“Vessels”

2 Corinthians 5:17-19
And for the amazing woman who called me several months ago to share this verse, I believe you know who you are. Thank you ❤

We are vessels 

Of broken glass 

Conduits of grace


How He uses,

Solely chooses 

Moments – not a waste 


Fragile vessels

Prone to breaking 

Shattering at will 


Stronger Healer 

Still He chooses 

Vessels to be filled 


Grace and mercy 

Love and justice 

Speaking to the poor 


He’s still moving 

Love providing

Still an open door


God please use 

Our blood-stained vessels 

Prone to breaking glass


And draw us closer

Backs towards sinning 

Love to shine outlast 


Photo credit: Franklin Institute. As shown on https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/new-smartphone-app-can-help-detect-anaemia-without-the-need-of-a-blood-test-5685521.html

“Help My Unbelief”

A poem about life from the words of a father penned in Mark 9:24

Dear Lord,

Do you remember when 

You showed me how to trust You

In the midst of a nightmare? 

Do you remember how 

You taught me to find

joy in the spinning…

Hell. Objectively good and yet somehow

A trauma inside my mind

Burning. 

Crying…

Enough of that!


Dear Lord,

Help my unbelief. You showed me how

To live beyond circumstances

And to find joy in pain. 

And now, 

Now…

Somehow, here I am. 

And there is no joy to find. 

Because joy is all around!

Joy is everywhere now. 

No conjuring and no striving just

Presence. 


Dear Lord,

Why is it good? I learned over the years

 – not from You – 

To believe I don’t deserve 

Happiness –

Or at least the kind 

that comes from external gifts

And yet, here they are.

Gifts. 

Everywhere! How can I… 

Lord! Forgive me. 

I believe, but

Help my unbelief.


Dear Lord,

But why?

You did say that everything 

Works together for those

Who love You  

But I don’t deserve this good. 

No, not the conversations

At the café.

Not the church, not the friendships, 

Not the youth group, not the preceptor, 

Not the job, not the absence of…

Anxiety? 

Lord! Who am I to tell You what I need?

Lord, I believe but

Help my unbelief.


Dear Lord,

Help my unbelief!

You are good and I see that now,

I confess what I did not allow

Myself to believe was real – 

Love, joy, peace, patience, 

Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 

Gentleness, self-control… 

They are 

You. 

Yes, You in your beautiful

And divine providence

Used my fear but the fear itself

Not you! 

Oh Lord, I believe 

But please, help my unbelief!


Dear Lord,

You. Are. Lord.

Sovereign beauty

In the good and the bad

Perfect Savior

In the clouds and in the clear

My precious Savior, forgive me. 

And please, 

Help my unbelief.

Out of the Trenches: A Letter to My Past Self

Dear Kayla,

Today I realized that I don’t know you.

Sure, I know the name. I know the college student, and the stories that made you who you were. 

But as I sat in bed reading your thoughts from the past several years, I found myself wishing that somehow you had the answers to your painful questions. So, my dear – here are the beginnings.

———————————————————————————————————————

Kayla – 

You will be free. Ridiculously free. And contrary to what you believe now, your freedom is not the result of any grand or philosophical conclusion on the part of yourself.

Jesus.

I want you to say the name again – 

But this time, not with any fear that you aren’t good enough for Him. 

Because, well, you aren’t.

Jesus. 

/

I want you to face that fact now. 

I want you to give up striving; no grades will make you perfect. 

But neither will any friends – nor leaders, mentors, nor any deep thought. 

And especially not anything you think you can prove to Him.

Simply. Jesus. 

/

You will learn what it is to sit and bask in the presence of the One who is worthy. 

And you will cry because you have no words to express His goodness. 

You will realize that you don’t have all the answers. 

Indeed – even what you came to know of what it truly means to follow Him will change. 

Your theology will change.

And you will realize that even I don’t have the answers. 

But you will have a knowledge and a wisdom so much sweeter than any knowledge you ever had sought or will seek to obtain. 

/

Jesus.

/

My dear, you will learn to love again, in all senses of the word.

Joy will radiate from the inner depth of your being at the thought of community.

And even when your community drastically changes – 

You will be ok. 

/

And finally, Kayla, you will learn to read the Bible. But not just read it. 

Study it. And love it. And cling to it. 

I pray I never give that up, because it is our sustenance. 

Our very bones ache at the thought of a day without it. 

————————————————————–

So, Kayla Marie. 

I don’t write you with answers or a quick fix, but I do write you with the hope of a new beginning – a beginning that starts with the knowledge that you will never be enough. 

Because only He is. 

It’s precious on the other side of the trenches, my dear. 

In the Absence

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” – 1 Corinthians 1:17

I have found the Breath of Life

Of Whom few words resound 

That scare tell of His mighty love

Which set me back around

To pictures tongues cannot suffice

Nor pen nor pencil tell 

Though etches vie – for Him, to show! –

His presence solely quells 

The searches of our aching hearts

The weeping of our souls 

And with no phrase our mind could hear

He made our living whole

So find me in the absence 

Of what is understood

He’ll meet you on the outskirts 

Of what you said He could

We’ll find Him in our beating hearts

Our souls now overflow’d 

Where minds won’t vie to demonstrate 

His power – precious so

Mercy and the Heartbeat of Living

“’Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” – Luke 10:36-37

This past year, I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the elements of Christianity. This post serves as a place for me to share one of the simple yet beautiful truths of the faith I hold. It’s simple yet confounding — wise, yet folly to hearts of men. And while there are one hundred other vital aspects of Christianity I could write about (and probably will at some point), today I chose to focus on this one thing.

Mercy.

Simply put, mercy can be defined as “not receiving what we deserve.” The cross of Christ becomes even more powerful when we remember that God is not only a God of mercy, but of justice and of love. When we chose – and often still do choose – to disobey Him, God showed us mercy by taking away the punishment we deserve. And why do we deserve such punishment? Because God is the only perfect being in existence. He is holy. And to not be holy (the basic condition of humanity which we brought upon ourselves at The Fall) is to be unworthy of even being able to stand in His sight. Yet God did not just take our punishment away. Because of His righteous justice, He knew someone had to pay the price of our sin, and because of love, He sent His Son.

Some great human minds, such as Karl Marx, have described religion as more or less the “opium of the people” (or some form of the idea). In doing so, they assert that religion exists to simply give a type of false, complacent hope to those lacking material and strategical happiness on earth.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In the exact opposite nature of opium, Christianity reminds us of our depravity (Psalms 53:3, Romans 3:23). We disobeyed God’s perfect plan for the world, and brought death to creation. We bought into a lie and with it, eternally separated ourselves from God. In that moment, darkness was allowed to reign in the world.

The Bible teaches a story of a fallen world and perfect redemption through a Savior who took death upon Himself. Our precious veritas — the very God whom we chose to disobey and mar the name of chose to reconcile us back to Him by dying a brutal death and rising again (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Mercy is one of the reasons Christians choose to live a life of separation from the ways of the world and to surrender to Christ. How could we not? Our Christ chose to bear our sins and redeem us – not so that we could choose to thank Him and continue living a life of sin and darkness, but so that we could grasp the depths of God’s love, to live in relationship with Him, and be “children of light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-10).

Sharing the mercy of Christ is not telling the oppressed that they can have hope in an illusory ideology. Rather, it is reminding each person that there is a plan which transcends the world – a plan that we can only fulfill with Christ. To be a Christian is to recognize the gift we have in being partakers of His righteous kingdom, and the joy of sharing this beauty with others (Hebrews 9:12-15). To be a Christian is to show mercy to others, just as Christ has shown mercy to us (James 2:13). No person, no government, no power, and no economy will ever bring about a utopia on earth. None of these could compare to the Love of Christ.

“Now here inside of our skin and bones

Heaven above is making its home

The Kingdom of God living upon the world.

To love like He loves and give like He gives

To tell the story that makes dead men live…

That’s what it takes if we’re gonna change the world.

[His] love is a song and it sings over me…

Mercy.”

This is mercy. The heartbeat of living.

 

Song credits: Phil Wickham, “Mercy”

“Where There is New Wine”: Thoughts about Finally Starting my Junior Year of Nursing School

When I was in Brazil, and trying to overcome my struggle of anxiety, I discovered and listened to the lyrics of Hillsong’s worship song, “New Wine.” I repeatedly recited the line “Where there is new wine, there is new power” in my anxious mind as I prayed that God would somehow bring new power and freedom into my broken mindset.

It was these three weeks of listening to and praying the lyrics of this song countless times that I believe God began to shape my heart and teach me how to trust Him much more than I previously was.

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The Beautiful Location in Brazil Where I Originally Listened to the Lyrics from New Wine Many Times

Now, despite being such an impactful song during the trip, I actually avoided it for the majority of the following months. Although I’m not quite sure of my reasoning for this new and unexpected aversion, I suppose it had something to do with the fact that the song, while simultaneously encouraging, also reminded me of the emotional pain I felt when I began to listen to it.

However, at some point over the last couple of weeks, I tried to listen to the song again with a fresh perspective. And then, for the first time, this past Sunday, we sang it in church. As I pondered its words for the 100th time, I was reminded of the hours I spent on a bench in a different hemisphere listening to its lyrics. In addition, I also thought about how it might apply to the new challenges I am about face. For those who don’t know, at my school, everyone considers the first semester of Junior year in nursing school to be the most difficult and notorious semester of nursing undergraduate studies.

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Today, as I prepare to embark on what may be a difficult journey beginning in exactly one week, I decided to do a little research on the parable of the wineskins in Luke 5:36-39, and thought about verses such as 2 Corinthians 5:17, which remind us of the new creation that we are in Christ. I came to the conclusion that through the lessons God has taught me this summer (see previous post), I have learned that my perspective on life has changed and must continue to change if I am to make it through this upcoming semester in a healthier way than I went about it in the past.

If we want to see transformational growth for the good in our life, we must let God make us into new vessels, for our old ways cannot sustain the Kingdom mindset.
I must continue to let God take my habits of seeking human perfection in academics and people pleasing, as well as my anxiety and desire to be ultimately in control and surrender to the new wine that He wants to bring out of me.

And so, for all of my friends about to start a difficult semester in school or a challenging season in life, my thoughts are as follows: with God, we have the ability to truly enter in with nothing except all that God has given us.

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Let us press into becoming more like Him, using what He has given us to better the world around us. Let our minds be transformed so that we may leave our destructive ways behind us, and truly experience the peace that only Jesus can give.

His transformational Spirit is a free gift, so let us take hold of it.

How incredible it is to wake up each morning and not know how God will choose to shape our ever growing hearts when we let Him.

Life is a process. Trust in Him, and trust the journey. Jesus, bring new wine out of us.

 

Reflections on the Unexpected

Surprises are the bane of the Type A existence. Of course, if you add anxiety to the genetic melting pot of the aforementioned perfectionist, unplanned circumstances are perhaps doubly unwelcome.

This Summer, I learned to deal with the unexpected.

This Summer, I learned to deal with pain. I suppose that severe physical pain can be described as excruciating. But the pain that comes from the emotional trauma associated with self-deprecation, depression, and anxiety is gut-wrenching. Although I know my experiences pale in comparison to the severity of countless atrocities that others have to face day in and day out, I cannot downplay the hatred that I lavished on my brain that culminated at the end of May and month of June. In my mind, I had disappointed so many people that I looked up to, I had disappointed myself, and I had ruined my potential at the college that I knew was and is a huge blessing in my life.

To make it worse for my already fed-up brain, I had to shove down and learn to discard the pride that was slashed when I was rejected by not one, but three potential jobs. I had to face being rejected from an incredible traveling and scholarship opportunity simply because I take a moderate dose of an anxiety medication. I did not even receive the small to moderate scholarship that I was all but promised to receive form a separate source.

And then, death. I suppose death is the catalyst for both grief and growth. Here, I am not referring to the death of anything metaphorical. This Summer I faced the death that I knew was coming – that of my family friend who so courageously fought the battle of cancer. And then, I faced the unexpected death. Suicide.

I lost a friend who I had known my whole life to suicide. Granted, I had drifted from her over the past 12 months or so due to unfortunate circumstances, but when a 20-year-old whom you shared clothes with, makeup with, laughs with, and hearts with at one point in your existence takes her life, you have to stop what you are doing and seriously take some time to evaluate and reflect.

But, God.

I’m not sure where things began to change for me. All I know is that these deaths mutilated my self-loathing. Something within my mind finally accepted that I have to spend each day wisely, and being wise, I decided, did not include tearing my own self apart and succumbing to anxiety and fear. And aside from this, in the midst of this all, I was finally able to join a small group of similar-minded young adults seeking the Lord who encouraged me through the process.

You see, this Summer was unexpected in a lot of horrible ways. But I was also able to reconnect with old friends (as I write this, I am sitting next to a friend from elementary school who goes to RIT in the Roberts science lounge!). I was able to strengthen current ones. I was able to increase in love for my family. I was able to meet a whole community of fellow believers that do nothing but encourage and strengthen each other. I began to let my mind be transformed.

Finally, one day in August I woke up almost crying. However, this time it was not due to the heavy burden of depression, or the fear of guilt, or the nausea of anxiety. This time I woke up in tears due to the realization of the incredible blessing that is the life God gave me.

Suddenly, and yet not so suddenly, the weight of the death and the disappointment and the unexpectedness of this Summer became absolutely beautiful. I looked back at what God had done in my life and those around me in just a few short months and I realized I was not afraid to move forward anymore.

I think I have realized that life is about moving on. It is about accepting each second, reflecting, and being thankful for each moment that we have the opportunity to inhale, exhale, count our pulse, and rest in the confidence and steadiness of the God who made us. Because when you rest in the confidence of an unchanging God, moving on and facing unexpectedness ceases to be the bane of the Type A existence. Rather, it awakens the soul of drive and excitement. Surprises are welcome and even disappointment is beautiful.

How wonderful it is that we can share with others that “Beauty there echoes a speck of our Source.” Without Him, I truly believe, life is nothing. Life is a philosophical journey best lived in the hands of an unchanging and all-knowing God.

Let’s be Real — The Deception of Distraction

One thing that I’ve realized about myself lately, and especially over the course of the past year, is that I can be quite an introspective person. I spend a lot of time thinking. I think about myself, and other people, and I think about the world around me. I often think, not just about one of the aforementioned topics individually, but about how the many components of the dynamics around me intertwine to become the world that we live in.

Recently, I’ve had a little extra time to do such thinking. And in this time, I have been reminded of something desperately disheartening. It is something that we, in America, should be rightfully afraid and aware of.

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That is, the deception of distraction.

Artfully deceiving, our Enemy, the devil, works in many ways. In some countries, there is terrorism. In some, there is widespread poverty. In others, there are ravaging natural disasters, and epidemiological diseases, and complete, disgusting social injustice. Perhaps America is lucky to have escaped the brunt of such tragedies. We certainly are fortunate to live in the Land of the Free, a country that many people have died to try to and to live in.

And yet, we have on hand our own catastrophe. It is, perhaps, the catastrophe of a false reality. So, let’s think about a few things that have been on my mind, in an attempt to demonstrate my point.

How much time do we spend concerned about how many followers we have?

How much of our life is spent trying to please other people and make ourselves appear perfect?

How much of our life is spent trying to climb an illusory power ladder so that we can feel significant?

How much time do we spend focused on promising-yet-unproductive diets, and strict exercise regimens, and make-up brands to make ourselves look like so many people that claim to inspire us to become “better” versions of ourselves?

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The list can go on. And I am not saying that some of these things, in moderation, are wholly bad or evil. But I am saying that, in the midst of all of this, the Enemy has distracted us from the reality of what is actually going on around us. I know, because I see it all around me, and I see it in myself.

The reality is, outside of our made-up worlds inside our phones and screen and celebrities, there are people around us hurting. Each person struggles in different ways that some of us could never imagine. The reality is, in the midst of our lives, there are approximately 123 suicides per day[1]. The reality is, nothing will change unless we decide to change first. The reality is, there is a Hope that we can cling to, whose name is Jesus, and is willing to carry our burdens. And the reality is, although our world can be disgusting, it can also be unimaginably beautiful.

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We just can’t let ourselves be deceived anymore. We have to live our lives for what and for Who is actually real. Our family. Our friends. Our Savior. And we can bring hope to those who are hurting. Instead of becoming obsessed with our followers, we can fall in love with the service of others and the beautiful relationship we can have with our Creator.

To wrap up, I will paraphrase a song lyric by Ryan O’Neal: The universe will expand with our heartbeats, exhales, and the hope of open hands.

So let’s live. Let’s share love with the hope of our open hands. And, most importantly, let us not be deceived.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” -John 10:10

 

[1] https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

Who are You?

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“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” –Romans 8:17

             I decided to write this post about a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately: Who am I? Sometimes I struggle to answer this question because I find it hard to categorize myself into one type of person. Quite obviously I am a white American female, however, that’s not the point. Upon mentally answering the question of who I am in my head, I realized that I define myself as a lot of different things. First, I’m a Christian. I always have been and that’s usually the first thing that comes to mind when I try to figure out what makes me who I am. Then it gets a little blurry. I’m not an athlete, musician, nerd, geek, performer, cook, or any typical categorical stereotype, despite the fact that I enjoy elements of all the aforementioned identities.

However, I have come to realize that I tend to define myself by my performance and achievements. While I am not a performer in one sense of the word, I am very much so in the sense that my happiness often times depends on how well I succeed at a given task. It’s often a grade on a test, a score on an assignment, participation in a group, or a number of other achievement based things. This realization isn’t new; I’ve always been aware of this tendency to some degree or another. But a few weeks ago I realized that my source of joy for that day was the fact that I had done well on a test.

If I had scored one point lower, I would have been devastated.

And I had a real problem with that.

So over the past few weeks I decided to think about how Jesus lived when He was on the earth. Like me (and all of us), Jesus was also many things. He was a carpenter, a Jew, a friend, a teacher, and a son to earthly parents. He had quite the list of achievements too—just look at a few of the miracles He performed. But Jesus didn’t define himself by any of these things. His identity was found in the fact that He was the Son of God. Everything He did was based off this one personal definition. It radically changed the way He lived and treated people.

Well, none of us are sons of God in the sense that Jesus was. But according to Romans 8:17, we, as Christians who share in the sufferings and glory of Christ, are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Another verse that I often turn to when thinking of this subject is Colossians 3:23, which reminds us that we are to work at everything as if unto the Lord, and not to men. Daily I am learning what it means to be a follower of Christ, and daily I am learning to define myself, not by who I am, but by Whose I am.

It’s not that achievements or trying to do things well are bad. In fact, I think that if we desire to live our life for God we should aim to live it well. After all, I’m fairly certain Jesus didn’t run a shoddy ministry when He was on the earth (although it was far from glamoat times. That’s another topic though). It’s just that, in the end, the only thing that really matters is if we knew Jesus and lived our life for Him. In Romans 6:16 it says (and elsewhere throughout the Bible) that, “when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves that to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.”

Again, not that achievements or [insert any other God-given talent or gift here] are bad. But whatever we choose to define us ends up becoming our master. When we place, in this case, achievements over God, instead of glorifying Him, they begin to define our worth. Instead of using an academic, musical, sports related, or other gift to point others to Christ and inspire others to grow and find freedom, we let the fruit of our labor, whether it be a fine line between an A or B on a test, a perfectly performed composition, or a winning game tell us whether we are worthy or not. When we become slaves to these material things, not only do they have the power to influence our feelings about ourselves, but they also have the power to influence how we treat others, as we begin to compare ourselves to and look down on those who do not perform as well as us, and become jealous of those who do better. It’s a painful cycle that leaves many people feeling empty and far from good enough.

But when we choose to be a slave to righteousness, the picture drastically changes. Suddenly our talents are not burdensome. Our performance does not define us. A score on a test does not haunt us in our beds at night. When we choose to be defined as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, the very purpose of our life is transformed. When we live for Him, we also live to help others. And we can use our talents to help us do that.

They just don’t define us anymore.

 

The Power of Surrender

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. –Matthew 16:25

First of all, I’ve been meaning to write on here again for quite some time now, but, as it turns out, college has taken up a lot of my time and I’m just now getting around to writing. *sigh*

But nevertheless, I’ve felt compelled to share about a powerful yet sometimes neglected truth I have been learning (often the hard way). It’s an underlying theme all throughout the Bible and Jesus’ teachings, yet I’ve found is far too easily forgotten or, quite simply, ignored. It is, however, essential to living, if we so choose to live out life to the full capacity God has given us.

It is the power of surrender.

In a world full of self-help books and motivational speakers (and preachers) which seek to show us how we can “become our best self,” we often forget our desperate need for Jesus. The truth is, we’re all broken, and no matter how hard we try to fix ourselves, it’s just not going to work. Maybe for a while, yes. But in order to find a lasting freedom in our lives, we have to give ourselves up entirely to Jesus.

How do I know this? Well, I can point to scripture that shows this (I’ll get to that later). But I also know this from the reality of what has happened in my life. You see, from the time I was about 14 years old, I’ve always, from a subjective Christian standpoint, had a “good relationship with the Lord.” I’ve prayed, read the Bible, gone to church, and done all the “Christian” things. But these things, although beneficial (and necessary) for my walk with the Lord, really got me nowhere until I decided to fully give myself up to Him.

And honestly, some of the darkest times in my life have been when I haven’t fully surrendered myself to Jesus. Most of the time, the things I chose to “handle on my own” have been good things, per say, like a close friendship, relationship, or my achievements. Other times, I have chosen to hold back things I knew were in direct opposition to His plan, like a secret sin or unhealthy lifestyle. Either way, every time I have chosen to hide something from God (which really isn’t possible, but I sometimes liked to imagine it was), or hold back something from Him that I wanted to handle myself, I have ended up stressed out, anxious, and generally just plain miserable (even if I denied the fact that I was miserable!).

I have found that freedom comes in surrender to Jesus Christ. And by surrender, I mean giving Him my every selfish desire, my every hope, my every plan, and letting Him radically change me. It’s not easy to do, after all, it’s not human nature to give up what we think we can control. But you see, God does want us to have a rich, impactful, fulfilling life. He desires for us to know Him intimately and to feel fulfilled even when the going gets tough. But we can’t experience that until we completely surrender ourselves to Him.

In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Now that’s some radical truth. I think many of us have been so busy trying to “save our lives” that we’ve lost them in the process.

True living comes from surrendering ourselves to Him. It’s a daily choice, but it’s one of the greatest choices we could ever make. It’s not worth the struggle to fight life’s challenges or even control God’s blessings on our own. One of the best things about Jesus is that He wants to have a relationship with you. So give yourself to Him.  Lose your life for Him a little. I think you’ll find it one of the most freeing things you’ll ever do.