Honoring the Shadows

This weekend I stood beside two of my dearest friends as they pledged to love each other when they’re happy and sad, silly and mad, and for the 36 hour wedding whirlwind I was profoundly present, savoring each little detail as it came into focus around me.

Those of you who know me well know just how much I fight to be present. My mind rarely rests in one place or time, which is why, when we finished the rehearsal dinner and I realized that my mind had remained in the moment nearly all night, I wanted to jump, and dance, and tell the whole world!

This summer has been a crash course in surrendering my desires and ideas of what “should” be happening in order to savor what is currently in front of me. Savor is the word God gave me for 2017, and as soon as I received that word, I knew choosing to live it out would be much more challenging than choosing discipline was in 2016. To be completely honest, there have been large chunks of this year when I ignored the choice to savor because it just. seemed. too. darn. hard.

However, in the past moth I’ve had a breakthrough in my understanding of being present that is too good not to share!

It is as follows: in order to truly savor, you must honor the shadows.

Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping At Last wrote a song last June called “Joy.” In the process of writing it, O’Neal asked his followers on social media how they would define joy, and then he synthesized their answers to write the lyrics. Each line in the song reflects a different angle of joy, but my favorite line defines joy as “the honoring of every shadow.”

As people we’ve gotten too good at numbing and running, believing the lie that the only way to the good life lies in avoiding our pain. But the freeing truth I’ve found is that we don’t have to ignore reality anymore. Suffering and sorrow are unavoidable companions who will join us for segments of our journeys. If we ignore or repress them, they will unexpectedly sneak into situations and distract or even derail us. But, if we can muster up the courage to acknowledge them, we get to experience new depths of joy. Even if our situation hasn’t changed, our perspective is dramatically different.

Before I left for Ellisa and Cody’s wedding, I took some time to grieve a relationship that is not where I expected it to be. I also put time and forethought into how to best care for my quirky and unpredictable body on the trip, and packed a large bag of Kelly-safe food to bring along. I honored my shadows (which take shape in the form of unmet relationship expectations and my continued health struggles) and, in doing so, was released to enjoy the festivities. Sorrow and suffering were still present, but they didn’t clamor for my attention because I had already acknowledged them.

So tonight I want to offer you a challenge. What are the shadows you’ve been pushing to the fringes of your life, and how can you better acknowledge them? I can promise from recent experience that the pain of this acknowledgement is worth it. When, instead of fearing our pain we feel it, we finally get to discover the sweetness of being fully present.

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Insert Fulfillment Here

“How are you?”

“Fine,” or “Oh, you know, I’m ok,” or “I guess I’m a little up, down, and all over the place.”

These answers aren’t untrue, but they’re just vague enough to mask what’s truly going on. So let’s try this again.

“How are you?”

“I feel the ache of waiting. It’s this expansive hollowness, a vortex that gathers my contentment, and joy, and sense of purpose into this swirling mass of confusion and pain.”

What do you do when your body starts to fail you, and God responds by asking you to pray for your own healing?

Pray for healing? That feels like such a loaded request! Because what if I pray and nothing happens? Or I pray and God responds, but I can’t even tell if I’m healed because I don’t understand what’s wrong with me in the first place? Does God want to heal me of all my ailments, or just some of them? Will this healing be instantaneous, or take place over the course of the coming months or even years? Why would God heal me and not other people I love who face physical ailments far more limiting than than mine?

And then I realize that deep down I don’t question God’s sovereignty and power – I know that God is fully capable of healing me. My questions are rooted in doubting in God’s goodness.

I know God is able, but is God willing?

Then there’s the lofty promises God made me over a year ago. Yeah, there’s been growth, sure, there’s been change, but where’s the fulfillment?

There’s a song by Elevation Worship that says, “Walking around these walls/ I thought by now they’d fall,” and that’s precisely how I feel! But maybe my entitlement is showing. Because if I held up my end of the bargain then shouldn’t I get to insert fulfillment here?

But I don’t get to choose when the seasons change. 

Just like the winter has kept its grip on Oregon far longer than any of us want it to, for the time being, winter continues to maintain its hold on my life as well. Which presents me with a choice: rage against the rain or accept it. We all know which will have the better effect on my mental, emotional, and even physical health.

So why do I choose the raging? Because it’s easier. Raging is a quick fix, a bandaid I can slap on to hide an ugly, long-term problem. It makes me feel better, but in a cheap way that doesn’t last.

I just started reading a book my roommate recommended called Hinds Feet on High Places, and in the preface the author says, “But the High Places of victory and union with Christ cannot be reached by any mental reckoning of self to be dead to sin, or by seeking to devise some way or discipline by which the will can be crucified. The only way is by learning to accept, day by day, the actual conditions and tests permitted by God, by a continually repeated laying down of our own will and acceptance of his as it is presented to us in the form of the people with whom we have to live and work, and in the things which happen to us. Every acceptance of his will becomes an altar of sacrifice, and every such surrender and abandonment of ourselves to his will is a means of furthering us on the way to the High Places to which he desires to bring every child of his while they are still living on earth.”  Wow.

Not my will, but yours be done. Can I choose it, knowing that the choosing won’t be a one and done, but that I will have to repeatedly lay down my good yet hopelessly flawed desires and plans in order to accept the unexpected and yet wildly beautiful will of the Father?

With the encouragement of God’s faithful presence in the choosing, my answer is slowly becoming yes and amen.

Further up and further in!

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The Passage of Time

Four yeas ago, I was preparing to graduate from high school and launch into the unknown waters of what I imagined to be “adult life” but actually turned out to be a category unto itself. The time spent in undergraduate studies (when completed in the traditional manner) is truly this bizarre liminal space between the teen years and full-blown adulthood. Standing on this side of that quirky season of life, I can now say that those years were messy yet wonderful, hard yet beautiful.

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Four years ago me (oddly enough to the day) on the cusp of adventures I couldn’t yet imagine.

Three years ago, I was in Romania, having fantastic conversations with the Word Made Flesh staff, enjoying the bounties of the garden at their children’s center in Galați, having my heart broken over the poverty and suffering I encountered daily, and confirming my calling to cross-cultural ministry.

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Embracing my inner world-traveler in a Moldovan kitchen!

Two years ago, I was resting at home before embarking on my adventure to Nepal. I vividly remember the difficult wrestling I did during those weeks between school and my trip as I processed through what I can now officially claim to be my hardest semester of undergrad, struggled to come to terms with the devastating earthquake in Nepal, and grappled with my own mortality as I prepared to go.

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Here, I was tired and confused, but about to enter one of the neatest seasons of my life thus far.

Last year, I sat on the edge of a promising summer that did not deliver. There’s so much I have already said and could continue to say about the difficulties of those four months, but on some level, that season remains fresh enough that I’m still healing and coming to terms with all that transpired. However, I am beginning to see tender green shoots pushing through the dirt of what I initially perceived to be a wasteland, and if it weren’t for last summer, I would not have even noticed them, much less celebrated every inch of their progress.

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In spite of the chaos, I enjoyed some definite bright spots in my first summer in Oregon including a visit to the Portland Night Market.

And now I’m here, with a BA in History, working at a grocery store, living in a new town with new roommates, becoming acquainted with my first car, struggling with my health, weathering massive shifts in most of the relationships in my life, and having no plans beyond December. Yep. Even six months ago I couldn’t have imagined being where God has currently plopped me, but I’m discovering that this place is beautiful in its own right. Hard, so hard, but undeniably beautiful!

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I made it – in no small part due to the encouragement, support, generosity, and love of the dozens upon dozens of people who have helped me every step of the way. I know I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – my life is peopled with beautiful souls! 

I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote quite a while ago, but never had the occasion to share.

Time
You’re never what I expect you to be.
You move forward at a consistent pace
bringing the dreaded and the longed for with equal speed.
You’re like a snare drummer,
keeping the beat with remarkable precision.
And yet, you’re unpredictable.
A short ten seconds of words can flip a life upside down
while completely altering the trajectory of innumerable days.
You’re often nonsensical,
allowing a minute of joy to pass in a flash,
and yet, letting the blissful taste of that minute to linger far longer.
You heal
and you steal,
one moment a beloved friend,
and the next a detestable enemy.
You’re needed,
and loved, at least by me,
but sometimes I don’t want you because I can’t regulate your tempo.
I know you’re a gift,
intended for my well-being,
but you often feel like a curse,
hell-bent on destroying me.
And yet,
someday you’ll be irrelevant.
But until then, I’ll surrender my metered days to the author of all time.

Frilly, Pink Tree Blossoms

Let me tell you something about the vegetation that exists where I grew up.

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My part of Eastern Washington has trees (contrary to popular belief) but they’re pine trees, which is great in the winter when they stay fresh and green, but boring in the spring when they look exactly how they’ve always looked. Because of this, moving to college was my first real encounter with flowering trees.

Now, before I moved to Western Oregon, I cognitively knew that trees flowered, but that didn’t prevent my explosion of awe and wonder when the trees I had walked past for the entire year suddenly burst into bloom.

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That first spring of college I remember that each time a new tree bloomed, I felt like I had made a terrific discovery. Walking to work at the Baldwin’s house felt like I was passing through a wonderland.

When spring rolled around my sophomore year, I was battling a bout of depression and juggling what, to this day, remains my hardest semester of college. That year I needed the flowering trees to help me remember that my tough life circumstances wouldn’t last forever, and that new growth was on its way.

Last year, I was living in the house in which I currently reside, and around the beginning of April, my housemates and I discovered that the two trees in our front yard produced these ridiculous and frilly, yet breathtakingly beautiful pink blossoms. I professed my love for these trees at every available opportunity, and spent copious amounts of time simply staring at them out my window.

This year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the blooming of my pink trees. The weather’s been colder, so they bloomed substantially later (17 days, but who’s counting) but now that they’ve burst into bloom, I know that, as always, it was well worth the wait.

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You might be wondering why I’ve taken so much space to wax poetic about a couple of trees that bloom, just as they’ve always done. Maybe it’s in part because I currently feel like a tree. I feel like I’ve spent a long season hunkered down to endure winter, working on internal growth (roots), but not having the resources and space I need to put forth creativity (blossoms). However, as I am getting ready to graduate, I feel the seasons shifting, and I sense that a season of creativity and new life is about to burst forth! The other reason is because I deeply believe in the importance of celebrating the good, the true, and the beautiful. No matter how busy, tired, stressed, or emotionally drained I feel, I know that a simple glance out my window make my heart swell with joy.

In the words of my roommate, “I feel like I’m living in a fairy house” – and it doesn’t get much better than that!IMGP2677

God Told Me I Needed to Get to Know Jesus

Have you ever sat down and thought about the Trinity?

If your upbringing was anything like mine you probably remember sitting through Sunday School lessons on the Trinity, complete with weird analogies (the Trinity is like an egg…) that attempted to simplify one of the most complex and mysterious elements of our faith. But have you ever taken the time to reflect on the unique role each part of the Trinity plays in your life?

Up until a few weeks ago I know I hadn’t.


Lately God’s been in the business of interrupting me.

For months He’s been gently telling me to reevaluate where I’m placing my identity, let go of the vice grip I have on my future, and get rid of strongholds of fear and insecurity in my mind. But here’s my confession: I haven’t been listening. So God has gotten much louder and more persistent, no longer allowing me to skirt my issues, and leaving me feeling like I’ve been run over by a train.

However, in the midst of this process, God has been working to the heart of issues that have been present in my life for years. One of these issues is the place I’ve not given Jesus in my life.

A few weeks ago, God told me I needed to get to know Jesus. For a churchgoing, Bible-reading, God-loving Christian, this came as a bit of a shock. “But God, don’t I already know Jesus,” I asked. He replied, “Well yes, on a theological level you know Jesus, and you have a relationship with Him in the Christian sense of the word, but I want you to give Him space and a specific role in your life.”

Upon reflection I’ve realized that there are two reasons why Jesus doesn’t already have a prominent role in my life. The first is a simple matter of circumstance. I grew up in a church family that talked a whole lot about God the Father, and hardly at all about the other two members of the Trinity. In addition, I have a very good relationship with my Dad, so seeing God as a Father has always had positive connotations for me. As a result of these two things, I find it most natural to connect (especially in prayer) with God the Father.

Due to my upbringing in a Christian home, I came to faith slowly and steadily over the course of many years, but it wasn’t until a summer camp before my junior year of high school that I hit the point of reckless abandon in my relationship with God, and this spiritual awakening came as a result of an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Ever since that summer, the Spirit has occupied a prominent place in my life.

In my journey of faith, I grew up with God the Father, and in recent years I have frequently experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, but somehow Jesus has never taken on any distinct significance in my life.

While the first reason Jesus hasn’t had a role in my life is a matter of circumstance, the second reason is a matter of choice. To be completely honest, I haven’t allowed Jesus space in my heart. One of my deepest sin issues is a flawed belief that I can somehow save myself, and with that mindset comes an often subconscious resistance to the saving power of Jesus. Some of you are probably wondering why in the world I would try and do something that Jesus desperately wants to do for me, and the truth is that in order for Jesus to save me, I have to give up my control.

I like control.

I like knowing what’s going to happen, when and how, and although I know that control is ultimately an illusion, I love to pretend it’s something I possess. However, I’m hitting a point in my life where my ability to save myself is falling short, big time. But, in the midst of my failings, I’m discovering the freedom that comes with surrendering my control to Jesus, and as an added bonus, I’m getting to develop a relationship with a completely different part of our incredible, triune God!

lay-it-all-down-laptop*Photo credit goes to Tiffany Yeh.

 

5 Lessons I’m Endeavoring to Learn

As most of you know, I am now in my last semester of undergrad, and as such, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reflecting on what God has taught me during these past four years. For those of you who spend extended periods of time with me, these five lessons won’t be anything new because I talk about them frequently, but I’m realizing that they’re good enough to bear repeating.

1. Growth is circular.

Whenever I learn something, I have this silly expectation that I will master it the first time around and then be able to move on. In reality, I often learn a lesson, and then a situation comes up in my life that tests whether I’ve actually learned the lesson I’m claiming to have mastered, at which point I quickly discover that I have so much more to learn. Take, for example, last Friday. In my Christian Discipling class we were discussing emotional authenticity, and I was patting myself on the back for having mastered the art of tapping into my true emotions. Three hours later I found myself upset and confused about a situation with a friend that drug up old wounds, but incredibly unwilling to allow myself to press into what I was truly feeling. It took my roommates asking if I was okay (and not taking yes for an answer) for me to acknowledge that I was hurting. At which point I had two choices – be frustrated with myself for failing to be true to my emotions, or recognize the circular nature of growth. Growth is like a moving bike. If you are a speck on the wheel of a bike, it feels like you’re making progress as the wheel moves forward, only to be drug backwards over and over again. But, if you look at the bike as a whole, it is consistently moving forward. (This analogy is much easier to describe with hand motions, but I’ll trust you to get the idea). In the same way as we grow, if we only focus on our current situation, we often feel like we’ve backslid and lost all we’ve learned. However, if we take a step back and look at how far we’ve come since we started, we can no longer deny our growth.

kelly-with-hannahPretend to be a speck on the wheel of my tricycle and then you’ll hopefully understand my analogy. 🙂 

2. God has room for your full range of emotions.

I am known for giving people this advice all the time, and until last summer, I thought I believed it. But last summer, for the first time in my life, I found myself feeling angry at God, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure He could actually handle ALL of my emotions. Being angry at God is scary, and it’s not a place I would recommend sitting for a long period of time, but unless you are willing to engage that emotion, you won’t be able to move beyond it. In her newest book called Present Over Perfect Shauna Niequist talks about oil and vinegar prayers. She says that we want to get to the oil in our prayers – the beautiful, rich, intimate times with God, but that in order to get there we must pray through the vinegar – our fears, frustrations, and really anything that is bitter in our lives. And you know what I’ve found in mining though the darkness within me? That God truly does have room for my full range of emotions. My questions and doubts don’t scare Him because He knows that no matter how hard I push back, He will come out true.

img_1957Sometimes my emotions feel as strong and reckless as the ocean, but God is faithful to never let me drown. 

3. Prayer is never powerless.

During my freshman year, one of my dear friends and hallmates used this phrase, and it has stuck with me ever since. This phrase usually comes to mind when I’m in a situation where I feel powerless and God is asking me to pray, which is endlessly frustrating to me! I want to fix, answer, do, but God says, “wait, trust, pray.” Over and over and over again I have seen the power of prayer at work in my life. In response to my prayers God has provided housing, mended relationships, drawn people to Himself, stirred hearts, and healed in miraculous ways. Sometimes I feel like I’m just flinging words at the sky, but lately God’s been reminding me that He hears me. It blows my mind that we serve a God who wants nothing more than to listen to us, and takes into consideration the things we have to say.

imgp0180Sweet Bree gets all the credit for the “prayer is never powerless” line. 

4. Should is a dangerous word.

If we are doing something because we feel we should, that is a warning sign that we are not being authentic to who we were created to be. As I look back over my time in college, I realize how many decisions I made out of a place of should. It is only in the past few months that I’ve been truly able to look at my life and say, “Yes, this is who I’m meant to be.” Not that I’m living in full authenticity by any stretch of the imagination (see #1) but lately I’ve been marveling in how much joy it brings me to do the work that I was made to do. When you find those things that make you come alive, everything else pales in comparison. Sometimes that means being quirky or different. So much of college is not only learning who you are, but coming to terms with what you’ve learned about yourself. My encouragement is this – if it brings you joy, don’t let it be stopped or silenced. In the words of Howard Thurman “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

img_1181Experiencing other cultures makes me come alive!

5. God is trustworthy.

This sounds simple, but truly believing this changes everything. If God is trustworthy, then my future is secure. This is probably the most important lesson I continue to learn – life-altering enough to get it tattooed on my arm. Sometimes my roommates ask me to name a time when God has failed me, and I can never do it. The ways of God are not my ways, and He loves to surprise me, but He has never failed me, not once. One of my current favorite songs is “Seasons Change by United Pursuit, and the chorus, though simple is profound. “Though the seasons change/Your love remains.”

imgp2410Father, since you are a God who loves me unconditionally, help me become a daughter who trusts you no matter what.