“We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
The trees that are broken
And start again, drawing up from the great roots.”
*Photo Credit Alice Phung
“We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
The trees that are broken
And start again, drawing up from the great roots.”
*Photo Credit Alice Phung
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!
*Photo credit goes to Tiffany Yeh.
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.
Pretend 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.
Sometimes 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.
Sweet 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.”
Experiencing 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.”
Father, since you are a God who loves me unconditionally, help me become a daughter who trusts you no matter what.
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:
But hard as each of those things were, they produced incredible fruit. Here’s what I saw as a result of my discipline:
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.
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!
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.
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.
Hope, to me, has always been elusive, an enigma, so difficult to comprehend and nearly impossible to put into practice. Other concepts such as joy, peace, faith, or love feel within my grasp, but hope has always seemed to be just beyond my reach.
For many years my attitude towards hope (especially in situations where I have previously experienced disappointment or rejection) has been “What’s the point?” In my mind I justified this attitude with the beginning of Proverbs 13:12 which reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” No matter how many other verses I read about the beauty and significance of hope, this verse became my default, a protective armor of sorts against the risks involved in choosing to hope.
In the past few months, however God has been using a combination of blog posts and life circumstances to help me see hope in a different light. He’s pushed past my tough exterior of faked indifference to get to the root of my aversion to hope.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth He’s uncovered – I am afraid to hope.
In many ways this fear feels justifiable. Hope is risky. It demands that I trust that God is good, all the time, and that He loves me. It calls me to put stock in things I cannot yet see or know. And it forces me to surrender my lust for control and certainty.
Even writing about hope makes me want to crawl under a safe, stable rock, only venturing out when I feel some measure of security in how the journey will end. But deep down I know that security is an illusion, and certainty isn’t promised.
In all the times I’ve used Proverbs 13:12 as an excuse to avoid hope, I have completely missed the second part of the verse which reads, “but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” How did I miss that? Yes, hope is risky, but the risk increases the value of the reward, as well as adding to the richness and joy of the journey.
In the words of my wise friend Chloe, “Hope is the anchor for our souls, holding us perfectly in the balance of a Kingdom daily recognized and not yet eternally realized.” (Practicing the Presence of Hope)
So today I’m going to choose hope – risky, gritty hope that doesn’t yet make sense to me, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that God is faithful to keep His promises. With my hope rooted in Christ, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
Picture credit goes to my wonderful and talented mom!