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.

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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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