Discipline

Christmas break is always a time of intense reflection for me. Not only has the fall semester ended, but a whole year of life, according to the calendar we follow, is coming to a close. I usually spend much of my time at home processing what has happened in the year that passed, and dreaming of what the new year may hold.

Around this time last year, I started thinking about what I wanted 2016 to be about. Some years I’ve made New Year’s revolutions, but they’ve never been particularly helpful for me, so I decided to instead pray for God to give me a word for the year. As I began to pray, I secretly hoped God would give me a word like joy, or adventure, or whimsy.

Instead God told me that my word for 2016 would be discipline.

And much as I wanted to push back, I knew, with complete certainty, that the word fit.

Most people I know (myself included) flinch a little at the idea of discipline. It just feels like such a rigid concept. But the overwhelming sense I got from God was of Him spurring me on to greater things than I had previously attempted, or in the words of my roommate Ellisa, shloving me (shoving me with love). In telling me that my word for the year was discipline, God was not being heavy-handed, but He was very clearly saying to me that in order to get where I wanted to be, I was going to have to be willing to put in some hard work.

When God gave me discipline as my word for last year, I knew it was relevant to January Kelly, but I had no idea just how relevant it would continue to be as the year progressed. I’ve never had a theme so completely follow me and shape my life for such an extended period of time. January Kelly often failed at discipline, but God said, “It’s ok, just pick yourself up and try again.” And then God told April Kelly, “Discipline, my daughter, is your word for the year because I am preparing you for the immeasurably more just over the horizon.” July Kelly was frequently reminded of Eugene Peterson’s words about faithfulness (which takes immense discipline) being a long obedience in the same direction in an age of instant gratification. And October Kelly continued to run into situations where discipline, or continual choosing, was incredibly important. It never stopped being important.

Here are a few of the many situations in which discipline played an important role in my life:

  • It took discipline to stick to food restriction after food restriction after food restriction as my body continued to reject various food groups.
  • It took discipline to read from Leviticus into 1 Chronicles.
  • It took discipline to wake up at 5am and clean dorms for 8 hours a day all summer in a job that got progressively more draining as the summer wore on.
  • It took discipline to stay while so many I know got to go.
  • It took discipline to not walk away from two friendships that almost completely crashed and burned.
  • And ultimately, it took discipline to sit still instead of running away while God took me to new depths of surrender and trust.

But hard as each of those things were, they produced incredible fruit. Here’s what I saw as a result of my discipline:

  • Because I listened to my body and cut many foods out of my diet, I’m eating healthier and know more about my how my body works than ever before.
  • Because I dug into the Old Testament instead of reading easier to understand passages of scripture, I’ve been able to find surprising solidarity amongst the characters of the story of God.
  • Because I stayed in a job that, to be totally honest, ripped me apart emotionally, I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
  • Because I stayed in the states instead of traveling internationally, I’ve been able to plug into the prayer room at my church – an experience which has blessed me beyond measure.
  • Because I continued to invest in friendships that appeared to have ended, I’ve seen breathtaking revival and renewal in our relationships that still leaves me speechless.
  • And ultimately, because I’ve dug into God instead of running away, I am currently holding my future more loosely, and feeling more peaceful and content about my life than I have in a very long time.

All of this (and more) because I chose discipline.

But the purpose of this post is not for me to brag. None of these things came easily. Just this month it took me embarrassingly long (20 days if you must know) to get through the first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles.There were the two cussing phases I went through (before this moment I don’t think anyone but my housemates and coworkers knew about these) where my go-to response for strong emotions was swear words.  I almost walked out on my summer job and both of the friendships I had ceased to hope could be restored. And there were intense periods of time where I questioned the goodness and faithfulness of God to an extent that scared me.

As you can clearly see, I’m not there yet. Something tells me that the need for discipline won’t magically disappear at the end of 2016. However, sitting where I do today, I can see progress that seemed completely outside of the realm of possibility at this time last year.

One of the most surprising things I learned this year was how much joy can be born of discipline. Think of a child learning to walk, or a man climbing a mountain – both accomplishments take immense discipline but produce immeasurable joy!

To be completely candid with you, 2016 has quite possibly been the hardest year of my life. And yet, looking back I see a year that ripped me to shreds, and a God that is putting me back together, more whole, and complete, and who I’m made to be than I’ve ever been in my entire life.

And that is something worth celebrating!

Occasionally in this life we get to zoom out and see the bigger picture, and wow, the view is stunning!

So as the sun sets on 2016 I am overwhelmed by gratitude for a God who has the creativity and foresight to give me a word that had the power to shape an entire year of my life, and helped me dig deeply into the circular process of growth in order to launch me into what this next year of life will bring my way.

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Dressember 2016

Last year was my first time participating in Dressember and I loved it! At the start of my month of dresses I wrote a blog post that told the story of how my passion for fighting human trafficking and sex slavery began, and I’ve decided to repost the story here. If you’ve already read this story, feel free to skip to the bottom of the post to learn about how I’m choosing to engage in Dressember this year.


I sat, eyes riveted on the screen, too horrified to look away. It was an incredibly graphic movie clip, and something I, as a highly sensitive person, would typically avoid. But I knew that for the sake of acknowledging the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, it was something I needed to see.

The African slaves on the ship were chosen one by one to be thrown over the side to their deaths. It didn’t matter whether or not they knew how to swim because they were chained to bags of rocks that would drag them to the bottom of the ocean. The pressure from their rapid descent would crush them long before their lungs filled with water, not only satisfying the slave trader’s wish to kill them, but also making their deaths excruciatingly painful.

When the clip from Amistad ended and my APLA teacher turned off the screen, a heavy silence ensued. I remember being hit full force with a wave of emotions. Not only was I sickened by the reality of the African slave trade, but I was also alarmed to realize that the vast majority of my classmates, while acknowledging the atrocities of slavery back then, were completely unaware of its prevalence in society today.

“Did you know that there are more slaves in the world today than there were during the entirety of the Transatlantic Slave Trade?” I desperately wanted to ask them. Although the world’s population is much larger now than it was a few hundred years ago, that statistic alone blows the argument that slavery no longer exists completely out of the water.

After class, my friends and I could not stop talking about what we had seen, so decided to form a group called the Modern Underground Railroad, or MUR for short. We extensively researched slavery in the world today, and planned presentations that we could give in our history and language arts classes. And then, life got in the way. The academic rigors of junior year took over, and our grand plans for presenting to our classes fell to the wayside, never to be fully realized. However, a seed had been planted for a passion that would burst into bloom three years later when I went to Nepal.

Before going to Nepal, I would have said I felt at least somewhat prepared to deal with human trafficking up close and personal. I had read books and articles, attended lectures and prayer meetings, and extensively researched anti-trafficking organizations. However, several experiences in Nepal quickly humbled me, and reminded me that there is no way to fully prepare for catching glimpses of a system that buys and sells girls. Two instances in particular stand out as moments when the reality of trafficking hit me full force. The first was when my team was accidentally taken into India (you can read that story here Whoops, I Went to India!), and the second was when we visited a village and met young girls who were the exact demographic of girls most likely to be trafficked (you can read about it here Three Little Girls).

Needless to say, my trip to Nepal greatly furthered my passion to end human trafficking, which is a form of modern-day slavery. Once I returned I began looking for ways to continue to be involved in the fight for the freedom of all. Then I discovered Dressember, and it has proved to be a wonderful opportunity for continued involvement! (http://www.dressember.org


I loved participating in Dressember last year, but to be honest, while I am incredibly excited to participate in Dressember this year, I’ve also been wrestling with how I want to approach getting involved. Do I wear one or two dresses for the entire month, or creatively use as much of my closet as possible like I did last year? Do I fundraise individually, or focus more on advocacy and prayer? Do I try to write about Dressember as it happens, or take a picture every day of the month, or do something else to make this experience meaningful to me and encouraging to others? There are so many options for how to be a part of the Dressember movement (to all of you who are on the fence about participating, consider this a nudge – you can do it!) but just like last year, I’m feeling frustrated that my schedule is going to greatly limit my participation. For the next three weeks, school is going to consume the majority of my time and energy, and then, for the rest of December I will be at home, out of my normal routine, and swept up into a whirlwind of wonderful, yet busy holiday activity. And none of that is conducive to giving Dressember the time and energy I truly want to give it. However, I know that all God calls me to do is the best I can with what I have. So, in light of my circumstances, here is what I have decided:

  1. I am not going to limit myself to wearing only one or two dresses for the whole month. In practical terms, I don’t have a neutral enough dress to make that work. But instead, I’m going to use Dressember as an opportunity to be a better steward of my wardrobe. Last year I found that Dressember pushed me to wear different combinations of my various articles of clothing, and in the process I gained a deeper appreciation for the clothes I own. How many of you (women in particular) have looked into your overflowing closet and thought, “I have nothing to wear!” I know that I am guilty as charged. And it’s such a ridiculous, silly, and honestly, entitled attitude to have. Not only do I have more clothing than I need, but I also have a huge degree of choice in what I wear. So, one of my hopes for Dressember is to gain a deeper contentment in the clothing I own, as well as a newfound appreciation for my freedom to choose.
  2. I am not going to individually fundraise this year. Now, hear me out on this – I wholeheartedly support the nonprofits that Dressember fundraises for (A21 and International Justice Mission). Both organizations are doing incredible work to fight human trafficking and sex slavery. However, when I was reflecting on why I would or wouldn’t be fundraising this year, I realized that my main reason for individually fundraising is that I feel like I should. And that is NEVER a good enough reason to do something. Should is a dangerous word. In the wise words of Shauna Niequist “When you’re using the word should more and more often, it’s a sign that your living further and further from your truest, best self, that you’re living for some other set of parameters or affirmations that you think will bring you happiness.” So, for this reason, as well as another that I will expand on in the next point, I will not be individually fundraising this year. However, if you would still like to donate to Dressember (and by extension the work of A21 and IJM), you can do so here: Dressember Donation Page 
  3. As I have been reflecting on how to make the most of this month of dresses, I’m realizing that I don’t think it’s wise to add something extra to my already bursting schedule. It’s simply not realistic. So that puts fundraising, lots of extra blogging, and daily picture-taking, among other methods of involvement out of the question. However, the one form of involvement that I keep coming back to is prayer. And it makes so much sense with the season of life I’m in. For one thing, God’s been teaching me (again) that prayer is never powerless! For another thing, prayer is something that, with a bit of intentionality, very easily fits into my current schedule. Every day I spend a bare minimum of twenty minutes walking to and from campus (and often it’s more like forty, or sometimes even sixty minutes depending on how many times I go back and forth). Something I’ve noticed lately is that when I get busy or tired, my vision narrows until all I see or care about are the things that most directly affect me, and that that self-centered focus spills over into my prayers. This is not how I want to live! So I am going to use Dressember as a reminder to pray for the marginalized and exploited.

I’ll close with two things. Firstly – I would love for you to join me in participating in Dressember! If you have questions about the practicalities of the movement, or about my experience with wearing a dress for 31 straight days last year, don’t hesitate to ask! And secondly – last year, before I began Dressember, I wrote that “by wearing a dress, I will be embracing my femininity and reclaiming the dignity and power of being a woman in a world that says otherwise.” I feel like that one sentence perfectly encapsulates why I am choosing to fight trafficking in this particular manner, and I am excited to see how Dressember 2016 furthers my journey to discover what it means to live into being a woman in this world.

31 days of dresses, here I come (again) and I couldn’t be more excited!

Running Out

I know I frequently post music on this blog, and to be honest, sometimes I wonder if I overuse it. Because everyone has such different musical tastes, I often question if the songs I post mean anything to my readers.

But then I remember the intrinsic magical quality that music possesses. Music cuts through our defenses to deliver truths we wouldn’t otherwise accept. Music soothes, energizes, heals, emboldens, and teaches. In my life there’s a special joy that only music can produce. And when I remember all of that, I can’t help but believe that, even if the music I write about doesn’t mean something to every single one of you, it’s bound to speak to some of you, and is therefore, worth writing about.

So today I’m going to unapologetically share a song with you. It’s called Running Out by Andrea Marie.

I discovered this song three months ago, but the more I listen to it, the more profound it becomes.

Take the first verse.

I’ve tried to make it all work out 
But I’m running out, I’m running out of good ideas
I’ve tried my best but all I see is humanity
Running out of good ideas

Look at our nation. Look at our world. What do we see? Humanity, running out of good ideas. And in my own life, I feel the weight of trying to make it all work out while coming to terms with the reality that, I am flat out of good ideas. To be completely candid, there was a day last week when I came home cussing and crying because there are situations in my life where there’s no solution in sight. My ideas are no longer enough.

Then there’s verse two.

I’m letting go of all I’ve known
And I’m coming out, I’m coming out of bad ideas
You’re all that I want to believe
So I’m coming out, I’m coming out of bad ideas

Verse two is the next step. All too often it takes my good ideas drying up for me to realize that my ideas were never enough to begin with because the true solution will not come from solely me. When I reach the end of myself, I can let go enough to start running from my bad ideas, and more importantly, the sin that was born of my self-sufficiency.

Then there’s the chorus. This is the part that really cuts deep for me.

You are who you say you are
That’s different than I thought you’d be

Although I do not know the songwriter’s intent, to me this speaks of the character of God. God is exactly who He says He is, but oftentimes, who He is is not who I imagined Him to be. Recent life circumstances have been teaching me this firsthand. What I’m discovering is that suffering and pain burn up our misconceptions and incorrect assumptions about the character of God. The Bible describes it as a refining fire. Fire burns away impurities, leaving behind the good, true and beautiful. But the process hurts. It’s scary to have elements of God’s character you thought to be true called into question. But at the end of the day, I’d rather know God for who He is than who I’ve constructed Him to be.

Finally there’s the bridge.

Stand a little taller, little taller
Cause you know now this is who you are
Make your voice louder, make it louder
Make them hear you this is who you are
Step a little closer, little closer
To the edge now this is who you are

I see this part of the song as a call to keep your chin up. Yes, you’re out of good ideas, running to distance yourself from your sins, having your understanding of God shaken and refined, but in the process you’re discovering who you are. And that knowledge will forever empower you to stand a little taller, make your voice louder, and step a little closer to the edge. You know who you are.

Mystery of the Invisible

One of my favorite songs is from a band called Verida and goes as follows:

I can feel, but I can’t touch
The atmosphere of your love
Surrounded by something I know is there
For reasons that I can’t see
What exists is far beyond me
But I will have faith in the unseen

‘Cause I’ve heard the sound of the ancient hymns
I’ve felt the chills of the cool, cool wind
I’ve tasted the sweet before
Been lost in the beautiful
The powerful mystery of the invisible

We’re all living an epic tale
Restoring of those who fell
A breathing cathedral of your heart
And it draws me with every breath
Puts path beneath my step
And I’m haunted by how I’m comfortable

‘Cause I’ve heard the sound of the ancient hymns
I’ve felt the chills of the cool, cool wind
I’ve tasted the sweet before
Been lost in the beautiful
The powerful mystery of the invisible

Have faith, have faith, have faith, my dear
Have faith, have faith, have faith, my dear

I’ve heard the sound of the ancient hymns
I’ve felt the chills of the cool, cool wind
I’ve tasted the sweet before
Been lost in the beautiful
The powerful mystery of the invisible
The powerful mystery of the invisible

To be honest, these lyrics are where I want to be. On my best days I see the beauty in the mystery of the invisible. But unfortunately, most days are not my best days, and I spend an inordinate amount of time living in fear of the unknown.


About a month ago I went on my first backpacking trip in the Mount Hood National Forest to a peak with a lookout, and a supposedly stunning view. And I’m sure the view was stunning, but due to wet and windy weather conditions, this is what we saw instead:

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Beautiful in its own right, but not exactly the vista we were hoping for.

And yet, as I sat perched on the ridge, buffeted by water from the sky and unable to see farther than a few hundred feet, I was struck by the realization that, so often in life, the fog is all we can see.

But here’s the crazy part. Just because we couldn’t see the mountain views that this particular lookout is known for doesn’t mean the mountains weren’t out there, beautiful and majestic as always. Which then led me to recognize anew that my inability to see God’s plans for my future doesn’t negate their existence or beauty.

So today I’m making a renewed effort to have faith in the unseen, and take confidence in a God who is faithful, even in the fog.

Finding Newness in the Same Old Me

Since I last wrote to you, dear readers, I have had my last first day of school – potentially ever! Isn’t that crazy? And with that last first day I have been ushered into a semester that can only be described as wholly different from any other segment of school I have yet experienced.

I think in part the weirdness of this semester comes from the fact that this summer changed me in ways that are only beginning to come to light. I like who I’m becoming, but it can be disorienting to catch glimpses of newness in the same old you.

One of the changes I’m seeing is a dramatic shift in my priorities. As I sit on the cusp of week five of the semester, I feel God urging me towards soul care – telling me that it’s ok to dig into my C.S. Lewis readings even at the expense of other homework, that it’s more important to cultivate relationships than to get good grades, and that as much as I am at college to receive an academic education, I am also here to learn about life and love and God and myself.

Maybe the difference isn’t that God is telling me these things, but that I’m actually choosing to believe them. And with all of this soul digging I’m having some beautiful revelations, some of which are worth sharing.

So, over the next few weeks I will (hopefully but no promises on how quickly or frequently) be posting short pieces on some of the snippets of wisdom God’s has been graciously raining down on me. Honestly, I’m very excited to share what He’s been teaching me because the things I’ve been learning have been breathing new life into me, and my hope is that even just one thing I share can do the same for you!

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Tickled Pink – A Poem

Although I just shared a blog post two days ago, I stumbled across this poem today that is so beautiful, and feels so fitting as I wrap up this summer season of life, that I couldn’t help but share it.


Tickled Pink
by Kevin Kling

At times in our pink innocence, we lie fallow, composting waiting to grow. And other times we rush headlong like so many of our ancestors. But rush headlong or lie fallow, it doesn’t matter. One day you’ll round a corner, your path is shifted. In a blink, something is missing. It’s stolen, misplaced, it’s gone. Your heart, a memory, a limb, a promise, a person. Your innocence is gone, and now your journey has changed. Your path, as though channeled through a spectrum, is refracted, and has left you pointed in a new direction. Some won’t approve. Some will want the other you. And some will cry that you’ve left it all. But what has happened, has happened, and cannot be undone. We pay for our laughter. We pay to weep. Knowledge is not cheap. To survive we must return to our senses, touch, taste, smell, sight, sound. We must let our spirit guide us, our spirit that lives in breath. With each breath we inhale, we exhale. We inspire, we expire. Every breath has a possibility of a laugh, a cry, a story, a song. Every conversation is an exchange of spirit, the words flowing bitter or sweet over the tongue. Every scar is a monument to a battle survived. Now when you’re born into loss, you grow from it. But when you experience loss later in life, you grow toward it. A slow move to an embrace, an embrace that leaves you holding tight the beauty wrapped in the grotesque, an embrace that becomes a dance, a new dance, a dance of pink.

A Precious Gift

Last Tuesday, when I dragged myself across the finish line of my job as an on-campus custodian, I was completely burned out and used up. This summer was incredibly difficult, and I had hit the point where I had nothing left of myself to give, yet I knew that come Wednesday morning I was going to enter a new position as an orientation leader where I would need to offer myself freely.

Tonight, however, as I sit on the tail end of international student orientation leading, I can honestly say that if I had to choose one word to describe the past eight whirlwind days, I would choose joy!

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While it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I loved working with the new international students, I was caught off guard by how quickly and completely they stole my heart. They breathed new life into the parts of me that died this summer, and gave me a fresh perspective on my strengths.

When I was with my students, I got to simply be Kelly. Although I was playing the role of orientation leader, for the first time in months I felt valued not for what I could do, but for who I was.

As an orientation leader, my purpose was twofold. Firstly, I was to help the students complete tasks such as opening bank accounts, acquiring student ID cards, buying laptops, finding housing, learning English vocabulary, and paying campus fees, to name a few. Secondly, and more importantly, I was to help the students feel welcome, both at our university and in America.

Although taking care of the practical details of moving to a foreign country was an important part of orientation leading, in extending hospitality to the students I found the true sweet spot where my passions and abilities collided with their needs.

One moment I would be fielding a practical question such as “Where is the white paste for my salad?” And then, in the next moment a student would ask why people from her host family’s church celebrated when members of the church were dunked in a lake. For as useful as I felt explaining the location of the ranch dressing, it was when a student’s inquiry about baptism gave me an opportunity to share the Gospel with her for the first time that I realized the eternal weight and significance of what I did this past week.

By simply being myself, my all-in, empathetic, passionate, intuitive, culture-loving self, I became a familiar face and a safe space to land for students who came here not only seeking an academic experience, but also seeking spiritual fulfillment from a God they have not yet had the chance to encounter.

The truly incredible part of orientation leading was that in giving my time and energy to the students, I was able to receive a precious gift. In accepting me as Kelly and allowing me to live into my strengths, my students gave me a renewed chance to believe that God didn’t make any mistakes in His creation of me. Do I have rough edges and areas in need of improvement? Absolutely! But when others give me encouragement and more importantly, when I give myself permission to let go of who I “should” be and live into my true identity, the result is pure, unadulterated joy!

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