Don’t rush the rain.

S.O.S. 

I’m stuck in Metro Diner on 34th Street.

How am I stuck, you ask?  

Well, I’m wearing a sundress and sandals and my car is parked clear across the parking lot.  This is a problem because as I write this Gainesville is being pounded with severe thunderstorms for the next few hours. 

How did I get here, you wonder? 

1. I don’t have the sense to check the weather before I go places. 

2. A beautiful group of ladies from my place of work invited me to join them this morning for a bible study devotion at the diner. 

3. I had the brilliant idea of dropping off my dry-cleaning at the cleaners next door after we finished our study, just as the storm came crashing down on south Gainesville.

So here I am. Stuck in the diner, afraid to run out in the rain and fall on my face, and drinking my third cup of coffee (this one black because I’ve had too much creamer this morning already.) 

If you have talked to me in the past few days, you would know my stress levels have had me looking like a robot on the fritz—twitches and sparks flying from my ears and not speaking coherent English. 

My mama has been warning me that my soul is at risk for becoming dry if I don’t take time to water it. But who has time for ‘soul-watering’ when your time is being stretched like the last few pumps of your favorite hairspray? Who has time to tend to your own soul when you’re somehow expected to make miracles happen with your obligations to everyone and everything else?

Considering the state of my to-do list, you can imagine the annoyance I feel right now as I nurse my black coffee, now cold.  Why can’t this rain hurry up and finish already? 

As I was telling someone I hold in high regard last night about my current emotional state, I found myself apologizing to him for not being at my best right now. I told him how afraid I was of feeling so down, mostly because I wasn’t sure when it would come to an end. Would it go away when my list of to-dos are checked off? When I finally catch up on sleep? When I can work in balance with my schedule so I can exercise regularly, meal-prep, make time for friends, pick up a new hobby, make home-made jam, and learn how to sow all my future children’s clothes? (Who am I kidding? I’m a Millennial. I just want to learn how to sow back on a button.)

After our conversation ended, and despite everything I had pressing in my thoughts, the things I should be doing to prepare for the week, to address what I would consider all that will make me better and more efficient, I opened my Bible. 

Actually, to be fair, I googled the words from a verse that kept coming to mind, and then opened my Bible:

“A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.
1 You, God, are my God,

    earnestly I seek you;

I thirst for you,

    my whole being longs for you,

in a dry and parched land

    where there is no water.”

Psalm 63:1

One of the beautiful girls in our bible study this morning brought up the question of why God allows us to get tired, to reach our point of can’t-keep-going-on-like-this. Why does God let our souls get tired and dry?

Because He wants to Be the rest we need. Because He wants to Be the rain we so thirst for. 

The funny thing about rain is that we know we need it, we need it consistently, but we could never handle it if it were constantly pouring down on us. This is not to say we don’t need God constantly. We really do. 

But, we also get ahead of ourselves and attempt to go stretches of time without depending on God’s outpouring. When God sees us do this, he adjusts his rain accordingly. 

When we seek Him consistently, he provides the rain our souls need consistently. When we don’t seek Him consistently but finally come to our senses and turn to Him for our souls needs, His outpouring can feel like a thunderstorm. 

That’s where truth breaks through. That’s where conviction happens. That’s where grace rushes in and washes our hearts clean. That’s where souls that were dry and crusty and just barely functioning become soaked and saturated and vivacious with life.

Update: my coffee was on-the-house (I think the Metro Diner owner felt for my situation, seeing my obvious poor dress choices and the lightning outside), and I made a “careful shuffle” for it across the parking lot to my vehicle. 

I’m drenched. My makeup and hair are both ruined for the day. But my soul? It is well, because I Let the Lord have time to rain on me. 

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Quarter Life Chapters: A Birthday post dedicated to my Mama

Two weekends and three years ago, I saw one of my parents in an emergency room bed for the first time.  Dad was rushed to the hospital on a Sunday morning with chest pains. While we were thankful that Dad did not suffer a heart attack, I wrote a post called Emotional Coasters, Heart Attacks, and Tangled Necklaces as a response to the overflow of emotions and love shown towards my family felt during that time.

Two weekends ago, my mama was rushed to the hospital on a Sunday morning with chest pains. At 50 years old, she is incredibly beautiful, incredibly intelligent, and incredibly healthy.  She also endured a minor heart attack.

Prior to that Sunday morning, I had been my worst self with my family.  Nerves around plans made for the coming weekend had me acting more crazy than usual.  Petty concerns kept me asking for affirmation from my family members.  My parents say I can be “an emotional thermostat” in our home–I have the ability to manipulate the atmosphere with whatever my attitude is at the moment.  With that, I had set the thermostat way high with the anxiety and stress I was carrying, and my loving Mama, who always stands by me in my storms of feels, was also feeling the heat wave.

The temperature changed when Mama went to the hospital.  Suddenly, everything I had been so fixated on was washed away by the waves of the unknown.  I watched as my Daddy never left my mother’s side, completely surrendered to her and her needs.  I was paralyzed by the sheer number of people reaching out to me by text messages and Facebook messages and phone calls, offering up their homes, their time, whatever we needed. The selflessness of others convicted me of my recent selfishness.


The battle to put others before myself in my heart and mind has always been a life theme of mine.  I gave a retiring address to 4,000 FFA members with the message to “Get Over Yourself,” thinking then that I had discovered the key to being selfless in service and leadership because I had spent a year thinking I had done just that.

LOL.

As a PhD student studying Leadership Education at the University of Florida, I’ve joined the research conversation around the study of “Humility leadership”–leadership from a place of knowing yourself accurately, knowing your role in relationships with others, and knowing your place in the greater picture of the world (Sowcik, 2016).  And I’ve actually come to the table sub-consciously thinking I’m more humble than others just for studying and valuing humility.

LOL!

For 25 years, God has given me opportunity after opportunity.  He’s opened doors for me I would not believe, some prayed for, some as a surprise. And I’ve had the nerve to, on occasion, believe I was the one who made those doors come open, that I pushed open the doors and barged my way in to where I am now, that I might have even strayed away from what He might have intended for me because of my selfish bent for ambition and competition and getting what I want.

Free Will and God’s Sovereignty… another day, another post, but certainly not to be debated as if they are of equal power.


I can be pretty hard on myself (and EVERYONE WHO KNOWS ME WELL laughs here) when I reflect on my life thus far, decisions I would have made differently, people I would have treated better, places I should have went and explored.

But, there’s a few things I’ve done okay with. And a lot of those things are because of my Mama.

Mama is the MOST selfless leader and lover I know.  She gives and gives and gives and gives until she’s left with seemingly nothing else to give, then she finds away to give more through the overflow she receives from her Jesus.

Mama has all of my life sacrificing for me, from the months of being carried around in her small frame to the years (and years) of wiping my tears away to being there for the greatest moments of my lifetime.

Mama has taught me how to love people through both words and actions.

Most of all, Mama has taught me to choose Jesus always.

Hundreds of people prayed for my Mama when we were not sure what was happening to her.  Hundreds of people prayed because hundreds of people have been served by my Mama.  Hundreds of people have been served because my Mama has lived a life devoted to loving and serving others as a living offering to her King, Who she knows loves her with infinite love.


For my birthday, my Mama made this post on Facebook that made me smile.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 9.00.09 AM.png

Her words also made me think.  As much beauty and grace and joy my Mama has brought to the world in her classroom, in her living room, in between the walls of a church or a counseling office, she would consider ME as a beautiful chapter of her life. 

Perhaps it was her recent health scare that has me really thinking about her words in depth, but to think her “life book” will include a significant chapter devoted to me has me truly humbled, especially considering my whole 25-year-life book right now makes up one-half of her 50-year-life book.

This brings me to this thought.  If I am to spend another 25 years on this earth, what kind of life chapter do I want written for myself?  For my Mama?  For the people I will come to love and be loved in return by?

There’s too many words I could use and be inspired by to write this life chapter, but here’s a few I think I would want to make sure are written, mainly because they are inspired by my parents who I admire so much.

I want to live the next 25 years fearlessly.

I want to love people without fear, pursue opportunities without fear, go after learning new things without fear, dream dreams without fear.

I want to be gracious and humble with what I am given, to be thankful, to expect nothing yet appreciate everything.

I want to see who God made me to be in the mirror and remember that girl wears a crown and should NEVER lower her head in shame.

(First and) Lastly, I want to be known by how I love others and how I love the Lord.

Regardless of what else takes place in the next 25 years, I know have this promise to hold onto:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrew 13:8

He is my Happy Ending.

Social media is the worst these days.  If it isn’t political hate and slander, it’s troubling stories of those hit in the face by political hate and slander.  It’s mud-slinging at its virtual worst.

Then, outside of the mud ring, we find the sappy-sweet circle of friends populating our newsfeed: the wedding photos, the engagement photos, the “Man-Crush-Mondays,” the baby photos, the graduation photos, and so on.

For those of us who refuse to engage in the mud-slinging and have no comment to offer up in the major-life-event department, we find solace in cute animal videos.  But, I have to admit, even the endless puppy videos give me puppy-envy.

So why am I hooked to social media?  I know I’m a Millennial (and you are too if you were born between 1980 and 2000–stop denying it already and just help us make a better name for ourselves, here), but I’m not exactly what you would call “social media savvy.”  If anything, I rely on many of my friends to keep me “in the times” and updated on social media trends and innovations.

The truth?  I’m a real big sucker for comparison.  That’s why social media can be so addicting despite never posting a single comment, photo, or post.  It’s intriguing to see into people’s personal lives and play the comparison game, especially in regards to happiness.

Here’s what I mean: It’s so easy to pick up my phone, open my Facebook app, and immediately find one person within seconds of scrolling who has something I don’t have, whether that be an opportunity, a significant other, a family, a house, etc.  And, because of the nature of the post, I also know this person is happy in conjunction with having this something I lack.  And so, in that moment of comparison, my brain tries to make sense of what I know: Person A has a thing.  In their post, Person A is happy. Therefore, Person A is happy because of their thing.

Meanwhile, here I am without a thing.  So where does this leave me if I follow my own silly logic?

Or, find say an entirely different person posting negative commentary on world events.  My brain takes an entirely different approach to this person.  Here, I find myself comparing my own beliefs and emotions around the subject of the post to that of the author’s.  Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t.  And because of the nature of the post, I also know this person is angry or upset in conjunction with having their belief or opinion.  And so, in that moment of comparison, my brain tries to make sense of what I know: Person B has an opinion.  In their post, Person B is angry/upset. Therefore, Person B is angry/upset because of their opinion.

Meanwhile, here I am lost in my beliefs and emotions around the subject, struggling to come to terms with how I might offer hope and light from my position in the world.


Sitting in my office this morning, I got hit by a couple of comparison bombs thrown my way after a quick scroll through social media.

And I have to tell you, I wasn’t carrying a shield.  I was sensitive and vulnerable.

I envied the newly engaged beauty, the incredibly successful communications guru, the couple with the adorable toddler, the girl who makes time to really do what she loves.  Yet, my heart also broke for my students confused by what was being said about Christians in light of the actions of an elected official, for friends who voiced serious fear about their futures in this country.

And I cried.  I cried the most honest prayer I have prayed in quite a while, mostly because I wasn’t actually praying to get a response.

“When will I get my happy ending? When will my life reach that place of happiness?”

He immediately answered me.

“I AM your happy ending, baby girl.”


The comparison game that social media offers us to play provides false answers.   The lack of having things does not dictate our joy in life any more than having those things can.

What is happening currently in the world also does not have to steal our joy or hope for happiness, although it should still engage us in our role to bring about hope and happiness for those in effect.

But here’s the good news.  We don’t have to rely on getting something or achieving something or moving beyond something or even waiting four more years to guarantee our happy ending.  You know why?

Because He is my happy ending, today.  He wants be yours, too.

A Hard-core Soft Core

My new “tribe member” here in Gainesville is kicking my butt these days.  She’s a hard-core weightlifter with an absolutely GORGEOUS sleeve of tattoos, a passion for the outdoors and a “take no lip” attitude.  Please do not take offense, but she really does deserve to be called a bad a$$ with the highest admiration.

Right now she’s reacquainting me with the gym and lifting weights (I competed in weightlifting in high school and was okay), but through this reacquaintance comes a ginormous swallowing of pride.  I’m dependent on her to show me the ropes again so that I don’t hurt myself.  I’ve had to tell her my limits.  I’ve had to admit where I’m too soft and be okay with that for now.

It’s more humbling than what is comfortable, but I would rather be unashamedly  humble and dependent for now so that I can one day deserve to be called a bad butt too. 


About two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Staying Soft in a Hard, Hard, World” as a way of raising my sweet fist to the world for questioning the value of sensitivity and emotional tendencies.  LOL.  It was actually a major hit with those who read it, but that’s not the point.

Two years later, I sit in my office at the University of Florida on day two of Spring semester classes reflecting on the flood of students who came to my office today to hug me and tell me all about their holiday break and their plans for the semester ahead.  They came back because they knew the response they would receive from me, a response of genuine love, excitement, hugs and tears and all the feels.

Yet, as I take inventory of a majority of my friends who I actively surround myself with for my own support and needs, I find myself utterly and completely sensitive to the fact that I am known as the one who is sensitive.  The one with the hard-core soft core.  The sappy one.  The one with extreme joys and extreme pain.  The one who can’t always put her foot down or be confident or own who she is proudly and audaciously.  The one with one too many feels.

And so I have to tell you the honest truth.  I hate being that friend among my friends.

Sure, it’s easy to play the part well—I being that friend who “needs” someone else to tell me how it really is, to tell me to suck it up, buttercup, to give me the pep talk of a lifetime that should probably be made into a Pinterest pin or something.


But here’s the thing.  

While I love those who love me enough to want to lift me up and shake me until I snap out of whatever emotions I’m experiencing at the time, deep, deep down, I (the emotional one) do not love feeling like I need emotional crutches.  And, I REALLY do not love feeling like my friends think I need them to be my emotional crutches.

It’s a matter of pride, folks.  We all want to be proud of who we are and own who we are.  And we don’t want to be dependent on other people because of who we are.  No one is proud of dependence.   

Noticeably, there’s a widespread fascination and obsession with personality types.  With my own fascination of personalities and behaviors of people comes the thought that perhaps narcissism is what draws us to studying our own personality type and others.  Perhaps deep down we hope that in studying all types of people we can justify our own actions and believe we are better for who we are naturally.

Or maybe I’m wrong about all of that.

But, I don’t think I’m wrong about the dependence issue.  I think we as people (who since the beginning of time had to figure out that we need each other to survive) do not like having to depend on someone else to move forward in life, to become better ourselves.  We see it in toddlers as they want to do everything themselves despite the fact that they wouldn’t know how to do anything had it not been modeled for them by someone ahead of them in life.


In my Jesus Calling devotional for today, January 5th, a passage stuck out to me and struck a chord on my heart strings, a chord I wasn’t sure made a pretty sound.

(Yahweh speaking here:)

“True dependence is not simply asking Me to bless what you have decided to do.  It is coming to Me with an open mind and heart, inviting Me to plant my desires within you.  I may infuse within you a dream that seems fay beyond your reach.  You know that in yourself you cannot achieve such a goal.  

Thus begins your journey of profound reliance on me.  It is a faith-walk, taken one step at a time, leaning on Me as much as you need.  This is not a path of continual success but of multiple failures.  However, each failure is followed by a growth spurt, nourished by increased reliance on Me.  Enjoy the blessedness of a victorious life, through deepening your dependence on Me.”

I believe God works in my life in many ways, through prayer, through examining and analyzing and meditating on His word, and through circumstances.  He also works through my friends, through my tribe.  

I want to be utterly and completely dependent on God’s hand and provision to move me forward in this life.  If I’m changing things about me, I want it to be because He has worked and provided in such a way that I am moving forward in a direction He is leading me.  If I’m becoming something different than who I am now, I want to be more like who He made me to be.  And that applies to my soft core, too. 

But, as I am moved towards becoming a better me, I am liable to misstep.  I will fail somewhere along the way.  Two steps forward, one-and-a-half steps back.

In that failure though, in that humbling moment of realizing I need help, there is an opportunity to move forward even faster and stronger if I am willing to rely on HIM and how He works, including through the love and support of my friends.

I have a handful of “ideas” to adopt for 2017.  I won’t list them all here, but I will share with you this one.  I want to be unashamedly humble in my weaknesses and reliant on God’s ways to help me become stronger, whether that’s in the weight room, in managing my feels, in becoming more audacious and confident in who I am, or whatever.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-18

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10

 

The Third Everything in “Goldilocks–“

At any given moment, I’m probably a little too much.  I probably identify too well with anything that even conveys “too much.”  I’m probably carrying too much in my hands.  I probably think too much.  I probably say far too much.  I feel far too much.  I laugh way too much.  I’m probably wearing too much makeup.  I’ve definitely put too much time and effort and hair product in my hair in the morning.

Balance has never been my strongest suit, and simplicity has never been my style.

I’ve been slow-cooking some deeper musings about how to achieve the balance and simplicity so admired and respected by seemingly everyone else, how the virtue of humility and enhanced emotional intelligence could be the key to balancing the scales when my “too much” is showing.

In Academic Leadership Land where I live and work and learn, these concepts seem to be the cure for everything.  Having trouble communicating in your relationships?  Try using your emotional intelligence and seeing the other person through a humbled lense of yourselves.  Want to lead your organization better?  Be humble about your strengths and shortcomings as a leader and exercise and encourage emotional intelligence in your teams.  Boom.

I’m not knocking the power of humility or E.Q., nor am I denying that I could probably use a whole lot more of both in my life.  In fact, you could probably never have too much of these things.  

I’m just wondering where the “too much” is actually derivative from.  Is it because there is too much of something else?  Too much passion?  Too much creativity?  Too much ability?  Nah, that’s not right.

Maybe the “too much” happens because there isn’t enough of something else.  


Jesus called out a dear sister named Martha for being a little too much at a house party she was hosting. #BeOurGuest

She was probably the perfect hostess in many ways.  She had probably cooked and prepared the perfect meal, putting a little too much food together as what was actually needed.  She probably cleaned a little too much considering her guest was the King of #NoJudgment.  She probably was thinking too much about making her guest happy through all the details she had control over—through perfect lighting, perfect decor, perfect party planning.  She was probably a woman known for being a little too much.

Her sister Mary on the other hand??  That woman couldn’t care less about all the things Martha was worried about.  She’s known for being a free-spirit.  A simple soul.  Able to live-in-the-moment without worrying about the future.  If Martha was too much, then Mary was like the third everything in “Goldilocks & the Three Bears”–just right.  Mary was charming for all of this, and I’m sure Martha could appreciate her sister for these qualities.

That is, until Martha’s too much wasn’t being appreciated because of Mary’s just right.

Here Martha is trying to keep her well thought-out party rolling in the kitchen, while Mary is being Mary again–sitting on the floor at Jesus’ feet like the charming little hippie she is, hanging on every word he said and completely forgetting that SHE lives here and should be part of the hosting responsibilities. #MuchToDo

Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. ‘Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.’

Jesus, in all of his kindness and ability to see right to the heart of our issues, saw Martha’s too much for what it really was.

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.  One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.

Luke 10:40-42 MSG


These are thoughts I wanted to write about in a different post, but I want to throw them in here, probably because I’m putting too much thought into what could be a simple message.

Martha and I might struggle with the same “too much” because we share the same fear of being “not enough.”  We might share not having enough security in our selves and our relationships to stop pushing too much and giving too much and trying too much.

And, I know Jesus sees our “too much” and smiles because he sees the potential it has to be greater when properly channeled, when there’s a secure root that centers us and keeps us from being swayed and pushed over by what we perceive is “not enough.”

Disagree as you would like, but I really want to believe there are plenty of things in life that should seem “too much” because there’s not enough of them in the world already. The difference is that these same things must be rooted and established in the security of unconditional love before we unleash them to the world.  And there’s not many places to find such a love in this world.  But, when you find it and when you know it to be true, your “too much” can become like the third everything in “Goldilocks–“, not because you purposefully held anything back, but because you’re simply sharing the overflow from what it feels like to be fully known and accepted no matter what.

And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.

Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!

Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 MSG

obtuse

 

 

…But Do You Even Want This?

There might be three types of people in this world: those who go throughout their lives never knowing their true potential, those who know their potential and spend their lives pursuing it with all the boldness and ownership of their destiny, and then those who hear their potential but cannot quite claim it.

This third type of person could be this way for a number of reasons:

…She might not believe in her potential because of what her past has told her.

…He might not want to claim his potential out of fear of the responsibility that will  come with it once it has been reached.

…She might find herself unworthy of her potential upon facing her own comparison to others.

…He might not want to do the work for what it will take to reach his potential.


John 5:

2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

HAIL YES HE WANTED TO BE HEALED, JESUS.  

He was hanging by the pool because it was known for its healing powers, not because he was working on his tan.

Why would you even ask that??

Jesus knew this man’s potential.  Jesus knew this man could easily walk if the Son of GOD healed him, no problem.  All the possibilities of who this man had been and could be were within reach of Jesus’ omniscient nature, including the answer to this question.

So why ask that, Jesus??  Why ask if you want to be better?  Why ask if you want to be more than what you are right now?  Why ask if you want what you’re capable of, what you could do if only?

7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”

Wait.  This man had been lame for 38 years, and the best excuse he had for not getting healed sooner had to do with people tripping on him?  This pool had to be a popular place to go, what with five colonnades and being known for its healing powers.  You mean to tell me every single person who went by him at the pool ignored the poor man completely??

Maybe I’m being too critical but, with what we are given, it would seem this man is  making excuses for why he hasn’t been healed yet.

And, in his excuses, he indicates a different answer to Jesus’ question to him.  Why not come right out and say, “Yes, I want to be healed!”?  Why was his first response excuses?


 

“It’s like you have this schizophrenic moment where you answer the voice beating you up inside your head,” he said, with a strange mixture of compassion and curiosity in his eyes.  “You can’t quiet the voice so you go ahead and speak out what it’s telling you–that you made a mistake or you missed something important.”

I sat on the other side of his desk and nodded in agreement, my chin down and arms crossed across my chest as if to protect my heart from the anticipated damage his lecture feedback might cause me.

He continued to read over his notes of what he saw in my recent lecture presentation, pointing out my strengths and opportunities to improve, glazing over the fact that he had in fact called attention to the sickness that is the voice inside my head.

He spoke about the voice as though it were just the price to be paid of someone who is extra critical of himself while presenting in front of any audience, as though the voice simply said things like, “You weren’t supposed to say that yet,” or “You are off from your notes and need to get back now.”

The truth is the voice has been there ever since I listened to the lies fed to me by the enemy of my soul.  The truth is the voice loathes my own voice and wants to weaken me where the Lord has gifted me.  The truth is the voice does not settle for cheap shots at my actions and behaviors; no, it goes for the kill by attacking and relabeling who I am.

His feedback was fair, honest, and tactful.  No fallen tears there.  But, it was the potential he called out in me that had me unsure how to feel.

Upon painting the grand picture of what he thought I would one day be capable of doing, he stopped what he was saying to look at me in the eyes and in doing so cocked his head to the side.

He asked me: “…But do you even want this?  Do you even want to do something like this?”

I couldn’t answer him.  

I never thought I would be capable of doing what he was suggesting was within my reach.  I have compared myself to people in my field for far too long to believe I could be good at something I thought I was truly the worst at doing.  I also wasn’t sure I could ever slay the fire-breathing voice he described as my main obstacle to overcome.

It was like he was asking me, “Do you even want to be healed?”  

And I didn’t know.


8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

 

It’s interesting that Jesus healed him with a call to action and not a “one and done” touch.  In that case, Jesus could have touched him and he still would have had the option to stay seated and not ever walk.

This man still had to choose to get up, choose to stand on the two feet he hadn’t used in 38 years, the two feet I’m sure he thought others would doubt, the two feet that maybe were not so deserving in his mind to be healed in the first place.

I think there are times when Jesus’ healing is contingent on us just getting up and walking.  Getting up and moving forward.  Getting up and forgiving.  Getting up and letting go.

I do not always love this about Jesus.  I would prefer to just be “one and done” touched and healed.  I would prefer for Jesus to wave a spiritual wand over me and I’ll never have to hear the voice inside my head tell me lies again.

Instead, Jesus offers me words and truth to exchange with the lies.  

Instead, Jesus offers me new labels and grace for my past.  

Instead, Jesus offers me the choice to get up and be healed in my change of thinking and behavior.

Instead, Jesus offers me the freedom to answer his question that accompanies the healing: “…But do you even want this?”


 

Letter to My Haters

To All My Haters:

I thought I had a fairly accurate list of your names.  The list really started when I was really young, after I was openly teased for unashamedly dancing at a five-year-old’s skating rink birthday party.  I agreed with you then that I was silly and worthy of rejection; I just happened to write down the wrong name.

The list of haters was but a few names added here and there until you found me in middle school, awkward and blooming perhaps, but more than that anxious and balancing everything I wanted to do and be.  You told me then I was a joke of a basketball player–too aggressive and passionate despite my lack of real talent.  You told me then I had little hope of ever being considered beautiful by any boy whatsoever.  You told me then I was weird for spending my time playing with younger kids or talking to older adults.

Each of you followed me into high school, and still I added even more wrong names to the list.  However, these names were different from those I first wrote down.  You convinced me these were the names of those I had only thought I could trust to love me and believe in me, to encourage me and work with me and not against me.  And yet, it was you, not them, who told me I was too sensitive, too over-the-top, too intense, too scatter-brained, too fat, too ugly, too smart, too “Christian,” too above, too beneath, too much, and yet never, ever enough.  You almost had me do myself in a few times too.

I thought I would never have to add a single name to my list of haters after high school when my dreams came true and I achieved the highest of my goals–success in the one arena I worked so hard to be accepted into and come out as a worthy contender.  Instead, I felt forced to write down the names of those I admired most, those whose judgment would come back to haunt me every time I speak a word out loud.  These names became the members of a hard-and-fast jury in my head, condemning me for my shortcomings in the realms of what I once considered to be my innate strengths.  And I completely accepted this standing jury’s judgment as withstanding truth.  After all, as fellow arena members they were supposed to be my people, and those “strengths” of mine certainly should have been flawless by now.

For years, I carried that list around in my soul and let it rip me to shreds from the inside out.  I hated myself because that whole list of names told me I should.

That is, until I finally saw who you really were. 

You were never who I thought you were.  Yet, you fooled me all the same.  Worse, you had me join you in the hate-club, join you in the destruction, join you in your goals against me.

You robbed me of myself.  You stole the little girl who danced unashamedly on skating rink benches.  You stole the girl who threw elbows and dove for basketball balls on the court.  You stole the girl who had wild confidence and bold presence.  You stole the girl  who led others with compassion, with creativity, and with character.  You stole the girl who was deemed worthy from the start and had her believe all along she wasn’t ever worthy.

And I let you get away with it, too.

It’s still a habit of mine to want to carry around that old list of names as though they are to blame for all you have really done to me.  I think you prefer it that way.  I still want to believe all the things you told me about myself because my experiences seemed to prove your words to be true.  But that is really just me joining you in the fight against me.

But, at least now I know who I’m really up against.  And, I know just Who is really supposed to win here. So fair warning: I see you, and I’m doing my best to burn the list of names for good just so that you will no longer be able to hide behind them.

Just so we’re clear: That girl you hate, that girl you stole has been ransomed for by Someone Who Loves Her.

Haters, you’re gonna hate.  I know that about you.

I’m just not going help you have your way with me any more.

SIGNED,

A former hater

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:12

A Fish Called Winston

A young mother of two was just diagnosed this weekend with Leukemia and was rushed to the ER to begin chemotherapy; A father who had lost a daughter already way too soon would be finding out soon about his son’s passing upon coming home from work; A family friend with breast cancer;  Another friend on life support; A list of women who are in the process of being set free from their hurtful and dark pasts…

All of these demand a perspective from us to be understood as they should.

Our perspective leads us to our thoughts.  Our thoughts lead us to our behaviors.  Our behaviors lead us to our habits.  Our habits lead us to our reality that in turn feeds our perspective.


Almost two years ago next month, I purchased a gorgeous, breathtaking, turquoise-and-maroon-colored betafish from the College Station, TX PetCo.  I cried (in my typical, Kristen Bell meets a Sloth, fashion) the moment I realized he would really be mine.  I named him “Winston” after Jameis Winston in the hopes that he would be a real hoot to watch.

I told stories in my lectures to my college leadership classes inspired by my crazy fish (such as the time Winston decided he would not be an authentic fish and stole some crab legs).  He made me feel autonomous in my new life on my own so far away from my Florida family.  I had purchased him with my then boyfriend who enjoyed helping me set up his aquarium and make up funny things about his character.

Winston moved back to Florida with me, my living keepsake to remember Texas and my tribe there by.


After a long and emotionally-charged weekend, I found myself  in route to south Florida to spend some needed time with my grandparents in the Keys. As I drove Winston rode in his “traveling tank” that sat on the front passenger floorboard of my Equinox, when suddenly I was forced to slam on brakes due to an accident just in front of me.  Winston’s tank flew forward, splashing all of his water out and throwing his poor body against the lid.

I quickly scooped him up and tried to revive him with the only water-like substance I had, some melted ice from my Diet Coke cup.  I pulled off on the first exit I could, parked my vehicle by a roadside ditch, threw off my favorite strappy sandals and ran straight into the mud with Winston’s tank in tow to scoop up some rainwater.  Minutes later, I found a nearby 7eleven and bought a jug of spring water to wash out both of my panicked attempts to save my fish and provide him with something clean instead.

After calling my parents in tears (I can be such a Millennial) that I was going to lose my fish after all my stupid attempts to keep him alive, I found myself laugh-crying (another famous Val-ism I’m known for apparently) at the fact that I really wanted to pray–yes, pray–for my Winston.  With a bit of tongue-in-cheek dry humor, I called upon folks to #prayforwinston, really just drawing attention to the fact that while it’s socially acceptable to mourn over the loss of a furry dog or cat or horse it is really absurd that I would feel so much for a fishy.

I pulled up into the drive way of my Okeechobee home where my parents greeted me with sympathetic hugs.  Dad recommended I blow bubbles into Winston’s tank to give him oxygen the way his boat pump provides such for his bait fish.  With this hopeful thought I found a straw and blew bubbles on and off into his little tank for the next hour.  (I have really nice parents who were willing to refrain from videotaping this crazy stuff.)  His little body was still fluttering, his gills still moving, but he could not keep his body completely turned up without falling back on his side.

As my sweet parents lovingly supported my crazed efforts to keep Winsten alive, they proceeded to tell me about some of the folks they have been recently ministering to: A young mother of two was just diagnosed this weekend with Leukemia and was rushed to the ER to begin chemotherapy; A father who had lost a daughter already way too soon would be finding out soon about his son’s passing upon coming home from work; A family friend with breast cancer; Another friend on life support; A list of women who are in the process of being set free from their hurtful and dark pasts…


Twenty-four hours ago, I prayed for God to help me fix a mistake I made and to help me locate an object I could not find.  Today, I half-jokingly prayed for a betafish’s life. Plenty of times before, I have prayed for things that were really just plain selfish, having not looked at the bigger picture of what I was really asking for.  I have also prayed prayers for victory or for a near-flawless performance – and with these prayers I have felt the disappointment of God not coming through on my behalf.  Note: I am admitting my shameful prayers to you.

How many prayers have I prayed with a wrong perspective of myself or others?  How many times have I cried to the Lord to hear me and make my wish come true just to keep my false reality happy?  (More than I want to admit right now…)

It would be easy to wrap this up with a call for us all to never pray a selfish, stupid prayer ever again – to only lift up prayers that carry Mother Theresa’s perspective on life.


After spending the evening with the family who lost another child, my father came home this evening, saw the sadness in my eyes as I watched my fish struggle to live, and walked right back out the door to go purchase an air pump for Winston’s tank.  Let me break that down for you: My father, the Pastor who spends hours upon hours of every day ministering and loving on people with real hurts, cared enough for my petty heart to go out and buy a dadgum air pump for my dadgum betafish. 

This reminded me of a truth I really do know to be true: God, despite ourselves, understands us and cares deeply for us.  God, hearing our pettiness and self-centeredness and perspective-less prayers, still cares.  God, who runs the world and goes before us and after us in time to orchestrate His purposes, hears me cry for a fish called Winston. 

While more than anything I long to be a woman known for her perspective, a woman whose reality encompasses God’s perspective as she thinks and behaves and adopts habits shaped by truth over personal feelings, I also know I am imperfect.  I know I am not perfect and I will disappoint others and myself when I will inevitably lose perspective and the wheels fall off the bus.  

The bigger question is not how to keep the right perspective at all times but how to quickly regain it when it is lost.

 

Our perspective leads us to our thoughts. Our thoughts lead us to our behaviors. Our behaviors lead us to our habits. Our habits lead us to our reality that in turn feeds our perspective.

I now gaze into Winston’s bowl, watching him somehow fight to live despite all the trauma he experienced this afternoon.  Then, I refocus my gaze to the TV screen beyond it where Syrian children are shown finally getting a chance to play and learn without fear of dying.  And with that, I forgave myself for the nearsightedness of my first perspective because what I saw beyond it mattered too much to be ignored.

Love All the People.

MILLENNIALS.

They’re the worrrrrrrst, am I right?

(I actually disagree, but that’s a whole different blog post.)

Millennials are most known by the rest of society for how they are running the morals and values and beliefs held commonly by former generations to the underground.

But, there’s one thing this generation seemingly ‘gets’ and truly wants to be known for:

How we LOVE—

LOVE and understanding.

LOVE and acceptance.

LOVE and belonging.

LOVE and embrace.

LOVE and diversity.

LOVE and new ways of thinking.

LOVE and no exceptions…

that is

…unless you don’t love me back.

Then, it’s pretty much just HATE.


 At the end of the day, we all just want to be known and understood and then loved in return for being ourselves.  It’s when we’re not fully known and understood that we can feel less than loved or valued.

When love is communicated to us without first getting a sense of being understood, we may find ourselves questioning the motives or genuineness of the ‘lover.’

In efforts to fix the world of all its injustices and problems, us Millennials took it upon ourselves to perpetuate a simple yet powerful mantra of “LOVE” and acceptance within every realm we carry influence…

Surely if we just adopt a blanket covering of love for all walks of life, for everyone and everything, surely that’ll solve a multitude of issues…

The problem with this plan is that love without understanding, love without being fully known first, can often lead to more problems.

Worse yet, we often find ourselves being unwilling to love, or even unwilling to try to understand or know others, without first being understood, known, and loved.

But if this is true, then how can we be expected to understand everyone just so that we can love them–especially if we don’t feel completely loved ourselves at first?


Theorists and philosophers have argued that altruism–the idea of completely selfless service–is actually a myth.  They would assert that we as human beings serve others  knowing there will be a warm, fuzzy, pat-yourself-on-the-back feeling afterwards, and so we are motivated to do good and serve others with this expectation of good feelings in mind.

The New Testament uses two different words for love: phileo and agape.

Phileo is what love looks like among friends or two parties where both are beneficiaries.  (Think Philadelphia: the city of brotherly love.)  Phileo says, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours,” or “You treat me kindly and I’ll do the same.”

Agape is what love looks like when it is unconditional and not based on performance or even when it is unrequited or not returned.  Agape says, “No matter what, even if __________ happens, I will love you with an fierce, continuous love that just keeps on coming like a fire hydrant that can never be shut off.

“WITHOUT GOD we can only love with a selfish love–one that cannot be given if it is not received and returned.  However, agape loves regardless of the response.  This agape is the love Jesus shed when He forgave from the cross.”

John Bevere, “The Bait of Satan”


Stand where you may on this idea of agape, selfless love and where it comes from, but all this made me realize I have something real to confess to the world:

AS MUCH as I want to proudly tell the world how I’ve lived a life of love and acceptance–how even when I fell short of loving or accepting I always had the sincerest of intentions–I have to confess that I have often loved with a selfish love.

  • “SURELY if I learn how to love them better–maybe with an understanding of their love language or MBTI personality or what kind of baked goodies they like–they will learn to love me back.”
  • “SURELY if  I am known for my big, naturally loving heart, then others will just come to love me naturally.”
  • “SURELY if I love them, and love them well, they WILL love me well in return.”

This confession feels really gross to admit.

I don’t want people to know I have ever loved with hopeful intentions of being loved in return.  Worse than that, there’s a prideful part of me that doesn’t want people to know how badly I wanted to be loved by them.

And, for those who I unsuccessfully loved, for those who I tried to love with all I could give but they refused to love me back, well, what am I even supposed do with them?

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In “A Personality Conflict with the Creator”,  I talked about a recent Come-to-Jesus meeting where I had to face all my unforgiveness issues with a handful of folks from my past.  As I prayed for a new heart and strength to forgive and let go of these old hurts, God actually spoke this word:

LOVE ALL THE PEOPLE.” –GOD

Instead of “Love all the people who you want to love you back,” or

“Love all the people who are most like you and who ‘get’ you,” or

“Love all the people who you know love you,”

GOD was commanding I Love. All. The. People. Period. End of Discussion.

…What this looks like “on the reg” is, again, probably a whole different blog post.

But, as a takeaway, I do know now that loving ALL the people requires more than just a desire to be loved in return.  Loving all the people can sometimes mean we are not guaranteed any love back, even with our best efforts and intentions.  

I think that’s where God intends for us to love others with the continuous, overflowing love and unconditional grace He supplies us, because He knows our love is finite and can run dry if not replenished or returned.

Millennials.

Xers.

Boomers and Shakers.

Love All the People, yes.  But, be sure to Love with a Love supply that won’t leave you dry or wanting more in return.

Love All the People with a Love supply that does not require certain conditions because it was given to you freely and without condition.

Love All the People because GOD Loves you with more Love than you could possibly ever give to All the People.

Tribal Pursuits & One Man Wolf Packs

“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of “ME, TOO!” be sure to cherish them.

Because those weirdos are your tribe.”

-Nanea Hoffman


Note: This blog post is dedicated to my tribe, in no particular order:
Riley Greenberg, Ashley Yopp, Carlee Latham, Dalton Horn, Kavan Killian, Emily Perdue, Carley Christiansen, Hannah Miller, Victor Salazar, Karsten Francis, Alyssa Holcomb, Michael and Katy Burbank, Matthew Marr, Ale Campos, Shannon Barron, Emily Ryan, Dustin Grabsch, Jason McKibben, Tyler Walker, Summer Odom, Jen Strong, Theresa Murphrey, Kelli Peck-Parrott, Billy McKim, and so, so many others to name.
Thank you all for loving me so hard.

In graduate school, I often amused myself by writing inspirational quotes on the white board that hung above my office desk.  One particular quote stayed on the white board for nearly all of my final semester:
tribe1

THIS QUOTE was a reminder of what God had given me while I was in school: a circle of friends and mentors that became my family.  My “tribe” knows me for who I am down to my core, aside from my funny quirks, aside from my last name, aside from my prior accomplishments.

The love I was shown from my tribe felt entirely undeserved yet wholly unconditional.  And, it was my greatest task and honor to love them back and love them hard.

Members of my tribe continue to check on me even now as I now live a thousand miles away.  On a daily basis I am still loved hard by my tribe, and it nearly breaks me on a daily basis that I am so far from them now.

But alas, here I am, trying to go on about my life without the physical presence of my tribe. While I do not know if or when I will ever get to “do life” with them again, I do think that my best chance for thriving where I am depends on finding another tribe…

To be honest though, finding another tribe feels almost impossible right now.  See, tribe members can willingly stand to answer the questions that pound so loudly in my head:

Who will love me?

Who will be in my corner no matter what happens?

Who will think about calling me up when there’s a free hour or two to spare?

Who will need nothing from me except just me completely?

Who will understand what my heart beats for and longs for?

Who won’t bat an eye when I’m not exactly following social cues or norms?

Who will encourage me when the days are long and offer little hope?

Who will laugh with me when I just need comic relief?

Who will cry with me when empathy is actually the best medicine?

Who will love me, and who will love me hard?

Poop.

Those are hard questions to answer.

So, how do you exactly go about finding another tribe?  What’s a lone wolf supposed to do without her wolf pack?

Or, better yet, is it true that there times when you just have “buck-up” and be a one man wolf pack?


Prior to finding my tribe in Texas, I felt a lot like how I do right now: alone, awkward, insecure, and not really belonging to anyone.  Graduate school lends itself to the tribal pursuit because you basically have a built-in set of similar-minded folks who were just as crazy as you were to sign-up for this kind of torture.  But, I know that was not the only factor that led me to finding my tribe…

For some reason, I’m pretty sure God is wanting me to learn a lesson or two about how to go about “tribal pursuits,” and He is letting me go ahead and feel quite alone, awkward, insecure, and not belonging to anyone in the process.

“Why would God want me to suffer like this?  Why must I be separated from my tribe?  Why hasn’t another tribe adopted me yet??  Why would He let me feel this uncomfortable and lonely?”  My whines seem strong enough to summon the finest cheeses to be served alongside my bellyaches.

“BECAUSE I NEED YOU TO KNOW HOW TO LIVE AS A ‘ONE MAN WOLF PACK’ TO BETTER LOVE YOUR TRIBE, VAL.”

-Your God

WHOAH—–Pump the brakes.  Did God just really make a Hangover reference?!?

Here I’ve been squirming and fighting and throwing tantrums about being away from my former tribe and not having a new tribe already in place where I am… Here I’ve been trying SO HARD to force new relationships to pacify my loneliness and grieving heart…

AND YET GOD WANTED ME TO LEARN HOW TO BE ‘ALONE’ THIS WHOLE TIME?

…That can’t be right. What good would that do for Him or me?


“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  2nd Corinthians 1:3-4 

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:11-13

I hate silence, and I really hate being (or feeling) alone.  But, sometimes God needs both to happen in order to get to the deep stuff in our hearts and minds.

As I have had more time this semester than ever before to reflect, read, paint, cook, and simply think by myself,  I’ve come to know God a bit more by His loving, gentle character. He’s shown me just how strong and resilient He intends for me to be in Him and Him alone.

Furthermore, God has been kind enough to bring forth random connections with new friends here to keep me motivated and hopeful about potential tribe members.

Not going to lie: these lessons being learned right now are not my favorite.

But, if what God is after will ultimately help me love my tribe better and harder, I think I’m willing to “think of myself as a one man wolf pack” for the time being.