Bad Haircut Grace and America the Beautiful

“Your hair! Your beautiful hair! Oh Jo, how could you?  Your one beauty.”

-Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

A quote from a novel has never struck a chord with me as much as this one.

Growing up, my hair was my one beauty.  While little boys would bully me on account of my size and ugly, boyish features, hair salonists would praise the beauty in my hair and marvel at how “grownup” it seemed.

Strangers often stare at me in the bathroom mirror and tell me how gorgeous my locks are.  It’s not uncommon for friends and relatives to often tell me how jealous they are of my head of hair.

The time and money I spend on my hair is what some probably spend on average on their pet.  I’ll be completely transparent and admit that this time last year, while my face was broken out with acne induced from severe graduate thesis stress, I would often think to myself, “Well, at least I still have my hair to rely on…”

So today, when I went to get my hair cut by a new salonist (my former hairdresser left to go to another salon), you can imagine there was some apprehension.

“Paige”, as we will call her, wanted to be sure I knew what had been done incorrectly to my hair prior to her hands getting a hold of it.  Paige was quick to justify every strange move she made with her scissors, making cuts I had never seen done on a head of hair, let alone my own.  She was unapologetic in her moves and I couldn’t bring myself to speak up and challenge her, what with how she went on and on about how she would fix everything that had been done wrong previously.

Fear swept over me as I realized what was happening.  This new hairdresser was doing serious damage on my locks!  Suddenly it became all too real that I would no longer be able to fix my hair as I used to.  What was once free for me to do with my hair was now taken from me.  I would no longer be Valerie known for that beautiful, free-flowing head of hair.  I would no longer be considered beautiful.

With her strange methods and the shear amount she cut off, I wasn’t even sure it would be able to grow out the same way again.  The added layers to my long hair had me anticipating to see Joe Dirt in the mirror looking back at me.  It was all I could do not to break down in her chair in front of her.

Hours later I found myself in my apartment, crying into my brother’s shoulder as he stroked my back and assured me I looked okay, that I was still beautiful.  My parents reminded me to focus on other things, to pray for the Lord to help me work through this, knowing how much my hair has always meant to me.

But, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t for the life of me see any amount of good or hope in this rather bleak situation.  All I could do was continue to run my fingers through my hair and feel where hair once was, where life and beauty and hope once was


I promised myself I would not make one political “post” this election season.  And so, I will keep that promise to myself… Certainly a bad haircut cannot and should not be compared to the implications of a nation’s election.

However, I will go out on a wild hair (BA-DUM-CH) and say that America the Beautiful could possibly use some Bad Haircut Grace, the kind of grace that soothes tears and reminds us that with time will come the opportunity for growth, the opportunity to learn from mistakes made, the opportunity to realize that raising your voice respectfully despite felt fear is necessary and can make a real difference.

Bad Haircut Grace is the kind of grace that may not even look like it’s needed from some perspectives because some would say everything now looks great again, if not better, than it did before.

Bad Haircut Grace is the kind of grace that makes you say the words, “I will be thankful for what I have because I know others go on with far less.”  Bad Haircut Grace reminds you that you should consider yourself blessed based on the deeper things that matter.

Bad Haircut Grace is the kind of grace that is humbling in the moment because you must face the one who is responsible for how things turned out with kindness and respect despite knowing what you looked like before.

Bad Haircut Grace is the kind of grace that is hard to swallow for a while, but makes you learn to love other things about yourself more and better.


Jeremiah 31:2-3 Thus says the LORD: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

This verse reminded me that while I may feel pretty hopeless (and pretty petty too), I did in fact survive “the sword” and I can still find grace in the time being.  Rather, it is the Lord who will provide me with the extra grace I need for as long as I need it.

Some folks will say statements like, “God has left America because of its wickedness,” while others will say “America was never and should never be considered a Christian nation.”  Without dissecting these statements further, the one thing I know to be true is that the Lord loves Americans, both male and female and everything in between, both domestic and foreign born, both heterosexual and homosexual, both pro-life and pro-choice, both democrat and republican, with an everlasting love.  And He will continue to be faithful to those who claim Him in His name.

(BTW, I’ve already googled how to make hair grow faster.  I’m chocking this up to 2016 being a bad year in many ways all around.)

(And just FYI, if you find yourself buying any cute head bands and hats for your girl to wear for the time being, I certainly won’t reject them.) ❤

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The Art of Pouring New Wine

wine.gif

I don’t know about you, but for most of my life I felt like I could not see how —or even if– I had grown or changed at all.  I always felt like I was just the same old Val, making the same mistakes, dealing with the same issues, seeing life from the same perspective, and going in one forward direction… That is, until I moved away and came back again.

Life is full of growth and changes, this we know.  Often times we cannot see the growth and changes in ourselves because it’s all too close and personal.

But, sometimes, life throws us a glimpse of what has changed about us when it takes us back around to where we’ve once been…


So, I find myself back in a place where I once was ~yahta~yahta~yahta~ I was in Texas and now I’m in Florida.

But, I’m not the same girl who once was here.  Sure, I have a new title and I’m obviously a few years older with a few more lines and curves on me, but the transformation goes far beyond the surface.

With the time that passed since I was here came experiences and growth that cannot be quantified or summarized or even fully realized.  Those kinds of experiences and that kind of growth does far more than just change how you fix your hair or butter your tortilla at Mexican restaurants (that’s actually a thing in Tejas, you understand).

And that’s what keeps hitting me in the face as I reconnect with familiar faces here.  They say:

“Hey! It’s so good to see that you’re back!”

“It’ll be just like old times.”

“It’s like nothing has changed… Well, besides Archer of course.”

Yet, all I can think when I hear these statements is:

1.  I don’t feel like I’m actually “back,”

2.  I’m not sure I want it to be like “old times,” and

3. So much has “changed.”


—–Now, take your Bibles and turn to one of the strangest passages of scripture, especially for those of us who refrain from alcohol.

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

21 “No one sews a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” 

Mark 2:18-22

I can remember reading this passage when I was younger and being so confused by Jesus here.  I understood that, once again, the Pharisees got it wrong.  I understood Jesus wanted to defend his disciples from the Pharisees’ false judgment, to clarify that fasting was about spending time with God and not legalistic practice — about relationship with Him and not religion for themselves.

But, what I could never wrap my brain around was this whole wineeeeeeee thing.

whats happening

What was Jesus really trying to say here?

The disciples had moved beyond knowing God from just what was commonly taught about Him.  Lessons they may have heard or had been taught previously about the Kingdom of God were continuously being challenged and stretched by the daily-what’s-Jesus-going-to-do-or-say-next-bit.

Although we know the disciples were just ordinary men before following Jesus, there was no way they could return to their former way of life after what they witnessed and experienced living with Jesus.  And, although we also know the disciples did not always fully understand or appreciate what they witnessed and experienced, there was no way they could not walk away with a greater, deeper understanding of concepts such as fasting and praying after what they learned from Jesus’ teachings.

I think Jesus was trying to explain why the disciples could not be expected to fast the way the Pharisees thought they should.  The disciples would never return to old religion as a way of worship.  Rather, when they would one day fast after Jesus was gone, it would be different because they were now different.

New experiences, new knowledge and understanding is like new wine.  It cannot be contained in old wineskins, in former ways of thinking and living, without risking rupture and tear.  The newfound faith of the disciples was like a new wine that would tear apart anything that had not stretched and grown with their deeper understanding of their faith.


Out in Texas, a very attractive young man taught me the art of pouring new wine in a glass.  See, new wine is not something to be dumped without care or intentionality.  He showed me how to hold the bottle with my fingers wrapped around the base, then how to pull-in my wrist so that I could make the motion of turning the bottle as I poured.

Wine connoisseurs know all the classy tricks and tips with wine: how wines can be paired with certain foods to bring out flavors, how to smell wine and whirl it around in a glass to judge its aroma and clarity, how to select glassware for your various wines, and the list goes on.  It’s all about bringing out the best in that wine, whether its new or aged, and appreciating it to its fullest potential.

While I do not know how long I will find myself living where I am, I do know that I should be pouring myself out as a new person here and not as the old Val.  My experiences have taught me lessons that I cannot quite articulate yet.  Growth has made me see life with deeper meaning, richer colors, and wider scope.  I’m like a new wine, and I cannot expect myself to fit in my old wineskin without bursting or rupturing.

NOW, it would be easy to make this analogy about how I am the new wine and my current surroundings and people, which all seem so similar to what I left two years ago, are the old wineskin.  But, what I had not considered until now is that the people who I left here may have changed and grown in their own ways also, and thus they need “new wineskins” offered from me as well…

I believe the art of pouring ourselves out as “new wine” is about highlighting and appreciating deeper, richer, and greater parts of ourselves that form over time and with new experiences.  It’s also about offering ourselves up as “new wineskins” to be poured into when we encounter “new wines” in others.

I’m still figuring out all the intricate details of my new wine, who I have become and what that means for those I meet again.  In the mean time, I hope to also be figuring out how I can stretch and grow as a new wineskin for those I “re-meet” here.

(So be patient with me, new wines.)

 

The things about 24

I’ll be 24 years old on the 24th of March, 2016.  24 is one year shy of a quarter of a century – a whole fourth of a hundred years!

I’ll be real; I really thought by now I would have been married and settled with a life of my own.  By 24, I figured I would have really known what I want to do for a career.  I thought I would be more established and unwavering in my faith and teaching multiple bible studies.  I thought I would have an established community of friends.  I thought I would have a better handle on my emotions.

But again, I’ll be real; I don’t have a whole lot figured out at 24.  I’m still unmarried and childless, and that’s really painful for me to think about.  I’m still unsure what I’ll be doing 5 years from now.  I still call my dad at least once or twice a week in need of a spiritual pep talk.  I have had plenty of pitfalls and moments of doubt this past year to disqualify me from teaching a bible study any time soon.  I am once again at ground zero when it comes to building a community of friends to love and be loved by.  I still have emotional breakdowns.

But, instead of focusing on the things I don’t know about, I decided to attempt to list 24 things I do know to be true.  

Like me when I wake up in the morning, self-awareness and reflection ain’t always pretty, but it’s crucial to moving forward.  

So here goes:


4 THINGS I REGRET

  1. I regret rushing graduate school and ending that season of my life.
  2. I regret not realizing sooner that my year and a half in Texas was what Trace Adkins was talking about when he said “you’re gonna miss this.”
  3. I regret rushing into ‘love’ time and time again when it wasn’t quite right or good.
  4. I regret not realizing sooner that I’m just a teacher at heart, plain and simple, and there’s no reason to shy away from that calling.

4 THINGS I DREAM ABOUT DOING

  1. I dream about someday teaching students, year after year, student after student, baked goods after baked goods.
  2. I dream about someday finding someone to spend the rest of my life with, to go on adventures with and learn alongside.
  3. I dream about someday being a ‘mom’ to so many children, both my very own and picked up along the way.
  4. I dream about someday loving and discipling sisters in Christ like my mama does.

4 THINGS I LEARNED THIS PAST YEAR

  1. I learned I love students and teaching more than anything else I could ever imagine doing.
  2. I learned what it means to not put as much weight into what people think.
  3. I learned how to truly trust and rely on others who love you when you really need the help.
  4. I learned how to make my bed everyday (this might have happened more recently…oops).

4 THINGS I HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH THIS COMING YEAR

  1. I hope to start paying off my college loans and develop a steady budget to live from.
  2. I hope to learn how to better paint paintings of random things like angus cows, redfish, and pineapples.
  3. I hope to go to be a better daughter, sister, and friend to my people.
  4. I hope to actually take care of my newly purchased car (a maroon Chevy Equinox that I’m naming either Ethel or Scarlett O’Hara–haven’t decided which yet), which includes learning what it means to actually care about a vehicle.

4 THINGS THAT I’M STILL WRESTLING WITH

  1. I’m wrestling with my need to forgive and release hurts I’ve carried around way too long to make any kind of sense.
  2. I’m wrestling with finding my voice, especially when it comes to story-telling (I’m LITERALLY the worst story-teller there ever was).
  3. I’m wrestling with contentment in my present circumstances.
  4. I’m wrestling with recognizing God’s trustworthiness, especially with my future.

4 THINGS THAT STILL SET MY SOUL ON FIRE

  1. The onion layers of people (personality, strengths, culture, generation, identity, etc.).
  2. Education and personal leadership development for my generation.
  3. Adoption and missions.
  4. Blogging, especially when I know God has put real words on my heart.

 

Welcome to Nineveh, Part Free.

Catch up with Parts 1 and Dos here and here, respectively.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Having just been spit up from the depths of the sea and the belly of a sea creature, having just experienced God’s mercy and power over all of nature, and having finally come to terms with what God had told him to do in the first place, Jonah obeys God.

For three days, Jonah goes through the motions of proclaiming the message God had given them. For three days, Jonah walked through what probably seemed like the streets of Las Vegas, preaching truth to people he was willing to turn away from completely just a few days prior.

And, probably to Jonah’s amazement, the Ninevites/Las Vegans (is that what you would call someone from Las Vegas?) responded with fear of the Lord. Even the king embraced Jonah’s warning, which is amazing by itself when you think about what it takes to completely change the heart and mind of a leader. 

God spared Nineveh. God reclaimed the people of Nineveh through Jonah’s obedience. That was His plan all along. And so it happened that way. 


 

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Forget Jonah really changing after his Swallowed-up-by-Sushi experience. Homeboy is still bent out of shape that God made him go to the one place he did not want to go in the first place.

This is one of those Bible stories that leaves me hanging, every time.

Like, really God?? You couldn’t have made this story end more cleanly? I mean, we really could have wrapped up this chapter with a completely different ending:

(See Val’s alternative ending) 

Verse 11 Jonah turned to the Lord and said, “Oh jeez, God. You’re so right. Silly me. I think I was allergic to that plant anyway. You always know best, Lord. You give and take away. And those crazy Ninevites? I’m happy they turned to you, and I’m even happier that You were You and showed them Grace. Now let’s go home, preferably not by way of a fish belly, please?”

Verse 12 And so Jonah never, ever ran away from God again. The end.

See how easy that was? But God let the story end differently. God made sure his plan for Nineveh came through, but He was willing to let Jonah pout.

Even while Jonah was so merciless as to sit outside the walls of Nineveh and *hope* to see God pour down His judgement on the Ninevites in some kind of spectacular, apocalyptic fashion, God was so merciful as to sit with Jonah and provide him with shade to comfort him.

And when God decides to take away the plant he provided Jonah, Jonah returns to his depressed state of mind, forgetting the One who has taken care of him all along in favor of the One who brought him to this darn-awful city in the first place. 

(Hand raised high in the air) “I do that. I remember God like that.”

I remember Him as the One who brings me to places I don’t want to be instead of remembering Him as the One who keeps graciously providing for me every step of the way.

Dadgummit. The parallel of this story has reached full-circle.

I am *gasp* JONAH.


 

But I don’t wanna be Jonah.

I don’t want to struggle in my Nineveh. I don’t want to stay in the belly of my grief. I don’t want to resent God’s plan for this new season of life. And I don’t want to believe He FAILED me when He brought me here. 

I want to be free from the belly, free from this state of mind calling out everything I see as part of my new ‘Nineveh’…

(I’ll get back to you on the freedom part. Until then, I have to wrap up with Lauren Daigle singing my current anthem:)

 

“Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face, You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move,
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through,
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You,
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You.”

Welcome to Nineveh, Part Dos.

Catch Part 1 here.

I thought moving to Texas for the first time would be the hardest thing I ever had to do.

That is, until I had to move away from there.

A little over four weeks ago I graduated with my Masters of Science degree from Texas A&M University. Four weeks ago I moved away from the life I had known for a year and half, leaving dozens of the closest friends, mentors, and church family I have ever had.

Throughout my life I have been well acquainted with sadness. I experienced seasons of depression throughout high school and early college induced by patterns of lies and self-destructive behavior. Because of these seasons I do not typically fear the rise or fall of emotions because God has been there to”ride out” the extremes with me.

However, the sadness that has greeted me since moving from Texas is an entirely different kind of sadness than what I’ve felt before. This sadness is a hollow ache that catches me off guard. This sadness keeps me from leaning into the things I usually find so delightful. This sadness makes me wake up in the morning believing I am 1,000 miles away from where I really am. This sadness is grief.

I am grieving. I am grieving the loss of relationships, the loss of people who affirmed me and loved me for who I am, the loss of wide open spaces and miles of adventure yet to be lived, and even the loss of a culture where boots-wearin’ men hold doors for women before they lead them to the dance floor for a two-step.

As I prepare to begin a career in Florida, I feel as though I am clinging to mere glimpses of hope—hope that I made the right decision a good decision, a worthy decision for all that I have given up.

But I have to tell you: I’m not so sure about all of this. I feel swallowed up by my grief, swallowed up by my remorse and confusion. The pain has me wondering if I will ever be able to embrace this new door God is pushing me to walk through.


 

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
    into the very heart of the seas,
    and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
    swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
    from your sight;
yet I will look again
    toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,[b]
    the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
    to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
    turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

I wonder if it took Jonah three whole days to come up with this prayer. I wonder if this prayer was the result of three long days and nights where Jonah’s rebellious heart was wrestling with the God who was willing to do anything to get his servant where He wanted him to be.
I also wonder if God was speaking to Jonah during these three days or was purposefully silent. I wonder this because it could have been God’s silence that forced Jonah to remind himself of the truths he prays in this passage. 

Regardless, I imagine whale/fish bellies can be a humbling place to be for three days.

Personally, I feel like I’m in the belly of my grief, barely living on a prayer to a God who is letting me wrestle with my perspective and His truth. I have a feeling He is willing to let me sit in the belly for as long as it takes.

To be continued…

Welcome to Nineveh, Part 1.

It’s amazing how quickly “I will go anywhere for you, Lord” can become “I will go anywhere BUT THERE, Lord.”

It’s amazing how quickly “What’s meant to be will be” can become “What I want to be cannot be” and so it becomes “What’s meant to be is clearly not for me.”

I’m going to say something sacrilegious, something that goes against every word of scripture I’ve ever read and praise song I’ve ever sung. I’m saying it because it’s how I feel, it’s where I am right now, and it’s what I’m fighting to understand differently.

God. Failed. Me.

Months ago, I prayed (if it be God’s will) a door would be opened for me. At that time, I fully trusted what was meant to be would be and God would come through for me. I prayed for wisdom and discernment about what would be the best choice. I prayed for God to lead the situation.

Time passed, and the door I had prayed for did not appear in time. (Instead, it was flung wide open weeks after it was too late for me to walk through it.) What I had wanted to be wouldn’t be, and so I was forced to walk through a different door.

And while I should have been able to see and trust God had something better for His glory in mind, it turns out His plan includes more pain, grief, and regret than I ever thought possible.

I feel lost in the crossfires of “Was God really in control of making the ‘right’ decision for me because I asked Him to lead?” and “Was this really my decision and He allowed me to make the ‘wrong’ choice?”

(In other words, was this really how it was meant to be or did I somehow intercept??)

I feel as though the Author of what is meant to be worked against me.

(You’re probably thinking this is just a spiritual tantrum because God did not act as my personal genie and grant my heart’s wishes. I’ll get back to you later on whether or not I agree.)

My prayer request was in line with everything I had come to learn about myself, learn about who I am to others, and learn about how He works over the last two years. I had wanted a door to be opened so that I might continue to grow and become the person I had discovered in that time.

But He thought differently for me.


 

Jonah had dedicated his whole life’s work to God and people. I’m sure in his life he had made plenty of heartfelt promises to go where ever the Lord led him. That was probably the case until Jonah was told to go to the one place he did not want to go.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa,where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Jonah probably had plenty of reasons to feel the way he did about Nineveh. He might have tried to come up with good, solid rationale for why he would instead head to Tarshish. I can almost hear him:

  • “The people of Tarshish need God just as much as the people of Nineveh.”
  • “I prefer the culture of Tarshish over Nineveh’s anyway.”
  • “There’s just nothing about Nineveh that screams ‘Welcome to Nineveh’ for me.”
  • “I know I’ve heard God speak before, but this time I could have heard Him incorrectly.”
  • “Nineveh is a lost cause. Why would God send me somewhere to fail, let alone struggle?”

As Jonah ran in the opposite direction, thinking he could outrun “what was meant to be,” What Was Meant to Be found him in the clearest, fate-spoken form of that time period.

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

There was no denying it now. God’s “meant to be” was clearly not what Jonah wanted. What is worse about this scene is that Jonah had to admit to disobeying the God he admittedly loved.

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you,Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Talk about the Lord failing you.

(Survey question: how do you think Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” applies to Jonah’s life at this point?)

(And more specifically, how can I believe Jeremiah 29:11 applies to my life when the plans God has now made known to me are causing me so much pain and despair?)

(And YES, I know everything I’m saying at this point is skewed by my perspective on the situation. I know I should be positive and so thankful and trust God’s “meant to be.”)

(And by the way: Welcome to your Nineveh, Val.)

To be continued…

Thanks for the Journey

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. -Psalm 28:7

While I try to keep my actual singing to a minimum (unless I’m in the car and Turnpike Troubadours is playing, in which case you can count on me belting EVERY WORD), I do know that this blog often serves as my “song” of praise to the Lord.

And so while my heart is torn with decisions and prospects of the next season of life (goodness gracious, I’ve never known such angst), I do know that the Lord is my strength and my shield, eager to protect and help me.

And so while I have no fresh words to say (I’ve totally exhausted those closest to me with my indecision and tears), I do know that I have joy because of what the Lord has taught me since moving to Texas from Florida.


Thank you, impossible, for increasing my reliance on Grace to do you.

Thank you, soft heart, for being sensitive and breakable despite the world’s desire to make you otherwise.

Thank you, purity, for being worth fighting for.

Thank you, emptiness, for providing the space in me to be filled.

Thank you, breakdowns, for all of your many lessons.

Thank you, Texas, for how you’ve changed me forever.

Thank you, singleness, for deepening my faith right now.


And so while I have no idea where the destination will ultimately leave me, I do know that I give thanks for the journey and where it has taken me.

Thank you, Lord, for this part of the journey.

You’ve Never Exactly Been a Wall Flower, You Know.

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His words from almost 48 hours before still rang clear in my ears.  “You’ve never exactly been a wall flower, you know.”

As I sat all alone in my apartment in Texas, sprawled out on the floor of my living room with my open Bible, a box of tissues, and a bright blue Icicle pop (you know, the colorful ones that come in packs of 50 and cut the sides of your mouth when you try to open them with your teeth–I’m 23 years old and I bought those) meant to help numb the throbbing pain in my head from crying way too much, I found myself chewing–more like grinding–at his words he said to me.  He meant them as a compliment, of course.  He meant to say that he thought I stood out in a good way, that I was unique and should be admired as such.

But, all my life, I have tried so hard to plant myself by the wall.  I always had reasons to do so, or at least I believed I did.

(I’m an extrovert by preference, meaning I usually process my thoughts better when I can say them out loud, and I get energized by groups of people rather than drained by them.  But, I have never been one to demand the center of attention.  I never felt that I was worthy of it.  What if I said something stupid?  What if I’m not funny or entertaining enough?  What if I am truly seen for how physically ugly and imperfect I really am?)

“You’ve never exactly been a wall flower, you know.”

One of my closest friends introduced me to this psychological term called “imposter phenomenon,” which can basically be boiled down as the feeling of not being worthy or deserving of your current position or situation. When she first explained it to me, she laughingly told me that I was probably one of the worst cases she’d ever met.

Maybe you can relate to these feelings of mine: There are friendships and new relationships in my life that I do not feel like I deserve to have because I believe that I am not fun enough for them.  That I am not funny enough.  Not interesting enough.  Not pretty enough.  Not nearly enough to have them or keep them.  I rationalize that I am a charity case for these individuals, that out of sympathy and the goodness of their hearts they do their best to convince me of their sincerity.


[Insert my living room Come-to-Jesus-Meltdown.]

For the first time in what felt like a while, I talked To God.  I’m guilty of talking plenty At God or About God, or even talking To God on behalf of others, but I struggle with talking To Him about ME.  That would require me to quiet my mind.  That would require me to be still and wait.  That would require me calling the spades spades–calling out the continuous thoughts in my head as lies from the Enemy.

And when I say I talked To God, it was really more like when a young kid throws a tantrum until he exhausts himself completely and can finally give up whatever it was he was upset about in the first place.  And so after reaching my end, after exhausting myself with tears of frustration as a “walking imposter” who questioned her Creator for why in the world He decided to make her this way, I finally threw open my Bible.  (You know, the way you do when you decide you’re literally going to test God by seeing if you end up turning to the perfect page with the perfect passage of scripture that pierces you right in the gut and restores your faith in God’s Word and ability to speak through it. ) 

Side note: Don’t ever try to test God in spite.

As I began to read the Psalm open before me, still with tears pouring down my cheeks and a stuffed-up nose and ears from all my crying, I didn’t even pay attention to what chapter I was reading from.

At least, not until I read this part:

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the Holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at the break of day.”

If you’re not an active reader of my ramblings blog posts, I’ll catch you up to speed. About a month or so ago, I wrote “Diary of a Broke Down Jesus Girl, Part 1 & Part 2 about my experience one Sunday at Antioch Church here in Bryan, Tx, when a young mother felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to read to me Psalms 46 during praise & worship. (Hint, hint, wink, wink–this is the same passage that God had me read tonight.)

What’s even more significant here is that on that particular Sunday I was struggling with the same thoughts when she approached me with this Psalm.  I was trying to convince myself that I deserved to be unseen and unnoticed at this church of perfect-looking Christians.  I was trying so hard to plant myself at the wall before I even met anyone or gave anyone a chance to know me.


So here’s what I hear God telling me through Psalms 46:

Throwing aside all the complex thoughts lies I have believed about my place as a wall flower in life, I recognize that God delights in me. He Loves Me. He Dwells in Me. And He would not choose to Dwell in Me if I deserved to be a wall flower in His eyes.  And when those complex thoughts lies come back to plant me where I don’t belong, God will not let me be conquered by them.  God will help me when I break through the lies and reach for His truth.  (He will do the same for you also.)

Imposter phenomenon. Wall flower condemnation. Lies. However you slice it or dice it, you weren’t made to have it or believe it or be held back by it.  God made you to be a river whose streams make Him glad, a river where He may dwell within you and break you free when a “damn of lies” is built up in you. 

“You’ve never exactly been a wall flower, you know.”

Not-so-S.M.A.R.T. Goals: my current reality & kayak adventure

It was 3:30 in the afternoon. The 50lb. neon green plastic kayak was scorching hot to the touch. The black oar was even hotter, but that couldn’t stop me. With my Nine West floppy straw hat and my Costas, I felt outfitted enough to take on the Florida sun that brightly beamed over our little canal. I splashed some saltwater on my vessel and paddle instrument, and then I dipped my legs int the ocean on either side of the kayak. The saltwater burned my skin, reminding me that I had shaved my legs the night before. Still, my heart yearned for an adventure, and the kayak was my ticket to going wherever I wanted on the flat waters behind Big Torch Key.

After paddling on down the winding canal where our family’s rented vacation home is located, I finally made it to the front. Like a painting, my view of the open bay in between the two main islands was flawless, with flat waters that sparkled from the sun’s reflection as far as I could see.

I made up my mind that I wanted to be smart about where I would go, knowing that I would be tired on the stretch heading back home. The wind seemed to be blowing westward, as the smallest of crinkles in the water moved steadily in that direction. I decided to then paddle east against the wind and towards the many oceanfront houses that decorated Big Torch’s edge. I paddled and paddled, pushing and pulling my arms forward and back in opposite directions. The front of my little kayak bounced up and down as cut through the small waves that pushed against it. I could hardly see the ocean bottom because of what little wind blew and blurred the surface, even though the water was no more than 2-3 ft deep and crystal clear.

But there was one house, one two-story tannish home with a long wooden dock out front that was probably 3/4 or close to a mile away from our canal that I had set my sights on. With everything within me, I wanted to reach it. I wanted to brag to my parents and parent’s friends who would be joining us later that evening that I had made it that far, that my arms and my kayak were enough to get there.

—–

In FFA, the student organization that I was apart of for many years in middle and high school, there is a method used to explaining and teaching the concept of goal-setting. This method gives high-achieving students the opportunity to design a plan around their dream goal that will (hopefully) make it come to life. “S.M.A.R.T.” goals stand for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. If your goal was all of these things, you were set to go forth and conquer; your kayak would be turned in the right direction and your destination would be reached soon enough.

However, as convenient and cute as the “S.M.A.R.T.” acronym is for the purposes of teaching goal-setting, I feel like there was yet a valuable question left out of the conversation. This question came to me as I found myself exhausted and half-way to my tan house goal. I then realized that even though the wind had been blowing against me all this time, the tide had been pushing me forward, making it easier to go in that direction. This meant that to turn around and head for home would require much more energy on my part than what I had expended to paddle that far. But there was no way I could stop before reaching my goal destination.

“WHY?” Why did I have to paddle that far? Why did I WANT to paddle that far? What was my motivation to reach this goal place? Would I be a failure if I turned around sooner? Would I feel ashamed if my parents asked me how far I went and I would point to halfway between where I started and where I only knew I wanted to end up? Why did I feel the need to pick a place to paddle to?

—–

Prior to this kayaking adventure, I hit a wall. Not a literal one, but a wall nonetheless that had shattered me in pieces on the floor. The wall was reality, and I had been a fool to run from her. Every conversation, every experience in the last six months that had led me to the decision to move away for school, leave my friends and family behind, and force a break up with my boyfriend of three years was actually based on some of the most foolish pretenses you will ever hear. Sure, graduate school and the adventure that awaits with moving to a new state, Texas no less, should be EXCITING WONDERFUL THE RIGHT CHOICE AND MANY MORE!!! The road to get to this decision was glittered and paved with S.M.A.R.T. goals, for sure. Then why am I a fool?

Because I thought I needed to go to graduate school to compensate for losing State President in FFA so many years ago.

Because I thought I needed to seek an unconventional career path because all my family expected tremendous success from me and have spoken confidence over my future for years.

Because I thought I needed to have a real college experience at a university where my father did not openly loathe the school and thus provide me the freedom to fully embrace the campus culture.

Because I thought I needed the attentions of the males around me to feel loved and beautiful, along with the freedom to have fun wherever and whenever I wanted.

Because I thought my significance and kingdom-centered mission for the Lord had to come from a career path with a greater influence than that of anything I could imagine found back home.

That’s why. That’s why I’m a fool.

My kayak and I managed to reach the tan house and paddle back home in exactly 2 hours. I can’t say it was worth it, reaching my goal place and all, because my motivations were a little screwy from the beginning. I think the Lord knew all along that I would choose the path I have because He knew the lies that I’ve been listening to for the past six months. I also think He’s going to protect me and bless my coming and going as I venture out west. But, He also knows how painful it is right now to be realizing how I got to this point and how so easily it could have been a nice ride in another direction.

So for now, I’m going to kayak like crazy and treat it as soul-therapy while I fight to keep above water. The reality is deep, but at least I can float on top of it for a little while longer.

The God-given Truths when (ahem) Poop happens.

Want to hear the plot for a new chick flick coming out really soon?

Here’s the premise:

A girl is dating a boy whom she grew up with. Girl dates Boy for three years, having faced so many trials and mountains to climb in the relationship, and finds him to be her true love. Boy gets ready to pop the question when Girl’s future is whisked away from him by an opportunity of a lifetime and a decision to make. Girl and Boy struggle to figure out what should be done about their shared future. Girl becomes angry at God as she feels He is making her choose between one path or another. Girl becomes so depressed and angry at God that Boy breaks up with Girl so that Girl can come back to God again. (Here’s the plot twist/comical climax) Girl and Boy happen to be the Maid of Honor and Best Man for their best friends’ wedding, which happens to be three weeks after the breakup. Girl and Boy must face each other, their friends, and family at the wedding….

I’m still working on the ending. It should probably be finished by, say, this Sunday. 

(Side Note: I feel absolutely zero honor in being one of the main characters of this story in real life. Instead, I’d rather be called Maid of Grace in hopes that I’ll be smothered with grace in the next few days like cheese and onions smothered on greasy hash-browns from Waffle House.)

—–

In case anyone is wondering how I’m coping with my newly elected STATE FFA PRESIDENT of a brother, my goodbyes to my friends and professors at UF, my T-MINUS 30 days move to Texas, my role in another wedding that is not my own, and my recent breakup…. well, I’m not. 

I love to credit God for the people He puts during certain seasons in my life because they are some of the surest, most undeniable blessings from God that I can thank Him for. The true friends in my life are the ones who love me unconditionally and accept my tendency toward depression and emotional breakdowns. And the truth is God woos my heart by putting these select people in my life to do this for me. 

As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, moving home from Gainesville in between graduating from UF and moving on to Texas A&M has been hard. I left friendships and prayer warriors in that college town that can never be replaced. But alas, God has been faithful to provide a few people in Okeechobee to tend to my soul like gardener would tend to a garden grown up with weeds and un-plowable by most machinery.

Leslie is a new friend. I love to tell people that she is one of the most physically attractive people I’ve ever come to know in real life. At 36, she glows the beauty and radiance of someone closer to my age, and yet her intuitive wisdom is reminiscent of someone twice her own age. Leslie works at a salon right now where she serves people through facials and pedicures. Let me tell you something: Leslie works on your face and nails as if she is Jesus washing his disciples feet. Genuinely, I can say I feel the flow of God’s love through her fingertips as she carefully caresses the crevices on my face and the soles of my ugly feet. She’s listened to my fears about moving to Texas and shared her story with me as a reminder of how God redeems. She speaks exactly what she thinks and feels unabashedly, something that I struggle to do but I’m trying to learn. God allowed Leslie to speak out certain unspeakable strongholds from deep within my mind, and as I listened in shock that she was able to so clearly name these out loud I realized that this was one way God still speaks to his people. I cannot begin to explain how amazed I am that God gave me a friend like her during this desert-like transition of time between UF and TAMU.

Nikki is an old friend turned new. She is walking a similar road in that she also has an ex in the bridal party (We’ve been able to laugh and whine about this together.) Nikki is also beautiful inside and out, but like Leslie she also knows how to tell the truth that she knows without backing up from it. She knows her imperfections and areas of weakness; however, I don’t think she believes God is disappointed in her like I often do, that God is looking down on her shaking his head in disapproval. Instead, I believe she knows how her struggles make God sad and hurt for her, and so she takes and rubs on an extra serving of His Grace and moves forward so as to try again for next time. Nikki has made me feel normal and special at the same time; she makes me feel admired and respected in spite of my soul crying out with the question of how well do I really fit in when I know how different I truly am. Nikki isn’t sure about a few things in her life, but she is sure about her faith in me and in God’s ultimate promises, and even in her honesty about her uncertainties I can hear the heart of a young woman with more hope than she knows.

—–

And then sometimes God brings me back to mentors of previous seasons of life. Sam walked with me (literally we WALKED for miles until we found the courage to start running, both physically and spiritually…there’s just so much symbolism from that time that it can’t all be explained here) during some of my darkest days, days where I wrestled with God, with the sins in my life, and with my own soul.

And here I sat in her living room, years after this time when we battled demons and strongholds with scripture and miles under our running shoes. She and I talked about marriage and the ins and outs of it. We talked about God’s will and how too often He simply gives us opportunities to choose a path rather than just choose right or wrong. And just as 99.9% of all female conversations do, we proceeded to talk about related, familiar stories that supported our discussion points.

Sam’s 8 year old nephew was at the dinner table telling his mom what he wished he had said when it was his turn to say thanks to God during the dinner prayer. In typical boy fashion, he said:

“I was going to say that I am thankful that God lets us poop. Wanna know why? Because our butts would hurt really bad if we didn’t.”

Honestly, I think he was on to something deeper. And it has nothing to do with a colonoscopy (BA-DUM-CHHH).

I am a firm believer that God DOES sometimes allow more than we can handle into our lives; however, I also believe that even in these unbearably hard times that God’s intentions are to spare us still from even greater hurt and displacement from His will. 

—–

So here it is:

The God-given Truths when (Poo-poo) happens.

(Things are about to get really smelly. And Weird. Definitely Weird.)

  • My professor from UF had this saying he’d like to say to his students about the realities of life. He would say,”You can’t sugarcoat $hit.” We would laugh, but it’s so true. You really can’t prettify poop. If you’re standing knee deep in hard times and the waters are continuing to rise, I think it’s okay to recognize that you’re close to drowning. Christians like to throw hollow statements at individuals in these situations like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” or “you’ll be so much closer to the Lord on the other side of this.” The cold, hard truth is that God can choose to allow the earth to flood and it feel like it’s raining death for forty days and nights before there’s any sign of relief. And then, when the rainbow is in view, you may not feel as overjoyed to see it as much as you simply feel relieved that the worst is over. Furthermore, it may take years before you can really look back to understand the beauty and purpose in the rainbow and those long days and nights. We see snapshots right now, mere closeups of a picture that is so big and expansive that it is inclusive of way more than just our life stories. It would be a lie to say that the zoomed-in snapshot in our hands of our present hardships is beautiful to behold since we really can’t presently identify what it is in light of the greater picture. Instead, we should look forward to the putting together of the greater picture because when that day comes it shall truly be wonderful to see.
  • You can’t continue to smell past poop (even if it smelled so bad that if you try really hard you can still remember the smell of it today). There is a difference between allowing wounds to heal into scars to showoff as proof of healing and picking the scab of a wound so that it forever stays with you. Sometimes, we can allow our past hurts to make time stand still so that we never move forward. Instead of experiencing new joys and hurts, we keep feeling the same old hurt over and over. At some point in the process of moving forward, we have to promise to never smell our old poop again.
  • You can’t clean up someone else’s poop for them. When my brother was about 3, he attempted to “cleanup” his 2.5 year old cousin’s messy diaper. By the time my parents and aunt and uncle found them both, my brother had stripped our cousin bare naked and made him squat in the running sink (which was by this point overflowing with water) while he handled the poop in one of Dad’s football caps. My potty-trained brother didn’t understand what he was doing wrong: he was cleaning his cousin up from the mess he had made. What my brother didn’t realize was that as much as he wanted to help his younger cousin get “right” again, he was not much further along in his own abilities to take care of himself. To put it this way, we don’t really ever get to a point when we don’t need God to clean ourselves up; therefore, there’s never ever going to be a time when we can truly clean someone else up from their mess without God’s help and guidance.
  • Your poop stinks right now, but in the grand scheme it will mean nothing more than the fact that you’re alive and moving forward. I go back to point made about the snapshots and the grander picture. I don’t think there is always a perfect life lesson that forms out of every hardship and dark season we face like an episode of Full House or Saved by the Bell. God doesn’t waste hurts, and He awaits the day when we get to look back and recognize how our hurts became a beautifully intricate part of his masterpiece we call life. But if all you get out of walking out of a storm is that storms rain really hard, that storms have loud bursts of thunder and scary lightening, and that you’re thankful you’ve walked out of it alive thanks to God, then I think that’s okay. Granted, God may slap you in the face with a thousand symbolic lessons that will carry on into a new ministry once you take the time to reflect on your time in the storm. But that doesn’t have to happen right after the storm like we think it’s supposed to. You don’t have to know why the storm came or what God wanted to do through the storm as long as you can be satisfied in just knowing He allowed it and carried you through it.