

[[Lord I falter and I fall down / Then I hold on to the chains you broke
When You came down and saved my soul / But Hallelujah / We are free to struggle /
We’re not struggling to be free. /
Your blood bought and makes us children /
So children drop your chains and sing.]]

I Pray You Never Forget [Who You Are]

“It matters not what’s on the table, but who’s sitting in the chairs.” Impromptu speech topic at its best, even though the speech I gave on it wasn’t exactly spectacular. What does it mean? That people matter more than things, events, and circumstances.

I have seen that recently. Seen it both exemplified by some incredible people and see the need to emphasize it more in my own life. I was at a tournament and a friend was nervous about a particular event. So another friend started a little prayer huddle. And I’m standing there listening to my friend pray for his competition to win. Praying out of sincerity. Praying out of grace.

I am humbled by that.

And so I end up praying and asking God, “Why do I get so wrapped up in me?” I’ve got my goals, my ideas, my hopes. I have all these ambitions that I pursue so relentlessly, perhaps at the cost of something greater: the people around me. And I don’t want to become so enamored with what I’m doing and where I’m going that I forget the people who are working and walking with me. I don’t want to be so absorbed by what’s on the table and what’s at stake, that I forget the most valuable thing I’ll gain from this life is relationship.

So much I have been seeing how little I see. A good friend of mine was recently talking to me about some struggles he’d been having. Things I had no idea were going on. It caught me a little off guard. I rely so heavily on my intuition and yet that conversation reminded me that I’m neither psychic nor a hero. That for as much as I am constantly reminding others not to assume or make judgement about another persons story, I still unconsciously do it as well. That we are all fighting battles. That we don’t always win. That there are demons hidden even from the eyes most used to seeing them.

That I’m still human. And everyone else is too. That we are all just trying to find ourselves in a world that isn’t making that quest an easy one.

And yet I still waste my time arguing about things as petty as politics; and comparing myself to pretty much everyone else. As if people are less important than politics. As if people are less important than me being the best or most popular. I’m so tired of that game and yet I still play it…

I turned 18 this past weekend and [surprise surprise] I was at a tournament. I’m sitting in a restaurant with like 200 other people; people are not only my competition but also my friends and almost my family. And you know what I realized? These moments, when I’m laughing, drinking milkshakes, and hyper on my lack of sleep, these moments are the infinite ones.

And when I’m 80, I want to look back and remember THESE nights. Not my grades, not my awards, but these people. I want to remember the jokes. remember the cuff links and mildly cheesy puns about pianos and mine shafts. There is just so much more to life than my ten year plan. And to all my dear friends reading thing, you guys matter so much to me. You matter way more than my results at a tournament, or my college degree. And I’m here for each one of you. And I pray for each one of you. And sometimes I forget how blessed I am.

Thanks to you guys, though, I’m pretty sure 18 is going to be awesome.

[[When the shadows fall tonight / I pray you still hear the songbirds /
May your laughter keep you warm / 
And your smile hold its form /
You’re a flower in these storms. / May the rain make you stronger.]]

Called Unworthy [A Hope That Will Carry Me Home.]

“Second rate at best. Damaged goods. Eternally marred at worst.” I know a girl who once used those words to describe herself. I remember almost crying because the statement was so far from true. I guess life seems pretty broken at points. Actually I don’t guess that; I know it. It’s easy to ignore our depravity, but only for a time. Then it smacks us in the face. Deep down we all know and feel like we’re screw ups.

We’ve been raised in a culture that ensures we know our theology better than the backs of our hands. We’re trained from infancy to know right from wrong. We’re taught how to explain, communicate, and pass on our beliefs. And that’s a pretty awesome thing to be exposed to. But sometimes that mindset creates illusions that are false. We’re correctly taught to hate sin, but we’re human; we always sin. And it’s easy to fall into the mindset that sin cheapens us. That our sin and mistakes make us second rate. That the fall of humanity forced God to switch from perfect “Plan A” to slightly less perfect “Plan B.” We know we’re redeemed, yes, but we don’t feel like we’re worth as much as we were in our previous, pre-sinful state.

So we turn to other things to make us worth more. Some turn to legalism. Faith becomes less about faith and more about keeping rules: dress right, act right, believe right, BE right. Be the better Christian, the wiser Christian, the perfect Christian. As if our actions can somehow elevate us in Gods eyes. As if our efforts are more than filthy rags.

Some turn to doubt. Faith becomes less about faith and more about figuring out all the gaps: always ask questions, demand answers, figure out what theology makes the most sense. Figure out the mind of God himself, as if such a thing were even possible. As if “my ways are above your ways, and my thoughts are above your thoughts,” is a passage only for the simpleminded.

Some simply resign themselves to being damaged goods. Faith becomes less about faith and more about what a person feels: too far gone, to messed up, believing grace can cover sin, but goes no further. No restoration and renewal, just erased sins. As if God isn’t strong enough to reach past a certain level. As if he doesn’t take delight in that very thing.

Maybe we feel a certain way, but the Bible says otherwise. There’s a saying “God says, I believe it, that settles it.” My dad likes to change it to “God says it, that settles it.” God values us. He created us, and sets our value. Other people don’t get the right to change that. And neither do we. If God creates us, sees our sins, and still values us, that settles the matter. Nothing we do can increase our value, nothing we do can decrease our value, and nothing can explain why we are valued. Our value simply IS.

This seems like such a simple topic, and yet every time I study it, it floors me. I’ve read through the verses that talk about Gods love a hundred times or more. I’ve studied the passages that talk about believers being new creation in Christ just as many times. And yet, concept of redemption, of being bought back, and made new, still makes my head spin. My theology class is studying redemption right now in class, and I’m still learning new things. Like the idea that when God redeems us, and buys us back, He increases our value. We’re worth more as redeemed sinners, than perfect non-sinners. I’m not going to try to explain it, I’m still figuring it out myself, but think about that. It’s so easy to think our sin has ruined Gods original plan, but that’s not true. It’s so easy to think we’re just cheap and replaceable to God, but that’s not true. It’s so easy to feel worthless.

But sin never forced God to switch to “plan B.” And our mistakes have never kept us away from His love. And your value to Christ, is unimpeachable, unchangeable, and unimaginable. My theology teacher put it beautifully: “A lot of times we carry around this sense of ‘I’ve messed up, I’m in plan B, there may be some glory in me but it’s all tarnished up, etc. But God does not see it that way. He uses all of these things as part of the redemption process. When you became His, He determined your value. He’s using all these things to transform you from glory to glory. There is no plan B… [because] you cannot overcome God’s plan A for your life. If God can use the murder of His son to be the very thing that brings [redemption] about, there is nothing you can do that will ever trump that.”

[[I hear you whisper, / “Child, lift up your head.” /
And I remember, oh God,  / You’re not done with me yet. /
I am redeemed.
]]

Back to the Beginning [Welcome to Midnight]

Fireworks, sparkling cider, and then 2012 bites the dust. Another year behind me; can’t say I’ll miss it. I’ll probably take that statement back when I’m about 80, but for now I’m not quite 18 and I’m ready for a new year. New years mean new plans, new friends, new memories, new chances. This next year definitely holds a lot of change for me. I’ll be graduating this May.  Leaving for college this August, in a state 20 hours away from everything I’m familiar with. 2013 will certainly be a transition year. Now that I think about it, every year is a transition year. Life is a perpetual cycle of change. I’m continually learning to be ok with that fact.

I’m not sure what it is about January 1st that causes people to attempt to better themselves as people. We spend an entire evening playing games, and eating junk food, and watching “the ball” drop. We usher in a new year with such excitement and when the clock hits midnight, we make toasts and some people make out and everyone begins a new regime of things to change about their lives. As if the number 2013 has some sort of ability to wipe our slates clean and give us the strength to change. I do believe it’s possible to change. I agree with Jamie Tworkowski, who wrote in his new years blog “Maybe [midnight] is the most honest moment of the year.” But the clock hitting midnight doesn’t magically wipe the old year away. That is something we must do ourselves.

I did and experience a whole lot of different things in 2012. In my new years post last year, I shared some of those moments and decided to do the same thing this year.

Florida [February]

I visited Clearwater to kind of get a feel for the school. Even though it wasn’t my first choice of schools, I came away feeling ok about probably attending there. And I’m happy to report it’s my official college choice and I’ll be there next fall.

Regionals [April]

I made so many incredible friends over the 2011/2012 speech&debate season. Regionals was such a great way to end the year. I was slightly disappointed to be one slot away from nationals qualification but even so, it’s one of the best tournaments I’ve had. I remember more than one person coming up to me after various rounds to tell me how a particular speech I’d given had affected them. It was just a beautiful tournament. 🙂

LeVo Camp [June]

I spent a week with my best friend, who I hadn’t seen in two years. She came all the way from South Korea just to see me! [Well. That’s only half true, but that’s beside the point.] It was SO amazing to be able to see her and actually hug her and talk face to face instead of via skype. She’s one of the most incredible people I have ever met. She challenges me, she listens to me, and she doesn’t give up on me. She’s probably the biggest source of encouragement I have in my walk with God. ❤

Switchfoot [November]

In a crazy series of events [it was actually kind of weird] I had the opportunity to attend a concert and meet the guys from the band Switchfoot. If you know anything about me, you know Switchfoot is my absolute favorite band. The guys are some of my heroes. Meeting them was literally on my bucket list. [Yeah, I almost passed out. Not even kidding.] Their music and work has helped me through so much and pointed me to Christ in ways that aren’t fake. They’re honest about life and honest about hope. It was an incredible night.

All of that said, there had certainly been tough moments too. Senior year has been stressful and keeping up too often comes at the sacrifice of sleeping. I’ve lost friends. I’ve had to re-align various friendships. I had to rule out my #1 school choice in exchange for something financially realistic.

The point is, I have many moments from 2012 that I have to let go of before I can enter 2013. The good, the bad, those things are all water under the bridge now. Midnight doesn’t erase those things, but I can wipe my slate clean. I have that ability. You have that ability. We CAN choose to change. We can put 2012 behind us and be defined by different things. If 2012 was a great year for you, awesome! Make 2013 even better! If 2012 was one of the hardest years of your life, I’m fighting with you and 2013 holds new chances, new opportunities, new reasons to keep going. Change doesn’t happen in a moment, but it does happen. It happens every morning when you wake up and decide to start fresh. It happens when you fail to keep your resolutions within the first week of making them, but decide to start fresh. It happens when you choose to believe that Jesus has yet to run out of “welcome home” banners.

Personally, I want 2013 to be about recommitment. I want to rediscover the things I care about and what I’m believing and why I believe it.

Last year my theme song was Where I Belong by Switchfoot. The message of the song being how to live in this world, when we belong in the next one. This years theme song is called Back to the Beginning, also by Switchfoot. It’s not going to be released until this June/July, but the guys played it at the concert I went too. This video of the song is actually from that concert, [I didn’t take it, but I love it because I was there.] It’s about starting over. It’s about rediscovery and recommitment just like I want this year to be about. 🙂

Anyways, that’s all for now, kids. I hope you all have an incredible 2013. Thanks for being with me over the years.

[[And the ocean roars / And wheels they spin, / You are what I’m running towards /
Bring me back, / Bring me back to the beginning again]]

Off the Tracks [Break These Walls Down]

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity thrown in my lap. I was at a park, and a complete stranger started talking to me. He actually thought I was the mom of the kids I nanny, but that’s beside the point. We began to talk about life. How its hard a lot of the time. How people do really hurtful things. How it’s hard to cope. There was shame in his voice as he recounted some of his own personal failures. I suppose I understood because I’ve been there too. Maybe not in the exact same situations but shame is universal I think. And so we started talking about things that are bigger than our failures. I told Him I believe in a God way bigger than the things I’ve done and do wrong. That, the God I serve is faithful even when my life is collapsing around me. Then I did something I try to avoid doing with people I’ve only known 30 minutes: I shared my testimony with him. When I had to leave, he thanked me for talking with him, and I wrote down the gist of what he said because I knew I’d want to share it eventually.

“I’ve met so many Christians who try to give me answers. Thank you for your honesty; I’ve been needing someone to admit they don’t have it all together either, but they still have a reason to keep going.”

Later that week, I found out he called up my pastor to talk. He never came to my church, but I think, if nothing else, that conversation planted a seed. And that’s what we’re called to do, right? Take the opportunities we’re given and share Jesus.

I wish we weren’t so quick to dish out solutions, though. Certainly, Jesus is the ultimate answer, but he’s not a magic “everything’s better,” card. I’ve learned so much about people and reaching out over the last few years but what I’ve seen more than anything else is that nobody is immune to pain. We all need hope and something to hold on too sometimes. And I’ve been trying to write about this ever since I talked to that stranger; unsure of what to say.

I guess the point is it’s important to be open with people. You never really know what’s going on in the lives of people around you; strangers or even friends. There have certainly been times in my life when I wished someone would actually talk to me, not just chat with me. Times when I wished someone would actually pray with me, not just say they’re praying for me. And then there are have been times when people, close friends and sometimes even people I didn’t know very well did take time to stop and pray with me or listen to me. Those times have often produced more encouragement than a quick “God’s in control,” or “I’ll be praying for you.”

There have been people in my life, who have shared their stories with me openly. And those were probably the times I felt least alone and most understood. A good friend of mine was sharing with me once about her struggles with suicide. I don’t remember who originally said it but my friend shared a quote as a sort of summation of her story that goes “The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.” And her story, despite all the pain it contained, was probably was the most beautiful and encouraging things I’d heard. Why? Because it was a reminder that people have been where I’ve been and God rescued them. At that point in my life I was in a pretty similar place as the man I met in the park: I wasn’t sure about my faith, or really my life in general. And my friend, who at that point I’d only known a few months, took the time to be open with me and tell me I wasn’t alone and I needed to keep going. I can’t really explain how much that meant to me.

But people’s cliches and quick answers never really did anything for me. So I’m going to try to conclude this without being cliche.

If you’re in a place right now, that’s dark. I’m not going to try to guess at your circumstances; we all walk through individual hells at times. If you’re stuck somewhere, in some moment, and you can’t figure out how to get out of the ditch. I need you to know that I’ve been there too. You need to keep trying. Difficulty kind of tends to make humans short sighted; blinding us to the possibility that change, freedom, and hope, are just over that next hurdle. Everything has an end; even hard things. I have no answers for the things we go through in this life. Not a single one. But I do know your story doesn’t have to end here. Jesus Christ didn’t give up His life to let you suffocate in this world.

[[How, you don’t even know / but you know you’re off the tracks / and how did you get in here? / I’ll help you break the walls down / and bust you out / and take you home. / Believe you, me, you are not alone.]]