Joyful Women! Thanks for Being You.

This one’s gonna be quick. Because my belly is rumbling, and I need to wake up my slumbering husband and pup-dog, and I have a lot to do in this gorgeously chilly day ahead of me. Let’s cut to the light.

For a while now, I’ve been admiring the joyful people. You know, those ones who despite difficult circumstances seem to always be shining with lights and rainbows and mysteriously non-trite expressions. Those seemingly well-put-together and fabulously optimistic, wise personas who plague your existence with their fervor and light-heartedness? Yeah, I’m probably talking about you. Or Caroline. Or Rachel. Or Gina. Or Jenna. or Erin. Or Caitlyn. Or Ayschia. Or… you get the drift.

I have so many positively fantastic upbeat, joyful women in my life who put my complaining and moaning and “woe is me” attitude at times to shame. And they do it unknowingly with a smile and skip in their step, as they frolic through forests of lavender and juniper and sunshine. They seem to exude thankfulness, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, gentleness, encouragement, laughter, tears.

Wait. Errrrrrr [hear screeching of tires]. Scratch. There it is. Tears.

These women… fantastic, amazing, gifted, inspirational, God-fearing women are also experienced with tears. Those who I so admire and enjoy have been through trials, deep ones. They know pain – anxiety, anger, betrayal, sickness, isolation, grief. They’ve known sorrow. And, their joy, I’m increasingly realizing, comes not in fields of ease but is born out of trenches of struggle, the mire, the muck, the heart-wrenching fear, the depth of understanding, the resurrection of hope, the restoration of the redeemed, the knowledge that for those who hope in the Lord, goodness always triumphs over evil. That for every tear, there is dancing in the future. For every fear, there is peace washed over. For every hurt, there is manifold good, offered and promised and held for the right timing. There is peace. And with knowledge and peace comes contentment. Joy. Light and fervor and beauty.

There is pain, but there is hope.

So, I’m going to read Job.

And Psalms.

And if my future posts have some darkness, some lamenting, some “woe is me” mentality, give me some grace, and don’t worry too much about how I’m doing, because I’m going to read through the story of a man who was tested and scourged and stripped of everything but his Lord, and how he came out the other side with joy and favor. Plus some Psalms expressing emotion all over the board [my personal speciality]. Let’s just feel all of those feelings.

And hopefully, prayerfully, I’ll learn more about joy and light and beauty. Because that is the character of the God I serve, and He binds his people to himself with covenant promises of which I cannot ignore. He always restores his people.

And he gives me ridiculously beautiful women of joy as signposts to remind me of those promises: that he is good, always, and he will turn our mourning into dancing.

So, joyful women: thanks for being you.

And here’s too many (though somehow not enough) photos of some said women (and just as redemptive, men).

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And I Will Draw Near to You

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College is such a formative time. I developed relationships with dear friends, met my gift of a husband, discovered my career path, and felt the Lord alter my worldview through my experiences and his Word. And, in the midst of it, I encountered Jesus.

If you didn’t read my last post, I’m on a journey of thinking through God’s intentional hand during my youth and beyond. It’s fun and challenging and introspective… just my thing… and it will be used at my new work, which is even more wonderful.

After my sixth grade summer when I “found” Jesus, I discovered I had many questions. How do you do this alone? Isn’t that what happens: now I retreat to my bedroom with my dusty Bible, and I read? What changes? What’s this whole Christian thing look like, and how do I navigate it? What if I don’t feel it anymore, that spiritual high? What now?

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I was so very thankful to be surrounded with girls who also were seeking to know the Lord and who liked to have a clean good time. We had a blast and kept each other out of trouble. From 6th-12th grade, these girls grounded me and grew with me, and we discovered more and more who we were. Believe me, we made plenty of mistakes too. We were lazy and self-focused; we were gluttonous and jealous; we were fearful and petty at times. Yet, the Lord was faithful; He always is.

In the summer before my 8th grade year, from a hard wooden pew in an old, well-loved chapel, I rededicated my life to Christ, a new surge in my faith. After that summer, I spent at least two weeks every June or July at that same incredible place called New Life Ranch.

And it was.

New and full of life…and every year, I found new spring in my step and song in my heart. I cried out to the Lord, sang silly songs, prayed fervently, danced often, and learned how to serve like Nehemiah, lead like Moses and David and Paul, help, claim, dig deep, and be thankful. This camp is where I seemed to find myself every year: the rocks were my thinking place, the West 40 my place of praise, and the cabins where I was privileged enough to grow with dear friends and eventually minister to young girls. My safe place, my inspiration…

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My sophomore year of college was particularly transformative for me. Whether I knew the labels or not, I was wrestling through the imaginary sacred and secular divide. There were voices in my life telling me that some of the things I loved were ungodly – punk and hip hop music, going dancing, reading certain books and spending time with certain people… and though I had a history of trusting some of these voices, I felt torn. I understood the idea that spending more time with God and his words meant spiritual growth for me, and yet I couldn’t shake the height and happiness of my soul after laughing with my sorority sisters at a party, the way that my heart broke as I heard musicians crying out and declaring their emptiness, the beauty in the brokenness, the pull I felt toward it. I desired to know more of the world, to find out what was so “bad” and how to feel more alive, to throw myself into a feeling and a rhythm and story… to be free.

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Throughout that year, a lot changed for me and in me – too much to explain in this brief post – but by May, I went back to New Life Ranch with a host of punk, rock, and indie CDs, a strength and deeper understanding of who I was, an even deeper love for my wonderful and spunky sisters, and a certainty of God’s provision and call on my life, and He started speaking to me about baptism. When I say speaking, know that I don’t mean audible words in my ear from the Lord, but I do mean that he spoke through others and through his Word. I kept reading and hearing and seeing baptisms, and I started digging into Scripture to see what it was all about, and what resulted was that He affirmed me in my search. I prayed and felt the assurance both inwardly from the Holy Spirit and outwardly from family and friends that it was time, and it turned out, about seven others were ready too. So, we all went down to the river on a Sunday.

A few of my dearest friends and a host of New Life Ranch staff stood around me as we went one by one and explained why we felt called to baptism that day. I tearfully choked through my convictions – that God had been tugging on my heart, that I had a renewed love for Him, and that I knew that although I was already firmly His, it was time to show it outwardly and answer the call, to consecrate my life for Him.

When it came to be my turn, I waded into the creek that I so dearly loved, shaded by a few beautifully arching trees overhead, and Scott Shaw placed one hand against my back and the other clasped over my wrists. I let go and fell backward, held firmly by Scott’s hands and the support a few of my dearest friends. The cool water rushed around my back and over my face as my body submerged, and seemingly just as quickly, the direction of force reversed as I was pulled back up, gasping for New Life air. Whoops and cheers and praise filled the skies, and after a few hugs and possibly the biggest ear-to-ear smile of my life, I stepped aside for the next staffer’s life-altering moment.

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I encountered Jesus that day through my community and my commitment. I drew near to Him over the years, and I felt Him drawing still nearer and nearer to me. I pulled the Lord close like a cloak of protection and a redeeming liberator, and He became real for me, intertwined with my heart, and I couldn’t help but to keep drawing nearer, the Lord growing dearer. His love for me was relentless, His call on my life impossible to be ignored. Still to this day, that was a powerful moment in my life that helps to define who I am as a beloved daughter and believer. My words are too finite to express what happened in my soul that day, but I knew that it was a turning point and a right one.

During that time in my life, I clung closely to a few verses, but Psalm 139, specifically the last two verses (23-24) were on my heart. I was ready to be led, and my rebellious heart was relenting and reforming. With my Lord nearer and my vision clearer, I walked out of the water and into the days ahead, and the Lord encouraged me and hemmed me in. He knew me full well and loved me despite, seeing me clean and robed in righteousness that I did not deserve. And that kind of love is worth dying for so that you might be given new life.

And I was.

New and full of life and hope.

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

2You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

7Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

8If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

12even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

13For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

15My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

17How precious to me are your thoughts,a God!

How vast is the sum of them!

18Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you.

[…]

23Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Ripping out the Roots

On Wednesday, I came home from school and was, as of late, met by a barraging overflow of zucchini leaves, spilling over the vegetable garden into my path. All I wanted was to move forward and set down my things in the house, but instead, I lifted leaves and pushed back the vegetation in order to put my bags down on the back deck and let Brooklyn out of the house.

I came back. It had been weeks… months? These leaves, an offset of a different problem, had begun to intrude into my space a while ago and now were covered in a type of powdered mildew, nevermind the host of squash bugs boring into and infesting their roots. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I began cutting. and snipping, and snapping, and ripping. It took me about thirty minutes to realize that I was still in my dress clothes, but at this point, who cared? It was swelteringly hot, and my long sleeves and pants didn’t deter me. This needed to get done. And after I cut out all of the disease, about 2/3 of the massive plant, I could finally see some fruit, several zucchini to harvest, and also the tangled mess that had been slowly poisoning the plant from the roots up. There was no salvaging that part, but it was thriving the best it could anyhow, even if its offerings on the outside looked bleak, its spiky leaf tips pointed toward the sky like a vessel. “Fill me; help.”

Then there was the kale. From afar, it looked fine, but then at ten feet, I saw the stripped leaves, the ribbed ruffage full of munched holes. And at a few inches, upon inspection, I observed the problem too. A caterpillar. No, many of them. No, hundreds, thousands? Their eggs and their little striped bodies, just a half-inch long, had found a village, a sprawling food-filled metropolis, and they were happy. I… was not. And after assessing the damage, I decided that having no kale was better than the shred of what had been left behind by this ravaging. I’d rather rip them up from the roots and start over. I could plant again, put down new roots, but the kale would not survive in this state, and the risk of spreading it to the rest of my garden did not make me pleased. I went to work.

The funny thing is, as always, it struck me, during this ripping of the roots, that this is yet another of my gardening life metaphors. I also went to work on something different recently, or more accurately, I went to work, at WCA. And my departure from my old, beloved school felt somewhat like these plants… I hadn’t been thriving anymore. Somehow, and I don’t know how the descent happened (like the plants, I didn’t see its origins), I had been slowly being eaten at, had been trying to thrive and yet offering less-than to my kids. There was still good there, still fruit growing, but it was harder to see, and I was under so much stress and confusion about what was happening that I couldn’t come out from it. I wanted so badly to stay where I was and be what I had been, but it was time to be transplanted, to be ripped out of the place where I had put down roots so someone else could put theirs down and do beautiful work.

My friends have been asking me lately, very thoughtfully, how I like school, my new job, and I can say unreservedly that I love it. I LOVE it. It is renewing and full of life and vigor and glory. I am happy… what a novel sentence. Fleeting as it usually seems to be, I am happy. And I hope that the feeling stays. But more than anything, I am thankful. I am thankful for what I now realize was the perfect amount of time in my first “garden plot”… I didn’t understand then why I was still there. If I’m in so much pain, if I’m struggling so much, why would God still have me here? But, now, hindsight 20/20, I see. He built into my character. I was still creating fruit, even if less than usual. I was still stretching out my hands, rugged and stained though they were, trying to find answers. And God taught me some amazing things. The confusion, the anxiety fog, the relationships that I had, the way that I grew in the last few years in my understanding of social justice, the teammates I had… everything was for my good, for my growth. I see now that the teacher I am is informed by much of that. The joy that I have now is in light of that. I know that I am where I am supposed to be, and I know now that I was then too. And at the proper time (though it seemed late to me), God brought change. He ripped me out, roots and all, and I started over. I am so thankful…

What an incredible school I came from, what incredible people… but other people were still thriving there while I was not. It was time. And at the perfect minute, I came into a job with the right kids, the right parents, the right curriculum, the right room, the right school, the right colleagues, the right passion and joy. I am thrilled. Genuinely… my cup overflows.

This is what I wish for my students, for my friends… that this tiny glimpse I have now of God’s plan and his story would be something you could see too, that the current struggle you are in would reap strength and depth of understanding later as you look back on this time, that you will be filled to overflowing with future joy, and that you would do as God encouraged me to do last September… almost a year ago today… “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2 … and see what he has planned for you. Then, get to work.

Amen.