Reading time: 7 minutes
Never Uttered Before
A well-known verse (that's actually about church discipline) brought me to a new realization about singleness this morning.
Matthew 18:20 says, "for where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them."
I mentioned this verse is actually about church discipline - and it is within the context of Scripture that it is found. Jesus is speaking with believers to tell them how to treat a fellow believer who sins and that as they are dealing with the issue of sin in another believer's life, He is there with them. It's another example of how Jesus provides strength and peace in a situation that may not be peaceful at all when we invite Him into it. He is affirming believers holding other believers accountable.
I've heard this verse quoted many times, particularly when talking about believers being together in community as the church, or when believers are collectively praying together about one thing. But it stuck in my head this morning, because the enemy tried to twist it - to try and get me to hear something else entirely. The scheme he used on Jesus, quoting Scripture to try and tempt Him, he tried on me this morning.
He wanted me to hear that if I wasn't with another, me being one and not two (with a spouse) or three (in a building with other believers), then I wasn't being seen or heard by God.
So I read the verse in it's context and then sent the enemy on his way with a simple statement that I don't think I've ever uttered before: Jesus has redeemed my singleness.
Mountains and Valleys
My singleness was never going to be redeemed by marriage. I was never going to be redeemed by marriage.
As a believer and follower of Christ, there is no way I would want to believe that marriage was the thing to save me. For what if it doesn't happen? I'm lost forever...literally. Yet, for certain seasons of my life, I've been buying into that lie.
Here's the thing with me and my singleness (and perhaps for other single folks if you ask them): it's been a series of mountains and valleys. For years, maybe more than half my life, marriage was something I never thought of, even through college. I was always surrounded by great friends who I had fun with and kept me laughing. Even when watching friends date, it was never something I felt like I needed. Wanted? Sure, but not needed. I loved my spot at the tables we pushed together in the dining halls, where we would sit and laugh for hours. Sometimes relationships circled around the tables, other times not, but it was never the core of who we truly were. Of who I was. Those times around the tables filled with friends, that was a mountaintop in my single life.
The valley of loneliness didn't catch up with me until after college. Graduation happened, I moved across the country, and for close to a year, I was still doing well. Looking back, I was slowly sliding down the side of the mountain (in one way literally, as I attempted to learn how to ski during this time and it did not go well) into a valley I hadn't quite found myself in before, as I was going to this time. My time in California came to an end and I remember as I was flying back to Alabama, thinking about driving to my apartment. Only, that wasn't where I was going because my apartment in Tuscaloosa, the city that had been my home for five years, wasn't mine anymore. If I had pulled up into that parking space in front of the patio on the left, I wouldn't have seen my things, but someone else's.
After California, I moved back home, rested a little and then started searching for a full-time job (which is a full-time job in and of itself but with no benefits and almost only rejection - another metaphor for singleness, but that would be a whole other post). I eventually found myself in my current home, Mobile, and started settling into a new life here. In a city that I knew I could enjoy, but only had a few people that I knew. My people, my college family, now at this time was spread throughout the state and around the country. Long dinners at long tables were no longer. And loneliness started etching its way into those now empty spots of my life.
Seeking the Summit
As time kept moving for me, a single, it did for my friends as well. Some single, some actively dating. My texts were full of conversations where friends and I talked about trying to find contentment in Christ alone and navigating adult life as a twenty-something. Then slowly, our conversations began to change. Friends were dating, they had a guy and it was serious, what are you doing on this date? The fridge become a collage of announcements and invitations. Weddings allowed reunions that got us all back around big tables again. After one wedding, I remember walking the streets of Tuscaloosa with friends and we talked about how we missed this life. Us together, laughter, let's all move back and be in one place together again. We jokingly, not so jokingly, agreed. Saying we were down for it, but knowing that even if we did, it wouldn't be the same as it had been before. Those small reunions were tiny mountains for me, or at least me walking up the incline from valley, trying to leave it below.
I never quite reached the top, and I never was going to, unless I changed what was at the summit waiting for me.
As birthdays passed and I found myself late into my twenties, I tried to find more ways to get out of the valley. Still thinking the only way out was a relationship and eventual marriage, like a good Christian millennial, I looked to church...and dating apps. Remember the looking for a full-time job analogy? No benefits and only rejection? Here again it applies all too well. Between friends "who only love you and want to see you happy" and apps where conversation lags and drags, the story became the same over and over. Interest, maybe-perhaps, no? Okay, never mind.
I still hadn't changed what was at the top of the mountain, so why did I think this cycle would be any different? There was only one way to finally get out of the valley and beyond the halfway point of the incline that I felt completely stuck on. To change what was waiting for me at the summit.
Single, Saved, Redeemed
So I did. I told friends who loved me (and I do know they love me) that I just wasn't feeling it, that I wasn't in a place ready to or wanting to date. And I deleted the apps.
I looked up the incline still ahead of me, but now eager to take it on and dig my heels in. Because at the top of the mountain now waiting for me? Jesus.
Have I reached it? No, but perhaps today I did reach the next basecamp closer to the summit. Because when I felt the enemy try to twist Jesus' words and use them against me, to make me feel alone, I rejected it and heard Jesus speak instead, "I have redeemed her singleness."
Jesus saved my life many years ago and ever since then He's been redeeming bits and pieces of my story. The empty spots of my life are being filled and not with loneliness or grief or fear or anger. But filled with the life-giving blood of Christ. Slowly, each empty, desolate place is being turned into an oasis of life. One that cannot be ignored or unseen.
My singleness was never going to be redeemed by marriage. I was never going to be redeemed by marriage.
But, praise God, I have been redeemed. May my single self say so.
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story -
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things."
Reading time: 3 minutes
The book of Hosea is well-known for its story of Hosea and Gomer, the prostitute who Hosea is told to go and marry. But, do you realize that after chapter 3, Gomer is not mentioned anymore within the book? Beyond the rocky love story of a prophet and a prostitute, this is a story about us today. Of how we, like the Israelites, have wandered away from God to other lovers.
I’ve been wanting to rest and sit in the idea of God pursuing me. And the more I sit in it, the more uncomfortable I get. Because I know, like Gomer and the Israelites, I’ve found myself attracted to other “lovers” that claim they can love me back in bigger, better, bolder ways.
So there I run, ignoring the promise of an eternal betrothal of righteousness and faithfulness from God (2:19-20). I choose disgraceful things over glorious ones (4:7) and forget that my stubbornness doesn’t allow me to be led to pastures (4:16).
I am doomed (5:4), when I’m running this way, forsaking Him who does not forsake me and hoping these other “lovers” will help cure the loneliness inside (5:13).
But they will not.
I must return to the One who truly loves me, with the eternal betrothal. The One who leads to wildernesses, we see.
And it seems like a trap at first! What good can be found in a wilderness?
“What good can come from Nazareth?” the apostle would later ask.
Don’t we unknowingly ask this question every time we step into a desert place? Nothing good is what our eyes see first, but then they begin to adjust. Blinking harder as we continue to walk, the ground around us changing before us.
But it can’t be! Water in the desert? And it’s coming from the ground!
The dusty dirt turns darker as the water rises and flows. Our eyes follow the swelling stream and we look ahead. It is pooling together. Now large enough for us to wash ourselves and our dirty feet. Now large enough for us to drink! We can make it, we begin to think.
And what is that pricking our heart? Hope.
This desert wilderness that once held us captive is now turning into an oasis. New life, not certain death.
And we were led here all along.
We must resist going back.
Gomer, it’s believed, finally stopped resisting. Her silence for the rest of the book of Hosea seen as a sign that she stayed and remained faithful to the husband who bought and brought her back lovingly.
I wish to be Gomer and get it right within three chapters, but like the Israelites, I take a bit longer. Israel repents in chapter 6, but it’s not a faithful repentance. Their love has no substance (6:4) and they continue to say all the right things, but don’t do them. Very reminiscent of me today, confusing obedience and sacrifice.
So I ask myself, does my love for God have substance?
There are roots there, but how are they doing? Are they planted strong by the water that pools together in the wilderness or are they rotted?
“As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3) As surely as the sun rises...
Will my repentance be empty like the “lovers” I chase after, like that of the Israelites? Or will I see the way in the wilderness that springs forth hope and eternal betrothal and never look back?
Reading time: 2 minutes
Something strange has happened the past couple of days. I have felt peace. Specifically, peace pertaining to my singleness. It's not like the "I-don't-care" attitude I had in college or the always "wondering-when-marriage-is-coming" obsessiveness that seemed to dominant my late twenties. But peace.
Yes, still mixed with some cynicism (it's hard to get rid of this) that maybe it's just easier to go this road alone for another 31 years. There is a question that still creeps into my mind every once in awhile, either asked by my counselor or just curious minds, "What is it that I want? What do I desire?" And for the first time in a long time, I can answer truthfully when saying, "Jesus."
He has known me always, but I've known Him the past 23 years. He has walked the path beside me - hills and valleys - every step of the way. And when I'm tempted to quote Green Day by declaring, "I walk a lonely road...but it's only me, and I walk alone...", I know I haven't. There were only some paths I walked where I never looked over for Jesus' face. I know if I had, that I would have been met with kind eyes. Now, when thinking about those times I rejected His invitations, and went ahead of Him on my own, I see a different picture. One of me standing behind Jesus as He looks at me walking ahead of Him, determined to make it by myself. And those kind eyes are filled with tears. Yet, by His grace and because of His love, He kept coming after me. Always with me wherever I went and always ready with an invitation.
I wish I could go back and tell myself to take Him up on all of His offers. To not be ridiculous and selfish, thinking I could do this life alone. But because I didn't accept those, it has made accepting the invitations of today so much sweeter. And I know, that whatever my next 31 years look like, I won't be walking alone.
Reading time: 17 minutes
An art installation that is actually here in a downtown Mobile building - made from debris found in Holt, AL outside of Tuscaloosa, and debris from Hurricane Katrina.
When April 27th appears on the calendar, I always remember. Where I was, what I heard, what I saw. Every year I write out my account of the Tuscaloosa Tornado. To remember and praise God for the protection He surrounded me with that day, but also to grieve. To remember what was lost - the people, the places, the things. We are talking a lot in these days filled with pandemic about what our new "normal" will look like. Thinking of it now, when I walked out of my dorm that Tuesday evening on the campus of The University of Alabama, I was walking out to a new normal. A new Tuscaloosa. Changed in a way we never thought would be.
Below is a post that I wrote shortly after April 27th - it must have first appeared on my old blog, because I didn't start writing here until 2014. I'm so grateful that I transferred this post over - to help me remember. I wanted to revisit it again today, with new thoughts or things I remember throughout in bold. Because as the years go by, and next year a decade, it's going to get harder to remember. But there is beauty in remembering, even when something is hard, scary, and traumatic.
This isn't the most well-written thing I've ever written, but I can tell I wrote it shortly after, because it's so jumbled in parts. It includes some of the most random thoughts - like being annoyed by having to sit in a hallway full of girls. I think now, that was an indication I really wasn't taking this as serious as I could have, until we really knew what was happening outside. But, you'll see that later.
This is just a re-post of a post that I created shortly after the April 27th, Tuscaloosa Tornado. I don't intend to upset anyone or bring up bad memories. This day is one that I both want to forget and never forget, because it gives me a picture of God's grace and protection. This is only my account of that day. Although I didn't lose anything, my home for the past 5 years was torn apart. My thoughts and prayers are with those families who are still rebuilding and putting together pieces of their lives. My thoughts and prayers are also with those families who are without dearly loved and missed members of their families: fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.
Hard, scary, traumatic.
April 27th was a beautiful day.
Besides the fact that I had to spend the gorgeous, blue-skied day sitting in class after class, it was a good day. We all knew the potential for bad weather later on in the day, but if it was going to be like the past few days, that was going to blow over with nothing really to talk about.
The Friday before the Tuesday tornado, one had hit through the southern part of the city. It was quick, but at the time we were annoyed to have to go downstairs. I remember we shrugged it off so much - now I see a warning and I don't care if it hits the ground or not, I take it seriously.
Sitting in one of my classes, I told one of my friends that she could come to my dorm if she wanted to and we could ride out the tornado together with my roommates. I told her to come whenever, but that I still had one more class that afternoon unless it got canceled. Like usual, it didn't, so I was preparing to go to class.
Typical Bama student y'all - we always joked that classes never got canceled for anything. Soon to be proven wrong.
Ten minutes before my class, I was sitting in my dorm living room with one of my roommates and my friend that came over. We were watching James Spann on the news as he was covering a storm that was heading toward Cullman, Al. The town that one of my roommates is from. I decided to be a few minutes late to class, because I wanted to stay with her, make sure she was okay and to watch the storm to see what happened. The three of us were watching the TV, not really expecting anything, until we saw it. A funnel cloud form and eventually touch down in Cullman County. We watched as it quickly formed and then as it started making its way through the town. I remember seeing a radio tower fall as the tornado passed over it.
Watching that tornado form on camera was wild. I had never seen anything like it, except in movies. It happened so fast. And the radio tower, I remember driving through Tuscaloosa after the tornado days later and seeing one down on the side of the road. I see both of those scenes in my mind so vividly and think about them every time I see one reaching into the sky while driving now.
My roommate called her parents to make sure that they were okay. When I heard that they were, I decided to go ahead and go to class. I was going to be ten minutes late, but it was the last week before finals, so I figured that I needed to go.
I didn't take a rain jacket because it had not started raining yet and was still pretty blue outside. I walked to class through the wind and got into my class and saw that they were watching a movie. I immediately regretted my choice of coming to class. I sat down and literally about 10 minutes later, a girl speaks up and says that a tornado warning has been issued for the southern part of our county.
I remember all of us looking at my classmate as she said this and then simultaneously looking back to our teacher. One of those moments where it seemed we (young adults so adamant to think for ourselves) were all okay with someone else telling us what to do, almost like simply needing a parent-figure to say it would be okay.
After deciding that we should go downstairs, our teacher makes us all file down into a small first floor area. The warning did not include our University yet, so we then found out it was okay to go back upstairs. Well, being the college students that we are, we all were debating what to do. Stay and review for the final or just forget about it and go home.
I decided to bail and go back to my dorm. Going to that class for literally 5-10 minutes was so not worth it. So, I along with the majority of my class, start walking our different directions. As I'm walking back to my dorm, I noticed that the wind had picked up and there were some sprinkles.
The majority of us left, again probably thinking back to that storm the week before. Thinking we would just get a free afternoon.
As soon as I got to the steps and porch of my dorm, the tornado siren goes off.
The rules of the dorm are, that if you hear the siren, you have to come downstairs. As I was walking in the building, I texted my friends upstairs and told them to come down. The siren then went off and the RA downstairs said for us to not worry about it, but that if we heard another one we should make our way to the first floor.
I get upstairs, put my book bag down, go to the bathroom and come back into the living room as another siren comes on. By this time, I'm just like really! Make up your freakin' mind! I did not want to go downstairs and sit in a hallway with tons of other girls for 3 hours. We had to do that a week before and it was not a pleasant experience. Apparently, when you are in a hallway with everyone else, this is when you are supposed to start being annoying and inconsiderate. Right, perfect timing guys...or should I say girls.
Remembering this makes me see how naive we were and how much we weren't taking it seriously. Also, it may seem like I was annoyed to be in a girls only dorm, but I wasn't - I was just annoyed at the thought of having to be crammed with ALL of them in the bottom floor of my dorm for who knew how long - especially if it ended up being a false alarm.
Anyways, we make our way to the first floor and find our spot in the corner that we had grown very fond of. We make friends with some other girls that we had never met before and start talking. Well, then the phones start ringing, texts come in and talking increases throughout the hallway. We get messages from people asking if we are okay and others telling us there is a bad storm on the way.
There were a couple of guys in the hall with us, and I distinctly remember one saying, "What do you mean there's a Jeep in the pool?" That's when we opened up laptops and started texting to figure out what was happening. Also, I mention James Spann below. I truly think he should be our national weatherman - if we had such a thing. While the death toll got much higher than anyone wanted to see - he and his team truly did help save many lives that day. I will always chant, "Spann, Spann, he's the man, he's our great weatherman!"
We get online to see what is going on and find James Spann once again.
He is our great weather man! I am really glad that we have him doing weather for the area. He has helped and informed so many people! Props and kudos to him!
Please again recite the chant above in his honor.
We are watching the live feed with about 9,000 other people watching online as well. They finally flash to a picture of the tornado heading into Tuscaloosa. I see my two friends who are watching it gasp and put their hands over their mouths. I was thinking, "I've got to see this." So, I leaned over the hallway and peered over her computer screen to see the monster that is coming toward us.
This is what we see.
And the last thing that we hear? That it is heading straight for the University of Alabama.
We all look at each other and pretty much just say that this is going to be a bumpy ride. But as we turn to face the wall and get into tornado position, that one that we learned back in kindergarten, we were all praying that God would keep us safe.
The lights flickered and then everything went black.
There was just the light of cell phones and the chattering of scared students.
We heard loud rushes of wind that we now know were the tornado. It came a mile away from my dorm.
I remember the chatter that had filled the hallway become quieter. Surely that picture was slowly spread through the hallway. I remember some crying, but I remember prayer out loud more than anything. And I remember the wind. Others who have experienced a tornado directly says that it sounds like a freight train when it's right on top of you and a jet plane when you're near it. I heard the jet plane. There are ways memories come back to you, sometimes in the oddest and most random of ways. I can still hear that noise when the wind gets bad outside, or blows through a small crack in a window or door threshold. Even the fan in my bedroom sometimes resembles a siren noise if I focus on it too long.
When we were able to get outside, we saw that there was one tree down and thought that maybe the rest of our town had been spared as well. The power was out and phone lines down. We couldn't get in touch with anyone or find out any information.
We heard initial reports that the hospital was gone and that other parts of 15th Street were gone. The hospital turned out to be fine except for some busted windows.
15th Street however, was very hard hit. It was pretty much gone.
We debated about whether to go to a friends house that was over the River. They had no damage and still had power. Or if we should stay at the dorm. We ended up staying at the dorm that night, downstairs in the common living room. We ate Peanut Butter and talked and listened to different stories that we heard, not really knowing all the truth yet.
Peanut butter. Wow. I don't remember that. I do remember us all piling up in the common room of the first floor, pulling chairs together to make beds. My room was on the 4th floor, and I don't think we were scared to go back up there and sleep - but my room had become so humid from the air outside (we opened our window a lot and couldn't quite get it back down all the way, so it always let in a bit of air with a whistling noise) that the fire alarm/smoke detector was going off. Not wanting to sleep with that noise, we stayed downstairs. Fire alarms now are another thing that trigger me with memories and anxiety. Just the anticipation of one going of - again, it's crazy what the mind and body remember when we don't fully ourselves. Glad it's not the peanut butter.
The next morning, we got up and packed some bags and went to my friend's house. We sat down in her living room and my other friend that was there asked if we had seen or heard anything. It had been 12 hours since the tornado. For 12 hours we had been without power, little phone service, and no news. When we first saw the videos and the pictures, we thought it was unreal. There was no way that our town had just gotten taken out by a tornado.
But, it had.
For the next several hours, as much as we didn't want to continue watching the videos, news, or look at the pictures, we continued to. We couldn't take our eyes off of it. It was all so surreal.
I still have FB messages from that day, on my wall and in my inbox, of people trying to get through any way they could for communication.
Time seemed to slow. That first week after the tornado felt like a month. Classes had been suspended for the rest of the semester. We had the option to take our finals or take the grade we had in the class.
Graduation for those in May wasn't held.
For 6 students at the University of Alabama, tomorrow never came.
I was twenty-two when this happened in 2011, in my fourth year at Bama (I would stay for a fifth year). I don't know if I ever thought about it then, but I should have been a Senior. If I had been on track, I would have been in the group that didn't experience a graduation that May. They were honored at the Fall Graduation, but like the rest of us, classes, finals, graduation - it was all the last thing on our minds.
41 people in Tuscaloosa lost their lives and more than 200 in the state were killed.
The actual death toll for Tuscaloosa County is 53. Denny Chimes on campus rings at 5:13pm, when the tornado came through, 53 times it chimes for those who were lost. 252 were lost statewide.
Thousands lost homes.
Many were missing.
Shelters were set up, search and rescue teams were sent out. The state was declared to be in a state of disaster and emergency.
Although I didn't personally lose anything that day in the tornado. It was still my town. For the past 4 years I have called that place home and now it was destroyed.
For a couple of days I couldn't do anything, but watch the news and videos. And when that got tiring, a funny, Disney movie.
It was hard, scary, and traumatizing.
I finally got up, praised God that I was okay and that everyone I knew was okay. Talked to my parents and many others who called to check on me. And went out to lend a helping hand to those that had lost everything.
I went to Alberta City. I picked up shingles, dug through rubble, carried off limbs.
I helped separate what was to keep or throw away.
I went to Hargrove.
I saw 15th Street.
I served food at the Belk Center. I cooked food.
I went out with the American Red Cross to serve hot food to people in areas that hadn't been reached yet.
I did the only thing I knew to do. I served the people around me. I responded when called.
All of a sudden, the area of need wasn't a plane ride away. I could walk to it.
My mission field was a disaster.
It was where God called me.
Even though it was hard, scary, and traumatizing.
Now, three years later, much of the state has made great roads to recovery. Tuscaloosa is still growing and getting stronger. Parts of the city have been rebuilt, new land put down, and new buildings have gone up. Things look very different in parts of the city and even now when I drive through it, I have to think for a second about where I am. It definitely isn't the same city it was when I was there. But, it is still a city that I call home. That town means more to me than lots of others I've lived in. It will always be like home. And this will always be a time where I stop and reflect on what happened that day in history.
When I visit Tuscaloosa now, I always come up via 43/69 through downtown. Right before I cross over 15th street, the road rises and I look to my right. Down to a skyline that I have seen changed three times. I remember the one from when I came into town as a freshman, the one after the storm, and the one now - after rebuild. I drive through now sometimes forgetting which part of the city I'm in because it's so different than the one I lived in. I remember weeks after the tornado, I was riding with a friend and she said we were on Hargrove - I told her we weren't and she had to correct me. That's how different it looked - I was lost in a city that I knew pretty well. Years later, I would meet a woman in Petal, MS, outside of Hattiesburg, while out doing tornado relief work. I walked to the side of the road as she slowed next to me in her SUV, window rolled down.
"I'm sorry, can you tell me what street we are on?" she asked.
"No, ma'am. I'm sorry, I'm not from here so I'm not sure."
She paused and then slowly, on the verge of tears said, "I've lived here all my life. But I don't know where I am."
Then she drove off, into her new normal.
I don't think I ever expect a day to be any different than the one before it. Days seem the same, mundane. And most of the time, they are. Until a day when it all changes to a normal we never thought would be.
Reading time: 7 minutes
This isn't the Easter I wanted, but perhaps it was the Easter I needed.
40 days ago, Lent began. A time to reflect and embrace the weight of sin and the fragility of life. I don't think any of us expected to be living in the midst of a pandemic while also continuously being reminded that we are but dust, a mere vapor. Death has felt more heavy in the past couple of months than ever before - literally as though it is lurking around the corner not caring who it takes next. But death always feels like that, doesn't it? Quiet, unseen. Until it isn't.
When Christ died on the Cross those many years ago, the disciples were told it was coming. Literally, Jesus Himself told them what was going to be, but the day still came and shock along with it. This man they had put all of their trust into, the One they had left everything to follow, the man they believed would rescue them, still died. They watched with their own eyes from the bottom of that hill as He cried out His last words to the Father and later as the guards pierced His side. They wept and mourned, prepared His body for burial, watched it go into a tomb, with a stone rolled over the entrance.
I wonder how long they sat there outside the tomb or at the bottom of that hill. As all the doubts came flooding in, the questioning of what just happened. He died. He told them it was going to be true, but they never quite grasped it. And now, instead of a saving, there was suffering. And then, quiet. The silent Saturday.
Much of life today feels like the Saturday, because we live in the already, but the not yet. We are in the middle part of the story, each day closer and closer to when Christ comes again. I've always seemed to find myself in the "middle." Growing up, I was the youngest, but I always sat in the middle of the backseat. I was in the middle of ages of my cousins - no one quite my age, but always older or younger. In school, I found myself in the middle of friend groups - never quite in with this one or that. And now in the present, I often feel in the middle of friends who are beginning marriages or celebrating the birthdays of their children. And though we don't know the time or the hour, I'm in the middle of my own life. A childhood gone, but still much adulthood to be seen. I'm here, at an age where Jesus was getting into the groove of doing His ministry - and then the Lord told Him it was time. But His time didn't end, it just went silent for a Saturday.
There are days where our silence, the desperation, the anguish, the troubles and trials of life, seems to last only for a little while, but then there are days it seems to drag on. One Saturday becomes another and another and before we know it, a year has passed. And I'm tempted to believe that in all of that time, God stayed silent. Quiet. Unseen.
But we know by now that things happen even in the dark and darkness doesn't last. Saturday didn't stay silent then and it doesn't now.
At the beginning of the year, I like to pick a word for the year. I don't think about it every day, but it does seem to shape the different seasons throughout the year - because God is funny and gracious like that. My word for 2020 - arise. Also at the beginning of the year, I quietly started praying for revival. For my church, for the world, but I think more than anything, for myself. Arise is defined as coming into being, to stand up. Revival is a reawakening, a restoration. I see now that I can't have one without the other.
Only when revived will I then be able to arise.
But if I'm to be revived and eventually arise , that must also mean I was restored from something.
Where death lurks, sin does also. The result of sin is death. There is no escaping either. Here in the middle, it is what is filling our lives. We become so accustomed to the middle, to sin, that we forget there is a "not yet." We sit in the sin, eventually entangled so much, that we then wish for nothing but darkness. We think that turning off the lights or closing our eyes makes it all disappear, but even in the darkness, in whatever tomb we find ourselves in, something, Someone, is stirring. Revival is waiting.
Saturday after Christ died was silent, but we don't have to be. Not much, if anything, is said about that in-between, middle day. And while we don't know for sure what the disciples did that day, I'm sure there was fear, worry, loneliness, crying, anger even. Remember, the man they had put all their trust into was dead. They saw Him there, they saw the tomb! How else could this end but darkness and silence?
With revival. With victory. With a plot twist that no one saw coming even though they were told so.
And their story is our story. Even when it doesn't look like one we would have written. Like one where we live in a pandemic. One where we can't gather together as the church or with our families. One where our family members die and we can't be near them. One where friends get married and have babies and we can't hold them. Our story is one of a middle that is messy and hard and often full of things we wouldn't chose for ourselves. But the middle is the middle, it's the already, not yet. The middle is not the end.
The middle is the silent Saturday, but we have also seen the resurrection day. The day where the Lord rose making way for us to rise as well. A Holy Sunday where the darkness gave way and light peaked in as the stone was rolled away. Sin's curse of death was broken and what once entangled us no longer needs to bound us. Let sin fall to the ground and weep over it. Not because you miss it, but because now you see how much it was keeping you from God. Let now what once entangled you be gone and in its place find roots that grow deep and wide, keeping you standing firm. Find in sin's place a new vine. A living vine.
Instead of death and darkness, find reawakening and a new place to be. Don't remain quiet and unseen, death is defeated remember? Join the disciples in being overjoyed at seeing the Lord. What once seemed impossible was made possible in their sight. He was there again with them. And by His Holy Spirit, He is here with us now, in the already not yet. And by the promise of His word, He is making a place for us and will come again.
Today, this middle, may not look how I want it to, but it's the one I need. To see Jesus be who He says He would be - resurrected King. Light. The Way. He is my revival and the One who calls out to me, "arise." May it be so.
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Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, a night where we remember many of Christ's "lasts" here on earth. The Last Supper. A foot washing. A garden. A betrayal followed by a denial. All of it prophecy fulfilled. Jesus had entered the city on a colt, with palm branches lining the way. Now, He found Himself kneeling in a garden, exhausted after prayer.
I wonder, would I have stayed awake if He had taken me to the garden? Or would I have stayed watched and looked at Him in bewilderment as He returned with sweat like blood on His face? When I put myself into the story, into the garden that night, I chuckle at the disciples as they sleep. Then want to kick their feet in annoyance and say, “You’re missing it! Wake up and look at your Savior! He is in great agony. For you! Don’t you get it yet?” And I turn, looking over my shoulder toward the entrance of the garden and see Judas approaching. Jesus tells Him to get on with it, a disciple draws a sword and at first I want to take one up alongside him. But I watch as Jesus repairs an ear, says He is the one they are looking for, and is led away. I take a step forward, thinking I should stop them. But then I remember that these things must happen.
It’s how it’s supposed to be. There wasn’t another cup. No other will of the Father. There wasn’t another way. He was the way that last night in the garden, after He had washed their feet after dinner. He, Jesus, was and always will be the way.
Today, Good Friday. We stand at the bottom of a dusty hill looking up at a Cross. Too many times I have not wanted to sit with the events we remember today. I have been one of many who want to immediately jump into the events of Sunday. To rush straight to the empty tomb, towards resurrection and the new light that it brings. Away from the death and back to the life - to the good part.
But Friday is the day that we have placed the word “good” in front of. A day of death is where the good is found? Those two things shouldn’t go together, yet by one the other is found.
I stand with those near the cross - holding both sadness and joy. For the cross of Christ is my bridge to God. Yet, It isn’t enough for me to simply sit beneath it’s shadow, my hands must pick up that blood soaked tree, that rugged cross. He died upon it once and for all, yes. But now, I pick it up in remembrance. Of a sin-filled, empty life that has been put to death. And just as I remembered Jesus in the garden yesterday, I remember Him today on the Cross.
He is still the way.
He, Jesus, was and always will be the way.
Not that we need more commentary on COVID-19 aka the Coronavirus, here's mine.
I'm allowed to be aware during something that is labeled a pandemic. And so are you. But being aware does not equal panic mode. Cautious? Sure. But not fearful of our lives. When moments like this happen, it seems we go from 0 to 100+ in a matter of milliseconds. And the first time we see someone else panic, our mind goes to, "what-if?", even if only for second. Panic, begets more panic. And panic leads us to the world of worrying. A world that ever entices us to believe that things will spin out of control and never be normal again.
As of writing this, there are over 140,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 5,000 deaths, in 135 different areas, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While it may not be at the numbers of other sicknesses or diseases, those are still numbers to be aware of. Especially as they continue to grow. Again, cautious and aware.
I get that there are lots of implications with "social distancing" and shutting down of schools and businesses. Kids are losing a place where they may get their only meals of the day. Single moms are losing work hours they may not be able to make up. Working parents, who may still have to work, have nowhere for their kids to go - and maybe no vacation or sick time left to take to stay at home. We don't want to be forced to stay inside our homes, save only for walks around the neighborhood. We don't want to do elbow touches or feet taps. It all seems really silly and like an overreaction. And it can be, until it's not.
When you don't know whether the person that used the buggy at the grocery store before you sneezed on the handle or if the person coughing behind you at the pharmacy has seasonal allergies or coronavirus, I get it, it all seems a little too much. How about the friend you had dinner with that seems perfectly healthy, but was around an unknowingly contagious person only hours before? She starts feeling bad, gets tested, and is positive. Putting yourself and everyone else she was around in the coronavirus bubble. Social distancing doesn't sound too bad then, does it? It's not about punishment or dictating, it's about slowing down a sickness that has killed over 5,000 people. Men, women, parents, grandparents, daughters, and sons.
I can't help but think about those people, some who maybe two weeks ago, felt the best they ever had. Only to come into contact with someone who was around someone else that was contagious and got deathly ill. Leaving this world. While it's true that we may never know someone who gets coronavirus, and we pray it stays that way, the circle is getting smaller. You know someone who knows someone that is in quarantine right now. Not on the beach quarantine, like it's a vacay. But stuck in their house. For 14 days. Some completely alone.
We can laugh at the memes that cloud social media and joke that us introverts have been preparing for this our whole lives, I know I have. But, then there is reality. Deaths doubling by the day. And I stop to think, what is my part in this? What can I do? Be aware.
I can wash my hands, stay a considerate distance away from people in public, cover my mouth when I sneeze (I've been doing it a lot lately, thanks allergies!), and pay attention to myself. Shouldn't we do all these things out of normalcy and consideration for others anyways? I would hope so. But now, we simply need to be more aware of doing it.
Do I have all the answers? Nope. Does anyone at this point? No. When a pandemic spreads and panic ensues, it's hard to slow it down - both the pandemic and the panic, or else they wouldn't be called what they are or spread as they do. Will we look back on all of this and say we were overreacting? I think the families of those 5,000+ people would say differently. COVID-19 could also be a new reality for us, just as flu. And if that be the case, may the day come quick where we have ways to better catch and treat it.
But also, may the day come quick when we no longer have to worry of sickness or death. Or of kids not being able to get meals and moms not being able to work. My job and yours now, is to be aware, but God has a part too. Saving and sustaining us, even in sickness and uncertainty. And because I know of what eternity holds, that also allows me to be aware but not panicked. Aware of sickness and death, yes, but also aware that this is not my home. My body is but a shell for my spirit - which will remain when my body does not.
C.S. Lewis wittingly, but truthfully wrote, during the atomic age, words that are still true for us today, with the coronavirus and any other threat of mankind:
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
Death is a certainty, as much as we try to ignore it with panic, or hoarding of supplies. But we cannot ignore it. May some of the sensible and human things we be found doing include: being aware, of ourselves and others, and remembering that eternity awaits us, for ourselves and others.
Someone at work joked the other day that January felt like it was 75 days, while February felt like it has lasted for a week. It did go by REALLY fast and even with that extra day coming up for leap year, it still has flown! Do you agree?
Monthly recaps are something that I've been wanting to begin for awhile. I can easily let the months pass without thinking that anything significant happened. And while some months may be more exciting than others, there's always something to remember. Whether it's something I did, words I wrote or read, or something I listened to. I hope you find something below that encourages.
January & February
+ Put together my new bookshelf and I feel like it completely revamped my room space!
+ Saw Little Women...twice!
+ Bought myself some fresh flowers (reminds me of this post from Kaitlyn).
+ Hung out with my 7th grade girls for our student discipleship weekend!
+ Celebrated my friends Ashton and Dylan at their WEDDING!
+ Started drawing again.
+ Made big strides in counseling.
+ A beignet shop opened in my city...so delicious!
+ Celebrated Mardi Gras!
+ Do I believe Heaven waits for me? I long for many things, but is Heaven the greatest of these?
+ I'll keep following the suffering Savior down this often sorrowful road, because Heaven waits at the end of it.
+ I'm not sure when I started believing that everything isn't found in Him, Jesus. What a lie. He is everything. And He isn't holding back.
Posts I Loved
+ From Amy - We Cannot Allow a Season to Become a Sentence
+ From Gretchen - Giving Up for Lent
+ From Kiki - In the In-Between
+ From Meg - Honest Thoughts on Valentine's Day
Books I Read
Quote to Remember
"...bold love is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls..." Dan Allender
Grace is something that continues to astound and leave me speechless.
Free, unmerited favor.
I know I'm undeserving of it, grace, but God extends it freely. And I've been reluctant to accept it. I know I have. I've held out a hand, but once it gets too close, I've pulled away. Thinking that a full dose of grace, or merit, is really only for others, not for me. I've lately been thinking of how I'm not deserving (and I'm not), so it must mean God is holding back (but He isn't).
I've lived in this mentality for quite awhile that when things aren't good, that is just how they are meant to be. Or I don't have xyz like others do, because they are more deserving of xyz. Or the biggest one of all, I'm not meant for xyz.
And xyz can be anything on any given day.
Healing. A relationship. Peace. Joy. Money. Love. Friends.
If I'm being honest, Jesus has felt far away to me lately. God, the Creator, is always there and I'm never without a sense of Him. Holy Spirit has always felt closest to me; my constant, indwelling, counseling, companion. But Jesus? My Savior. He's felt far.
This morning, I felt Him whisper to me again. Breaking the silence that has felt more routine it seems, He told me to stop believing that what He does for others, He can't do for me. Because He can. And He wants to. And while I know I'm not meant for everything that everyone else may seem to have, I know I am meant to have Him.
I'm not sure when I started believing that everything isn't found in Him. What a lie.
He is everything.
Alpha and Omega. Everything begins and ends with Him, including all of this life, that is simply in the middle.
He isn't holding back, because He's already freely given everything. May I receive it.
It's Thursday. I've taken the day off work because I'm on my way out of town tomorrow for a friend's wedding. There were intentions to get things ready, prepare, clean a little - and I still may do those things - but instead, I think the day is going in exactly the direction it should. With slowness and lots of grace as I enter back into two spaces that have felt very foreign to me lately - the Word and writing.
Coming Back to the Word
I'm beginning to believe that the Word is the greatest gift I've ever had. And one that I've taken for granted way too long now. I can remember, even when I was younger, times where I devoured parts of Scripture. The first Bible I remember carrying was a thick hardcover copy. I had it for so long that I remember it being held together by duct tape. I remember walking into church one day, kind of embarrassed that I had this Bible held together by duct tape and my Dad saying it was a sign that it was definitely being used. The embarrassment went away, replaced by a thrill that I was trying to keep something held together that I clearly loved. I wish I still had that Bible, with it's duct tape and tabs for easy book finding, that helped me be pretty good at Bible drills later on.
As a teen, I remember another Bible I kept all the way through college. A blue and green softcover, full of markings and thoughts. And name tags from college worship nights. Notes from friends around passages specifically marked for me - for when I feel deserted. Markings in every book, almost every page, from years of sermons and trips. It's the copy that came with me on internships and summers in Mobile, before I lived here, New Orleans, California, camps, fall retreats, and back to Mobile when I moved here. It's binding isn't held together by duct tape, but the cover is peeling and much softer than the day I got it.
I remember when I felt like getting a new Bible, that I was sad to leave the old one behind. It had been with me for so much - the one constant companion through years of learning, friendships, moves, beginnings and endings. I remember when I picked out my new Bible, my current one, that I opened the old and transcribed notes and underlined markings quickly into it. In case something happened to my old one, I didn't want to lose the years of notes that I had gathered. Now, my new softcover copy is the one that comes with me. To Bible studies, coffee shops, out of the country, and on weekend trips. It's never far out of reach.
Never far out of reach, but lately rarely opened.
I think there are many reasons we choose to not open the Word. For me, it's because lately I've been wanting all the good things. The heartfelt, encouraging things about what God has done for me and how Jesus has saved me. And not the convicting, hard parts of Scripture that show why God has done what He has for me or why Jesus had to be the One to save me in the first place.
I've been avoiding it. I've been simultaneously trying to run from it and live in it. Let me tell you, that doesn't work. To be away from something means you cannot also be near it. It's one or the other, not both and. It's a matter of which do I want more. My sin that leads me into loneliness? Or Jesus who leads me into so much more?
I've taken for granted the gift of the Word that teaches, rebukes, corrects, trains, and encourages me. In every season the Word prepares me with patience and instruction. I've walked in my own doctrine for too long, ignoring the truth of the Word, calling it fear, but really knowing it to be pride. I don't want to be wrong. I want to be independent. I want to call the shots. And when I open the Word and read it - it reads me, cutting me deep. Showing the truth of who I am, while revealing the Truth that is opposite of who I am, but so much better. And that is something worth devouring and being devoted to.
Coming Back to Writing
Isn't there something scary about knowing you're to do something, but not sure what it all means or even how it's possible? That's how I feel about writing (and reading the Word it seems). We are constantly surrounded by words - whether reading, writing, scrolling, or just thinking! I think it's why I choose Netflix when it comes time to "relax", because it doesn't require words - beyond listening to them being spoken.
Words are one of my favorite things - in written form especially. I process everything better by writing it out. Too many words in my head makes me feel anxious and like I have a dust storm of countless words being twisted together with none of them making sense until they are put down on paper, in a line, in an order that somewhat makes sense.
And putting them down, line after line, is something that I've been ignoring and missing. Like waking up early (or attempting) to have more slow time in the morning helps me have a better day, writing does the same. Because when that dust storm of words never settles, like the mysterious flour on the streets of New York for Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail, they eventually disappear and sometimes I've lost them forever.
There are some words I've written, and spoken, that I wish I could forget, whether they were unkind, untrue, or not helpful at all. But there are others I have said or thought in the moment that I wish I had written down. While I write to hopefully encourage you, I often write for myself. To remember the place I am, what I'm learning, what I'm hating, and what I know to be true and sure - that simply choosing Jesus over everything is the greatest daily decision I can make. It may not always be the easiest, but it will never not be the greatest.
So I return to writing. I return to the process of unstringing words from a dust cloud to line them up into something remotely readable and encouraging. As I wrote in the about, writing has never left me and I hope to never leave it.
These words from Frances Ridley Havergal explain both my love for the Word of God and the writing of words perfectly...
"Holy Father, let Your loving Spirit guide the hand that writes, and strengthen the heart of every one who reads what shall be written, for Jesus' sake."
Let it be.
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