A love letter to the weary watchers this Advent.

Dear you, dear me, dear weary world, dear us standing together—

When I was growing up, I didn't know anything about the Liturgical Year. We attended a small Pentecostal church with rusty red carpet and green pews and a hefty pastor and my parents were not well versed in the church calendar. I knew about Daniel and the lion's den, Esther becoming queen, the prodigal son, and how one time Jesus made a cocktail of spit and dirt and rubbed it in the eyes of a blind man to give him back his sight.

I knew about the highlights. Christmas and Good Friday and Easter and that one Sunday every year when people got really wild and waved palm branches around (that especially embarrassed me). Lent was a time when some people decided to give up chocolate for 40 days, but in the end they just felt like losers, because who could really make it 40 days without chocolate? I knew nothing of Epiphany or Advent or the strings of ordinary time that held them together.

As an adult, I grow more appreciative of the intricacy of the Liturgical calendar with each passing year. This year, Advent, in particular, has opened me up to a kind of awe and wonder that I've scarcely ever felt. And it has broken me wide open to an unbridled longing.

 

Aleppo.

Orlando.

Bombs, bullets, all the bullets.

"The gunman was..."

Riots.

Planes falling out of the clear blue sky.

Attacks.

"I moved on her like a bitch..."

Townville, South Carolina—all of fifteen minutes away.

Haunted.

#BlackLivesMatter

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes.

 

The earth is quaking and we can't stand by any longer and pretend like the storms are happening somewhere out there. They're inside of us.

Job loss.

Financial crisis.

Crumbling marriages.

Addiction.

Loneliness.

Disease.

Numb the pain.

Gossip.

Betrayal.

All this loss.

 

And buried somewhere underneath the rubble—the realization that this world is not our home. I knock unrelenting on heaven's door, pleading.

Where are you? 

Have you left us? 

 

My soul yearns.

And then.

A thrill of hope. 

At just the right time.

Our King has come. 

Emmanuel, God with us.

 

The greatest gift of all time in the most unexpected package.

At some point, I remember learning that the people with the palm branches in The Bible had the wrong idea about Jesus. They thought he would save them from Caesar, when really, he came to save them from their sin.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother—and in his name, all oppression shall cease. 

He weeps for them. 

Perhaps there are a handful who know, somehow, somewhere in their souls that nothing would ever be the same again.

He didn't come to make us comfortable. Rather, that in our brokenness, we could be comforted. A holy God saw brokenness as being such an integral part of the human experience that he could not go another moment without putting skin in the game. Jesus didn’t come so that we could climb some corporate ladder or hit it big or simply make ends meet or just do okay or feel high and mighty about our stance on gun control and who can use what bathroom. He didn't come for us to experience the same old stuff on a different day. He didn’t give his life so that we could walk around with the prerecorded response of busy or fine. 

He came to become a casualty, to be cast aside, to be spit upon and mocked and denied and sold out and it didn't have to be this way. He took upon himself the punishment that we had coming to us—rescuing us from what we surely deserved.

He came to make Love great again.

We know. We know. 

And then he asked us to give our lives as evidence.

"Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Whoever is willing to live in this holy, painful tension—whoever is willing to take up his own cross, to let go of dreams and plans and security and bucket lists in order to be poured out alongside me. 

We are broken, and we are broken for each other. We are poured out, and we are poured out for each other. This is the way of the beloved, the way of being transformed to the image of Christ, whose body was broken and poured out for us.

We can be the Aaron's and Hur's, holding one another up. We can be a generation of Esther's who are willing to risk it all to tear down the wall so that all might come in. We can be the peacemakers, the prayer warriors, the 2:00 AM answer on the other end of the phone, the lasagna bringers, the roof rippers, the second mile journeyers, the quiet revolutionaries going about the Father's business.

We can be poured out, because we know that he always gives more

We are the hearts preparing him room, the hearts who know that he doesn't come in alone, but rather with a host of broken hearts. He touched the sick, broke bread with whores, and called cheats and liars and back stabbers his best friends. He says they're with me. And when I begin to catch glimpses of my own heart in the folks he chose to spend his time with, it changes everything.

We're with him when we stand up for the least and loneliest and the left out—we're the ones who know that when we give the shirts off our backs, we're giving to him.

We keep both eyes fixed, not in idle wait, but active watching for what we know is on the horizon.  And we must not grow weary. For at the proper time—at just the right time, harvest season will come. The weary world will rejoice and all will be made well. 

Jesus, keep us until that day comes.

So be it.

A time to starve; a time to eat.

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset Recently, I've felt the sneaking pain of depression creeping back into my life. For the first time in months, I've found myself wondering if anyone cares about or even sees me. The headlines and trending topics have led me to question whether anyone cares enough to see anyone else. In the ache of my loneliness, anxiety turned the volume up on lies, blaring them on repeat and sending me on a steep downward spiral of shame.

A free sermon on shame: it often shows up for no good reason at all. You can try to combat it by doing the right thing all day long, but it will still crash the party. Shame is not a picky eater. It will devour anything you feed it -- your relationships, your body, your creativity, your faith, your energy, your peace. If you want to kill shame, you have to starve it. You have to be absolutely unrelenting in your refusal to let it eat. This is something that I am still in the thick of learning, and I've never learned anything the easy way.

My quiet time looks a bit different lately, and by that, I mean to say that I'm actually making an honest effort to have one. Right now, I'm camped out in Genesis with She Reads Truth. Because God is good and knows that I am thick headed, the stories have shown up in multiple places. On Wednesday, I watched a sermon about Abraham with a bunch of skinny teenagers. Andy Stanley pointed out a tiny verse, tucked away in the depths of chapter fifteen. Abraham had already been called out of his homeland and had just been promised the seemingly impossible. I'm sure he was probably lonely, and he certainly had questions -- but Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness (v. 15)

Let's be real: believing in God requires next to nothing of me. It barely even has any effect on my life. Taking him at his word, though, is a different thing entirely.

I was knee deep and sinking deeper into my own aching loneliness when this truth showed up like a neon sign on a desolate highway. God had isolated Abraham because he was about to do something revolutionary in the world. Perhaps he wants to do something revolutionary in my heart in the moments when I feel lonely and left out. Perhaps he wants to get me alone because he has things to say to me.

My friend Brooklyn messaged me today to see how I'm doing. I told her that yeah, I feel like I'm roughing it in the woods lately, but that my perspective has shifted. Rather than whining (which I still do sometimes), rather than asking why me, I've started to ask God what it is he wants to teach me. Instead of praying for the cup to be passed, I'm praying for increased sensitivity to his voice. I can sense that the fog is lifting, because for the first time, I'm able to see how some of the pieces fit.

He really is a good, good Father. He can be trusted, because his ways are always perfect. Even when I want to hide, there's nowhere I could run except into him. He feeds me on the manna mystery and on his word, and I am hungry for more.

And he always gives more.

thoughts on leaving & fresh starts.

I've spent the past few days at home, recuperating from a car accident. Most of that time has been spent sleeping, but during my few waking hours, I have had a lot of time to think about what is to come in the next days and weeks. Naturally, I have tried to drown the thoughts with endless episodes of Law & Order SVU and documentaries on the royal family. I've spent time browsing Facebook, trying to catch up on highlights that seem to constantly reel from everyone's life but mine. It was there that I stumbled across a photograph of a girl sitting in a little cafe in the heart of New York City.

The caption read: I'm twenty-four, and I'm already on my third fresh start.

As much as I tried, I couldn't shake it. She was beautiful, and her words resonated somewhere deep in my soul, and I am a romantic at heart.

I think back to the beginning of college, and how in those days, I felt every bit like a Pablo Neruda poem. Everything felt transformed, the way you feel when you can finally breathe deep the coming of a new season. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I would sit for hours on the patio of our little cafe and become totally submersed in the beauty and mystery of words. I fell hard for a boy who was rugged and adventurous and passionate and refused to back down from an opportunity to share the Jesus that he knew, even if that Jesus didn't look quite like the other person's. In my mind, he broke all the right rules and embodied all the things that I wanted to be. When his car pulled into a space in front of the campus coffee shop, my heart would always skip a beat. I wanted to be the girl who impressed him. A year and a half later, his body would dissolve under the weight of the cancer, which was probably there before we even said our first hello's. Now, I remember him with fondness and respect, and it has taken me this long to realize that even though he was deeply loved by all who knew him, he was a person with flaws and fears the same as my own.

Then, I fell head over heels for a boy that lived half way across the country. He had wooed me with his smooth compliments and messy hair, and we would instant message until the wee hours of the morning. He was charming and funny, making comments about how he thought of me every time that Bruno Mars song came on the radio. He had all but convinced me to drop my whole life and move to Texas when one day, he asked me if we could have a conversation that didn't involve God. Needless to say, things quickly devolved after that, and my friends held a legitimate intervention over cold cafeteria lunch.

Eventually, I married one of those friends. And I haven't looked back. Grace is always inviting us to look forward.

But my pendulum hasn't stopped swinging. For every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction, and when trying to be mysterious and hiding bottles of red wine under my bed in my dorm room stopped working, I put all of my striving towards being the good girl. I wanted to be the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker, the perfect accountability partner, the perfect church greeter. I wanted the words I wrote to be syrupy sweet, which was a stark contrast to the dark and gritty words I had penned in the years earlier. To be fair, I was never really in danger of being a "bad" girl, but the idea of being someone else was intoxicating. It never really mattered who -- I just wanted to be someone, anyone else. The me that I knew on the inside was on the edge.

Maybe that has always been the case. I have lived completely enamored by the idea of being anyone other than myself. I have been willfully cruel to my heart and my body. I have fallen victim to and become addicted to comparing myself to others. Envy is a drug that will cause you to rot from the inside out.

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That has always been me: the girl with no permeable membrane. I absorb everything without any regard for the consequences. I carry headlines and tragedy and grief and responsibility around with me in heavy suitcases, and can't remember a time when I felt light. As long as I can hide behind the heaviness, I don't have to deal with the truth of what's going on inside my soul. Chesterton was right, it is easy to be heavy. Eventually, you completely forget that you can't breathe. Even on the good days, the whole of your life could be chalked up to simply surviving.

When I chose bloom as my word for the year, I didn't realize how difficult the lesson would be. But isn't that just like God? We plan our way, but he determines our steps. I didn't realize how much work it would take, how much introspection would be required of me. I am an expert at avoiding the ugly places -- the places I'm still afraid to admit are barren and parched. The places I'm honest-to-God terrified of surrendering.

Yeah, those places exist. I'm not proud of them. Really, I'd rather keep them hidden for all eternity. But hiding isn't exactly conducive to any sort of growth.

I figured I would start small. Even though we were in a town that we felt no affection toward, I committed to not have such a bad attitude about it. Or at least try not to have such a bad attitude. Then I worked halfheartedly on my attitude about my job, my marriage, my ministry, my body. I invited other twentysomething women over for dinner. I started tithing and volunteering more at church. I thought if I could perform better, faster, and stronger, blooming would happen naturally. What I didn't realize, and perhaps avoided realizing, was that blooming had nothing to do with my performance and everything to do with where I was remaining. I was remaining in my own perception of security, my personal ivory tower of Babel, trying to work my way into the good graces of a God that I had invented.

You guys, I can talk such a big talk. It is scary how well I wear these masks. But it is time to get real.

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To remain is to stay, persist, abide, and endure. None of these things has ever come easily to me. I suppose, like any good thing, remaining takes practice. It takes giving everything over to the discipline -- to eat it, sleep it, breathe it.

Breathe it. 

His name literally means the sound of breathing. Can I actually force myself to settle down and cope with something so simple? That's the thing about this faith -- it always manages to turn common sense on its head.

To remain is to wrestle -- to wrestle with the God of the universe and hand over all of my insecurities and my frustrations on the days where I want to shake my fists and ask what the hell he was thinking when he decided to make someone like me.  To wrestle like Jacob, who refused to let go until he received the blessing.

There's a longing inside of me, a hunger for the real God -- not the one I've made up to suit my own personal preferences and agenda. Most of the time, that God would eventually morph into a failure seeking fear monger.  Who would want to give their heart over to that?

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I don't really know why I've written all of this down. I guess it is because my husband and I are getting ready to move and I am nervous. It is a fresh start -- another chance to start over and be anyone I want to be. A chance to impress people with my little bit of mystery, my love for documentaries, my dupe for Carrabba's delicious olive oil bread dip, and a blog that has been read on five continents.

But I've been defining myself by those things for too long. I want to leave them behind and make room for my soul to breathe -- to unpack the baggage, to learn what it means to cease striving and simply be; to remain solely in Christ, apart from whom I can do nothing. I wonder at what it must be like to walk in that kind of freedom. I've decided that more than I want people to be impressed by what I can do, I want them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am seeking the kingdom first. In the curves of my body, the recesses of my mind, and the depths of my soul. But first I have to know that for myself.

It is hard to be light. But I'd like to try.

on quitting and learning to leap before i look.

curahee2 All throughout the Bible, we find stories of people who get to leap before they look. We read the narratives of people who are called beyond the realm of their comfort zones -- people who are given new names that are entirely contradictory to the identities they have always known. The weak are commissioned to go to war, to defeat giants. The barren and the virgin are called forth to bear new life. The Lord tells people to move without maps.

My husband and I signed our names to resignation letters a couple weeks ago, and I have to be honest, it is one of the scariest things I have ever done. Not just the resigning part, which will officially take effect in eleven short days, but my waking thoughts on the morning after, and the morning after that. Our lives are about to take a drastic turn. And drastic turns are not for the faint of heart. They require strength, but even more than that, they require vulnerability -- something that I can only ever ask of myself in easily measured doses. So it wouldn't be too difficult to deduce that sometimes I take issue with an immeasurable God who asks us to do seemingly crazy and often even impossible things. There are days when it seems like nothing about this faith is easy -- days when I have to try even harder to remember Brene Brown's revelation that if you can measure it, it probably isn't all that important. And in all my years of studying the Bible, I've never come across anyone who was called to easy.

To be fair, our destination isn't totally unknown: we are moving to South Carolina, to a town all of forty minutes from where we live right now in Georgia. But we don't have a house there yet, and I will be without a job. A couple weeks ago, Craig got a phone call, and within a matter of days, had been offered a job. His dream job. The job that he would talk about when we lay awake at night and talked about where we wanted to be in ten years. Of course, I cried, because that is what I do. And I said that we would be crazy not to walk through this door that had so obviously been opened by the Lord. And so we wrote our letters of resignation and put in our notices, bound for a place that had not been entirely revealed. We were all geared up to take the leap of faith. And we still are.

There's something different about this leap, though (granted, at twenty-four, I don't have a very extensive history when it comes to leaping). Surely, there have been days when my heart has nearly beat out of my chest with the anxiety of it all. Where will we live, what kind of job will I be able to find, how long do we have to change our drivers licenses, what about health insurance?  I am learning to let go of my perceptions of security, learning to let the Lord go before me. 

In Deuteronomy 31, the Lord promises his people that he will go before them. It is a truth I have not heavily relied on. Rather, I charge ahead with my own plans and my own schedule and priorities because who in their right mind would actually trust their entire future to a God who delights in leaping without looking? Sure, I've claimed the yes, claimed the surrender, but all these years I've been living the no and the striving and the hustle. I say that it is because I want to be prepared -- I want to have the nice house, the steady and rewarding job, the fruitful marriage. But the truth is, the striving and the hustle are fueled by fear. Fear of letting people down, and people letting me down. Fear of letting God down, and God letting me down.

I inhale deep as I stare at the words. Afraid that God will let me down. Afraid that at some point, he'll fall asleep on the job and I'll leap head first into a black hole of pain and grief and loss. Afraid of the total insanity of it all. I think God is probably nodding along as I type, as if to say yeah, girl, you're kind of a work in progress. And I've never been comfortable with being undone.

But lately, that is what I find myself asking for. Lord, undo me. 

Because this undoing of self is how all of his stories begin. And I want my story to become his.